Last year was the first season since 2001 that Keith Bulluck didn’t lead the team in tackles. There were two reasons for that and their names are Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The Pro Bowl duo played in front of Bulluck and the beneficiary was David Thornton, who had 122 tackles as the Titans strongside linebacker.
You can count on Bulluck and Thornton to be the starters again this year. The pair gives Tennessee sideline to sideline range with their speed and they’re both good in pass coverage as well. The question for 2008 is who their backups will be. Gilbert Gardner was inactive at the end of last year, LeVar Woods was released, and three newcomers were added to the roster late in the year.
These are the guys currently in the mix:
Keith Bulluck – Tom Gower makes a strong case for Bulluck as the Titans’ most valuable defensive player for the 2007 season. As Tom noted, Bulluck’s level of play was “merely excellent,” down a notch from “ungodly awesome.” Mr. Monday Night showcased his talents last year against the Saints by intercepting three Drew Brees passes. You’d expect good pass coverage skills from a safety converted to OLB and Tom credited Bulluck for the Titans’ excellent job in pass defense against TEs and RBs. Bulluck has only one Pro Bowl appearance, but has been deserving of several more. It seems that 4-3 OLBs are frequently snubbed in favor of 3-4 guys.
David Thornton – Remaining healthy in 2007 allowed Thornton to show great improvement over his 2006 season, when he had a bad shoulder. I love his speed, reaction and pursuit. He’s quick to the ball. Thornton’s a great complement to Bulluck, giving the Titans good speed and coverage on both sides of the field. Opponents should run away from Albert and KVB, toward Thornton’s side of the field, even more this year if the Titans lose LDE Antwan Odom, which seems likely. That means more tackles for Thornton and increases the importance of him staying healthy in 2008.
Gilbert Gardner – He backed up Bulluck on the weak side last year, and also has 12 career starts on the strong side. A veteran player with speed, he’s also a very good special teams player on coverage units. Gardner started 15 games during his three years with the Colts and is now scheduled to be a free agent in March. The Titans won’t sign him before then, but if left unsigned, he could return. I’d like to see him stay on. He’s a good veteran backup and a good special teams player.
Rich Scanlon – After three seasons with the Chiefs, Scanlon joined the Titans in 2007. He can play all three LB positions, which may help him earn a roster spot in 2008.
Jorge Cordova – A four-year veteran, Cordova spent his first two NFL seasons on IR. Drafted by the Jaguars, Cordova was released by them three times last year and once by the Dolphins.
Ken Amato – The Titans longsnapper also sees occasional action at linebacker in situational packages. Amato finished 2007 on IR. His contract runs through 2009.
Jeremy Cain – Another four-year vet, Cain was with the Bears and Eagles before signing with Tennessee to replace Amato as the snapper. Like Amato, he also plays linebacker; unlike Amato, he also plays fullback. His versatility should allow him to compete with Amato for a job this year.
Outlook: Gardner has the best shot of the reserves to be a Titan again this fall. Tennessee doesn’t need to sign any free agents in the offseason but a second day draft pick is a good possibility.
Next in the series: the middle linebackers.