Tennessee Titans: Randall Godfrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Seven players have worked as the Titans' primary starting middle linebacker since the team moved to Tennessee in 1997.

Only Randall Godfrey rated as an every-down player by design.

[+] EnlargeDanny Woodhead, Moise Fokou
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans are a top-10 defense with Moise Fokou (53) as an every-down linebacker.
Other middle linebackers got a chance to play as part of the nickel package, but Stephen Tulloch and Colin McCarthy were there mostly because the other two linebackers weren't good enough or experienced enough.

The 2013 Titans are not only using middle linebacker Moise Fokou as a back in nickel, he's the only linebacker on the field in dime -- a package they've played a great deal.

Fokou's been mostly solid for the Titans. But he's not the dynamic linebacker Zach Brown is, so I have been a bit surprised.

I'm a big proponent of the best players being on the field the most, but I'm also a big proponent of being a top-10 defense, and the Titans are ninth through five games with Fokou as an every-down player.

"We have found no reason to take Moise off the field," linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio said. "It's been always a traditional [football] thing, the 'Mike' linebacker runs the show. We have a situation here where our Mike is very comfortable. It's not just about him, it's about getting everybody else lined up. It's not just about his production, it's about allowing 10 other guys to produce. Because they are used to Moise -- the way he communicates defense adjustments, the way he recognizes formation -- there is no reason to take that off the field.

"Ten other guys are depending on him identifying the things necessary for us to get lined up. There is just no reason to do it. It's not just Moise versus Zach. Since Moise has run this thing since Day 1, he's the most comfortable. He understands what everybody needs to hear and I think the results speak for themselves."

It's understandable reasoning, for sure.

The Titans are playing excellent third-down defense, allowing conversions just 28.1 percent of the time.

But according to John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Info, Tennessee's opponents are converting 31.6 percent on third-and-6 or more and 23.1 percent on third-and-5 or less.

That's backwards. Third-and-long should be tougher to convert than third-and-short. Perhaps part of the reason for that is their dime linebacker isn't their best linebacker against the pass.

It's not the time for a change. But I do allow for the possibility that things could be even better with Brown, who is a better pass defender than Fokou and should also be adept at lining people up as well.

"It's frustrating, it's frustrating for anybody to go to the sideline," Brown said. "But you've just got to do what you've got to do and sacrifice for the team and the greater good to win the game. You might not like it, but you can't do nothing about it.

"I know what to do, if they asked me to do it, I could do it. But I haven't been called upon yet. So I'm just playing my role."

Fokou has played 97.6 percent of the Titans' defensive plays -- all but eight. Brown has played 75 percent. Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers, who also plays as a rush end, has played just 58.7 percent.

Brown came on strong late in his rookie year and has made the second-year leap coaches always hope for from good players.

"It's a big leap, I know where to be, I know where to go," he said. "I'm not scared to take chances now. Sometimes you've got to gamble to win, if you don't take chances you're just playing the book and you can't be a robot out there.

Fokou said as he joined the Titans and won the middle linebacker in the preseason, when McCarthy was hurt most of the time, that he was anticipating this workload.

"I'm a football player, I want to be on the field every down, whenever," he said. "I worked hard for it and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and, yeah, I expected it, you know?"

Titans lacking 'the guy' on defense

September, 5, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Not every good or great defense in the NFL has a signpost guy who’s the big issue for the competition.

The best defenses for the Tennessee Titans have, however.

Defensive end Jevon Kearse arrived in 1999 and proved to be the missing ingredient, booting the Titans defense to a Super Bowl level with his explosive edge rush. He notched 36 sacks in his first three seasons. The 2000 team was the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Albert Haynesworth was an incredible defensive tackle for the Titans in 2007 and 2008, with 14.5 sacks from defensive tackle. Tennessee was fifth in defense the first year and seventh the second.

Like Kearse, Haynesworth created panic and forced offenses to account for him at all times.

Perhaps these Titans have upgraded and will be collectively successful. They lack a singular, dominant player who dictates double teams or constant concern.

“We’d hope that there is more than just that guy,” senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams said recently. “Kearse here was that guy. But when I went other places and had top defenses in the league, we had a multitude of just really good guys. Maybe not a dominant, take-over-the-game guy, maybe not a lot of Pro Bowlers on those teams, but top-ranked defenses.

“We’ve got to have more than just one guy. We’ve got to have several guys that people have to account for and/or know because they can be threats.”

The better scenario, of course, is having the one guy, and having him surrounded by the kind of really good guys Williams speaks about.

Kearse played with solid defenders like cornerback Samari Rolle, safety Blaine Bishop (for two of those years) and linebacker Randall Godfrey. Haynesworth had end Kyle Vanden Bosch, linebackers Keith Bulluck and David Thornton and cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

The Titans have a lot guys who can potentially be high-quality defenders: tackle Jurrell Casey, end Derrick Morgan and linebacker/end Akeem Ayers head my list. It’s hard to imagine any of them jumping the Kearse-Haynesworth level of production.

Casey got a big compliment from Jerricho Cotchery, the Steelers receiver, on Wednesday.

“I'm supposed to be looking at DBs, but you can't help but see No. 99 up front, big Casey," Cotchery told my Pittsburgh colleague, Scott Brown. "He's everywhere, especially when you look at the Atlanta game in the preseason. He's just all over the place. He stands out even when you're watching the back end of it.”

Maybe Casey will wind up being a singular force for the Titans.

They don't intend to worry about it as they get to work.

“I say we go to work with the guys that we have,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “We can’t really worry about what we don’t have, but we can worry about how effective we can be with what we do have.”