Jurrell Casey is built like an 18-wheeler but plays like a sports car.
“He’s just going 100 miles per hour,” Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray says.
This is no tortoise-and-hare allegory, though. There is no choice as to which is best. No lesson in the power of patience, although it should be noted that the nickname “Tut-Tut,” bestowed on him when he was a small child by an aunt who thought he walked like a turtle, stays with him to this day.
With the 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle, you get both — a player who is a wide load capable of going the distance, as well as one who is quick off the line and zips through his assignments time after time after time.
The Long Beach, Calif., native did not wait to make his move to the NFL. He left the University of Southern California with one remaining season of eligibility, and the Titans did not hesitate to draft him — they took him in the third round (77th overall) of the 2011 draft, the first of three defensive linemen they selected that year.
“Don’t let the body fool you,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “There’s no doubt he’s a great athlete. … Naturally strong, and he’s faster than what you think. He is a very unique athlete. The only thing is everybody looks at the body type because of what we see and the image of what we think people should look like. The guy’s a player. That’s what I like about him.”
When Gray was hired to run the defense following the 2010 season, one of his top priorities was to change the way the defensive line and linebackers played and looked. He wanted more size up front, particularly in the middle, so the defensive tackles could occupy two blockers at once.
In that regard, Casey was exactly what he was looking for.
It is meant to be a relatively thankless task. In occupying a gap rather than attempting to beat a single blocker, Casey and the Titans’ other tackles allow the linebackers to run free and make tackles.
“Of course you want to keep an eye on the ball, and if you can make the play, you do it,” Casey said. “But it’s a one-gap system. We want to take on double-teams and make sure those guys can’t get to our linebackers. It’s not frustrating. It’s our job.”
Increasingly, he has made plays himself.
He made a career-high nine tackles in Week 3 against Detroit, the last of those when he stopped Lions quarterback Shaun Hill on a quarterback sneak in overtime to end the game and seal Tennessee’s first victory after a pair of emphatic defeats. The following week at Houston he made two tackles for losses for the first time in his career — once on a third-and-1 — and stopped two other third-and-1 rushing attempts for no gain.
“This guy makes plays,” Rocker said. “We are definitely a one-gap system, but we don’t ask them to stand there and just be a bump on a log. The guy is active. He’s all over the place.
“At times, he’s like, ‘I’ll go play cornerback.’ Those are the things that are unique about him. … He’d play every position out here if you’d let him.”
He’d also play every snap, if allowed.
As the Titans rotate their defensive linemen throughout a game, Karl Klug is seen more as a practitioner of the pass rush and Sen’Derrick Marks is more of a run stuffer. Casey plays in all situations, as evidenced by the fact that he led the team’s defensive linemen with 74 tackles last season and added two-and-a-half sacks with nine quarterback pressures.
He was on the field for more than three-quarters of the defensive snaps in the Week 4 loss to Houston.
“He can go four quarters and can be an all-down defensive lineman, which is huge for us,” middle linebacker Colin McCarthy said. “I think as the game goes on, he wears down the offensive linemen.
“I think the thing he has is that he’s quick — he’s quick off the line, able to shoot gaps, able to make plays. … Sometimes we even ask him to drop back in coverages, and athletically, he’s able to do that.”
He says he’s “a pretty good dancer” to boot.
“Casey understands,” Gray said. “He played on a high level in college [and] he understands how to compete at a high level. That’s what we expect out of him here, and he’s not disappointed us at all.”