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.”