With the Tennessee Titans finally adding a running mate alongside Jurell Casey, you’d assume that the worries of a soft interior pass rush would turn into a strength. You can put that assumption on hold for right now.
As we all know, Casey won’t have his potential running mate alongside him until November, at the earliest. That is due to 2019 first-round pick Jefferey Simmons rehabbing an ACL tear he suffered during the pre-draft process. So who shall the Titans rely on to carry the load until Simmons returns?
The answer is…a multitude of a capable players. Well, at least Jon Robinson sure hopes they’re capable.
Who will be these guys that’ll try to carry the load?
Jones was drafted in 2014 under the previous regime led by former Titans GM Ruston Webster. Jones wasn’t much of a pass rusher when he first entered the league (he still isn’t), rather more of a run defender. He hasn’t had overwhelming success as a pass rusher. That is best evidenced as his career high for sacks is only 3.5. That said, he brings a tough, physical presence inside as an interior defensive lineman.
However, he isn’t the guy you’d want to bank on keeping your interior pass rush respectable, especially considering he received a big extension after getting, again, only 3.5 sacks. The majority of those came against a rebuilding Colts team with a very bad offensive line.
Austin Johnson was a 2016 second-round pick, one of three Robinson acquired when he traded out of number one overall in 2016. Johnson was a bit of a project in terms of pass rushing, and, well, he’s still a project.
Johnson has never recorded two sacks in a season. In fact, Johnson has only amassed 2.5 sacks in three years as a Titan. Also, unlike DaQuan Jones, he doesn’t bring much as a run defender.
An underwhelming defensive tackle that can’t bring anything other than a body to the table? That’s not holding the load until Simmons returns. Frankly, Kevin Dodd should see more reps than Johnson. That’s how underwhelming Johnson has been during his three seasons Tennessee.
Brent Urban is a new face in two-tone blue. He comes over from Baltimore as a free agent, primarily due to his relationship with defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Urban is a taller, but lighter-than-usual defensive tackle. Coming in at at 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, he won’t be too hard to point out when the Titans play this fall.
Sack production wise, he’s in the same boat as DaQuan Jones. Good news, however, is that Urban had his best year in 2016, with two sacks, while also playing a solid role in run defense. As a bonus, he’s on a very cheap deal.
None of these three guys mentioned here will line up exclusively as an interior defensive tackle most of the time. They’ll line up in close as two-techniques or as wide as a five-technique. That’s the beauty of a Dean Pees defense. I also expect Casey to be moved around a bit, though not too much, as he’s best and most comfortable as a three-technique.
Either way, production alongside Casey will be nonexistent to mild at best. Look for Pees’ to scheme a lot of the Titans pressure, especially with the impressive arsenal of linebackers he has at his disposal.