Cam Newton is the exception.
There’s a reason that the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was the first overall pick in April’s draft. It has to do with the fact that he single-handedly can transform an offense, just as he did in his one season as Auburn’s quarterback.
Most need a little help.
If their 30-3 victory Sunday over Newton and his Carolina Panthers was any indication, the Tennessee Titans added roughly as much – if not more – to their defense with this year’s rookies as Carolina got for its offense.
No one player did it on his own. Yet it was impossible to overlook the contributions of defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy – all members of the Titans’ 2011 draft class – as Newton was held to one of his more pedestrian performances as a professional.
McCarthy made the first start of his career in place of injured Barrett Ruud and was credited with a team-high eight tackles. Casey, already the leader in tackles among the team’s defensive linemen, added three to his total. Ayers had a sack and made six stops, and Klug was credited with two tackles. (Note: All defensive stats are unofficial pending review of game film by Titans coaches).
Additionally, all four, selected between the second and fifth rounds, were credited with one tackle for a loss, which accounted for half of the team’s total. Three of the four got a hit on Newton, and Ayers recovered a fumble that ended the Panthers’ longest drive and deepest venture into Tennessee territory.
Those are impact plays.
All told, it’s a heaping helping of statistics from guys who this time a year ago were worried about final exams.
More importantly, for the first time this fall the numbers of Newton and his teammates did not add up to much.
• Coming into the game the Panthers already had more touchdowns (21) this season than in all of 2010 (17) and Newton played a direct part in 18 with 11 touchdown passes and seven touchdown runs. Carolina never got to the end zone in this one.
• Panthers veteran receiver Steve Smith has experienced a career renaissance with Newton and was second in the NFL with 918 receiving yards before Sunday. He added just 33 (his second lowest total of the year) to that figure, which was due in large part to the pressure the Titans got from their young defensive linemen and linebackers.
• Carolina was first in the NFL with 47 plays of 20 yards or more through the first eight games (an average of nearly six per contest) but got just two against Tennessee – a 21-yard run by DeAngelo Williams and a 26-yard scamper by Newton. By the way, McCarthy and Ayers, respectively, made the tackles on those to plays and kept them from being even longer gains.
None of this is by accident, of course.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, the Titans set out to transform (there’s that word again) the front of their defense.
They wanted to get bigger on the line and at linebacker and they knew they needed more than one person to do so. Four of the top six draft picks -- the aforementioned four, to be exact – and six of nine overall were defensive players.
Sure, their first choice was quarterback Jake Locker, but it was the Titans’ decision to have veteran free agent Matt Hasselbeck make over the offense and make it suitable for Locker eventually to run.
The defense, however, could not wait. And it’s not like it was a one-man job.
Sunday, the young guys undeniably got the job done.