Inside linebacker quickly changed from a position group that everyone felt comfortable with to a noticeable need for the Tennessee Titans.
It started back in February when they expectedly released Zach Cunningham, but when things truly needed to be addressed was when they let David Long walk in free agency.
It was pretty surprising that they let a well-rounded up-and-coming player like Long go elsewhere for a measly sum, and his void absolutely needed to be filled. Thankfully, they went and signed Azeez Al-Shaair the very next day, and he should have a comparable impact to what Long provided.
But even after signing Al-Shaair they still need a linebacker that can fill the hole left behind by cutting Cunningham. While he didn’t have many fans in Nashville by the time he was released, there is still an open role that needs to be filled.
Luckily, the fact that they haven’t signed anyone else to fill that role is alright and that has a lot to do with a player on the roster who is likely to replace him.
Tennessee Titans showing clear faith in Monty Rice this offseason
Monty Rice just finished his second year in the NFL after being selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Georgia.
He was starting to get more and more snaps as 2021 progressed, but his season was cut short in late November due to an Achilles injury. Although it was never specified, one can assume he tore it, as he would begin the 2022 season on the PUP list and miss the first five games.
Rice would take time to ease his way back in, but by virtue of injuries wrecking the middle linebacker core — among many other position groups — he would see himself thrust into meaningful action from mid-November all the way through the end of the season.
He was really under the spotlight when Long went down with his eventual season-ending hamstring injury, which was the ultimate test of how far he had come despite inexperience and the injury. And in all honesty, he looked like he belonged.
Rice very much seemed like he was in his element, as he was consistently making plays. He excelled at the strength he has shown since his college days, which has been stopping the run.
The stats backed it up too, as the Titans ranked as the NFL’s best team in rush yards allowed per game for the second year in a row. Their average was even 6.6 yards lower than it was in 2021, and that is despite the linebacker position being showcased by Rice, Dylan Cole, and Jack Gibbens.
It is even crazier that throughout all the chaos during their seven-game losing streak to end 2022, the run defense was the one thing that stayed consistently elite, and the credit for that goes down to the guys in the middle at the first and second levels.
Rice is exactly what the Titans need, as they did well with Cunningham who was primarily a run-stuffer, and Long who was and is better in pass coverage. Now, Rice is the main run neutralizer, and Al-Shaair is likely going to be heavily involved in pass coverage, and it is the perfect marriage.
That is not to say that Rice cannot become better as a coverage guy, but the film we have now shows that he is much more impactful stopping the run, which is just fine.
Because he has come along so well, the Tennessee Titans did not and will not have to spend big to fix a linebacker core that just saw heavy turnover, and it is a reason why they have the options they do in the draft.
They have shown some interest in drafting a linebacker especially Ventrell Miller from Florida, and they were once interested in signing Denzel Perryman, so an off-ball linebacker is not totally off the list of team needs.
But Rice’s development is a huge reason why further addressing the position is not pressing by any means. By the looks of things, the Tennessee Titans should not skip a beat when it comes to stopping the run, as finishing in the top three of that category once again is very likely.