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Titans Prepare Linebackers to Play in Place of McCarthy at San Diego

Posted Sep 13, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans are preparing for the Chargers as if an ankle sprain will sideline starting middle linebacker Colin McCarthy.

Will Witherspoon said that hasn’t changed his week too much. The 11-year pro who has played multiple linebacker positions in his career is likely to move from weakside linebacker to start in place of McCarthy.

“Playing  ’backer is playing ’backer,” Witherspoon said. “You always have to be prepared to play any one of those positions. A shift or a movement by the offense can always put you in a different position anyway, so you have to prepare for that same standpoint.”

Tennessee (0-1) visits San Diego (1-0) at 3:25 p.m. CDT Sunday and expects more vertical passing attempts from QB Philip Rivers than it faced against New England when Tom Brady quickly got rid of the football. Rivers completed passes to seven different teammates in the Chargers’ opener that included a 46-yard pass to Robert Meachem and a 25-yarder to Malcom Floyd.

San Diego tight end Antonio Gates has 597 career catches, including five for 123 yards the last time the Titans visited the Chargers in 2010, but Witherspoon said Tennessee must prepare for everything.

“You have to be prepared for the whole picture,” Witherspoon said. “You can’t just prepare for one part of it and look at it, ‘Maybe I might do this, maybe I might do that.’ You’ve got to look at everything and open the playbook and know exactly what’s going on.”

McCarthy, who emerged as the starter in his rookie campaign a year ago and led the NFL with three interceptions during this preseason, suffered the injury with 5:53 left in the first half against New England. He tried to return to the game but swapped his cleats for a walking boot as Tennessee fell 34-13 in its season-opener. Two days prior, McCarthy had been announced as one of five Titans captains.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said the team missed McCarthy against the Patriots, but will spend this week prepping players for the necessary adjustments.

“I think people underestimate how much we missed him on Sunday,” Munchak said. “When he went out of the game early, or got the ankle early and tried to play with it, tried to come back and couldn’t. I mean, he’s your leader. We voted him a team captain for a reason.

“He’s a guy that does make a lot of plays, a guy that does make tackles for losses,” Munchak continued. “Everything is a lot different in a lot of ways if he’s playing, but obviously, he got hurt and now we have a week to adjust to that if he’s not able to play and move on, but anytime you don’t have one of your better players on the field, it definitely hurts your team.”

Munchak said he expects a solid performance from Witherspoon, who has previous experience at middle linebacker and other qualities that defenses need at the position.

“That’s his value: his experience, and the fact that he can play different spots,” Munchak said. “He can play your base defense. He can play nickel, he’ll get the guys lined up right, which you need, so he has that type of leadership ability and the guys do respond to him.”

With Witherspoon moving from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker, there will be more opportunities for 2012 second-round pick Zach Brown and six-year veteran Zac Diles at weakside linebacker.

“Yeah, Zach (Brown) will play more,” Munchak said. “You just move different combinations in there. Zac Diles could start playing a little more, so we’ve got that combination, but definitely it would mean that Zach Brown will play much more at (weakside linebacker) and get a chance to start.”

Brown said he thought his first game went “alright” but he wants to continue getting better.

“I just want to show that I’m ready for anything that pops up,” Brown said. “I like challenges because you never know the outcome of them. You might win, you might lose. You never know what might happen, so I like to compete.”

Diles has experience at all three linebacker positions and had a solid preseason in his first year with the Titans. He was inactive for the opener, however, as he continued to recover from a hamstring injury.

“You’re out there feeling all the emotions and you want to be out there with your guys,” Diles said, “but they made the decision to hold me back for another week, and I feel great. I feel wonderful and am ready to get going.”

Diles played middle linebacker at Kansas State and was drafted by Houston in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He played four seasons with the Texans. He spent the 2011 training camp in St. Louis, who released him in its final cuts, then played seven games for Tampa Bay before being released and playing four games with Indianapolis. He moved around on the field during those moves around the league, but said he’s enjoyed his time and role in Tennessee.

“I had my rookie year as Mike (middle linebacker), my second year as Sam (strongside) and the last four was at Will (weakside),” Diles said. “Colin went down last week, so I’ve just got to step into the challenge and do what coaches ask me to do. If they need me to go in there on defense and spell (Witherspoon) for a little bit, that’s what I’ll do and definitely help on special teams — anything I can do to help.”

McCarthy is a player that the Titans like to use in multiple situations and packages. Usually, the only time he leaves the field is because of injury.

Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Thursday that the coaches are encouraging McCarthy to have an impact on Sunday’s game if he can’t suit up, similar to the role that Baltimore MLB Ray Lewis did when he missed four games in 2011.

“He’s the captain of our defense and you’ve got to be the guy that’s out there with the cheerleading flag,” Gray said. “You can’t sit back and think that nothing is going to happen. You can still set the tone from the sidelines. You can do those things, and the thing we have to do as coaches is pick and choose our guys when Colin is not there. Those guys have got to pick the slack up if he’s not out there on Sunday.”

Cornerback Jason McCourty, one of the other Titans captains, said he has confidence that teammates will do that.

“It’s just a matter of the next guy stepping in and stepping up for us,” McCourty said. “Colin’s a huge part of our defense and one of our leaders out there, so I think we have guys that are behind them that can handle the job and it’s just a matter of them stepping up when opportunity comes.”

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