A lot of changes are under way in Tennessee under new defensive coordinator, Ray Horton. We've explored some of the likely alignments, blitz packages, and general philosophy changes here at MCM over the past month or two. Most of that talk centered around the most significant changes, namely at the linebacker spots.
What we haven't talked about all that much is how different or not things will look in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. With many pundits lamenting the difficulty of "changing positions" for guys like Jurrell Casey, it's important that we know what these changes entail, and understand how exactly it will affect how the defense looks and operates.
For our purposes (and because I don't have time to get into every nuance of the Horton play book), we'll focus on the "base" formation, with three down linemen. I know Horton has (and will continue to) use different sets such as having only 2 down linemen, 1 down lineman, or even none at all with all the defenders "stood up". While these looks give us a great insight into how creative Horton can be when diagnosing and attacking offenses, we'll stick to the base formation for now, the one we'll be seeing most often when the Titans D takes the field.
First, here's how last year's unit looked:
[2013 Titans attacking 4-3 "Under"]
5 Tech (RDE) - Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley
3 Tech (DT) - Sammie Hill, Antonio Johnson
3 Tech (DT) - Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin, Karl Klug
5 Tech (LDE) - Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers, Lavar Edwards
Derrick Morgan is making the jump to outside linebacker, and though he may remain in the same "position" or thereabouts, he won't have his hand inthe dirt near as much, and will have some expanded responsibilities as well. With him off the board, it will be newly re-signed Ropati Pitotua holding down the fort at the 5 Tech spot. His ideal size should be a big advantage to Horton in the 2014 season and beyond. Here is how I see the current linemen slotting into formation;
3 Tech (DT/DE) - Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug, Mike Martin
0/1 Tech (NT) - Sammie Hill, Antonio Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Al Woods
5 Tech (DE) - Ropati Pitoitua, Lavar Edwards
[2013 Browns "Hybrid" 3-4]
As you can see from Cleveland's 2013 "Multiple Front" 3-4, the EMLOS has been "stood up", and now functions as an outside linebacker. The interior defensive linemen shift accordingly, with the most central defender playing a 0 Tech or in this case a 1-Tech alignment. And for the record, "Hybrid" and "Multiple" are the same thing; it's simply defensive nomenclature semantics.
I am less confident when projecting the starters at the NT spot. Sammie Hill seems best suited to the spot based on size and veterancy, but I'm not convinced he even makes the final roster with fierce competition from the younger (and cheaper) guys like Al Woods and rookie DaQuan Jones. Mike Martin and Antonio Johnson might well figure in here as well, especially in certain sets.
So other than standing up the defensive end, what else changes? Well plenty actually.
With the outside backers being given the added duties of containment as well as coverage underneath on pass plays, the interior linemen can focus on penetrating and getting depth against the guards and center, occupying blockers for the linebackers behind them to flow to the ball. As illustrated by my co-writer, Super Horn, earlier this week, Horton has a lot of different stunts and tricks up his sleeve to accomplish this goal. With the speed the Titans have at the linebacker spot, he has plenty of freedom to experiment.
Things that stay relatively the same? Well there's quite a bit of that too. Let's set the record straight. Jurrell Casey will continue to play the 3-Tech spot where he thrived in 2013. Ray Horton and co. have already stated that they will not be a traditional two-gapping 3-4, which means Casey's responsibilities remain much the same. With the OLB's guarding against plays spilling to the outside, it allows the interior linemen to focus on "vertical" play, squaring up their blocker and locating the ball carrier.
A lot is still yet to be seen regarding how the Titans defensive line appears in game 1 of the 2014 season, but you can be sure that Ray Horton will have his best group on the field when they do.