The 2008 Tennessee Titans' defense is seen as the reason behind their 13-3 AFC best record. However, departures of some key members and role players have left this unit in a movement of flux.
The 2009 edition wont have many new faces starting, but the essential backups will cause for a drastic change in the playbook for new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, the former defensive backs coach, who will look to replace one of the biggest names to leave in the off season, Albert Haynesworth.
The Titans were hit hard by free agency. Never have the Titans been one to garnish huge contracts to retain players, nor have they been ones to make huge splashes by signing the big name players. This is a historic trend, as they let big name players such as Javon Kearse (recently resigned), Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason, and even the immortal Steve McNair walk over contractual issues.
This trend continued this off season when they weren't even in the ballpark of Washington's offer for big name Albert Haynesworth who exploded onto the scene last year in his contract year. Having had character issues in the past, i believe the Titans were a little hesitant to reward Haynesworth with a huge deal.
His inconsistent play, and quite frankly an injury-plauged past (he hasn't started a full 16 game season yet in his career), lead to questions on if he is worth the 100 million dollar contract he signed with the Redskins.
Also leaving the team this offseason was the defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who looks to rebuild the Detroit Lions. With him he brought Eric King, who was a depth player at the cornerback position. Chris Carr, another cornerback will be suiting up for the Baltimore Ravens next season, leaving the Titans with a gaping lack of depth in the secondary.
The New Guys
Within the draft, the Titans were able to find some guys to fill the holes left by Carr, King and Haynesworth. In the second round they were able to grab Sen'Derrick Marks out of Auburn, a defensive tackle from Auburn. To bolster the secondary they were able to grab Ryan Mouton in the third round out of Hawaii, and Jason McCourty in the sixth round out of Rutgers.
Titans coaches have liked what they have seen out of McCourty thus far in the preseason camps. Chuck Cecil, who molded seventh round selection Courtland Finnegan into a pro bowl corner-back has a way of turning no-name players into gems, a system which is also shared by head coach Jeff Fisher.
In free agency, the Titans picked up Javon Haye out of Tampa Bay as well as Demarcus Faggins a corner-back out of Houston who will look to compete with Vincent Fuller for the Nickel-back spot.
A darkhorse in camp has been Mitch King, an undrafted free agent signed out of Iowa, who many projected to be a late first day or early second day draft pick. He slipped due to injury, but if he is able to make the team and battle for playing time, he could be a welcome addition to the defensive line rotation.
What to Expect
The Titans wanted to keep the defensive philosophy the same, thus they promoted from within by naming Chuck Cecil the head defensive coordinator. Also, Jeff Fisher is a defensive minded head coach. Although the Titans were attacked depth wise on the defense, I think the additions may allow for a more tenacious defense.
Expect to see a rotation on the defensive line. This will allow for veterans Kyle VandenBosch and Javon Kearse who were beset by injuries last season to stay healthy, and allow for a fresh pass rush on every down. With the depth the Titans have on the line now with Marks, Haye, Tony Brown, Jason Jones, and Mitch King on the interior, the Titans may be better off then they were last season. Look for all of them to see the field multiple times this off season.
On the outside of the defensive line look for Javon Kearse, William Hayes, Jacob Ford, Vanden Bosche, and David Ball all to see substantial playing time. Jovan Haye can also play on the outside giving the Titans the ability to run the stunts that they ran with Albert Haynesworth last year.
Expect a relentless pass rush from the front four, making the rotation very important, as they will need fresh legs on every down. The Titans will have to have a good pass rush to try to protect the young secondary, which is not as deep as it was last season.
Finnegan is a shut down corner, but Harper began to show his age last year and it is unknown how the rookies will transition into the pro game. The linebacker returns all key components from last year, led by the most underrated backer in the game in Keith Bulluck.
Cecil is hoping that McCourty and Mouton can be the next Finnegan, or Michael Griffin, the two young pro bowlers in his secondary. Only time will tell. However, Fisher's style has always been to pressure the quarterback to interupt the passing game, look for that trend to continue.
Jim Washburn is the best defensive line coach in the game, he will coach up the replacements for Albert Haynesworth. Clearly, one man could not fill the hole left by Haynesworth last season, but the Titans hope they can use multiple players to emulate the impact and disrupt the opposing offense just as well.
The last key component to the retooling of the Titans defense is Marcus Robertson, who was brought in last year to be an assistant to Chuck Cecil as secondary coach. This year he takes over that vacated position, mainly due to the fact that his exclusive work with Michael Griffin and Courtland Finnegan made them into pro bowlers last season.
If he is able to tutor the rookies Mouton and McCourty to make similar leaps, this could be a dangerous defensive team.