Friday, December 5, 2008
Fast? Aggressive? Like to chase QBS? Try Titans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee was the only team to call when Kyle Vanden Bosch hit free agency after having torn both his anterior cruciate ligaments. Tony Brown? Well, he was sitting in a Chattanooga church praying for another chance in the NFL when his phone rang.
Now, Vanden Bosch is a two-time Pro Bowl end, and Brown is a starting tackle beside Albert Haynesworth on a stingy, physical defense. The latest addition to this group of one-time misfits is end Dave Ball, who had stints with two teams and was out of football in 2007.
The key for all three? Getting to Tennessee and finding a perfect fit.
"This is a home for guys who have an aggressive mentality," said Vanden Bosch, who has 35½ of his 40½ sacks since signing with Tennessee in 2005.
"This system, especially for the defensive line, has a place for playmakers. Dave has been a playmaker since he got here, (and) Tony Brown. Just a lot of us who go out there and try to make things happen. We're not afraid to make mistakes because we've got good guys behind us that'll cover up for us."
The Titans (11-1) rank sixth in the NFL with 34 sacks -- all but 3½ by the defensive line -- heading into Sunday's game against Cleveland (4-8) and Ken Dorsey, the Browns' third starting quarterback in three weeks.
"They're tenacious," Dorsey said of the Titans' pass rush. "They're extremely active. They're a fast group. Their whole defense and their whole team is extremely well-coached. You've got to be ready."
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said there are many castoff players who could play in the NFL.
"There's just not enough jobs to go around. Once you get them in your system and get them in the offseason program and you get them into camp, they can't help but be successful. You've got good players around them. That helps them be more productive," Fisher said.
Haynesworth has been the heart of the line, already piling up a career-high 8½ sacks despite being double-teamed most of the season. He also credits assistant coach Jim Washburn, who has been in this job since 1999, with bringing out the best in each of his players.
"You don't have to be huge to play this. You don't have to be my size or anything. You can be a smaller guy like Tony, which is like 280, 290," said Haynesworth, who is generously listed at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds.
"All he wants you to do is get off the ball, attack and use your hands, and you can control your gap. You can play on this defense. He doesn't ask you to read or do crazy stuff, jump hula hoops. He just asks you to do normal stuff, and it works for us."
Vanden Bosch was a second-round draft pick by Arizona who had five career sacks in his four seasons. He had 12½ sacks in his first season with Washburn and was so grateful he took the coach with him to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Brown was an undrafted free agent coming out of Memphis and spent time with Carolina, Miami and San Francisco. Carolina cut him in September 2006, and the Titans signed him 10 days later as a fill-in while Haynesworth sat out a five-game suspension. He has started the past 27 games and trails only Haynesworth in quarterback pressures with 17.
"There's a lot of people on this defensive line ... (who) may have thought their careers were over," Brown said.
"The only thing I was worried about was getting a chance. I figured whatever happened after that would happen. Everyone feels like they should be a starter. I wanted to come out and play and prove not only just for myself but to other people who may have turned their back on me to show them that I could play."
Ball helped fill in for Vanden Bosch while the veteran healed a groin injury this season. Ball has 4½ sacks -- the first of his career -- and picked off his first pass in last week's 47-10 win at Detroit, which he returned for a touchdown.
Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said the surprising thing about the Titans' linemen is that all of them are good.
"The backups even make plays ... Now Haynesworth stands out because he's such a physical specimen and he's playing really good. But the rest of those guys are producing as well, and that's one of the things that makes that defense so good," Crennel said.
Ball, whose wife had to talk him into taking one more chance on the NFL when the Titans called in January, only wishes he had started his career here.
"Man, it would've been great. It would've saved me many, many moves and many packing and unpacking of moving trucks. Back in the draft process, Tennessee was one of the teams that talked to me a lot, but things didn't work out that way," the four-year veteran said.
"Better late than never I guess."
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.