"First Year Lessons" will be a segment that covers what we learned from specific players and coaches. We started with OC Chris Palmer, now we move to the other side of the ball with DC Jerry Gray.
What We Learned:
He is well-deserving of his reputation as a good secondary coach. Jason McCourty established himself as an above average outside cornerback for this team, and Gray's decision to use Finnegan in the slot for nickel and dime packages was brilliant. Alterraun Verner continued to improve on his strong rookie year, and Gray intends to use ATV the same way he used Finnegan. Even the safeties weren't as bad this year.
Continuing with praise for the secondary, Gray took a 29th ranked pass defense and turned it in the right direction. The Titans finished 14th in passing yards against. Not all the credit here should go to the secondary, as that ranking is also in part due to the solid defensive line play.
He can get production out of young players. Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug, Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers all were big contributors for the Titans. Gray was able to play to their strengths, for instance capitalizing on Klug's pass rushing ability. McCarthy made some standout plays early, and Casey and Ayers were starters. A lot was asked of these young players and they stepped up. Part of that is because Gray put them in a position to succeed.
We've got a bit of a rushing issue apparently. Last time I mentioned Chris Palmer had to improve the run game, and now I'll note that Gray needs to improve the run defense. I consider run defense of lesser importance than pass defense, but we still need to fix a unit that finished 24th against the rush.
Creativity was the buzz word when Gray got hired. We dropped some linemen into coverage last year and used a few unique formations, but I was still left wanting more. Gray should give Ayers more responsibility this year, allowing him to develop into a defensive playmaker. Perhaps with a limited offseason and young team, Gray didn't want things to get too complicated last year. He doesn't have that excuse now. I'm particularly interested in seeing what sort of blitzes he can come up with. With what looks to be a good secondary, more players are available to bring pressure from different spots.