NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans gave Michael Griffin a big contract extension a year ago. Now they hope they've given him enough help so that he plays like a Pro Bowl safety once again.
The Titans shuffled Griffin back and forth between the safety positions last season, and he tied for the team lead with four interceptions. But the defense was one of the worst in the NFL, and Griffin struggled shifting between jobs.
So Tennessee signed veterans Bernard Pollard and George Wilson this offseason to make sure Griffin only has to worry about playing free safety.
And they've made it very clear to Griffin what they expect from him in 2013.
"Hopefully, we get Michael Griffin up to playing like Michael Griffin," Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said. "We expect a Pro Bowl player out of Michael, and he knows that. So that's why we surround him with Pollard and George Wilson. You know what? They're guys out there that are going to play at Pro Bowl levels, so we expect him to play at that Pro Bowl level. So get out there and get it done."
And Griffin has gotten it done in the NFL.
Since the Titans drafted him in the first round out of Texas in 2007, only Ed Reed (34) and Charles Woodson (30) have had more interceptions than Griffin at safety in that time. Griffin has 21, tying him with Oshiomogho Atogwe, currently with Philadelphia.
Griffin earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2008 when he tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. His second Pro Bowl came in 2010. Griffin has yet to miss a game in his first six seasons. It's why the Titans tagged him as their franchise player in 2012 before reaching agreement on a five-year extension worth up to $36 million exactly a year ago as they wrapped up the offseason.
But Griffin excels at free safety roaming the field.
Last season, the Titans moved him around after signing him to that new deal. Griffin started the first two games at strong safety as Tennessee started Robert Johnson at free safety. That experiment didn't last, and Griffin went back to his natural position with Jordan Babineaux returning to strong safety. Griffin finished second on the team with 103 tackles in a disappointing season all around for a team that allowed a franchise-worst 471 points.
The Titans released Babineaux and signed first Wilson in February and then Pollard fresh off his Super Bowl victory with Baltimore in March. Griffin couldn't be happier having his role simplified to just staying 20 yards deep off the line of scrimmage as the centerfielder.
"My job is to be the angel in the sky," Griffin said. "My role is different now. I just got to watch film, watch the quarterback's eyes and go where the ball's thrown. And if it's a run or whatever, just cap it off. Makes my job much easier. Just do my job rather than last year play free safety, go to strong safety depending on who's in the game. I had to do different jobs whatever the call was. Now the job's simple."
Right now, Pollard is starting at strong safety, and the Titans also are designing packages where they put all three veterans on the field at the same time to help confuse quarterbacks.
"This year just having strong safeties that can play the strong safety position just makes my job a lot easier to stay in one position and one position only," Griffin said.
The Titans have little depth right now behind Griffin with Johnson currently healing up from an injury. Markelle Martin, a sixth-round draft selection out of Oklahoma State a year ago, has yet to play and has barely practiced due to a variety of injuries himself. It's forced Tennessee to experiment with moving cornerback Alterraun Verner to free safety this offseason to take advantage of his athleticism.
It's why Gray and other coaches are encouraging the members of the secondary to spend more time together off the field whether it's meeting together or just sharing more meals in an attempt to build more camaraderie.
Griffin said cornerbacks like Verner, Jason McCourty, Tommie Campbell and Coty Sensabaugh all have another year of experience. He also likes what he's seen from rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson too. They all expect to do better than a year ago when Tennessee ranked 26th against the pass, giving up 231.3 yards per game.
"I think we're going to be able to step this secondary up," Griffin said.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com@teresamwalker