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Notebook: Dirty Work by Titans 'Trash Men' Keeps Teammates Clean

Posted Sep 12, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jerry Gray reviewed the film and dished out assists.

Assist tackles on press box stat sheets are awarded when two defenders simultaneously take down the ball carrier, but the Titans’ defensive coordinator believes more went into several tackles the Titans made in the season-opening 16-9 win in Pittsburgh.

Ropati Pitoitua was one of several Titans defensive linemen who showed an ability to push back blockers and keep linebackers free to make plays in the season-opener.

“When you watch the film, and a linebacker makes eight tackles behind you, well (a defensive lineman) made eight assists,” Gray said. “That’s what you’d give him in basketball, so that’s what we’ve got to do in football.”

Gray said free agent additions Ropati Pitoitua, Sammie Hill and Antonio Johnson helped create opportunities for Jurrell Casey and Zach Brown, who each recorded two sacks of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Gray said Pitoitua, Hill and Johnson understand their roles as “trash men” who do the dirty work and often demand double teams so that Casey can have a one-on-one matchup, or that linebackers can stay free from blockers and go make tackles.

“We kind of talk about there are certain guys on the team that we call ‘trash men’ who have to clean up, and he’s been doing that,” Gray said of Pitoitua. “When we first got here, we didn’t have a lot of those guys. I know sacks and things are always tossed around, and what happens is a guy thinks in order to be a good football player, you have to do that.

“I value a guy who does dirty work and you need that as a football team,” Gray continued. “Everybody is not going to want to clean up the mess, and Ropati’s one of them, Sammie Hill’s is one of them and (Antonio Johnson) is one of them. The more guys we get like that, the better team we’re going to be.”

Pitoitua said he takes the “trash man” role as a compliment. He played despite a cast on his hand, and Hill played with a large brace on his left arm.

“For our unit up front, we’ve got to get on those guys first,” Pitoitua said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to win, so whatever it takes. If the linebackers get there before we do, hey, we’re just trying to win on defense.”

Brown, who led Tennessee’s stat sheet with eight tackles, said the rebuilt defensive line did a “wonderful job” against the Steelers.

“They set the edge, they demanded a double team. We came down and got it off them and made the play,” Brown said.

As the Titans prepare to visit AFC South rival Houston Sunday, they are quite familiar with the cut-blocking scheme of the Texans and believe it will be important to keep the linebackers clean from blockers so that they can tackle running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

“You’ve got to stay on your feet because they cut a lot, so you just stay on your feet and hope the big guys keep them off of you, which our big guys have been doing,” Brown said. “If our big guys do their job, we’re going to do ours. You’ve just got to stay on your feet and nobody can get cut because they always like to cut back and we’ve got to take away their cutback lane.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak and Gray both talked about the importance of shutting down the run against the Texans because Houston likes to build off it with bootleg plays and play-action passes.

“The defensive line is going to have to do a good job of being physical so we don’t allow those guys to make it to the second level as fast, especially the center, the guards, that type of thing,” Munchak said. “The D-line’s going to have to do a good job of keeping them off the linebackers so they can make the plays. Guys have to stay up. They have to use their hands well. It’s a technique game, no doubt about that.”

OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK: Munchak said he’s hopeful that David Stewart (calf) and Damian Williams (hamstring) will be able to practice Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday sessions. He added that Shonn Greene (knee), who also missed the past two sessions, will more than likely do some individual work.

“We’re still hoping all of them will be available to play Sunday,” Munchak said.

Additionally, Brett Kern (calf) was limited for a second straight but is expected to be fine for the game, and Zaviar Gooden (ankle) fully practiced for the second straight day, but Munchak said it’s likely the Titans will not expect Gooden to be active this week, which is his first time on the field since Aug. 1.

NEXT IN LINE: If Williams is unable to play Sunday, Munchak said it could present the first opportunity for rookie Justin Hunter to make his regular season debut.

“It probably would be (Justin) Hunter. He’s our next best receiver,” Munchak said. “Now if Damian’s active, then it just depends. From there I’m not sure. If one of our receivers is hurt, there’s a good chance it would be Justin.”

In the season opener the Titans had four receivers (Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and Williams) active while Hunter and Michael Preston were inactive. Hunter said it was a new experience to be on the sideline but still a learning opportunity.

I’ve never sat on the sideline before, so it hurt me last week, but it just puts more into my effort to go out there,” Hunter said. “It’s fast, and the defense … they’re coming to knock you out.”

TAKE IT INSIDE: Severe weather that moved through the Nashville area forced part of practice to be moved indoors Thursday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. Players were able to experience some sweltering humidity before the storm and finish what they started in the “bubble.”

“The good thing is we got special teams finished (and individual periods) before we came in,” Munchak said. “So, the first 40, 45 minutes was on the grass, which was good. It was nice and humid outside before the weather came in. When we come inside, I feel like it always (increases tempo) a bit, speeds up the practice a little bit. We cut a few reps here and there, but it was a really good workout.”

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