The battle for supremacy in football always has and always will start up front in the trenches. Ask any football man worth his salt and he’ll let you know, any team built successfully will always have a good line play. Its simple, if you get great play from your lines, you will have a shot to win and dominate in the NFL. This week let’s look at the Titans defensive line and what they must do to improve upon their subpar performance of a year ago
Although the Titans are relatively young on the D-line with RDE Jason Jones being the old man of the group who just played his 4th season. LDE is manned by Derrick Morgan heading into his 3rd year, the tackle spots have Jurrell Casey who just finished his rookie year and Sen’Derrick Marks who just finished his 3rd year. Backing them up are Dave Ball, Karl Klug, William Hayes, and Shaun Smith.
Starting the season most people expected a bounce back season from Derrick Morgan who the Titans took with the 16th pick in the 2010 draft but tore his ACL in his rookie year. He had a couple set backs in his recovery this past season but he was able to get healthy and have a semi solid season with 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Morgan is starting to look like the workman of DEs, solid, not spectacular but a guy that does a good enough job that you can’t bench him because he works his tail off and is always where he needs to be. That’s all fine and great but most teams don’t draft any player in the 1st round to just be a good strong worker, bring your lunch kind of guy. We need 10 sacks from Morgan and someone who can set the edge in the run game. For the most part he has shown a decent ability to set the edge in the run game, but even if we spotted him 5 sacks he still wouldn’t have 10 in 19 career games so we only have half the equation. Let’s hope that heading into next season, being two years removed from ACL surgery he will have more explosiveness and won’t have to second guess the injured knee when he’s out on the field. On the other hand, if we head into the season and he has to go back under the knife to have his knee cleaned out again, which would be the 3 rd surgery on the same knee in 3 seasons, he may never match his potential. On the other side we have Jason Jones who in 14 games last year produced 18 tackles and 3 sacks. It was Jones first year at DE so maybe he had a few growing pains to endure. At the same time, maybe not, maybe his ability to knife in between guards and centers and make plays in the back field when he was a DT were nutrilized now that he’s playing against LTs who are more addept at handling passrushers than there immobile guard and center friends are. Either way, all told, from our starting DEs last year we got 6 sacks….yep, that’s right, 6 sacks. That has got to get better whether it is thru the draft or free agency.
Let’s look at the middle, the meat and potatoes of the line. Alright baby, now I’m getting excited, I’m about to talk about Jurrell Casey, yes Jurrell, you know, Superman’s father. Yeah him, what a nice pick by the Titans. As a rookie Jurrell showed that he had the strength to push the pocket, the quickness to blow up a few plays in the backfield and the lateral movement to occasionally cover the flats in special defenses that Gray called. He finished the season with 52 tackles, 1ff, 2.5 sacks. He played well most of the season but of course like most rookies, had a few games where he disappeared. I look forward to seeing him line up for years to come as the Titans DT. He reminds me of a smaller Casey Hampton, very stocky, very wide, but quick and just very hard to redirect in the trenches. He’s not the tallest of guys, only standing about 6 foot but he makes up for that lack of size with great instincts that help him win at the point of attack. The other DT is Sen’Derrick Marks. I think I’ll leave it at that. Not really, I want to but for the sake of this article I guess I have to write about him. The Titans, myself, and fans of the Titans had high hopes for him coming out of Alabama but he really hasn’t shown much. Last year he ended up with 24 tackles, .5 sacks and 1ff. We simply must have more production from our D line. Another bright spot though, Karl Klug. Rookie DT who reminded me of Jason Fisk but with a better pass rush. All the guy did in his first year is finish with 7 sacks and 2 ff. Really? This guy didn’t start but finished with more sacks than all the starting defensive lineman on the team, combined. Although he is undersized at 275, he has shown the quickness to beat guards and centers one on one consistently. Can he be a starter? I would think no just based on the fact that Jerry wants bigger lineman up front to better stop the run game. Dave Ball who finished the season with 4 sacks and 2 ff is a nice change of pace coming off the bench who has a great motor and never takes plays off. Unfortunately he is a FA and may not be back. To round out the rotation is William Hayes who suffered a knee injury and was limited to 10 games this year.
Now to the numbers, the rush D gave up 128.3 yards a game to rank 24th in the league, pass D was ranked 14th and gave 226.8 yards a game, total D was ranked 18th and gave up 355.1 yards a game. What absolutely has to happen is that the Titans have to allow fewer 100 yard rushers and they have to get that total rushing yards allowed to below 100 a game. If you can’t stop the run you allow an opponent to keep his entire playbook open. Making your opponent one dimensional is a must in the NFL, a league that is so competitive that every little advantage you can get helps immensely.
As a whole, the Titans D line has not been effective. Simply put, the Titans must have better fits in the run game in order to stop it. They must stop over running plays and remember their assignments. Most importantly, we must get better talent on the line. Jason Jones is a FA and could very well be gone from the line as well as Dave Ball.