Titans bulk up line to help defense get stingier
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tired of being pushed around and run over last season, the Tennessee Titans want to make sure that doesn't happen in 2013.
So they got bigger up front.
The Titans had only one starter on the defensive line who pushed the scale to 300 pounds last season, so they brought in three veterans - all 310 or heavier. Tackle Sammie Hill really was their biggest signing at 6-foot-4 and weighing in at a hefty 329.
"We got some length. We got some height. We're big,'' defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Tuesday as the Titans opened their three-day minicamp. "We got about three or four guys that's about 315, which is good. Offensive linemen are getting bigger and defensive linemen are getting smaller, and that's not a good sign when they want to stop the run.''
Tennessee didn't stop much of anything in 2012 when the Titans set a franchise-record for most points allowed in a season with 471. The Titans also ranked 27th in total yards allowed per game, giving up 347.2 yards. Opponents ran for 114.9 yards per game and averaged 231.3 yards passing.
With the Titans spending more time on the field than any other defense in the NFL, the line with an average weight of 281 pounds also was worn down over the season. So the Titans let 6-2, 294-pound Sen'Derrick Marks leave as a free agent. They signed Hill along with the 6-8, 315-pound Ropati Pitoitua and Antonio Johnson, who tips the scale at 310.
Assistant coach Tracy Rocker credits general manager Ruston Webster and his scouts for bringing in big people not only on defense but offense as well. He said it helps having the bigger linemen to play on first and second down before bringing in the smaller guys to help rush the passer on third down.
"This is a big man's game, and everybody tends to think it's a little man's game,'' Rocker said. "It's a big man game when it starts over the ball. That's where you see everybody in the Super Bowl. They're huge, and that's the goal to be huge and be smart and then have a chance to go with a smaller crew when it's time to go after the quarterback.''
The Titans still have Derrick Morgan (6-3 and 278 pounds) and Kamerion Wimbley (6-4, 255) at end to chase the quarterback. But Ropati and Lavar Edwards, a 6-4, 277-pound end drafted in the fifth-round out of LSU, offer up some size to allow the Titans to better rotate their linemen keeping them fresh.
Wimbley was Tennessee's big free agent signing a year ago, and he moved from linebacker to defensive end. Wimbley had six sacks and 38 tackles, but coaches expect more out of him this season given more of a chance to chase the quarterback. Wimbley certainly has noticed the size of his new teammates.
"This is a physical game,'' Wimbley said. "It's grueling to go out there and play the whole game, and I think it's great to have guys who are bigger who can come in and help out. It wears the opponents down. You're moving more weight over a longer period of time. Eventually, you're going to wear somebody down.''
The chance at more playing time is what helped convince Hill to sign with the Titans, leaving Detroit where he played behind the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Nick Fairley. Hill, who also is closer to his home in Alabama, got only 18 starts in his 59 career games in Detroit.
"Knowing somebody wants to rely on you to do that makes you feel good,'' Hill said. "It feels great to have the opportunity.''
And the Titans have made it clear that Hill has a top priority in the middle.
"Don't let them run the football,'' Gray said.
Linemen are limited in the offseason on how much they can bang on each other. That won't come until they can put pads on in training camp, but Hill said he has been impressed by how hard his new teammates are working. He remembers how hard his linemates worked in Detroit and likes what he sees so far in Tennessee.
"The No. 1 thing you see everybody wants it,'' Hill said. "All these guys want to win, they want to win right now. You can't ever project nothing. You have to go out and do your job and the chips fall where they may. You can tell the guys want it, and that's a big deal for me.''
Notes: The Titans hosted nearly 200 soldiers from Fort Campbell on the first day of their three-day minicamp. Soldiers were greeted by coach Mike Munchak, given a boxed lunch and got an up-close view of practice on the sideline. They got autographs after the session with one soldier chasing down Munchak for an autograph after the coach talked to reporters. Some of the soldiers were from the Wounded Warriors recovering from combat injuries, while others were from the 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group, 160th SOAR Aviation regiment also known as Night Stalkers and the helicopter regiment that flies most of the military's special operations.