As we know, Ray Horton has brought his tried and tested defensive scheme with him to Tennessee this off-season, ushering in a plethora of changes in both positions and personnel. '
We've touched on some likely alignment configurations for the Titans back before the draft. With the addition of DaQuan Jones at 0-1 TECH/NT and Avery Williamson at inside linebacker, the Titans have a little more flexibility. Throw in Morgan's primary position change to outside linebacker (Leo or Sam is as of yet unclear), and there are a lot of moving parts.
The linebackers beyond most things will be vital to the unit's success or lack thereof in 2014.
Whereas Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo were natural fits for Horton's defense as outside linebackers in Cleveland, he has had to expand his repertoire in Tennessee, with the Derrick Morgan linebacker experiment already in full play. His fit on the outside may determine a lot about how the Titans fare defensively in 2014. That said, Kamerion Wimbley, Shawn Phillips, and Akeem Ayers seem to be ideal fits for this new scheme. With a lot of talented bodies to mix and match situationally, Horton should have a good chance to make an early mark in the AFC South.
Above many things, Horton's defense puts an emphasis on individual player intelligence and versatility. An expansion of defensive responsibilities is on the docket for guys like Morgan, who will now need to use his athleticism to cover and make open field tackles, as well as rush off the edge. Teammate Jason McCourty recently remarked that the transition is already in full swing for Morgan, and that he's taken well to running some coverage duties thus far.
Another aspect Horton has made clear in the past, and is no different in Tennessee, is his installation process. Rather than piece the scheme together in partitioned segments, Horton likes to put his guys to test mentally and physically, figuratively throwing the whole book at them off the bat. This approach has yielded results in his prior stops, so expectations among fans will be fairly high this season, despite it being year 1 of a massive team overhaul in the coaching sphere.
In an interview with ESPN beat-writer, Paul Kuharsky, Horton himself acknowledged that the progress so far has been quicker than expected.
"There have been very few mental mistakes, which is amazing for putting in a brand new defense...The 'buying in' part comes when you have some adversity, and how to they react to that? (We don't know yet) but I am very happy with where we are."
Other aspects like Ropati Pitoitua's performance as the new primary 5/6-Tech DE will play a big role too. His ability to stop the run should be a marriage made in heaven, and he should get some added chances to rush the passer too, something he did surprisingly well in the early goings of the 2013 campaign. In the middle, DaQuan Jones might put pricey veteran Sammie Hill on the roster bubble if he can impress in camp. The 0/1-Tech NT spot definitely will need to be remedied one way or the other to avoid the team getting run over as in past seasons.
As previously stated, the performance of the linebackers will likely be key to team's fortunes. Guys experienced in Horton's scheme, or alignments like it, like Wesley Woodyard, Shawn Phillips, and even Kam Wimbley, should pay big dividends.
Overall though, as Horton himself said, the transition seems to have been heading in the right direction in a hurry. Titans fans, players, and coaches alike hope it will make a world of difference in the 2014 season.