Tennessee Titans linebacker Akeem Ayers started all 16 games as a rookie last season, totaling 71 tackles and a pair of sacks. Ayers also logged nearly 73 percent of the team's defensive snaps and added five tackles on nearly 30 percent of the Titans' special teams plays.
This season, Ayers will be counted on to help improve a Titans' pass rush that had 28 sacks, the second-lowest total in the league in 2011.
Ayers will start at strong-side linebacker, but, according to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, defensive coordinator Jerry Gray will have the 6-foot-3, 254-pounder line up on the line of scrimmage with regularity. Ayers played defensive end in high school and was a solid pass-rusher at UCLA, recording 14 sacks in 37 games.
How the Titans plan on using Ayers is similar to how defensive coordinators used former NFL linebacker Julian Peterson, a five-time Pro Bowl player who posted 51.5 sacks during his 11-year career. With similar builds -- Peterson played at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds -- Ayers frequently was compared to Peterson in the lead up to the 2011 NFL Draft.
"I just think it gives us more options," Titans head coach Mike Munchak said of Ayers' versatility. "Does that mean he's going to be a true defensive end? No. It just means he's going to have more of an opportunity to work there with his speed."