The good news for the Tennessee Titans on defense is that 10 of the 11 starters, plus some key role players, are back from one of the top units in the NFL a year ago.
The bad news, of course, is that that 11th player is Albert Haynesworth — one of the most dominant defensive players in the entire league the past season.
So while Haynesworth has packed his bags for the much greener (at least monetarily) pastures of the Washington Redskins, getting defensive line help in the 2009 draft to replace him is not necessarily the Titans’ top priority on defense.
It can be argued that bigger needs for the defense exist both at linebacker and in the secondary, where the starters are all Pro Bowl-seasoned at many spots, but depth is shallow and somewhat suspect. In fact, many believe that other than wide receiver on offense, that cornerback and linebacker could be the Titans’ two top target areas in this weekend’s draft.
And it remains to be seen if new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil will keep the same system and preferences that Jim Schwartz did, because that could have an effect on what the Titans do on draft day as well.
The team controls the 30th pick in the draft and it was argued here Tuesday that it may go to help an offense that has many more needs than the defense. Despite where the team may select its first defensive player, here’s a look at the positions and the options the Titans might consider on defense in this draft:
Cortland Finnegan, coming off an All-Pro season, leads the way here, and veteran Nick Harper is still solid, but has had nagging injury issues the past couple of seasons. And therein lies the rub for the Titans at this position.
With Harper entering the final year of his deal, Tennessee not only needs to find someone to provide solid depth for now, but also needs to line up a cornerback ready to go in time for 2010 in case Harper is not re-signed.
Yes, the Titans did sign DeMarcus Faggins, but he is a stopgap measure at best. A real solution needs to come from the draft in the first three rounds, with the Titans likely spending a couple of picks to shore up the depth here.
Among the possibilities that might be available when pick No. 30 comes along include Vontae Davis of Illinois, Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, Darius Butler of Connecticut. All three are considered at least borderline first-round picks by most prognosticators.
Smith and Butler both visited the Titans recently, as did highly regarded Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State, who probably won’t be around at No. 30 when the Titans pick.
Beyond Round 1, where many believe better value can be had in this draft, local player like D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt might fill the bill. Other players, such as Oregon’s Jarius Byrd, Lardarius Webb of Nicholls State, Chris Owens of San Jose State or Sean Smith of Utah could also be intriguing.
As with cornerback, the Titans don’t have an immediate need at linebacker as long as starters Keith Bulluck and David Thornton stay upright and by their usual productive selves.
But depth is a major question for the Titans beyond the starters on the outside.
The list of linebackers who’ve visited starts with the trio of Southern California linebackers, all of who could go in the first round. Playmaker Rey Maualuga might be the biggest prize of the three, but Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews have merits as well. Matthews, of course, should be very familiar with the Titans, as his uncle Bruce spent all 19 seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the organization.
Another intriguing name linked to the team is Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis. But contrary to some reports, the Titans never had him in for a visit. Instead, the Titans hosted a player who has risen lately on the draft boards — Jason Williams of Western Illinois.
Despite losing Haynesworth, the Titans feel relatively good about their defensive line situation.
For one, end Kyle Vanden Bosch is healthy after struggling with a groin injury for most of ’08. For another, they appear confident that the tandem of Jason Jones and Jovan Haye can combine with Tony Brown to help pick up the slack left by Haynesworth’s departure.
Despite such optimism, it might be difficult for the Titans to pass on players, such as Evander “Ziggy” Hood of Missouri or Peria Jerry of Ole Miss if either player fell to them.
After the first round, the Titans look at a pair of Auburn defensive tackles in Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller. At end, hybrids like Connor Barwin of Cincinnati and Lawrence Sidbury of Richmond visited the Titans.
A project end or tackle is certainly within the realm of possibility for the Titans, given that Vanden Bosch, Jevon Kearse, Brown and Dave Ball can all be free agents after the season.
The NFL Draft starts Saturday morning on ESPN.