We continue our Tennessee Titans countdown to training camp today with a look at the defensive line.
Key 2015 Departures:
Key 2016 Additions:
Kevin Dodd (rookie)
Austin Johnson (rookie)
Key Players Returning:
Lost in the Tennessee Titans’ 3-13 record last year was the stellar performance from their defensive front seven. And while the linebackers filled the stat sheet last season, the defensive linemen were the true unsung heroes.
In fact, the Titans’ defensive line was not only the deepest and most talented unit on the team, they were arguably one of the deepest and most productive units in the entire league.
In a 3-4 scheme, the defensive line has the unappreciated and unenviable task of clogging the middle and occupying as many bodies as possible. By doing that, they open lanes for the quartet of linebackers behind them to get to the ball.
In 2015 the d-line did that…and then some.
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The massive 300 pound trio up front routinely gobbled up offensive linemen, and the starting middle linebackers were the beneficiary.
Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard ran free all season, combining for 189 tackles and 8.5 sacks. They individually finished first and third in team tackles.
As a whole, the Titans’ defense finished 8th in the league in yards per rush allowed (3.9), and the longest run they gave up all season was just 32 yards…good for second best in the league.
Tennessee’s d-line was just as disruptive in the passing game last season, combining for 13.5 sacks as a unit.
Jurrell Casey cemented himself as one of the premier young defensive ends in the league. His 54 tackles (4 for loss) and seven sacks earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2015. He is simply un-blockable in one on one situations, and must be game planned for week in and week out.
DaQuan Jones was promoted to start opposite of Casey last season at left defensive end, and turned in a quiet but solid 45 tackle performance, and veteran DE Karl Klug was impressive in a reserve role, registering 4 sacks in limited action.
At nose tackle, the Titans elected to part ways with veteran Sammie Hill due in large part to the solid rookie campaign turned in by Angelo Blackson last season.
Blackson recorded 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble, and his youth, athleticism, and ability to play end and nose tackle made Hill expendable. He will rotate reps with veteran Al Woods at nose tackle in training camp.
As good as the Titans were up front last season, they should be even better this season after a couple of high-profile offseason additions.
Tennessee used their two second round draft picks this year on defensive linemen, selecting Kevin Dodd out of Clemson and Austin Johnson from Penn State.
In his lone season as a starter, Dodd exploded on the scene with 60 tackles and 12 sacks last year for Clemson. Under the bright lights of the College Football Playoff National Championship game, Dodd wreaked havoc on Alabama with seven tackles and three sacks.
His speed off the edge and ability to get to the quarterback makes him a perfect fit for the Titans.
Johnson made his name as a premier space eater and run stopper for Penn State, and looks to reunite with DaQuan Jones. The two played alongside each other for the Nittany Lions in 2013.
With all of the key players returning, some added depth, and another year of tutelage under Dick LeBeau, look for an even better season from the defensive line in 2016.
Casey continues to improve, and a double-digit sack season is not out of the question. Look for Blackson to push Woods for playing time at nose tackle, with the rookie Johnson contributing in a reserve role.
The x-factor is Dodd, who is still recovering from offseason surgery. He missed mini-camp and is no lock to return by the start of training camp.
The Titans will be smart to bring him along slowly, and I’m sure they will, but when he is fully recovered and ready to play I fully expect the rookie to see plenty of action.
While depth at the position is a good thing for the Titans overall, it could spell doom for Ropati Pitouitua, who lost his starting job to Jones last season.