Titans don't falter as rookie Colin McCarthy starts

In his first opportunity to grab the NFL spotlight, Titans rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy made like an entertainer: He left fans asking for more.

Plenty of Titans fans are still buzzing about McCarthy’s performance against the Panthers last Sunday, when he notched a team-leading 12 tackles (including one for loss) and added a quarterback pressure for good measure.

If he did that well in his first start, the line of questioning goes, why not keep him in place this week when the Titans visit the Falcons?
Not so fast, says defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

It may be true that starter Barrett Ruud has only once produced as many as 12 tackles in a game this season, and that Ruud, who has eight starts, has just one more tackle for loss than McCarthy.

But the Titans still believe that Ruud, a seventh-year pro who signed a one-year deal for $4 million, can make a broader and more consistent impact at this point.

“It’s Barrett’s job,” Gray said. “We brought him in here to lead us and he gives us great leadership. Barrett gives us a calmness that a lot of guys can’t give. When you saw him (play for) Tampa Bay, he did that, too.”

Which is not to say the Titans are discrediting what McCarthy did against the Panthers, especially considering he had been sidelined the previous three weeks with a bad hamstring.

Instead of letting the injury sidetrack him, McCarthy remained focused on what he would have to do when he returned.

“He stuck with it,” said Ruud, who missed the Carolina game with a groin strain. “He was in the meeting rooms and asking questions. So he was prepared to go.”

Predictably, there were some missteps for McCarthy, who might have been a bit too keyed up for his own good.

“Obviously early in the game I missed a few tackles,” the fourth-round pick from Miami said. “You never like to do that, especially early on.”
But it didn’t take long for McCarthy to do something positive.

On Carolina’s second series, he tackled running back DeAngelo Williams for a five-yard loss. On Carolina’s third series, McCarthy made tackles on second and third down, prompting a punt.

“That’s an offense that was putting up a lot of numbers and he didn’t seem like he was out of place, not shaken up by it,” Gray said. “I like that about a young guy. He has a swagger about him like, ‘Hey, when it’s my time, I’m going to go ahead and play.’ ”

McCarthy was clearly pumped about the pummeling the Titans delivered in a 30-3 win.

“He definitely has a lot of emotion,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “I think we all saw that. We laughed about it. We were kidding him, saying, ‘Man, if you keep kicking around like that, you’re going to pull a hamstring.’ But he was good out there.”

Maybe most impressive to McCarthy and his teammates was his mental performance.

The Titans did some different things against the Panthers — blitzing more often, for instance — but McCarthy wasn’t overwhelmed in his role as “defensive quarterback.”

“As far as getting everybody lined up, making the strength calls, pointing out any keys pre-snap and getting the calls across to get everyone set up that we can play … I thought I did a good job of that,” he said.

Said Ruud: “The biggest thing he did was call the defense.”

McCarthy sat out practice Thursday with soreness in his knee, but is expected to practice today.

He won’t be preparing for a start against the Falcons — the Titans have made that clear — but expect to see more of McCarthy in upcoming games. He earned the opportunities.

“He took advantage (of his chance) and that opened your eyes to what he can handle now,” Coach Mike Munchak said. “… He is still definitely going to be a huge part of our defense.”

Click here to order Colin McCarthy’s proCane Rookie Card.

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