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Titans’ LB jobs all up for grabs

Titans’ LB jobs all up for grabs

Posted: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 12:07 pm

NASHVILLE (AP) — There are more questions than answers swirling around the linebacker position at the Tennessee Titans this offseason.
None of the Titans’ three starters from a year ago have practiced during the voluntary organized team activities.
Keith Bulluck tore the ACL in his left knee last December and still is rehabbing and unsigned as a free agent. David Thornton is healing from pectoral surgery, and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch has been AWOL, finally signing his $2.521 million tender Monday as a restricted free agent. But he still hasn’t shown up as the team wraps up its on-field work this offseason by June 25.
The NFL announced Monday that Gerald McRath, a projected starter this season, will miss the first four regular season games after a positive test for a banned substance under the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
So the Titans are preparing to move on with the players they have.
“You always have to be ready to manage whatever comes up, and we’ve got guys,” linebackers coach Dave McGinnis said Tuesday.
“Last year they did a nice job when David and Keith both went down, and we won some games down the stretch. Now, everybody is a year older and more experienced. We just keep plugging in. That’s part of it. We coach everybody here from day one like they’re going to be a starter. So when it’s their time to play, we expect them to be ready to play.”
The new leader in this group actually still is learning his way around himself. Will Witherspoon was signed after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles and has stepped into Bulluck’s old spot at left linebacker. The nine-year veteran accepts the responsibility to lead and learn at the same time during these unusual circumstances.
“It’s kind of in a state of flux, but you try to bring stability to things and make sure you understand what’s going on and how can you approach the situation. That’s exactly what I want to do,” said Witherspoon, who previously played in Carolina and St. Louis before joining the Eagles in midseason last year.
“I’m the one that’s got to come in here, and being one of the older guys, I’ve got to kind of bring the younger guys along and make sure I understand and learn the defense, and learn the ins and outs and kind of the tweaks of every little situation.”
McGinnis and the other linebackers agree Witherspoon has taken well to this role.
“Witherspoon is excellent. Witherspoon was a wonderful, wonderful acquisition for us. He is a professional in all aspects of it,” McGinnis said. “He’s not only a pro, he’s a player and the players are gravitating toward him very, very quickly.
With McRath gone for the season’s first month and unable to rejoin the team until Oct. 4, the Titans are hoping Thornton can return from his offseason pectoral surgery.
They also are looking longer this offseason at Colin Allred, Stanford Keglar and rookie Rennie Curran, a third-round pick out of Georgia. For Curran, the extra work is extremely valuable, and he welcomes the challenge to compete for potential playing time.
“Your mindset always has to be, ’I’m the best’ whenever you walk on the field. That’s the mentality going in whether I’ve got three people ahead of me or one person ahead of me,” Curran said.
While the numbers are thin and the faces a bit unfamiliar, things should normalize by the start of training camp July 31.
Now that Tulloch has signed his tender, the Titans can pencil him back into the middle, and Thornton is working to return by training camp and could play at least until McRath is ready. Bulluck’s return isn’t completely out of the question either. Coach Jeff Fisher said again Monday he would like to see Bulluck finish his career in Tennessee. Passing a physical will be the first step.
For now, many moving parts have to be settled, says Allred, the interim starter in the middle until Tulloch returns.
“We have guys that have been here, and we have a lot of depth. I don’t think it’s a question mark, it’s just something we have to figure out,” he said.

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