Colin McCarthy was not the only Tennessee Titans player who dealt with injuries during the 2012 season. Far from it, in fact.
However, the consistent absence of the second-year middle linebacker was particularly difficult for the team to deal with in a variety of ways.
In a season when 16 players ended up on injured reserve, McCarthy’s physical issues stood out because of the degree to which they negatively impacted the entire defense, if not the entire team.
“If you get the right guy with the right personality, it brings a little oomph to the game that you’re missing at times,” coach Mike Munchak said. “All of a sudden, you’re going, ‘Wow, he brings out the best in all your 11 guys.’ That’s what we missed this year when McCarthy got hurt. It’s very underestimated of how important that is to a team and how that’s contagious — the way he plays and [makes] plays.”
McCarthy was voted a team captain and raised expectations for his performance with a dynamic preseason. Ultimately he appeared in just seven games.
He sustained a high ankle sprain in the opener and missed five of the next seven contests. He had 24 tackles, including a season-high 11 against Indianapolis, and his only three tackles for loss during a four-game stretch after that but sustained a concussion Nov. 25 at Jacksonville and was done for the season.
The Titans gave up more points than any other team in the league, allowed more first downs than all but two franchises and finished 27th in total yards allowed.
Mercifully, it seemed, he was placed on injured reserve two days before the regular season finale.
“You definitely miss Colin,” veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “After working with him for that period of time, the defense … you feel that establishment of a [middle linebacker]. For him to kind of get banged up early in the year and for him to be up and down here and there, that’s always a challenge for him to overcome, much less — really — everybody getting back into the flow of what the defense is about.
“It created a lot of shakeups all around. It’s kind of a ripple effect.”
A rundown of some of the other injuries that were particularly problematic:
• Tight end Jared Cook (rotator cuff, three games): He was well on his way to a career year and much closer to realizing the potential so many had seen in him when his season was cut short in a loss to Indianapolis (Dec. 9). He had three or more catches in 10 of his 13 appearances, including each of the first six games. Maybe it was a coincidence that in the three full games without him the offense had 127, 101 and 142 passing yards, respectively. Then again, maybe not.
• Left guard Steve Hutchinson (knee, four games) and right tackle David Stewart (broken leg, four games): The two veterans were injured on the same play against Houston (Dec. 2) and spent the final quarter of the season on injured reserve. Theirs were not the first injuries to offensive linemen but they enhanced the cumulative effect of those issues to the degree that new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who replaced Chris Palmer the week of the Houston game, was handcuffed for much of his time calling plays, and quarterback Jake Locker was forced to run for his life far too often.
• Quarterback Jake Locker (shoulder, five games): The second-year quarterback was fresh off his first career victory when he was sacked on his third pass attempt at Houston (Sept. 30). The hit dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder, which originally was injured in the opener against New England. He had four touchdown passes and two interceptions before he was hurt, six touchdown passes and nine interceptions after he came back. Those numbers can’t necessarily be directly linked to his injury, but it was clear he never sustained any real momentum after he returned to the lineup.
• Wide receiver Kendall Wright (ribs, one game): His presence would not have made a difference in the one game he missed, a 55-7 loss at Green Bay on Dec. 23. However, it cost him a chance to finish as the league’s leading rookie receiver outright. As it was, he finished tied with Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon with 64 catches apiece. Given that Wright caught at least one pass in all 15 games he played and averaged almost five in the four contests prior to Green Bay, it seems safe to assume he would have had at least one.
• Safety Robert Johnson (foot, four games): It is not as if the secondary was settled for much of the season as it was, but Johnson’s injury deprived defensive coordinator Jerry Gray of one of his preferred options on the back end. The fifth-round pick in 2010 barely saw the field in his first two seasons, so all the playing time he got this fall was valuable to him. The injury, of course, deprived him of any more experience.