NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Timing when to use trick plays can be, well, tricky. Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel pointed out that there's a fine line between something that could help the team and something that could be disastrous.
"Unintended consequences sometimes come with those plays," Vrabel said.
But trick plays were instrumental in Vrabel's first victory as an NFL head coach. In Week 2 last season against the Houston Texans, the Titans scored a 66-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6 when safety Kevin Byard, who was lined up as the personal protector on the punt team, connected on a pass to safety Dane Cruikshank.
"It was something we worked on back in training camp," Byard said. "There was a certain look that we were getting. I was surprised they gave us the look. The coaches trusted me to make the throw and to actually throw it. That's the trust between the special-teams coaches, myself and Coach Vrabel. I was just happy we got the look, and I'm glad they called it because it was definitely a big play in the game."
Vrabel, whose Titans meet the Texans on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS) for the first of two meetings that could decide the AFC South title, has shown a penchant for dialing up a trick play to give his team an edge.
"I like trying to come up with different plays offensively and defensively that can help us," Vrabel said. "I’m just trying to be knowledgeable of all phases and aspects of our team, so whether that’s 'I think this can work on the punt team' or 'this can work on offense,' I try to give my input, and we’ll talk about it, see if it's sound or something that would fit. I try to do all those things in all phases."
The Titans are the only team who have had two offensive linemen catch a pass for a touchdown this season. Offensive tackle David Quessenberry caught a 1-yard pass from Marcus Mariota on a tackle-eligible play in Tennessee's Week 2 loss to the Colts.
"Just catching a touchdown pass in general as an offensive lineman is pretty rare. It doesn’t happen too often. It’s a big deal for us as an offensive line to have one of our own catch a ball," Quessenberry said.
Fellow tackle Dennis Kelly added a 1-yard touchdown reception on the same tackle-eligible play in the Titans' 42-20 win over the Jaguars. Kelly's touchdown came immediately after Jonnu Smith drew a pass interference call in the end zone on a halfback pass from Derrick Henry.
Vrabel's fondness for trickery and creativity could stem from his days as a linebacker with the New England Patriots, when he scored 12 touchdowns on offense as a tight end in goal-line packages. But the process of finding trick plays is a group effort. Vrabel said assistant John Streicher scours film for trick plays that could end up on the Titans' play sheet. Quality control coach Chandler Henley and offensive assistant Luke Steckel discuss plays they've seen with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as well.
"We talk all the time. It's not just him [Vrabel]," Smith said. "Over the years, you have libraries of things, and you kind of talk through things. Guys have had ideas. It may not be the right week to do it. The biggest part of the job is figuring out how it fits us, whether it's a college play or a play that somebody else did in the NFL. Will it be beneficial to us? It kind of comes together. Everybody has input. If anyone has an idea, it's never too small."
Smith said there are times when the trick plays are on the call sheet, but they don't get called because the right situations to pull them off are not there. The Titans recently used several gadget plays, such as Derrick Henry's pass attempt to Jonnu Smith against the Jaguars or when Henry lined up as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
How do they decide on the right time to use such plays?
"It’s all just a part of game planning. I think you try to see where you can best take advantage. You just try to look at the defense, come together, talk about it, see where things fit, say, ‘Hey, I like this. What do you think?’ Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it fits. Sometimes it doesn’t."
The Titans like to celebrate when the trick plays work. They have put together some pretty entertaining celebrations, such as the "Electric Slide" or doing the "Remember the Titans" dance. It is usually a team collaboration. That's something that seems to comes from Vrabel as well.
After laughing about how he "dirty-birded it" in Super Bowl XXXIX, Vrabel said his most memorable moment involved celebrating with his teammates.
"I used to spike it and sprint off to the defense, who would be waiting there because they knew I was going in there, so they would kind of huddle around the 35-yard line on the sidelines. I spiked it one time and went sprinting into [Tedy] Bruschi, [Vince] Wilfork and [Roosevelt] Colvin and Willie [McGinest] and the crew. Brady was like, 'The next time you score, if you run over there, you're not coming back on offense.' I was like, 'OK. I'll stay here and celebrate with the offense!'"