The story of new Titans linebacker Avery Williamson is far from done but the beginning sure sounds great. A highly decorated high school athlete from Milan, Tennessee goes on to play inside linebacker in the toughest division in college football. He leads the Kentucky Wildcats in tackles his final two seasons before getting drafted by his home state Tennessee Titans. It’s the beginning of a great sports movie.
Williamson of course has a long way to go before he becomes a recognizable face for most Titans fans but you get the sense he is open to the task. There is certainly opportunity waiting as the Titans are transitioning to a hybrid defense and the linebackers are far from set. So how does he look to factor into the equation? Let’s take a look.
Williamson was a four year player for the Kentucky Wildcats, finishing his college career with 296 tackles, 147 of them solo, 10 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles. He finished his senior year ranking fourth in the SEC in tackles and finished second in the SEC in tackles in his final two years combined. He was named all All SEC Second Team following the 2013 season as a reward.
At 6′ 1″ and 246 pounds, Williamson is a solidly built inside linebacker who showed some quickness at the combine running a respectable 4.66 40 yard dash and a 4.07 20 yard shuffle. Unfortunately, he doesn’t show great playing speed consistently and could stand to work on his agility. He also posted the worst vertical among all linebackers at the combine.
In watching film, one big concern is that Williamson seems to lose his balance a lot out of his break. He also needs better overall awareness but he does a lot better sniffing out run plays. His best characteristic may be his sure tackling ability. Right now he is much better in run support than coverage.
Some of the issues you see with Williamson can be corrected by good coaching. Far too often you saw Kentucky linebackers lined up poorly and failing to maintain gap integrity. A couple of years in the Titans strength and training program additionally could help his balance and agility. I would recommend he enroll in a good yoga program that would help him considerably.
Despite that, Williamson is a hard hitter with a nose for the ball in the run game. With improved footwork, he could develop into the run stuffing linebacker the Titans have long needed. Right now he projects as a 2 down linebacker but an improvement in coverage skills could increase his playing load.
The Titans linebacker situation remains unsettled as the new coaching staff will be evaluating players as training camp opens in a couple of weeks and the pads go on. New Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard figures to have a key role at inside linebacker and could man the left inside spot. Zach Brown is coming off a disappointing season and is expected to compete at the right inside linebacker spot though he could also flip outside too.
Several Titans players are hard to figure including Derrick Morgan. Morgan has played defensive end his four years in the Titans 4-3 system and could play end in the hybrid. However, he could be asked to play linebacker in the new hybrid system. Will he play outside or slide inside to play that right inside linebacker role? He is entering the last year of his rookie deal so versatility would not be a bad thing for him to develop. He doesn’t appear to have a definitive spot nailed down.
Colin McCarthy also enters the last year of his rookie contract and needs a healthy season after an injury marred career. He will compete at one of the inside linebacker spots and looks to play the right inside linebacker role. McCarthy has shown flashes of talent but it remains to be seen if he can regain his pre-injury form.
Finally, Moises Fokou is another player hard to peg right now. Fokou of course moved to middle linebacker his first season with the Titans in their 4-3 defense with somewhat mixed results. He has played in the 3-4 as an outside linebacker and it remains to be seen whether he plays inside or outside.
The other linebackers on the roster appear to be outside linebackers primarily. Akeem Ayers seems likely to play only outside linebacker and could be a swing player who lines up at outside linebacker and with his hand in the dirt like he did last year occasionally at defensive end. He is also entering the last year of his contract. Shaun Phillips could play that same role with the Titans. Kam Wimbley will return to the role he played before joining the Titans at outside linebacker. Additionally, Zavair Gooden should compete at outside linebacker as well.
While the Titans have talent at the linebacker position, as a group they have failed to meet expectations the past few years. Williamson is coming to a team with a new system and new coaches looking to put players in the best position to succeed. All he has to do is make the most of his opportunities. At the least he should get a chance to earn a spot playing well on special teams.