2011 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: DT

Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
Malcolm Sheppard and Zach Clayton are fortunate the Titans are keeping six DTs, at least for the time being.

Only one defensive tackle remains from last season’s four-man rotation of Tony Brown, Jason Jones, Jovan Haye and Sen’Derrick Marks.  Brown was released with career-ending knee problems, Jones moved to defensive end and Haye failed to survive the 53-man roster cutdowns.

New defensive coordinator Jerry Gray announced shortly after his arrival that the Titans would be bigger on defense, and with one exception, the new defensive tackles are larger and shouldn’t wear down as easily as those in previous years.

Following Friday’s and Saturday’s reduction to 53 players, the Titans are now carrying an all-time high six defensive tackles on the roster, a number that may change before the season opener next week.  Injuries at defensive end will likely mean one or two of the DTs will slide outside to lend some assistance.

Sen’Derrick Marks, a second-round draft pick in 2009, hasn’t been able to stay healthy, something that’s been a problem too often with Titans DTs.  Marks appeared in only 9 games as a rookie and just 12 last year.  He had offseason shoulder surgery and missed much of training camp, gradually getting more and more work.  Marks might be able to go 30 snaps against the Jaguars next Sunday.  This year, I’d like to see him show why he was worthy of being a second-round pick.  If Marks doesn’t start showing something soon, he’ll begin drawing comparisons to former second-rounders Chris Henry, Ben Troupe and Tyrone Calico. 

Shaun Smith was the second free agent acquisition of the offseason, after Matt Hasselbeck, which indicates the commitment to getting bigger on defense.  At 6’2″ and 325 pounds, Smith looks a lot like a shorter version of Albert Haynesworth.  Although he doesn’t have Albert’s pass-rushing ability, Smith can tie up blockers and occupy space to help stuff the run.  In seven NFL seasons with the Chiefs, Browns, Bengals and Saints, Smith has 37 career starts, both as a 4-3 DT and 3-4 DE.

Jurrell Casey, the Titans’ third-round draft pick this year, had the team made from jump street.  All he had to do was show up and meet some reasonable expectations.  That’s about what he’s done in training camp and preseason play.  He’s been overshadowed by Smith and by fifth-round pick Karl Klug thus far.  Casey has exhibited some stoutness against the run and should mostly play nose tackle.

Karl Klug, the Titans’ fifth-round selection, is the glaring exception to the change to bigger defensive tackles.  At only 275 pounds, he could easily be mistaken for a guy Jim Washburn wanted as a Titans’ DT.  Early in camp, Klug took full advantage of Marks’ absence and worked frequently with the first-team defense.  When not filling the under tackle or 3-technique role this year, I can see him being moved to help out at DE.  I expect to see Klug on the field a lot this season.

Zach Clayton, selected in the seventh round, also got plenty of early looks in camp during Marks’ absence and before Smith was able to practice.  He’s pretty much remained fifth in the pecking order and the injuries at DE undoubtedly were a contributing factor in the decision to keep him on the roster.

Malcolm Sheppard was signed off the Texans’ practice squad last December and appeared in three games for the Titans last year.  Tom wrote that he had a good game against the Saints and it looks like he’ll be the main beneficiary of the injuries to DEs Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones as a fill-in during their absence.

As usual, some changes will probably be made to the 53-man between now and the season opener.  We know that someone will have to be released to make room for Chris Johnson, and the Titans will have to drop one player for each additional one added, if that occurs.  While #3 QB Rusty Smith, C Kevin Matthews and CB Chris Hawkins are obvious candidates to get the axe, six DTs are a lot to carry, so Clayton and Sheppard will be possibilities as well.

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