Titans offseason positional review – defensive tackles

It all starts up front on defense. The first priority is stopping the run; if you can’t do that, you’ll lose a lot of games. The defensive tackles had an outstanding year, leading Tennessee to a fifth-best NFL ranking against the run. Before Albert Haynesworth missed some time with an injury, the Titans led the league in rush defense.
There’s both good news and bad news about the Titans’ situation at the defensive tackle spots.
The good news is that both starters from last year will return. The bad news is that their backups, who are needed to rotate in and out frequently, require an upgrade.
Here’s a look at the current members of the position group.
Albert Haynesworth – Big Al is about to receive a huge payday, either in a long-term contract with the Titans, or as a franchised player. Either way, Albert will be wearing two-tone blue on Sunday afternoons this fall. Signing Haynesworth to a four-year deal is admittedly a gamble, but one I believe is well worth taking. I’ve been critical of Albert for the last several years, but he really turned it around last year. Before the 2007 season, he only had one great game, in my opinion, when he totally dominated the game. He did that in several games at the beginning of the 2007 season before missing three games with a hammy and also did well at the end of the year. If you taped either of the Titans-Chargers games from last season, watch Albert dominate Pro Bowl guard Kris Diehlman. The main problem with Albert is his injury history.
Tony Brown – Ever since he joined the Titans, ironically because of Albert’s suspension in 2006, he’s performed beyond expectations. He’s small for a DT, but adequate when playing next to Big Al. Brown makes up for his lack of size with fairly good quickness, which he uses well rushing the passer. I still believe the Titans can utilize him as a DE, especially if Odom leaves, but that would mean finding a replacement for him at DT. Haynesworth and Brown are head and shoulders above anyone else the Titans have and can be penciled in as 2008 starters. I was glad to see Tony get a contract extension last year.
Randy Starks – There’s a huge dropoff in talent here, which is sad, because there shouldn’t be. A former third-round draft pick, Starks has been a disappointment to say the least. Regular readers of Total Titans know that I’ve criticized him often for his lack of improvement. Starks will be an UFA in March and if the Titans resign him, it will be out of necessity, or perhaps desperation. No more than a depth player at this point, and not a particularly good one at that.
Kevin Vickerson – A seventh-round pick of the Dolphins, he also played in NFL Europa. Any player who was sent to that now defunct entity was not highly regarded by their NFL team. The Dolphins didn’t think much of him after that either, when they released him. Vickerson was on the Titans practice squad last year and added to the regular roster late in the year.
Antonio Johnson – Johnson is somewhat of an unknown commodity. A fifth-round draft pick last year, he spent the season on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL. The injury occurred early in training camp, so I really can’t recall having an opinion on him at that time. Note to self: keep better notes. Question: How will he look in training camp after a year of rehab?
Outlook: The Titans typically keep four DTs on the roster, and Haynesworth, Brown and Johnson (health permitting) look to be three of them. I doubt if Starks will be around much longer, or if Vickerson makes the cut in training camp, so the Titans will need to find a fourth DT.
Here’s the list of DTs who are scheduled to be free agents this year. I wonder what Mike Reinfeldt and d-line coach Jim Washburn think about them.

2007 Stats Gms Strts Tckls Solo Scks FFs PD
Albert Haynesworth 13 12 40 32 6 0 4
Tony Brown 16 16 52 32 4 1 6
Randy Starks 14 4 16 11 0 0 1
Kevin Vickerson 4 0 3 1 0 0 0
Total 47 32 111 76 10 1 11

Note: Former Titans DT Rien Long is in critical but stable condition in a Nashville hospital after an automobile accident Monday night. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family,
Next in the series: the outside linebackers.