McRath in nickel symbolic of Titans' change

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
12:54
PM ET
One game that doesn’t count in the standings doesn’t give us a lot. But out of the Titans’ Saturday night win against the Vikings, I saw one change that I think is highly representative of what’s going on at the start of the Mike Munchak era.

Two moves since 2010 have bumped Gerald McRath out of the starting lineup as an outside linebacker. Akeem Ayers was drafted to play the strongside, and the addition of Barrett Ruud to man the middle means Will Witherspoon in now on the weakside. That is probably the team’s best lineup at linebacker in its base defense.

I have been critical of the lack of plays from the linebackers last season, particularly from McRath and the departed Stephen Tulloch.

Jeff Fisher and his coordinator, Chuck Cecil, stubbornly took McRath, a good pass defender, out on third downs, and left Tulloch, a weak pass defender, on the field. It was experience-over-skill-set stubbornness.

Right now, Munchak and coordinator Jerry Gray are pulling both Witherspoon and Ayers off the field in nickel and sending McRath on to join Ruud.

Whether it’s what the defense is doing on opening day in Jacksonville remains to be seen.

But it’s a clear illustration of the basic principle most good coordinators try to key on: Putting players in situations that maximize their chances to do what they are best at and keeping them out of situations where they do not excel.

If this is McRath’s role, he’s got a lot better chance to make plays than he did last season, when things were backwards and he was in base but not in nickel.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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