We'll continue our offseason breakdown of how the Tennessee Titans stack up at each position by taking a look at middle linebacker.
Without question, MLB is one of those positions on the team where there's one standout guy (Stephen Tulloch) and little to no accomplished depth behind him. Considering Tulloch's pending free agent status next month, the Titans would be wise to re-sign him because if they don't, there's little doubt that the starting MLB in 2010 will be someone who is currently not on the team's roster.
As I mentioned in a recent article, Tulloch is a hard-working player who is dedicated to self-improvement and has become one of the team's staples on the defensive side of the football. Despite still having some issues defending the pass, Tully has become a heat-seeking missile against the run, as evidenced by his team-leading 121 tackles in 2009.
Barring the miracle of a new collective bargaining agreement becoming a reality before the start of free agency, Tulloch will likely be a restricted free agent next month. According to media reports, the Titans are expected to do what it takes to bring Tully back to Nashville in 2010, which is a good thing, considering the aforementioned lack of quality depth waiting in the wings.
Speaking of the team's depth at MLB, the guy who heads this unheralded list is Colin Allred. Known mostly for his special teams' talents, Allred also has the ability to fill in at MLB as well as the OLB position, as indicated by his eight tackles in a start against the Chargers last Christmas.
I like Allred as a member of this football team due to his ability to contribute in a few different areas. However, color me not too enthused if he has to spend significant time strictly as a linebacker.
Ken Amato is listed as the team's third MLB on the depth chart, but he's an emergency player at the position only. His primary responsibility on the team has been serving as the Titans' long-snapper since 2003. He's currently in contract talks with the Titans so hopefully both sides can get something done soon so he can continue to be the team's long-snapper moving forward.
Outside of the guys I've already mentioned, the only other MLB possibility on the current roster could be the recently acquired Pago Togafau, an undersized guy who has the ability to contribute at both inside and outside linebacker positions. I don't know much about him, other than the fact that he has a cool name and he was signed from the Cardinals so hopefully, we'll learn more about the "Pago Stick" as we move towards training camp.
As I mentioned earlier, if the apocalypse occurs and Tulloch leaves the Titans, the team will be forced to bring in another starting MLB. Unfortunately, outside of Indy's Gary Brackett, who will probably be too expensive, there's not a lot to choose from on the unrestricted free agent list at middle linebacker, with veterans such as Larry Foote and a guy we're familiar with, Ryan Fowler, heading the less-than-inspiring list of potentials. Another possibility could be former Giants' standout Antonio Pierce, but given the fact that the team cut him due to his injuries, he's probably damaged goods at this point in his career.
The restricted free agent class has a couple of intriguing possibilities in the event that Tully leaves, but it's going to require some compensation in the form of draft picks to get one of these guys. Tampa's Barrett Ruud and Oakland's Kirk Morrison are both tackling-machines who would probably fit in nicely in Nashville if Tulloch departs. Texans' standout DeMeco Ryan is also scheduled to be a RFA, but I'd be shocked if Houston was foolish enough to let him go elsewhere.
As for the draft, considering the team's other pressing needs on defense (DE, CB, possibly DT), I'd be shocked if the Titans devoted a selection towards the MLB position, regardless of whether or not Tully returns.
Hopefully, the Titans will succeed in their efforts to retain Tulloch because if they don't, finding a starting MLB would be yet another task on the Tennessee Titans' massive offseason to-do-list on the defensive side of the football.
Your turn, audience: Should the Titans re-sign Tully, or would the team be better served going after another MLB such as Brackett, Ruud or Morrison in free agency?