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Why Can't The Defense Be League Average?

The 2010 Titans were really bad. One of the main culprits was the defense and their complete inability to cover a tight end over the middle anywhere near the middle of the season. It was a disturbing trend that continued to come back to bite the team week in and week out. So what did they do? They canned the defensive coordinator and drafted one of the best coverage linebackers in football last year, Akeem Ayers.

The secondary had it's share of struggles last year, but when Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin were among the worst players in your unit and two players with three years of combined experience were among the best, I'd say that unit is prepared to make a comeback assuming Griffin and Finnegan regress to career averages and Verner and McCourty continue to improve, or even stay at the same level. Then, you have the Titans' seventh round draft pick, Tommie Campbell who I personally guarantee will make the roster. He weighs in at a whopping 6'3", 203 lbs, runs a 40 yard dash in the mid 4's, and was a highly recruited linebacker coming out of high school. Think Taylor Mays lite. While I don't expect him to contribute in 2011 or even in the near future, he should have an impact on special teams and maybe down the road could step in as a strong safety. 

This year's draft class was absolutely loaded with potential sleeper picks. Black Heart Gold Pants, the SBN site dedicated to the Iowa Hawkeyes, wrote a very nice summary of our fifth round pick Karl Klug in which they absolutely gush about him. Homerism? Probably, but it definitely highlights his strengths well and offer up a lot of memorable quotes. This one is my favorite: 

If Klug lucks into the right situation with a team that has a smart, creative defensive coordinator and that doesn't expect immediate dividends from the pick, yeah, he could develop into the most pleasant surprise from this year's crop of Iowa picks

Really makes you miss Schwartz even more, doesn't it? Jerry, this one's on you. Get this guy on the field. 

But enough about the future may hold. What are we working with right now? We've covered the secondary (HERP DERP IT'S A PUN) already, so how about linebackers? I've already touched on the fact that I really like Akeem Ayers, but outside of him, I'm not too thrilled with the group as a whole. Rennie Curran could be something special, he's very well suited to both zone and man-to-man coverage with fluid hips and great athleticism. Hopefully he can step up and reach his ceiling as London Fletcher 2.0.That's really all that there is to get excited about in the linebacker corp as far as immediate contributors go. Tulloch returning is no sure thing and the best we can hope for from McRath this year is some sort of middle ground from his rookie year and last season where he couldn't tackle or cover. Will Witherspoon draws mixed reviews, but he probably is about as average as they come. That's not problematic, but it's not advantageous either. All in all, we're putting a lot on the shoulders of the rookie in this case. He's got to be a force from day one if this unit is to be steady. I believe he has the skill set to do so. 

The defensive line will also be banking on the success of a couple of high draft picks. Derrick Morgan will have to pick up where he left off last year. Everybody knows that in order to succeed, you have to get to the QB. That's what we brought him in for, that's what he has to do. No questions asked. A combination of Morgan and Jason Babin or even Dave Ball would be a force to be reckoned with. The other player who needs to take a step forward is Sen'Derrick Marks. After being drafted with much pomp and ceremony in the second round in 2009, Marks has underwhelmed for the most part. That's got to change this year. Marks needs to help anchor the line with fellow yougins Jurrell Casey and, in a perfect world, Zach Clayton. All in all, it's not a terrible situation. I like how WTF summed it up a few months ago: this is a deep unit, but one short on star power. Hopefully, Derrick Morgan steps up and fills the void.

What we're looking at here is a defense that could really go either way. We're dealing with a lot of unknowns in these young players. Among those not mentioned are Robert Johnson, Colin McCarthy, and Vincent Fuller, three more wild card players who may or may not have something to prove in 2011. If all goes well, this can be a league average defense, but putting all of our eggs in one basket, or one wave of players in this case, is foolish. Note that this also doesn't take into account any defensive players the Titans may sign in free agency this year. 

Also; switch to the 3-4 already. It just works. I think we should expect the D to be ranked somewhere in the low 20's.