Akeem Ayers' goal: At least 10 sacks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When they drafted him in the second round in 2011, the Tennessee Titans saw a big, physical linebacker in Akeem Ayers.

They needed, seemingly, two years and a couple alterations to the coaching staff to figure out what to do with him. And during that time he’s worked to figure out just how to use what he’s got to be an effective NFL contributor.

Now, the strongside linebacker will also see time at defensive end, and his primary job will be clear.

He’s a pass-rusher.

“I think this will be his year,” defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said.

Like most rookies, he wasn’t looking to initiate conversations with Gray, he wanted to simply do his job. He sought out Gray more last year.

“Now he’s already coming in, ‘Jerry I like this, I like that,’” Gray said. “That’s when guys understand who they are. They’re not trying to please everybody; they’re trying to please themselves. And it’s your job as a coach to say, ‘This is what the guy is telling me,’ so believe it. He understands what his role is going to be. And we’ve got to be smart enough to get him rushing.”

Ayers’ production may be as big a harbinger of what kind of success the Titans will have on defense as anything. He’ll be at outside linebacker in base, but often up on the line of scrimmage. He’ll be at end some, too, in a three-point stance.

Scott Solomon, a second-year defender drafted as an end but now playing more as an outside backer, said he can just see Ayers’ increased confidence when Ayers is walking around.

“I know what I am going to do each week, we’ll pretty much stick to one game plan and I will stick to the things I’m going to be doing,” Ayers said. “I’m not going to be middle linebacker one week and defensive end one week. I’ve got a role, I’m sticking to it and I’m really trying to perfect it. It’s a lot more rushing, going forward, penetration. Less dropping into coverage. I’ll be playing close to the line of scrimmage more times than not.”

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains rates Ayers and one of the guys who’s been standing out on defense. He said the Titans offense would never scheme to stop Ayers with Chris Johnson or even Shonn Greene.

The Titans expect to be an emerging defense. But they have no one as a rusher who will demand the attention of the Jevon Kearse or even Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Still, they expect Derrick Morgan, Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley to lead a committee of players that can get to the quarterback off the edge with regularity.

Now that he’s going to be going forward so often, Ayers has a pretty standard pass-rushing goal: At least 10 sacks.

“If I’m going to be rushing how I’m expecting, I’m expecting to at least get double digits,” he said. “But the main this is as long as I can help the team, as long as we are winning games and we’re doing, we; as a team, the goal should be easy to get.”