AFC South: Tracy Rocker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the bulk of the time since the franchise was invented as the Titans, Tennessee was willing to accept an occasional offside penalty from its defense.

The thinking -- predominantly from long-time defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who's now in Detroit -- was that a super quick get-off involved some anticipation. In exchange for anticipating well, there would be times when linemen anticipated poorly and got flagged. A good pass rush with a very fast get-off would make an offensive line a bit jumpy, and an offside here and there wouldn't necessarily hurt that cause either.

I asked new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt if there was any degree of acceptable offside calls on his watch, and he asked me to take the question to his pass-rushers.

"The tolerance level? No, it's a different philosophy," end-turned-outside linebacker Derrick Morgan said. "We've got to play smart. Our D-coordinator (Ray Horton) is always stressing the importance of being smart and wants smart players on the defense.

"Offside will kill you. There are a lot of statistics about the success of offensive drives when you get called for it. It's an important factor we need to be smart about. It's not an acceptable thing where, ‘OK, we're trying to get a good jump, so every once and a while we're going to go offside.' It's going to happen, but the tolerance isn't there for it."

Marty Callinan of ESPN Stats & Info looked into the correlation between sack totals and defensive offside penalties. Over the last 10 seasons, league-wide, it's 0.04. Negligible. Add in encroachment and neutral zone infractions and it's still weak, just 0.13.

Under Washburn, who left after 2010, the Titans consistently ranked high in offside penalties. Over the last 10 years only periodically has the team's sack rank come close to matching its rank for offside.



The top two teams in terms of sacks over the last 10 seasons (Steelers and Dolphins) rank 31st and 27th in defensive offside penalties during that time.

The top two teams in terms of defensive offside penalties (Cardinals and Titans) rank 12th and 16th in sacks over the last 10 seasons.

The strongest correlation between sacks and defensive offside penalties for the Titans in the last 10 years came in 2007 and 2008. Those were Albert Haynesworth's final seasons in Tennessee.

While Haynesworth was piling up the sacks, he wasn't the one drawing the penalties. Fellow defensive linemen Tony Brown, Antwan Odom and Kyle Vanden Bosch were responsible for 13 of the team's 27 defensive offside penalties during that two-year span, while Haynesworth accounted for just one.

Tracy Rocker coached the defensive line from 2011-13. Giff Smith is in his first year with the team now, with Lou Spanos new on linebackers as the team moves to a 3-4.
Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie HillAP PhotoRopati Pitoitua and Sammie Hill add some much-needed weight to the Titans' defensive line.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Mike Munchak was promoted to coach of the Tennessee Titans in 2011, one of the first things his new defensive coordinator, Jerry Gray, talked about was the need for the team to get bigger.

The Titans had been a pretty good pass-rushing team. Smaller, quicker rushers may have been getting to the passer, but the team’s run defense had slipped. Adding stouter players would bolster the run defense and help everything, the Titans reasoned.

Heading into the third season of the Munchak regime, the franchise has made headway in getting bigger up front on defense.

“I really feel we have a lot of pieces in place that ... Jerry wanted, and the defensive staff wanted,” Munchak said. “You can’t always get what you want in this league.”

In 2011, the Titans’ 90-man roster included 15 defensive linemen who totaled 4,232 pounds.

Now they’ve got 16 who total 4,591.

The average weight per defensive player has risen from 282 to 287 pounds.

More significantly, Sammie Hill, who will start at defensive tackle, and Ropati Pitoitua, who should be in the rotation of defensive ends, are much bigger than players the Titans have deployed at those spots in recent years.

Hill joined the team as a free-agent addition from Detroit. Only undrafted guard Oscar Johnson (330) weighs more than Hill’s listed 329 on the Tennessee roster. Pitoitua is an imposing 6-foot-8. At 315, he’s the Titans' heaviest end -- by 38 pounds.

“I feel good about our size,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “It’s a big man’s game. They’ve made some big changes with free agency with Sam Hill, Ropati and Antonio Johnson coming in. It’s on both sides of the ball, the offensive and defensive lines.”

Antonio Johnson is listed at 310, but he said recently he’s at about 330. Rocker said the Titans want him to play at 325 or 330.

In Hill, the Titans found a young player they believe can blossom if given a bigger role than the one he had with the Lions, where he was behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Though he should draw regular double teams, he’s not simply a space eater. He’s got good feet for a man his size and is expected to penetrate and help move the quarterback off his spot, which will benefit the rush ends.

“I can get off the ball for the big guy that I am,” Hill said. “I try to be real disruptive. ... I don’t like to look at myself as just that big guy who occupies space. I like to get in there and cause havoc and disrupt the pocket and all that.”

Hill said he’s played as big as 343 and as light as 325, but doesn’t believe he’s sacrificed strength when he’s been smaller. He expects to play between 330 and 338 for the Titans. Any NFL player that size is carrying a little extra. But Hill is not fat. He said a preferred meal is a couple of baked chicken breasts with rice, and he doesn’t eat sweets.

In speaking with him, I learned that he drinks 3 1/2 to four gallons of water a day, an amount that surely would drown many of his teammates.

When you look at Pitoitua, it’s hard not to think: If the low man wins, how does he ever win?

He said his biggest disadvantage is his height, but the length that comes with it is his biggest advantage.

Said Rocker: “With him, it’s leverage. With the length of his arms, that changes the game for a lot of people facing him. And if you can recall, when the Giants played New England in the Super Bowl, it wasn’t so much that they sacked Tom Brady. There were a lot of tall people in there. You had a lot of trees in there, and it was hard for Tom Brady to complete passes. Ropati creates those things for us and can cause disruptions. We see him as a big-time run-stopper and a ball disruption guy.”

Offensive tackle Michael Otto’s been facing Pitoitua in organized team activities.

“He’s a big, strong dude,” Otto said. “He’s not somebody you’re going to blow off the ball and throw on his back. You’re fighting him the whole time, you just push. A stalemate is pretty good so long as he isn’t getting any penetration.”

If Pitoitua and fifth-round rookie Lavar Edwards (277) pan out, they can help chop down the snap counts of starting ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley. They both played more than 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season, which is far too much.

Rocker said that ideally, the Titans would be on the field 60 to 75 snaps a game, and guys such as Morgan and Hill would play 45 of them. That would be 60 to 75 percent.

Although the league is increasingly about good quarterbacks and stopping them, slowing the run helps a defense in its ability to focus on the QB.

That’s a primary reason the Titans wanted to be bigger.

They play in a division where they will see Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew twice, as well as a Colts team that is determined to run more and better.

They also will see Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore this season.

A season after giving up 4.2 yards a carry, that bigger defense needs to have bigger games when it comes to stopping the run.

AFC South wrap: The division in 2012

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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NFC Season Wraps: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five things to know and my all-division team.

Division MVP: J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans. I’ve never seen someone so disruptive up front. The guy’s got the complete package. He’s incredibly instinctive, knowing when to stop rushing and pull up, looking to bat down a pass. He also understands the lane into which a quarterback might be looking to throw. He simply manhandles some blockers -- swimming past them, bowling them backward, speeding around them or knifing between two guys. Some blockers have had absolutely no answer for him, and even if a team tried to take plays as far away from him as possible, he often tracked those plays and got involved in stopping them.

[+] EnlargeJJ Watt
Brett Davis/US PresswireJ.J. Watt needs two more sacks to tie Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks in a season.
Early in the season he talked about wanting to redefine the 3-4 end position, which hasn’t traditionally been a stat position. Later Antonio Smith pointed out how often Watt is really lining up at tackle. He’s not likely to win MVP based on what the league’s best quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson (despite my thinking that the running back is not worthy of the award) are doing. But his ability to push an offense backward so often has been a tremendous factor in an excellent season for the Texans. The other three teams would be wise to reinforce their offensive lines, because it’s reasonable to expect Watt will be a handful for protections and run blocking for years to come.

Biggest disappointment: The pass rushes of the Jaguars and the Titans required offseason attention. Neither team did enough to find a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks consistently. The Jaguars go into the final game of the season with the worst sacks-per-play average in the NFL and a total of only 18 sacks. Jacksonville’s big addition was second-round pick Andre Branch, who couldn’t hold onto a starting job and finished with one sack in 12 games and is on IR. The Jags played nine games in which they produced either one sack or no sacks. Tennessee has 32 sacks and is close to the middle of the pack. But it’s not enough for a defense with a lot of kids in the back seven and bad safety play. Tennessee got better results than Jacksonville from its newcomer, free-agent signee Kamerion Wimbley (five sacks), but he didn’t offer the game-to-game and play-to-play threat Tennessee so desperately needed.

Joe Cullen’s been in place for three seasons as Jacksonville’s defensive line coach. He’s a good coach and motivator, but he did not get the production the defense had to have. His counterpart in Nashville, Tracy Rocker, came from Auburn in 2011 and hasn’t proved to be an effective NFL position coach. Pass-rush coach Keith Millard was brought in to help the rush and the blitz, but it’s hard to see a major difference as a result of his presence. The Titans got shredded by the best quarterbacks they faced, from Tom Brady on opening day to Aaron Rodgers last week.

Offensive player of the year, rookie of the year, fourth-quarter player of the year: Andrew Luck has thrown too many interceptions in his rookie season. His stat line is hardly cause for a parade. He dug himself some holes. But leading his team to 10 wins, seven of them in comeback fashion, and getting into the playoffs does a lot to reduce the importance of those turnovers. He showed a great talent for climbing out of those holes. He was capable of digesting everything the first time around, handling Bruce Arians’ very vertical offense, the absence of coach Chuck Pagano, an often ineffective defense and a less-than-watertight offensive line with aplomb.

Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have strong cases for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which may never have been so hotly contested. We may see all three rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs. In the AFC South, Luck is the quarterback who was asked to do the most from the start, and he was the quarterback who did the most. Rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton is already a good player for the Colts. If you took Hilton and put him on the Titans or the Jaguars, how would he fare? Nowhere near as well as he fared playing with Luck in their first years in the NFL, I feel certain.

Worst injuries: The Jaguars really suffered because Daryl Smith and Clint Session were absent from the linebacking corps. Smith just returned last week from a groin injury and Session never made it back from multiple concussions suffered in 2011, his first season in Jacksonville. The corners all took turns missing time, and safety Dwight Lowery played only nine games. The loss of playmakers really dented a defense that plummeted in the rankings from 2011 to 2012.

Tennessee’s offensive line was not good enough, and revamping the interior needs to be a major offseason priority. The Titans lost starting center Eugene Amano in the preseason and right guard Leroy Harris halfway through the year. For the last quarter of the season, they were also down left guard Steve Hutchinson and right tackle David Stewart. It’s hard for them to give Jake Locker a real chance playing behind a line with four reserves. Still, he could have shown far more in his chances when he was healthy.

The division’s two worst teams lost a lot of time with their young quarterbacks, too. Locker missed five games with a shoulder injury, and Blaine Gabbert played through a shoulder injury before adding a forearm issue that ended his season after 10 games. Looking ahead to 2013, the status of each as a long-term answer is not what it once was.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Bruce Arians stepped in for coach Chuck Pagano and led a team coming off a two-win season to the playoffs.
Coaches of the year: Pagano and Arians of the Colts. It's been a storybook season for Indianapolis, which rallied around Pagano. He learned he had leukemia after just three games and handed the team to Arians while he underwent treatment. His fight gave the team a purpose, and it responded by playing better than the sum of its parts. Behind the scenes, Pagano was more involved than many might imagine.

But it was Arians conveying the messages, overseeing the game-planning, leading and, as offensive coordinator, calling the plays. He did a masterful job in overseeing the team, the offense and the rookie quarterback. Now, with Pagano back in place, he’ll drift into the background. He’s 60, which will work against his getting a head-coaching job. His work, however, should earn him consideration for some of the jobs that are about to open. That was quite an audition. And just about every team hiring a coach will need a quarterback developer.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

I want to emphasize one thing about this All-AFC South Team. Wade Smith is measured against the division’s left guards, not against the rest of the selections. There are miles between Smith as a player and Watt as a player, and if we measure a guard against a defensive end who’s the division MVP, things look askew.

One I’ll get crushed for: Many of you argued with me on Twitter when I wrote that I would take Luck over Matt Schaub as the third Pro Bowl quarterback, so I am sure you won’t like the choice of quarterback here. Luck struggled more than Schaub, for sure. But he was asked to do far more than Schaub and produced seven comeback wins, leading a team that’s really lacking in talent to an improbable playoff spot. There were no expectations for the Colts, and Luck and the team delivered. There were huge expectations on the Texans, and Schaub and the team delivered. My gut continues to prefer Luck’s year. That doesn’t mean I dislike what Schaub’s done.

Just misses: Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan, Texans outside linebacker Brooks Reed, Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

Sen'Derrick MarksKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireOpposing linemen, beware: Sen'Derrick Marks said he's "mean and mad" when playing noseguard.

It’s a game of inches.

So a couple of feet are making a huge difference in the life of Titans defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks.

He finished strong last season. Though I am not a big believer in a big finish carrying over to the next season, it may be what’s about to happen for Marks.

“I came in last year in a totally different system off of shoulder surgery and all of that,” he said. “It’s not an excuse. Moving from tackle to noseguard and then just finding my way. I bought into what the coaches were selling and we just made it happen.

“It has carried over to this year and we’re just making it happen.”

Operating in the closest quarters possible has been a real boon for Marks, a second-round pick from Auburn who’s heading into his fourth season. He’s not thinking about a new contract, but on some level it’s always at play when a guy knows free agency is looming. He’s thinking about how quickly he can get his hands on a center and steer past him to help put the quarterback in a well. That’s the Titans’ aim up front -- to surround the guy they are chasing.

“It’s a lot slower to me playing from the noseguard position,” Marks said. “For some odd reason now, I feel so comfortable at the noseguard, I just feel mean and mad every time I go out. Because I know what I can do and how mean I can get.”

Why meaner?

“Playing over the center, he’s usually a smaller guy, you’re right over the ball,” he said. “You can always be quicker. You see the ball. I feel like I’ve got a real good get-off. Usually if you’re in the middle and you cause a lot of disruption, everything happens right there. I feel real comfortable there.

“If you’re a 3-technique, then usually your guard is a yard away from you, and half of the time they are two yards away from you when they can get away with it. So you’ve got a lot of distance to cover. I like getting off the ball and just attacking.”

I think the Titans' defensive strength starts in the middle of the line, with the blossoming Jurrell Casey and Marks. They lead a defense that had 25 tackles for a loss in the preseason.

But it’s not just tackles for a loss that set an offense back, it’s tackles at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Tennessee has another 12 of those in the preseason, including nine in the first halves when starters were on the field the most.

It’s a category the Titans excelled in last year, when nearly a quarter of the rushing attempts against them resulted in a loss or no gain. (The Jaguars fared well at this as well.) If a team stops the run like that and forces passing downs, it has won one major battle. Downs in which there is little mystery about run or pass are what a defense wants to be lining up against.

“The biggest thing in the league on defense is, you have to win first down,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “If you can get to second-and-long or third-and-long, now you are able to do some things defensively.”

Camp Confidential: Tennessee Titans

August, 14, 2012
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Like everyone in the NFL, the 2011 Titans were hurried together.

Unlike most other teams, they were hurried together by a new coaching staff.

Mike Munchak’s coordinators -- Jerry Gray on defense and Chris Palmer on offense-- had to show patience and restraint. They brought exciting new ideas to Nashville, but they weren’t able to implement much of them in the wake of the lockout. The personnel could only be revamped so much, but more importantly they didn’t have much time.

No offseason, no organized team activities and no minicamps meant sticking mostly to basics.

Now, they say, after a full offseason together, they’ll show us far more.

Whether Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is at quarterback, we’ll see Palmer implement run-and-shoot concepts while using two tight ends or a fullback. He’ll look to regularly threaten teams deep with what can be a great compliment of pass-catchers: Kenny Britt (presuming he’s healthy and available), Nate Washington, rookie Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Chris Johnson, Jared Cook and Taylor Thompson.

If the evolution into more of a passing offense pans out, Johnson should get more space when he takes a handoff, and that should help him rebound from a disappointing 2011 season. He’s looked better after participating fully in the Titans' offseason activities for the first time.

Defensively, Gray is looking to allow some players to excel in narrow roles in specific situations. Akeem Ayers, for example, should get to show off his rush skills by lining up as an end in a special rush package. Ideally, free safety Michael Griffin will play more in center field, where he's best.

Do Palmer and Gray have enough people to do what they want? And does what they want to do work? Progress seemed steady in the first couple weeks of camp, but there are still questions to answer.

THREE HOT ISSUES

The quarterback battle: It hasn't drawn the spotlight one might have expected, because it’s friendly and doesn’t pit good versus evil on any level.

The Titans drafted Locker eighth overall in 2010 to be their starter -- for a long time, they hope. It’s not a matter of if he gets into the lineup, but when. If he can take advantage of game situations to show improved accuracy and make plays from the pocket as well as on the move, Locker certainly has a chance to displace Hasselbeck now. He was better by at least a bit in the preseason opener and will start the second game Friday night at Tampa Bay.

But the team feels it’s going to compete for a playoff spot now, and the younger, less experienced quarterback comes with a learning curve. If coaches feel Hasselbeck has a mastery of the offense and is playing effectively, it might be difficult to make the switch heading into an opening month that looks very challenging.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
AP Photo/Wade PayneLinebacker Kamerion Wimbley looks to be an asset on the field and in the locker room.
The pass rush: Everything the Titans' defense wants to do can blossom out of a more productive pass rush. Gray came to the team determined to beef up the D and get back to run-stopping basics. The Titans certainly want to maintain that theme, but they need a better pass rush to go with it.

They hired Keith Millard to coach not a position but a skill: rushing the passer. I like the concept, but Millard was in Tampa last year and they were a bad pass-rush team. It also has to make you wonder a bit about the pass-rush education defensive linemen were getting from position coach Tracy Rocker.

Kamerion Wimbley looks like a potential difference-maker, but the other projected/expected starter at end, Derrick Morgan, is hardly locked in as a threat yet. He’s been working behind 2011 practice-squader Pannel Egboh recently.

The interior includes very intriguing rush guys in Karl Klug and rookie Mike Martin, and has some depth. Ayers is slated to scoot up and work as an end in some nickel situations, perhaps shifting Morgan inside. However, what hear about Ayers' versatility and what I see from him don’t match up yet.

Britt: A suspension under the personal-conduct policy is looming for Britt after a DUI arrest at a military base. He has not shown he's learned from mistakes and turned into a better decision-maker. And he’s still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered early last season and subsequent cleanup procedures. When healthy and available, Britt is an absolutely tantalizing receiver who can make everyone else’s matchups more advantageous.

His recent rehab work makes him look close to ready. His recent meeting with the commissioner makes us expect an announcement soon about some time on the shelf. Once that’s over, he has to settle down and show up every week while not giving the team cause for concern when he’s away from the facility.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

One big reason the Titans didn’t think cornerback Cortland Finnegan was worth the money he got as a free agent from St. Louis is that his brand of professionalism didn't match up with the team's. Finnegan was beyond feisty at times, and a surly mood and an ego that prompted him to leave the team for a day during camp in 2011 in a contract dispute weren’t things the Titans could overlook.

Know what to do and do it. That’s Munchak’s basic requirement of his players. In guard Steve Hutchinson and Wimbley, the Titans added two more standard-bearers of a message other players should continue to respect and respond to.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Estimating who will be good and who won’t in advance of a season is fraught with peril, but it’s hard not to do. Look at the Titans' first four games and it’s hard not to foresee trouble. The Patriots visit on opening day; any game against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is a major challenge. Then a trip to San Diego, where the Titans have long struggled. Detroit brings burgeoning quarterback Matthew Stafford to Tennessee before the Titans travel to Houston to face the division favorite.

With their current questions, it’s hard to envision the Titans ripping off a good start against that early schedule. But the league’s unpredictability is its best feature, so the quality of that four-pack is not written in permanent marker.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Titans have invested a lot of time and energy into Rusty Smith, and I don’t doubt they like their third quarterback. It’ll be hard to justify a roster spot for him, though. Third quarterbacks are a luxury, and both Locker and Hasselbeck should be on the team in 2013.
  • Johnson seemed to be back to form in practices, but it’s hard to gauge running backs in practices. He was awful in limited action in the preseason opener at Seattle, failing to press the hole and appearing completely disinterested in the passing game, where he had two drops. That was enough to officially put him back in the “major concern” department for me.
  • Dave Ball contemplated retirement after dealing with another concussion last year. He had another early in camp and is likely fading on the depth chart while missing time. Egboh should be the third end, and guys like rookie Scott Solomon and veterans Leger Douzable and Keyunta Dawson give the Titans some alternatives.
  • [+] EnlargeMike Martin
    Jim Brown/US PresswireRookie Mike Martin helps with pass rushing depth -- and could yet displace veteran Shaun Smith.
    Beau Brinkley is in line to be the long-snapper. The rookie right end out of Missouri takes over for veteran Ken Amato, who was not re-signed after filling the role since 2003. So far, so good for Brinkley, who’s been invisible through camp and a preseason game, which is what you want from a guy in that role.
  • Martin, a third-round pick from Michigan, has gotten some work with the first team and figures to be another piece in a talented group of interior linemen. Though he gives up nearly 20 pounds to Shaun Smith, he could help knock the veteran off the roster. Smith has worked hard at becoming more of a penetrator and turned quiet rather than being the boisterous guy of last season, but his changes may have come too late. The Titans brought him in last year as they tried to get bigger, but had to know he was a space-eater who wasn’t programmed to get into the backfield the way they want tackles to.
  • If Britt is healthy and somehow avoids suspension for his off-field transgressions, he certainly should be an opening-day starter. But if Britt isn't available, I won’t be surprised if Williams is ahead of first-round pick Wright against the Patriots on Sept. 9 at LP Field. Williams has become increasingly assertive and knows what to do, while Wright could need some time to bring an expanded repertoire onto the field.
  • Cook is the more explosive receiver, so he gets talked about. But the Titans’ other top tight end, Craig Stevens, is underrated. He’s a good blocker who may not have receiver speed, but can get open and make some catches when called on.
  • Weakside linebacker Will Witherspoon is a quality veteran guy in the locker room. But he comes and goes as a playmaker. Second-round pick Zach Brown brings tremendous speed. I don’t think he’ll dislodge Witherspoon from the job at the start. He may earn a role in covering tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Brandon Pettigrew and Owen Daniels -- players the Titans will be game-planning against in their first month. Tennessee has had some major issues recently covering top tight ends.
  • The Titans have a find in cornerback Jason McCourty, who is going to be good as their lead guy and will help reshape the tone of the defensive backs meeting room. I actually feel better about him and Alterraun Verner as the team’s starting cornerbacks than I do about Griffin and Jordan Babineaux as the safeties. My suspicion is that good offenses are going to find plays down the middle of the field.

Assistant to watch: Titans

July, 18, 2012
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Continuing our look at new assistant coaches in the AFC South who will be especially important in 2012, we turn to Tennessee.

Pass-rush coach Keith Millard came to the Titans after a year in Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers managed only 23 sacks. Still, he was a successful rusher as a player and has the faith of coach Mike Munchak and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

Millard will work a lot with defensive linemen, but he’s not limited to that group. (Still, it’s hard not to read the hire and positive player reaction to him as a partial indictment of defensive line coach Tracy Rocker’s ability to teach pass rush.)

The Titans have talked of using linebacker Akeem Ayers as a rusher since spending a second-rounder on him last year. Ayers, any other linebackers and any defensive backs who blitz will have worked on technique with Millard. I'll be interested to see how he moves around in practices and who he gets his hands on.

An improved pass rush is a must if the Titans' defense is going to improve. Millard will be right in the middle of what happens, or what doesn’t, in that department.
Keith Millard MPS/Getty ImagesKeith Millard, the Titans' new pass rush coach, collected 58 sacks over his eight-season career.

NASHVILLE -- After 15 minutes on the phone with Keith Millard, I was ready to rush the passer.

The newest addition to Titans coach Mike Munchak’s staff won’t oversee a position but a skill set. And although Millard will spend a lot of time with defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and his group, he’ll also rove and talk nuances of getting to the quarterback with linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks.

His initial speech will go like this:

“Before you even start, you’ve got to pick a line and you’ve got to stay on that line. And that goes for every position, no matter what you are doing. It’s from wherever you start to the quarterback and that thing can’t vary. You know the old saying the shortest distance between two spots is a straight line? That’s as true in pass rush as there is. You stay on that line, get your blocker off it. Now how you do that is where it gets interesting, where technique and fundamentals come in.”

Tennessee needs to rush the passer better than it did last season, which was its first without Jim Washburn since 1998. The former defensive line coach, now in Philadelphia, pieced together an effective four-man rush most of the time.

After Munchak hired Jerry Gray as defensive coordinator, the team concluded that getting to the quarterback at all costs wasn’t the way to go because the run defense suffered.

In Year 1 of the new regime, the team sacked the quarterback less -- managing just 28 sacks, 31st in sacks per play in the NFL -- and was still just 24th against the run.

Both the personnel and the coaching need to be better.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
Brett Davis/US PresswireThe Titans brought in former Raider Kamerion Wimbley to boost their pass rush.
Enter Kamerion Wimbley, the former Oakland Raider whom the Titans pounced on when he was released. Enter Millard.

Wimbley should be a boost for the pass rush. He’s worked a lot in his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker but in Tennessee he’ll be a 4-3 end. He can rush the passer well from there, but the team could put his durability to the test if he’s on the field for too many snaps.

Millard’s a big believer in a four-man rush, as the Titans have long been. But if they can’t get to the quality quarterbacks they are scheduled to face in 2012 with just four rushers, they should be better equipped to bring more blitzers than they have been in some time after Millard coaches them up.

“I’m thrilled about Millard,” Titans outside linebacker Gerald McRath said. “For me, I’ve never had someone who took time to teach me pass rush. You can fine tune a skill, and that’s a skill that makes you more valuable to your team. I think that will be great, that you can have someone who can focus on that.”

Munchak and Gray talked about the idea early on after the new staff was assembled. It didn’t come together during the initial staff assembly and the lockout. But then Millard came free after Raheem Morris and the Tampa Bay staff were let go.

Millard played nine seasons as an NFL defensive lineman, primarily with Minnesota. He coached in Denver and Oakland before spending 2011 in Tampa Bay.

Although he’s worked mostly as a defensive line coach, he was a pass rush coach at times with the Broncos and Raiders.

Specialized coaches are increasingly popular in the NFL. Many 3-4 teams have outside linebacker coaches. Some teams have cornerback and safety coaches in their secondary, or a coach who concentrates on the nickel defensive backs.

A coach like Millard qualifies as being outside the box for the Titans. He gets fired up talking about his office, and initially makes it sound big. Then you realize he means big enough to have three or maybe four guys in there at a time to go over pass-rush nuances.

“Not only is he going to be doing D-line, and that’s a good thing, we’re going to be sending him linebackers and safeties and things like that,” said Gray, who played nine seasons as a cover corner. “I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t know anything about blitzing. Beating a running back, I can tell you, but I’ve never felt that. So I really don’t know how it feels.

“He’ll be able to help us, more than saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a clear open spot for you to hit the quarterback.’ The best thing you can do is offer a one-on-one. Now show me how to win the one-on-one. That’s what he’s going to be doing.”

Warren Sapp, who’s widely regarded as an all-time great pass-rushing tackle, raved about Millard’s influence on him to The Tennessean after the Titans made the hire.

[+] EnlargeKeith Millard
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIKeith Millard has had coaching stints with the Broncos, Raiders and Buccaneers.
Gray still emphasizes the need for players to stop the run. Millard and Gray talk about earning the right to pass rush. And nothing does that more than stuffing a run play on first down to help create second- and third-and-long situations.

Millard calls himself a self-taught pass-rusher.

He’s eager to share what he knows, and says it will be a lot more about feet than hands for both blitzers and guys who make a living rushing the passer. For Millard, that second group generally falls into two styles, straight-liners (like Kyle Vanden Bosch or Jason Taylor) and basketball types (like Sapp and Derrick Burgess).

“I think doing it myself from different positions has given me a real edge at teaching the true fundamentals,” Millard said. “Being able to study blockers and find their weaknesses and how to take advantage of them. I’m really about teaching the concept of getting the blocker on your terms and how to do that. It’s not so much a repertoire with your hands as it is your footwork and trying to work a blocker’s weaknesses against him.

“Hands are really just kind of a second nature thing. When you really get down to it, it’s about feet. Getting blockers off balance and using your hands to keep them off balance. Whether you are bull-rushing, whether you are going from one edge to the other and back, it’s really got to be about balance and footwork and your approach -- getting to a point where you own that guy, you know where his weaknesses are and you just continually, constantly, work on those weaknesses. There is a lot that goes into that.”

Millard will spell out for a guy what his body has to do to counter the body trying to block him: flipping hips, making yourself small, understanding what blockers are doing with their hands. Get the guy in your way off balance and keep him off balance.

It seems uncertain just where and how Millard will fit into the regular practice schedule, but he’s certain to work with specific guys before and after practices and outside of regular meeting times.

Those office sessions will be kept small -- he'll rarely work with more than two linebackers or two defensive backs at a time.

If he’s what Munchak and Gray expect, the Titans will do a far better job of getting from Point A to the quarterback and the defense will make big gains.

Millard’s motivated me. I’m heading outside right now to see about making myself small and finding the best way to stay on my straight line.
The Titans have a five-year deal with Kamerion Wimbley, the team announced.

Wyatt said the agent for another end the Titans courted, Mark Anderson, has said Anderson will be signing elsewhere. The Jaguars are interested.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
Brett Davis/US PresswireFormer Raider Kamerion Wimbley will play defensive end for the Titans.
Wimbley has worked as an outside linebacker, but he will be an end for the Titans.

Tennessee gets a player who has nice pass-rushing skills who helps fill a major need. One insider told me Wimbley has "unique cornering ability."

But he’s not likely to be an every-down guy. A friend who covers the Raiders said Wimbley did his best work as a nickel end, but tends to flash and disappear.

The Raiders listed him as 6-foot-4, 255 pounds last season -- the exact same size Titans end Dave Ball was at in 2011. Ball beefed up last season to fit better with the philosophy Jerry Gray brought in as defensive coordinator. But he still ranked as the lightest defensive end on the roster. He’s a free agent now.

While the Titans would like to get bigger overall, it’s just not an option at some spots. Bigger guys with top pass-rush skills are a huge commodity, and it’s not like a bunch are available. That’s part of why Mario Williams, 6-6 and 283, got such a giant contract in Buffalo.

Wimbley joins Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard as the Titans' lone ends under contract.

Does Wimbley solve the team’s pass-rushing woes the way Williams would have or Dwight Freeney could (if he’s traded or cut)?

I don’t know that he’s going to qualify as a singular force. He had seven sacks last season, but four came in one game against San Diego.

As for the durability question for a smaller end, he has a good record for how he’s been used.

In six seasons primarily as a linebacker with Cleveland and Oakland, he has missed just one game. He had 11 sacks as a rookie linebacker with Cleveland in 2006, and has 42.5 in his career.

The Titans have done well in the past with smallish, speedy defensive ends. But that was a different scheme, and the position coach who set those ends up for success, Jim Washburn, left as the staff broke up in 2011. Washburn is now in Philadelphia.

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and pass-rush coach Keith Millard will be charged with getting sack and pass-pressure production from Wimbley.

Titans' regret: Moving Jason Jones

January, 11, 2012
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Regrets? Everybody’s got a few. … We asked for some feedback on one thing you’d like to go back and change for each team in the AFC South.

I was thinking more of something before the season than during it, though I may reconsider in a few instances.

For the Tennessee Titans, your overwhelming response was regretting Chris Johnson's contract or the timing of it. Certainly that’s a legitimate entry, but it’s popular and obvious and we strive for a bit more nuance. So I’m going to steer away from it in favor of something I didn’t see mentioned.

Here’s my biggest second-guess about the 2011 Titans: Moving Jason Jones from defensive tackle to defensive end.

The Titans' defensive line was an overall disappointment in its first season after longtime position coach Jim Washburn left. Their top singular pass rush force, Jason Babin, was not counted as a free agent and went to Philadelphia.

Washburn was a staunch proponent of Jones as a tackle. With his big wingspan and excellent quickness he was a very good inside player. The issue was that he had a tendency to get injured and wear down. New coordinator Jerry Gray and new line coach Tracy Rocker decided Jones would fit their scheme. They looked to be more run-sound, get bigger up front and better as an end.

But Jones did not produce from the outside the way the Titans anticipated. He took one for the team with the move and it will cost him money, as he’s not as likely to get offers that are as good in upcoming free agency.

Gray was reluctant late in the season to talk about what the Titans would want to do with Jones going forward if they could keep him, and talked as if the team used him largely the same way as he was used under Washburn. But he was not inside as often. Matthew Willis of ESPN Stats and Info tells me Jones was a defensive end on 415 plays and a defensive tackle 233. On the 415 plays as an end, he managed two sacks.

I expect Jones will move on. If the Titans wanted to make a sales pitch, they’d best serve themselves to say he’s a better tackle than end and they’d like to get him back inside.

Titans' Morgan can't rely on magic hat

November, 23, 2011
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Derrick Morgan will be on the Tennessee Titans' injury report this week after injuring his ankle against the Atlanta Falcons.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Morgan
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDerrick Morgan is again injured after missing much of his rookie season with a torn ACL.
It’s a disheartening development for a player Tennessee is counting on to make a big contribution in his second year. Morgan came back from a torn ACL that wiped away the bulk of his rookie season after the Titans made him their top draft pick.

“He started off [this year] with a ball of fire and now we’re all wondering where is he,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker told me last week. “He’s working to get better and it’s part of the growth. We still keep forgetting this is really his rookie year.”

While the ankle may get in the way, the Titans are still hopeful that Morgan will be a big contributor in the final six games, and that that contribution will help turn an average team into a good one.

Morgan’s biggest issue concerns adjusting in-game as he sees how the plan he worked on for the week works and doesn’t work.

“What we do out here at practice, we’re planning, we’re strategizing, we’re organizing all the plans for the attack on Sunday,” Rocker said. “A lot of times you have to say, ‘Now, just play on Sunday. You’ve put in the time, you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do. Now just play.’

“But don’t get there on Sunday and pull out some other magic hat that you haven’t used before.”

The Titans don’t need to count on unreliable magic hats, they need to count on steady, methodic pass rushers. They haven’t had those.

“I’m expecting a lot out of myself,” Morgan said. “I haven’t been consistent with my moves, I have been getting away from my game plan. I get discouraged and I go away from what I was practicing all week.”

The Titans hope if the ankle costs Morgan any practice or game time, it does not extend beyond this week.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Antonio Smith, Neil Rackers and Matt Leinart see similarities between the Texans and the 2008 Super Bowl Cardinals. Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicles explains. Says Rackers: "We have a quarterback [Matt Schaub] that leads by example, which is something we had in Arizona. And we have a lot of young guys, similar to Arizona, that were really good, but didn't quite know how good they can be. The talent on this team is amazing."

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are enduring the longest dry spell in takeaways in franchise history. Much of the problem is that a slew of young guys in the secondary are still getting accustomed to the speed of the NFL, say Mike Chappell and Phil Richards. "Right now we're not playing as fast as we need to play against the caliber of opposition that we're playing against. We're a step behind," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said.

Jacksonville Jaguars

As the Jaguars (2-5) and Texans (4-3) jostle for position in the AFC South in Houston, the game will feature two top-10 defenses, one year removed from when they were two of the worst in the NFL. Jacksonville hopes to duplicate what it did against the Ravens, says Tania Ganguli of the Times-Union. "That's not a fluke," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We expect the same results when we go to Houston."

Tennessee Titans

Jason Jones’ move from tackle to end hasn’t paid off yet for the Titans' defense. “You’re using to being banged on,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker told John Glennon of The Tennessean. “But now it’s about learning to turn the corner and rush off the edge instead of everything happening so quickly in the pocket.” Confession from me: I’m wondering if the move was a mistake.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans severed ties with their coach and quarterback and set about for a fresh start.

They’ll suffer from time lost with the lockout, but in Mike Munchak, a largely new staff and a new combo of quarterbacks in Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the franchise hasn’t just turned a page.

It’s opened a new book.

The early chapters could well be choppy and rough.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is looking for a bigger defense that will stop the run first, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is bringing a scholarly approach to a group used to being screamed at. The Titans have new signal-callers on offense and defense (middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay), so there is a lot of new stuff to cover.

But external expectations are low. If the Titans can get their best player, Chris Johnson, on the field and make strides on defense, it’s not impossible to improve on last season's disastrous 6-10 record.

Munchak preaches the virtues of being a true professional -- know what to do and do it. The question is, does he have enough talented guys who can win football games following that mantra?

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Will Johnson be around?

It’s hard to imagine his sitting out the season. The flamboyant running back loves the NFL stage and is one of the league’s most dynamic players. He's certainly scheduled to be underpaid at $1.065 million, though. The Titans won’t negotiate if he’s not at camp, but he won’t come to camp without a new deal. There are no signs of any real movement.

Johnson is not fired up about a compromise that would have him join the team but not practice until a deal is reached. Someone will bend. But in the meantime, we’re likely to see a much less threatening offense.

“It’s tough to tell how long it takes to become an issue,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “Once he’s here he’s here, and we start working with him. We’ll be a different team without him. He's definitely one of the top two if not the best running back in the league. A special player, very dynamic. It makes for a different kind of offense when he’s not in there.

“The plays wouldn’t change. Just without having his speed in there, people would play us differently. I wouldn’t say it would necessarily be a worse offense. It would just be someone else running it, Javon Ringer or the rookie (Jamie Harper). It wouldn’t have CJ’s dynamic and people having to worry about his speed.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Chris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Titans will be a different team if they are without Chris Johnson, who rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
If defenses aren't worrying about that speed, things will be far more difficult for Hasselbeck and the team’s other best weapons, receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook.

2. How will Munchak’s style translate?

He’s a Hall of Fame player, and he’s been a top position coach for years. Odds are Munchak can coach a football team.

“He’s his own man,” linebacker Gerald McRath said. “Everybody is going to have to sit back and watch, but it’s definitely going to be different. He has that personality. He wants to establish something that’s his, something that he’s worked hard for. I feel like it’s a great opportunity. It’s a privilege just to be involved in that, to be able to put into some of that.”

The question really is about his CEO role. How does he deal with the late-night calls about DUIs or the overeating defensive lineman? How does he react to the city calling for the starting quarterback’s head or the player enduring stuff at home that’s hurting his play?

Munchak has talked about accountability and discipline and consequences, things that all had slipped at the end for Jeff Fisher. Can he enforce all that effectively?

One other thing: Fisher was great with rules and clock management. In Munchak’s first turn in the primary headset, it will be interesting to see how he fares in those departments.

3. Can the Titans stay healthy up front?

Part of the Titans’ push to be bigger up front on defense is about being better against the run. Part of it is about being more rugged deep into the season. Some of Tennessee’s speed rushers in recent years wore down late, and the Titans suffered for it.

Tracy Rocker has big shoes to fill as defensive line coach, where Jim Washburn had a great run of success. Can Gray and Rocker show the discipline to pace the linemen the way they are talking about doing now?

“I think we have to be real smart this year because our [defensive linemen], for some reason, get hurt quite a bit,” Munchak said. “We have to limit their plays not only in games but in practice so you don’t lose guys. ... We have to find a way to keep them healthy. You can’t control all that, but we have to be smart.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

It’s early, of course. But the team is talking up Cook again, and this time, he seems prepared to live up to it. The tight end is running plenty of routes that take him deeper than most tight ends, and the quarterbacks are thrilled to have such a big target stretching the field. He seems to be responding better to Palmer's mellow approach than he did to Mike Heimerdinger's high intensity.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Britt’s offseason was filled with off-the-field issues. The Titans gave him a clean slate coming in, but hamstring problems have kept him out of camp so far. He said that he thought yoga was going to help him solve such problems but that his instructor apparently took the money and ran with it. The Titans are already without their most dynamic player in Johnson. With Britt sidelined, they are also missing No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McRath is probably the odd man out in the linebacker shuffle unless he makes a charge to overtake Will Witherspoon on the weak side. McRath knows he didn’t make enough plays last year, but he’s saying the right things and carrying himself the right way. Maybe he’ll be a special-teams stud if he isn’t playing defense.
  • [+] EnlargeTennessee's Mike Munchak
    Don McPeak/US PRESSWIRENew coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, will have high expectations for his interior line.
  • The pressure is on the Titans' interior offensive line. Munchak and O-line coach Bruce Matthews, both Hall of Fame linemen, expect Leroy Harris, Eugene Amano and Jake Scott to play better in their second season all together. If they don’t, we’ll call it part missed assessment and part blown confidence. Keeping Hasselbeck upright and healthy is a huge deal.
  • I’m not sure how the Titans will distribute their tight ends without tipping their intentions. Cook is the receiver and Craig Stevens is the blocker. Veteran addition Daniel Graham can do both but is more of a blocker.
  • Jordan Babineaux was lured to the Titans from Seattle largely because of his relationship with Gray when both were with the Seahawks. They shouldn’t do anything that entails Michael Griffin playing anything but center field. And Babineaux is more a free than a strong safety, but the Titans will blur the distinction. Can he challenge for Chris Hope’s job? If he does, will Hope take a pay cut to stay?
  • The Titans actually have reasonable depth at cornerback. Cortland Finnegan needs to produce big in a contract year, and Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are up-and-comers. Ryan Mouton was lost for the year with an Achilles injury, but veteran addition Frank Walker made a nice early impression.
  • This team always has an undrafted receiver who creates buzz early. This time it looks to be Michael Preston out of Heidelberg. He has nice size and athleticism.
  • There’s not enough evidence to know whether seventh-round CB Tommie Campbell can play yet. But he certainly had physical attributes that make receivers take notice. Receiver Yamon Figurs recently went against him and came away muttering that Campbell was the biggest corner he’s seen. Figurs said Campbell, who is 6-foot-3, was “like a giraffe.”
  • Jake Locker has shown steady improvement and has been far better early on that I expected he would be.
  • If the Titans are going to be a lot better on defense, second-year end Derrick Morgan and second-round pick Akeem Ayers, a strongside linebacker, will have a lot to do with it. Morgan is a very good player, and Ayers brings the Titans size they’ve not had at linebacker since the franchise relocated.
  • Leadership was a giant issue last season. There was hardly any when things got tough. The Titans' additions could solve that. Hasselbeck, Graham, Ruud and Ayers are going to be big in that department.
  • Even if Justin Gage has a huge preseason, the Titans should consider moving on if everyone else is healthy. He’s simply not been a steady enough playmaker, and if his presence is going to keep the team from exploring the upside of someone like Damian Williams, it’s not the right move.
  • Where does recently added, versatile veteran offensive lineman Pat McQuistan fit in? The Titans have a lot of young linemen they like, but his case for edging somebody out will include his experience at every position but center. That could increase their flexibility on the bench.
Reading the coverage ...

The biggest post-draft holes for each team, from Tom Gower.

The dollars connected to the lockout insurance case are now a major storyline, says Jim Trotter.

The Titans and Texans are on Clark Judge’s list of team hardest hit by the lockout.

Houston Texans

A look at Rashad Carmichael on hold, from Rick Maese.

The Texans are frustrated but not surprised by the most recent court ruling, says John McClain.

Richard Justice would like to see the Texans make a big move with Nnamdi Asomugha.

Indianapolis Colts

There will be opportunity for undrafted free agents in Indy, it’s just a matter of when, says Tom Reitmann.

Dream free agents from Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

We need to see Blaine Gabbert against NFL competition before making declarations about weaknesses, says John Oehser.

Why Gabbert could bust, from Brandon Clark.

Shane Clemons picked up on my "Hard Knocks" post and wants the Jaguars on the show.

Tennessee Titans

New College Football Hall of Famer Eddie George has deep roots in Nashville, says John Glennon.

Glennon looks at defensive line coach Tracy Rocker’s jump to the Titans from Auburn.

A busy schedule has kept free-agent-to-be Jason Babin from worrying much about the lockout, says Jim Wyatt.

Missed this one: Wyatt caught up with Jake Locker.

Where could Vince Young land? Glennon considers the possibilities.

Should the Titans chase a free-agent defensive end, asks Andrew Strickert.
Do eight voices combining for a mock draft fare any better than those by one guy?

Who knows?

I think my blog network brethren would say the same thing I do: Most of my thinking in our combined mock draft came from an educated connecting of the dots that combines what I know about my teams’ draft philosophies, what I know of teams' needs, who’s available in this context, what I’ve been told, what my gut says and what I've been calling for.

So Kevin Seifert over at the NFC North isn’t saying Andy Dalton is the 12th-best player in the draft. He’s reiterating what he’s been writing about how quarterbacks have to have a higher value and how Minnesota has to have one.

Three of my four picks for the AFC South line up with what I’d call the conventional thinking at this point. Maybe I outsmart myself with the Colts, but I’ll explain myself in a second.

Here’s a bit more than I was able to offer in my comments in the mock, which you’ll find here.

Titans at No. 8 – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

I think the defensive rebuild has to go inside-out. I think the character concerns on Fairley are overblown or are something that line coach Tracy Rocker, who worked with him at Auburn, and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray can handle. I think that the Titans can find ways to turn him into a consistently productive player. But maybe this match is too easy. The alternatives would be a defensive end, though Da'Quan Bowers has dropped for them because of his knee, or quarterback if they choose to be bold.

Texans at No. 11 – Aldon Smith, DE-OLB, Missouri

Somehow, I sense that Smith has become unpopular with a good share of Texans fans. His name certainly lacks the juice of Von Miller or Robert Quinn. But plenty of teams would like to get their hands on Smith, who’s an intriguing option as an outside linebacker in Houston’s new 3-4 defensive front. He’s got intriguing size at 6-foot-4, 263 pounds. The best defensive player in this scenario may be Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, but rushing the passer is not what he does best and that’s what the Texans need most.

Jaguars at No. 16 – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

Too easy a fit? Perhaps. But when GM Gene Smith said last week that there are a lot of guys who, like Kerrigan, fit into the formula he likes, there is no doubting that Kerrigan does. Still, who among us saw Smith taking Tyson Alualu at No. 10 last season? We could see another surprise. Smith loaded up on defensive linemen last year. If he takes Kerrigan or another end now, it should be the last defensive linemen for a while, and he should move on to secondary and receiver help. Cameron Jordan, Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Heyward are all heavier. But with a rugged interior, the Jaguars need speed more than size.

Colts at No. 22 – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois

Everyone and everything says offensive line. And I could have taken Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi or Derek Sherrod here. I just think the odds of Bill Polian doing what we all expect are low. While there will be one and should be more than one offensive linemen for Indianapolis in this draft, Polian won’t let the need steer him. Two years ago we all had the Colts liking Peria Jerry, but he went to Atlanta three spots before Indy took Donald Brown. I hear Liuget is a better fit that Jerry would have been. More interior push helps Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and Liuget would help the run defense.
Texas cornerback Aaron Williams might qualify as the best safety in a terrible safety draft, says Jeffrey Martin. Every team in the AFC South can use a safety.

Houston Texans

The Texans need to trade up for Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller or LSU corner Patrick Peterson, says Jerome Solomon.

Aldon Smith is still the pick at 11 in John McClain’s newest mock.

A blueprint for the Texans’ success from Lance Zierlein. Excellent stuff in here. The only piece I disagree with is moving Glover Quin to safety. I think it’s too early to make that decision and the team can still find a couple of quality safeties, particularly if the team is willing to shop in free agency when it arrives.

Is Amobi Okoye conceding he can’t play nose in the 3-4? Alan Burge examines.

Letting Vonta Leach leave might not be all bad, says Rivers McCown. I’m not so sure Leach will get a big deal elsewhere.

Indianapolis Colts

Best available player or an offensive lineman? That’s the question for the Colts, says Mike Chappell.

Chappell on the Colts and quarterback possibilities in the draft.

The Colts are looking through a broader lens for this draft, writes Chappell.

Blair White is working to build chemistry with Peyton Manning, says Joe Rexrode. Hat tip to Nate Dunlevy.)

Linebacker options for the Colts from Brett Mock.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are in flux at linebacker, says Tania Ganguli.

Pass defense is a big issue, says Vito Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

Late-round finds are great, but first-round choices can make or break a team, says John Glennon.

Would the Titans, should the Titans, take Cam Newton if he slides, asks Jim Wyatt.

Tracy Rocker gives the Titans a big resource on Nick Fairley, says Jim Wyatt.

Fairley says his sleep apnea is under control, says Glennon.

Who might want to trade up to No. 8?

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