With the arrival of Ken Whisenhunt as the Tennessee Titans new head coach, one of the biggest questions is what adjustments he will make to the team’s schemes.
Jurrell Casey's sack total might drop in a 3-4, but he would be a good fit at nose tackle, according to one AFC scout.
The Titans apparently are zeroing in on hiring Ray Horton away from the Cleveland Browns to be their new defensive coordinator, and his arrival could signal the beginning of big chances in Tennessee on that side of the football.
Horton was Whisenhunt’s defensive coordinator during his final two years in Arizona, and after the Cardinals cleaned house, Horton was hired by Rob Chudzinski to be the defensive coordinator there.
Of course, Horton’s arrival will likely mean the Titans will be shifting soon to a 3-4 base alignment, although Whisenhunt indicated at his introductory press that Tennessee would initially at least run some sort of hybrid scheme and be in sub-packages a good percentage of the time.
So what does a switch to a 3-4 mean for the Titans current defensive personnel? The secondary will be affected very little, of course, but the front seven could see major adjustments.
According to one AFC scout, the Titans actually have several pieces in place that can be readily shifted to make the switch fairly smooth.
Jurrell Casey, who blossomed this season with 10.5 sacks, probably won’t be reaching his goal of his former coach Keith Millard’s 19 sacks, but he still should be a very effective player as a nose tackle in the 3-4, playing over the center.
At the end positions, big bodies Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie Hill would likely shift into that thankless role of manning the gaps between the guards and tackles in the 3-4 set. Mookie Johnson might be able to make that transition as well, if he returns. It could also mean that an undersized tackle like Karl Klug (275 pounds) might have a hard time fitting into the new system.
One player who could benefit the most might be strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers, who likely would shift to an outside linebacker spot. There are many who believe Ayers has been miscast as a 4-3 strongside ‘backer, and that a move to a 3-4 system could greatly increase his value.
Likewise, former first-round pick Derrick Morgan has yet to live up to his potential as a rush end in the 4-3. But rushing from a two-point stance as an outside linebacker might be more beneficial for his long, lean frame if he can make the adjustment. Kamerion Wimbley, a free agent disappointment and thought to be a cap cut candidate, might be useful returning back to playing in a 3-4, if the Titans decide to keep him.
Zach Brown should be a good fit as a weakside inside linebacker, using his speed to continue to make plays.
At the other inside linebacker spot, the Titans might have to look at the draft or free agency. Zaviar Gooden is possible, but neither Colin McCarthy nor Moise Fokou would appear to be a great fit at first glance, simply for the fact that a lot of tackles are funneled toward the inside linebackers, who must rely on speed to get to the ball carrier. Those linebackers have to drop into coverage as well.
In short, if the Titans do as expected and hire Horton to run a version of the 3-4, they will probably have to spend free agency and the draft to find some additional pieces at all the linebackers spots, as well as another bulky end and a backup nose tackle