Titans positional analysis – defensive tackles

Tennessee was 30th in the league defending the rush last year, which is not a sign of stellar defensive tackle play. It doesn’t help any that they lost starting DT Robaire Smith, who will probably be replaced this year by last year’s backup, Randy Starks.
About the only good offseason news at the position was the re-signing of Rien Long and selecting another DT in the draft, who may or may not help.
Like they do with the defensive ends, the Titans usually keep four DTs on the roster. Following are the guys who will compete for those four roster spots.
Albert Haynesworth – At times, Big Al can play at a Pro Bowl level. He can’t sustain that level for an entire game, though, and seldom has good back-to-back games. It certainly seems like a conditioning issue when you note key downs when he takes a breather and other times when he simply takes a play off. It will be interesting to see what he weighs when he reports to training camp Friday. 2007 is a contract year for Albert.
Randy Starks – He was a starter his first two seasons, before losing that designation to Smith last year. As I’ve noted before, Starks is not one of my favorite players, since he hasn’t improved a lick since his rookie season. That’s just not right. Starks has been tendered as a restricted free agent this year.
Rien Long – I sure am rooting for Long to make the team, because he’s the best pass-rushing DT the Titans have, and they need all the help they can get in that aspect of the game. Kyle Vanden Bosch will probably welcome some company rushing the passer too. I’d like to see Long on the field for every passing situation this year. Long is signed to just a one-year contract after tearing an Achilles tendon last year.
Jesse Mahelona – I can’t exactly put my finger on the reason why, but he was somewhat disappointing in his rookie campaign. Mahelona has the skills to play in this league, so maybe it’s just a matter of time for him.
Tony Brown – He was also included in the defensive end analysis, since he played both positions last year. Brown was signed as a replacement during Haynesworth’s five-game suspension and then played some DE after Albert returned. He’s a valuable asset as a guy who can play two positions and I’d like to see him make the team. Although DT is his natural position, he might help the Titans more against the run as a DE.
Antonio Johnson – A fifth-round draft pick, he’s inexperienced but has some good things going for him. I hope he and Brown will light a fire under Starks and Mahelona to improve their games.
Haynesworth, Starks and Long should be considered favorites to claim three of the roster spots, with the fourth being very closely contested.
To read more of my opinion on these guys, check out this analysis written in February.

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