Despite declining skills, 'Freak' fills void for Titans

Jevon Kearse returns for his second stint with the Tennessee Titans after spending the past four years with the Philadelphia Eagles. The three-time Pro Bowler has struggled with durability concerns and inconsistent production over the past few seasons and will turn 32 early in the 2008 season. However, Kearse was one of the most-feared pass-rushers in the NFL when he played for the Titans from 1999 to 2003, and he will be reunited with defensive line coach Jim Washburn. But can he return to the level at which he performed early in his career?

Kearse has been a scheme-changer due to his explosive pass-rush ability since he entered the league, but he appears to be on the downslope of his career. He still has an explosive first step off the ball, with the speed and quickness to bend the edge and close on the quarterback. He relies heavily on attacking the outside edge of the blocker and is reluctant to redirect and attack inside rush lanes. He doesn't show the same counter moves he once had or do a great job of using his hands to defeat and shed blockers while creating separation. Against the run, Kearse is an undersized defensive end who must be on the move attacking upfield gaps. Plus, he has a tendency to wear down if teams consistently attack him. My biggest concern when recently studying him on tape was the knee injury, which has hindered his performance.

Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is an aggressive playcaller who relies heavily on pressure schemes that create individual matchups his playmakers can exploit. Tennessee finished fifth in the NFL last season in total defense, but it ranked 24th in third-down defense. Adding a veteran like Kearse will help improve the Titans' defense on third down. Kearse should face a lot of single coverage because the Titans' defensive line is loaded with RDT Albert Haynesworth and RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Haynesworth is one of the most dominating interior players in the NFL, while Vanden Bosch has a rare motor and can be relentless as a pass-rusher off the edge.