We continue our position by position preseason analysis of the 2010 Tennessee Titans with a look at the middle linebacker spot.
Stephen Tulloch is entering his fifth NFL season and his third as the Titans' starting MLB. Tulloch made great strides from 2008, his first year as the regular starter, to 2009, and led the Titans in tackles last season with 121.
While his improvement as a pass defender hasn't matched the gains he has made versus the run, he is a better option than strongside backer Gerald McRath to remain on the field in nickel situations. Tulloch played the first three series Saturday night and defensed two passes in fifteen snaps. He broke up one pass where he reached in front of the receiver while avoiding an interference call; the second PD would have been an interception if he was a little taller (or had longer arms.)
Tulloch stayed away from Nashville during OTAs in the hope of receiving a new contract, which never materialized. Middle linebacker is not a position the Titans have historically invested a lot of money in -- the standard line is that the MLB only plays 30 to 40% of the snaps -- so Tulloch will be playing under a one-year tender this season.
Colin Allred will more than likely be Tulloch's backup this year. Allred, an overachieving former undrafted free agent, can play all three linebacker positions and replaced Keith Bulluck at Will for the final two games in 2009. He's also the favorite to start in McRath's Sam spot for the first four weeks this season. In the first two weeks of training camp, Allred and McRath have been alternating as the #1 strongside linebacker (with Jamie Winborn also getting some reps as the #1.)
After starting at Sam Saturday night, Allred took over for Tulloch in the middle and was not overly impressive as a Mike, especially in pass coverage, where he allowed several receivers to settle in front of him to pick up first downs.
Mike Rivera has been the backup to Tulloch on the Titans' depth chart (he's now third on that joke of a depth chart) and has been the #2 Mike throughout training camp. However, as we saw Saturday night, he was the third and last MLB in the game. Rivera's best chance for making the team seems to be that he'll stick around for the first four weeks, while Allred is at Sam, before becoming expendable. He is a decent special teams player, which helps his cause.
Finally, the Titans have listed snapper Ken Amato as the fourth MLB on their depth chart. Amato hasn't played a defensive snap in several years, so he should not be considered to be anything more than an emergency fill-in at the position.