Right now, Casey is Titans' best defender

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the Tennessee Titans played far better and more effective defense Saturday night in a preseason win over Atlanta, they are not yet where they have to be.

The effort against the Falcons came minus four starters on the front seven who are recovering from injuries: linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, end Ropati Pitoitua and tackle Sammie Hill.

While the team looks for defensive leaders and steady producers to appear, one guy who’s standing out is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

A year ago Casey suffered an elbow injury in the third preseason game. He still started all 16 games in the regular season, but he was never fully himself, also dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries.

"I think it is his health," coach Mike Munchak said. "I thought he was playing real well. Like he is right now, then. And it definitely set him back last year somewhat."

Said Casey: "I had multiple injuries last year that help me back. But his year I am fully healthy and I am ready to go. I’m just bringing everything I got and do big things to help out my team."

A healthy Casey’s been quite good to this point: seven tackles and 2.5 sacks, one of which he turned into a strip and takeaway of Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.

The question is whether in his third year the big tackle will be able to avoid injuries or play better through them should they arise.

That’s tough to predict. If healthy, or healthier, he should be a force. And the Titans are in dire need of forces.

I asked ESPN.com’s resident scout Matt Williamson for his impression of and expectations for Casey.

"I like him quite a bit and think he is one of Tennessee's best defensive players, which isn't saying a lot," Williamson said. "But Casey has great size and is getting consistently better. He is a premium interior run-stuffer that must be accounted for in the inside run game and gets a little push as a pass-rusher."

Munchak said Casey’s been a big factor in the early growth of rookie guard Chance Warmack.

"He’s got a great attitude." Munchak said. "I think that’s why Chance is getting better and better, because he’s playing against him every day in practice. I think he’s helped Chance improve a lot since they’ve been working against each other.

"[Casey] has got great quickness, does a great job with his hands. And that leverage thing, that’s when it comes in handy, he gets some natural leverage on offensive linemen and that helps him too. Hopefully we keep him healthy and he has a big year."