The Titans' defensive line has struggled the past couple of seasons; however, with more experience under the belts of young guys and some new additions, the unit is ready to take the next step in 2013.
(Photo Credit: titansonline.com)
The Titans have not had a great defensive line since the days of Defensive Line Coach, Jim Washburn and his “Chain Gang” in 2008 that consisted of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Albert Haynesworth, Tony Brown, and “The Freak” Jevon Kearse. The line was close to unstoppable and disrupted offenses to a 13-3 for the Titans. Now Tennessee is looking to improve its front four to a threat in the AFC South. But who are these guys, and are they capable of being fantastic?
Derrick Morgan – Defensive End
“Captain Morgan” was drafted 16th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Georgia Tech, one spot after the Giants took the phenom, Jason Pierre-Paul. Morgan started his rookie season doing very well until he tore his ACL against the Broncos in his fourth NFL game. He had a very mediocre sophomore season, as he spent the majority of 2011 recovering from the torn ligament.
With questions of his ability to be a starting end arising, Morgan stepped up to the plate in 2012. He recorded 6.5 sacks on the season and a combined 59 tackles. His 35 solo tackles had him tied for 10th place for defensive ends for tackles. Despite putting together a 6-10 in 2012, Morgan had a key role in helping the team to as much success as possible. According to Advance NFL Statistics, Morgan had a 1.61 Positive Win Probability Added number. Here is their explanation to this statistic.
Positive Win Probability Added (+WPA) – The Win Probability Added attributed to a defensive player, limited to only the plays that are net positives for his team. It is a measure of a defender’s impact on the outcome of games in terms of play-making ability. Only positive plays are considered for individual defenders because very good individual plays can still result in net losses in WPA. For example, a safety who makes a shoe-string tackle to stop a TD would be a great individual play, but the play as a whole would still be a net negative outcome for his team. However, overall individual WPA likely correlates well with +WPA.
Morgan had a more positive impact on the outcome of games than players like Julius Peppers, Cameron Wake, and Jason Pierre-Paul. He also had a success count of 64, according to Advanced NFL Stats, which means that he had 64 successful plays. The only ends with a higher success count in 2012 were J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Calais Campbell.
Morgan is the prototypical “balanced” 4-3 defensive end. He made great tackles for a loss in the run game, and supplied great pressure on the quarterback. Although he did not record a large number of sacks, he still was extremely successful in pass rushing.
Morgan is expected to have a “career year” in 2013 and break double digit sacks for the first time. Music City Miracles’s jlomas described Morgan’s performance at the team’s scrimmage on August 3rd as “dominant” and “unblockable” in route to a three sack performance. If Morgan continues to progress like this, he will have a fantastic season in 2013 against young tackles like Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel.
Jurrell Casey – Defensive Tackle
Albert Haynesworth is gone. Tony Brown is gone. Enter Jurrell Casey. The 2011 third-round pick out of USC has been phenomenal in his first two seasons as a 4-3 defensive tackle. He’s combined for over 50 tackles in both of his NFL seasons with 5 stuffs each season. Casey put together sacked the quarterback only three times in 2012, but is expected to take pressure off of the defensive ends, which he has done fantastically.
Advanced NFL Statistics gave Casey a Positive Win Probability Added rating of 1.51 (ranked only behind Geno Atkins and Vince Wilfork), showing that he truly helped out his team. He had a success count of 42, ranking him at 12th out of the NFL’s defensive tackles, ahead of the likes of Darnell Dockett and Jonathan Babineaux.
The third year pro has shown to be very efficient in the run game and helpful in the passing game. He is a very balanced defensive tackle who has the ability to be a staple for this defense.
Sammie Lee Hill – Defensive Tackle
Sammie Lee Hill didn’t do a lot in Detroit. He didn’t have many opportunities to shine behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley; however he is exactly what the Titans wanted to add to a defensive line that struggled against the run in 2012. The 329 pounder only put together a combined 15 tackles during the season, which is because he had so much talent ahead of him on the depth chart. The big boy will be a good compliment to Jurrell Casey and the defensive ends, as he will eat a lot of space at the line of scrimmage.
Mike Martin – Defensive Tackle
Mike Martin is another former third-round selection for the Tennessee Titans. The former Michigan Wolverine was taken 82nd overall in the 2012 draft. As a rookie, he tallied 37 combined tackles, 3 sacks, and 6 QB Hits. He was a very efficient tackle in his limited play time as a rookie. He is expected to get more play time in his sophomore season with the departure of Sen’Derrick Marks.
Karl Klug – Defensive Tackle
Many Titans fans think of him as a “one hit wonder” or a Houdini. Karl Klug had a fantastic rookie season in 2011, racking up 7 sacks in a heavy defensive tackle rotation. The late round pick out of Iowa was mocked for having short arms but showed up on Sundays.
Suddenly in 2012, he disappeared. It’s unclear why Klug saw very little play time in 2012 but still recorded 3.5 sacks. Many believe it was because Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray wanted a bigger and beefier defensive line, and Klug only weighed around 275. Now with more hybrid formations, the third year player will see more play time, as he is expected to get snaps at defensive end, as well. Klug is only a rotational player, but he is exceptional at fulfilling his role as a pass rusher.
Kamerion Wimbley – Defensive End
“The Kamurai” is the veteran of the Titans defensive line. Wimbley spent the first several years of his career in Cleveland and Oakland as a 3-4 outside linebacker and moved back to his college position of 4-3 defensive end when he moved to Tennessee in 2012.
Wimbley was the big free agent signing by the Titans in 2012 but didn’t have a huge impact. He tallied a combined 30 tackles with 6 sacks. He pressured the passer better as the season progressed and is likely to succeed better in 2013 with more rotations at the defensive end position. Wimbley provides veteran leadership to the line, similar to Kyle Vanden Bosch of the “Chain Gang.”
Part of the Titans’ previous success with the defensive line was the use of rotation. They rotated the backups in often to keep the starters fresh. With different packages in 2013, like the base 4-3, nickel, ruby, and some 3-4 looks, different players will be in very often throughout the game.
These players will be rotated out with hybrid players like rookie Lavaar Edwards out of LSU and veteran Ropati Pitoitua who are able to play defensive end and defensive tackle. Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers will see many snaps with his hand in the dirt as a pass rushing end in packages, such as the nickel. Defensive end Keyunta Dawson will also be able to provide some pass rush in relief for Derrick Morgan.
The Titans are set up to have a strong defensive line under the watch of Defensive Line Coach Tracy Rocker (former Auburn defensive line coach during the Nick Fairley years), Pass Rush Specialist Keith Millard, and Senior Assistant of Defense and former Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams.