NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jerry Gray finally is about to install his own defensive schemes with the Tennessee Titans.
Thanks to the NFL lockout last year, Gray had no offseason as the new defensive coordinator to make changes. So Gray said Thursday he just trimmed the fat out of what the Titans had used the year before and managed to squeeze out a unit that ranked eighth in the league in fewest points allowed.
Now he's making sure to tailor his scheme to new players like end Kamerion Wimbley and returning players like linebacker Akeem Ayers. He also has plenty of competition to replace Cortland Finnegan at cornerback.
What exactly does he have in store? Gray's not saying, though getting to the quarterback is a priority after a measly 28 sacks in 2011.
"We know we got things to work on," Ayers said. "We know we didn't do our best job at getting to the quarterback and everybody knows that. The guy, the d-linemen, linebackers who rush the quarterback we know that we've got to do better at that. So that's just motivation to work harder this offseason."
Gray and a few Titans spoke Thursday after their latest session in the offseason program. Nobody has seen just what Gray has in store for them yet because they are all working on their individual technique and conditioning still. The team's first organized team session is the last week of May.
"Last year throughout the season certain things he would say that we couldn't run just yet," cornerback Jason McCourty said. "We had to get an offseason to really teach it so we can master it before we go out on Sundays and get a chance to run it. So I'm excited about that, just to see the different nuances he's going to add to the defense and let guys use their athletic ability and make plays."
Gray plans to add a lot, using some schemes he used in Buffalo and in Washington.
"So we're kind of tailoring this defense to the players we have, not to what we had, which was under the gun, last year," Gray said.
The Titans' biggest offseason addition came with the signing of Wimbley. The 6-foot-4 Wimbley will play end for the Titans, and he has 42.5 career sacks. Gray compares Wimbley to Chris Clemons, who came to Seattle a couple years ago and had 12.5 sacks in helping the Seahawks just miss the NFC championship game.
They also expect Wimbley to help end Derrick Morgan, the 16th pick overall in 2010 who was busy recovering from a torn ACL this time last year.
"And Wimbley, your job is to get Morgan to get that double-team off for you, to get that chip off for you because if you don't, they'll chip him the whole year," Gray said. "That's what you do with a good football team. You can't just think, 'I'm going to be the best player and not help someone else get better.'"
Coach Mike Munchak also hired Keith Millard, the 1989 Defensive Player of the Year, as a pass rush specialist this offseason, and he's been busy working with Ayers. The linebacker had plenty of big plays in college at UCLA, but he had only two sacks and seven quarterback pressures despite starting all 16 games as a rookie.
Ayers said Millard has been working on technique with him while studying the likes of Mario Williams and Dwight Freeney for tips on how to adjust his angle of attack, rush off the snap and using his hands better.
"I was doing a lot of things completely wrong," Ayers said.
The Titans used five of their seven draft picks on defense, and Ayers said he likes the speed of fellow linebacker Zach Brown, the second-round pick out of North Carolina. The Titans also added tackle Mike Martin of Michigan and end Scott Solomon of Rice.
McCourty now finds himself as the veteran in the cornerback group with Finnegan now playing in St. Louis. Alterraun Verner, who has started 15 games in his first two seasons, leads the group vying to fill that open job. That pack includes Tommie Campbell, a seventh-round pick out of Division II California (Pa.), Ryan Mouton coming off a torn Achilles tendon, Chris Hawkins and fourth-round pick Coty Sensabaugh.
Gray called the 6-3 Campbell their second-best technique cornerback as of now who is busy working hard daily to improve. McCourty said the sky is the limit for Campbell.
"Tommie has attributes you just can't teach," McCourty said. "A guy like him at corner being able to press with his arm length and as far as he is, it's going to be a sight to see when he gets out there."
That's just part of what Gray is waiting to see.