It occurred to me after I finished it that last night’s post on defensive coordinator Jerry Gray talking turkey focused a little bit too much on the tremendous amusement I got out of Gray’s media session comments, and didn’t do a very good job of putting Gray’s comments into a broader perspective. Thus, it’s time for that.
First, Jerry Gray is learning. As I noted in last night’s post, I was deeply concerned heading into the season that Gray (and possibly more of the Titans’ brass) had fundamentally misidentified the source(s) of the Titans’ defensive struggles the second half of 2010. This was reflected in Gray’s offseason and training camp commentary and in the Titans’ player acquisition strategy. The Titans went out and acquired guys like Shaun Smith and Barrett Ruud because they fit what Gray wanted on defense.
Well, guess what? Whatever Smith and Ruud’s talents as players (and they do have talents), those strengths didn’t actually help the Titans’ defense as much as Gray thought they would. And we saw what happened: Ruud played less before going on injured reserve, and Smith remained healthy but saw his playing time gradually diminish to the point where former second-round bust Sen’Derrick Marks was taking an awful lot of the snaps that had been his in the defensive line rotation.
One of the players who figured most in Jerry Gray’s learning is Ruud’s replacement, MLB Colin McCarthy. Reflecting back on the Titans’ struggles in run defense the prior game, too often Ruud was picked by center Chris Myers or other defensive linemen who made it to the second level. McCarthy overall probably had about as little impact on the more recent game, but he was rarely picked by Ruud. Instead, he did the same thing he’s done all year: reading the play and getting aggressively downhill. Mind you, he’s a rookie, and too often on Sunday McCarthy getting aggressively downhill created bigger gains than playing more passively would have, but we’ve seen in the past playing aggressively can be a highly effective defensive strategy.
One more macro-level question is how much of Gray’s adjustment was by change in preference, and how much by necessity? Some teams have successfully done more like what Gray’s preseason preference was, but it required much better play on the defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle than the Titans received. Gray’s forward-looking statements give me hope that he sees getting the type of defensive line I thought he preferred isn’t the kind of project that will be accomplished in the offseason. We’ll see from the personnel acquisitions in the offseason.
It seems clear from Gray’s comments that there will indeed be personnel acqusitions, or at least changeover. From Gray noting that the defensive linemen other than Klug weren’t winning, and didn’t believe they could win one-on-one, well, one would question why you’d want those players back. Gray’s comment that no good player walks out of the building wouldn’t seem to apply to them.
There are a few other things in there, like searching for a player who can rush the passer standing up and the extreme coach speak about Jason Jones, but I think that’s the primary context that most interested me.