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Camp Notebook: Defensive Tackles Doing Dirty Work, Collapsing the Pocket

Posted Jul 31, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A philosophical principle among Titans defensive tackles is that somebody’s got to be the street sweeper.

The Titans are hoping Sammie Hill and other defensive tackles collapse the pocket and help Derrick Morgan and other edge rushers.
Click here for photos from Wednesday's practice.

“Somebody’s got to do the dirty work, and that’s what they’re there to do,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “It may not get the attention of what others might get, but everybody can’t do that job.”

The metaphor represents the tough job that falls on the shoulders of interior defensive linemen that is not always conspicuous or glorified but necessary. Tennessee views the work of this group as a key to the overall success of the defense.   

The Titans want to stop the run early in an opponent’s possession, then apply pressure through the interior of the defensive line, collapsing the pocket and keeping quarterbacks in the trajectory of Titans who are speeding around the edge and should be in position to rack up sacks and QB pressures. It’s a blueprint that comes to fruition when personnel and hard work lead to execution.

Third-year pro Jurrell Casey and free agent signee Sammie Hill are likely to start, but the Titans have been going through multiple personnel groupings. The team also brought in Antonio Johnson as a free agent, to go along with returnees Mike Martin, DaJohn Harris and Zach Clayton, and rookies Stefan Charles and Nigel Nicholas. Karl Klug has played primarily at defensive tackle the past two seasons, but is also playing defensive end this season.

One part of the evaluation is how well players penetrated the “A-gaps” (the spaces between the guards and the center), and the “B-gaps” (the spaces between the guards and tackles).

“That’s one of our key focuses this year,” Casey said. “That way, we can’t allow quarterbacks to step up and get in the throwing lanes. Our biggest thing is then trying to get our hands up so we can bat down balls a lot this year.”

Harris agreed, saying: “Crushing the A-B gap lane from B-gap to B-gap, that’s pretty much key for the defensive tackles because we can get a good push-back and get our hands up and our ends can rush off the edge and get the sack, and sometimes it will force the quarterback back to us so I feel like it works for the both of us and I feel like we’re doing pretty good at it.”

Hill, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 328 pounds, said Titans general manager Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak “made it quite clear what they wanted me to do when I got here.”

“I try to do what they’re asking me and try to do what I know I can to help do my job better,” Hill said. “We ain’t nowhere near the point we want to be, and when we get to that point, people will see.”

Johnson, originally a fifth-round pick by Tennessee in 2007 who spent the past five seasons with Indianapolis, said he thinks getting a good surge on the interior involves a combination of power and quickness. After experiencing the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive front that Indianapolis did last season, Johnson said he’s been excited about the return to Tennessee and “happy” to be back in a 4-3.

“It’s a good feeling to be back. They embraced me. I feel like I’m back home,” Johnson said. “These guys have been doing a good job, and these coaches have been giving us good techniques to go by on how to get it done. We’ve just been taking it a day at a time.

Rocker said he likes the work ethic that the whole group of defensive tackles has demonstrated and the way that Casey and Hill are developing a rhythm.

“I love the chemistry they have on the field,” Rocker said, “but in this game, it’s also how they are in the locker room, and I think that’s been a testament of the personnel (department) and Munch’, guys that have made a great effort to have guys around here that are about working, trying to survive to play in January, and not just go through the year.”

ANOTHER INITIATION: Top draft pick Chance Warmack had to sing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” to teammates this week as part of his rookie initiation and gained another experience at Wednesday’s practice. He had two rounds in the “Oklahoma Drill” with Harris, with each player splitting victories.

“So we get to practice, Coach Munch’ was talking about, ‘I’ve got something for you,’ and I was like, ‘I already know what it is,’ so I kind of had my mind right for it,” Warmack said. “I just didn’t know when we were going to do it. It was cool. I just wish I had a little more space to get my one-two step in but it was a good battle. He won one, I won one so it was cool. He’s real strong.”

Harris, an undrafted rookie a year ago, said he enjoyed the matchup and being part of Warmack’s welcome to the league.

“I mean he’s good. He’s a big dude, and you see that. He’s got long arms. You know, he plays with his belly out so you know he’s a pretty good matchup,” Harris said. “Chance is very unique. You wouldn’t really expect a big guy to be able to move the way he moves and generate a lot of strength that he generates. I probably haven’t seen anybody like Chance.”

OPENING PLAYBOOK: Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains added new challenges for the defense this week beginning Tuesday night in the rain and continuing Wednesday. Most notable was a flea flicker with Jake Locker lateralling the ball to Darius Reynaud and getting the ball back from the running back via another lateral before heaving it to rookie Justin Hunter. The former Tennessee star said the offense enjoyed the fun plays.

“We’ve got to throw some tricks in there to keep the defense on its toes so it worked so far,” Hunter said.

BRIEFLY: Munchak said the Titans are likely to be cautious with rookie Brian Schwenke (hamstring), even if it means not playing him in the preseason opener against Washington at LP Field on Aug. 8. … A severe storm forced the Titans to end practice early Wednesday, but coaches compensated by removing some of the rest periods to fit more of the plan. … Players who were scheduled to sign autographs after Wednesday’s practice have been added to Thursday’s lineup.

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