Titans' pass rush showing signs of improvement

Associated Press  |  Last updated August 25, 2012
Titans safety Michael Griffin says Tennessee's defense did a ''pretty good job'' in their big tuneup for the regular season. He is being a bit modest. The Titans finished their third preseason game with four sacks, helped force five turnovers, had eight tackles for loss and 10 hits on quarterbacks. Their performance had coach Mike Munchak using words like ''awesome'' and ''dominated'' and a little worried for Arizona's quarterbacks in a 32-27 win Thursday night. Now if the Titans can carry this stifling defense into the regular season, they will have accomplished their biggest offseason mission of creating a pass rush after having only 28 sacks last season. ''The main thing going into the season is being more consistent, trying to create turnovers, and that's the main objective going into the season,'' Griffin said. The Titans ranked eighth in points allowed in the NFL in 2011 in Munchak's first season along with defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. But Tennessee also ranked next to last in the league after managing just 28 sacks, and they also tied for 24th with 11 interceptions. That's why Munchak brought in Keith Millard as a pass rush specialist, and he's worked with all the defensive players to help them get better at getting to the quarterback. The Titans also signed Kamerion Wimbley in their biggest free agent signing and moved him back to defensive end before drafting two more linemen to three selected in 2011. Through three preseason games, the Titans (2-1) already have 10 sacks from nine different players. Wimbley helped set the tone Thursday night as he sacked both John Skelton and Kevin Kolb on their first offensive plays of the game for Arizona. He said they knew the game was key preparation for the opener Sept. 9 against New England and studied a lot to be ready. ''We were able to pick up on our keys, and we were able to execute on the things that were called,'' said Wimbley, the six-year veteran who's second only to 10-year linebacker Will Witherspoon on the Titans' defense. ''I think the guys on this defensive line have been improving and getting better, and it's great to be a part of that. They bring a lot of energy and excitement, and we just go out and work hard every day in practice and it's showing up in the games, so I'm excited about that.'' This is a young defense with seven starters having three years' experience or less, and middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is helping lead the way as the fourth-round pick out of Miami goes into his second NFL season. McCarthy already has three of Tennessee's six interceptions, and he returned his third 31 yards for a touchdown against Arizona to open the third quarter. Munchak credited McCarthy with studying as hard as anybody, helping the linebacker be in position to make plays. ''He understands the offense and has a pre-read by the formations and the personnel that's in the game, what their tendencies are, and he's a guy that takes advantage of that. That's why I think he's in the throwing lanes quite a bit when they don't expect him to be,'' Munchak said. Tennessee (No. 21 in the AP Pro 32) didn't allow a completion longer than 8 yards in a win Aug. 17 in Tampa Bay. Against the Cardinals, they were nearly as stingy in the first half. Kolb ran around and found Larry Fitzgerald for a 53-yard completion after the receiver got behind safety Robert Johnson, who's fighting veteran Jordan Babineaux to start alongside Griffin. That pass late in the first half nearly matched the yards the Titans had allowed to that point. ''It's what we're trying to get done as a defense,'' McCarthy said. ''I think coach Gray has a done a great job of preparing us. Anticipating plays from the offense, and from there it's just going out and making plays.'' --- Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL --- Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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