The middle linebacker is only on the field for about 40% of the Titans’ plays on defense, but when one is in the game it’s a position of obvious importance.
The middle of Tennessee’s defense looks to be in good shape this year with two veterans who are experienced as starters.
Ryan Fowler started the first 14 games before undergoing shoulder surgery. He’s expected to make a full recovery and is also expected to resume his starting duties this fall. Fowler’s size enabled him to better cope with taking on guards and centers than 2006 starter Peter Sirmon, an outside linebacker converted to MLB. His knowledge didn’t seem to be a dropoff compared to Sirmon.
Stephen Tulloch had the inside track to the starting nod a year ago, until the Titans signed Fowler to a $10M contract. They didn’t shell out that kind of money for a backup, so Tulloch seemed destined to be relegated to a backup role and special teams player, which he did well. Tulloch is short at 5′ 11″ but he looks a lot thicker and stouter than his listed weight of 235 suggests, especially up close. Tulloch seems to be an instinctive player who gets in trouble when he guesses wrong. He played well filling in for Fowler at the end of the season.
Colin Allred spent most of last year on the practice squad before seeing action. I doubt if he makes the team this year.
Outlook – If Fowler satisfactorily rehabs from his shoulder injury, there shouldn’t be any problems at the Mike position this year. Tulloch is a solid backup capable of starting if needed, so there’s no need to pick up another player, either in free agency or the draft.
Some readers may have noted the amount of tackles I use is different than the numbers sometimes published in The Tennessean.
The league used to have a disclaimer on their website stating that tackles were not an official statistic and were compiled by the scorers. I use those stats, while the paper uses numbers furnished by the team after the coaches review the tapes. There is sometimes a considerable difference, which goes to show the coaches can make the numbers anything they want them to be.
Next in the series: the cornerbacks.