It wasn't too much of a surprise that the Tennessee Titans regressed a bit on defense in 2011, with all of the young players in starting roles, but Colin McCarthy was one player who really played better than expected.
McCarthy was drafted in the fourth round and was not in the immediate plans for having a major role on the defense heading into last season.
However, McCarthy made the most of his opportunities towards the end of the season and has now most likely secured a starting role heading into Week 1.
McCarthy could very well end up being the vocal leader of this Titans defense that has missed that on-the-field leadership since Keith Bulluck left.
In limited action, McCarthy finished the season with 68 tackles along with a slew of other impressive statistics.
McCarthy's value from last season goes well beyond the stat sheet. He was the vocal leader that veteran Barrett Ruud failed to deliver.
More times than not you could see McCarthy communicating with the defense like he had been in the NFL for 10 years, and that was without the benefit of a normal offseason for rookies.
The Titans went 5-3 over their last eight games when McCarthy began seeing more playing time, and held some pretty high-scoring offenses in check during that span.
Buffalo was held to just 17 points in a Titans win that McCarthy played a major role in, with nine tackles and two fumble recoveries.
McCarthy's first significant action of the season came in a win over Carolina that held their dangerous offense to just three points.
If the Titans are going to find their way back into the postseason, then McCarthy is a vital piece at middle linebacker.
Linebacker was an unsettled position for the Titans last offseason, but McCarthy has helped the front office shift their focus to other problem areas of the defense like defensive line.
Akeem Ayers is still the highly talented player that the Titans drafted two rounds before McCarthy, but he needs to show up on a more consistent basis in his second season.
Ayers has acknowledged that he feels he could've done better, and that's a refreshing thing to hear from a young player.
Veteran Will Witherspoon is the weakside linebacker that makes this trio of linebackers a solid one for the Titans moving forward, and it's McCarthy's group to lead.