NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When discussing the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL, names such as Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald and Gerald McCoy quickly come to mind. For some reason, Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is not a household name for most NFL fans.
Although Casey doesn't get as much national recognition as some of his peers, Titans coach Mike Vrabel feels he is an integral part of the defense.
"Anytime you can get an interior pass rush, and you can have somebody that's disruptive on the inside part of your defense, that's always a good thing," Vrabel said when asked about Casey's impact. "That's what Jurrell gives us. We are going to try to set the edge and be disruptive inside."
ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen said Casey is among the best interior defenders in the league.
"He's a star. He gives you interior disruption consistently," Bowen said. "Casey is super strong with his hands, so when he is engaged with a blocker, it leads to his ability to create disruption inside. He is nasty on contact."
Casey said he developed the strong hands at USC under the tutelage of defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.
"Coach Orgeron's biggest thing was hands. Run or pass, if you get a guy's hands off of you, you can keep him away from you and the more success you're going to have," Casey said. "That's why you see everything I do is with the hands. That developed in college and became more of an asset for me when I got to the NFL."
Casey has proved to be a disruptive player since entering the NFL in 2011, and over the past five seasons, he has accumulated 33.5 sacks and 281 tackles. His total tackles are impressive when compared to the other top interior pass-rushers, and Bowen credits Casey's motor for his production.
"His effort level stands out. He pursues to the football," said Bowen. "The top defensive linemen get extra production because they run to the ball. He has the size, athleticism, he's physical, a great technician, and gives maximum effort. You can win with that every Sunday."
Casey said his high motor dates to when he was a youngster learning the game. He still plays with the same youthful enthusiasm years later.
"My uncle used to take me and my brother, also my cousin, to the park and we would do different kinds of drills," Casey said. "I always wanted to be the best, but my brother is a little older than me, so no matter how tired I got or how bad it got, I just kept pushing through it. My uncle would always tell me I couldn't stop until it was time to stop."
Casey's contributions are not fully shown in the box score. The way he collapses the pocket from the interior makes it more difficult for quarterbacks to step into their throws and push the ball down the field.
Generating an interior pass rush is kryptonite for pure pocket passers. A lot of times Casey is responsible for flushing the quarterback out of the pocket and into the waiting arms of the outside linebackers.
As a two-gap penetrator, Casey is frequently charged with sacrificing himself by taking on multiple blockers when opposing offenses try to run the ball. His willingness to occupy blockers allows inside linebackers to get clean shots at ball carriers.
"We always talk to them about being able to make a play without making a tackle," said defensive line coach Terrell Williams. "If you take on two blockers, that's like a guy getting an interception. They get glory from us in our room. It's not a public stat, but we give them a stat for a two-for-one."
Casey isn't a flashy player, but he is a three-time Pro Bowler and was voted a second-team All-Pro in 2013. He is also No. 91 in ESPN's NFL Rank project -- a predictive ranking of who the top 100 players will be in 2018. He joins left tackle Taylor Lewan (85) as the only Titans on the list. His play has earned him respect from his peers and coaches across the league, and he has become a leader for the Titans -- a player the coaches can point to when they want to show what it takes to be a professional.
"I am amazed at how hard he works and his attention to detail," Williams said. "The other guys see a player of his stature behind the scenes taking notes and doing the little things that we need him to do for us to be successful. The thing that I like the most about him is he takes coaching and he wants to get better. A lot of times you get top players that aren't that way. He wants to be coached."
Added Vrabel: "He's a great pro who's always in tune in the meetings, answering questions, trying to help the younger guys. He's a really good example of what we'd like our young guys to try to aspire to."