James Gayle has signed a free-agent contract with Tennessee. Gayle didn't get drafted this weekend, after having been projected as a potential fourth or fifth rounder. Why would a solid four year performer on some of the nation's best defenses fall through the cracks like that? Especially with the combine numbers he put up which were excellent for Defensive Ends as well as Outside Line Backers. There appear to be two central culprits:
#1: He appears to be at odds with his physical which showed some residual damage from a labrum issue he struggled with all year after injuring it vs ECU in September. He reveals as much in this tweet here:
So I don't get drafted because of a torn labrum I played with all year. I didn't even miss a series in the ECU game when I dislocated it.— James Gayle (@JGayle99) May 10, 2014
I suppose the labrum might affect his strength when going up against opposing defensive tackles, if he were to try to bulk up a little and play speed rusher. But he was unable to prove himself as he had to miss practices at the Senior Bowl due to aggravation. Not exactly perfect timing to leave an impression.
#2 While James Gayle could hold up against the run in college, he's not ideal for the NFL. He might run into the same problems Chris Ellis and Corey Moore did in Buffalo. Right now Jason Worilds is doing well in Pittsburgh, but he is a little bit bigger than Gayle. Which also brings us to his defending the pass, while he is fleet of foot, it's an entirely different set job requirement to cover tight ends and running backs one on one on patterns out of the backfield. The point is: Gayle can't be a value-add to a team by just pressuring the passer. He should acquit himself some on special teams if it comes to it.
Nonetheless, James attitude about the rough sequence of events is resoundingly positive:
But anyways I've already agreed to terms with the Titans. Just have to do what I do best, compete.— James Gayle (@JGayle99) May 10, 2014
How Does Gayle Factor In To The Titans System
The Titans are coming off of a 7-9 season after which they fired Mike Munchak (with his crazy rules) and brought in Ken Whisenhunt who had taken the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner and company. With just six picks in the draft they needed to draft an OLB, and didn't get one. Instead they got a DT and an inside LB. Among the UDFA signings that are coming in with Gayle, they brought in just one DE, and no LBs. So of the new faces, he has a definite shot to impress.
But What About The Returning Core Of The Unit?
Tennessee is switching to a hybrid defense this year that features aspects of the 4-3, and variations of the 3-4. So they did shore up the defensive line and linebacking corps through Free Agency by signing the following notable names.
- Shaun Phillips, LB
- Wesley Woodyard, LB
- Rapoti Pitoitua, DE
The line is bookended by Derrick Morgan and Pitoitua. And has some replaceable backups. The edge linebackers are Zack Brown and Akeem Ayers who find the the quarterback very well from a variety of positions, with six and five and a half sacks repectively. Patrick Bailey serves as a capable backup.
Gayle has a shot here if he proves that he can muscle his way in at end, or if he can prove he is solid in pass defense and stout against the run. The learning curve in playing a hybrid will have to be a quick one. Here's hoping that his shoulder has had ample rest to be up to the rigors of the win or go home types of atmosphere he will face in Titans camp, and any subsequent ones he may be inclined to visit.
It's tough enough to have to fight a battle on even ground, but when the evaluators are constantly looking at your shoulder and not your play it makes it a tough road to hoe. Best of luck to James in his battle to make the Titans or any other club. Let's just hope that the Titans had their eye on James all along and feel like they got away with robbery, because they likely did.