Sep 8, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Tennessee Titans linebacker Zach Brown (55) tackles Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman (33) during the second half at Heinz Field. The Titans won the game, 16-9. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Titans: Breaking Down Current Linebacker Depth before Free Agency

Tennessee Titans: Breaking Down Current Linebacker Depth before FA

Dec 30, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Akeem Ayers (56) is congratulated by teammate Tennessee defensive end Kamerion Wimbley (95) for sacking Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne (7) (not pictured)during the second half at LP Field. Titans won 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Where do all the pieces fit?

It’s one of the main questions for any defensive coordinator who’s transitioning to a defense with 3-4 principles. Ray Horton faces that challenge as he enters his first season with the Tennessee Titans. Horton brings a hybrid 3-4 defense which includes a multi-front, attacking approach. Music City Miracles staff writer SuperHorn has a superb breakdown of what fans can expect…and it’s not a traditional two-gap defense. You can find that breakdown at MCM, HERE.

Now that you’re better educated about what lies ahead, let’s look at the current depth chart of linebackers before free agency begins:

OLB (5): Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, Kamerion Wimbley, Zaviar Gooden, Patrick Bailey
ILB (2): Moise Fokou, Colin McCarthy

Are you wearing a grimacing expression on your face? How did I guess? No need to cover your webcam—it’s safe to assume that anyone would have an unpleasant feeling when looking at this depth chart. Patrick Bailey is almost exclusively a special teams player, Colin McCarthy has durability concerns, and Kamerion Wimbley may become a cap casualty.

That leaves four players who are unknowns for this defense. Consider linebacker depth as one of the top offseason priorities. A 3-4 defense should have somewhere between 9-10 linebackers or defensive end / outside linebacker tweeners.

Many questions exist with this group. Does Brown move inside? Leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, scouting reports suggested that Zaviar Gooden wasn’t a schematically diverse player and that he was limited as a 4-3 weakside linebacker. Although Gooden has limited experience as a collegiate pass-rusher, could he thrive as a weakside edge-rusher? Is Akeem Ayers capable of breaking out the dominant edge-rusher that this scheme needs?

What may turn out as the most underrated offseason switch: replacing Chet Parlavecchio with Lou Spanos. Quality linebacker play significantly dropped off from the previous season. Under the former high school coach’s supervision, Ayers regressed and Brown was temporarily benched. McCarthy lost his starting job.

Linebacker play must improve. Some of those improvements will come from players who are currently on the 53-man roster. General manager Ruston Webster will determine where the rest comes from. Horton has worked with less and turned it into a top-10 unit. There’s no reason to think that, with some tweaks and one difference-maker, he can’t do the same thing in Nashville.

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  • Matt Ward

    I don’t know what to make of Derrick Morgan. While Superhorn’s article is great, it ends by saying things will pretty much stay the same with the exception of an OLB coming off the edge. But in Cleveland, young DE Jabal Sheard was converted to OLB despite not being a great fit. He saw huge declines in tackles and fewer sacks.

    If they try this with Morgan, what will the outcome be in your opinion?

    • Joshua Huffman

      Can he cover anybody? I don’t see him as an every-down player in this defense. He’s the one player who I have serious doubts about how he fits. Underweight to play DL in a 3-man front, had major concerns about pass-coverage ability as a 2010 NFL Draft participant. Maybe Horton can use him as an exclusive pass-rushing OLB/LEO/Jack Rusher in his defense?

      In Sheard’s case, his numbers took a dip because he only played 13 games (he played all 16 in previous 2).

      • Matt Ward

        If they determine that Morgan doesn’t fit well in this system, I wonder if there would be any suitors for him via trade.