None of the Tennessee Titans’ three primary starters at linebacker last season have participated in any of the organized team activities (OTAs) over the past two months, and all have been missing for a different reason.
As far as linebackers coach Dave McGinnis is concerned, though, nothing has changed.
“I always coach everybody as if they’re starters,” McGinnis said Thursday. “So everybody’s coached the same. My expectations are that if you’re on this team and you’re in the meeting room then you’re expected to do everything right.”
Keith Bulluck, David Thornton and Stephen Tulloch had a combined 39 starts between them in 2009. Bulluck had been a fixture on the defense since 2002, Thornton was a regular since 2006 and Tulloch ascended to a starting spot early in 2008.
Without them, it’s guys like free agent signee Will Witherspoon, second-year pro Gerald McRath and journeyman Jamie Winborn who have gotten the majority of the work this offseason.
McRath, though, will miss the first four games  of the coming season because he will serve a league suspension, the team learned earlier this week.
“Experience in this league is invaluable whether you’re coaching or playing,” McGinnis said. “(But) I expect the same energy level. I expect them to go and get their (rear ends) going.”
Bulluck is gone because his contract expired after last season. A knee injury in December has kept any other team from signing him to this point.
Thornton and Tulloch remain on the team. Thornton is out because he continues to recover from shoulder and pectoral surgery, and Tulloch is absent because he is unhappy with his current contract situation.
Thornton, obviously, will play again as soon as he is able. Tulloch’s status for the remainder of the offseason (there is another round of OTAs next week) and the start of training camp, not to mention his spot in the starting lineup is far less certain.
“He’s missed an awful lot,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Hopefully we’ll get things worked out. When he does decide to show up, we’ll see what kind of shape he’s in.”
Until then, their coach insists the group is in as good a shape as if all the older guys were around.
“The thing you can’t do is put lower expectations on a younger player just because he’s a younger player,” McGinnis said. “You have to keep the expectations high and then try to coach them and get them up to that level.”