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Defense Rules First Day In Pads

Posted: 10:51 PM, Jul 31, 2017
Updated: 2017-08-01 00:01:26-04

It has been 211 days since the Titans walked off the Nissan Stadium field following their season-ending win over the Texans.

That's a long time for defensive players like Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey to go without hitting someone.

So it should probably come as no surprise that the defense ruled the Titans' first practice of training camp in pads on Monday. The guys in the blue shirts flying to the ball, continuing their stellar play to start the preseason.

"I've been really pleased with our defense the last three days," Titans Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. "We've gotten three good days of work in, we've gotten better every day. We're doing a lot. We've got a lot of people in different places, we've got a lot of new guys. I think communication has been great. You see the value of the offseason and what it does for you.

The Titans defense focused this offseason and getting more guys to the ball, forcing turnovers and making game-changing plays. On Monday, they forced two turnovers to win the turnover battle and earn themselves an early dismissal from team meetings that night.

The highlight of the day came near the end of practice when safety Da'Norris Searcy jumped Eric Decker's route and intercepted a pass at the goal line for a rare red zone turnover by Marcus Mariota.

"That's one thing we preach for defense, that we got to keep them out or force them to field goals," Searcy said after practice. "Any time you can come up with a turnover down in the red zone it's a plus."

Searcy is part of a suddenly crowded defensive backfield that includes second-year safety Kevin Byard and free agent newcomer Jonathan Cyprien. Byard, a former standout at Middle Tennessee, played the most reps of the team's safeties last year as a rookie and has built off that success this offseason.

The work has certainly impressed his coaches. Mularkey says Byard is mature both on and off the field and plays with the experience of someone well beyond his years. Byard is relied upon to be in charge of communication in the Titans secondary, a task that may seem daunting to a player just entering their second season in the NFL.

But Byard is a true student of the game and spent the offseason watching film of the league's top safeties, including Seattle's Earl Thomas, and feels like he's more well prepared for the job in front of him.

"I always say pressure is just feeling like you're not ready for the moment," Byard said. "And I feel I'm ready for it, I've been preparing for this, so I feel like there's no pressure at all. I've just got to go out there and make plays."

Byard isn't the only former Middle Tennessee star making an impact on the Titans' defense. Veteran linebacker Erik Walden signed a free agency deal with the team Friday and has already made his presence felt.

The 31-year-old Walden posted a career-high 11.0 sacks last season with the Colts, but wasn't resigned this offseason. He says while there was some anxiety waiting to work out a deal somewhere, he feels like Tennessee is the perfect fit for him both personally and professionally.

On the field Walden figures to be a regularly used backup, spelling Orakpo and the team's other star pass rusher Derrick Morgan. Walden's presence now gives the Titans three players that had at least 9.0 sacks last season, which should help keep them fresh as they shuffle in and out and try to make life miserable on opposing quarterbacks.

Whatever the defense requires me to do, rush, cover, whatever it takes," Walden said Monday. "You know, we're all on the same accord, and at the end of the day it's all about winning."

With the growth of Byard and the addition of Walden, Cyprien and cornerback Logan Ryan and nose tackle Sylvester Williams the Titans believe they will play winning defense in 2017. Couple that with a potent offense and you see why many people believe this team is the favorite to win the AFC South and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.