Defender turned tight end a Titan

Defender turned tight end a Titan

April 29th, 2012 by Associated Press in Sports - Professional

NASHVILLE -- Taylor Thompson decided he was going to enter the NFL draft as a tight end, even though he hadn't caught a pass in a college game. He played defensive end most of his career at SMU.

That was a big gamble for the 6-foot-6, 259-pound Thompson, but the Tennessee Titans rolled the draft dice, trading up to take the chance that Thompson becomes the next Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates -- impact tight ends with similar size and athletic ability.

"This is a very wide-open league, and offensively the focus is on scoring points probably more than ever," general manager Ruston Webster said.

The Titans sent their 155th pick in the fifth round along with the No. 227 selection in the seventh to Miami on Saturday to move up 10 spots and take Thompson. The Titans wound up using five of their seven picks on defense with Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright at No. 20 overall and Thompson the exceptions.

They sent their sixth-round pick in 2013 to Minnesota to take Rice defensive end Scott Solomon in the seventh round to cap this draft.

They picked North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown in the second round and tackle Mike Martin of Michigan in the third. Clemson cornerback Coty Sensabaugh was their first pick Saturday at No. 115 overall in the fourth, and they got Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin at No. 207 in the sixth.

This is the second straight draft the Titans focused heavily on defense, this time looking to boost a unit that ranked eighth in the NFL in points allowed but gave up yards in bunches. They ranked next to last with 28 sacks.

Webster said he likes being young on defense.

"You've got to be able to run, hit, move," Webster said. "And as guys get older, they start losing a step. Even though they have that great savvy and all that, it does affect your defense."

It looked briefly as if Thompson might help that defense. A three-year starter at defensive end at SMU, Thompson had seven sacks as a senior and could have been drafted at that spot, but he was timed at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said that although Thompson has never played tight end, he has a bright future at the position.

"Mom, dad and God gave him size, speed and athletic ability," Palmer said. "For us to get him where we got him, I mean there's a reason he took 10 visits. It's not like we're the only one that saw the acorn."

Thompson also visited Baltimore, Jacksonville, Oakland, Chicago, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. He dropped about 20 pounds as the season ended and spent extra time during SMU's bowl practice catching balls as he prepped for the draft.

Thompson knows there are plenty of questions about someone who played only at the Players All-Star Classic with 10 workouts as a tight end along with his pro day.

"I think there was just enough film on me to make me a draftable prospect, but that was definitely one of the things holding me down," he said.

The Titans had two scouts at that all-star game watching him run routes and catch balls in practice. In the game, Palmer said Thompson showed fluid skills making a catch on a seam route in a play similar to what Tennessee asks of its tight ends. Coach Mike Munchak said they didn't want to risk missing out on Thompson, prompting the trade up.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan left as a free agent for St. Louis, so the Titans needed more depth at cornerback. Sensabaugh will join a group competing to fill that spot as a starter.

Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner both have started games over the past two seasons. Ryan Mouton is coming back after tearing his right Achilles tendon in training camp last year, while the Titans also like Chris Hawkins and Tommie Campbell, a seventh-round pick last year who stuck on the roster.

"When we lose some players like we did this year, we didn't panic and jump out and try to fill it by signing a free agent and replace a guy because we lost a guy," Munchak said. "I think our philosophy was that we thought we were happy with what we had in house. ... We just felt this is a guy that would come in right away and help us in a lot of ways."

Sensabaugh is a native of Kingsport, Tenn. The 6-foot, 185-pounder had 87 tackles and four interceptions plus two quarterback pressures and 18 pass breakups in 52 career games. The cornerback graduated last May and had a team-high 13 pass breakups in 14 starts. He played a school-record 993 snaps as a defensive player last season.

He's a second cousin to Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh, having grown up on the same street. Coty Sensabaugh was timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but he said he was timed at 4.31 seconds at Clemson.

Martin fell to the sixth round after tearing some cartilage in his right knee after the Senior Bowl. Maxie worked out Martin recently.

Solomon brings 24 career sacks at Rice along with 43.5 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3 Solomon worked with former NFL lineman N.D. Kalu, and the Titans describe Solomon as a "relentless" pass rusher.