NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Scan down the Tennessee roster on the defensive line. A collection of castoffs and retreads surround a few key draft picks.
As a result, the Tennessee Titans have given glimpses of the tyrants of old as they chased, harassed and hit quarterbacks even as they stayed cautious in healing up veteran Tony Brown and this year's top draft pick, end Derrick Morgan. This combination looks like the Titans might revive the four-man pass rush they thrive on in setting the tone for the entire defense.
Tackle Jason Jones, a second-round pick in 2008 limited to seven games last season by injuries, said he likes where this defensive line is going into the regular season and expects big things starting Sept. 12 against Oakland.
"I expect us to dominate and be one of the Top 10 defenses or Top five defenses out there, and just go out there and play hard. When you see a Titans' defense, you're going to see us running to the ball, playing hard, hitting and being physical. That's what you are going to see,'' Jones said.
At one point in Thursday night's 27-24 preseason finale win over New Orleans, Jones looked like he was trying to beat Brown to the quarterback. Jones had steady pressure and one sack.
"Honestly, I think we're ready to go,'' Brown said. "We're all fresh and firing to the ball. I think we just want to get the regular season started and show all of the hard work we've put in during the season.''
Tennessee had only 31 sacks in 2009, down from 44 the year before with tackle Albert Haynesworth. The Titans ranked 26th in the NFL in sacks per pass play and finished 8-8.
So Tennessee spent the offseason trying to add bodies.
The Titans signed Jason Babin, a former first-round draft pick by Houston in 2004 now with his fifth team, signed Brown to a new contract and used the 16th pick overall grabbing Morgan out of Georgia Tech. When end William Hayes, an 11-game starter last season, sprained his right knee during training camp, the Titans signed veteran end Raheem Brock to a one-year deal.
They finished with seven sacks, nowhere near the 19 Carolina racked up to lead the NFL this preseason. But the Titans (2-2) really only worked on blitzes in one game, a 24-10 win over Arizona, in letting their defensive linemen rotate in and out and see what they could get out of rushing only the four.
Seven different players had at least a half sack in the preseason.
"We're getting good pressure throughout the depth chart, which is good,'' coach Jeff Fisher said Friday. "Everybody's had their opportunity. You know we played three preseason games somewhat generic, played one where we manufactured some pressure. That was effective for us.''
The Titans didn't see the top quarterbacks this preseason. Instead they faced the likes of Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Matt Moore and Patrick Ramsey. They missed Drew Brees on Thursday night when New Orleans coach Sean Payton chose to sit him out with the Saints' opener on Sept. 9.
Fisher said they can see teams working to get the ball out quickly, using the play-action frequently.
"I think people recognize we can pressure with four,'' he said.
Brown played his first preseason game against the Saints and was limited to between 10 and 15 snaps before going to the sideline to ice the right knee he had surgery on during the offseason. Brown typifies what defensive line coach Jim Washburn looks for as a player who had bounced around and is desperate for his NFL shot. He turned Kyle Vanden Bosch into a Pro Bowler.
The tackle was sitting in a Chattanooga church in October 2006 when the Titans originally called wanting a fill-in during Haynesworth's five-game suspension. Now Brown is entering his sixth NFL season.
How close the Titans get to the top 10 defense they fielded in 2007 and 2008 may rest on those draft picks like the 6-foot-3 Morgan and 6-5 Jones. Their job is simple: Get to the quarterback.
"That's what Washburn wants us to do, and that's what we want to do,'' Jones said. "So every game look for us to do just that.''
NOTES: Fisher isn't announcing his roster cuts until Saturday's league deadline. He also isn't announcing whether Jason McCourty or rookie Alterraun Verner has won the starting cornerback job opposite Cortland Finnegan or who will start at outside linebacker while Gerald McRath is suspended for the first four games.