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Titans' Ayers looks to rebound

By James D. Horne jhorne@paducahsun.com

If Akeem Ayers could be any superhero, the fourth-year Tennessee Titans linebacker would be a combination of two of the more innovative and strongest in Marvel Comics lore.

"I'd be part Iron Man, just because I'm coming off injury and I'm rebuilding my body, so I'm kind of like Iron Man and his always building and changing his suits," said Ayers, who's also a skilled free-hand artist in his free time and likes to draw superheroes. "That with a little bit of the Incredible Hulk, because of my strength."

There's no question Ayers, a 2011 second-round selection out of UCLA, has shown the ability of both superheroes. In his first three seasons he became the first Titans rookie to start all 16 games since 2002, leading all Titans linebackers with 88 tackles, the second-highest total for a Titans rookie since 1999. He built on that effort in 2012, when he led the defense with 110 tackles and ranked second on the squad with six sacks after starting 13 out of 16 games.

But he suffered through injuries last season and saw his totals drop to 49 tackles and one sack in 16 games played, 14 or which he started in.

The Titans ended three days of mini-camp Thursday and first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt and staff have been installing the system, including the 3-4 defense the team plans on using this season.

Ayers feels now that he's fully healthy, he'll really be able to shine in the new scheme.

"This is just the beginning for me," Ayers said. "Especially with us moving to a 3-4 scheme, I feel like it fits my style so well with me being able to do multiple things as a linebacker. And one thing I'm good at is rushing the quarterback. So I'll have a lot more opportunities to utilize that. You'll really see me take my game to another level this year."

With his talents, members of the Titans broadcast crew agree that Ayers is on the verge of doing bigger things.

"He's going to be in a position where he can really go after the quarterback," said Mike Keith, the "Voice of the Titans." "We have tried as a staff to put him in those positions and previously there were thoughts that they would move him back and play more run with him and other ways situationally. But that's not the case anymore, he's going after the quarterback. When we drafted him that's what we thought he could do, and now he'll get the full chance to be able to play how we always seen him.

"His versatility has almost worked against him, because at one point we had him in the nickel defense giving signals, because he can do it. He's not your typical linebacker. He's a 260-pound man. But now this defense and what (Titans defensive coordinator) Ray Horton wants him to do fits him very well. Him with Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and Shaun Phillips in there will be like having home run hitters in a baseball line up at 3-4-5-6. With this defense you've got to have guys 3-4-5-6 who can rush the passer and we think we have that. I think this could be a break out year for him statistically."

Ayers, with the new staff, and a hopefully healthy Jake Locker at quarterback, thinks the Titans, which finished 7-9 and in second place to the 11-5 AFC South-winning Indianapolis Colts last season, can be a playoff team this year.

"We have the motivation as a team and we know what kind of team we are," Ayers said. "We know we've had the talent level, but we've come up short the past couple of years. Now we all have a fresh start. We've got the new coaching staff, an entirely new defense and entirely new offense and we brought some new players in with the young talent we already have. We fell like we can do big things this year."

Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.

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