The preseason isn’t really the time where you should be drawing concrete conclusions about a team’s progress, but for the Tennessee Titans it looks like you can be confident in this team’s depth at defensive line.
The defensive line has been turning heads throughout training camp and through one preseason game, the group lived up to the hype. This year, the Titans’ defensive line is poised to become one of the team’s biggest strengths. Let’s take a look at why below…
What the defensive line depth has done so far
If you’ve followed along throughout camp, you’ve probably heard about the excellent string of practices the Titans’ defensive line has put together. When you have names like Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry manning the middle of the line like bouncers at a night club, you expect to hear some noise from the beefy boys in the trenches.
However, as much as those two have flashed — and trust me, they’ve flashed a lot — it’s safe to say the depth behind those two stars have made names for themselves, as well. Head coach Mike Vrabel echoed that same message a couple of weeks ago, and it’s remained a consistent source of positivity since.
“I think the defensive line has been a really good group for us. It’s been a group that’s had full numbers.”Mike Vrabel on the defensive line’s performance through camp on 8/4/21
What you like to see develop in camp is the competition between a handful of guys at a specific roster spot. That same competitiveness breeds a more collective sense of urgency among players, which in part makes team-related drills run smoothly while allowing the coaching staff more time to judge a unit’s performance from practice to practice.
It’s hard to find that right amount of consistency and controlled urgency from at least one back up or bottom-of-the-roster body, let alone multiple, but the Titans have been lucky to see a few guys emerge as camp has rolled on. That’s why the buzz around guys like Teair Tart, Larrell Murchison, Naquan Jones, and Woodrow Hamilton have been so key. That extra amount of consistency has allowed this staff to key in on the next steps towards rebuilding and revitalizing a defensive unit that was arguably the worst in franchise history in 2020, a rather important development for a team that’ll need this defense to step up their game in 2021.
Early proof that the practice performances aren’t a fluke
These impressive practice performances are even more relevant due to the fact that the likes of Tart, Murchison, Jones, and Hamilton have translated them into real game action. There are a lot of things to build upon based off the first preseason outing in Atlanta.
It’s impossible to make out what’s real or what’s a mirage until that play in practice carries over to a live game. If their performance against the Falcons was any indication of how they’re going to play in reserve duty, then this Titans defensive line will be in for a strong year.
Tart was the big winner among the defensive line on Friday night against the Atlanta Falcons, although Murchison, Hamilton, and Jones had their fair share of plays as well. They were disruptive all night long, blowing up plays before they could even occur, and seemingly penetrating poorly protected gaps in both the run and pass game. In the end, it was a dominant evening that came mostly out of left field, despite the rave reviews we’ve been hearing from Vrabel and the rest of the defensive staff.
We’ll need to see more execution like this throughout the preseason to get an accurate reading on how much the depth will really be able to contribute in 2021, especially from Jones and Hamilton after Trevon Coley suffered a season-ending foot injury during Friday night’s game in Atlanta and has since been placed on IR. However, if we see this sort of disruption continue – starting with this week’s joint practices and eventual preseason game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I think we can expect to get a good reading on this position group pretty soon.
How can this depth be a weapon in 2021?
In the midst of the Titans’ defense failing to erase their headache-inducing play from 2020, the defensive line was the one position group that produced any sort of positive play week to week. A lot of that had to do with the breakout of Jeffery Simmons, but he alone couldn’t carry this line.
That led to a vast number of double and even triple teams for Simmons, therefore halting opportunities to stack productive performances on top of each other. This development also made way for an increased amount of one-on-one matchups for Simmons’ defensive line counterparts, and those opportunities weren’t adequately taken advantage of.
These factors and the simple act of wanting to become more loud on defense was why the team decided to sign Denico Autry in free agency. His versatility and proven high level play should make operating a lot easier for Simmons inside. But it’ll also make life easier for the rest of the depth guys that probably won’t play the gargantuan amount of snaps Simmons and Autry are poised to play. With Simmons and Autry both possessing an absurd amount of versatility for their respective positions, this could open the door for more snaps for the rest of the depth on the defensive line.
Autry played a little bit of 5-Technique in Indianapolis, which could open up another spot in the interior if you wanted to have heavier personnel in sub packages, like early down or short yardage run defense. If the staff feels comfortable with the depth and their ability to rush the passer, you could substitute an outside linebacker for an extra beefy pass rushing option inside. Although that’s probably not even an option considering the amount of nickel they’ll play, which’ll require an extra defensive back or coverage linebacker, just a quick thought of mine.
The point is, the depth on the defensive line is poised to have a rather important role within this defense in 2021. How important will be dependent on their play in the preseason and the rest of camp.
But if it continues to hover around or even surpass the level that its been playing at, you can bet on that role being more important than you might’ve initially thought.
What are your thoughts on the depth the Titans have on the defensive line?