We continue our Tennessee Titans countdown to training camp today with a look at the linebackers.
Key 2015 Departures:
Key 2016 Additions:
Sean Spence (free agent)
Curtis Grant (free agent)
Aaron Wallace (rookie – 7th round pick)
Key Players Returning:
Two years ago the Tennessee Titans’ linebacker position was in desperate need of an upgrade. Today, the unit enters training camp as one of the best and deepest positions on the entire roster.
Tennessee switched to a 3-4 defense in 2014, and in that scheme the four linebacker alignment is heavily counted on to make plays.
The linebackers struggled mightily in their new role, and as a result, the Titans finished 27th in the league in total yards allowed that year.
In 2015 the Titans added some pieces that would help with the transition, starting with Hall of Fame coach and 3-4 defensive wizard Dick LeBeau.
They also brought in Brian Orakpo, a seasoned veteran who earned three Pro Bowl appearances as an outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 scheme.
In his first year as a Titan, Orakpo finished 8th on the team in tackles, and registered 7 sacks…5 pass deflections…a forced fumble…and a blocked kick.
Most importantly, he played a full 16 game schedule for the first time since 2011, an encouraging sign after missing a multitude of games due to injury the previous three years.
Derrick Morgan was originally drafted by Tennessee in 2010 to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense, and he endured his fair share of growing pains in year one of the new scheme.
Now playing opposite of Orakpo, Morgan looked much more comfortable in his second year as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He started off fast out of the gate with 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble before injuries derailed him for most of the season.
Middle linebacker Avery Williamson’s rapid ascent allowed him to go from 5th round afterthought pick of the 2014 draft to starter, defensive signal caller, and team leader in tackles (102) in 2015.
He also recorded 3.5 sacks and a spectacular touchdown-saving interception.
He impressed the Titans to the point that former starting middle linebacker Zach Brown never regained his job after suffering a seson-ending injury in the 2014 opener. Williamson finished that game and never looked back.
Brown is now playing in Buffalo this season.
Wesley Woodyard, the fourth member of the starting linebacker quartet, is a trusted veteran presence and as steady as they come.
He finished last season third in team tackles (87) and sacks (5), and also had a game-clinching fumble return for a touchdown to help secure the Titans’ lone home win last year over the Jaguars.
The new-look unit improved leaps and bounds in 2015, and coincidentally…so did the defense.
Tennessee finished 12th in total yards allowed last season, jumping 15 spots from 2014.
The defense also led the league in fewest broken tackles allowed with 72.
If there was a chink in the armor of the linebacker position last season it was their overall depth, and the new front office addressed that concern this offseason.
The Titans brought in free agent linebackers Sean Spence and Curtis Grant to provide that depth, and drafted Aaron Wallace out of UCLA in the 7th round of this year’s draft.
In addition, the return of Deiontrez Mount is a welcomed sign to the unit. His 2015 rookie campaign was cut short after being placed on injured reserve early last season.
With the starting quartet of Orakpo, Williamson, Woodyard, and Morgan all healthy and returning, look for Dick LeBeau to be a lot more aggressive this season…his first as the defensive play caller in Tennessee.
Expect some different defensive looks from last season, and of course, a lot more blitzes from the new core-four.
If they remain healthy then the Titans’ linebacker position could send multiple players to Hawaii this season, with multiple players registering double-digit sacks.