Titans believe they're deeper, stronger on defense
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans' goal on defense in the offseason was simple: Create more depth and better competition.
The Titans' defense was solid enough, especially early in the 2015 season. But as injuries took their toll late in the season, the defense's play slipped. Tennessee still ranked 12th overall on defense, a somewhat surprising statistic for a team that went 3-13.
The Titans had 39 sacks in 2015 and return their front seven intact from last season.
That group was led by Pro Bowl lineman Jurrell Casey (seven sacks) and pass-rushing linebackers Brian Orakpo (seven sacks) and Derrick Morgan (4 1/2 sacks in just 10 games). But after Morgan got hurt, the pass rush dropped off considerably.
Tennessee has used free agency, the draft and the waiver wire to address the depth issue of a defense that is now under the exclusive control of venerable coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The Titans drafted defensive tackle Austin Johnson and linebackers Kevin Dodd and Aaron Wallace. They also added veteran linebackers in Sean Spence and Nate Palmer as potential backups and role players.
Dodd and Wallace are nursing short-term injuries, but Morgan is back. Veteran David Bass, who replaced Morgan late last season, is having a strong camp, according to coach Mike Mularkey.
''We've got some depth at that position, which we didn't feel like we had last year,'' Mularkey said.
Orakpo said all the added competition is making the Titans a better football team.
''The competition has been greatly improved throughout every phase, even in walk-throughs, making sure everybody is on board and understands the playbooks and knows their assignment,'' Orakpo said.
''Everybody is on high alert. Everybody is competing to their utmost ability. That has really been a great improvement from past years.''
Orakpo went on to say that the changes are not just for change's sake. Orakpo believes the moves could alter a losing culture that has plagued the Titans in recent years.
''You see the acquisitions we've brought into this team and it's nothing but experience, nothing but leadership and guys improving in this league - not guys that just show up to get a paycheck,'' Orakpo said.
Cornerback Jason McCourty, who missed 12 games last season with a groin injury, sees the difference. He has been with the club since 2009 and likes what he sees from the deeper defense.
''We have a lot more competition on the defensive side of the ball than we have in the past, and that's going to make everybody raise their level of play,'' McCourty said.
As for the secondary, there is additional competition and depth competing there in camp as well.
The Titans added four cornerbacks and two safeties to compete for roles. Mularkey likes what he is seeing from the competition in the defensive backfield.
''That's going to be a difficult position to talk about when we get down to roster cuts. We've got guys that can play at that position that we're not going to be able to keep,'' Mularkey said.
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