Happy linebackers? Must have been the preseason.
The Titans' 2010 linebacker group got a lot of fans excited this year. Unfortunately the people they excited were fans of the tight ends our LBs were trying to cover. If there was ever a group on this team that looked both under-talented and under-coached it's this group of linebackers. There were some real bright spots early on in the season, but these guys absolutely were the first group to just fall off a cliff.Will Witherspoon: It's not Witherspoon's fault that he was brought in to replace an absolute legend in Keith Bulluck. During training camp, the preseason and the first few games it actually looked like 'Spoon might be an upgrade over Bulluck from the past two years. He was flying around making plays against the pass and the run. He picked-up sacks in each of his first 3 games and forced a fumble against the Steelers. As the defense started to crack 'Spoon really seemed to disappear in a lot of games: he ended up 6th in tackles, but had 6 games where he notched 4 tackles or less. Spoon did continue to play decently well in pass coverage and finished the year with 2 interceptions and another 7 passes defensed. Spoon is a already a 9 year vet at age 30, so you can't expect growth in his game at this point, but I think he's the one guy in this group who played well enough to feel comfortable about his starting spot next season.
Stephen Tulloch: Tully, Tully, Tully. There's not a more overrated-yet-likable guy on this team than Stephen Tulloch. He's a tackling machine and ended the year with a team-best 159 tackles, good for 51 more than second place. The problem is, he's HORRIBLE in pass coverage and forced as many fumbles as our commenters did this season. And that's not an anomaly: Tully hasn't forced a fumble, and has only snagged two interceptions, since he was drafted. And for all the tackles he makes, a whole hell of a lot of them are 5 yards after the line of scrimmage. For most of the second half of the season Tully was hampered by his other major weakness: if the DTs in front of him let a guard or center get to the second level, Tully doesn't have a prayer of getting off that block and making the tackle. So you have a guy who can't cover anyone and gets blown out of his lane against the run far too often. Good thing he's a free agent.
Gerald McRath: After he missed the first four games of the season with a PED suspension, Gerald McRath might as well have missed the remaining 12 considering his meager contributions. McRath was a huge surprise coming out of camp last year and did a very nice job subbing for David Thornton later in the year. McRath didn't make a lot of big plays last year either, but the results this year were borderline miserable: 0 forced fumbles, 0 interceptions and only 2 passes defensed. The case doesn't look much better when you realize that he had 6 games of 4 tackles or less. McRath is guy who Cecil and Fisher had been very high on, but he may not get such love from the new coach, even if it's an internal hire.
Jaime Winborn: Jamie is a reserve linebacker at this point, and he did an admirable job filling in while McRath was out. His physical skills, which were stellar earlier in his career, have greatly declined. Winborn's season ended on the IR after the Eagles game.
David Thornton: After several years of solid NLF service, Thornton didn't even put on pads this year and was only really activated off of the PUP list as a thank you and to provide a little leadership in the locker room.
Guys like Rennie Curran, Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw didn't see the field much as linebackers but were big contributors on special teams coverages. Shaw especially excelled there, and I saw a backwater report somewhere that he was the alternate choice for general special teams player for the Pro Bowl. Not sure if that was ever officially announced, but I know he made a noticeable impact in ever game covering kicks and punts. Curran should get a shot to play more next season.