After completing the offense with a look at the centers, we continue our trip around the Titans position by position as we head into the 2014 offseason with a look at the defensive tackles.
With Ray Horton at defensive coordinator, the first question for a DT positional analysis is a fundamental one that affects all the front seven positions: what the heck will a defensive tackle be in this new hybrid defense Horton will be installing? Will the Titans align with a traditional 4-3 look the way they've done the whole time they've been in Nashville? Horton's background is in Pittsburgh, so will the Titans run something more like a "traditional"/Fairbanks-Bullough/two-gap 3-4? Or will the Titans instead do something more like what Horton's defenses when he was the defensive coordinator in Arizona and Cleveland, when his teams looked something like Wade Phillips' Texans defenses with more stand-up rushers and formation versatility on third downs and in sub package situations?
We won't know for sure until we see a Ray Horton Titans defense line up on the field. I believe the best answer, though, is that Horton plans to run a defense that looks like the defenses he ran in Arizona and Cleveland, and not just because that's what he's coached. In response to a question about run defense at his hiring press conference, he noted no one would be responsible for more than one gap. He's repeatedly described. He has described multiple times his preference to be aggressive and bring pressure, if you can. Summarizing the 4-3 v. 3-4 simply in a radio appearance, he noted that in a 4-3 you know which four are rushing. In a 3-4, you don't. Maybe it's just me, but that sounds like 3-4 thought. Worth noting is that Horton's Pittsburgh roots also mean experience with Dick LeBeau and his use of the zone blitz as a way to create safe pressure. Horton's rush tendencies in Arizona looked pretty Pittsburgh-like, in the top quarter of teams rushing 5 and the bottom quarter rushing 4.
What does this mean in terms of mapping the Horton 3-4 onto the positional analysis concept? The basic problem I've been having in planning this series since Horton was hired is we just don't know how he'll handle things. Take, for example, Jurrell Casey. Casey last year lined up overwhelmingly at 3-tech and had an outstanding season. In what I've seen of Cleveland, a defensive end in Horton's 3-4 in base personnel would often line up in a 3-tech or 5-tech, depending on the strength of the formation, and it could be either one (he didn't flip sides like Wade tried to). Back when Casey came out of college, he was talked about as a potential nose tackle; Dave Razzano compared him to Michael Carter, a 3-4 Wade Texans D-like nose tackle. If I had to guess, Casey is a 3/5-tech DE, unless Horton decides he's much better as a pure 3-tech and manipulates the D look so Casey can line up as a 3-tech (see the Jets and Sheldon Richardson, maybe?). Horton has noted that the configuration of players is less important, what's more important is the personnel on the field. That just opens up a boatload of possibilities.
Frankly, just writing that paragraph and trying to think it through gave me a headache. If it did that, it probably does the same to readers, or at least makes their eyes glaze over. "Mapping the Titans' defensive personnel onto a Ray Horton defense" is a good deep offseason project I could easily spend a week's worth of posts on if I cared to. Consider that on the to-do list for when I have the time and inclination to watch a couple games worth of 2013 Browns defense in sufficient detail and the energy to think seriously about trait-mapping Titans defenders to that. Right now, though, I'm just trying to give an overview perspective of how Titans defenders fared in 2013 and to give a very macro, non-specific perspective of their potential 2014 role. With that in mind, I will just talk about players based on the position they played in 2013's defense.