NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Four Titans who made 39 starts on defense in 2011 during their rookie campaigns picked up where they left off in the 2012 preseason opener, Titans coach Mike Munchak said Sunday.
Akeem Ayers (16), Jurrell Casey (15), Colin McCarthy (seven) and Karl Klug (one) put their experience to use in Seattle Saturday. Ayers, Casey and McCarthy all started, and Klug wasn't on the sidelines long before making an impact.
Tennessee's top-tier of defenders didn't get rattled, despite a bizarre series of bounces that led to Brandon Browner's 23-yard interception return for a touchdown on Matt Hasselbeck's first pass attempt. The defense also played through a tough pass interference penalty on a third-down incompletion that extended Seattle's first possession and ultimately led to a 41-yard field goal.
McCarthy tackled Leon Washington for a four-yard loss on second-and-6, and Klug followed with a sack of Matt Flynn one play later to force the field goal. The Seahawks gained 62 yards on 15 plays on the opening possession, but just 47 yards on 13 plays the rest of the half.
"I thought the (rookies) from last year really started showing up," Munchak said Sunday.
McCarthy, who added five tackles and broke up a pass, dropped into coverage and intercepted Matt Flynn early in the second quarter. Both tackles that Klug recorded were for losses, and he also received credit for a quarterback hit.
"On the defensive side of the ball, I thought the first half, the guys made some plays," Munchak said. "We gave up three points, we got the turnover by McCarthy, so defensively, you saw them coming together as they played more and making plays in the backfield. That was fun to watch, and that group's pretty solid."
Titans defensive tackle Zach Clayton, who was also a rookie in 2011 but did not play as much as Casey and Klug, also recorded a sack of Flynn before halftime.
Tennessee's defense finished the game with eight tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, two sacks, two interceptions and three passes defensed.
BACK-TO-BACK TURNOVERS: Titans rookie Taylor Thompson, who is transitioning from defensive end to tight end, had three catches for 15 yards, but fumbled after a reception early in the fourth quarter. Thompson was locked up with cornerback Chris Maragos when linebacker Heath Farwell forced and recovered the fumble.
The Seahawks started the ensuing possession at the Titans' 12-yard-line, but Tennessee linebacker Zac Diles intercepted rookie Russell Wilson in the end zone on the next play.
Munchak said it was a teaching point and a benefit of it happening in a preseason game instead of the regular season.
"I think he realized that they hold you up and try to knock it out, and that's exactly what happened to him," Munchak said. "We've been working hard on that in camp. We make a huge effort that they have to bring the ball back after they catch it, securing it, and there's an example where he got held up, and I don't know if he thought the whistle was going to be blown before he got tackled, but it wasn't and they punched it out. That was a good learning experience for him and all the young guys and how they do it in this league.
GAME OF ADJUSTMENTS: The Titans purposefully did not prepare for the Seahawks to the level they will prepare for opponents during the regular season.
Coaches wanted to place more assessment on individual player performances on offense and defense than game plans and to see how their players reacted to an opponent's moves.
Munchak said the strategy can lead to a skewing of stats. Chris Johnson started and had five carries for 8 yards, which included a loss of 3 on his first carry. Johnson responded with a 9-yard gain one play later. His other three carries when for 2, 4 and a loss of 1.
"When you go into games not game-planning them, they were attacking the line of scrimmage with eight guys right from the beginning to make sure Chris (Johnson) didn't get going," Munchak said. "As we got a feel for what they were doing, we started adjusting our calls and the running game started busting open, which I assume would have happened if Chris was in there. There were adjustments made to take advantage of what they were doing."
NO HELMET, NO PROBLEM: Titans rookie Mike Martin's helmet came off during a play in the second half, but he continued to hustle after the ball.
Rules require the play to be whistled dead if the helmet comes off the person with the ball, but no such rule exists for defenders.
"With (another) player, you've just got to be smart," Munchak said. "He was fine there because it was a play that was down the field, so he just hustled and did what he normally does, hustle, and luckily he didn't have to get the ball, but I'm sure he would have made the tackle if he was close enough."
BACK IN ACTION: The Titans returned from Seattle early Sunday morning and had the day to recover. They are scheduled to return to the practice fields at Baptist Sports Park at 3:30 p.m. Monday in a session that is free and open to the public.