Replacing Albert a tall order for young Titan defenders
Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008 4:32 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Meet Dave Ball, Jacob Ford, Jason Jones and William Hayes. Two rookies, a third playing in his first season and the other on his fourth NFL team.
Their mission? Keep the Tennessee Titans from missing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and end Kyle Vanden Bosch the rest of the regular season.
At least not too much.
“It’s going to be noticeable because we’re missing a 6-foot-6, 320-pound person on the interior line,” Ford said Wednesday. “What we’ve got to do is just work as hard as we can, play as fast as we can.”
Haynesworth sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee at the end of last week’s loss in Houston and will sit out the final two games. Vanden Bosch is out after having minor surgery to repair a groin injury, but both are expected back for the divisional round of the playoffs.
The timing isn’t good with the Titans (12-2) hosting Pittsburgh (11-3) on Sunday with home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs on the line.
Steelers receiver Hines Ward said it’s great that Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch will be out.
“That’s not to discredit the guys that are going to play this game. Those guys have some high motors and this is their opportunity to make a name for themselves. We’re not discrediting those guys that are backups, but definitely they’re a different ball club not having Haynesworth and the other guy in there as well,” Ward said.
Not having Haynesworth for three games because of a strained hamstring hurt Tennessee last season. The team lost each game and gave up an average of 160 yards rushing in each loss.
That’s why Tennessee concentrated on building depth in the defensive line in the offseason, bringing back veteran end Jevon Kearse and signing Ball, a free agent who spent 2007 out of football after stints with San Diego, the New York Jets and Carolina. They drafted tackle Jones in the second round from Eastern Michigan and added end Hayes in the fourth.
Ball and Ford each have started twice at right end in place of Vanden Bosch. Jones started at left tackle on Oct. 19 at Kansas City and has played in 11 games. Hayes has played in six.
“They’ll step up,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s no different here than any other place around the league, when you have stars go down, young players have to step up. Fortunately, we’re not putting players in that position that haven’t done it yet. Most of the guys have had the playing experience.”
Jones likely will start for Haynesworth. Starting tackle Tony Brown said Jones will be ready and called it a good test.
“I’m kind of glad this is happening like this. This is not saying we want those guys to be hurt. At the same time, it’ll show what this unit is about, the defensive line, what we can do in the future,” Brown said.
Haynesworth has been even more valuable this season on a defense that ranks second only to Pittsburgh in points allowed per game (14.1). He has a career-high 8 1/2 sacks despite being double-teamed most of the season.
But Ball has 4 1/2 sacks, while Ford is hot with all six of his sacks coming over the past seven games, tying him for ninth in the NFL during that span.
Ford, the Titans’ sixth-round draft pick in 2007 out of Central Arkansas, lost his rookie season to a torn Achilles tendon during training camp. An defensive end whose 40-yard dash at the 2007 combine was second-best at the position, Ford can’t explain his recent surge.
“I’m just taking advantage of my opportunities. I’ve been getting pretty decent stats all season. For some reason or another, I’m playing better,” he said.
Ball was practicing his pass rush moves on an empty high school field in California a year ago and had never had an NFL sack. The 6-5, 277-pound Ball showed he can slide inside and play tackle when needed on Oct. 5 in Baltimore when both Vanden Bosch and Haynesworth were out for a short time.
He said the Steelers feature a physical offensive line but he and the other younger players are ready.
“This isn’t like it’s going to be my first big-time game,” Ball said. “I’ve had a lot of time to adapt and get better, and I think I’ve done that.”