Titans off-season evaluation: Defensive back

Titans off-season evaluation: Defensive back

With the 2016 season in the books for the Tennessee Titans, it is time to begin analyzing the roster for the coming season. TitanInsider.com will go through each position group to look at where the team is sound and where there are likely to be roster moves.

Defensive back

Nowhere on the Titans roster were there more holes than in the secondary. It was evident almost from the outset of the season that the defensive backfield was the weakest link on the roster in most instances. It became even more of an issue as the season went on, and reached its zenith with the release of cornerback Perrish Cox with a month left in the season.

Cox wasn’t the only player to blame, but became sort of a scapegoat for a group that was exposed on that instances where the pass rush was unable to generate pressure.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s solution to try and squeeze as much as he could out of this group was to rotate players at the positions. Initially, it was done at the safety position, something that carried back as far as OTAs and training camp. But later on in the year, as the Titans began to surge down the stretch, it was used at the cornerback position as well.

Going forward, very few players would be appear to be completely safe for 2017, and a number of those in the secondary are free agents anyway.

At cornerback, the biggest decision may come with veteran Jason McCourty, who still performed well at times, but ended the season with a shoulder injury. McCourty is a team leader, but is also due $7 million next season and will have to fight to retain his starting spot if he is not released as a cap cut. McCourty has said he is open to reducing his salary to stay, if need be. Opposite McCourty, Brice McCain ended up as the starter, but is more suited to be a nickelback. Elsewhere, Valentino Blake had some hiccups, but made a few plays along the way too. He is a free agent, and the Titans might try to upgrade. Rookie LeShaun Sims acquitted himself fairly well after Cox was released and his playing time increased. The Titans also are intrigued by Reed, who spent most of the year on the practice squad. D’Joun Smith is interesting as well. He was highly touted by the Colts until injuries derailed him. He has some speed and cover skills to stick as a darkhorse candidate in camp.

The Titans have one true keeper at safety in Kevin Byard, who impresse the coaches with his play and the way he picked up the defensive scheme. The third-round pick in 2016 was perhaps Tennessee’s most consistent defensive back by year’s end. Da’Norris Searcy clung to his starting spot and probably stays on the roster, but could be a run for his starting job in camp, depending upon what the Titans do in the off-season there. Rashad Johnson was helpful as a veteran leader, but was on a one-year deal, making him a free agent. Daimion Stafford was a special teams captain and worked his way into the safety rotation, but as a free agent might not be back if the Titans continue trying to upgrade the back end.

Starters: Cornerback – Jason McCourty, Brice McCain; Safety – Kevin Byard, Da’Norris Searcy.

Backups: Cornerback Valentino Blake (free agent), safety Rashad Johnson (free agent), safety Daimion Stafford (free agent), cornerback LeShaun Sims, cornerback Kalan Reed, cornerback D’Joun Smith, safety Curtis Riley, cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon, cornerback Tye Smith, cornerback Bennett Okotcha.

Likelihood position is addressed in free agency: No doubt. The only questions are how many players and how much money will be spent. Will the Titans address just cornerback in free agency or will they go after a safety too? Given that there are free agents at each spot, both being addressed seems mostly likely.

Likelihood position is addressed in the draft: Again, no doubt. Look for the Titans to complete their overhaul of the secondary by using multiple draft picks to solve some of their weaknesses in the defensive backfield.

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