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Titans positional analysis – linebackers

Although the defensive line has problems, the rush defense should be better this year than last season’s 30th-ranked unit. The reason is simple — the linebacking corps should be improved and be the strength of the defense this season. It also has very good depth.
There are two reasons for the expected improvement. David Thornton was slowed a little last year with a shoulder injury but is healthy now. Secondly, and more importantly, the middle linebacker position was upgraded with the acquisition of Ryan Fowler.
The Titans usually keep six LBs on the roster, plus LB/LS Ken Amato. Following are the players who will compete for those jobs.
Keith Bulluck – The star of the defense for the last several years, Bulluck continues to play at or near Pro Bowl level. The addition of Fowler and a healthier Thornton will allow him to concentrate even more on his own responsibilities this year. You can pencil Bulluck in to man the weakside position again.
David Thornton – The favorite to start on the strong side again, Thornton missed three starts due to injury last year but still finished third on the team in tackles. He’s got the speed to go sideline to sideline and is the perfect complement to Bulluck on the other side.
Ryan Fowler – Based on his $11.5M contract, Fowler should be favored to start in the middle. He’s an intelligent linebacker who’s larger than Peter Sirmon and will be able to take on blockers a lot better to plug the middle. Fowler was a favorite of Bill Parcells in Dallas, so you know he has to have some toughness.
Stephen Tulloch – Tulloch will challenge Fowler for the starting MLB spot in one of the most competitive battles in training camp. He backed up Sirmon last year and had a decent rookie campaign with three starts and 47 tackles. Tulloch turned the Philadelphia game around last year with an end zone interception of Donovan McNabb.
Gilbert Gardner – A former teammate of Thornton’s, Gardner had 12 starts for the Colts last year. As you’d expect from a former Colt, he’s got speed and quickness and will backup Bulluck on the weakside.
LeVar Woods – The six-year veteran has a reputation for his special teams play. A teammate of Kyle Vanden Bosch in high school and with the Arizona Cardinals, Woods will backup Thornton on the strongside.
Terna Nande – An impressive physical specimen, Nande struggled understanding his assignments last year. Although he was a fifth-round draft pick, he was released, went unclaimed, was signed to the practice squad and later added to the active roster. If he makes the team he could become a good special teams player.
Spencer Toone – Like Nande, he was a draft pick that was released and resigned to the practice squad last year. He was also later signed to the active roster and appeared in three games on special teams.
Colin Allred – An undrafted rookie free agent last year, this is Allred’s second attempt to make the team.
Nande, Toone and Allred are distinct underdogs to make the 53-man roster.
Amato will make the team again as the snapper. He could spend all of his practice time with the kicker and punter but he also enjoys working with the linebackers and is rewarded with occasional playing time.
For further reading on these guys, check out this offseason review of them which I wrote in February.
If you’re wondering, Peter Sirmon was released and then retired this spring. He’s now a real estate agent in middle Tennessee. Rob Reynolds was released this summer for non-football reasons.