Colin McCarthy quickly has become a study in the benefits of good study habits.
“In the NFL there’s a lot of studying,” he said. “Week in and week out you have to prepare yourself because in this league you can get embarrassed if you’re not prepared. Every week I’m confident I’ve prepared.”
In the span of the last four weeks, the fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Miami arguably has climbed to the top of the Tennessee Titans’ 2011 draft class in terms of ability and production.
He has reached the point that the significance of his achievements no longer is measured in relative terms. He has not performed well for a player taken in the middle rounds of the draft. He has not even performed well for a rookie.
He played at such a high level in last Sunday’s victory over Buffalo, in fact, that on Wednesday he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. The last Tennessee player to win the award was linebacker Keith Bulluck late in 2009.
“It shows he’s been working week in and week out to know what we need him to do on the field on Sundays,” veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “He works hard at it. He always prepares himself to be ready to go on Sundays.”
McCarthy made 11 tackles, forced one fumble and recovered two and broke up a pass in the Titans’ 23-17 victory over the Bills.
It was the fourth straight week he made at least 10 tackles. No player on Tennessee’s defense has had 10 or more in more than two straight games this season, and safety Jordan Babineaux is the only other player with four games overall of 10 or more.
“I’m just playing football,” he said. “I’m not doing anything … crazy. I’m doing my job. There’s a lot of plays to be made from the middle linebacker position, I’m just fortunate enough to be able to make them.”
Veteran Barrett Ruud, whose groin injury created the opportunity for McCarthy, has made 68 tackles in nine starts at middle linebacker. He has not yet forced or recovered a fumble and he has one interception in his own right.
McCarthy has made 44 stops in the past four weeks, when he started three times (all victories) and played extensively after Ruud was hurt in another. For the season, he is tied for the team lead in tackles for losses (five), forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (two). He also intercepted a pass in a victory over Tampa Bay.
“It seems like he doesn’t miss a lot of tackles, obviously he is not getting perfect fits every time, run fits every time,” coach Mike Munchak said. “He has stuff to learn in the run and the pass game no doubt, like everybody else does, but you are seeing that when he gets there it’s a pretty good tackle, it’s a physical tackle and a lot of times that will lead to the ball coming loose. You hope it does and you hope that keeps up.”
McCarthy made 308 tackles during his four-year career at Miami, which was the most by a linebacker at that school since Jonathan Vilma made 371.
Coincidentally, McCarthy and Vilma will play opposite one another Sunday when the Titans host the New Orleans Saints (noon, Fox). Vilma is a three-time Pro Bowler, including in each of the last two years.
Sixteen linebackers were drafted ahead of McCarthy in April, including second overall pick Von Miller of Denver and Akeem Ayers, who has started all season at outside linebacker for the Titans.
Ruud was one of four Tennessee players who did not participate in Wednesday’s practice and is not expected to play Sunday.
That means another opportunity for McCarthy to show how much he’s learned, in this case against one of the league’s top offenses.
“It’s only four games in and I’ve still got a lot to prove,” he said. “Every week you have to prove yourself so this is another great opportunity for me against the Saints. When you get to play against the best, you get to see how good you really are.
“… I spend the time needed preparing myself. The rest just goes from there.”