The Tennessee Titans are out of town this week, and veteran linebacker Brian Orakpo couldn’t be happier.
The franchise decided once the NFL schedule came out in mid-April to spend the week between back-to-back road games against the Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers in Arizona.
The main reason? Cut down the travel to keep players a bit fresher for the final month of the season.
It’s a decision made by lots of NFL teams over the years. New England spent the week after beating Denver in Colorado for high-altitude training at the Air Force Academy before playing in Mexico City last month — and winning. Philadelphia spent the past week in the Los Angeles area after a loss in Seattle — and then beat the Rams.
“I totally agree with what we’re doing because the jet lag is vicious,” Orakpo said. “There’s definitely a setback, and also the time difference, getting used to the time difference on the West Coast, there’s all these different elements. It really helps if we just stayed out there, not have to worry so much traveling back and forth because it’s a lot of mileage, especially when you’re trying to play at a high level in a football game.”
Spending a week away from home during the season is something that neither the Titans nor coach Mike Mularkey had ever done. The Titans, who relocated to Tennessee from Houston in 1997, are among the six NFL teams yet to play in London, and they left Nashville for training camp only once in 21 seasons.
The motivation is simple.
“We’re trying to eliminate distractions,” Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s hard when you’ve got back-to-back West Coast trips like this, to be able to fly back home and then practice and come back out this way at the end of the week. So, try to keep the week as normal as possible for the guys, for the coaches.”
The actual process of relocating an NFL team for a week during the regular season requires months of planning. Brent Akers, the director of team operations for the Titans, and his colleagues made at least seven trips to the hotel where the team is staying. They even rewired the building, so the Titans could simply plug in Monday and start working as if back home at the team’s headquarters.
Packing wasn’t easy either.
A 53-foot truck left Nashville on Dec. 5 headed to Arizona filled with 40,000 pounds of equipment including:
—A Juggs machine for firing balls at players at practice.
—Six water coolers for practices.
—New computers, projectors and TV monitors to be ready and waiting for the Titans rather than pack up all that gear.
—Tape and other gear needed by trainers to treat injuries between games.
—And yes, weights. Strength coach Steve Watterson has an area set aside for workouts because the Titans must lift between games.
At the hotel in Arizona, the Titans are using about 80,000 square feet of meeting space, not counting rooms for sleeping:
—Offices for everyone from general manager Jon Robinson and Mularkey and position coaches to the media relations department preparing for their next game in San Francisco.
—A ballroom now is a locker room.
—Meeting rooms turned into a cafeteria.
—A training room.
—And yes, a workout space for all those weights.
The Titans will only have to travel to Arizona State for practices, though Tuesday remains the players’ off day. Safety Johnathan Cyprien, who spent a week in London with the Jaguars, knew what to expect.
“Oh yeah, we’re stuck together,” Cyprien said. “We’ll be stuck together kind of like college. You know, where you go to practice, you go to class and you sleep in the same room with the same guys all day. You have no choice but to get closer when you’re put in those situations.”
Lastly, lots and lots of bags for essentially three separate trips in the span of 10 days. Usually, a road trip features 125 to 130 people, but this extended stay has 171 with the practice squad and other employees needed for a game week. Players alone will have at least three bags apiece.
On Sunday night, the Titans will board their third different airplane, which must be big enough to carry home all that gear.
Only time, and the three remaining games, will determine how helpful the travel plans were for Tennessee. Of course, both the Patriots and Eagles won after spending a week away, and Philadelphia went home as NFC East champs . The Titans (8-5) are hoping for a similar benefit trying to end an eight-season playoff drought coming off a 12-7 loss to Arizona.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get away together as a team,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “I think that’s going to benefit us and bring this team closer. I do think it will help us down the stretch.”