With more than a few holes to fill on the roster before the season begins, can the Titans cross the linebacker position off of their wish list?
Heading into the 2011 draft, the Titans had identified linebacker as a position of need. While the Titans brass were hopeful of getting one starting linebacker in the draft last year, they definitely couldn’t have expected getting two. Yet that’s exactly what they found in Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers, 2/3 of their starting LB crew for years to come.
Colin McCarthy has to be the biggest surprise of the two draftees by the Titans. McCarthy, a middle linebacker, came to the Titans after playing college ball at The U, or Miami if you’re not familiar. When it was announced the Titans drafted McCarthy, I have to say, I cringed a little, thinking it was a wasted pick. McCarthy ended up starting in place of the injured Barrett Ruud against the Carolina Panthers and didn’t look back. In week 13 against the Bills, McCarthy recorded two fumble recoveries and also had a forced fumble to be named AFC Defensive player of the week. Of course without injuries to free agent pickup Barrett Ruud we may not have known about what McCarthy could do until this year.
The most heralded of the linebackers taken last year by the Titans was Akeem Ayers. Ayers had what many scouts thought was 1st round talent heading into the combine, but after running a 4.84 in the 40 at the combine, Ayers slowly saw his draft stock drop. The Titans, knowing they needed a game changer at OLB, had to be ecstatic in the 2nd round when Ayers was available. Ayers is the first OLB since the Titans drafted Keith Bulluck out of Syracuse that could not only rush the passer, play the run, and drop into coverage, but do all three extremely well. Although Ayers didn’t have a pro bowl season, he still finished with 76 tackles, 2 sacks, and a fumble recovery. The Titans know they found a gem in Ayers.
Last but not least is Will Witherspoon, the elder statesman of the group and a 10 year vet. Witherspoon signed with the Titans after the 09′ season out of Philly and has been a solid addition. He’s not the fastest, and doesn’t make all the plays in the world, but he is consistent and provides heady veteran play and is seen as a very good “Locker room” guy.
Even though the depth behind the starters is not what it should be, I would look forward to them drafting a LB or two. One pick could be Witherspoon’s eventual replacement.
With McCarthy coming out of nowhere to solidify the middle, Ayers looking to get better and add more game changing plays in his second year, and Witherspoon providing heady leadership this could easily be one the best Titans linebacker corps in years.