Injuries have haunted Tennessee Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy throughout his career. The Titans drafted McCarthy out of the University of Miami in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft. In 2010, McCarthy was a finalist for the Butkus Award. He was considered one of the best linebacker prospects in the 2011 draft.
McCarthy suffered a 2008 season-ending shoulder injury. That was followed up with three separate surgeries to repair his left shoulder.
The Titans were looking for a solid middle linebacker to replace Stephen Tulloch after he departed for the Detroit Lions. McCarthy was a steal in the fourth round. He dropped there because of injury concerns.
In 2011, the Titans signed veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rudd never produced at a high level and was placed on injured reserve by midseason. This gave McCarthy his chance to show the Titans organization what he could provide and hopefully give them memories of the great Keith Bulluck.
I was fortunate enough to be at Bank of America stadium to witness his first career start vs the Carolina Panthers. For the entire game, McCarthy was either making tackles or he was around the ball carrier. He continued that success for the rest of the 2011 season, racking up (76) tackles, eight tackles for loss (team high), one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He played in 13 games, starting eight of them.
It appeared that the Titans had found their middle linebacker for the future. After 2011, McCarthy was an instant fan favorite and one of the NFL’s most talked about linebackers.
In 2012, McCarthy was named defensive captain. It seemed like they found the next star middle linebacker. something that takes some organizations years to find. Instead of signing old veterans or waiting for that one special talent, the Titans had found their sleeper. The hype was real.
2012 was a letdown. McCarthy started in only seven games after he suffered from a concussion and high ankle sprain. It was a huge blow to a defense that surrendered a franchise record 471 points. McCarthy’s injury scared the Titans and their fans. But there’s always next year, right?
This offseason, the Titans signed veteran linebacker Moise Fokou to add depth to the position. That signing may have saved the 2013 season. McCarthy is once again dealing with an injury. This time, it’s his hamstring.
The injury has forced McCarthy to miss most of training camp and all of preseason. Fokou is getting the first-team reps and has performed well enough to be the Week 1 starter at Pittsburgh. Fokou is just 27 years old and could be a steal for the Titans, however, he’s no McCarthy.
McCarthy says his hamstring is fine and he’ll be ready to play, claiming “I have something to prove”. What he needs to prove is that he can stay healthy for a season and become the defensive captain. He is haunted by injuries. The Titans will be haunted for years when they think “what could have been” as they search for another star.
How much can they really trust McCarthy? When will he get hurt again?
With Fokou earning his starting role week 1 and McCarthy’s injury history, I don’t see him being more than a two-down linebacker or used in special packages. He’s just not durable enough to be on the field for a full series. I’ve been a big fan of McCarthy. But as the Titans keep looking for that franchise linebacker, I’ll always be haunted by the fact that McCarthy should be a franchise linebacker—he just can’t stay healthy.
Is Fokou the next Bulluck? No. But he will provide that average linebacker skill set until the Titans find a McCarthy-type linebacker who can stay healthy.
All statistics were sourced from ESPN.com
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