The Titans’ Lethal Weapons
The team with the ninth overall defense has been getting little recognition over the past couple of years, but now that the Tennessee Titans have brought in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, their defense is one not to take lightly, as they have a bunch of stars flying under the radar. With the few exceptions of defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, the Titans entire defense is full of guys they drafted and developed. They have done a great job of drafting and infusing the confidence in their players to get the job done. Currently sitting with a 3-1 record, the Titans are making it clear for the prognosticators to not hand over the AFC South crown to the Texans or Andrew Luck’s Colts.
The Titans selected one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft in Jurrell Casey. The third year pro out of USC fell into a deep class of defensive tackles, as he was passed on for guys like Phil Taylor (Browns), Nick Fairley (Lions,), Stephen Paea (Bears) and Marcell Dareus (Bills). It is safe to say that Taylor and Dareus have been phenomenal picks by their respected teams, but none of the defensive tackles drafted ahead of him are infallible and easily separate themselves from Casey. Casey trails only Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy in terms of QB pressures, which constitute QB sacks, hits and hurries. If you turn on any game tape of him, it is clear as day what a mismatch he is to centers and offensive guards, and his hand-work is arguably second to only JJ Watt. During the 2011 draft, the whispers were that Casey was too short (6’1”) to be a productive defensive tackle in the NFL, which might factor into why he dropped to the third round. But just like Bengals’ defensive tackle Geno Atkins, Casey has proved the doubters wrong thus far.
Another secret superstar who is making noise around the NFL for the Titans is second year linebacker Zach Brown. The second round pick Zach Brown ran a blazing 4.50 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Combine, something that we have seen in previous years from several other linebackers. But what Brown has proven is that his speed and undersize is best for today’s NFL, as more teams are running the read option with more spread formations. Brown is currently second among all 4-3 outside linebackers with three sacks and has the third best pass coverage and second best run defense grade according to Pro Football Focus. The 52nd overall pick in 2012 isn’t going anywhere soon, nor is his teammate Jurrell Casey. It will be best if we all get familiar with them as quickly as possible.
Most teams drool at the fact that the can have one of the best players at their position on their team on all three levels of the defense. Head coach Mike Munchak and defensive coordinator might want to pick their jaws up off the floor, because they may very well have three of the best this year. Other than Casey and Brown who are domestic (for lack of a better word) draft picks, the Titans also have a premiere cornerback who is falling into rhythm as well. While there is somewhat of a residual effect around the NFL as we are seeing teams feel like it is their onus to draft a cornerback above six feet with the new breed of receivers built like Calvin Johnson, the Titans have 5’10” Alterraun Verner is maturing into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Quarterbacks have a 12.9 QB rating throwing at Verner, which is the lowest rating any cornerback has surrendered in the NFL. On 23 pass attempts, quarterbacks have completed just eight passes, and he has defensed four of those passes and intercepted another four, which is tied for the league lead. In his fourth year out of UCLA, and Verner is now in the final year of his contract. If he keeps playing the way he has, he is due for a huge payday either with the team that selected him or anywhere else in the NFL. Every year he has shown progress, and especially through the first four games in 2013, these are the most gradual steps he has made in his young NFL career.
It will be interesting to see the Titans retain Verner, Brown and Casey, but given that the business side of the NFL isn’t always what one would want it to be, who knows what will be next for each of these individuals. The gyration that the entire team is showing is one for them to be competitive for years to come. These three unselfish players with huge upside are great faces for the Titans organization. Be sure to keep an eye on these three lethal weapons.