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Can Derrek Tuszka help Titans pass rush?

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans claimed outside linebacker Derrek Tuszka off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Tuszka replaces Harold Landry on the 53-man roster, who was officially placed on Injured Reserve (I.R.) after suffering a season-ending torn ACL injury in practice. It’s a crushing blow to a Titans defense that will now be without its sack leader from 2021.

The Titans are moving forward and part of that entails enlisting Tuszka’s services to help replace Landry’s production. Firstly, it’s curious that the Titans General Manager Jon Robinson claimed Tuszka as opposed to elevating David Anenih from the 53-man roster. An undrafted free agent rookie out of Houston, Anenih led the Titans with 3.0 sacks and two fumbles forced throughout the preseason. The Titans obviously feel Anenih requires some further sharpening and opted to add a veteran with NFL experience instead.

A seventh-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tuszka spent one year apiece with the Denver Broncos and aforementioned Steelers. Tuszka has appeared in 24 career contests, tallying 2.0 sacks, 24 combined tackles and one forced fumble. Tuszka played in 15 games with the Steelers in 2021, where he totaled his two career sacks and 18 combined tackles. Tuszka also saw 194 special teams snaps.

Tuszka was a standout performer and three-year starter at North Dakota State, where he was teammates with Dillon Radunz. As a senior in 2019, Tuszka recorded 48 tackles including 19 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and five passes defended. That production hasn’t quite translated to the professional ranks, and the Titans’ coaching staff is now tasked with getting more out of an impressive physical skill set.

How involved Tuszka will be in the Titans defense remains to be seen. Defensive Coordinator Shane Bowen needs Bud Dupree to be healthy and productive in Landry’s absence. Dupree should be on the field a ton. Opposite Dupree will include some mixture of Tuszka, Rashad Weaver and Ola Adeniyi. A second-year player out of Pittsburgh, Weaver is the obvious choice to receive the bulk of the snaps. Weaver enjoyed an impressive preseason campaign and appears primed to take a step forward. Adeniyi has also been productive and efficient throughout his few pass-rushing opportunities.

It’s worth acknowledging that veteran defensive lineman Denico Autry is versatile enough to play on the EDGE. Autry earned several snaps outside in place of an injured Dupree last season. More of the same is expected with Landry on the mend. When Autry plays outside, expect free-agent acquisition DeMarcus Walker to replace Autry inside. Walker entered the league with some pedigree out of FSU, but has largely failed to reach his pre-draft expectations. The Titans believe they’ve found a gem in Walker, and although he’s not a like-for-like replacement for Landry, he could end up playing the most snaps of all players in the mix due to his ability to play both inside and outside.

Tuszka will receive opportunities to make an impact on the Titans, but he’ll likely rotate into the lineup behind Weaver, Adeniyi and Walker.