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Titans offseason positional review – defensive ends

All of the positional analyses I’ve done previously have started with the offense. Since the defense performed better than the offense last year, I’ll start with them this time. I’ll be focusing on a different position group every several days for the next few weeks.
The defensive ends turned out to do better than I expected in 2007. Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy were able to stay relatively healthy for the first time in their careers, which was a bonus. The Titans also benefited when d-line coach Jim Washburn swapped Kyle Vanden Bosch and Odom to the opposite ends of the line.
The current outlook for this season is partially clouded because of the undetermined status of Odom and LaBoy. We’ll know more about that when free agency begins in March.
Here’s my take on the individual players who may be in the mix:
Kyle Vanden Bosch – His status isn’t in doubt, as he’s under contract through 2009. As noted, the switch from LDE to RDE worked very well, both for the defense and for KVB personally. I became excited about it when I first observed it in training camp last summer and didn’t know then if KVB would move there permanently or would flip from side to side during games. Playing full-time next to Albert Haynesworth helped make both of them better players, I believe. KVB faced quite a few less double teams than he did in 2006 and his presence also freed things up for Albert. They worked very well together at times in two-man games. KVB’s play was recognized and appreciated by others, earning him another Pro Bowl invitation.
Antwan Odom – Finally living up to the potential the Titans saw when they selected him as their third pick in the second round of the 2004 draft, Odom was able to start all 16 games for the first time in his career. I’ve been critical of him before and I’m glad he finally did well. Antwan had eight sacks last year, which more than tripled the 2½ he compiled in his first three seasons. His presence on the pass rush was also evidenced by his seven passes defensed, or in this case, tipped or batted down. Odom undoubtedly benefited from o-lines that slid their pass protection towards Albert and KVB but some team in need of a pass-rushing DE will probably overpay to get him. I’ll be very surprised if he wears the two-tone blue again.
Travis LaBoy – Odom’s health and subsequent level of play relegated LaBoy to a backup role last year and he responded well. I don’t believe Mike Reinfeldt would attach a lot of significance to resigning LaBoy if it weren’t for the probable loss of Odom. The Titans need to keep one or the other, but I doubt if it will be either. LaBoy’s ability as a speed rusher will definitely attract attention from GMs around the league and I don’t see the probability of him staying at more than 50%.
Bryce Fisher – I didn’t know much about Fisher when the Titans traded for him. I certainly didn’t remember seeing him play before, not even against the Titans in the 2005 Seattle game. However, I still thought that getting some veteran depth at the position was a good idea. As it turned out, he wasn’t really needed. Fisher didn’t play much or contribute much and his 2007 $2.4M salary seemed extremely excessive for someone who spent very little time on the field. His 2008 base jumps to 2.6M, so maybe his tackles will increase from five to six. Seems reasonable, based on his production last year. I’m not sure what round draft pick the Titans gave up for him but it looks like Tennessee got a raw deal.
Sean Conover – In his two years with the Titans, he’s gone back and forth between the practice squad and being inactive on the gameday 45-man roster, with only limited playing time. He did get two starts in 2006, when depth was a real problem. I understand that Jim Washburn likes him, which is the best thing he’s got in his favor. He’ll probably participate in OTAs, minicamps and training camp this year, but I don’t see him making the roster. If he does, it either means he’s made substantial improvement or that the Titans have depth problems at the position again.
Jacob Ford – A sixth-round draft pick last year, Ford is pretty much an unknown commodity after spending the season on IR with a torn Achilles tendon. I don’t know much about the injury, other than it ended Rien Long’s career, and it doesn’t sound good. The book on him coming out of college said he was a speed rusher off the edge but needed to improve against the run.
Ulrich Winkler – The Titans were granted a practice squad exemption for Winkler last year, which is probably the best he can hope for this year.
Dave Ball – A 2004 fifth round draft pick by the Chargers, Ball then went to the Jets and Panthers and has appeared in only 21 games in four years. The Panthers released him and he didn’t play in 2007. The journeyman’s had tryouts with the Cardinals, Ravens, Bills, and Vikings. Based on his past, I don’t expect much from him.
Tony Brown – Although defensive tackle is his natural position, I include him here for two reasons. The Titans have him listed as a DT/DE and he played some DE in 2006 when Odom and LaBoy were out. The Titans could move him back out to DE if they had to, but it would be robbing Peter to pay Paul and would mean they are thin at the position again.

2007 Stats Gms Strts Tckls Solo Scks FFs PD
Kyle Vanden Bosch 16 16 60 48 12 4 3
Antwan Odom 16 16 21 16 8 1 7
Travis LaBoy 13 0 13 9 6 4 3
Bryce Fisher 9 0 5 4 0 0 0
Sean Conover 5 0 1 1 0 0 0
Total 59 32 100 78 24 9 11

Next in the series: the defensive tackles.