Tennessee Titans: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Depth Chart
We've had plenty of time to hear about how the Tennessee Titans are changing in so many ways under a new coaching staff, and the biggest change will definitely come on the defensive side of the ball.
The Titans will be led by new defensive coordinator Ray Horton and will be featuring a hybrid 3-4 defense that figures to be very aggressive at getting to the quarterback.
To help with this transition, the Titans have focused heavily this offseason on adding pieces to this roster that will better fit the 3-4. There are also some players from last season who will be more valuable in a 3-4 defense.
This is full analysis on the depth chart of the Titans defense with where we stand right now with training camp quickly approaching.
Starters: Shaun Phillips, Akeem Ayers
Backups: Kamerion Wimbley, Derrick Morgan, Jonathan Willard, Patrick Bailey
Shaun Phillips headlines this group with his veteran experience in the 3-4 defense, and his nearly 80 career sacks is nothing to overlook.
This is a position that will be full of competition in training camp to see who will see the bulk of the time on the outside. It could even be defensive ends Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan at times.
It will be interesting to see if playing in the 3-4 defense will better suit Akeem Ayers' strengths. He had a down year in 2013 and hasn't come close to reaching his full potential as a former second-round draft pick.
Outside of Phillips, this position will see a lot of different guys lining up from week to week.
Morgan is an intriguing possibility to see if he can shift from playing defensive end his entire NFL career in a 4-3 defense. Titans defensive line coach Giff Smith believes Morgan will be able to make the transition, per John Glennon of the Daily News Journal.
There is still a lot to be determined about this group before Week 1 gets here against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Starters: Wesley Woodyard, Zach Brown
Backups: Zaviar Gooden, Avery Williamson, Moise Fokou, Colin McCarthy
The inside linebacker position is a little more clear than the outside is at the moment. Wesley Woodyard, who was picked up this offseason in free agency, will lead this group heading into the regular season. He has more experience than any other inside linebacker on the Titans roster playing in this type of defense.
A big position battle will occur to see who lines up alongside Woodyard. Zach Brown is the front-runner, but he'll have to beat out a host of other guys in training camp. This position really struggled in 2013.
Colin McCarthy could end up missing out on the 53-man roster altogether with his troubled injury history.
Others guys in this conversation are fifth-round draft pick Avery Williamson, Zaviar Gooden and Moise Fokou.
Don't sleep on Gooden cracking the starting lineup ahead of Brown. Gooden showed a lot of upside as a special teams contributor in his rookie season.
Williamson will see the bulk of his time on special teams, but he also has a chance to see some valuable playing time in his rookie season.
Starters: Ropati Pitoitua, Derrick Morgan
Backups: Kamerion Wimbley (rotational), Karl Klug, Lavar Edwards
The Titans decided to not make any big moves at this position during the offseason, which means they're prepared to move forward with the main cast of Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan.
These three guys had a combined sack total of 13 last season. That total has to increase in 2014 for the Titans to improve on defense.
The biggest question surrounding this unit is how Wimbley and Morgan are going to transition to occasionally being used as outside linebackers. It suits Wimbley's strengths, but Morgan has some work to do in training camp to get ready for this change in his job function.
Wimbley's previous experience in a 3-4 is probably the clearest part about this unit, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
I could see Wimbley playing way more as an outside linebacker than at defensive end.
All of these guys have to be prepared to drop into coverage against opposing tight ends, and I'm not sure how effective any of these guys will be in that role. It's something that's a looming uncertainty about this team.
You also can't forget about the players who will have to battle for a roster spot in training camp, including Karl Klug and Lavar Edwards. Both of these guys have decent shots to make the team and offer quality depth to the unit.
Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle
Starters: Jurrell Casey, Antonio Johnson
Backups: DaQuan Jones, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin
One of the strengths that I expect to see from the Titans defense is what will be lining up in the middle of the defensive line. This unit looks really solid on paper, led by Jurrell Casey.
Casey is currently in negotiations for a contract extension, and Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean believes a long-term deal would be more affordable than risking a bigger contract demand from Casey when he becomes a free agent after 2014.
I expect Casey to have another strong year in a defensive system that will be much more aggressive at getting to the quarterback. At the very worst, Casey will be a serviceable rotational guy that the Titans can let go next offseason.
Casey may also shift down to defensive end at times. It's all going to be hard to plan for in this new defense.
The Titans also drafted the mammoth DaQuan Jones to play nose tackle and wreak havoc in the backfield. As long as he can manage his conditioning, he will be a great part of this defensive line. It was an excellent draft pick to get him in the fourth round.
Al Woods was signed in free agency and will see plenty of time. The grouping of Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson and Sammie Hill will round up the position. In other words, the Titans are currently loaded with options heading into training camp.
Starters: Jason McCourty (Right Cornerback), Coty Sensabaugh (Left Cornerback)
Backups: Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Marqueston Huff, Tommie Campbell
The buzz surrounding this unit during the offseason has been the departure of Alterraun Verner, who had a monster 2013 season at just the right time.
Not all is lost here for the Titans. They have quality depth even without Verner, and the battle for his replacement will be between a few different players.
Jason McCourty will get his opportunity to show that he was kind of overlooked last season while Verner was putting up such crazy numbers in the early going.
Coty Sensabaugh should be the favorite to win this role to start alongside McCourty. He played very well as a nickel defensive back. However, Blidi Wreh-Wilson could easily end up winning over that role in training camp. The real competition comes down to these two players.
Lining up behind these two is Tommie Campbell and fourth-round draft pick Marqueston Huff. Huff will be mainly a special teams contributor, but Campbell could end up not even making the roster. He hasn't been able to prove himself as a quality starter since arriving in Tennessee back in 2011.
This unit has to come together quickly to start 2014 with their first four games coming against solid passing offenses.
Starters: Bernard Pollard (Strong Safety), Michael Griffin (Free Safety)
Backups: George Wilson, Daimion Stafford
Maybe the biggest win of this offseason was the Titans being able to hold onto Bernard Pollard. He will be the glue that holds this secondary together with his leadership and attitude. He doesn't always show up in the box score, but his importance to the team can't be denied.
Michael Griffin will once again be the main guy lining up at free safety. He's been with the team since 2007, and it's been somewhat of a roller coaster ride.
Greg Pogue of Fox Sports Tennessee considers Griffin "a powerful constant" for this unit, and there's really no arguing with that statement. Griffin played much better after he was moved back to free safety last season.
The Titans' first line of depth comes in the form of George Wilson, who can play either position.
We'll have to see in training camp if Daimion Stafford can emerge as reliable backup at strong safety, and the Titans also brought in Hakeem Smith as an undrafted free agent out of Louisville.
With that said, the safety position is currently secure with where it stands, unlike the rest of the defense. This unit is full of veteran leadership that should serve the Titans well in 2014.