Why The Titans Are Interested in Thornton
Colts LB Dave Thornton is in Nashville visiting with the Tennessee Titans. The interesting question surrounding Thornton's visit is where would he fit into the Tennessee defense? They have two returning starters on the outside -- Keith Bulluck and Peter Sirmon. Their vacant position is at middle linebacker while Thornton has been strictly on outside linebacker with the Colts.
Here's are undoubtedly some of the reasons the Titans are looking at Thornton.
They need another starter-quality linebacker: Unrestricted free agent middle linebacker Brad Kassell isn't expected to return, so the Titans have a gaping hole in their starting alignment. Ironically, Kassell was the linebacker who replaced Rocky Calmus, who is also an unrestricted free agent. With just Bulluck and Sirmon on the roster with starter-level credentials, the Titans have to bring in at least one more veteran capable of playing from day one.
Thornton could play outside while Sirmon moves inside: Sirmon has primarily played outside at the pro level, but was one of the leading tacklers in the Pac-10 Conference at middle linebacker during his collegiate career. The only knock on Sirmon, who is respected as a very intelligent player on the field and is strong in pass coverage, is his ability to stay healthy.
Because of Sirmon's health problems, Thornton could be a replacement to allow Sirmon to move into a reserve role: Sirmon restructured his contract so that he wouldn't be a cap casualty in Tennessee. Quite honestly, he's fortunate to have a job with the Titans, who previously traded Rocky Calmus away after he had some injury problems.
Sirmon had back trouble in 2003 that cost him some playing time, and he was lost for the season in 2004 following a training camp ACL tear that required surgery. Then in 2005, he battled through ankle and knee problems while appearing in 14 games. So it's possible that the Titans would consider bringing Thornton in to allow Sirmon to move into a reserve role and reduce the wear and tear on him, especially since he agreed to a reduced compensation package.
Signing Thornton would be a double-hit to the Colts: While Thornton would be an upgrade for the Titans defense, the Titans would also be taking a solid player who already knows the Colts system away from an AFC South rival. If they lose Thornton, the Colts will have to plug in at least one player at linebacker who is either inexperienced at the strongside position, such as Gilbert Gardner, or a player through free agency or the draft who would have to learn the Colts system. Either way, that has the potential to weaken the Colts at that position at least early in the season.
The Titans are likely to draft a linebacker: With the third pick in the second round, the Titans are expected to make a selection from the very deep talent pool of linebackers that are available for this year's NFL draft. With Thornton, Sirmon, and Bulluck penciled in as the starters, they could allow a rookie to come in and learn the system without necessarily being thrown to the wolves on opening day. And then move Sirmon to a reserve role.
The Titans could try Thornton at middle linebacker: I think this is the least likely scenario, but you can't rule it out. Many people thought Jacksonville was making a mistake when they converted Colts outside linebacker Mike Peterson to the middle because they didn't think he was big enough to hold his ground there. But Peterson has become a very respectable middle linebacker from a talent and execution perspective.
Thornton has the intelligence, discipline, and physical stature for the position. He's got the height at 6'2, and by adding as little as five pounds to get to 235, he'd have enough bulk without noticeably sacrificing speed.
After years of struggling as the starter in Indy, Rob Morris was eventually replaced last year by Gary Brackett. But should the Titans successfully convert Thornton to middle linebacker, many people will be left wondering why the Colts didn't give Thornton a shot at the spot two years ago instead of prolonging the agony of watching Morris miss tackles and lag behind receivers.
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