How the Titans plan to find nose-tackle production inexpensively

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans' best front four has been reformulated, and there is cause for optimism about Bud Dupree, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Harold Landry as a group.

But as with Jonnu Smith, the Titans didn’t make a move to replace DaQuan Jones, who played a lot of snaps on the defensive line over his seven years with the franchise.

Teair Tart, Nose Tackle Tennssee Titans

I think you’ll be surprised at just how often the Titans had three linemen on the field in 2020.

Even if they are in nickel more often or if their front multiplicity leads to less use of three-linemen, there are snaps to be filled.  The candidates to take them are either inexperienced or unproven or were on the street not long ago.

The Titans ran 1,076 defensive plays last year and 582 of them – 54 percent – included three defensive linemen.

DaQuan Jones was really the second defensive lineman, playing nose in base and alongside Jeffery Simmons in nickel. Now it will be Simmons and Autry in base.

Teair Tart (pictured) was undrafted out of Florida International in 2020 and grew into a guy who had some impressive snaps in seven games after no real offseason and no preseason games to start out with because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

“With Tart, he wouldn’t be here if we didn’t see the talent in the guy,” Terrell Williams said. “Really the biggest thing for me is seeing him continue to develop from the strength standpoint, from a learning standpoint.

“He’s another guy that I am really excited about to see what he does in training camp. He’s had really a good off-season program. When he did get in there a year ago I thought he did some really good things. So, I am really excited about him.”

The Titans signed Abry Jones on June 3, a late addition who brings eight years of experience from Jacksonville to the position. Naquan Jones from Michigan State was undrafted. The rookie got $45,000 to sign.

They are the top three options to play between Autry and Simmons.

DaQuan Jones was a solid player in the spot, but he was much more of a run player than a pass rusher. It’s primarily a run-down spot, but run-downs are less and less defined and as the position turns over the Titans certainly hope to get more interior push that helps collapse the pocket and makes the quarterback move laterally.

A few sacks out of the nose tackle would be great, but solid run-stuffing and good work that helps make the QB shift into outside pressure could be a significant part of helping transform the anemic pass rush.

The Titans haven't invested in the spot.

DaQuan Jones made $7 million in 2020. Tart (6-foot-2, 304 pounds), Abry Jones (6-4, 318) and Naquan Jones (6-3, 313) are slated to make $2.515 million between them in 2021.

apple icon 144x144 precomposedThe savings helped allow for a reallocation of resources to premium positions and the Titans are acknowledging nose tackle is not a premium, high-priced spot. It's not a full-time role. 

DaQuan Jones was a steady player and a captain in his final season as a Titan. He landed in Carolina as a free agent.

It's reasonable to think the new options can match or surpass his 2020 production: 49 tackles with six for a loss, two sacks, 10 pressures and a forced fumble.

But Tart and Naquan Jones are a long way from proven and reliable and Abry Jones was available in June for a reason.

Williams and Shane Bowen have work to do to get those guys ready, sort through them and make sure the Titans don't have a hole in the middle of their defense against Arizona on Sept. 12.

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