AKEEM AYERS, Linebacker
Along with adjustments to its offensive scheme, Tennessee is tweaking its 4--3 defense, in which the team has traditionally aligned the defensive ends as far to the outside as possible to create more space to beat blockers. The strategy has produced a decent number of sacks (40 in 2010, eighth in the league) but has backfired against the run (115.7 yards per game last season, 20th).
First-year coordinator Jerry Gray has moved his ends closer to the tackles, which will tighten the interior and funnel more action to the linebackers. "We all want to sack the quarterback, I understand that," says defensive line coach Tracy Rocker. "I'm trying to make sure we're better in terms of pushing the pocket and taking passing lanes away."
It's nothing, says rookie linebacker Akeem Ayers, that he can't handle. The 6'2", 254-pound Ayers, who amassed 183 tackles (29½ of them for losses) and 14 sacks in three seasons at UCLA, is not the speediest linebacker; he clocks in the 4.8 40 range, which partly explains why he fell to the 39th overall pick. But his size gives the Titans a defensive end--type body that can tie up blockers. "We know guys aren't going to try and run over him because most guys aren't as strong as he is," Gray says. "What he's got to do is get mentally prepared because offenses are going to try and trick him."