NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Entering his second NFL season, Harold Landry had a goal: Be disruptive, making as many plays and turnovers as he could.
Through 12 games, the Tennessee Titans outside linebacker has done just that, leading the team with nine sacks to go with an interception and a forced fumble.
Landry is delivering for a team desperately in need of an impact player off the edge. The secret sauce for Landry's success might simply be a heightened level of confidence.
"This year, I am just cutting it loose and going out there playing as fast as I can,” Landry said. “I am much more relaxed, flying off the ball, and it's much more reactionary."
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees sees the confidence growing in Landry, too.
"Half the battle in any football player is once the guy is playing with confidence, they start playing faster. ... They feel much more comfortable, and they're not thinking as much,” Pees said. “They are just playing. That's exactly where [Landry] is. The more he gets sacks and things like that, the more confident he becomes.”
With one more sack, Landry will be the first Titans player to reach double digits since Brian Orakpo had 10.5 in 2016. Landry has had at least one sack in eight games this season and has registered a sack in five consecutive games, the second-longest streak this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Dean Pees elaborates on how confidence helps any player elevate his game. In this case he was answering my question regarding Harold Landry. "Half the battle for any player is confidence. Once the guy starts playing with confidence, he just plays faster." #Titans pic.twitter.com/byD58D6aLx— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) December 5, 2019
Landry's pass-rushing production isn't showing up just in sacks. His 18 quarterback pressures on third down are the second-most in the NFL. Only the Los Angeles Chargers' Joey Bosa (21) has more. One of Landry's pressures against the Colts forced Jacoby Brissett to make a careless throw that was intercepted by safety Kevin Byard. That set up Ryan Succop's game-tying 31-yard field goal.
How did Landry get so confident? The 6-foot-2, 252-pounder worked on adding pass-rushing moves during the offseason. He spent time watching film of pass-rushers such as Dee Ford, Khalil Mack and Von Miller and put hours in at the weight room with teammate DaQuan Jones so he could add more muscle. The greater strength, combined with the new pass-rush moves, have led to Landry's growing belief that he can whip the man across from him.
Outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen credited Landry for learning to tweak his attack during the game as he experiences how offensive linemen are trying to block him. Bowen is up in the booth during game day, but they discuss adjustments throughout the game. The different moves and techniques that Bowen, defensive assistant Ryan Crow and head coach Mike Vrabel are teaching Landry in practice are starting to surface on game day.
"The biggest thing with him is his confidence going into the game right now," Bowen said. "I think any time you're dealing with a young guy, it takes time for that stuff to carry over. When the lights come on, you start looking around, and your focus might go away from some of that stuff. He's locking in ... everything is slowing down for him now, so he can focus on doing those little things that we talk about when we're on the practice field."
Landry is taking it to a new level this year by studying what is working against opposing offensive linemen and replicating it throughout the game. He stopped short of calling it a pass-rushing plan, but he said he caters his attack to different linemen.
"When I am preparing for a game and see a guy that's a low-puncher, that's good for a chop," Landry said during training camp. "When I see a high puncher, that's good for a dip so I can get under him. I want to go into a game and be able to use more than one move that I know will work. It might not be the best time to go to a dip and corner on him. I might have to stab him or do something else. Building my overall repertoire of moves helps me go against the tackles or tight ends."
Another area of emphasis was playing better in space. Landry had been more of a "see ball, get ball" player at Boston College, but now he's asked to do more. He said he's getting more comfortable dropping back into coverage, reading plays and doing more of the things that Dean Pees requires players to do in his defense.
Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden says Landry is a player who stands out as his team prepares to face the Titans. Although Gruden called Landry a great edge rusher, the concern is not just because of the sacks.
"You have to be careful with him. He can hurt you off the edge. He does a lot. He drops into coverage, has great range. We will know where 58 is," Gruden said of Landry via conference call.
Landry has enjoyed success this season, but he's ready to keep ascending.
"I love making plays and getting hype with the other guys," he said. "That's when it's the most fun: when we are all out there making plays and feeding off each other's energy. It's awesome.
"I feel like there's another level that I can take. I am just trying to finish these last games strong and get into the playoffs, then take it from there."