TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: LINEBACKERSIn camp: OLB Brian Orakpo, OLB Derrick Morgan, ILB Avery Williamson, ILB Wesley Woodyard, OLB Kevin Dodd, LB Nate Palmer, LB Justin Staples, LB Daren Bates, LB Jayon Brown, LB Aaron Wallace, OLB Josh Carraway, OLB Victor Ochi, LB Johnny Ragin III, OLB/DE Kourtnei Brown.
Offseason developments: Dodd used the offseason to recover from a second foot surgery, and is expected to be ready for training camp. The team re-signed Palmer in March, and then signed former Raiders linebacker and special teams ace Daren Bates in free agency. The Titans drafted Brown in the fifth round of the NFL Draft out of UCLA, and then used a seventh round pick on Texas Christian’s Carraway. Former Titans linebacker David Bass signed with the Seahawks this offseason, while Sean Spence signed with the Colts.In the spotlight: Orakpo. The ninth-year pro turned things up a few notches in 2016, when he racked up 10.5 sacks and provided 49 quarterback pressures. The sack total was sixth in the AFC, and it earned him a trip to another Pro Bowl. Orakpo was consistently disruptive, and coming off a strong offseason he’ll look to do the same again this fall. With an improved secondary, and help on the defensive line in the form of nose tackle Sylvester Williams, Orakpo should be able to thrive once again.
Battle to watch: Nickel linebacker, and roster spots. There will be a battle for playing time behind Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard, and the nickel linebacker spot will be up for grabs following the departure of Spence. Woodyard is a savvy veteran who was very productive last season, and Williamson is ready to make more game-changing plays in Year 4. They’ll compete to stay on the field all three downs. Palmer, meanwhile, has improved his stock following a solid 2016 season and an offseason when he lost weight and looked faster in workouts. Then there’s the speedy Jayon Brown, who could earn snaps – and the nickel linebacker spot — because of his speed an athleticism. The depth players here need to impress enough in camp to keep themselves off the bubble during roster cuts, and when others become available on the waiver wire after the fourth preseason game.Keep an eye on: Dodd. A second-round pick a year ago, Dodd suffered a foot injury last offseason, and was never really himself when he returned, physically or mentally. Following a second procedure at the end of last year, he’s had time to recover and get himself in a position to make an impact. Can Dodd emerge as a dangerous pass rusher in 2017? If he can, he’ll earn snaps and give the Titans a three-headed monster in Orakpo, Morgan and Dodd. Camp will provide some big clues about his future.
Next up: Cornerbacks.