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Titans Training Camp Preview: Inside Linebacker

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Breaking down the Titans interior linebackers with camp fast approaching.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Players

#1: Wesley Woodyard - 84 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed.

Woodyard comes to Nashville via Denver, where he played well, especially situationally. He stands as the Titans first "cemented" starter at ILB. Woodyard has proven an effective player tracking down passes on the periphery and playing soundly in the run game as well. While not a prototypical run-fitting inside backer, Woodyard does give the Titans plenty of athletic flexibility and a reliable tackler that they have not had in a number of years.

His spot is virtually assured, but like most defenders in Horton's new defense, he will be part of a heavy rotation.

#2: Zach Brown - 91 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 Interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes defensed.

Zach Brown has an up and down season in 2013. After starting out strong, especially as a pass rushing OLB, Brown faded and was eventually benched for his inconsistent play and "poor" attitude. He is an ideal fit on the inside of Horton's 3-4, where his freakish athleticism gives the play caller a lot of liberty. He will fight in camp for the 2nd "starting" role at ILB, where I would say he has the upper hand.

Brown will get his chance to impress this new coaching staff during camp, and I see him winning the role out of the gate. He should thrive under Horton's guidance.

#3: Colin McCarthy - 55 tackles, 1 Interception, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 pass defensed.

McCarthy enters year 4 at a crossroads. While he has shown flashes of brilliance in the past (namely during his rookie season) McCarthy regressed in the past two years, hesitating in the pocket and playing poorly against the run. He played last season behind starer Moise Fokou, who is now alongside him in trying to win a significant role in an increasingly talented linebacker group. Whether McCarthy can take advantage of his second chance with an entirely new staff is yet to be seen, but he faces an uphill battle to see the field much in 2014, and an ever tougher one to earn a new contract when his rookie deal expires.

#4: Moise Fokou - 77 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles.

Since Stephen Tulloch's departure from Tennessee in 2011, the Titans have lacked any real stabilizing forces on the interior of the defense. That didn't change with the arrival of Fokou last season. Despite winning the starting job over McCarthy (due to a lingering hamstring injury), Fokou went on to record, according to PFF, one of the 10 worst linebacking seasons of the year. He ended the season as 53rd of 55 qualifying players, and it showed on the field. He struggled against both run and pass, and will face heavy competition for an important role in 2014. He should be safe on the roster as a backup, where I think he has always belonged.

#5: Zaviar Gooden - 13 tackles.

Gooden faced a lot of criticism last year coming in at an unexpectedly high draft choice. He struggled with injuries that limited his time in both camp and during the season, where his role was limited to special teams. Whether he is able to turn his impressive speed and athletic ability into production remains to be seen, but he's going to get the best shot at it with increasingly talented coaches at his disposal. He faces an uphill battle to make the roster.

#6: Avery Williamson {R}

Williamson comes to Tennessee as the most productive defensive member of the Kentucky Wildcats. The Titans were able to steal him late in the draft. Williamson is a natural run-stopper with impressive strength at the point of attack, and some unexpected athletic ability. While not speedy and fluid enough to be effective in coverage long term, he should be a perfect fit on the inside of Horton's 3-4, with athletic backers around him to help in that regard. I wouldn't be surprised to see him earn some playing time later in the season.

Williamson was one of my favorite players in the draft, so it will be worth watching to see how he performs in his first NFL training camp.

#7: Patrick Bailey - 9 tackles.

After spending several seasons as a prime member of the Titans special teams squad, Bailey stands as an expensive player in the final year of his deal, and is on the roster bubble accordingly. Bailey is due $1.2 million in 2014, far outweighing his value. He will face stiff competition from the younger guys in camp to earn a roster spot.

#8: Brandon Copeland

After spending the bulk of the 2013 season on the Titans practice squad, the 6-3, 260 lb Copeland will get another shot at winning at roster spot, either inside or outside. He will need to impress on special teams coverage unit drills to earn a spot. I'm not convinced he does that this season.

#9: David Hinds

Hinds was cut by the Dolphins last season during the final roster cutdown. Like Copeland, he will compete on the inside for a linebacker spot, with the need to impress on special teams to make the unit. He is a little leaner, a 6-0 and 230 lbs, Hinds is a fluid player who can do a little bit of everything. At this point, him and Copeland share a difficult path in making the final cut in Tennessee.

What's Changed?

The Titans added talent. Simply put. The two "starters" last season will now compete for backup roles in Tennessee, alluding to the amount of talent the team brought in with the likes of Wesley Woodyard, drafted Avery Williamson, and brought Zach Brown inside to play ILB. The Titans now have the luxury of depth in the middle; a rarity in the past few seasons that has seen the unit bleed against the run.

Hopefully an infusion of talent, both on the personnel side as well as the coaching, is enough to turn the group around in 2014.

The Big Question?

Can the unit as a whole come together to stop the run? While Tennessee has also suffered in defending the pass from the interior linebacker spots, they brought in proven guys like Woodyard to address it. The added speed from guys like Zach Brown should further help the issue. The running game was a big priority heading into this season, which several years of failure to account for.

Can the corps come together to provide a stout run defense? The quality of the 2014 Titans defense will depend on it.

Worst Case Scenario

Woodyard and Brown can't stop the run, and the group struggles with injuries. McCarthy and Fokou are forced back into the lineup, and the Titans end up doing a repeat of 2012 and 2013. That would spell disaster in Tennessee.

Best Case Scenario

The Titans added talent pays off. The unit effectively defends both the run and the pass, using the athletic ability of Woodyard and Brown. Zaviar Gooden helps justify his draft spot by contributing to the team on defense. Williamson comes along as well as a 2-down run stopping specialist.

Summary

The Titans have a lot of schematic changes coming from last year to now, but the team is well-prepared in the personnel dept. to accomplish the transition. Adding a proven middle defender like Woodyard should pay off in a big way. There will be plenty of fierce competition for what will essentially end up as four roster spots, so the Titans training camp should give us a better idea of where the pecking order stands. Either way, I think it's safe to say that the Titans defense, especially at middle linebacker, will be much improved in 2014.