Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray fielded questions from Tennessee Titans fans on Thursday in a conference call. Here is an excerpt of some of the questions tossed at the Titans defensive coordinator by season ticketholders.
Q: How much is your defensive style like that of your mentor Gregg Williams?
JG To me, you’re only going to do what you know. The good thing is I’ve been around Gregg and Gregg has won a Super Bowl recently. Hopefully, it is a fair assessment of what I’ve done. But you can also branch out. There are some things that I’ve done from the back end that probably didn’t fit into Gregg’s defense. To me, understanding Gregg as a defensive back, and he understood me and he knew what I liked and what I was capable of doing, so he let me do those things. And when you run you own defense, you get the chance to do a little bit more, and you branch out a little bit.
Q: With guys you drafted, are you looking to play the 3-4 more this year?
JG: You go through and you draft guys on what you are looking for. I thought we had a lot of guys that had great explosion, that could get off the football. The thing that I thought was missing was some guys that were kind of the clean-up guys. Guys who are going to come and clean up the yard and pick the trash up and things like that. So in order to win championships, you need a combination of both right now. When we went into the draft, we tried to find some of those guys that are a little bit bigger, a little bit slower, but can eat up two blockers, and can give the linebackers a chance to run through and not always be blocked one-on-one.
Q: Linebackers in the past here have been able to do a lot of things well. Last year, our linebackers struggled. How will that be fixed?
JG: It goes back to the position we are trying to put guys in. If a guy can’t do something, don’t put him in that position. If he can, you put him in a position and tell him to go play. You guys in the stands pretty much have a ringside seat. You can see what guys can’t do, and it’s my job to them in a position to keep guys like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees from taking advantage of them.
Q: How much of the 3-4 can you play as opposed the 4-3 that has been the base defense here for so long?
JG: Hopefully, we can get our guys in so we can see what they can do. We drafted some bigger guys up front that will enable us to play a little bit of that. We drafted a linebacker out of UCLA (Akeem Ayers) that’s gonna give us a chance to play on the strong side and also the weak side. He can put his hand down; he can stand up. We’ve got some guys with multiple talents and I’m anxious to see those guys on the field. When you see it, now you can kind of tailor what you want to do. You will see a little bit more than the old traditional four guys down. I promise you that. We’re gonna get some other schemes and some other guys on the football field and try to create a little illusion like with the third downs. We’ve got to help those guys out.
Q: How do you see Alterraun Verner fitting in with this defense this year?
JG: Watching film on him last year, I thought he did a good job as a rookie coming in and playing a little bit, doing a good job and having a chance to play a lot more toward the end of the year. To me, you’ve go to be able to make sure he is capable of understanding what we’re trying to do. He did a great job last year. To me, I think the second year is really the biggest jump for a guy in the NFL. You want him to understand, number one, the off-season is really important, and number two, now you know what to expect in the NFL. Now you have to go out and repeat it, because now there are no surprises to guys on the other side of the ball. They didn’t know you when you were a rookie; now they know you. What habits have you formed, good or bad, and what can you do to hold up? That’s the tell-tale sign of an NFL player. Are you gonna go out and hang on what you did as a rookie or are you gonna get better. I know he’s in California going to school and getting his degree and doing good job there. The thing is, I think, is don’t come in and expect the not to pick on you because you were a rookie last year. They’re going to try to get more out of you this year.
Q: What will happen at the cornerback position opposite Cortland Finnegan
JG: We had a couple of corners, Mouton, guys that played last year and did a really good job. We’ve got to make sure that those guys are settled in and not always trying to look for a diamond in the rough. To me, the guys that we have on the roster are going to come in and compete. We’re going to put the best guys on the football field, To me, I think we can do some things to help Cortland out a little bit more and create some things that are good for him and let him do some more things. When I came, I found out when he was a rookie, he played a little bit more nickel when he was a young corner. He’s a really aggressive guy; he can go out and make things happen. Corner, I wouldn’t say is boring, but you’re out there by himself. He wants to do more things, and hopefully when we get him in here, we’ll get a chance to do more things with Cortland and maybe give him a chance to get back in more nickel on third downs, let him blitz and do those types of things.
Q: What about Jason McCourty’s role this season?
JG: From what I saw of him, he came out, he played some nickel. He’s a solid corner. He can really, really run. The thing is he has gotten his feet wet. The bad thing is he got injured, so we really didn’t give him a chance to compete for the job and see if he could be a solid corner and see if he could win the job out last year. Hopefully, like you said, with the guys we’ve got out there – Cortland, Verner, McCourty, Mouton – get those guys out there on the football field and say the job is open, it doesn’t belong to anyone. The best guy is gonna go out there. We’re gonna play all the guys, because the packages we are going to employ, is going to give us a chance to play more than just three corners. If you’re a good football player and you can do something well for this defense, I promise you I’ll have a spot for you on this defense. You may not be on the starting 11, but the good thing is we don’t just play base defense.
Q: How do you envision using Derrick Morgan, whose rookie year was cut short by a knee injury?
JG: Watching Derrick Morgan two years ago at Georgia Tech, I thought he did a great job. The good things that Derrick Morgan has done is that he has already played in the system that we’re installing. So he’s played the five technique, he’s played the six technique over a tight end. That’s not new to him. The good things is that he played in a number of games, then he got hurt. Now, he has first-round talent, and we’re gonna use him as a first-round talent. Hopefully, he can come in here like a first-round pick that he was last year. If he can do that, he can have a great career. We’ve got to make sure we use him in the right way, and put him in a position to win and not to lose.
Q: Do you like him at 270 or 275 pounds.
JG: Definitely. Any time you get a guy who is 270, 275, he can do a lot of things for you. You can line him up in a three-technique and let him do that on third down. You can even stand him up. I know he has that type of skill and athletic ability. We need to put him in a position the way we see other No. 1 picks get used. You look at (Terrell) Suggs at Baltimore. They do a great job of putting him in position to help them win games. When you’re a No. 1 draft pick, that tells me one thing: You’ve got great talent. The next thing we’ve got to do is find out how we can use that talent.