Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey isn’t the only player who many fans have questioned about whether he fits into the new hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme that Ray Horton brings over from the Cleveland Browns.
Pro Football Focus has spent most of the last two seasons rewarding heavy praise toward defensive end Derrick Morgan. Evidence of this comes with his selection to the 2013 PFF All-AFC South team. Morgan joined Indianapolis Colts edge-rush specialist Robert Mathis as the starting defensive ends (which is awkward because Mathis plays outside linebacker). Morgan finished last season with 34 tackles and six sacks.
It’s easy for fans to critique player performance based on sacks. John Glennon of The Tennessean posted a list of all the defensive ends who were drafted during the first rounds of the 2010 and 2011 NFL Drafts. Below is that chart and their production.
This doesn’t mean that Morgan can’t rush the passer. PFF graded him as the sixth-best 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end. According to The Tennessean, PFF graded Morgan as the fourth-best 4-3 defensive end in 2012 and the 10th-best in 2013.
It’s an “almost—but not quite” situation. Morgan provides solid run defense and pressures the quarterback. He just doesn’t reach them often enough. His highest single-season sack total was a 6.5-sack campaign during the 2012-13 season. He did that in 16 starts. His six sacks from 2013 came in 14 starts.
How does Morgan fit in Horton’s new 3-4 scheme? Defensive line coach Giff Smith enters his first season in Nashville. Smith coached Morgan when he had 12.5 sacks at Georgia Tech. Smith believes that the Titans can put him in more one-on-one situations while fine-tuning his abilities so those pressures can turn into sacks. He expects more varied point of attacks that could see him playing more with his hand up and / or lining up in difference techniques.
Will Morgan fit more as a defensive end, outside linebacker or a LEO / Jack-Rusher type of player? Does he have enough cover skills to occasionally drop into pass coverage? Tom Gower of TotalTitans.com (Here) believes that Horton’s comments about not playing Morgan 60-plus snaps per game are indicative of Morgan playing defensive end. Typically, Horton prefers to rotate his defensive linemen.
Morgan’s 6-3, 271-poundish frame would seem to make him too small to play defensive end on a traditional 3-4 front. Then again, Horton found ways to to play rookie Armonty Bryant at defensive end. At 6-4 and 265 pounds, the 2013 seventh-round draft pick was a part-time player who had 12 quarterback harassments and two sacks (Fox Sports).
If Horton can get production out of an undersized seventh-round rookie defensive lineman, then why not Morgan and Casey? It’ll be interesting to see whether these two defensive linemen continue to play at what PFF refers to as a “high quality starter level.” With Horton, maybe they can up their game into PFF’s “elite” category.
Pro Football Focus