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Rotation May be Biggest Key to Titans' Pass Rush

Posted Aug 11, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan thinks back to last season almost with a shudder.
 
Even with some teammates playing through injuries, getting a breather on the sideline was impossible at times when Morgan needed it most. He wound up playing 914 snaps, more work than all but eight other defensive ends in the NFL. Titans end Kamerion Wimbley ranked 12th himself with 910 snaps according to Stats LLC.
 
Being tired makes it tough when chasing a quarterback, let alone trying to sack him.
 
"You want to come out, but you really can't come out,'' Morgan said. "I want to feel in control, I want to feel accountable for what goes on. We had guys playing hurt last year. So it was one of those things where you just had to play. You might not have been playing at your highest, but you were giving it all you got still out there.''
 
The Titans have been busy devising blitzes and packages to put more pressure on quarterbacks. Having enough bodies to rotate linemen may be what helps Tennessee the most. The Titans signed seven free agents this offseason, including end Ropati Potoitua and tackles Sammie Hill and Antonio Johnson to add reinforcements for the line.
 
Pitoitua has been playing in run situations and rotating with Wimbley on passing downs, while Hill and Johnson at tackle has allowed Karl Klug to move out to right end and take turns behind Morgan. Klug had seven sacks as a rookie in 2011 and only 3.5 last season.
 
Hill's eyes lit up when he heard how many snaps Morgan and Wimbley played last season. He came to Tennessee for the chance to start himself after playing behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in Detroit.
 
"Oh man, I couldn't imagine especially not lately because I didn't really get a chance to play over 20 snaps for real last year and years before,'' Hill said. "But I can imagine how hard it is to go out and do it down after down and knowing them two great pass rushing guys, that's working hard. Having enough depth now for them to get out ... it should be a great deal for both sides.''
 
The biggest number about the Tennessee defense in 2012 was 471 - the most points allowed in franchise history. But the Titans finished tied for ninth in the NFL with 39 sacks, a gaudy number except for the fact that 14 of those came against the Jaguars. In six games, they managed only one sack and were shut out in two other games.
 
Coach Mike Munchak said he's seeing improvement in training camp with the different personnel packages and saw nice pressure from a four-man rush in the preseason opening 22-21 loss to Washington.
 
"It's heading in the right direction,'' Munchak said. "We're still experimenting with a lot of different options and a lot of different players. That'll be stuff we'll have to decide on as we get closer to the season. I think we have some good options, we have some good athletes ... we got some size. I think now they can push to the middle a little bit more than they have in the past.''
 
Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray also has been devising schemes that likely will include having linebacker Akeem Ayers join in rushing the quarterback more. Ayers had six sacks last season with the Titans trying to take better advantage of his speed.
 
"We got to find ways to get him rushing because he's a big body guy with athletic ability that can win one on one,'' Gray said.
 
And players like Morgan simply have more experience and a better understanding of technique in rushing quarterbacks. Morgan, the first-round draft pick in 2010 now going into his fourth season, had a team-high 6.5 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures.
 
"It's very promising right now,'' Morgan said.

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