We continue our offseason positional analyses with a look at the outside linebackers.
Keith Bulluck has led the Titans in tackles six of the last seven years. A nine-year veteran, Bulluck hasn't lost a step, as evidenced by his team-leading 98 tackles last year. Since breaking into the starting lineup, Bulluck hasn't missed a start for seven years. He's been remarkably injury-free. Although he hasn't slowed down yet, Bulluck will be 32 years old and will begin the twilight of his career soon. He's one of the team's captains and has garnered Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro accolades, which is rare for an outside backer in a 4-3 defense. His current contract expires after this season.
David Thornton is the man who led the team in tackles the year that Bulluck didn't, 2007. He hasn't slowed down a bit either. He's still quick enough to pursue the run and cover the pass, while being physical enough to play the strongside (Sam) linebacker position. Thornton, who has played seven years (four with the Colts, three with the Titans), will turn 31 this year. He provides veteran leadership and is such a good leader the Colts named him as a captain in only his third year. Thornton's contract runs through the 2010 season, so he should be here for two more years.
Josh Stamer is Thornton's backup at Sam. After Stamer joined the Titans last year, I asked a Buffalo Bills blogger for his opinion on Stamer. He said Stamer was a good special teams player, but not that good on defense. I didn't see anything last season which contradicted that opinion.
Colin Allred plays on the other side, behind Bulluck, and he doesn't get much playing time on defense either. He's a lot like Stamer in several ways, including being a core member on special teams.
Stanford Keglar is third on the depth chart at Will and also a key special teamer. I've heard it took him awhile to catch on to some things but now that he'll be in his second season, a lot of improvement will be expected from him this year.
Ken Amato, the team's snapper, also plays a little linebacker, behind Thornton and Stamer on the strong side. He gets on the field every now and then in a special package. If Amato makes or doesn't make the team this year, it will be because of the competition at snapper. His ability to play linebacker is just gravy.
Opinion - I sure hope that Bulluck and Thornton remain healthy because I shudder to think of one of those other guys having to replace one of them. If there is an injury to either starter I would move MLB Stephen Tulloch outside and play Ryan Fowler in the middle. Not much of a dropoff there. There's no telling what the new defensive coordinator, whoever it will be, might do in that situation.
Prediction - This is a position the Titans will address early in the draft. An upgrade in the depth is needed with someone capable of starting soon if necessary. If it doesn't become necessary right away, the man should be groomed to take over in a year or two for either Bulluck or Thornton.