Snap decision: Titans' defensive linemen thrive in short bursts

Monday, October 25, 2010 at 10:45pm
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Defensive tackles Jason Jones (91) and Tony Brown (97) are part of the Titans’ defensive line rotation that gives players a rest every four or five plays.

None of the Tennessee Titans’ defensive linemen will be confused with the Energizer Bunny. It’s by design that none of them keep going and going and going.

That doesn’t mean they can’t put a charge into the entire team.

Powered by a seemingly subtle change in the makeup of the game day roster as compared with recent seasons, the Titans’ defensive front has been a difference maker right from the opening week of the season.

“We usually have had seven defensive linemen [active],” defensive line coach Jim Washburn said. “I told [Jeff Fisher] there was a chance we could really show if we had two full groups. … In the past, if we kept an eighth guy active, Jeff wanted to know how many snaps he played. If the guy played 12 snaps, the next week we’d be back to seven, which I totally understand because when you keep eight defensive linemen up you’re light somewhere else.

“So I’ve tried to make sure everybody is playing.”

The solution was simple. Divide the eight into two groups of four. The first group goes in for four or five plays and then comes out, and the second group goes in for the next four or five plays.

The only thing Washburn asks of his players in return is to go all out for every snap when they’re on the field.

“It’s real hard to play every play full speed as [if it were] your last,” defensive tackle Jovan Haye said. “That’s virtually impossible. You hear about guys with motors? Well, sometimes motors stall.

“But with a true eight-man rotation … if you can go in there for three or four plays at a time, you can give all you got because you know … you’re not just stuck in there 10 straight plays. That’s what I think makes this defensive line and this defense so special.”

There are exceptions. Defensive tackle Jason Jones, for example, stays in more on passing downs because of his exceptional pass rush skills.

Washburn noted, though, that in one game earlier this season all four defensive ends finished with the exact same number of snaps played.

“I’ve been in systems where they said that’s what we were going to do,” defensive end Jason Babin, a seven-year veteran who is with his fifth different team, said. “This is the only one that’s truly done it, and I think it speaks volumes — the success we’ve had — of how well it works.”

Following last Monday’s victory at Jacksonville, the Titans led the NFL with 24 sacks. Of those, 19 had come from defensive linemen, which was more than the overall total of all but three NFL teams.

Babin and fellow defensive end Dave Ball each already had established their career-highs with six and five, respectively. Both were in the league’s top 10 individually, which made the Titans one of two teams (San Diego was the other) with more than one in that group.

Babin was the only defensive lineman among the Titans’ top five in tackles.

“I’ve never been where you have eight guys up on game day and then you roll all eight guys to do what they’re good at,” Haye, who has played with three teams in six NFL seasons, said. “All eight can play … so it’s a special situation.”

All it takes is the ability to count to four.

“It’s pretty easy — you’re in four; you’re out four,” Washburn said. “I don’t know why you can’t go full speed, and it doesn’t make sense why you wouldn’t.

“I think they’ve done a good job with that. … I just hope we’ll keep getting better and better.”