Jerry Gray believes it takes big guys to limit an offense to small gains.
“Those big guys have a role in this league, the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator said. “You have to be able to be physical up front. You have to have a presence to stop the run, and we went out and got some really big guys.”
This offseason’s additions of veteran free agents Sammie Hill (6-foot-4, 329 pounds) and Antonio Johnson (6-3, 310) actually completed a process on which the franchise embarked two years ago, when coach Mike Munchak made Gray one of his first hires.
With the start of training camp roughly two months away, the current roster includes eight defensive tackles. Seven of them are 299 pounds or more topped by Hill and including Canadian college product Stefan Charles (6-5, 302), the only other newcomer to the group.
All of them have come to the Titans since the end of the 2010 season – three through the draft, two as veteran free agents and two others as undrafted free agents.
In 2010, Jeff Fisher’s last season as head coach, the heaviest of the five defensive tackles on the roster at the end of the season was 294-pound Sen’Derrick Marks, who signed with Jacksonville as a free agent this offseason. That group included Jovan Haye (277 pounds) and Jason Jones (276).
Tony Brown, who started 11 games that season, was listed at 305 pounds. He finished the year on injured reserve and was not re-signed.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan was Tennessee’s first-round pick in 2010.
At 278 pounds, he was indistinguishable from those who lined up next to him. Not anymore.
“It makes my job a little easier when they get that push up the middle,” Morgan said. “We have good depth so we can keep guys fresh also.”
The first attempt to add the desired beef was free agent Shaun Smith (6-2, 325), who started just six games in 2011 and was released late in last year’s training camp.
That same year the Titans drafted Jurrell Casey (6-1, 300) and Zach Clayton (6-2, 299). Last year’s team included two rookies, third-round pick Mike Martin (6-1, 306) and free agent DaJohn Harris (6-4, 310).
Tennessee ranked 24th in run defense both seasons. It allowed 2,053 yards in 2011 and 2,035 last season, the first time since 1985 and 1986 it allowed more than 2,000 rushing yards in consecutive years.
“First year we got in and we needed big guys to help stop the run,” Gray said. “That was the one thing we were looking at. … This year we brought in some more big guys.
“… Now your little guys get a chance to play. If your big guys can’t stop the run then the little guys have to stop it and you’re going to be in trouble trying to do that. I thought we did a pretty good job of bringing in some big guys.”
• Briefly: Quarterback Jake Locker, guard Chance Warmack, safety Michael Griffin, cornerback Alterraun Verner, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, guard Andy Levitre, center Chris Spencer, wide receiver Justin Hunter and tight end Delanie Walker along with former Titans and current members of the coaching staff will participate in Mike Munchak’s ‘Strikes to Stop Diabetes’ celebrity bowling event, June 13 at Hillwood Strike and Spare Family Fun Center.
The celebrities will be added to four-person teams and will rotate to different teams for each of three games.
Teams of four are available for $1,200. For information, contact Kristie P. Ryan at (615) 298-3066 (extension 3335) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.