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Tennessee Titans midseason review – defense

After taking a look at the offense in the first part of our midseason review of the Titans, we now turn our attention to the defense. In the review of the defense after the first four games, I noted that all three areas of the defense — d-line, linebackers and secondary — were playing better than expected and some major questions in those areas were answered more than satisfactorily.

Because of the personnel changes in the secondary that were made in Week Eight at San Diego, it seems like a good place to start, after the break.

Secondary:  First, I’d like to say I’m a Vincent Fuller fan. I have been ever since Jeff Fisher called him “the smartest guy in the building” when he reported for rookie orientation after he was drafted. All the other rookies were given a playbook to learn; Fuller was given two. A week or two later, Jim Schwartz claimed that Fuller already knew and could play every position in the secondary.

Vincent Fuller didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t lose his job due to poor play. As far as I know, the Titans have always been happy with him. They re-signed him to a nice new contract two years ago, which prompted Chris Carr to bolt for Baltimore and Eric King to Detroit, both leaving to get more playing time, which they couldn’t behind Fuller.

That being said, I don’t have a problem with Alterraun Verner as the nickel. He’s a playmaker with excellent ball awareness and skills. Frankly, I’m more comfortable with Verner at nickel than at corner, though it looks like Fisher isn’t afraid to use Verner outside. We’ll see how long this arrangement continues but for now it appears it will go on for a while.

Michael Griffin has continued his improved play. Now if we can only get Chris Hope and Cortland Finnegan to step it up a little. I’m not too worried about the secondary in the next two games (Dolphins and Redskins) but after that the Titans will face the high-octane aerial attacks of the Colts and Texans twice each.

Defensive line:  Imagine how good this Titans’ d-line could have been thus far with a healthy Tony Brown, who I thought was the team’s best defender last year. Brown missed most of training camp and I’ve wondered if he might have rushed (or been rushed) back too quickly. Fortunately, Sen’Derrick Marks returned from his injury sooner than expected. I have no reason to think Marques Douglas will be a factor, or will be much better than Amon Gordon, and one can only hope he’ll be adequate until Brown is healthy again. Thank goodness Jason Jones has remained healthy (knock on wood) and Jovan Haye has been contributing in the rotation.

The defensive ends are at a position nobody could have imagined two months ago. William Hayes and Jacob Ford, the projected starters at the beginning of the season, have barely contributed. First-round draft pick Derrick Morgan is on Injured Reserve. Journeymen Jason Babin and Dave Ball have taken advantage of the opportunity and starred. The bye week undoubtedly gave Babin and Ball an opportune time to catch their breaths and gave Hayes and Ford much needed time to recuperate from nagging injuries.

A healthy Brown, Hayes and Ford will really help in the second half.

Linebackers  There was nothing to write about Gerald McRath in the first quarter review, other than noting his absence and that the Titans defense performed adequately without him. Now that he’s played the entire second quarter, he’s looking like he’s settled in. I like the way McRath runs around but I still don’t like him in pass coverage. Matter of fact, I don’t like any of the Titans LBs in pass coverage too much. Will Witherspoon is the best of the lot and has done a fairly decent job against tight ends not named Gates.

One thing that does concern me about the linebackers is the depth. Jamie Winborn and Colin Allred are on Injured Reserve. Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw are both very active on special teams but we don’t know how good they are as linebackers. Ditto for Rennie Curran, who has finally become part of the 45-man gameday active roster. Ken Amato is listed as Stephen Tulloch’s backup, now that Allred is on IR. Amato probably hasn’t been on the field for a defensive play in several years.

Which brings us to David Thornton, who’s still on PUP. We keep hearing that he’s improving, that he’s getting closer to returning, that the Titans are hopeful for his return. We were hearing the same things in July and that the Titans hoped he’d be ready for training camp. In August, we kept hearing that he might be ready for the start of the season. Now it’s November and we’re still hearing the same old stories, that he might return. While I’d love to see a healthy David Thornton for depth purposes, I’m not overly optimistic about it.

Depth issues aside, I feel OK about the linebackers going into the second half of the season. I really like Witherspoon, I love the way Tulloch plays against the run and I enjoy watching McRath continue to improve. One thing I would like to see is the Titans to get a big lead in a couple of games and see Curran, Shaw and Bailey play some regular downs.

Those are some of my thoughts on the Titans’ defense at midseason. What do you think? Please leave your comments and feedback, which we always appreciate.