NASHVILLE, Tennessee. It’s been over 45 minutes since the Tennessee Titans’ humiliating 21:20 loss to the New York Giants in the season opener. Most of the Titans players had already showered and dressed in their lockers.

As reporters scanned the room for players to talk to, defender Denico Autry sat at his locker, still dressed in his playing pants and boots, with an expression that could see through a building.

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It was clear from Autry’s frown that he was deeply distressed by the loss.

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“He cares a lot about this team and wants to do well,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Autry.

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Autry added: “I take it to heart, man. I take all of this seriously.”

Autry finished the game without a bag and with just one quarterback hit. He quickly bounced back with three consecutive sack games, including two sacks in the season against his former team, the Indianapolis Colts.

One of the things Autry has most taken to heart over the course of her career is that the Colts allowed him to leave through free agency in 2020. Autry had 7.5 sacks and teamed up with DeForest Buckner to form a devastating duo up front in his final season with the Colts.

Autry fielded 20 sacks in three seasons at Indianapolis, but the Colts decided not to keep him despite having room in the cap 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 about to forgo his return, Autry turned his attention to another AFC South team so he could get two opportunities to show the Colts how big a mistake it was to let him go.

Titans general manager John Robinson lashed out, signing Autry to a three-year, $21.5 million contract. Tennessee has also given a sense of familiarity since defensive line coach Terrell Williams coached Autry in 2014 with the Oakland Raiders.

“He is one of those guys for whom relationships are so important. Whereas if he doesn’t have a relationship with you, he’ll turn you off,” Williams said.

In response, Autry tied his career high with nine sacks in 2021. The Titans’ front four were a threat to opposing teams, and Autry helped lead the way with Jeffrey Simmons and Harold Landry III, who both had career seasons. As a team, the Titans have grown from 19 sacks in 2020 to 43 sacks in 2021. Simmons posted a career-high 8.5 sacks and 10.5 runs.

“I’m grateful to the Colts for letting him go because it was a great pickup truck for us,” Simmons said. “Me and Deniko push each other. When he goes heads-up I can count on him to win and it’s hard for the teams to keep trying to double-team me.”

Titans defense coordinator Shane Bowen used Autry up and down the line from behind the top of center to throw a passer from outside the tackle.

That versatility was critical for the Titans this season, who were left without Landry with a pre-season ACL tear. Much of Autry’s work has been from the outside, which helps offset the loss of Landry, who led the Titans with 12 sacks last season.

The Titans also ran into depth issues at the outside linebacker when Bud Dupree (thigh injury) and Ola Adenyi (neck injury) were unavailable, so they signed veteran defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., a former Autry teammate. Edwards joked that he and Autry were called “The Bash Brothers” when they were in Oakland because of how destructive the pairing was.

“We developed chemistry with each other,” Edwards said. “I know when he gives me a certain look, he’s going to do something, and vice versa.”

“You can see them talking about things, it’s on another level,” outside linebacker coach Ryan Crowe said.

Autry had his best game of the season, defeating the Colts 24–17 in Week 4 with Edwards lining up next to him.

One of Autry’s two seasonal sacks arrived with the help of Edwards in a stunt. Edwards lined up outside of Autry, attacked the outside shoulder of the left tackle and returned to the inside.

This threw the tackle off balance and Autry ran through it en route to firing Colts quarterback Matt Ryan, stopping a shot late in the fourth quarter that could have called the game.

“It’s always nice to come back here and kick some ass,” Autry said after the game.

Autry will get another opportunity against the Colts when they arrive at Nissan Stadium for their Week 7 game (Sunday, 1pm ET).