Growing up in Milan, Tenn., Avery Williamson became a Tennessee Titans fan at a young age.
After being slected in the fifth round of the draft, Williamson now is in the very building that housed many of the players he lists as favorites – Eddie George, Steve McNair, Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth. The list goes on and on.
His favorite Titans linebacker?
It’s a telling statement. Of all the linebackers who have played for this franchise since it landed on Tennessee turf in 1997, Williamson singled out Stephen Tulloch as his favorite. I’m sure part of this is because of body type. At 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, Williamson has a similar physique to the low-to-the-ground Tulloch, who played for the Titans from 2006-2010.
But it also points out just how undistinguished the linebacker position has been for the Titans. Since the franchise transitioned from Houston to Nashville, only one Titans linebacker has made the Pro Bowl – Keith Bulluck in 2003.
Until recently, the franchise had struggled to acquire quality wide receivers, however shortcomings at linebacker are just as acute. Think about it: if you’re an offensive coordinator, is there a Titans linebacker you have to scheme around? There isn’t a Terell Suggs or a Patrick Willis to be found.
The absence of play-making linebackers since Bulluck left town after the 2009 season helps explains why Titans’ defense have been slacking. They’ve finished in the top half of the league in total defense only once in the past five seasons.
It’s not for a lack of trying in the draft. Current Titans linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown are second-round picks who so far have failed to play up to expectations. In 2010, the Titans wasted a third-round pick on Rennie Curran.
You have to go back to Bulluck’s draft class – and that’s 14 years ago – to find real success. In addition to picking Bulluck in the first round, the Titans drafted the productive Peter Sirmon in the fourth.
Over the years, the Titans have managed to fill some of the gaps via free agency. Randall Godfrey, David Thornton, Will Witherspoon and Moise Fokou come to mind as free-agent pickups who made impacts of varying degrees, although none was considered a star.
The revamped 3-4 scheme under new Titans defensive cordinator Ray Horton puts even more focus on linebacker play. Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley are now listed as outside linebackers instead of defensive ends; however both will have an opportunity to make greater impacts in the 3-4.
Likewise, free-agent pickups Shauhn Phillips and Wesley Woodyard have some mileage but certainly have upgraded the linebacking corps. But you wonder how Akers and Brown will adjust to the new defensive scheme. And where does Colin McCarthy fit in ?
Meanwhile, there’s Williamson, who was a tackling machine at Kentucky. He agreed to terms on Tuesday. He figures to make an impact on special teams this season, but he also could work into the rotation as an inside linebacker.
The scouting report on Williamson is that he’s tough, durable, relentless, a sure tackler and solid against the run but needs work in pass coverage.
Come to think of it, that was the book on Stephen Tulloch.