NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray challenged defenders last week to be more assertive from the start.
They got that message and didn't let up until the end of Friday's 30-7 victory at Tampa Bay.
The defensive line continued their aggressive pursuit during Sunday's training camp practice, which was presented by Academy Sports Outdoors. Although practice rules prohibit defensive players from contacting Titans quarterbacks, they were frequently applying pressure to Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker during multiple periods.
There were no such restrictions Friday, when the push started with the first play from scrimmage when Derrick Morgan pressured Bucs QB Josh Freeman into an incompletion, and Tennessee's front four defenders often joined Morgan in the disruption.
"That was great, just to see us get pressure with our front four," Sen'Derrick Marks said. "That's what every team wants to do. If you can go out and get pressure with your front four, then you can do a lot on the back end. You can bring blitzes when you want to and you can do whatever you want with a defense, so we've been working on that and that came through real well in Week 2 of the preseason."
Freeman completed a short touchdown pass to capitalize on a possession that started at the Tennessee two-yard-line, but never looked comfortable. He finished 4-of-10 passing for 21 yards, and his longest completion gained eight yards. His replacement, Dan Orlovsky, looked equally uncomfortable and proved less successful at avoiding pass rushers.
The Titans sacked Orlovsky four times for a loss of 39 yards, including a sack fumble credited to Marks that was recovered by Leger Douzable. Marks said Tennessee could sense frustration on the part of Tampa Bay, and the Titans want to be as disruptive this season.
"If you're a starting quarterback, you don't want to get hit," Marks said. "You don't want to give up sacks. If you're a coach, you don't want your offensive linemen getting beat like that. That's stuff that we've been working on, and hopefully we'll continue it. We know we play a lot of unique quarterbacks this year on our schedule, so if we can do that with our front four, that will help us out tremendously on our game days."
Orlovsky went 1-of-5 passing for 6 yards and threw an interception that Akeem Ayers tipped and Chris Hawkins collected and returned 10 yards after getting a block from Ayers.
"I saw the route right in front of me and just reacted," Ayers said. "I felt like I didn't really have to dive for it, but I (did) and ended up deflecting and we got the interception anyway. I just tried to get up and make a good block and make something happen for our offense."
One week earlier Ayers faced a similar play that resulted in a completion for Seattle.
"I watched the game from Seattle and I was like, 'I can make that play,' but with it being the first game, you've got a lot going on and you're excited to play the first game," Ayers said. "But as I'm watching the film, I'm like, 'I can jump that route or even get that ball,' so I just wanted to trust my instincts more. During that game I saw it, but I just didn't believe what I saw and I just didn't play how I usually play it. This game, I wanted to be more aggressive and play smarter and just trust my instincts. I did that this past game, and it turned out good for me."
Colin McCarthy said big plays on defense become contagious.
"I think when you're hungry, everyone wants to get a piece of that ball," McCarthy said. "The more guys you have flying around, the more plays you make. Akeem gets a tip and Hawk's there with an interception, and then you've got five or six guys running down the field trying to block. When you see a defense like that, that's hungry and wants the ball, it's exciting to watch and you want to get in on the action."
Morgan, Keyunta Dawson and Tim Shaw added sacks of Orlovsky, who finished with a 0.0 passer rating. The pressure up front and the 39 yards lost on sacks resulted in Tampa Bay finishing the night with minus-1 passing yard.
DROPPING 70: Offensive lineman Michael Jasper said he weighed in at 390 pounds when he joined the Titans last week.
Jasper played at Mount Juliet High School, then collegiately at Bethel, where he tipped the scales at 460. He credited a change in dietary habits, along with working out, with helping him drop the 70 pounds. He said he feels much better.
"Any time you lose weight, whether you're 450 or you're 225 and get down to 215, you're going to feel like a different person," Jasper said. "I've always been a bigger dude, so when I got the weight off, it just kind of helped me out, helped my career out."
Jasper spent last season with the Buffalo Bills and said the opportunity with the Titans — the team he grew up a fan of — is a "dream come true." Jasper said he couldn't mention his favorite Titans moment (which happened against the Bills in the 1999 AFC Wild Card game) around his former team.
"This is probably cliché: the Music City Miracle, and in Buffalo, I couldn't really talk about it. It was a legal play, touchdown, Titans win," Jasper said of the thrilling kickoff return that lifted the Titans to a comeback victory and preceded the trip to Super Bowl XXXIV.
FEELING GROOVY: Chris Johnson delivered a pair of 14-yard touchdown runs and finished with 46 yards on 10 carries against Tampa Bay. The first score occurred on a toss sweep that enabled Johnson to get the ball in space. Johnson said he felt like he got in a "groove" early, which helped on the second TD when he turned a run up the middle into points by zooming past defenders to the outside.
"(Fullback) Quinn (Johnson) got up on his guy, and the offensive line did a good job of getting a push," Chris Johnson said. "It allowed me to get through the offensive line and around that time, I was in my groove and had been getting the ball, so it seemed easier to make the guy miss and make a play."