NASHVILLE, TN, July 7, 2004 -- In 2003, the Tennessee Titans saw young talent mature at the linebacker position while veterans Keith Bulluck and Peter Sirmon continued to be the anchors of the unit. With every linebacker returning for the 2004 season, the challenge for the upcoming season may be finding a way to get all of them on the field.
The only loss from last season came with the departure of LB coach Gunther Cunningham, who returned to Kansas City as defensive coordinator after being the Chiefs’ head coach from 1999-2000. Picking up right where Cunningham left off will be new LB coach Dave McGinnis, who joins the Titans after serving as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for four seasons. Prior to his post in Arizona, McGinnis was linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears where he helped tutor Hall of Fame LB Mike Singletary.
McGinnis believes this may be the best group of linebackers he has been around. Bulluck, who enters his fifth season with the Titans, earned All-Pro honors last season, a year in which he was selected to his first Pro Bowl and established himself as one of the top defensive players in the league. The former Syracuse standout has posted 351 tackles over the past two seasons and during the off-season he signed a five-year extension to remain with the team.
Peter Sirmon is a key player on one of the NFL's top linebacking units.
Sirmon, also entering his fifth season, posted his best season as a Titan in 2003. His 141 tackles ranked second on the team, only behind Bulluck’s 171. Veterans Rocky Calmus, Rocky Boiman and Brad Kassell all enjoyed career years in 2003, and all will be entering their third season in league. Second year players Jordan Kramer, Ken Amato and Ray Wells will provide depth and contribute on special teams.
The Titans used a fifth-round draft pick on Ohio State LB Rob Reynolds, a hard-hitting player who is expected to contributed immediately on special teams. Reynolds was raised in Bowling Green, Kent., only a 45 minute drive from Nashville, and will look to learn under Tennessee’s veteran linebackers in his first season. Fellow rookies Kellen Brantley, John Leake and Maurice Sonnier were each signed as college free agents and will compete for roster spots in training camp.
Third-year LB Rocky Boiman has earned the respect and praise of Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
After primarily playing on special teams his first two seasons, LB Rocky Boiman became a fixture on Tennessee’s defense in 2003, setting career-highs in just about every category, while posting two interceptions. His breakout game came at Pittsburgh, where he sacked Steelers QB Tommy Maddox for a safety and later returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown to seal Tennessee’s 30-13 victory. The versatile Boiman may line up as a pass-rushing end in selected defensive formations, while seeing increased playing time in 2004.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
Rob Reynolds knows how to contribute for a team striving towards a championship. The hard-hitting Reynolds helped lead the Ohio State Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship and he hopes to have similar success in Tennessee. His tenacious play on the field earned the respect of his teammates in college, a trait he will look to carry over into the NFL.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Rocky Calmus began the 2003 season as a starter, but was limited to 8 starts in 10 games after battling injuries. He still posted 61 tackles, four tackles for loss and two interceptions. If he can remain healthy throughout the season, expect Calmus to cement his starting job and to post career numbers in 2004.
FROM THE DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR
“We have a combination of young and experienced linebackers. You have guys like Peter Sirmon and Keith Bulluck that are experienced guys. Almost every guy there has some experience -- Rocky Calmus, Rocky Boiman and Brad Kassell. You feel good about the depth at that position because you have all of the starters and all of the guys at the backup positions as well coming back this season.”
-- Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz
FROM THE POSITION COACH
Dave McGinnis takes over as linebackers coach in 2004 after serving as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for the last four seasons.
“They know how to work and they know how to concentrate on what is important. They come to you and they ask questions. They are diligent about their classroom work and in the off-season work. Keith Bulluck is one of the more outstanding linebackers in this league and will only continue to get better. I am very impressed with Peter Sirmon’s work ethic. I feel very good about the middle linebacker position with Rocky Calmus and Brad Kassell. It’s a tremendous unit. Ray Wells, Jordan Kramer and Ken Amato have only gotten better, I have seen that this off-season. The rookies have got to learn and catch up to speed, because no one waits for you in the NFL.
-- Linebackers coach Dave McGinnis
This unit is as deep and as talented as any position on the team, and with the continued improvement of players like Brad Kassell, Rocky Boiman and Rocky Calmus, the Titans linebacker corps has a chance to be one of the best in the league. Avoiding the injury bug and continuing their consistent play will be a big factor in the success of the team’s defense.
LOCKER ROOM TALK
(On the strength of the unit as a whole)
“Our starting group can be respected as one of the best groups in the league. From the first group to the second group we have some depth. Keith’s got a Pro Bowl now. Peter is an amazing player, along with both Rocky’s and myself. We just try to help the whole defense out.”
-- Brad Kassell
“The unit is one of the strengths of our team, guys have been here a while. As a whole, our linebackers should contribute a lot on special teams and on defense. We should play a big part in all of it.”
-- Rocky Boiman
(On how much the units playing experience together means)
“As a whole unit we have one year under our belt. We are getting comfortable with each other out there and that helps the game flow and my responsibilities flow.”
-- Rocky Calmus
“We have the same unit from last year and we should perform better than we did last year. We had a solid unit and everyone performed and contributed, but since we aren’t losing anyone we should be even better.”
-- Keith Bulluck
“Anytime you have depth and experience it’s going to help you. The more experience we have the better we will play as a group. It’s unique…last year Keith and I were the oldest two guys and we were only fourth year players. The age of us has to do with being able to stick together. You get turnover as you get older players, but we are all under contract and we are all younger players, so we are set up nicely for the long haul.”
-- Peter Sirmon
(On having Dave McGinnis as LB coach)
“He has a tremendous amount of experience and is a guy who shows up everyday eager to coach. He enjoys helping you and I think it is going to be great throughout the year.”
-- Rocky Boiman
“He’s going to be great for us. He has been associated with some great defenses. His attitude is real positive and I think he will do a great job of getting the most out of us.”
-- Peter Sirmon
“We lost an experienced coach and gained another one. It’s good to have different teachers. On the field he is kind of laid back, he makes sure everybody knows their assignment, and after a play he coaches you up.”
-- Keith Bulluck
Ken Amato, 6-2 – 245 – 2 - Montana St.
Rocky Boiman, 6-4 – 236 – 3 - Notre Dame
Kellen Brantley, 6-2 – 238 – R - Wake Forest
Keith Bulluck, 6-3 – 235 – 5 - Syracuse
Rocky Calmus, 6-3 – 238 – 3 - Oklahoma
Brad Kassel, 6-3 – 242 – 3 - North Texas
Jordan Kramer, 6-1 – 230 – 2 - Idaho
John Leake, 6-0 – 230 – R - Clemson
Robert Reynolds, 6-3 – 242 – R - Ohio State
Peter Sirmon, 6-2 – 237 – 5 - Oregon
Maurice Sonnier, 6-2 – 238 – R - Louisiana-Monroe
Ray Wells, 6-1 – 234 – 2 - Arizona