The Tennessee Titans on Monday added their second defensive lineman of the offseason who was both bigger and taller than any of their defensive lineman in 2012, signing free agent defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. Pitoitua's deal is reportedly a one-year one for about $1 million, with more available in incentives.
Pitoitua, who's listed at 6'8", 315 pounds, played 494 snaps (50%) for the Chiefs last year over 15 games (10 starts), the vast majority of them at defensive end in the Chiefs' 3-4 front. He spent 2009-11 with the Jets, with appearances in 8 games in 2009 and 14 in 2011 (no starts) sandwiched around a season on injured reserve. Consider him the man for the run-stopping defensive end role that was nowhere close to adequately filled before late-season acquisition of Jarius Wynn.
With the addition of Pitoitua, I thought it was worth taking a broader look at what the Titans have at defensive line, since this can be a slightly complicated exercise and I was planning on doing it anyway in my state of the roster after two weeks of free agency analysis post. Here's what the Titans had on the defensive line before adding Pitoitua:
DE: Keyunta Dawson, Thaddeus Gibson, Derrick Morgan, Scott Solomon, Kamerion Wimbley
DT: Jurrell Casey, Zach Clayton, DaJohn Harris, Sammie Lee Hill, Karl Klug, Mike Martin
With the addition of Hill, I thought the Titans were pretty much set at defensive tackle. Casey is the best player and somebody who will play a lot. I'll be saying more about Hill (as well as Pitoitua and the other free agents) when I have time to do so, but the Titans very likely see him as a major factor in the rotation. Martin in his second season will also likely be a major factor. Klug is a good fourth defensive tackle for a situational role.
At defensive end, Morgan and Wimbley are locks. I've said before I think there is one space available for Dawson and Solomon, each of whom strikes me as an edge rusher who doesn't offer much versatility. The thing that cuts against that is they played pretty much exclusively opposite sites, with Dawson playing RDE as backup for Wimbley and Solomon LDE for Morgan. That may have been intentionally trying to make the rookie Solomon's life easier, but it's one thing to keep in mind for OTAs and eventually training camp to see if my theory is right or not.
Considering the seven more or less locks I have on the defensive line, Pitoitua gives the Titans an eighth defensive lineman, a fourth defensive end with the ability to play defensive tackle. Does his addition mean the Titans are done doing work on the defensive line?
The Titans in the past have carried between eight and ten defensive linemen. They carried nine for all of 2012 and ten in 2011. My strongly-held view, which apparently the Titans do not share, is that carrying ten defensive linemen is strongly suboptimal. Due to gameday roster needs at other positions, at least two of them are very likely to be inactive every week. The Titans dressed 8 defensive linemen in 14 of 16 games in 2012, and the ninth most-used defensive lineman in the other two games played 3 and 2 snaps.
In 2011, the Titans kept three players who were basically full-time defensive ends, five full-time defensive tackles, and two players, Jason Jones and Malcolm Sheppard, who were tweeners that played a mix of end and tackle. In 2012, the Titans kept three or four ends, five tackles, and maybe a tweener depending on how you want to think of Pannel Egboh and Jarius Wynn. We don't know just how much Gregg Williams will change the defense's personnel preferences, but my approximation of the Titans' defensive personnel is they have three defensive ends, four defensive tackles, and one tweener spot more or less accounted for.
If the Titans do what they've done in the past, then the spots that appear most ripe for filling is the fifth defensive tackle spot or a place for a second tweener. If they keep that fifth defensive tackle, that player will see very few snaps and probably be inactive a lot of the time. This could be mean a roster spot for Zach Clayton or DaJohn Harris, both of whom otherwise are likely to be on the outs. They kept each player on the roster for their rookie year despite hardly playing them, which could mean they like them; then again, that could just mean they're another Jonathan Orr.
I think the more important implication is that the Titans have a top grouping of defensive tackles they seem to like, in which case I think it's unlikely they address the position early in the draft. I've noted before Star Lotulelei was an object of my draftly affections. Irrespective of my feelings toward him, I think Hill's addition and the other defensive line moves mean that adding another defensive tackle is unlikely to be a high priority.
Thought they ended up starting the year without one, the Titans had a couple candidates for a tweener spot in last year's training camp between Malcolm Sheppard, Leger Douzable, and Pannel Egboh. While Pitoitua is the only one they have right now, they could look to add another candidate or two. This could easily be a moderately-priced veteran or possibly a draft pick (Margus Hunt in the third round, if he's there?).
The Titans kept four defensive ends until Dawson went down, so is four defensive ends not an option for 2012? What we saw with their most heavily-used tweener, Jason Jones, is that he played roughly two-thirds of his snaps at end and one-third at tackle. While assuming modestly-priced players are locked into a particular role is a chancy proposition (DeMarcus Faggins thankfully didn't make it to the regular season roster), my supposition is the Titans see Pitoitua primarily as a defensive end, albeit as one with the ability to give them something extra at tackle.
Defensive end has been an occasional pick for the Titans in the various mock drafts that are floating out there. Is my interpretation in this post that the Titans are unlikely to take a player like Barkevious Mingo in the first round? I don't know that I would necessarily go that far. As I indicated in the defensive ends positional analysis, if they go in that direction, then I think that player would be in lieu of, rather than in addition to, the roster spot I tentatively have assigned to (Dawson OR Solomon). Given the emergence of Derrick Morgan in 2012, though, and given that a rookie is unlikely to be better than Kamerion Wimbley in a must-win 2013, though, I expect a defensive end only if the defensive end is indeed the best player available in that spot.