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Tennessee Titans positional analysis: Defensive ends
Continuing our offseason positional analyses, we now take a look at the defensive ends. The Titans started the 2009 season with five DEs and finished with six on the roster. Three of the six are free agents who will more than likely not be back in two-tone blue this season and another is an untested commodity.
That leaves only two who are certain to be on the roster in September so this position group should have more turnover than any other for the Titans this offseason.
Here’s a look at the status of the defensive ends, after the jump. 
William Hayes, who took over as the starter at LDE in Week Five, is signed through 2011. A solid run defender, Hayes still needs improvement as a pass rusher, but if he hasn’t developed into one yet, it’s hard to imagine he will ever become top shelf material in that facet. You can pencil him in as the starter again this year. Hayes will be the one constant in the position group amid the turnover within the rest of the group.
Jacob Ford is the other DE who will be back this season and should assume the position of the frontrunner to be the starter at RDE, for the time being at least. A backup for his first three seasons, Ford has shown the ability to be a productive edge rusher but he can be run at and run over. In my opinion, he is most effective as a situational pass rusher and should continue to be utilized in that manner, meaning someone else should man the position on first down and obvious running downs. 2010 is the final year on Ford’s contract.
Kyle Vanden Bosch had a substandard season last year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. KVB, an eight-year veteran who will be 32 years old in November, believes he’ll be calling somewhere else home this year, as Drexel wrote about here. My heart hopes he’ll be re-signed for another season and that he’ll regain his old form. My head says the Titans need a younger, more effective player as the starter. Perhaps KVB will return as a backup simply to provide depth in the rotation and leadership. I try not to put too much importance on veteran leadership – I think it’s overblown far too often – but I believe in KVB’s case, it’s a warranted issue. Anyone who’s watched the man on the practice field can understand why. Jeff Fisher recently said the Titans still have an interest in KVB, so we’ll see what happens in the next month.
Jevon Kearse, thanks for the memories. The Freak lost his starting job to Hayes in Week Five and appeared in only two games since. He’ll be 34 years old and will definitely not be a Tennessee Titan when the season starts.
Dave Ball is another DE headed for unrestricted free agency. He did not provide any dividends in 2009, as he did in 2008, and I wonder if his offseason back surgery a year ago had any effect on that.  
Eric Bakhtiari rounds out the position group. As I mentioned in my special teams report card, he should compete for a job in training camp this summer. A former 3-4 linebacker for the Chargers, Bakhtiari was on the Titans practice squad before being activated late in the season. I don’t know what kind of DE he is but do know he’s got decent speed for a man of his size.
The lack of a reliable, consistent outside pass rush was one of the Titans’ biggest problems last year. Couple that with the impending loss of several players and you have a double whammy. Because of these two reasons, defensive end is the number one priority the Titans need to address this offseason, either through free agency, the draft, or possibly both. (Also see Drexel’s post on whether DE is the Titans biggest offseason need.)
The biggest name among the free agents to be is Julius Peppers, who should be the most expensive. He’s also 30 years old and for those two reasons, shouldn’t be a Titan.
Two other big names are Richard Seymour and Adewale Ogunlewe but they will be 31 and 33 years old this season. As with Peppers, signing either of them would be a very short-term solution and they are all at the stage in their careers when they will want one more big payday, a four-year deal with most of the money guaranteed.
I just don’t see throwing big money at an older player who may have only a year left at his current level of play.
I’d rather go with a younger guy such as the Vikings’ Ray Edwards, who’s 26, and is a budding star. (I commented last month on Edwards in Drexel’s DE article.) Several teams ought to be very interested in obtaining him and he should be expensive but if you’re going to pay big money for a player, I’d rather spend it on someone under the age of 30.
I’d also rather have Edwards than a first-round draft pick but that may be wishful thinking. It’s hard for me to get excited about a rookie-to-be when you could get a proven veteran who’s still improving. Ask Jaguars fans how Jacksonville’s first-round selection of Derrick Harvey, an eighth-overall pick two years ago, worked out.
Still, if the issue isn’t resolved through free agency, I believe the Titans should use their first-round draft pick on a defensive end. If there’s a player available with enough value to justify using that pick, of course.
The top three prospects are Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), Carlos Dunlap (Florida) and Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida). Morgan is projected to be a top ten pick but the other two may be available when Tennessee is on the clock in Round One.
We’ll continue to take a look at these prospects, and others, in the coming weeks.