Once a rising star, Titans’ Colin McCarthy fights for job

Colin McCarthy was a starting linebacker as a rookie in 2011.

A year later, his Titans teammates elected him a team captain. He was the talk of training camp, seemingly on the verge of a breakout season.

McCarthy finds himself in a much different situation these days. In his fourth training camp, he’s trying to prove himself all over again. What used to be a given — a roster spot — is no longer guaranteed.

“It humbles you,” McCarthy said. “I got an opportunity my first year, my second year, to play a lot. But now, I have the opportunity to battle back and try and get on the field. The opportunity to compete brings the best out of you as a player and as a person, though. I’m excited about a fresh start. I’m just going to work hard and do the best I can.”

With a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator and a new position coach, McCarthy wasn’t sure what to expect when players reported for offseason workouts in April. He quickly found out: After playing in a 4-3 defense all the way back to high school in Clearwater, Fla., he’d have to adjust to an inside linebacker role in a 3-4.

He also faces a climb up the depth chart.

Wesley Woodyard and Zach Brown have worked with the starters at inside linebacker throughout training camp and are listed as starters on the unofficial depth chart. McCarthy has worked with the second team on some days, the third team on others. He’s third on the depth chart behind Woodyard and Moise Fokou. Zaviar Gooden and Avery Williamson are also in the competition.

McCarthy has started 19 of 36 games in his first three seasons. Last year in training camp, he lost his job to Moise Fokou but got five starts when Fokou was injured.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton insists McCarthy remains a contender for the starting lineup.

“Everybody is in the same boat. There are no favorites, I don’t have a favorite player or anything like that,” Horton said. “We are not looking at the past. We are looking at what you’ve done since we started the offseason. Everybody has to show us what they can do …

“Can Colin win the starting job? Well, sure he can. And we are grading them by what they do right here.”

Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty, a captain with McCarthy in 2012, said the linebacker’s attitude has been great.

“The one thing about this league is at some point it’s going to humble you, no matter who you are. For it to happen to him early, he has reacted well,” McCourty said. “He can’t choose when he goes in or the reps, but he can control how he works, and he has continued to work hard … and at the end of camp we’ll see where that leaves him.”

Injuries derailed McCarthy in his first two seasons, when he missed 12 games. He dealt with a concussion, an ankle injury and a hamstring, among other ailments. It left McCarthy and his coaches frustrated.

He managed to stay healthy a year ago, played in all 16 games and finished with 51 tackles.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said when he was an NFL player, it was difficult for him to accept a different role, “but that is this job; your role changes. I think the big thing with players who’ve had a long career is they are the ones who understand their role and are efficient in their role.”

McCarthy said he understood he needed to come in with a good attitude, work hard, learn the defense and stay healthy. After what he called a “long year,” he feels comfortable in a new defense — and on a team — he wants to be a part of.

“I’m maybe more hungry than I was in the past, but I am not going to change the way I play,” he said. “It is a little different, but it has hasn’t changed me much. Whatever I can do to help this team win, whether it’s on defense or special teams, I’m going to do it.

“I’m just trying to get better, trying to make sure I know my assignment and make sure I am healthy. I just want to compete.”

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