VOL. 41 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 18, 2017
Williamson must show he’s worth ‘the big money’
Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson, talking here with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, must prove to the Titans that he can defend the pass as well as he plays the run if the team is willing to invest in his future. Williamson, a fourth-round pick in 2014, is playing the final year of his rookie contract. -- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey
Seven years ago, the Titans had a young, productive linebacker who was in the final year of his contract and wondering whether his future would be in Tennessee or elsewhere.
Stephen Tulloch had been a home-grown, fourth-round pick of the Titans in 2006, a middle linebacker who had proven to be a sure tackler and had established himself as a solid starter. Tulloch was credited with 160 total tackles in 2006, including 111 solo stops.
The knock on Tulloch, however, was that he didn’t produce enough big plays. In fact, in a statistical oddity that’s still hard to fathom, Tulloch had not been credited with any forced fumbles in his four years with the Titans.
So, when the Titans and Tulloch’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, could not agree on what the linebacker’s worth was, they parted ways. The Titans figured that there was not another level to Tulloch’s game, that he was what he was a sure-tackling linebacker who was consistent but did not produce many spectacular plays.
That move proved to be a mistake. Tulloch went on to sign with former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s Detroit Lions and had a productive five-year run, totaling more than 100 tackles in four of those five years.
Tulloch finally announced his retirement earlier this year after playing one final season of an 11-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Meanwhile, the middle linebacker spot became a revolving door for the Titans after Tulloch’s departure until they switched to a 3-4 system four years ago. Tennessee tried to fill Tulloch’s shoes with the likes of Colin McCarthy, Barrett Ruud and Moise Fokou, none of whom came close to matching Tulloch’s consistency.
Fast forward to 2017 with the Titans running the 3-4 system that employs two inside linebackers, including a middle-round pick from 2014 in Avery Williamson, who is coming to the end of his rookie contract.
Like Tulloch, Williamson has been a consistent tackler since entering the starting lineup about a third of the way through his rookie year.
And like Tulloch, Williamson is a player that the Titans wonder how much they should invest in time and money.
For all of Williamson’s play as an effective run stopper, he has sometimes come up a little short in pass coverage, an area even he admits he wants to improve upon.
“I would say I definitely made a lot more plays than I did in my second year,” Williamson says. “I was a lot better on my technique. In my man-to-man coverages, I felt like I was out of position sometimes. I feel like I’ve I improved on that in OTAs and in camp.
“I’m trying to be more patient, and not trying to jump things and just do the things that I’ve been doing on the practice field. … In the passing game, I just want to make sure I’m more efficient and using better technique.”
While the Titans and Williamson have yet to engage in any talks about a contract extension, GM Jon Robinson must be weighing his worth. Is there another level to his game, as Tennessee discovered too late with Tulloch?
Robinson says the Titans are not averse to in-season negotiations in the right situation. They handed Jurrell Casey a four-year extension early in camp with his deal still having two years remaining.
When asked in general terms what the Titans look for when they contemplate contract extensions, Robinson was matter-of-fact.
“Their competitiveness, their interaction with their teammates, their ability to be coachable and take the instruction the coaches are giving them in the meeting room and out here on the field and apply it to game-type situations that we put them through,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have really, really bought in to the style of football we’re going to play here.”
Williamson has 2017 to prove he fits into that mold.
“I want to show them that I can be a player that is deserving of the big money,” he says. “I’ve just got to go out there and put it in the back of my head and not worry about it and just go out there and do what I’ve been taught to do.
“I just try not to think about it at all,” Williamson says. “It’s hard, but I try go out there and have fun, because when you start focusing on that, that’s when it gets too stressful.”
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com