It has become a pigskin version of the chicken and the egg.
Were the Tennessee Titans patient with some of their injured defensive linemen because they knew they had an unusual amount of depth at that spot? Or did they discover just how much depth they had because they kept injured players out of action?
Either way, the defensive front has, in fact, been a revelation thus far in the preseason as the Titans have yet to allow a rushing touchdown and have yielded just 10 rushing first downs and an average of 3.0 yards per carry through three contests.
Likewise, it’s no secret that the Titans were in no rush to bolster their pass rush.
The latest bit of proof came Tuesday when Tony Brown finally was activated from the physically unable to perform list, where he had been since the start of training camp. The veteran defensive tackle practiced for the first time since he sustained a knee injury late last season and declared himself ready to go for Thursday’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints (7 p.m., LP Field).
“It was actually last week they told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to get out there and do some things,’” Brown said following the workout. “I was excited. I was kind of anxious, but I didn’t tell nobody.
“It felt good to get out there. I’ve been telling y’all I’ve been waiting on the boss to tell me what to do. So I’m good. It felt good to get out there with my teammates.”
Brown is one of two presumed starters on the defensive front who has yet to play in the preseason. Defensive end William Hayes also has been out with a knee injury he sustained early in camp.
Additionally, defensive end Jacob Ford has missed one game and has been slowed in another, and first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan sat out virtually all of training camp and the first two preseason contests with calf and ankle issues.
“(Other defensive linemen) … were actually saying. ‘Don’t rush back,’” Morgan said. “They know I would have probably been back out there as soon as I can, if it was up to me. They were just saying to kind of take the time and make sure it’s right … for the regular season.”
As that group worked to get healthy, another group, including tackle Jason Jones, who missed the second half of last season with a shoulder injury, free agent end Jason Babin, a former first-round pick of the Houston Texans, and second-year tackle Sen’Derrick Marks got extensive work in practice and in the games. Dave Ball started the last two games at defensive end, which is half the number of regular-season starts he has made in a five-year NFL career.
On Sunday, a day after the Titans’ 15-7 loss at Carolina, coach Jeff Fisher said the defensive line was “a little tired.”
Yet even with at least half the starters up front missing, Tennessee still has not allowed a point in the first quarter of any of its preseason games.
“It’s going to be interesting up front,” Jones said. “… It feels like so many pieces to the D-line are interchangeable. I can’t wait to see us at full tilt.”
They will be a little closer when they play the Saints.
“I’m ready; I’ll be out there Thursday,” Brown said. “I don’t know how long I’ll play and it don’t even matter to me. I can play as long as they need me to. I’m just excited to be back out there running around, pain free, stress free. All that stuff’s in the past, and I’m just ready to roll.
“It has been (hard) considering the fact that I’ve been ready to roll for a while. At the same time, all I can do is follow what they tell me to do. But I’m out there right now.”