Titans turn to defense with second-, third-round selections

Friday, April 29, 2011 at 6:48pm

Akeem Ayers left New York City and Radio City Music Hall on Friday as planned. But he arrived back in his hometown of Los Angeles as an undrafted player.

That changed as he drove home from the airport and received a call from the Tennessee Titans, who told him they were selecting him 39th overall in the second round of the NFL draft.

It was great news for Ayers, who played defensive end and linebacker at UCLA. But he admitted there was some extra motivation after a disappointing Thursday in New York.

“For all the teams that passed me, I’m going to make them wish that they didn’t,” Ayers said. “It makes you work that much harder, not that you are going to work hard from the beginning, but just knowing that teams passed on you, you are going to come in with a chip on your shoulder and always feel like you have something to prove. You just want to be better than what a lot of people say you are not.”

Ayers recorded 14 sacks, 185 tackles (128 solo), with 29.5 for loss in three years at UCLA. He also forced seven fumbles and intercepted six passes.

Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said with Ayers’ 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame, the plan is to use him as an outside linebacker as well as an extra pass rusher on the defensive line across from the opposing tight end.

“He gives us a chance to set the edge on the defense,” Gray said. “You can see on tape, he’s already stood up, made interceptions. He’s done those things and then he can put his hand down, rush the passer. ... It is something that he already knows and he is only going to help us.”

The Titans stayed out West and in the Pac-10 Conference for their third pick – defensive tackle Jurrell Casey in the third round at 77th overall. Casey played the last three seasons at the University of Southern California. All three selections by the Titans have been plucked from the Pac-10, starting with quarterback Jake Locker out of the University of Washington with the eighth overall pick in the first round on Thursday.

“They like the West Coast, I guess,” Casey said. “We are going to go out there and hold it down for the Pac-10.”

“It was not by design,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “Sometimes those things just happen that way.”

Casey finished his career at USC with nine sacks – 4.5 in each of the last two seasons – three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 138 tackles, including 67 in 2010. He is listed at 6-foot and 305 pounds – making him a big force on the defensive line. The concern is whether he is too big?

Casey said he has slimmed down to 290 pounds in past seasons and possesses quickness off the snap of the ball.

“Any time between that range I can play as well as I want to play,” Casey said. “It is not really a big deal how heavy or light I am.”

But the weight might have impacted his play as USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said last year that Casey needed to be more consistent every down.

“He is a big man,” Gray said. “We are talking about a guy that weighs over 300 pounds so you are going to get tired. The big thing you do is if you get tired, stand on the sidelines, get your rest and go back out there. That is going to be our answer – don’t take breaks on the football field.”

The addition of Ayers and Casey satisfy two defensive needs, especially on the defensive line after the Titans passed on Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the first round. He went later in the round to the Detroit Lions.

Looking ahead to the fourth through seventh rounds of the draft on Saturday, Reinfeldt said the team’s needs vary from tight end, safety, offensive and defensive line and even running back.

“I think it is a chance to strengthen the roster from here, going forward,” he said. “Not necessarily from a need [standpoint] but from the best player out there.”

4 Comments on this post:

By: Los Titanes on 4/29/11 at 9:25

Nice grabs , I like our draft so far: we got Locker, then top notch 1st round LB talent in 2 cnd rd, and a big tackle from stout USC def with 3rd. I can live with that. So the Munch era starts! Go buay!

Titanes out

By: serr8d on 4/30/11 at 6:55

I'm concerned with the (surprising) pick of Jake Locker at #8. Again, the Titans picked a QB with the lowest Wonderlic score of any of the available prospects (20 out of 50); this is troubling to me. Still, Locker's score is three times that of Vince Young's initial bombshell (6).

If you go by my rule of thumb (that a QB's Wonderlic is a rough indication of how many games he's capable of playing before a mental breakdown) at least Locker will make it through a season; VY's score of 6 is about right for the number of games he could safely play before losing it.

Of all the QB's in this year's draft, Locker's Wonderlic was the lowest:

Greg McElroy: 43, Blaine Gabbert: 42, Christian Ponder: 35, Ricky Stanzi: 30, Andy Dalton: 29, Ryan Mallett: 26, Cam Newton: 21, and Jake Locker: 20.

Comparative Wonderlic scores: Tim Tebow (22), Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton (26), Ben Roethliesberger (25), Tom Brady (33), Eli Manning (39), Drew Breese (28), Kerry Collins (30), John Elway (29), Peyton Manning (28).

By: TITAN1 on 4/30/11 at 11:19

IMO, way too much emphasis on the wonderlic. I don't think that had anything to do with VYs problems. After listening to Locker's interviews, I have no concern at all.

By: serr8d on 4/30/11 at 12:16

“I’ll always take the smart guy. The dumb guy will get you beat every time.” -- Buddy Ryan

Vince Young did not have the necessary mental 'oomph' it takes to be a successful NFL starter. He eschewed off-the-field study and was not expert on watching film or memorizing the complicated playbook. Of course, he made up for some of his mental lacks with obvious physical skill and athletic ability. But that only goes so far. He ran into a wall; what do you think was the reason he hit the wall, if not lack of clarity in his thinking?

Oh, this on Jake Locker, from an Eagles fan site, just after Locker worked out for the Iggies...

The young quarterback is a tremendous athlete with good size at 6’3″ and 235 pounds. He’s built like a rock and he can run. Locker ran a 4.59 in the forty-yard dash at the NFL Combine and was still somewhat disappointed. He jumped 35 inches in the vertical jump broad jumped 9’7″.

If you check out some of his video highlights you will see him leave the pocket and make plays. When he stays in the pocket, he doesn’t look like an NFL quarterback. He looks uncomfortable, erratic and stressed. In his college highlights, once he gets outside of the pocket, he seemed to see the field better and do a much better job of making decisions.

This is troubling and the reason that he’s somewhat of a project. He may be fast for a quarterback, but he will get run down by NFL linebackers and defensive backs once he leaves the pocket in the Pros. Locker won’t be able to break contain and make guys miss in the NFL like he did in the college. He’ll be forced to stay in the pocket and make plays from there. ...

Former NFL Player Personnel Director Mike Lombardi, who is a analyst for the NFL Network, didnt’ give a glowing report of Locker.

“At the end of the day for me, I think when you watch Jake Locker, he’s a potential starter in the NFL,” Lombardi said. “That’s the most you can say at this point in his career. He’s a potential starter.”

Lombardi said that Locker is a third or fourth round type of prospect.

We shall see. I hope the best for this young man, who is now the face of the Titans.