Titans in search of a pass rusher

BY foxsports • March 2, 2012

The Tennessee Titans are in the same proverbial boat as a number of
other NFL teams - they need a difference-maker who can rush the passer
consistently.

Tennessee finished 31st in sacks last season, a statistic that certainly cannot be downplayed by any stretch of the imagination.

In
the years when the Titans have been at their best, there has been at
least one game-changer and disruptor on the defensive front, whether it
was Jevon Kearse or later on Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Now
as the Titans go into preparation for the 2012 season, they are again
in need of finding someone who will force opposing offenses to adjust,
adapt and account for as Titans general manager Ruston Webster termed it
a "special player" on the defensive line.

"It could help
immensely. A special player, like say, when the Titans drafted Jevon
Kearse, he was a special player. He changed things," Webster said. "When
I was in Tampa, we had Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp. They made everybody
else around them better. Those type of special rushers really can
affect your defense. They help the guys on the back end, and if you can
get a lead on people and rush the passer, you've got a great chance to
win."

The Titans thought they had that player two years ago when
they selected Derrick Morgan in the first round, but the former Georgia
Tech star has been beset by injuries and has yet to live up to the
billing. Making matters worse, Morgan was selected just behind New York
Giants end Jason Pierre-Paul, who has turned into a monster rusher in
just two years.

The Titans have Morgan and a bunch of players who are serviceable, but also can be free agents as well.

"It
is definitely a need. Derrick Morgan is the only guy who has been
playing a lot under contract right now. William Hayes, his contract is
up, Dave (Ball')s contract is up," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "So
that is definitely an area we are going to have to look at in free
agency and the draft. When the smokes clears we'll have some good
defensive ends, it is just a matter of where they are going to come
from."

One place obviously is the draft, and Tennessee was busy
meeting with players like Quinton Coples of North Carolina and Melvin
Ingram of South Carolina.

"We'd like to have a guy who could just
play the edge and create problems. Everyone wants the same thing. You
want a guy that the offense is worried about, a guy who with a
two-minute drive, this guy can take the game over, get the ball out of
the quarterback's hand and win it for you," Munchak said. "He could be
silent all game, and then change the game."

The Titans are also
expected to make a run at a free agent, perhaps even inquiring about the
biggest free-agent fish potentially out there -- Houston's Mario
Williams. However, it usually is not the Titans' style to overpay on a
contract like what Williams would command in free agency. But Webster
did say, without naming Williams in particular, that overpaying at end
is not out of the realm of possibility.

"I don't really want to
overpay for anybody, but the one position probably that can happen with
the most is pass-rushing defensive linemen," Webster said.


NOTES, QUOTES

--The
Titans appear to be getting closer to retaining at least one of their
defensive backs, but it is not cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Instead,
the player in the secondary the Titans look to be closest to re-signing
is safety Jordan Babineaux.

Because Babineaux signed as a veteran
minimum free agent last year, the Titans cannot bring him back
officially until March 13 when free agency opens. But they are believed
to be close enough that a handshake agreement could be reached before
that and a deal signed once he is eligible to return.

--The news
doesn't appear to be so good regarding Finnegan, who can be a free agent
as well. The Titans still have not come up from their offer of $7
million per season to retain the cornerback, despite a meeting at the
Combine with agent Terry Watson, who termed the get-together as "a good
visit."

Finnegan's camp is believed to be seeking a deal that
would pay them somewhere around $9.5-$10 million on the open market, a
figure they will probably get from a cornerback-starved team like
Detroit or Dallas, but won't get from Tennessee. The Titans are not
likely to franchise Finnegan at this point, making it appear his days in
Tennessee are coming to an end.

--Defensive lineman Jason Jones
looks to be another player the Titans will allow to test the market.
Jones' representatives met with Titans officials at the Combine and the
two sides will keep talking, but they appear to be too far apart to
strike a deal that would keep Jones from at least testing the free-agent
waters.

Jones has been most productive as a pass-rushing
defensive tackle, but was moved to end last year, something that did not
work as well as anticipated. Jones had three sacks and could be headed
back to tackle, whether he comes back to the Titans or not.

--The
time is coming for quarterback Jake Locker eventually. It could be as
early as the 2012 season for him to take over as the starter, but to do
so, he will have to unseat Matt Hasselbeck, who had his best year since
2007 last season.

"Neither one of those guys want the job handed
to them, they want to compete for it. We'll try and do the best we can
and in May, June and in training camp, we'll put them in a situation
where they are competing and hopefully it will be obvious who should be
the best guy to lead the team because you don't want the quarterback
question to be going on every week. 'Who's the guy? Who's the guy?' We
are hoping they can compete and things will work out," Munchak said.


QUOTE TO NOTE

"We
know it is not going to be worse, believe me." - Titans coach Mike
Munchak regarding Chris Johnson and the running game improving in 2012.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The
Titans head toward free agency with plenty of needs on the defensive
side of the ball and needing to add a guard or center on the offensive
line.

The defensive needs at end and in the secondary are well
documented, and the Titans may add another young linebacker either in
the draft or free agency to complement Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers,
who both started as rookies.

Offensively, the Titans have to
decide what to do with Jake Scott who is a free agent. They can draft a
guard or go after a veteran in free agency. Fernando Velasco could end
up starting, or the Titans could make a run at a veteran center, such as
Nashville resident Scott Wells of Green Bay and shift Eugene Amano back
to guard.


TEAM NEEDS

Defensive
end: The Titans just addressed this area two years ago with a
first-round pick in Derrick Morgan. But he has been bothered by a knee
injury, and not yet lived up to his billing. Add the fact that Jason
Jones, Dave Ball and William Hayes are free agents, plus the fact that
Tennessee needs a difference-maker, and it zooms to the top of the wish
list this offseason. The question becomes whether the Titans go back to
the draft or pay a pricey free agent a la Mario Williams or Robert
Mathis.

Cornerback: This goes to need 1A, right next to defensive
end, if Cortland Finnegan exits as a free agent. The Titans have
professed confidence in their young corners like Jason McCourty and
Alterraun Verner, but depth is inexperienced with two first-year players
next in line in Chris Hawkins and Tommie Campbell. Free-agent help is
likely here if Finnegan walks, just to add a veteran to the mix.

Guard:
Jake Scott is a free agent, and though he could eventually be brought
back, the Titans are likely to shop around in free agency and look
around in the draft to see if they can upgrade with a younger player.
In-house hopeful Fernando Velasco is also a possibility to crack the
starting lineup in camp at guard or center.


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