New Players and Coaches Could Spell Big Changes for '09 Titans: Defense

Bryan Hollister@too_old_4stupidAnalyst IMay 24, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - 2008:  Chuck Cecil of the Tennessee Titans poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Getty Images)

Hello faithful readers.

On Friday last we discussed what changes might be coming in the 2009 season for the Tennessee Titans, with the dearth of wide receivers they are bringing to camp this year. Expectations and indications are that they intend to air it out a bit, and don't seem to care who knows it.

Today we discuss defense. From coaches to players, the Titans have had some shuffling going on. Fortunately for them, the cut seems to have gone their way.

"Key" Losses on Defense Insignificant

The Titans suffered what many might consider to be two important losses during the offseason.

First, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz departed for the infamous position as head coach of the Detroit Lions—RIP, Mr. Schwartz—and behemoth defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins, leaving the Titans with a gaping hole in the line, and a diminished ability to get to the quarterback.

Or so it would seem at first glance. But not so fast, kiddies: do the names Dave Ball and Jason Jones ring any bells with you?

When Haynesworth and Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch went down late in the season, these two guys stepped in and took control of the situation in fine fashion.

Jones performed so admirably that he had some people saying, "Albert who?" He performed especially well against the vaunted Steelers, recording 3.5 sacks and 4 stops by himself on the way to a 31-14 blowout of Pittsburgh.

So Big Al is gone—big deal. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say what everyone else is afraid to say: he's a slacker, and one good season does not make him special.

Prior to 2007, what had he really done? not one season has he started—or played—all 16 games. Prior to 2007, the most sacks he had in a season was three in 2005. And for all his run-stopping ability, he has never been involved in more than 51 tackles, solo or otherwise, in his career.

Al knew he was coming up on free agency, and he turned it up a notch at the end to get more money. Period.

Like I tell my kids, turning up the effort at the END of the game does nothing but justify the contention that you were slacking at the beginning. As far as I am concerned, if you can't put the effort in from start to finish, go elsewhere, because I don't want you.

Obviously the Titans felt the same way, as they let Haynesworth walk without so much as a counter offer.

Looking at it from a purely objective point of view (yeah, right), the Titans seem to have things covered. Not only are they returning 10 starters from a defense that was rated at or near the top for the entirety of the 2008 season, they have done nothing short of making their already deep defense just a little deeper, a little bigger, and arguably a little younger.

All of that is beside the point, though. The truly significant change for the Titans defense is in their defensive coordinator. Some of you may have never heard of him, some of you may remember him taking ball carriers heads off, but either way, if there ever was a coach who epitomized hard work, hard play, and never quit, it is Chuck Cecil.

He was “too small” for collegiate ball, so he had to walk on at the University of Arizona. Four years later he was Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and All-America.

He played for the Packers, Cardinals, and Oilers through his professional career, and was one of, if not the, hardest hitter in NFL history—nearly every picture taken of him on the field featured him with blood leaving his body—typically through his nose.

He was the first player to be fitted with the “Gazoo Helmet”—the extra large, padded shell that went OUTSIDE the regular helmet—not just for his own protection against concussion, but to protect his opponents from losing an organ due to blunt force trauma damage.

If there is a player on the defensive squad who thinks for one second he is going to ask any less of his players than he gave himself, they're in for a rude awakening.

So far, he’s said all the right things, which amount to if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I, for one, am not buying it.

Sure, he will most likely continue to rotate players in throughout the game to keep everyone fresh, as his predecessor did. He’ll most likely continue to use his smaller, speedier defensive linemen to create havoc in the backfield, just as his predecessor did.

But Mr. Cecil was a safety—one who loved to hit VERY hard—and his defensive backs had best be on alert. None of them have seen an offensive backfield as much as they are likely to see one this season.

I could be wrong, of course. The defensive line could be more porous that Pittsburgh’s offensive front five. Everything we saw out of the Titan’s backups last year could have been a fluke. Every defensive back the Titans rafted this year could be total busts.

Then again, I thought I was wrong once before, but I was mistaken.


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