Lost amid a 3-13 record in 2015 was the difference defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau made on the Tennessee Titans defensive unit in his first season with the team. The Titans improved from 27th overall in total defense in 2014 to 12th last season, substantially improving their ranking versus both the pass as well as the run.
Looking to keep that trend going in 2016, the Titans used six of their allotted ten draft picks last April on defensive players in an attempt to continue giving LeBeau more weapons to attack opposing offenses with.
The first of those six defenders chosen was Clemson’s Kevin Dodd, whom the Titans selected 33rd overall with their second-round pick.
Prior to last season Dodd had only played in a handful of games for the Tigers (making no starts) and saw a little over 200 snaps from 2012 through 2014. Then as a junior in 2015 Dodd exploded onto the college football scene by racking up 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks on the season, becoming one of the star defenders on a Clemson team that ended up playing for the College Football National Championship.
Dodd definitely saved his best for last as he was unblockable in his final two collegiate football games, tallying up 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack against Oklahoma in the Orange bowl. Then following that up with a 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks versus Alabama in the championship game, both marks setting a Clemson single-game postseason record.
Dodd’s NFL career has gotten off to a rough start so far as he entered training camp on the physically unable to perform list stemming from offseason foot surgery.
Dodd was just medically cleared to come off the PUP list this past week and has finally begun preparing for his rookie season with the Titans.
What many are wondering is how will LeBeau incorporate Dodd into the Titans defensive scheme which utilizes an odd-man front with four linebackers. Dodd will be transitioned to outside linebacker after having been a hand in the dirt defensive end for his entire career at Clemson. Tennessee plans on using Dodd similarly to the way the team currently uses (former 4-3 ends) veterans Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan.
What Dodd displayed on film while at Clemson was impressive quickness and an ability to change directions smoothly, considering his size (6’5” 277-pounds) and someone who plays the game hard down in and down out. He has a good up field burst to get after the quarterback and demonstrates the ability to bend, coupled with body control to take the corner around blockers. His reach (34-inch arm length) allows him the ability to extend out and keep lineman from getting into his body.
He shows to have the instincts for the position as he is able to quickly react and locate the ball post-snap making himself a force against the run. His 23.5 tackles for loss vouch for Dodd and his effectiveness as a run defender.
How he takes to the transition at outside linebacker is what will be curious to see as Dodd develops throughout the season. Dodd is not a quick-twitch athlete and how he holds up in space particularly in coverage will need to be closely monitored.
Titans GM Jon Robinson though feels confident that Dodd should be able to make the transition “What we looked for was his ability to get depth, to get off the line of scrimmage and get back into coverage,” Robinson said. “You’re looking at his footwork. How quickly do his feet move? You’re looking at his hips — does he drop (smoothly) or does he look stiff when he’s moving out of there? And then, does he have the ability — once he settles in that zone spot — to turn on the speed and break on the ball?
“We felt comfortable in the time we spent with him that he would be able to make that transition.”
What we do know is that Kevin Dodd is a pass-rusher who wins with his quickness, strength, length and instincts. The one certainty he will provide Tennessee is another pass rusher who Dick LeBeau can use to supply pressure off the edge.
While his injury coupled with the transition to a different position might keep Dodd from coming out of the gates firing on all cylinders, there is a very good chance that under LeBeau’s tutelage he will become one of the building block along the Titans front seven in the years to come.