NFL Linebacker Colin McCarthy: a Tennessee Titan by way of the Miami Hurricanes)

Colin McCarthy is a rookie linebacker out of Miami (drafted in the 4th round of this April’s NFL Draft).  He is listed second on the depth chart at Middle Linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, but thanks to a hamstring injury forcing him to sit out of Sunday’s game against Houston, he was available to talk to us today.

McCarthy played Outside Linebacker (specifically, Strong Side) until his senior year when he switched to Middle (Inside Linebacker), giving us the perfect opportunity to pick up where we left off in our Training Camp Inside vs Outside Linebacker discussion from this summer.

The CFB Girl: What is the biggest difference between playing middle (inside) and outside linebacker?

McCarthy:  As far as playing middle, it’s making the calls, getting the strength calls [identifying the strong side of their opponent’s formation], getting everyone lined up.  As a middle linebacker, that’s what you need to do.  And then just being a leader. The linebackers and in particular, the MIKE [another name for Middle Linebacker], is kind of the leader of the defense.  Getting everyone lined up—that’s his job.

The CFB GirlWhat football skills do you need?

McCarthy:  Playing any of the linebacker positions…being fast, being smart and playing physical.   Obviously playing in the middle, you deal a lot more with offensive linemen coming out at you [the offensive linemen are some of the biggest guys on the field].  Going downhill [i.e., straight ahead], being physical, working on getting off blocks in the middle—there’s a lot more of that than playing on the outside.

The CFB Girl:  Getting off blocks–can you expand on that?

McCathy:  In most defenses, you are Gap Sound—where you have a [Gap] responsibility and you need to be in there.  Obviously the defensive line does a great job as far as keeping the offensive line off of you to allow you to run around and make plays.  There are some chances or opportunities where, whether in A gap or B gap, you need to go downhill and make sure they don’t run at your gaps. [To better understand Gaps, read All About Offensive Linemen or hear it directly from an Offensive Lineman himself, Orlando Franklin]

The CFB Girl:  While it’s more clear what the Defensive Linemen and Defensive Backs are doing, the Linebacker position isn’t as straightforward.  What exactly are your responsibilities at Linebacker?

McCarthy:  Basically linebacker is a combination of both.  As a defensive lineman, your first instinct in to get off the ball [this means getting up out of their stance as soon as the ball is snapped and using that momentum to take them to their assignment].  As a defensive back, you are usually in a back pedal as far as playing the pass.  But, as a linebackers, you have to read and react. You read your keys pre-snap. And then once the ball is snapped, you make a decision whether it’s run or pass.  If it’s run, get downhill, fill your gap. If it’s pass, you gotta get out of there and either drop into your zone or if it’s man coverage, make sure your guy doesn’t catch the ball.

The CFB Girl:  How do you read the run versus the pass, especially with all of the misdirection, missteps, stunts, and things the offense does to hide what they’re doing and try to trick you?

McCarthy:  There’s all kinds of different keys.  Whether it’s the offensive lineman, you may see them sitting back, you might see an offensive tackle with his leg back and in that case you know it’s pass.  But, if they’re down, looking like they’re gonna come off the ball or if you see a guard sitting back, he’s probably pulling [PULLING is when the lineman pulls back away from the line and runs around the edge in an attempt to block the defense and make room for a runner].  There’s all kinds of little pre-snap keys.  Whether it’s a receiver’s alignment, whether it’s a tight end’s stance, a running back’s step…there are all types of things that come natural once they line up to give you your pre-snap keys.  They basically just help you as far as your decision-making.  Then once the ball is snapped and you see where they’re at, you react.  But at the same time you’re anticipating it.

Photo courtesy of Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The CFB Girl:  At Miami, they kind of, well, not that it was that rough…

McCarthy:  It was bad. You can go ahead and say it.

The CFB Girl:  Okay, so Miami has had a tough few years.  What is the biggest challenge for the Hurricanes to get back to where they were when they could count on 9 or 10 wins a season.

McCarthy:  I think the biggest thing is just consistencyWe would go out there and beat a top ten team and then the following week we lose to a team we should blow out by 30 points.  I think the biggest thing in my years there was that talent-wise when we lined up against a team, we were better than them. It’s just a matter of playing together as a team and being technique and assignment sound.  If those guys do that, the wins will come.

The CFB Girl:  Do you think the coaching change will help that? Getting someone fresh in there? [After four seasons of mediocrity, Randy Shannon was fired as head coach and replaced with Al Golden (formerly head coach of Temple).]

McCarthy:  It’s a new start for the players and the fans.  I guess it needed a change.  Hopefully they can start winning those 9/10 game seasons and get back to what it used to be. Because it’s special down there…playing at Miami, running out of the smoke…I got one year playing at the orange bowl.  To get back into the top, it’s not going to be long. The talent is down there.  It’s just a matter of the coaches getting it all together.

The CFB Girl:  What do you miss most about school?

McCarthy:  It’s crazy as far as how much time you can really spend on football.  We’re in meetings all day every day watching film. I think the thing I miss the most about being at collage is being a student, getting away from football and having to go to class sometimes, even if I didn’t want to be there sometimes. It’s just a different thing. Having the friends outside of football…you miss that too.

The CFB Girl:  You were the team leader in tackles for Miami last year. From a media perspective, we love to use that statistic to show how good you are.  But what does that stat mean to you as a player?

McCarthy:  The more tackles you make, it looks better.  I think it’s that you’re around the ball. You’re just chasing the football. You’re trying to make plays.  You’ll see guys miss tackles and I feel like that’s where a lot of your tackles come from. You’re just chasing the football and not knowing what’s going to happen or whether the first guy is going to get the guy on the ground or not.  You’re hustling, you’re chasing the football and you end up making the play.

The CFB Girl:  I never thought of it like that.

McCarthy:  I’m glad I could get one in there for you.

The CFB Girl:  Have your workouts changed in the NFL?

McCarthy: They basically have stayed the same.  Before I came up here I was down at Miami still training with coach Andreu Swasey, our strength coach.  All of the guys come back there and work out with him.  And it’s basically the same up here [in Tennessee].  We’re working out four days a week here during the season–they’re definitely getting everything out of us.

The CFB Girl:  With that kind of workout schedule I imagine you need to eat to support it. How many calories do you eat each day?

McCarthy:  I have no idea.  I eat probably 5-6 a times a day and they’re not small meals.  I couldn’t even imagine.  6,000 or 7,000.

[Wow.  That would be fun.]

It’s one thing I don’t lack in is eating.  And then I just try to run a little extra or do something to balance it out so I don’t put on too much weight.

The CFB Girl:  I don’t know anything about your personal life, but does that ever come up when you’re out on a date that?

McCarthy:  Most of the time after we’re done eating and we ‘ve gone out—when I get home, I ended up eating something here at the house.

The CFB Girl: And speaking of, do you have personal life outside of football?

McCarthy:  You try to.  Obviously, you try to find something else to do besides just football.  Obviously this is my profession now.  This is my job.  But I try to find things to do.  I’ve got my brother, my cousin and one of my other good friends who moved up here with me.  I had to bring people with me to make the move a lot easier.