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2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OLB
Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
Will Witherspoon wore #4 in training camp.

We continue our offseason position by position analyses with the unpleasant task of looking at the outside linebackers.

As all Titans fans are aware, the OLBs were the worst position group on the team last year and had it not been for the serendipitous acquisition of Will Witherspoon, they would have been even worse.  I shudder to think how bad it would have been with someone else at Will.

The OLBs did a terrible job covering tight ends and running backs last year.  They were the primary reason the defense was last in the league in time of possession and third-down efficiency.  Opposing tight ends, even injured ones, little-known ones, and backups, looked like All-Pros against the Titans.

Here’s a recap of what opposing TEs did during a particularly painful four-game stretch.

@ San Diego:  Antonio Gates didn’t have one good foot to stand on, let alone to run on, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his stat line – 7 catches, 123 yards, 1 TD.

@ Miami:  Anthony Fasano (who?) had some crucial receptions which kept drives alive and gained 105 yards with 1 TD.  And this without a real QB to throw him the ball.

vs Redskins:  Chris Cooley and Fred Davis combined for 9 receptions and 135 yards.

@ Houston:  The Texans were without their star TE Owen Daniels, but it didn’t matter.  You guessed it, his backup Joel Dreesen had three catches and scored a TD.

Strongside LB Gerald McRath was responsible for much of the problem, though Witherspoon had his difficulties as well.  You can also look at MLB and S, but most of the problem was at OLB.  While one can debate how much of the problem was personnel and how much was schematic, OLB is one of the six positions I identified as in need of an upgrade in 2011.

New defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and LB coach Frank Bush have inherited quite a fine mess and it’s doubtful if they’ll make any major schematic changes, especially if there’s a shortened preseason and training camp.  One thing to note: former LB coach Dave McGinnis has been retained by Mike Munchak, though it’s unclear what input he’ll have, especially at this position. 

Here’s a look at the players and their pending status.

Will Witherspoon will be in the second year of his three-year contract.  You would expect him in to start on the weakside again but he’s played all three linebacker positions and could be moved if necessary.  Will seems to be his natural position but with the possibility of MLB Stephen Tulloch leaving in free agency, Spoon could move inside.

Gerald McRath will be in the third year of a four-year contract.  I don’t think you can blame his poor play last year on his four-game suspension.  He had plenty of first-team reps in training camp, which he needed, and got, going into the season.

We didn’t see much of Rennie Curran last year.  There’s been speculation the third-round draft pick could move to the middle, which would surprise me.  The guy is listed at 230 pounds, but he looks slighter than that.  Though he’s a workout warrior, I just don’t think he can take the pounding inside.  Curran seems to have a better build for Will, where he backed up Witherspoon last year.  He’d probably start there if the Titans decide to move Spoon.  Curran has three years remaining on his contract.

Tim Shaw has been with four teams in four years, which is a little surprising.  Shaw stood out on special teams, leading the team with 20 tackles.  He also added 11 tackles on defense.  Shaw received a low tender from the Titans, which may keep him around for another year.  I don’t expect much from him on defense but he’s a valuable special teamer.

Patrick Bailey is another special teams ace, where he registered 19 tackles last year.  Don’t expect him to compete for a starting position – he’ll be strictly a special teamer and reserve, if he returns.  Bailey also received a low tender from the Titans.

It looks like David Thornton played his last game as a Titan in 2009.  He never did recuperate from his latest surgery and missed the entire 2010 season, finally being placed on Injured Reserve.  Thornton will be an unrestricted free agent but will probably retire.

Colin Allred was not tendered by the Titans.  Like Thornton, his career may be over following neck surgery last year.

Jamie Winborn filled in for McRath during his four-game suspension and actually performed better than I expected.  He appeared in 6 games but finished the season on IR.  Winborn is unsigned and will be a free agent this year.  He’ll be 32 and this may be the end of the road for him as well.

The draft:  One player stands out and the Titans will have to give him serious consideration if he falls to #8.  Von Miller is ranked in the top eight on just about all the big boards, but there’s a strong possibility that two quarterbacks may be drafted early, which will push two quality players back towards the Titans at #8.  Could Miller be one of the two to fall that far?  He ought to be an immediate upgrade over McRath.