The Titans came into the 2011 season with plenty of question marks. One of the bigger question marks was what effect would new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray have on what many people believed was a defense that was void of top tier talent, no recognizable names, and unproven young players in his charge, and how soon would the Titans see these results. How long would it take this former all pro DB who led top 10 defenses in Buffalo and Washington to get results.
To answer those two questions in quick fashion, a tremendous effect and immediately. The Titans currently rank # 7 in total defense, #1 in scoring defense, and they are in the top 10 in passing and rushing yards allowed. How in the world has he done this so fast? Well, to start, the Titans have plenty of talent on defense, especially in the secondary. Former all pro CB Courtland Finnegan was named a team captain before the season began, showing a maturity and leadership he hasn’t shown before in leading player workouts during the lockout. Also at CB the Titans have Alterraun Verner, a 2nd year CB out of UCLA who walked in the door showing he could make plays on the ball as evidenced by his 3 ints as a rookie, Jason McCourty who is in his 3rd year and has 2 ints thus far. Michael Griffin at one safety spot is a two time pro bowler. Jerry Gray made it a point to talk to each player in his secondary before the season began and asked them what they thought they excelled at, zone, man-to-man, blitzing, run support and where they thought they fit into the defense. He listened to his players and let them tell him what they were most comfortable doing on the field, and used this information to put them in the best position possible to make plays. Along the front seven the DEs no longer play strictly a 9 technique, meaning they no longer play solely swept out wide of the tackles to rush the passer. The DTs, Shaun Smith, signed from Kansas City during the off season(6’2 325), Jurrell Casey(6’1 300) a run stuffing rookie out of UCLA are bigger, better run defenders that shouldn’t wear down as the game goes on. Moving Jason Jones from DT to DE to pair him with a constantly hustling Dave Ball and 2nd year end Derrick Morgan, who was picked 16th overall in last years draft and was regarded as the best overall DE has made D-line more sturdy yet also kept its pass rushing ability. The LB corp has also had a makeover. Second round draft pick OLB Akeem Ayers also out of UCLA was ragarded as 1st round talent that slipped to the 2nd due to a slow 40 time in the combine and FA MLB Barrett Ruud have made the LB corp better in coverage and given Gray more diversity in the calls he can make.
Gray has put his players in position to play to the best of there abilities. This may sound simple but too many times new coordinators and coaches come in and install their defense and don’t have the players on the roster to do it successfully so you tend to have a year, two or sometimes even 3 of constant roster change until the players match what the coach wants. Gray has shown himself to be flexible in his lineups and to have his players prepared each week, this defense has not looked unprepared, they have stepped up to the challenge each week. Far too many games the last two years did the defense look unprepared, over matched, and flat out bad.
A new year brings new change, and this is one Gray are of the team that seems to be in very good hands.