Tennessee Titans: Samari Rolle

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.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Tuesday that even when the team decides between Alterraun Verner and Tommie Campbell for a starting cornerback role, it won’t necessarily be a season-long assignment.

The team could choose the starter opposite Jason McCourty on a week-to-week basis.

“Come Pittsburgh week, we know we have to make a decision,” Gray said. “But we’re going to look at Pittsburgh’s roster and see which guy fits that week, and we may end up using both guys during the course of the season because one guy is stronger in one area, and the other guy is stronger in the other.”

(Here's Jim Wyatt's story on it from The Tennessean.)

Verner’s overall body of work is better than Campbell’s, but Campbell is better suited to play the press, man-to-man style the Titans prefer for their evolving defense.

He drew a somewhat disturbing comparison when talking about the potential platoon, pointing to Dainon Sidney (a better man corner) and Michael Booker (a better zone corner) in 2000, when the Titans were the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

But the two weren’t working as the team’s No. 2 cornerback. Samari Rolle and Denard Walker were the starters. With Donald Mitchell missing the season hurt, Sidney and Booker were patchwork players in the nickel package when Rolle moved inside.

And the Titans’ success came far more despite those players than because of them. The Titans didn’t have the luxury of choosing between players with different skills sets. They had the necessity of judging who was the lesser of two evils.

If Verner/Campbell is anything close to Sidney/Booker, the Titans will have serious problems.

This duo is better than the one from 13 years ago. I’m in favor of the Titans playing packages tailored to opponents and situations. But there is a point where that’s overdone. And the base defense would be better off with a guy who’s clearly the starter than with some sort of rotation.

If you have two, we know, you don’t really have one.