Bend but not Break? Titans Focused on Fixing D




Titans head coach Jeff Fisher (left) and GM Mike Reinfeldt (right) and are in final preparations for the 2010 NFL Draft that starts Thursday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -** The Tennessee Titans have been very defensive this offseason - and with good reason.

They finished 8-8, just missing a third straight playoff berth despite their 0-6 start in 2009. With Vince Young and Chris Johnson paired in the same backfield, the Titans put up enough yards to finish 12th in the NFL in total offense.

The defense, well, that was another story.

Only Detroit gave up more yards passing than Tennessee, and just five other defenses spent more time on the field each game than a unit shredded twice yearly by AFC South rivals Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub.

Tennessee's youth movement hit the defense hardest, four starters departed.

End Kyle Vanden Bosch signed with Detroit. End Jevon Kearse's career faded quietly to a close. Cornerback Nick Harper remains available along with linebacker Keith Bulluck, who spent 10 seasons as a leader. The Titans hit free agency and signed linebacker Will Witherspoon, end Jason Babin and cornerbacks Tye Hill and Rod Hood.

Now the Titans take nine picks into the NFL draft starting Thursday night starting with the 16th pick overall, and the only question is whether they select an end, linebacker or defensive back.

"We're fortunate in this draft there's going to be good players at those positions that are worthy where we're going to take at 16,'' general manager Mike Reinfeldt said.

The Titans also could take a big step toward fixing their entire defense by bringing back tackle Albert Haynesworth. Reinfeldt refused to comment when asked about a player under contract with Washington, but the Titans lost out in the bidding war a year ago for Haynesworth. With a new coach in Mike Shanahan, the Redskins reportedly have been listening to trade offers.

With Haynesworth, the Titans ranked among the NFL's top defenses and went to the playoffs his last two seasons. Without him in 2009 and in coordinator Chuck Cecil's first season on the job, the Titans couldn't get to the quarterback, managing only 32 sacks while allowing 258.7 yards passing and 31 touchdown receptions.

Tennessee has ample ammunition to make a move, though the team doesn't have a second-round pick after trading what is now No. 47 overall to New England last year to select tight end Jared Cook in the third round.

Bringing Haynesworth back to the team where he spent his first seven seasons would allow the Titans not to worry if ends Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida or Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech are available to boost the pass rush. They could look at cornerback Joe Haden of Florida or safety Earl Thomas of Texas.

It would be ironic if Pierre-Paul is available at No. 16 overall. That's where the Titans drafted Kearse in 1999, taking a chance on someone called a tweener and seen more as a physical freak than polished product. Assistant Jim Washburn, who taught Kearse quickly enough to rack up 26 sacks in his first two seasons, remains in that job coaching the defensive line.

Reinfeldt said it's dangerous to compare players.

"Jevon Kearse, he was a phenomenal player coming out. The good thing is we're fortunate at defensive end. There are a number of players that interest us that grade out pretty high. That's a good thing for us,'' Reinfeldt said.

This will be Reinfeldt's fourth draft with a franchise that has used all of its draft picks in six of the last seven drafts when they had at least nine selections. Of his 28 picks, 22 remain with the team. Only Green Bay (51) has drafted more players than Tennessee (49) since 2005.

The Titans have gone offense in three of the past four picks in the first round, starting with Young in 2006, Johnson in 2008 and receiver Kenny Britt in 2009.

With this youth movement in full swing, the Titans are counting on recent draft picks like defensive tackles Jason Jones (second round, 2008) and Sen'Derrick Marks (second-round, 2009), ends William Hayes (fourth round, 2008) and Jacob Ford (sixth round 2007) and linebacker Gerald McRath (fourth round, 2009) to produce this season.

Reinfeldt said the focus tends to be on one draft pick or a big move that catches headlines while players really hit their stride in their second, third and fourth seasons.

"It's that group of young men that need to step up. That's where our biggest improvement will come,'' Reinfeldt said.

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