NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Here’s a big reason why the Titans allowed the most points in the NFL last season: The lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
It was a combination of lack of push from the defensive front, defensive backs who couldn’t keep up with roaming receivers, and linebackers who were shredded by tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. As such, the Titans placed a special point of emphasis on getting in the quarterback’s during this summer’s training camp.
In their preseason loss to the Falcons on Saturday, the Titans had six sacks — five with Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan in the game. Tennessee also had five of its top six linebackers not playing because of injuries, along with a secondary operating under basic schemes.
“We had an emphasis going into this game to get after the quarterback and disrupt the passer and give us a chance,” said Titans fourth-year defensive end Derrick Morgan, who had one sack on Saturday. He led the club with 6 1/2 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures last year.
Also getting a strong push from the interior of the defensive front was third-year tackle Jurrell Casey, whose 80 tackles last season led Titans defensive linemen. Despite starting the season slowly because of an elbow injury in training camp, he also had three sacks.
“You want to get to the quarterback as much as possible,” Casey said. “In order to get to the quarterback, you have to stop them on first and second downs. That makes the game much easier.”
All in all, Titans head coach Mike Munchak has been pleased with the progress of the defensive front this preseason, although projected starters Sammie Hill (elbow) at tackle and Ropati Pitoitui (hand) at end did not play against the Falcons.
Preston states his case
With as many as 13 Titans wide receivers listed on the current depth chart – and the first round of roster cuts to 75 players coming Tuesday, followed by 53 for Sunday – there’s a logjam of wideouts trying to make the team.
Roster locks include veterans Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, as well as rookie Justin Hunter, the second-round draft pick. From there, fourth-year receiver Damian Williams, who started for the injured Wright (knee) in Saturday’s preseason game, appears to be ahead of a group of hopefuls.
Making a strong case to make the 53-man roster is Michael Preston, a second-year player who made the development squad last season after going undrafted out of little Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. He was promoted to the 53-man roster the last four games, catching five balls for 59 yards.
The athletic Preston, who stands 6-foot-5 and 213 pounds, has been impressive once again in training camp. And on Saturday, he connected with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a 56-yard reception that eventually set up a touchdown. Later in the game, he scored on a 6-yard pass where he showed his athleticism along the sideline.
“You want those kinds of tough decisions,” Munchak said when asked if whether Preston had done enough to make the roster. “You want guys playing well like that like he has been. He has gotten better every year since he has been here. He was working at it.
“He makes some decisions tough, but again it was good to see him go out there and make plays. He plays special teams, also. He’s done a nice job.”
Two injuries to veteran receivers might have caused a roster spot to open. Third-year Marc Mariani, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, injured a shoulder in the first preseason game. And it appears Kevin Walters (knee) will start the season on the physically unable to play list.
“That’s not my decision to be made,” Preston said when asked if he had done enough to make the final roster. “Like I have said before, we have one more (preseason) game left, so I want to stay consistent and keep on progressing.”
Pollard pushing the envelope
Veteran strong safety Bernard Pollard was one of several free agents signed to help change the culture of the Titans, and the defense in particular. After all, it was his explosive hit and forced fumble on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley late in the AFC title game last season that helped propel the Ravens to the Super Bowl it eventually won.
Pollard has been very vocal since arriving with the Titans, but twice during the preseason he has been flagged for personal fouls for late hits that could cost the team, especially should they happen during the regular season.
“You just have to be careful,” Munchak said of Pollard playing on the edge. “It’s hard. You want that in your defense. You say you don’t have that, people are looking for it. Now when you get a penalty, you run that fine line of wanting aggressiveness, wanting physical play, but not to have a 15-yard penalty.”
For a hit on Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson in the preseason opener, he was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness and also fined $10,000 by the NFL. This past Saturday, he was flagged for a personal foul for a late hit on Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
Munchak figured Pollard’s experience of eight years in the league should provide the knowledge of what is illegal and what he can get away with.
“(Pollard) knows he’s got to be careful,” Munchak said. “He’s a smart enough player to know how to prevent that. He has to be able to do that because those kind of penalties aided to a drive. Luckily, they just ended up with three points. We have to be smart with those things.”
No decision at left corner
After reviewing game film from Saturday night, Munchak said he was no closer to naming a starter at left cornerback between fourth-year Alterraun Verner, the incumbent, or third-year Tommie Campbell.
“We haven’t made any final decisions on that position, no,” Munchak said. “As far as (Saturday), they both played about the same amount of time. Again, we are just evaluating that now as we just watched the film (Sunday) as a staff and deciding how we are going forward in the Minnesota game.”
It also appears the Titans are comfortable with second-year cornerback Coty Sensabaugh lining up in the nickel position. Verner might be the best nickel of the trio, but the Titans aren’t apparently comfortable yet going with Campbell as the starter, so Verner might be headed there.