NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The Tennessee Titans are enjoying the difference that a year makes, especially on defense.
Twelve months ago, coordinator Ray Horton was busy installing his 3-4 scheme for a team that had played a 4-3 for years. The Titans went on to rank among the NFL's worst defenses.
Now they've had another offseason to study Horton's schemes, and Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau is now running the defense. They also added new players in free agency and the draft.
That combination has the Titans playing faster.
"A lot of guys are flying around out there. They know their assignments," defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said.
Cornerback Jason McCourty says the second year in this scheme is the biggest difference. Players know what they're doing and now can deceive offenses.
"When you're sitting there and the offense is walking to the line of scrimmage and you're thinking about what your assignment is, you don't have time to work the disguise," McCourty said. "Now guys kind of knowing the defense like the back of their hand, you're able to do more things and realize where you're supposed to disguise what looks you're trying to give the offense to execute the defense well."
The Titans ranked in the middle of the league in passing defense and sacks last season. But Tennessee was next to last in rushing defense, giving up 137.2 yards per game, and tied for 29th in giving up an average 27.3 points. The Titans allowed 373 yards per game, 27th in the NFL.
So coach Ken Whisenhunt convinced LeBeau to join him and Horton in Tennessee after he left Pittsburgh. LeBeau is in charge of the defense, though the schemes the Titans are running are what Horton installed last year. LeBeau is very active talking to defensive players before and after every snap, demanding that they communicate with each other.
"We tried to do that last year but didn't do a good enough job of it," Whisenhunt said. "So that's one of the things we knew we had to do better, and it's something coach LeBeau also believes in. I would agree I do think it is louder out here, and that's good."
The Titans also signed linebacker Brian Orakpo, safety Da'Norris Searcy and cornerback Perrish Cox. Orakpo has been limited to the team's walk-throughs as he recovers from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season.
Searcy, going into his fifth season, is much younger than the veterans he replaced in Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, and Cox brings experience to a position where the Titans started a second-year player in Blidi Wreh-Wilson opposite McCourty last season. Cox already has had his hands on a lot of balls during the Titans' organized team activities.
"We're very pleased with how he's progressing at that position," Whisenhunt said.
Safety Michael Griffin, the longest-tenured player with the Titans going into his ninth season, sees the free agents fitting in quickly too because of their experience in the league. Griffin played with Orakpo in college at Texas and has followed Cox's career since playing against him in the Big 12. So Griffin is convinced the Titans will be a better defense this season.
"I can bet my money on it," Griffin said. "This defense is going to be better going into Year 2."
Notes: Defensive tackle Sammie Hill said Wednesday that he has a sprained ACL and the plan is to rest and treat his knee to see how it heals. Hill hopes they won't have to do anything. Whisenhunt said the veteran will miss the rest of the offseason program to avoid taking any chances with Hill expected to be ready for training camp. Other Titans absent during Wednesday's open portion of the OTA included receiver Hakeem Nicks and tight end Taylor Thompson (personal reasons), running back Shonn Greene (who has not attended the OTAs), center Andy Gallik (hamstring) and guard Quinton Spain (knee).
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