Tennessee Titans Position Rankings: Ranking the Titans Linebackers for 2011
However, the Titans were able to draft two promising young linebackers and promote from within to try and make up for it.
Last season, the linebackers struggled to drop into coverage and in covering the flats. They have to improve in that area this season, and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has been stressing that during training camp drills.
The success of this position will be critical to whether or not the Titans enjoy success in 2011.
8. Ken Amato (Experience: 9 Years)
Ken Amato has been with the Titans for his entire career, but he's never been able to become a regular starter during that time.
He's never had more than 15 tackles in a season, and that was in 2004.
Amato's true role to the team is as a long-snapper and a special teams member, but he also serves as a situational linebacker. In other words, if the Titans are unfortunate enough to deal with multiple injuries at the position, then Amato would step in.
Hopefully, that won't be necessary.
7. Colin McCarthy (Experience: Rookie)
Meet the Titans' fourth-round selection, Colin McCarthy.
McCarthy will not be a starter in his rookie season, but he'll play a vital role on special teams. We could also maybe see him if the Titans decide to use a four-linebacker set at times.
What will hopefully make McCarthy so valuable for the Titans is his versatility and athleticism. Those traits could lead him to a starting role in the next couple of seasons, but until that time comes, he'll have to help out in other ways.
6. Tim Shaw (Experience: 4 Years)
Tim Shaw had a decent first year with the Titans in 2010 as he stepped in and collected 29 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Much like Amato, most of Shaw's contributions come on special teams, but he started at linebacker against San Diego last season.
Shaw recorded three tackles in that game.
If a few key injuries occur, then Shaw could very well end up being the replacement.
5. Rennie Curran (Experience: 2 Years)
Rennie Curran will probably end up being the backup to either Will Witherspoon or Barrett Ruud at the strongside linebacker spot, and he's showing a ton of potential to be a viable starter one day.
If Witherspoon struggles, then don't be surprised if the Titans turn him loose. After all, they used a third-round draft pick on him in 2010, and he was an absolute stud for the Georgia Bulldogs for three seasons.
All he needs is an opportunity, and there's a decent chance he'll get it this season.
4. Akeem Ayers (Experience: Rookie)
Akeem Ayers could've very well been drafted to be the future replacement of the departed Stephen Tulloch. He has that much potential to be a star in the NFL.
He has a great chance at being the starter at outside linebacker thanks to his ability to drop back into coverage and stop the run.
Ayers has looked great in training camp so far, and he's been getting consistent opportunities to work with the first-team during practices.
The Titans desperately needed an athletic linebacker to cover those tight ends last season, and they may have one now.
3. Will Witherspoon (Experience: 10 Years)
Despite his NFL experience, Witherspoon is not a lock to be the starter on the outside. There will be plenty of competition with Gerald McRath during training camp and preseason.
It's a good problem to have if you're the Titans, considering both can do some great things on the field.
What hindered Witherspoon last season was his ability to cover the faster tight ends in the league, and he has to improve in that area or Jerry Gray could decide to go a different direction.
He still is a valuable player with his veteran-leadership and his ability to seal the edge.
2. Gerald McRath (Experience: 3 Years)
No other Titans linebacker has improved over the last few seasons more so than Gerald McRath.
He's built the reputation of being one of the better tacklers on the team, and he's started 12 games for the Titans already.
Despite being ranked as the second-best linebacker on this list, he's going to have to take that spot from Witherspoon in training camp.
Witherspoon is the veteran, so he'll most likely get the advantage to start until his production drops.
McRath will have to win over that spot during the regular season, and I see that happening. He has more upside than Witherspoon and just needs a full-time opportunity to produce.
1. Barrett Ruud (Experience: 7 Years)
The newest linebacker on the Titans roster is also the team's most valuable at the position.
The Titans had to add some sort of veteran leadership after losing Stephen Tulloch, and to a lesser degree, David Thornton.
Barrett Ruud has recorded at least 100 tackles in four-straight seasons, and he's a pretty good coverage linebacker to go along with it.
Without a guy like Ruud on the team, the Titans would be extremely young and inexperienced at the position. That would be a recipe for disaster, so in comes Ruud to the rescue.
The signing of Ruud caps off what has to be viewed as a productive offseason for the Titans considering the circumstances.
Predicted Week 1 Starters: Barrett Ruud, Akeem Ayers, Will Witherspoon