With injuries stacking up across the board for the Tennessee Titans, the outside linebacker group stands as one of the positional groups that have been impacted the most.
Pricey free agent acquisition Bud Dupree has been dealing with a bit of a knee issue, one significant enough to keep him out of last week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. Derick Roberson, a depth piece the Titans are high on, missed a game and two weeks worth of practice before eventually being placed on IR earlier this week. Even rookie Rashad Weaver, an outside linebacker/edge rusher the Titans’ staff was really excited about, was placed on IR after suffering a gruesome lower leg injury this past week against the Colts.
With those three important pieces and their statuses now either unclear or set in stone for the foreseeable future, the only healthy bodies that the Titans have at the position are Harold Landry and Ola Adeniyi.
That’s a problem.
Landry and Adeniyi both have had really good starts to their season. But since there’s no depth behind them at the moment, you run the risk of losing effectiveness and potentially health from one or both of those guys.
With a brutal schedule looming, that’s something you simply can’t afford to let happen. You’re going to need every possible healthy body for these big time matchups. I know Mike Vrabel has always said next man up, and he’s seemingly shrugged off the shine, flare, and the varying levels of significance these matchups hold whenever they roll around. But I know even he would prefer his usual guys to play these important snaps rather than his rotational pieces.
So how will the team address their depleted outside linebacker/edge rusher group in a way that can keep it afloat in terms of production with all the injuries that have occurred?
Let’s jump into it.
Relying on the current depth and riding Landry/Adeniyi
This is always the likeliest solution whenever the injury bug strikes a specific player or position group.
Vrabel himself has relied on it plenty times in the past, including last season when the group was the equivalent of a merry-go-round because of all the different names that were inserted into game action each and every week.
But Vrabel doesn’t have the luxury of running out a number of different guys as sub package pass rushers or injury replacements, at least he doesn’t this week against the New York Jets.
For now, he’ll have to ride the services of Landry and Adeniyi while hoping their effectiveness doesn’t drop off because of the uptick in snaps they’re likely going to receive.
What about the rotation guys that Vrabel and his defensive love to deploy on second and third down? Well that’s become a bit of a mystery.
You can promote Sharif Finch to the active roster from the practice squad to serve as maybe your only sub package outside linebacker, which isn’t too much of a liability considering how familiar he is with the system and how Vrabel wants him to play. Other than that though, what else is available?
The situation might not rear its ugly head this week and maybe next week since the Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars are on tap. But the Titans better hope it reverses course after those two games, because that’s when the real nitty gritty matchups begin.
Moving Denico Autry around
I found this option to be another plausible one considering how versatile Autry is along the defensive line.
Autry’s played a lot inside this year for the Titans, usually as a partner in crime with Jeffery Simmons to cause havoc in the deepest part of the trenches. But he possesses the ability to slide out and play some defensive end when necessary.
Usually it’s a bit of a 5 technique since he has some nice twitch and lateral movement for a man of his size.
Look for the Titans to try to steal some edge snaps with Autry, and roll out some of their remaining interior defensive line depth to help cover up Autry’s move outside at times, at least until the injury situation becomes more bearable.
Moving Jeffery Simmons around
Jeffery Simmons will likely stay inside and remain in his usual interior defensive line spot.
But with the outside linebacker/edge rusher situation looking quite dicey, I had some thoughts regarding Simmons and his ability to slide outside and play as an edge rusher. In his rookie year, the Titans tried placing Simmons at a number of different spots along the defensive line. He mostly played inside where he plays now, but he also played a bit outside as an edge rusher in certain sub packages.
Now I’m sure the team won’t put Simmons outside when he’s so dangerous inside against opposing guards and centers. Plus he hasn’t played as an end much since his rookie season. But those combined 58 snaps at the defensive end spot makes me think the Titans saw some potential in Simmons regarding versatility.
Does that mean they’ll suddenly deploy him as an end with all the chaos surrounding injuries along the defensive line?
Of course not.
But it’s just something I thought about when I began to ponder about this topic.
The free agent market
I highly doubt the team will make any significant free agent additions right now, especially since the team plays a real life game in about a day or so.
But moving forward? Maybe I could see one or two moves depending on how healthy the rest of outside linebacker group can get after Sunday’s game in New York.
Olivier Vernon is a guy the Titans could take a flyer on depending on the severity of his injury situation. Vernon suffered a severe Achilles injury during the last week of the 2020 season, so it’s unclear how healthy he truly is. But if he’s ready to go, it might not be a bad idea for the team to take a good look at him.
Other than him though, there’s just not a lot of intriguing options in terms of free agent edge rushers.
John Simon was in camp with the Titans, but he ended up being a victim of cut down day. He’s still out there though, so maybe he could be another option the Titans could look at. Trent Murphy doesn’t really fit what the team wants at outside linebacker/edge rusher. Aldon Smith isn’t really the team first guy Jon Robinson wants on the roster. Adrian Clayborn has the ideal body type, but who knows if the team even wants him.
Since there just isn’t an abundance of options out there for the Titans on the market, predicting who could end up making their way to Nashville is rather difficult.
Like I said before though, I could see a minor move or two going down next week just to address the lack of numbers at the position. Other than that, there’s nothing I can really set in stone.
Very unlikely solution
The trade market
Since most of the injuries impacting the outside linebacker/edge rusher group are week to week type of deals, I don’t think the Titans feel the need to explore the trade market at this point.
Dupree’s knee issue doesn’t appear serious enough to keep him out for an extended amount of time and Derick Roberson should be back as well, at least that’s what I’m assuming.
If you can get those two back, you’ll have your two starting edge rushers and two other rotational pieces to work with. You can even add Finch in as a fifth rotational piece if the Titans want to keep him on the roster once the health outlook improves.
I believe the health situation will improve over time, maybe as early as next week if Dupree can get back on the practice field and begin to ramp himself up for the Titans’ tough October-November stretch. Until then though, Mike Vrabel and the rest of the staff will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to navigate through these next two weeks with uncertain circumstances surrounding a position group that’s vital to the success of this defense