Jerry Gray is not sure whether or not 20 plays are worth one step.
The Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator sure wants to find out, though.
Gray hopes that increased depth and size along the defensive line allows Derrick Morgan, the franchise’s 2010 first-round draft pick, to rest a little more on run downs. Then, the theory holds, Morgan might have the burst needed to get an opposing quarterback to the ground rather than just get to that quarterback as the ball is delivered.
“I thought he had his best year last year,” Gray said. “But you look at Morgan … fighting these guys on first and second down and then [he] has to go rush the passer. That takes a toll for 65 plays. So if we can spare him 20, 25 plays and now get after the passer that’s only going to make us a better defense.”
Last fall, for the first time in his career Morgan played — and started — every game and finished with team-highs of 6.5 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures. Three times, he led or tied for the team lead in games. Seven times he led or tied for the team lead in quarterback pressures.
Only once since 1999 has a player led the Titans in sacks with six or fewer. That was Kevin Carter, who had six in 2004.
“My college coach always used to say, ‘We want sacks not pressures,’ ” Morgan said. “Anyway we can disrupt the passer, that’s part of our job. That’s a big thing [senior assistant/defense] Gregg [Williams] has been talking about all offseason. We want to disrupt the passer and — when we can — get sacks.”
His quarterback pressures outnumbered his sacks by a margin of nearly three to one. Traditionally, the Titans’ best pass rushers have had no more than twice as many pressures as sacks.
When Jevon Kearse set n NFL rookie record with 14.5 sacks in 1999, he had 18 pressures. Kyle Vanden Bosch had 12 sacks and 24 pressures in 2007, 12.5 sacks and 15 pressures two years earlier. In 2010 Jason Babin had 12.5 sacks with 18 pressures.
It didn’t help Morgan, though, that he often was on the field for the vast majority of defensive snaps. The final three games he got at least 79 percent of the plays, including 69 of 68 (88 percent) against the New York Jets or 60 of 64 (94 percent) in the first of two games against Jacksonville.
The hope is that converted defensive tackle Karl Klug (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) and free agent Ropati Pitoitua (6-8, 315) have the size and strength to hold up on run downs and allow Morgan an occasional rest so that he can be better on passing downs.
“It’s a lot of variables,” Morgan said. “Sometimes it’s technique. Sometimes it’s coverage — coverage and pass rushing go hand-in-hand. … It’s a lot of different variables, but they’re excuses in my opinion. We have to get there and get to the quarterback.”
Going to the sideline from time to time just might allow him to do so.