Titans linebacker Akeem Ayers likes what he's seen of Tennessee's new defense and is ready to show coaches what he'll look like as a member of it.
Ayers has been rehabbing from two knee surgeries he had this offseason, but said last week marked the first time that he's been able to run this offseason. Ayers joined QB Jake Locker and G Andy Levitre on a leg of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Titans Caravan. The players participated in media sessions in Paducah and Hopkinsville, Ky., and Clarksville, and Ayers said at each stop that he can't wait to fully practice the "hybrid" scheme under defensive coordinator Ray Horton that plans to implement elements of 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts.
"It's a lot different. The scheme is a totally different scheme," Ayers said. "(We're) adjusting and figuring out where everyone is going to play. That's been a huge difference as well, but I believe it's going to be a defense that's going to be a lot better. We've got athletes, so it's just us adjusting to it and learning all the new terminology and different techniques.
"I'm excited for the season to get here," Ayers continued. "This is a defense that I feel better fits my skillset. I was able to have success in a 4-3 but in a 3-4, for the type of skillset I have, I feel like this is a much better fit for me and I'll be able to make a lot more plays and get after the quarterback more."
The Titans are wrapping up the final week of Phase II of their offseason workout program, which allows players to work with coaches among their position groups but no team sessions. Tennessee is scheduled to begin organized team activity practices May 27. Teams are allowed to hold 10 of those practices in the weeks that lead up to a mandatory minicamp (June 17-19).
Ayers said he has been paying close attention during meetings and hopes to be fully recovered by the start of training camp at the end of July.
Jake Locker, Andy Levitre and Akeem Ayers visited Paducah and Hopkinsville, Ky., and Clarksville on the third day of the 2014 Academy Sports + Outdoors Titans Caravan. (Photos: Bob Hyde & Craig Peters)
"I have to make sure I'm paying tons of attention because I can't physically walk-through so I've got to take a lot of mental reps and really get after it in rehab so when camp comes back around, I can get out there on the field and compete for a starting spot," Ayers said.
Ayers has started 44 of all 48 games he's played since his selection in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He's primarily played strongside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment but has also practiced with pass rushers and gone after quarterbacks in games. Ayers likely will play a significant amount of his snaps as an outside linebacker when Tennessee is in its 3-4 alignment this fall.
Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley are likely to play some at outside linebacker and some at defensive end, and free agent signee Shaun Phillips is looking forward to returning to outside linebacker (where he played nine seasons in San Diego) instead of the defensive end role he played last season in Denver's 4-3.
Ayers said the combination of additions and the new scheme should bode well for the Titans in 2014.
"I think we got some good pickups," Ayers said. "We had a lot of pieces to the puzzle the previous year, and with some of the guys we picked up, I really feel like that can get us over the hump."