In overhauling the secondary for 2017, the Tennessee Titans made wholesale changes.
Gone are a good portion of last year’s starting cast from the start of 2016, including long-time stalwart Jason McCourty.
In comes a mix of veterans and younger players the Titans hope to rebuilding the defensive backfield around. Logan Ryan is the chief acquisition at cornerback, getting a three-year, $30 million contract to leave the Super Bowl champion Patriots. He will start at one corner, while first-round pick Adoree’ Jackson could get the nod on the other side. There is still the possibility that second-year pro LeShaun Sims could maintain one starting spot or come in on the outside in sub-packages, while Jackson or Ryan move to the slot. The other slot option is veteran Brice McCain. Beyond those corners, it will be a competition to see who nails down fifth (and sixth if they go that deep) spots at cornerback. Someone from among Demontre Hurst, D’Joun Smith and Kalan Reed needs to separate himself from the pack to claim that backup job.
At safety, the changes aren’t as drastic, but still prevalent. After playing in a rotation last year as a rookie, Kevin Byard figures to start full-time at free safety. Free agent pickup Jonathan Cyprien is ticketed as the strong safety, while holdover Da’Norris Searcy, a former starter, took a pay cut and should hang on as a backup. Elsewhere, Brynden Trawick was signed to help on special teams, while Curtis Riley has hung around for a while now between practice squad and the active roster. He will need to impress in camp again to get one of those final spots.
DBs currently on the roster: 16 _CB Logan Ryan (5th season, Rutgers), CB Adoree’ Jackson (Rookie, USC); S Jonathan Cyprien (5th season, Florida International); S Kevin Byard (2nd season, Middle Tennessee); CB LeShaun Sims (2nd season, Southern Utah); CB Brice McCain (9th season, Utah); Da’Norris Searcy (7th season, North Carolina); D’Joun Smith (2nd season, Florida Atlantic); CB Demontre Hurst (4th season, Oklahoma); CB Kalan Reed (1st season, Southern Miss); S Curtis Riley (3rd season, Fresno State); CB Tye Smith (2nd season, Towson); S Brynden Trawick (5th season, Troy); S Denzel Johnson (Rookie, Texas Christian); CB Manny Abad (Rookie, Florida Tech); Jeremy Boykins (Rookie, Central Florida).
DBs projected on the 53-man roster: 10 (6 CBs, 4 S), plus 1 on practice squad.
Best storylines of camp/preseason: How long will it take this group to jell into a cohesive unit; Can Byard become the ballhawk safety the Titans have longed for for several years; How will the roles shake out at cornerback, especially with Jackson, McCain and Sims in some pecking order with Ryan locked at one spot.
Analysis: This was the weakest spot on the team last year, and Jon Robinson set about in the off-season trying to remedy that by throwing both free agency money and draft picks at the cornerback spot (plus Cyprien and Trawick as free agent safeties). A solid front seven should help to reduce the pressure on this group to cover, and should give the unit time to find some cohesiveness. If the secondary comes together and proves itself trustworthy to go along with the standout defensive line and a good linebacker corps, this might finally be the year we get to see all that is in Dick LeBeau’s bag of zone blitz tricks.