NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Over 45 minutes had passed since the Tennessee Titans' humiliating 21-20 loss to the New York Giants in the season opener. Most Titans players had already showered and were getting dressed at their lockers.
As reporters scanned the room searching for players to talk to, defensive end Denico Autry sat at his locker still wearing his game-day pants and cleats, with a look on his face that could stare through a building.
Autry's scowl made it clear, he was taking the loss hard.
"He cares about this team a lot and wants to do well," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Autry.
Added Autry, "I take stuff to heart, man. I take all of this seriously."
Autry finished the game without a sack and only one quarterback hit. He bounced back quickly, reeling off three consecutive games with sacks, including a season-high two sacks against his former team, the Indianapolis Colts.
One of the things Autry has taken to heart most during his career is the Colts letting him walk via free agency in 2020. Autry had 7.5 sacks and combined with DeForest Buckner to form a devastating duo up front in his final season with the Colts.
In three seasons with Indianapolis, Autry put up 20 sacks, but the Colts decided not to retain him despite having cap space to do so.
"It just made me feel like I wasn't good enough," Autry said. "It put a chip on my shoulder."
Once he saw that Indianapolis was going to pass up on bringing him back, Autry turned his sights to another AFC South team so he could get two opportunities to show the Colts how much of a mistake it was to let him go.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson pounced, signing Autry to a three-year, $21.5 million contract. Tennessee also offered a sense of familiarity since defensive line coach Terrell Williams coached Autry in 2014 with the Oakland Raiders.
"He's one of those guys where relationships are so important. Whereas if he doesn't have a relationship with ya, he'll tune you out," Williams said.
Autry responded by tying his career-high in sacks with nine in 2021. The Titans' front four was a menace to opposing teams with Autry helping lead the way, along with Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry III, who both had career seasons. As a team, the Titans went from 19 sacks in 2020 to 43 sacks in 2021. Simmons posted a career-high 8.5 sacks and 10.5 run stuffs.
"I appreciate the Colts for letting him walk because it was a great pickup for us," Simmons said. "Me and Denico, we push each other. When he gets that 1-on-1, I can depend on him to win it and it makes it hard for teams to keep trying to double-team me."
Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen has employed Autry up and down the line, from over the top of the center, to rushing the passer from outside the tackle.
That versatility has been crucial for the Titans this season, who are without Landry due to a torn ACL before the season. A lot of Autry's work has been from the outside, which helps make up for the loss of Landry, who led the Titans with 12 sacks last season.
The Titans also ran into depth issues at outside linebacker when Bud Dupree (hip injury) and Ola Adeniyi (neck injury) were unavailable, so they signed veteran defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., Autry's former Raiders teammate. Edwards joked that he and Autry used to be called the "Bash Brothers" when they were in Oakland because of how destructive they were as a tandem.
"We developed a chemistry with each other," Edwards said. "I know when he gives me a certain look, he's about to do something, and vice-versa."
"You can see just the way they talk about things, there's a different level," outside linebackers coach Ryan Crow said.
Autry had his best game this season in a 24-17 win over the Colts in Week 4 with Edwards lining up next to him.
One of Autry's season-high two sacks came with assistance from Edwards on a stunt. Edwards lined up outside of Autry, attacked the left tackle's outside shoulder and looped back inside.
"It's always good to come back here and kick a little butt," Autry said after the game.
Autry will get another opportunity against the Colts when they come to Nissan Stadium for a Week 7 matchup (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET).