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Titans 2017 training camp position primer: EDGE rushers

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Do the Titans have depth here this year?

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Training Camp Week!!! With camp officially starting this Saturday, July 29th, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up with the EDGE rushers.

EDGE RUSHERS

Returning: Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace, Kourtnei Brown

Departures: David Bass (signed with Seahawks)

Additions: Josh Carraway (Draft), Victor Ochi (FA)

Similar to the defensive line, the Titans return 89.5% of their snaps among edge rushers from 2016 led by the starting tandem of Orakpo and Morgan. Orakpo led the Titans with 10.5 sacks on the season, closely followed by Morgan with 9. There are several advanced stats that point to Orakpo and Morgan being even better than their sack numbers suggest though. I posted about NFL’s NextGen Stats series finding that Orakpo and Morgan were 2nd and 4th, respectively, in the NFL when they measured distance from the quarterback at time of throw for all of 2016. PFF was a big fan of Morgan and Orakpo’s work as well when they started releasing their advanced stats.

Orakpo gets the credit he deserves most of the time, but for some reason many in both the national media and among Titans fans are still sleeping on Derrick Morgan. These guys are really good and if they can get more help from the secondary in 2017 they could both be in for huge seasons.

Behind the starters things get a little more dicey though. Kevin Dodd’s struggles with his foot have been well-chronicled and the team desperately needs him to be healthy. The updates surrounding his health have been positive recently with all signs pointing to him being a full go when camp kicks off on Saturday.

I wrote a lot about Kevin Dodd’s ability and what he showed when he was on the field in 2016 here. I still think he has the potential to be a difference maker for this defense if he can stay healthy. He is the ideal Morgan replacement, and Orakpo has even mentioned the possibility of seeing personnel packages featuring Orakpo, Morgan, and Dodd all on the field at the same time which is interesting. He is among the top two or three guys I’m excited to watch when camp opens. Keep your eye on 93 if you’re out there this weekend.

While Dodd is a like-for-like sub for Morgan, Aaron Wallace is that guy for Orakpo on the opposite side. His snap count grew late in the season as he passed David Bass in the pecking order so the coaching staff must have liked what they were seeing from him in practices. Wallace is a twitchy, explosive athlete as evidenced by his blistering 4.57 40 time and 36” vertical at the combine in 2016 so the potential for him to turn in to a gem is very real. He just needs good coaching and the desire to develop. I liked a lot of what I saw from him late in the year although he needs to add some anchor to his game to avoid getting washed out when teams run at him. He could also use refinement as a pass rusher.

Josh Carraway was a 7th round pick this year who will come in to compete on the edge. You can check out Joseph Yun’s breakdown of him as a prospect here. I expect Carraway to be on the very edge of the roster bubble during camp.

Kourtnei Brown and Victor Ochi are the other two guys competing for a roster spot here. Brown has bounced around NFL teams for his entire career since coming in to the league in 2012. Ochi was an undrafted free agent who spent time with the Ravens, Jets, and Chiefs last year including a brief appearance on the active roster for the Jets. He was a highly productive player at a very low competition level racking up 32.5 sacks at Stony Brook in college. This probably won’t surprise you, but at Ravens camp last year he earned a reputation as a high effort guy which will fit right in with Jon Robinson’s culture here in Nashville.

Also, it should probably be mentioned that a couple guys — Justin Staples and Nate Palmer — that I’ll list with the inside backers can swing out to the edge if needed.

This group is incredibly top heavy. Orakpo was a Pro Bowler last year and Morgan couldn’t have been far off from earning that recognition. They combine to form one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL, but behind them is a massive question mark and probably the most concerning part of the roster to me. I like Dodd quite a bit, but he needs to stay healthy. Wallace has some potential, but you probably don’t want him playing every down if Orakpo goes down with an injury. This is the one place that I would watch for a waiver move if a veteran pass rusher comes free at some point prior to the season.

GRADE: B-