Titans notebook: LB Shaun Phillips finds comfort in 3-4 scheme

Former Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips led Denver with 10 sacks last season. He signed a two-year free agent deal with the Titans during the offseason.

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After playing nine years at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the Chargers, Shaun Phillips felt out of place last season playing defensive end in a 4-3 alignment for the Broncos. Sure, he helped the Broncos win the AFC championship and make the Super Bowl with a team-high 10 sacks, but he never felt fully comfortable in the new position.

After signing a two-year deal with the Titans as a free agent, the 6-foot, 255-pound Phillips is looking forward to returning to a more suitable role at outside linebacker. Under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Titans are moving from a 4-3 defensive look to a 3-4 base.

"I like the 3-4 because I like to think I’m a smart player," said Phillips, who has 79.5 career sacks. He has also posted at least seven sacks in eight of 10 seasons, including a career-high 11.5 in 2006. "When you’re standing up, you get to see more, so I can assess the situation on what’s coming and how it is attacking me. Another advantage of playing a 3-4 is you put another athlete on the field. You have four linebackers as opposed to four defensive linemen."

The Titans have lacked a consistent pass rush the past few seasons, and they figure to be much more aggressive under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

"I hope so," Phillips said of Titans plans for him to rush the quarterback. "That’s what I enjoy doing. … The more I get a chance to get after the quarterback, the happier I am. I think our team can benefit with having me because I like to think of me as a well-rounded player."

Phillips has been reunited with former Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who also signed with the Titans as a free agent. There’s also this former connection: when Phillips was a senior at Purdue, Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard, the team’s leading tackler last year, was a starter and teammate as a freshman. While the Titans wrap up a two-week offseason conditioning program this week, Phillips said it is way too early to figure out just how the defense will be implemented this coming season.

"Our identity comes from how we play," he said. "We don’t have an identity yet just because we haven’t played together. We don’t know what’s going to work for us. It may to blitz every single play. It may be to be in (pass) coverage every play. We don’t know, so we’re establishing an identity."

Former Titans running back Chris Johnson has landed with the New York Jets. He was released April 4 by the Titans, who were due to pay Johnson $22 million the next three seasons, including $8 million this year.

The Jets reportedly signed Johnson for $8 million over two years. The contract includes a $3 million signing bonus, $1 million guaranteed salary this year and $3.5 million base pay in 2015. He can earn $1 million in incentives based on productivity.

"I know there’s a lot of people out there who believe in me, including the Jets, that’s why they wanted to bring me in," Johnson said Thursday during a conference call. "But there are still a lot of people out there who say how they’re going to feel, but I don’t see how you can say some of the type things they say about a guy who runs for almost 1,100 yards on a torn meniscus."

Following the past season in which he rushed for 1,077 yards, second-lowest of a six-year career, Johnson had minor knee surgery. After being the first-round draft pick in 2008, he became the Titans’ third-leading rusher all time with 7,965 yards.

Johnson became the sixth back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards when he gained 2,006 yards in 2009. His current streak of six straight seasons with 1,000 rushing yards or more is the best active streak in the NFL.

The Titans already know who and where they will play this coming season.

On Tuesday, they’ll learn when, as the NFL releases schedules for all 32 teams.

Of course, the Titans have home-and-home encounters with AFC South rivals Colts, Jaguars and Texans. Non-division home games include playing the Browns, Steelers, Jets, Cowboys and Giants. They will play non-division road games at the Ravens, Bengals, Chiefs, Eagles and Redskins.

The Titans released their preseason schedule earlier this month, although specific dates have yet to be set on the first three games. They will play host to the Packers to open the preseason on the weekend of Aug. 7-10, followed by a trip to the Saints the following weekend from Aug. 14-17. The Titans travel to the Falcons in Week 3 from Aug. 21-24 before closing the preseason at home on Aug. 28 against the Vikings.

Titans tight end Delanie Walker was part of a star-studded panel participating in the YWCA’s "A Call to Coaches" seminar aimed at increasing respect for women and reducing violence against them.

The goal of the seminar was to enable coaches and mentors to teach young men how to treat women with honor and respect. A Call to Men co-founder Tony Porter was guest speaker of the event held at Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy. One of the coaches attending was former Titans safety Rayna Stewart, now head football coach at Whites Creek High School in Nashville.

"I think it’s a great body of information," said Stewart, who played for the Oilers/Titans for two seasons (1996-97) as well as with the Dolphins (1998) and Jaguars (1999-2000).

"To give young men tools is probably the most important thing that comes out of this," he added. "It’s one thing to recognize and point it out, but it’s something else to have tools to give to young men."

Other panelists and speakers included former Titans receiver Chris Sanders, Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason and athletics director David Williams, former Middle Tennessee and College Football Hall of Fame member Boots Donnelly, Austin Peay basketball coach Dave Loos and Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association executive director Bernard Childress.