The next installment of our annual series of offseason positional analyses will focus on how the Tennessee Titans stack up at defensive end.
The winds of change that have taken place regarding the franchise as a whole are also impacting the DE position. With several guys in the rotation scheduled to become free agents if and when there's a new collective bargaining agreement, GM Mike Reinfeldt's recent statements regarding a shift in the type of defensive end the team is looking for and finally, the departure of DL coach Jim Washburn to Philly, it's reasonable to expect things to be a bit different at DE in 2011.
Will they stay or will they go?
Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford could all be playing their football elsewhere in 2011 as the trio of DEs will become free agents once the NFL labor situation is straightened out.
The biggest decision the team will face is whether or not they bring Jason Babin back into the fold. After underachieving through the majority of his career, the former first-rounder stepped up with a Pro Bowl performance in 2010, registering 13 sacks last year.
Once free agency begins, there's a good chance Babin could depart for financially greener pastures if the Titans aren't willing to pay what's expected to be a steep price to retain his services. Of course, Philadelphia could be a destination for Babin thanks to the arrival of former Titan DL coach Jim Washburn.
It shouldn't be that difficult to keep either Ball or Ford around. However, thanks to aforementioned shift in thinking when it comes to the type of player the team wants at DE, the importance of keeping the smaller Ball or Ford could be diminished.
The potential starters
If Babin leaves via free agency, that will leave Derrick Morgan and William Hayes as the team's starters at DE.
After showing some promise in limited action as a rookie, Morgan's season ended abruptly thanks to a knee injury. He displayed flashes of being a difference-maker prior to his injury and if he's able to stay healthy, Morgan is poised to emerge as a factor in 2011.
Hayes hasn't quite lived up to his "big plays" nickname but he's emerged as a solid player at DE. Hopefully, the big plays will come but if not, he's a more than servicable player in the team's DE rotation.
The rest of the bunch
Rounding out the team's depth at DE are youngsters Pannel Egboh, Hall Davis and Marcus Howard. Egboh's size (6'6", 287 lbs) fits the mold of the new type of Titans' DE but at this point, he's well-deserving of the camp fodder label. Davis is a former 5th round pick of the Rams in 2010 who has decent size but is also an unproven commodity. At a measly 6'0 and 244 lbs, Howard's going to have an uphill struggle making the team to say the least.
Depending on what happens with the trio of Babin, Ball and Ford, there's certainly a fighter's chance that we'll see a few new faces at DE in 2011.
While I'm not convinced that the team will spend a first-rounder on a DE, it's reasonable to expect the Titans to address the position in the following rounds. If they do, players such as Pernell McPhee, Allen Bailey and Pierre Allen could be names to monitor when the team is on the clock in the second, third and fourth rounds.
Another possible move that could take place isn't through a new player acquisition: it involves moving a current Titan over to a new position. Jason Jones has emerged as a pass-rushing talent at DT but with the team's new emphasis on size at DE, there's a chance that you could see Jones get a look or two at the position he played in college.
With Jones seeing time at DE, that would allow Sen'Derrick Marks and Tony Brown to hold down the fort at DT while also providing the team with the chance to add the likes of Marcell Dareus or possibly even Nick Fairley if the Titans pass on the opportunity to select a signal-caller with their 8th overall pick.
Any thoughts/opinions regarding the Titans' state of affairs at DE? As always, feel free to provide your always welcomed input below.