When you look at the improvements made by the Tennessee Titans defense in 2015, it started upfront with the play of the defensive line that pushed the Titans into the upper half in team defensive stats early in the season.
Those numbers did not hold throughout the entire season, in part because of some key injuries and a lack of depth to overcome them. That shouldn't be the case this season as new general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Mularkey addresses those depth issues in the draft and free-agency.
Currently there are eleven defensive linemen- tackles and ends- on the Titans 2016 roster, and there should be some competition to fill the bottom end of the roster at those positions. Some of those positions will be easy to name with players like Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey coming off the best season of his career.
There could be a veteran who finds himself on the outside when final cuts come, but that remains to be seen. Either way, there will be some battles worth watching when camp opens on July 30.
Here is our review and preseason predictions along the defensive line.
STARTERS- DT Jurrell Casey: Coming off a Pro-Bowl season, Casey is the unquestioned leader of the defensive front. He is the player who will likely draw more attention and double teams this season meaning that others must step up and produce when given one on one opportunities. Casey's numbers could also rise if the younger players step up and produce, thus preventing teams from doubling Casey.
A newlywed, Casey said openly during mini-camp that he feels this defense is ready to take the next step to become a top defense. While there certainly appears to be better depth to help that materialize, the unit must produce throughout a sixteen game season for that to occur. Injuries are part of the game, but this defense can't afford to have a similar drop off because of an injury this time around.
STARTER- NT Al Woods: Resigned by the Titans to man the middle, Woods will likely share time with a rookie. Still Woods is a key as a run stuffer in the middle. His ability to control the middle of the line and stop the run will go a long way toward determining the fate of this defense.
STARTER- DE DaQuan Jones: Entering his third season Jones is a solid starter who will be expected to take the next step in his performance this season. He is another massive body who is strong against the run, but needs to provide more push in pass rush when on the field. He will be a rotational player and is not always in the game on definite passing downs.
Depth will be a key, and that is where some competition will be had.
BACKUP- DT Karl Klug: Undersized by today's NFL standards, Klug (6'3" 278) is a solid run defender, but is a very effective pass rusher who has become more of a specialist used in definite passing situations. He is a solid locker room presence, who is well liked and respected inside the building and plays with a non-stop motor.that helps him overcome his lack of ideal size for the position.
BACKUP- NT Austin Johnson: The Penn State rookie nose tackle will split time with Woods up front, and he has the size (6'4" 313) to plug the middle along with the strength and quickness to be a disruptive force in the middle.
BACKUP DE Angelo Blackson: Another huge body, (6'4" 318) Blackson is entering his second season in the NFL where he showed flashes of his potential last season. A powerful player with explosive quickness for someone his size, Blackson will be a huge part of the defensive front who can move and play any position along the defensive line. He allows the Titans to put a huge run stuffing group together for short yardage situations along with Jones, Woods and Casey.
ON THE BUBBLE, BUT MAKE THE ROSTER: Ropati Pitoitua seven year veteran saw his playing time slip last season and was even inactive at times, but as of right now, none of the remaining candidates, all rookies, have shown enough to believe that they will unseat Pitoitua. They will certainly get the chance, and the thought is that the Titans are looking to get younger, and that could play a part in the final decision of who makes the roster, but as of now, the veteran holds his spot.
ON THE BUBBLE, BUT MAKE THE ROSTER:: Antwaun Woods: Some have compared Woods to Jurrell Casey because both are USC Torjans, and their size, strength and quickness are similar. Woods showed flashes in mini-camp, and flashed a disruptive ability in the middle of the line. He adds another player who could provide an inside pass rush along with being an effective run defender.
Woods loves the game, and he is following the lead of Casey, who was part of the reason he decided to sign with the Titans as an undrafted free-agent who had multiple teams looking to sign him.
PRACTICE SQUAD, OR BUST: There are three players who are all rookies who likely won't make this roster, though someone could step up and earn a place in camp. Still those three undrafted rookies all have a chance to earn a spot on the practice squad.
Rookies Terrell Lathan, Mehdi Abdesmad and Mike Smith are all competing for a spot on the practice squad. At least one of those should make the squad, though there is always the chance that the Titans could find a player for the roster, or practice squad on the waiver wire when other teams begin cuts.
There you have it, our look at how we feel that the defensive line will work out here in the preseason. Of course, any player could make a move up the charts and change everything, and new players could be added, but as of today, this is how we see things.