TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: DEFENSIVE LINE
In camp (11): Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Larrell Murchison, DeMarcus Walker, Teair Tart, Naquan Jones, Kevin Strong, Jayden Peevy, Haskell Garrett, Da'Shawn Hand, Sam Okuayinonu.
Offseason developments: The Titans signed Walker, formerly of the Texans, in May. The Titans also added Peevy, Garrett and Okuayinonu, undrafted free agents from Texas A&M, Ohio State, and Maryland, respectively. The Titans also retained Tart on a one-year deal while bringing Hand, who played at Alabama, back as well. The Titans exercised the fifth-year option for Simmons, which means he's under contract through 2023. Simmons and Autry missed the team's OTAs, but both were in town for the team's minicamp, although Simmons didn't take part in the team's on-field work. The Titans didn't re-sign defensive lineman Kyle Peko, who ended up signing with the Las Vegas Raiders.
In the spotlight: Simmons. A Pro Bowler in 2021, Simmons recorded a career-best 8.5 sacks, and he led the Titans with 58 quarterback pressures. Heading into his 4th NFL season, the team's first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft should be even better following a season when he impacted games week in and week out. In June, Simmons talked about his improved diet, and how good he feels from a physical standpoint. His knowledge of the game has also improved dramatically since he first arrived. With improved talent around him, Simmons has a chance to be even more disruptive in 2022.
Battle to watch: Depth players. Naquan Jones got better in 2021, when he carved out a nice role for himself. He'll look to build on that in camp. Some newcomers have also joined the mix on the d-line, and that could make things interesting in the competition. Peevy (6-5, 308) is big and long, and I'm expecting him to impress when the pads come on. Hand, who was with the team at the end of last season, is talented and looks the part as well. Tart is strong, and he continues to make strides. Murchison, heading into his third NFL season, needs to show improvement to stick, because the talent has improved around him. While Garrett arrived with more fanfare, don't be surprised if Okuayinona passes him in the competition because of his quickness.
Keep an eye on: Walker. While Titans fans are familiar with Simmons and Autry (9 sacks), who combined for 17.5 sacks in 2021, Walker will be new to the fan base. In 2021, Walker played in 13 games with the Texans, and he recorded 31 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, and seven quarterback hits. In 49 career games with the Broncos and Texans, Walker has totaled 82 tackles, 12.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. The Titans like Walker's versatility, and he could end making a nice contribution in 2022 while also giving the team a chance to give Autry a little more rest, and an opportunity to move around even more this fall.
Next up: Inside Linebackers.