Tennessee Titans: Jurrell Casey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Like most young football players, Jurrell Casey grew up dreaming that someday he might be enough of a star that he’d have an action figure.

[+] EnlargeJurrell Casey
Paul Kuharsky
Alas, he grew into an interior defensive lineman, and those guys aren’t usually celebrated in such fashion, even after a 10.5-sack season like the one he produced for the Tennessee Titans.

So Casey was fired up earlier this week when a fan got a packaged figure of Casey as a member of the USC Trojans into his hands.

And Casey’s teammates who saw it had fun, too, because they saw a No. 91 figurine frozen in a running motion that looked more like a tight end than a defensive lineman.

“It needs something to eat, right?” Casey said, laughing. “I’m glad I got one, I’m going to put it up in my room, I won’t open it. Pretty nice. It’s pretty cool I like it, my first actual action figure.”

Bishop Sankey got one too, and seemed pretty fired up about the figurine of him in No. 25 wearing the purple and gold of the Washington Huskies, a ball tucked under his left arm mid-stride, head up.

The figurines came from 56-year-old Nashvillian John Boyle, a computer technician.

Boyle said he basically puts a store-bought figurine in hot water, sprays it down with primer until it is white and painstakingly paints it from there. (Thus Casey's body type. He was once Julius Peppers.)

"The first one I did that was any good was Eddie George," Boyle said. "I brought it to him and I wanted him to sign it but he wouldn't let me have it back. He said the shoes were wrong."

Since then, Boyle's paid great attention to giving his figures from their college days the proper shoes and they seem to appreciate it.

"They seem to notice the shoes like it's something real big," Boyle said.
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans ...

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is a part of former NFL GM Mark Dominik’s Ultimate NFL Roster , where he puts together 53 players but stays under the salary cap.

DaQuan Jones is trying to get away from that split second of hesitation as the rookie defensive lineman gets into the swing of things, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. “"It was my first game and I was overthinking everything and was playing slow," Jones said of the preseason opener. "That's just not me, and it's not how I play football. So in practice, my emphasis now is just getting off the ball, being as physical as possible and trying to make plays -- and see if that will carry over into the games."

Jake Locker had some passes knocked down early in practice on Wednesday, says Glennon.

Marc Mariani is upbeat despite a tough outing in the Titans’ first preseason game, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

To which I say: Mariani’s attitude about such things and regarding his bid to make the roster is really good. I respect his approach. He doesn’t get ticked off when his status is questioned. He says he understands such thinking and works to change it.

The kicker competition is a concern, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Long-snapper Beau Brinkley is both anonymous and secure, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

The final piece in a four-part series looking thoroughly at Locker’s potential. “Jake's shown enough consistency and talent in meaningful areas, that the Titans can probably find a way to scheme around his deficiencies, but at one point or another he's going to have to overcome these issues.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Prevailing wisdom on Titans receiver Kendall Wright is that he’ll be used more creatively by coach Ken Whisenhunt. Wright will be used outside more, not just in the slot, and he’ll get sent deep more and be used near the goal line more.

Wright
But the wisdom also says he’s unlikely to match the 94 catches (for 1,077 yards) he grabbed in 2013, even as he grows his 11.5-yard average.

I am here to say we should throw the idea of accepting fewer catches in the name of spreading things out right out the window.

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is the Titans' other best player. In a camp setting, it’s a lot harder for a lineman to stand out than a receiver.

Wright is the Titans' best player right now, by a good margin.

He’s caught everything thrown to him, by whichever quarterback, over whichever defender, against whatever coverage.

I like the Titans' overall weaponry. Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, Delanie Walker, Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey offer a nice serving plate of solid options in addition to Wright.

But Wright is 1A, very much at the top of the list, his name absolutely in capital letters.

Make them bold, too.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in every training camp talks optimistically. Every team with a new coaching staff talks about how things are different for the better.

The Tennessee Titans are lowly regarded by plenty of fans and media nationally. But they have a lot going on that they feel those people have not paid attention to.

With Ken Whisenhunt and his staff at the helm, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a schedule that doesn’t include some of the powers they faced a year ago and a division with two other rebuilding franchises, they might have a chance to surprise.

."You say each and every year, 'Feels different, feels different, feels different,'" safety Michael Griffin said. "Just, you can see every day, people out there talking, we always have guys picking people up. Each and every day there is competition. There are little side bets here and there -- who’s going to win this period and things of that nature. The whole time we’re all trying to get each other better.

"Again, it just feels so much different in this locker room, and everybody has the same goals in mind, and that’s a positive around here."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNew coach Ken Whisenhunt brings a solid résumé and a strong coaching staff to the Titans.
1. Whisenhunt isn’t Vince Lombardi or Don Shula, but the Titans' new coach is a significant upgrade from Mike Munchak, who was unsteady in his first three years as an NFL head coach. Whisenhunt had success in the role during his six seasons in Arizona, and he is a well-regarded offensive mind who will do more with what the Titans have than his predecessors.

Whisenhunt had the connections and the interviewing skills to hire a staff that appears to be filled with strong teachers, including a few quality holdovers. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is turning the Titans into a less predictable 3-4 and comfortably works his way into different sections of practice when position work is unfolding. I've watched these coaches teach and I've seen them connect with players.

Whisenhunt may field a complex offense that's hard to defend, but he's good at keeping things simple. I don't see any changes in how the Titans function that aren't for the better at this point.

2. The Titans don’t have players the fans are going to pick to captain their fantasy squads, but Tennessee should have a good array of quality weapons on offense. Kendall Wright topped 1,000 yards in his second season, and now the team’s best receiver will be sent on a wider variety of routes, not just inside slot stuff. He's been excellent so far in camp. Justin Hunter is doing better getting his legs under him and is catching the ball more comfortably. He got behind Atlanta's defense a few times in the recent joint practice and should be a constant deep threat. Nate Washington is showing he remains a versatile, productive guy.

Beyond the receivers, tight end Delanie Walker and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey will be good pass-catching options. When the Falcons gave the Titans a lot of room underneath, Jake Locker hit McCluster with a pass over the middle, and he had a ton of space to take. The Titans have invested a great deal in their offensive line over the past two seasons. They have one more tackle than they need after signing Michael Oher and drafting Taylor Lewan. There should be better protection for the quarterback and better holes for the running backs.

3. The 4-3 defense in recent years lacked a star pass-rusher on the edge who an offense had to fear every snap. The Titans still don’t seem to have that guy. They have to find him, but even if he doesn’t emerge from this group, the overall production out of the pass rush should be better. Who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage? In the 4-3, opponents pretty much knew. In this 3-4, it won’t be nearly as clear on a regular basis. Jurrell Casey, who notched 10.5 sacks as a tackle last season, will work as an end now. He's worked on speed rushes off the edge as well as his bread-and-butter quick power stuff in camp.

Sure, some good quarterbacks can diagnose who is rushing and who isn’t, no matter the front. But outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (twice), the Titans don’t face any A-list quarterbacks coming off big 2013 seasons this time around. They don’t see Seattle and San Francisco this season either.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Locker is a really likable guy who works hard, says the right things and desperately wants to prove he is the long-term answer for the Titans at quarterback. But in two seasons as the starter, he's missed 14 games while dealing with shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries. He's practiced pretty well, but there are plays splashed in that can be killers on a Sunday afternoon.

Getting 16 games out of him is hardly a certainty for the Titans. Even if they do and he fits well with what Whisenhunt is asking him to do, he has not been accurate or poised enough when he has played. He sometimes tries to do too much and isn’t poised under pressure. Though he moves well and is very fast, putting him on the move puts him at more risk of another injury. Behind him are more question marks. Charlie Whitehurst has had no real success in just 13 games in eight seasons and often fails to step into his throws. Rookie Zach Mettenberger has a great arm but slipped to the sixth round for several reasons and is rotating with Tyler Wilson as the third-team QB. (Update: Wilson was released Wednesday.)

2. The offensive weaponry looks good, but for those five pass-catchers to give the Titans the nice smorgasbord of options, they need to stay healthy. Also, guys like Hunter (second year), Sankey (a rookie) and McCluster (first year with the Titans and Whisenhunt) need to show that their potential and practice play translate into NFL Sundays in a Tennessee uniform. Wright was the best player on offense last season and should grow more. Can the others become known quantities?

Who is the star of the defense? DT-turned-DE Casey is a strong, quick rusher who was healthy and productive in 2013. He is going to land a big-money contract -- either soon from Tennessee or on the market next spring. There are some nice pieces around him, but the Titans need veterans to have their best seasons and youngsters to emerge, all simultaneously. In Georgia, no defender stood out and regularly gave the Falcons more than they could handle.

3. Forty-seven percent of the current 90-man roster has been in the league for two years or less. Youth is generally good, but it needs to be quality youth and it needs to be surrounded by quality veterans. The Titans lack experience in a lot of spots. There aren't kids in camp who weren't high picks but have forced their way up the depth chart to this point.

Maybe it’s a great mix of players and a good share of the inexperienced people can blossom together. But with new coaches and new schemes, it could be asking a lot for all that to happen in the first season.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJake Locker
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJake Locker needs a healthy season if he hopes to become the long-term answer at QB for the Titans.

  • Locker said he feels more comfortable speaking up and being vocal, and he has shown himself to be more confident in how he carries himself. After one throw that looked to be too long for an undrafted rookie, Locker pointed to tell Julian Horton where he should have gone. He still has bad moments in practice, but the preseason has not started, and he is progressing.
  • The Titans have moved running back Jackie Battle to fullback, where he can offer some needed versatility. He appears to have a sizable lead on incumbent Collin Mooney, who has had, at most, a handful of first-team snaps.
  • Among long-shot late additions, veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been consistently good and Brian Robiskie is also gaining notice. He's competing for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots with Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. Maybe they'll keep six.
  • Sankey is learning quickly how to be a pro, and he has shown a bit of everything the Titans said they expected when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. His first day in pads he looked like an experienced NFL-caliber pass protector. He has good vision and makes good decisions on when to go and when to cut. He also catches the ball well, can run inside and outside.
  • Weakside outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has not worked at all with the first team when Kamerion Wimbley has been practicing.
  • Tommie Campbell was politely mentioned with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a contender for the starting right cornerback spot that opened when Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay. But it’s a two-man competition, and Campbell has struggled horribly.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Part of Jurrell Casey’s transition from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end is who he’ll match up with.

At Tennessee Titans practice on Tuesday, he lined up against offensive tackles during one-on-one pass-rush work.

“I wanted to work more of an edge rush. I’d been doing a lot of inside rushing the last couple days,” Casey said. “Playing end now, I’m going to rush from the outside, also. So I had to get a little practice at that. It’s a whole lot different, because you’ve got way more space to deal with.

“I think I am doing pretty well. There are still a couple things I’ve got to work on. [Tuesday] I worked on bending the corner around the edge of a blocker, and I am still working on that. I can’t get that down yet.

“But anything or normal pass rush, using quick moves, I’ve got that down. It’s more so trying to figure out something new to use to people won’t be guessing what I’m going to do to them.”

He looks quite fast working off the edge.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans lack star power.

Star power drives attention.

The Titans' last, biggest star was Chris Johnson. He was super-recognizable and still produced on a reasonable level. But his game last season was nothing compared to his game at his peak and his value wasn’t close to his scheduled salary of $8 million.

Still, many bemoaned the Titans cutting him, often on the grounds of having no one left behind who is a known quantity by the NFL fan population at large.

SportsNation

Whom do you presently consider the face of the Titans franchise?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    33%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,493)

Do you have to have a star to be good or do you have to be a good team to have a star?

“That’s kind of a tricky answer,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When you classify a player as a star, is that stat-driven? Is that perception by somebody outside? I think if you watch a Tennessee Titans football game and you watch Jurrell Casey or you watch Kendall Wright, you have a tremendous amount of respect for the way those guys play.

“I’m just using those two guys as an example. Derrick Morgan could, obviously, fit into that, as could (Michael) Griffin and (Bernard) Pollard, and I could continue to name them. Now, whether they’re considered stars in fantasy stats, or whether they’re considered stars by all of these experts that are out there, I don’t know.

“I consider them to be good football players. I think the thing that we judge, or the way that I judge it, is the respect they have when you put that tape on. I feel like we have a lot of those players on this football team, good football players. Maybe, I guess the long answer to the question is, maybe the star comes after you have success.”

The face of a franchise doesn’t have to be a star, but I think on most teams it is.

Who’s the face of this franchise?

I’ve only got five slots in a poll and I’ve got a strong feel for whom I believe it is. But I want to hear from you first. So please cast a vote.
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans...

Things got tougher for Dexter McCluster when the pads went on as he got popped several times, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean in his practice report. Also, Zach Brown made the play of the day.

Jake Locker thought the Titans' first day in pads was the offense’s best day so far, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. Also, check out Glennon’s practice report.

George Wilson is dedicating the season to his grandfather, who recently passed away, says Wyatt.

Jurrell Casey’s giving a little extra to Taylor Lewan when they face off, writes David Boclair of the Nashville Post. "So if he can stop me, he can stop most people out there. And he’s been doing a great job at it. It’s something I’m going to have to keep getting better at. ...If I’m one of the top tier players out there, I might as well give him the work," Casey said.

Ken Whisenhunt thought the Titans' first practice in pads sounded good, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

For Ken Whisenhunt and Nate Washington, being in Tennessee is a reunion, writes Greg Pogue of Fox Tennessee.

Day 3 of camp kicked off with this edition of Training Camp Live on the team's website. (Video.)

Some guys who are playing well and some who are not from Jordan Churchill of Music City Miracles.

Camp preview: Tennessee Titans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Paul Kuharsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Tennessee Titans heading into training camp.

Jake Locker: It’s now or never for the Titans’ quarterback, at least in Tennessee. The fourth-year quarterback started last season well, then he got hurt, didn’t shine when he came back and ultimately suffered another season-ending injury. Now he’s got his third offensive coordinator in Jason Michael and a new playcaller and head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.

The Titans would love to see him blossom into the player they thought he could be when they tabbed him eighth overall in 2011. But they began to line up a contingency plan for beyond 2014 when they drafted LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round.

The team declined to execute Locker’s option for 2015, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He needs to prove himself worthy of a new contract or the Titans will be prepared to go a different direction next season -- or maybe even sooner.

Things are set up for him to succeed with an upgraded coaching staff, a running game that should be better with a committee instead of Chris Johnson’s deteriorating vision, a reshaped defense and what should be a far easier schedule. But plenty of league insiders and outside critics have little faith Locker can be an effective long-term starter on a winning team.

The new 3-4 defense: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will bring people from different spots and has some rushers who can play as deeper outside linebackers or line up in a three-point stance as if they are defensive ends. We don’t know if they added enough, but out of Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips, converted end Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers, there could be ample edge rush.

The team’s best defensive player, DT Jurrell Casey, will now be playing a lot on a three-man line. But the Titans promise his duties will not change much and say he actually will get more one-on-ones -- because offenses won’t be able to help on him before getting to a linebacker who will be at the line of scrimmage a lot sooner.

Horton quickly won the respect of the team based on his fine résumé and calm but purposeful no-nonsense demeanor. He said small guys who can hit and big guys who can run will have a major say in whether the Titans are successful.

Houston and Indianapolis made the playoffs in their first seasons following recent transitions to a 3-4. The Titans know the scheme change doesn’t buy them patience.

Whisenhunt’s weapons: The Titans signed pint-size Dexter McCluster to be a weapon in Whisenhunt’s offense. McCluster played receiver and running back in Kansas City, but the Titans will look to him as part of the backfield committee, where he figures to catch a lot of passes coming out of the backfield.

Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in the draft and should be a more direct, decisive back than Johnson, though he certainly doesn’t bring CJ’s speed. Shonn Greene will have short-yardage chances. Are those three enough to take heat off the passing game?

The Titans are counting on a big jump from blazing outside receiver Justin Hunter. Kendall Wright was the best player on offense. And while Nate Washington is aging, he has been dependable and productive. Along with tight end Delanie Walker there are options for Whisenhunt to be inventive with, but we don’t know what will work.
Offseason is list time for NFL media.

The Titans haven’t fared so well on lists.

This upsets some fans, but they need to be honest with themselves. Tennessee doesn’t have much star power, and star power is what gets teams and players on lists.

Casey
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has produced his list of the top 100 players in the NFL. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is 69th. The Bills, the Vikings and Rams also have only one player on the list, and the Jaguars, Giants and Raiders have none.

Pat Kirwan’s parallel list at CBS Sports doesn’t include Casey or anyone on the Titans. Tennessee, Oakland and Jacksonville are not represented on Kirwan’s list.

Kendall Wright is the Titans other best player, but there are a ton of very good receivers in the league and I think it’s understandable that he doesn’t yet rate high enough in that subset to make lists like these.

I suspect he’ll be on them in a year.

As we’ve said time and time again, the Titans need additional guys to develop into star-caliber players in order to make a jump.

They have some candidates to do it.

The jump is what’s important. If they get that, spots on lists -- which make for fun reads but don’t mean much -- will be part of what comes with it.
ESPN Insiders have created lists of the top 10 overpaid Insider and top 10 underpaid Insider players in the NFL.

The Tennessee Titans don't have a player on either list, and that's a good thing both ways.

Looking at the cash values of contracts in 2014, only two look really out of whack.

Safety Michael Griffin can be a good player, but he's not worth $6.2 million this year. (And he knows I don't believe he is, though I commend him for having landed said deal.)

Right tackle Michael Oher will have to show he's worth close to $6 million, and he may play in a backup role this season, which would make that impossible to do.

Others with numbers worth a mention: cornerback Jason McCourty and left guard Andy Levitre ($6.5 million), Nate Washington ($4.8 million), linebacker Wesley Woodyard ($4.75 million), defensive lineman Sammie Hill ($3.4 million) and running back Shonn Greene ($2.4 million).

On the other end of the spectrum...

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and receiver Kendall Wright are the answer to a lot of questions:
  • Who are the best players on each side of the ball?
  • Who are the Titans' primary building blocks?
  • Who are the most underpaid players on the Titans?

Casey's due $1.431 million in the final year of his rookie deal and is the top priority for a contract extension.

Wright is due $1.137 million.
The Tennessee Titans have been discussing a contract extension with defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, but nothing is forthcoming, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Casey posted 10.5 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle a year ago. He was constantly disruptive and emerged as the team’s best defensive player.

[+] EnlargeJurrell Casey
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDefensive lineman Jurrell Casey and the Titans are in discussions over a contract extension.
The Titans are shifting to a 3-4 this year, but have repeatedly emphasized they won't be changing what Casey does. Defensive line coach Giff Smith told me last week that Casey should face more one-on-ones in the new system.

"He's a heck of a player," Smith said. "I told Case when we got here, he'll actually get more one-on-one situations out of our spacing than he would out of a 4-3 spacing. ...Our deal is to get him in as many as we can. I think he puts stress on offensive linemen, he's a difficult guy to block. ...

"It's more of a loaded box where you have to man up. It looks like single coverage on the outside whereas when you're in 4-3 spacing, sometimes your backers cheat back to 5, 5 1/2 yards and they're on the second level and you've only got four guys up front. They can bump, they can chip, they can double (to slow you down). Where in a 3-4 with what Ray is doing and walking guys up, they have to man and they don't have the time to be able to chip and climb."

That the sides are talking hardly guarantees a deal gets done.

It’s a good sign the Titans don't feel like they need to see how Casey plays in this system before holding such talks. It's a good sign Casey isn't saying he wants to see how it goes before these discussions.

The Titans would like to lock up a key cog long term, and Casey's price now will be at least a little lower than it will be in January if he has another big season.

Casey can get long-term security and not have to worry about suffering an injury before signing and costing himself big dollars.

What is he worth?

According to Over the Cap, the top three total contract values for defensive tackles are Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh ($12.9 average per year with $23.3 million guaranteed), Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy ($11 million average per year with $20.8 guaranteed) and Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins ($10.6 million and $20.8 million guaranteed).

I could see Casey coming in below those three, but ahead of guys such as Cleveland’s Ahtyba Rubin ($8.8 million average per year with $18 million guaranteed) and Buffalo’s Kyle Williams ($7.3 million and $8.75 million guaranteed).

I’d guess the right number is an average around $9-10 million with a guarantee in the high teens.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' shift from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 alignment doesn't come with a plea for patience.

Changing the shape of a defense isn't a multiple-year process in today's NFL, and the Titans don't have to look far for evidence of that.

In 2010, the Houston Texans hired Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. As he had many times before, he remodeled a 4-3 into his 3-4, installed a new mindset and got new results. The Texans ranked second in defensive yardage and won the AFC South.

In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts hired Chuck Pagano as their head coach. He and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky converted a 4-3 into a 3-4. While they didn't mirror the Texans' statistical success from two years earlier, the defense was good enough for the Colts to win a wild-card spot.

[+] EnlargeWade Phillips
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports"Saying it's going to take time and that stuff, that's to help personnel people and coaches keep their jobs," Wade Phillips said of switching your defensive front. "You've got to win now."
Neither Phillips nor Pagano expected the luxury of a transitional year, in which he could hit pause on expectations. Phillips didn't hesitate to flip things and engineered another big first-year turnaround. Pagano talked about the need to be a hybrid defense in transition. They expected results, and got enough for their teams to go to the playoffs.

Along with the Titans, the Falcons (moving to 3-4) and the Bills (to a 4-3) are changing defensive fronts and philosophies.

Phillips believes fans in any of those markets should be wary of any talk from the brass about the need for patience.

"That's protecting yourself," said Phillips, who lost his job when Houston hired Bill O'Brien and is currently out of the league. "It doesn't matter in this league, they are going to fire you anyway if you don't get it done.

"Saying it's going to take time and that stuff, that's to help personnel people and coaches keep their jobs. You've got to win now. You've got to change things. Usually you're coming in to fix something. "

Perhaps a switch from a straightforward 4-3 to the more old-school, two-gap 3-4 like the Pittsburgh Steelers run would make for a time-consuming changeover. But while 3-4s are on the rise, more are in line with ones Phillips ran as coordinator or coach in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo, Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas and Houston. They are schemes with edge setting, pass-rushing outside linebackers who do not require a mammoth nose tackle and don't ask the three down lineman to account for two gaps.

Under Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee, defensive coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 base front will seek to create confusion about who is rushing and from where. There will be enough two-gapping to make offenses have to look out for it, but it won't be the default or the norm.

What sense would it make for Whisenhunt, Horton and defensive line coach Giff Smith to ask Jurrell Casey, who was the Titans best defense player last season and had 10.5 sacks, work to occupy defenders and allow linebackers behind him to make the plays?

"He's a heck of a player," Smith said. "I told Case when we got here, he'll actually get more one-on-one situations out of our spacing than he would out of a 4-3 spacing. ... Our deal is to get him in as many as we can. I think he puts stress on offensive linemen, he's a difficult guy to block. ...

"It's more of a loaded box where you have to man up. It looks like single coverage on the outside whereas when you're in 4-3 spacing, sometimes your backers cheat back to 5, 5 1/2 yards and they're on the second level and you've only got four guys up front. They can bump, they can chip, they can double (to slow you down). Where in a 3-4 with what Ray is doing and walking guys up, they have to man and they don't have the time to be able to chip and climb."

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanNew Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton will embrace the players he inherited.
If the Titans have enough good players as they believe they do, then they should be able to get them in positions to maximize their talents.

Whisenhunt said schematically the 2013 Titans ran hundreds of plays in the exact same scheme that will now be their base. Holdover guys "at least have some basis as a starting point," he said.

"The old-school ways of playing the 3-4, schematically that was a difficult defense to play," Whisenhunt said. "Just from a standpoint of the two-gap and having the right guys like Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor outside.

"It was a different defense than we're running. We're a more aggressive type of defense that is going to give you multiple looks. It's not a 3-4, two-gap defense. But when you say 3-4 defense that's the perception of a lot of people."

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a 4-3 guy who ran the scheme for his 16-plus seasons coaching the Oilers/Titans, said the franchise's switch "is moving a guy here and there, it's not as hard as people speculate."

Both Whisenhunt and Phillips share a philosophy that helps make an altered approach easier: It's more about the players than the scheme.

Phillips points to three different approaches with three different players all aiming for the same result: ownership of one of the A gaps in the middle of the line.

"Ted Washington was 340 pounds in Buffalo, he played nose but we play a one-gap defense," Phillips said. "We played him in the middle of the center and let him take the center and just control his gap. Jamal Williams was a power guy (in San Diego), we offset him and let him basically knock the center back and take the same gap. Then I had Greg Kragen in Denver, another Pro Bowler. He was a smaller guy, so we stunted him to the gap.

"They all played the same position, had the same assignment, but played it differently."

We don't yet know what the responsibilities of certain positions will entail in Horton's defense. But he can have wrinkles that make things easy for certain players.

Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers look to be the two primary strong outside linebackers. Morgan's been a 4-3 end and Ayers hasn't fared particularly well in space so far in the NFL. In Phillips' system, the only coverage they'd have been asked to play would have been in the flat.

"It's what the players can do, not what you can think of," Phillips said. "Some people are so scheme-oriented that they block people out and say, ‘Hey, we can't use this guy even though he's a good player.'"

The Titans are being inclusive, not exclusive.

Horton and his staff are embracing what they inherited -- much of which may have been insufficiently coached by the previous staff. They've also added a nice splash of 3-4 help: Linebackers Shaun Phillips, Wesley Woodyard and fifth-rounder Avery Williamson and linemen Al Woods and fourth-rounder DaQuan Jones.

Whisenhunt and Horton aren't looking at Andrew Luck or the top offensive players they will be trying to slow this year and thinking, in another year or two this scheme will be equipped and stocked to get the job done.

"Our expectation is to have success defensively this year," Whisenhunt said. "Will we get better at it in time? I think you get better at anything when you have more reps with it. But it doesn't mean I don't feel like we'll play good defense this year."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One pass through the Tennessee Titans locker room following the first offseason practice of 2014 revealed interesting information about the weight of three key players.

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is lighter, guard Chance Warmack is about the same and receiver Justin Hunter is heavier.

Casey said he’s down from 305 to 290 -- mostly as a result of eating better. It will pay off for him no matter what spot he plays on the team’s new three-man line.

“I’m in great shape,” he said.

Strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson targeted Warmack for some slimming when offseason conditioning began April 7.

Warmack said he’s been working hard and dieting, but he also said he’s at 335. He said he was at 335 at this time last year and was at 335 at the end of last season. The Titans listed him at 323 at the end of 2013 and list him at 323 now.

He does not look any slimmer yet.

His hellish, on-the-side conditioning work with Watterson includes painful sets on Jacob’s Ladder, a devilish machine you should spend at least 60 seconds with the next time you are at the gym.

Meanwhile, Hunter told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean that he has beefed up. The blazing receiver was too frail as a rookie. But he’s bulked up from 193 to 208.

If he’s as fast or about as fast, that 15 pounds should do wonders to help him handle and match up with physical coverage.
An NFL team looking to break through is typically reliant on young, emerging talent.

The Tennessee Titans are not as well stocked with them as they need to be, but they do have a promising core of youth with receiver Kendall Wright, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, guard Chance Warmack, center Brian Schwenke and receiver Justin Hunter.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has put together an All-Under 25 Team. Warmack and Casey make Prisco’s team as backups.

Prisco pits his team against an All-Over 30 Team created by his colleague Pat Kirwin.

Titans left tackle Michael Roos is a starter on that roster, along with the 49ers' Joe Staley. (I always wish we saw a left tackle and a right tackle in these scenarios as opposed to a couple of left tackles.)
Louis Riddick played in the NFL and has worked as an agent and an NFL scout and director of pro personnel.

[+] EnlargeJurrell Casey
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTitans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a disruptive force on the defensive line.
Now an ESPN NFL analyst, he looked at three big negotiations ahead in the NFL in this Insider piece: Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

In Tennessee, the clear guy at the head of the line for a new deal is interior defensive lineman Jurrell Casey.

A third-round pick out of USC in 2011, he’s heading into the final year of his rookie deal. In total it’s been worth $3.493 million, including a $1.431 million base salary this season.

Casey was the team’s best defensive player last season and I think he’s a guy they have to make a strong effort to keep.

But it could be difficult to get a long-term deal done before the 2014 season for several reasons.

While he could be giant in 2014 and up his price, it’s possible 2013 was a peak and his value will come down. He had 90 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three tackles for a loss. Do the Titans bet on him getting better and try to pay him before the season or will they want to wait? Does Casey want to get a payday before he puts himself at risk of injury in a contract year or feel he can boost his value?

The team is confident he will be good in any system. Still, the Titans are shifting from a 4-3 front to a front that will feature a lot of 3-4. No matter how he projects into the new scheme, won’t they want to see him do good work in it before they put a big contract in front of him? Won’t he want to see what kind if fit it is?

Is he going to want to stay? I expect defensive coordinator Ray Horton will smartly find the best ways to maximize Casey’s opportunities to excel. It’s possible Casey could wind up feeling he’s more suited for the 4-3 he was in for the first three years of his pro career and want to seek an opportunity in that scheme.

He’s been a good player for the Titans who was healthy up to the end of 2013 and played very well. It’s a bit simple, however, to just declare the Titans should pay him ASAP.

I suspect it’s a story we’ll be following into the 2014 season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider