Colin McCarthy hopes to make sophomore splash

Colin McCarthy likes to call them “splash” plays, the kind of moments that can pump up a defense, deflate an offense and turn a game’s momentum in a matter of seconds.

Despite starting just seven games last season as a rookie, he made plenty of splashes — leading the Titans with eight tackles for loss and adding two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

As the expected full-time starter at middle linebacker for 2012, McCarthy is hoping to make an even bigger impact on a defense that ranked 18th overall last season.

“You have to make plays in this league because the way the offenses are now, it’s all so high-scoring,” McCarthy said Tuesday, prior to participating in the Christmas 4 Kids Celebrity Golf Tournament at Pine Creek Golf Course.

“So whether you’re getting interceptions or sacks or causing fumbles or whatever, they’re all key to winning games. It’s something the coaches stress and something we work on, so to add a few more of those next year would be great.”

McCarthy’s ability to make those kinds of plays is what separates him most from his immediate predecessors.

Stephen Tulloch was a tackling machine, but he never forced a fumble while playing 80 games — and starting in 46 — over five years. And Tulloch never produced more than seven tackles for loss in a single season; McCarthy had eight in limited time last season.

Barrett Ruud started more games at middle linebacker for the Titans than McCarthy did last season, but he didn’t cause or recover a fumble and only recorded two tackles for loss.

“That’s what you need to do, those little splash plays,” McCarthy said. “They’re out there. Throughout the game, there are opportunities to make interceptions, opportunities to get the ball out. You just have to stress that, and to have that mentality when you go in for tackles.”

McCarthy got a crash course as starting middle linebacker last season, forced into the role earlier than expected because of the injury issues that eventually landed Ruud on injured reserve.

He piled up 76 tackles — the fourth-highest total for any Titans rookie since 1999 — while admitting the transition from college life to the pros wasn’t easy.

“Everything seemed like it happened fast last year,” McCarthy said. “You get here and you’re learning the defense, and you’re learning your way around the city, too. There’s so much other stuff going on besides football.”

That’s why McCarthy is looking forward to a full offseason with the Titans coaching staff, something he was deprived of last year because of the lockout. He wants not only to learn more about his responsibilities, but also about the roles of his defensive teammates as well.

“Understanding what everyone is doing out there, I think that’s going to be real important,” McCarthy said. “Last year we were kind of throwing new things every week and trying to get a grasp of them. I knew them, but I didn’t know them inside out.

“I couldn’t understand where a safety might be dropping or ... where my help is, taking on certain blocks. That’s going to be key as far as the new year and to understand that stuff.”

In separate interviews last week, General Manager Ruston Webster and Coach Mike Munchak both said McCarthy, despite his youth, might be looked to for leadership on a relatively young defense.

McCarthy said if that happens, so be it. But he’s not actively trying to change himself to serve that function.

“I think it sometimes comes with the role of being a middle linebacker because you make the calls and get everyone lined up,” McCarthy said. “But in the NFL, and with these guys, there are veterans who’ve been in the league for 10 or 11 years. Those guys don’t want to hear you talk. They just want to see you play and the results.

“... I’m going to continue to do what I do. If players on the team want to follow me or look to me, I’m more than happy to take on that role.”

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