The Titans faded down the stretch on defense in 2013, and that was truer at Middle Linebacker than anywhere else on the team. How does the roster stack up as it stands right now, heading into year one of the Whisenhunt regime?
($1.4 million in 2014)
Fokou signed a 2 year deal last off-season to bolster the Titans Middle Linebacker position. After a camp hamstring injury to incumbent starter, Colin McCarthy, Fokou grabbed a hold of the job and was the starter henceforth. He began 2013 with a strong showing, with the entire defense playing aggressively, a system Fokou seemed to shine in. As the year wore on and after returning from a mid-season injury, however; the wheels came off. Moise Fokou racked up 77 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles (in the same game) and 1 fumble recovery. Despite this, he graded as one of the league's worst starting inside linebackers, becoming a liability against the run and displaying a lack of ability to play effective zone coverage underneath against the pass.
At this point, I view Fokou as a solid backup, but a player who should not be relied upon to command the defense long-term. The Titans benefited from him being in town last year with a lack of other depth at the position beyond McCarthy, but I feel they slightly overpaid for him.
($645k in 2014)
As previously mentioned, McCarty lost his job to Fokou in camp after suffering a hamstring injury that set him back. He caught some ire of Mike Munchak in statements that McCarthy was "not a 3 down player at this point", and was not expected to start even when fully healthy. As a player he is somewhat of an enigma, breaking through the depth chart his rookie season to make a big impact, but then struggling in his next season with on and off injuries.
2013 was a mixed bag in all honesty. Filling in for Fokou when he went down, McCarthy logged 55 tackles, 1 INT and 1 forced fumble. He struggled with over pursuit issues often, as well as hesitation, something we didn't see much of during his rookie year several campaigns back, when he played down-hill consistently.
The GIF above is painful to watch for a multitude of reasons, but McCarthy hesitates badly, and then fails to bring down the runner, allowing him to go on for a big gain.
McCarthy will need to impress the new staff in the final year of his rookie deal, otherwise he will be playing elsewhere after the 2014 season.
At this point, Middle Linebacker is a priority for the team. There is an appeal to drafting one, but I would prefer they bring in a veteran like Brandon Spikes or Daryl Smith (if he isn't re-signed in Baltimore). I know these two names might not be favored, since one is a Gator and the other is a Raven (for one season only), but both are accomplished players at this juncture, with good resumes against the run in particular. While 31 years old Smith played well against the pass too last season, reeling in 3 interceptions to go with 5 sacks.
The team could also aim for Donald Butler or Karlos Dansby, but that may be stretching the pocket book with so many other areas of need at this point. Either way the Titans need a real answer at MLB. They have lacked one since Stephen Tulloch left town years ago for Detroit, and any good defense needs a real leader and enforcer in the middle. Let's hope, with the addition of Lou Spanos and Ray Horton on the defensive staff, that the Titans get it right this time around.
The other State of the Titans Position Group articles can be found below: