Better, worse or the same? Titans defense prioritized fiercer pass rush

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The 2020 season was filled with disappointment for the Tennessee Titans defense. Their paltry 19 total sacks in the regular season were the fewest by any playoff team over the last 40 years. Opposing offenses were able to convert 51.8% of their third-down opportunities last season which was more than any other team. And the defense allowed opposing offenses to score touchdowns on 69.2% of their red-zone visits.

After a series of moves to address these shortcomings in the offseason, the question is whether the defense is better, worse, or the same? (Check out a similar look at the offense.)

Here is a position-by-position look at the Titans' defense for 2021:

Defensive line

Additions: Denico Autry, Abry Jones, Naquan Jones, Bruce Hector

Losses: Jadeveon Clowney, DaQuan Jones, Jack Crawford, Matt Dickerson

Returners: Jeffery Simmons, Teair Tart, Larrell Murchison

Better, worse or the same? Same. Adding Autry to the mix instantly gives a boost to the defensive line. He isn't as versatile as Clowney, but Autry is every bit as much of a nuisance to opposing offenses. Combining him with Simmons in the middle of the defense will make the unit better. But the proven depth on the roster took a hit with the loss of Jones and Crawford.

Tart has shown signs of promise in limited reps and should step in nicely for Jones, especially as a run stuffer. Murchison has steadily made improvements since his rookie season and gives the Titans much-needed versatility upfront.

Outside linebacker

Additions: Bud Dupree, Rashad Weaver

Losses: Clowney

Returners: Harold Landry, Derick Roberson, Wyatt Ray, Tuzar Skipper

Better, worse or the same? Better. Dupree is the big-play edge player the Titans have desperately searched for over the past four seasons. His impact goes beyond just getting sacks. Dupree is also a very good run defender. The Titans hope Dupree's aggressive playing style will rub off on Landry who is ready to take the next step as a standout pass-rusher.

At 6-foot-4 and 259 pounds, the rookie Weaver brings length to the position and should be a steady part of the rotation. A healthy Roberson also makes the group of outside pass-rushers a better one this year.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Monty Rice, Ola Adeniyi, B.J. Bello

Losses: Will Compton, Daren Bates

Returners: Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, David Long Jr.

Better, worse or the same? Better. Brown's return is the main reason why the Titans will field a better inside linebacker group this season. His all-around game has made him one of the most consistent defensive players for the Titans over the last three seasons. If the Titans find a way to utilize Brown's pass-rushing skills, he'll make the defense a much-improved unit overall.

Having Evans in the same defense for a second consecutive season should allow him to excel as he did in 2019 when he posted 111 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Evans is the classic diagnose-and-destroy linebacker and has a history of getting stuffs on fourth downs and goal-line situations. Having a better feel for the defense and play calls should allow Evans to play faster this season.

Safety

Additions: Brady Breeze, Matthias Farley

Losses: Kenny Vaccaro

Returners: Kevin Byard, Amani Hooker, Dane Cruikshank, Chris Jackson

Better, worse or the same? Same. Hooker steps in as the starter this season after the team released Vaccaro. The third-year safety notched four interceptions last season as the third-safety in a lot of sub-packages. Cruikshank will fill the third safety role this season after returning from injury.

The Titans didn't make any significant additions at safety via free agency or the draft. They're banking on a bounce-back season from Byard to help improve the secondary which allowed 36 touchdown passes last season.

Cornerback

Additions: Janoris Jenkins, Caleb Farley, Elijah Molden, Quenton Meeks

Losses: Adoree Jackson, Malcolm Butler, Kareem Orr, Desmond King

Returners: Kristian Fulton, Breon Borders

Better, worse or the same: Better. Jenkins is quietly one of the best acquisitions the Titans made during the offseason. He should fill in very well for Butler at left corner and is more of a threat to score the football when he intercepts it. Fulton is in line to grab the right corner position since Jackson is gone.

The second-year player will face competition from Farley whenever the rookie is done rehabbing after a back procedure in March. Molden, Fulton and Chris Jackson will compete for reps at nickel as well. Based on potential, this group is better than last year's cornerbacks.