Kyle Vanden Bosch, someone is watching you and the legacy you left behind in Tennessee.
Vanden Bosch moved on to the Detroit Lions as a free agent, signing a $26 million package after talks with the Titans never materialized in the off-season.
One of the players the Titans brought in to help offset the loss of Vanden Bosch is journeyman defensive end Jason Babin.
Babin has had a strong preseason thus far, as he tries to follow in Vanden Bosch’s footsteps.
In order to replace KVB, Babin is using a unique trick in studying his predecessor on the defensive line.
He is going back into the Titans film archives and studying old tapes of Vanden Bosch’s play. But Babin is doing more than just examining game film. He is breaking down Vanden Bosch’s moves and work from old practice tapes in order to better learn defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s system.
“I think I'm getting somewhere. I've watched Kyle do it in practice. I watched him on tape, and I constantly evaluate myself against other guys that have done well in this system,” said Babin, a former first-round pick who is on his fifth team in a seven-year NFL career.
So why watch practice snaps instead of actual game film?
“I went back and watched practice tapes of him the last couple of years. That’s different than game tape, because I wanted to see how he played when no one else much was really looking,” Babin said.
Babin sees the same opportunity with the Titans in front of him that Vanden Bosch seized in 2005. Vanden Bosch took a down-and-out career in Arizona and blossomed into a three-time Pro Bowl pick in Tennessee.
“He was a guy that got here and had played before, but he bought into Wash's style and did really well, so why not emulate?” Babin said.
Getting Washburn to compare any player to Vanden Bosch is a tall task, as the former Nebraska star’s work ethic helped him develop into one of the coach’ all-time favorites. But Babin is earning his stripes during this preseason.
“He’s certainly not Kyle, but he goes hard. That’s just built into him. That’s part of who he is. He’s always been like that; he’s just played a lot of different positions,” Washburn said. “He’s made plays, and I like him. He’s been miscast before, and I’m glad he’s here.”
With William Hayes out with a sprained MCL, Babin is getting reps with the first team. In fact, Coach Jeff Fisher said the Titans had to be careful with Babin in camp and preseason, not to give him too much work with the numbers low at defensive end.
“We're now to the point where we might be concerned that he might be getting a little too much. He's Kyle-like in that he's a full-speed player, and at some point you have to watch his reps,” Fisher said. “He’s comfortable in our system. He fits our system very well.”
It’s a system that Babin says he is still getting used to and knows that he has to be all-in in order to succeed.
“The biggest thing for me is to really buy into Wash's style, because it's unlike any other defensive style,” he said. “It's almost like you've got to let all that other stuff go, and buy in 100 percent. If you only buy in 80 or 90 percent, it's not gonna work. You've got to be all-in or nothing. It's really a man vs. himself. That's the hardest part.”
Specifically, Babin has been trying to learn Vanden Bosch’s “stab-chop” move and incorporate it into his pass-rushing repertoire.
“It's something new to me. It's like my body was fighting itself. When I go out there and practice, I'm going, 'stab chop, stab chop, stab chop.' I'm hoping at one point it's just gonna click and be natural,” Babin said. “You just stab with your inside hand, the tackle puts his outside hand out and you chop it with your outside hand.”
If Babin needs any reminders of that, all he has to do is retreat to the film room to study how Vanden Bosch would have done it.