Titans get defensive in draft, ship off loud LenDale
Posted: Monday, April 26, 2010 6:42 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Titans got defensive in the 2010 NFL draft, and now they hope they plugged some very big holes.
They used six of their nine picks for a unit that was one of the league’s worst in 2009 and also took care of a very big problem on the final day by trading a talkative backup running back with issues. In the process, they got younger, faster and really smart with a Rhodes scholar and an Ivy Leaguer.
The Titans expect defensive end Derrick Morgan, the 16th pick overall, to help immediately. UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner will push for playing time quickly as well.
“Time will only tell how quickly they get on the field as regulars,” coach Jeff Fisher said Saturday after the draft concluded.
The focus on defense came because Tennessee parted ways with four starters from a unit that gave up more yards passing than all but Detroit in the NFL in 2009. The Titans also ranked 28th in total yards allowed per game and gave up 31 touchdown receptions. They only got 32 sacks.
With Vince Young and Chris Johnson on offense, that just won’t do for a team that finished 8-8 in 2009 and just missed a third straight playoff berth.
The Titans opened the draft picking Morgan, started the second day drafting Southern California receiver Damian Williams to provide an immediate boost to a woeful return game and concluded with Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran.
Tennessee opened the third and final day Saturday by trading LenDale White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson to Seattle all to move up seven spots in the fourth round from No. 111 to 104th overall and nine spots in the sixth so they could nab Verner to start the day.
“We just wanted to go get the player,” Fisher said.
They also drafted safety Robert Johnson of Utah (No. 148), Rhodes scholar and Florida State safety Myron Rolle with the final pick in the sixth round at No. 207 and defensive lineman David Howard of Brown from the Ivy League (No. 241).
But the biggest move came by subtraction through the trade.
White had 24 touchdowns in his four seasons here but struggled with being late and his weight. White’s best weight loss came in the 2009 offseason when he dropped more than 30 pounds to reach 228.
By then, it was too late. Johnson, the 24th pick overall in 2008, already had taken over as the starter and became only the sixth man in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards in 2009 as he ran 358 times for 2,006 yards.
Nobody wanted White for the second-round pick Tennessee tendered him at hoping to attract some interest, so he signed his tender on April 15. The Titans started shopping White on Friday and put together the deal with Seattle on Saturday morning with Verner with 13 career interceptions with four returned for TDs still on the board.
“It was time for both sides to kind of move on,” general manager Mike Reinfeldt said.
Fisher said Verner will compete immediately to fill the open starting slot at left cornerback. Nick Harper, the starter there the past three seasons who turns 36 in September, won’t be back. Verner will compete with free agent signee Tye Hill along with Rod Hood, Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty.
Tennessee didn’t replace White by drafting another running back. Reinfeldt said they were busy trying to sign up to 14 free agents. They also added a third offensive player, drafting Marc Mariani — a friend and former teammate of Fisher’s son, Brandon, at Montana.
The Titans already have Young, Kerry Collins and Chris Simms on the roster.
But they used their first pick in the sixth round — the one nine picks earlier thanks to the Seattle trade — on Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Smith visited with the Titans and impressed with his strong arm and his feet in the pocket, having played under the center most of his career.
Smith is very different from another quarterback at the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville — Tim Tebow, who’s facing questions on whether he can work under center after running the spread offense. Smith said he’s only spoken to Tebow 15 or 20 times.
“It’s a very, very, very big church,” Smith said.