NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Just to be clear, Matt LaFleur has called plays in NFL games as an offensive coordinator.
Sean McVay let him call plays for six quarters last year with the Los Angeles Rams — all in the preseason.
“I called the fourth preseason game actually in Green Bay and I called the second half of the Oakland game last year …,” LaFleur said today. “Every opportunity you get to go out and do that, situations arise. You’ve got to think quickly on your feet. The more experience you get, I think the more calm you’ll remain in those situations and be able to give the guys a better call.”
LaFleur, 38, has had to be a quick study, taking advantage of each opportunity to learn to call plays since Mike Vrabel hired him as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. LaFleur has immersed himself into it through the offseason program, through live periods and during the first 10 days of training camp.
His first big test comes Thursday night when the Titans visit the Green Bay Packers for the preseason opener for both teams. Vrabel knows what he wants to see from LaFleur.
“Efficiency, making sure that we got clean operation getting the guys in and out of the huddle,” Vrabel said. “Whatever personnel group we’re going with, let’s go with it. Let’s make a call and make sure we give these guys a chance to line up and make a play.”
LaFleur has worked with some dynamic play-callers in the NFL, including Gary Kubiak in Houston, Mike Shanahan in Washington, Kyle Shanahan while coaching quarterbacks with the Atlanta Falcons and McVay in 2017 as coordinator when the Los Angeles Rams led the NFL in points scored.
Now it’s LaFleur, who also interviewed for the head coaching job that went to Vrabel , in position to call the offensive plays that he’s been installing with quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“We as coaches, we try to prepare for every situation so you’re ready for that moment,” LaFleur said. “But inevitably every week when you watch games something occurs like, ‘Wow. I may not have thought about that before.’ It’s just trying to do the best you can to prepare for every moment. But inevitably you’re going to have to think on your feet at some point and time in the game.”
Calling plays, which McVay handles with the Rams, was the big draw for LaFleur to Tennessee. He also has Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015, and running back Derrick Henry as a pair of Heisman Trophy winners to work with along with an offensive line returning each starter.
Even with all that talent, the Titans have plenty of room for improvement on offense. Tennessee ranked 23rd in total yards per game, 23rd in yards passing and 19th in points per game. The Rams, with a second-year quarterback in Jared Goff and NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley , ranked no lower than 10 in any of those categories with the biggest leap in scoring. The Rams went from last in the NFL in points per game in 2016 to a league-best 29.8 points in 2017.
The key will be how quickly the Titans, particularly Mariota, learn the new scheme designed to take advantage of the quarterback’s mobility. LaFleur believes the Titans have made a lot of progress since the offseason when the defense got the best of the offense to now with practice more of a tug of war between both units.
“We’ve got a great group of guys, and it is fun to watch these guys grow,” LaFleur said. “And I think we are improving on a daily basis.”