NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jurrell Casey was worried when he first heard the Titans would be switching away from the only defensive scheme he's ever played. Now that he's gotten a good look at what coordinator Ray Horton has planned, the tackle couldn't be happier.
For good reason too.
His position coach believes Casey can do even better than last year when he had a career-best 10.5 sacks.
"That's outstanding, but it's not like his career year in my opinion," Titans defensive line coach Giff Smith said Monday. "That's a start. It's a benchmark, and it's a heck of a benchmark. But we can get higher than that by fine-tuning some techniques and putting him in more one-on-one situations because he does have the ability to win."
Casey was concerned because the 6-foot-1, 305-pound tackle has played in a 4-3 defense with four down linemen and three linebackers going back to college at Southern California and to high school. But Horton also plans to mix in some 3-4 schemes with three linemen putting their hands on the ground and four linebackers. Traditionally, tackles are required to grab a couple blockers and let linebackers make the big plays.
Smith already was very familiar with Casey even before new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt hired him to coach the defensive line in Tennessee. Smith previously coached in Buffalo working with Kyle Williams, who also had 10.5 sacks in 2013. When Casey got his first chance to visit with Smith, that's when the assistant coach dispelled the concerns that the tackle wouldn't be allowed to sack quarterbacks anymore.
"I've coached 3-4 and 4-3, and I was able to explain to him that believe it or not, he's going to have more one-one-one situations out of our spacing than he did in a 4-3," Smith said.
That's good for Casey, who is going into the final season of his rookie contract.
"It's a great scheme," Casey said. "It's something I'm looking forward to going out there and lighting it up against another team already to put it to use. On my behalf, the scheme that we got going in is putting me in great situations to go out there and win one-on-one battles. The thing is to get everybody across the board one-on-one battles, and this scheme is doing that already."
Nobody on the Titans was close to Casey's sacks total. Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua and linebacker Zach Brown each had four sacks, and the Titans finished with 36 sacks, which tied for 21st in the NFL.
Horton and Smith are among five new assistants on defense, and Casey said he has embraced the change personally knowing this may help him down the road.
"As a team, I just felt it was time for something new," Casey said. "We knew we have been doing the same old thing, and it hasn't been working. So to get something new out here, let's try it out. Why not?"
NOTES: Coach Ken Whisenhunt said left guard Andy Levitre and center Brian Schwenke, both recovering from surgeries, continue to progress. Whisenhunt said everyone is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. That includes RB Shonn Greene, recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Whisenhunt said the important thing is that Greene got his knee fixed.