Titans Position Analysis: DE

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There’s good news and bad news about the Titans’ defensive ends this year. The good news is the two starting spots will be manned by veteran Pro Bowlers. The bad news is after that, the depth is a serious question mark. Of the five men competing for jobs as backups, only two have any NFL experience, and not much at that.
D-line coach Jim Washburn likes all of these guys from what I’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean much. None of these guys would be here in the first place if Wash didn’t like them. All it means is that Wash will have to cut a couple of guys he likes.
Kyle Vanden Bosch — He’ll start on the right side again this year and it’s imperative that he remains healthy. KVB was a regular ironman last year, being on the field for over 90% of the defensive downs. He’s so well-conditioned, it should be rare when he’ll have to take a breather, which will allow the third DE on gamedays to spend most of his time rotating on the other side.
Jevon Kearse — The Freak says he wants to be considered as an every down player but I’d be surprised if DC Jim Schwartz lets him on the field for more than 50 snaps a game, if that. He’s far too valuable to risk wearing him down as the season progresses. One thing I’d love to see on occasion is Kearse switching ends with KVB for a play or two, just to see what happens.
The rest of the group will be competing for the third, and possibly fourth, roster spots.
Dave Ball — In three years with the Chargers and Jets he appeared in 21 games with no starts. He’s drawn some comparison to KVB for his hustle, but of course he doesn’t have KVB’s motor. His main advantage over the others should be his ability against the run.
Sean Conover — Played in 11 games with two starts as an injury replacement for Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy. This is his third year with the Titans and they should know by now what they can expect from him. I imagine he’s already shown them the best they can expect to get from him, which means he doesn’t have much upside.
Jacob Ford — A sixth-round draft pick in 2007, he suffered an Achilles injury early in training camp last year, so he’s basically still a rookie. Ford was the second fastest DE in last year’s draft so it’s easy to see why he’s characterized as a one-dimensional speed rusher. There have been mainstream media reports that said he looked good in drills in OTAs and minicamps earlier this year, but that’s what you’d expect from him without the pads on. I hope he can bulk up some without losing any quickness. He appears to have completely recovered from his injury, as he is displaying great quickness in training camp.
William Hayes — Selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft, he’s another project for Jim Washburn. It will help his chances immensely if he proves he can be stout against the run. After the draft, Jeff Fisher predicted that during training camp Hayes would be referring to David Stewart as “Mr. Stewart.” I like Hayes’ potential, but it may take him a while to realize it.
Ulrich Winkler — The Titans received a NFL Europa exemption to keep him on the practice squad last year. The NFLE is now defunct and Winkler will no longer have that exemption to keep him on the team. Winkler injured his knee in practice this afternoon, which was the last thing he needed. He shouldn’t make it past the August 26 cutdown to 75 players.
The Titans normally keep four defensive ends on the roster but if Vanden Bosch remains healthy, the fourth will be a gameday inactive, with the third rotating with Kearse.
I’ll rate the others’ chances of making the team in the following order:
1) Hayes
2) Ball
3) Ford
4) Conover
5) Winkler
Hayes has the most upside and he and Ball should be the best against the run. It’s probably too early to give up on Ford and if cut, he can probably pass waivers and end up on the practice squad. Conover will need to have a great camp and preseason to make the team. I rate Winkler’s chances at close to nil.
You may have noticed that I wrote “third, and possibly fourth, roster spots” above. That’s due to two things — first, the lack of a need to replace KVB on many plays, and second, the presence of Jason Jones, the Titans second-round draft pick this year. He’s actually listed on the roster as a DE, although he’s spent virtually all his time at DT so far. Still, he has the ability to move outside and may be used there in a pinch. I only mention that as an option the Titans have and I expect they will probably keep four DEs as usual.

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5 Responses to “Titans Position Analysis: DE”

  1. Scott Says:

    I think you have the list of DEs in the right order. It is possible, however, that Ford could overtake Ball, if the local media reports on Ford turn out to be accurate. My concern about Ford is his weight. He is listed on the Titans website as 254, which makes him appear to be a situational pass rusher in the mold of Travis Laboy. I thought that Kearse’s role in the defence was situational pass rusher. How many of those do we need?

  2. Andrew Strickert Says:

    I agree with you, Scott, that the Titans already have a few pass rushers at DE. That’s why I believe Hayes or Ball have the best chance to make the team as a reserve, to be a situational player on running downs.
    Garland, I didn’t get a chance to read your comment before going to the morning practice. Sorry I missed you. If I’m able to get away for the afternoon practice, I’ll look for you and say Hi.

  3. Garland Says:

    See you at camp today. I’m in a red 90 jersey.

  4. Garland Says:

    Jacob Ford ran with the first team after Kearse was injured today, so it looks like the team has him ahead of Hayes and Ball.

  5. Garland Says:

    Jacob Ford was running with the first team today after Kearse injured his foot, so it looks like the team may have him standing in the third position right now. Or perhaps he is the one most like Kearse and that’s why he was filling in for him.

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