Tennessee's rebuilt defensive line needs time

Updated: June 1, 2004, 3:33 PM ET
By Todd McShay | Scouts, Inc.
While the Titans didn't have much choice but to rebuild their defensive line with rookies as a result of the team's salary-cap situation, we would not recommend it as an approach others should follow.

Outside of the quarterback position, defensive tackle may be the most difficult position for rookies to master as they transition from college to the NFL. While there are always exceptions to the rule -- such as Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton -- there are a lot more examples of defensive tackles who struggled as rookies before bouncing back with strong sophomore campaigns.

Corey Simon (Eagles, '00), Shaun Rogers (Lions, '01), Marcus Stroud (Jaguars, '01), Albert Haynesworth (Titans, '02) and Ryan Sims (Chiefs, '02) all failed to meet expectations in their first seasons but were able to draw on their experiences and use the offseason to catch up physically and be better prepared for life in the trenches throughout a 16-game NFL season.

By the same token, teams such as the Jets, Giants, Saints, Patriots and Rams shouldn't panic about first-round selections Dewayne Robertson, William Joseph, Jonathan Sullivan, Ty Warren and Jimmy Kennedy, respectively, in the '03 draft. None of the five lived up to the pre-draft hype, but if recent history is any indication, they all should make significant strides next season.

Rookie defensive ends have fared much better, but players such as Justin Smith (Bengals) and Shaun Ellis (Jets), who struggled as rookies and then had breakout seasons as second-year pros, indicate that the end position also can present a difficult transition from college to the NFL.

There's no question the future is extremely bright for the Titans' defense. However, with this recent history in mind, the Titans should expect a severe drop in production up front in '04, which in turn should negatively affect the rest of the unit.

Todd McShay

ESPN Senior Writer