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Rookie Defensive Linemen Off to Solid Start for Titans

Posted Aug 15, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug, and Zach Clayton know the importance of making the right impact immediately.

The Titans’ three rookie defensive linemen made significant use of their snaps Saturday in Tennessee’s 14-3 win against Minnesota.

Casey forced and recovered a fumble that set up the Titans’ first touchdown. Klug, who started the preseason opener, delivered a solid hit while hurrying veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb. Clayton sacked rookie QB Christian Ponder in the third quarter.

“They understand how to play it inside,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said Monday. “It’s not just running around. They understand the fundamentals, techniques. That’s what’s important. Hopefully I can coach them up and not coach them down.”

The Titans placed emphasis on changing the defensive line in the offseason. Tennessee selected Casey in the third round, Klug in the fifth and Clayton in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

The draft meant a cross-country relocation for Casey, a California native; a realignment of loyalties for Klug, who grew up a Vikings fan; and a reunion for Clayton, who played for Rocker his final two seasons at Auburn.

Casey (6-foot-1, 300 pounds) played at Southern California. Klug, who is listed at 6-3 and 275 pounds, played at Iowa, and Clayton (6-2, 299 pounds) helped the Tigers win the NCAA championship last season.

Rocker, who joined new Titans coach Mike Munchak’s staff after 17 seasons of coaching collegiate players, said he has enjoyed working with the rookies and the veterans on Tennessee’s roster. Rocker said each rookie has unique attributes but each understands leverage, a critical component of line play.

“They’re all different in their own little ways,” Rocker said. “All three understand leverage. Clayton is a bit bulkier, Klug can torque his body, and then you look at Jurrell and think Jurrell can’t run, and all of a sudden, the guy shoots out of nowhere and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ ”

Klug, who was a 207-pound running back and defensive end for his high school in Minnesota, said techniques he learned in his prep wrestling career help him on the defensive line, where he is relatively smaller, compared to the people he lines up beside and smashes against.

“I only (wrestled) in high school, but I think it stuck with me, just knowing leverage and hand placement and how the body works, how you can work momentum against your opponent,” Klug said. “If I use my technique and get off the ball quick, hit them before they hit me, I have a chance.”

Klug said winning the leverage on an opposing player is done by getting lower to the ground than the opponent, adding “whoever is getting underneath the other guy is most likely going to win.”

Rocker said Klug is “relatively light” but he compensates for that with strength and technique.

“A lot of times when you’re playing defensive line you want big people,” Rocker said, “but you can have big people and they don’t understand leverage. He understands leverage and that’s a testament to him. I’m proud of what he’s doing.”

Rocker said Casey has been turning offensive plays into havoc the way that coaches anticipated.

“Jurrell Casey, I mean, Jurrell walked in and he’s been disruptive,” Rocker said. “He’s been what we thought he would be, and most of all, he’s been improving every day.”

Clayton, who may have flown under other NFL teams’ scouting radar because of the coverage that Auburn teammates Cam Newton (the No. 1 overall pick) and Nick Fairley (the No. 13 overall pick), said he was happy with his selection by Tennessee in the final round of the draft.

“I was extremely excited on draft day when I got the call from the Titans, just knowing that I would be working with my position coach,” Clayton said. “That was a level of comfort for me, so coming up here I could just focus on playing football.”

Rocker said some onlookers may consider Clayton a surprise but he was aware of the player’s abilities.

“We took him late and now he’s come in and he’s held the point at the nose and he’s gotten better every day,” Rocker said. “I was fortunate to have him with me. I knew the tools while I had him at Auburn and then when I got here, (defensive coordinator) Jerry (Gray) saw him on film and came to me and said, ‘What about Clayton?’ I said, ‘The guy is good.’ ”

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