Fokou pushing McCarthy for Titans’ middle LB job

The assumption has been that the Titans’ starting middle

linebacker job will go to Colin McCarthy, a defensive captain a

year ago. Moise Fokou (Foh-koo), one of Tennessee’s free agent

signees this offseason, has made it into a competition.

Fokou has worked with the first-team defense all but one day

since signing with the Titans. A day after McCarthy worked with the

first-team unit for the first time this year, he found himself

dealing with yet another injury.

”That position has been an issue unfortunately for Colin for

the two years he’s been here,” coach Mike Munchak said. ”We

wanted to make sure we had more depth, a couple younger

players.”

The Titans thought they had found their middle linebacker for

years to come when they drafted McCarthy in the fourth round out of

Miami in 2011. He started seven of his 13 games as a rookie.

Teammates voted him a defensive captain last season, but the

6-foot-1, 243-pound McCarthy struggled with a concussion and an

ankle injury that required surgery when the season ended.

So the Titans signed Fokou this offseason, a linebacker listed

with the same height and weight as McCarthy but with much more

experience. Fokou has started 23 of his 59 games after spending his

first three seasons in Philadelphia and last year with

Indianapolis. He has 144 career tackles, two sacks, five tackles

for loss and three forced fumbles.

”Moses has got tremendous athleticism, excellent intensity,”

linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio said. ”I love him. He plays a

relentless style of football and again he imposes his

physicality.”

The Titans also signed Greg Jones and drafted Zaviar Gooden in

the third round in April out of Missouri.

Adding Fokou showed its value last week. McCarthy practiced with

the first-team defense Wednesday and hasn’t practiced since after

aggravating his right hamstring. He is out this week and will not

play Thursday night in the preseason opener against Washington.

McCarthy thinks the hamstring might be related to his ankle and

more soreness than an injury.

”I’m not frustrated,” McCarthy said. ”I think more than

anything I’m confident. I think when I had the pads on, when I hit

people, I felt great. And coming from my injury with my ankle,

coming from my injury with the concussion the past season I kind of

answered those questions I have. A small little injury like this or

a setback is nothing compared to what I’ve overcome this past

season.”

Fokou said he knows he was brought into be one of the older

players in the linebacker meeting room for a team that let veteran

Will Witherspoon leave after last season. He also is versatile

enough to play outside linebacker.

”At the end of the day, I want to be on that field,” Fokou

said. ”I want to contribute and I want to help that team

win.”

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray would like to sit down with

Munchak and decide on his starter no later than the third preseason

game against Atlanta on Aug. 24. Making a fair assessment of both

linebacker would be best if both Fokou and McCarthy have had equal

work with the first-team defense.

Health may make that decision easier.

”You got to be available to play, and you know I think that was

one of the reasons we got a chance to bring Fokou in …,” Gray

said. ”Colin’s a really good football player, but you still got to

be healthy to go out there and play in the game.”

McCarthy knows who starts is a decision for Munchak and the

coaches.

”My biggest thing is to be healthy and be available,” McCarthy

said. ”That’s always been my kind of thought process through this

whole thing. … When the time counts we got the 16 weeks and we

kick off against Pittsburgh, that’s when I need to be 100 and I

need to be ready to go.”

Notes: K Rob Bironas (back) missed another practice Monday and

may not play Thursday night. Rookie OL Brian Schwenke, still out

with an injured left hamstring, will not play against

Washington.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker