During the 2010 season, the Tennessee Titans ranked 26th out of 32 teams in total defense.
They took a step toward fixing that problem over the weekend when they drafted six players on the defensive side of the ball, including four on Saturday during the last four rounds of the 2011 NFL draft.
“I think we did a good job of trying to address certain areas of need,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “I think if you look at the defensive line and the linebackers, we have been able to fill some of those holes. So it does take some of the pressure off from free agency… I think you got some guys that can impact the defense right away.”
In breaking down the defensive selections, the Titans drafted three defensive linemen, two linebackers and a cornerback.
“We not only got three defensive linemen but we got guys that fit what we want upfront,” Titans head coach Mike Munchak said. “We wanted to get bigger and we did get bigger.”
When the lockout ends, Reinfeldt said the focus will turn to signing a veteran quarterback, interior defensive lineman, a safety and a tight end out of free agency.
The Titans final six picks include linebacker Colin McCarthy (Miami, fourth round, 109th overall); running back Jamie Harper (Clemson, fourth round, 140th); defensive tackle Karl Klug (Iowa, fifth round, 142th); offensive tackle Byron Stingily (Louisville, sixth round, 175th); defensive tackle Zach Clayton (Auburn, seventh round, 212th); cornerback Tommie Campbell (California University of Pennsylvania, seventh round, 251st).
* Colin McCarthy: 6-1, 238 pounds, linebacker.
He had a team-high 102 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery last fall for Miami, earning All-ACC honorable mention honors from the league coaches. He started 35 games in his career, including 20 at strong-side outside linebacker and 11 at middle linebacker.
“I’m an all-round linebacker that can play all those positions,” McCarthy said. “I’m a football player that gets to the ball and makes plays and makes things happen.”
The Titans might use him at both positions, along with special teams. He is the second linebacker taken by the Titans after they took Akeem Ayers out of UCLA on Friday. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who has the same agent (Drew Rosenhaus) as McCarthy, will be at least a restricted free agent when the lockout ends and the Titans could part ways with him after five seasons. Plus, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon will be entering his 11th NFL season.
“I wouldn’t say [the current linebackers should] be on guard, but [ready for] competition,” defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said. “If you want to compete against the guys in this division and win it, you have to compete at home. That’s what we are trying to do is to make our guys better when you practice and when you get a chance to play against the Peyton Mannings and those guys.”
* Jamie Harper: 5-11, 233 pounds, running back.
In 2010, Harper was part of a tandem in the backfield at Clemson with Andre Ellington. Harper played in all 13 games, starting seven, and rushed for 760 yards and seven touchdowns. He was clocked at 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day at Clemson.
Asked if he could beat Titans running back Chris Johnson in a race, he said: “I won’t back down from no challenge but I ain’t stupid either.”
His build allows him to play fullback – he was rated as the best at the position by Rivals.com coming out of high school – and Harper says he is open to it. But the Titans hope to use him as a complement to the 5-11, 191-pound Johnson.
“I think you got to have a one-two punch in there because the position is so demanding physically on a guy,” Titans running backs coach Jim Skipper said. “You want to keep people fresh so that every time you look up, you keep pressure on the defense. It is kind of like comparing a racecar driver when they come into the pit stop and switch tires – brand new tires on… He’s got a good combination of size and athletic ability so that is a pretty good one-two punch to have.
* Karl Klug: 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, defensive tackle
Klug earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 5.5 sacks and 57 tackles for Iowa last fall. He also had five quarterback hurries and three interceptions.
A hamstring injury kept him from working out at the NFL Combine but he said he is at 100 percent now. He has suffered injuries before – sitting out the first 10 games of the 2007 season with a toe injury and undergoing back surgery.
As far as his hopes of the draft: “I was hoping for the best but expecting the worse. I was actually expecting not to be drafted. It was definitely a huge relief to hear my name called.”
Titans college scout Johnny Meads said his effort is comparable to former Titan and current Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. Munchak called him a “nuisance” to opposing offensive linemen.
“I remember my defensive coordinator here at Iowa,” Klug said. “I took it as a compliment when he said, ‘Klug remember the reason why you’re here, you’re here because of your high motor, not because of your skill set.’”
* Byron Stingily: 6-foot-3, 313 pounds, offensive tackle
Stingily started 23 games in the last two seasons at left tackle for Louisville. The Cardinals’ offensive line allowed just 17 sacks last year.
He was one of 30 players visited the Titans’ practice facility during the offseason. He also spent two months training at D-1 Sports Training Complex in Franklin. He said for three days a week, former Titans offensive lineman Brad Hopkins conditioned with him.
“He’s someone I hung out with and that I was close to when I was down there,” Stingily said. “He played a big part in helping me get my position work while I was down there.”
* Zach Clayton: 6-foot-2, 299 pounds, defensive tackle
Clayton started all 14 games during Auburn’s national championship season, totaling 28 tackles with eight for loss. This came after he missed seven games in 2009 because of an injury. His lone sack during the 2010 season came in the national title game against Oregon. It was his first since 2008 – when he accumulated 4.5 sacks. For his career, he had 65 total tackles and 17 for loss.
He will be reunited with Tracy Rocker, who will be in his first year as the Titans’ defensive line coach. He spent the last two years at the same position at Auburn.
"I’m extremely excited to be able to work for him again,” Clayton said. “I love his coaching style and I love the way he represents himself on and off the field. I was kind of in disbelief at the time [when the Titans called him] because it seems like a fairly tale to be able to play for Coach Rocker again at this moment.”
* Tommie Campbell: 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, cornerback
Campbell played the 2010 season at Division II California University of Pennsylvania and posted 29 tackles and two interceptions. He played in all 12 games but started just four due to a lingering hamstring injury he suffered last summer.
Campbell was clocked at 4.31 and 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Cactus Bowl – a Division II All-Star game – in January. With that speed, he said he could be called a diamond in the rough.
“When you get here so late in the seventh [round], corners with that kind of size and speed they are hard to find,” Vice President of Player Personnel Ruston Webster said. “Without any free agency [because of the lockout] it was the time to take a flyer. We had a couple guys we were talking about but we felt comfortable taking that flyer. Our scout [Richard Shelton] had a conviction on him and spent some time with him and talked to him. That is what you do late in the rounds – you listen to your scouts.”
Campbell has played at three different schools, beginning at Pittsburgh (2005-06) before withdrawing because he ran into trouble with keeping up his grades. He then played a season at Division II Edinboro (Pa.) before more academic trouble cut his time there short.
So he spent six months working as a janitor at Pittsburgh International Airport before receiving interest from California.
He has two children – 1 and 5 years old – and knows this could be his one chance at the NFL.
“My five-year-old looks up to me. So there is a lot of pressure [to succeed]. So everything I do he emulates,” Campbell said. “I just to have go in and do whatever [the Titans] ask me to do, man. That is the best answer I can give you but that is what I have to do.”
• The Titans’ second-round pick Akeem Ayers arrived in Nashville on Saturday morning from his hometown of Los Angeles.
Ayers, a linebacker out of UCLA, was in New York just 24 hours before that. He was there for the opening round of the draft at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night. But he wasn’t picked on the first day and had his flight booked for Friday morning. So he left and as soon as he landed back in Los Angeles he received a call from the Titans.
He flew in to meet with the media and visit with team officials. Due to the lockout, which became active again on Friday, drafted players and coaches could only talk until the draft concluded. Ayers was going to stay in Nashville on Saturday night and then head back west on Sunday morning.
“A lot of miles,” Ayers said. “It was hectic, exciting, emotional, especially being in New York and not getting your name called. Then you are flying back home and then as soon as you land that is one of the first calls you get. You know you had a lot of emotions in the past 48 hours but it has definitely been an exciting time for me.”
• Ayers is the third UCLA product on the Titans’ roster. He joins cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive end Dave Ball. Ayers said Verner, his former teammate, texted him on Saturday.
“He told me I would love it here and tell everyone [at Baptist Sports Park] that he said hi,” Ayers said. “He is a great mentor. He is a great person overall. If I have any questions, I’m sure he’ll lead me down the right path… He is very dependable and knowing that I have him here is going to help me a lot.”
• Clayton said his hometown of Opelika, Ala., was not hit by the deadly tornadoes that killed a reported 249 in Alabama. Opelika is more than 160 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa, which was devastated by the storm. Clayton said his finance’s parents, who live in Huntsville, have been staying at his family’s home in Opelika for the last three days because they are without power.
• Campbell is from Aliquippa, Pa., which is the hometown of former NFL cornerback Ty Law. Campbell also played high school football with current Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and they were also teammates at Pittsburgh.
• For the first time since 1998, the Titans didn’t have a single pick affected by a trade.
• The agent of three of the newest Titans – defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (third round out of Auburn), McCarthy and Harper – is the visible, vocal and infamous Drew Rosenhaus.