Work in Sports
Titans luck out at No. 30
Club wanted LB but didn't figure Bulluck would drop
Posted: Saturday April 15, 2000 10:58 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Patience paid off a second straight year for the Tennessee Titans.
Tennessee wanted a linebacker out of Saturday's NFL Draft to finish revamping a unit that struggled in its Super Bowl season. Picking next-to-last in the first round, the Titans got the one player they targeted: Keith Bulluck of Syracuse.
"We had him projected somewhere around 20," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We really didn't think he'd fall."
With Bulluck still available at No. 30, the Titans thought briefly about trading down and trying to grab the linebacker in the second round. But Fisher said they decided not to get greedy.
The scenario offered a case of deja vu for the AFC champions. The Titans also watched and waited last April as Jevon Kearse fell to them at No. 16. Kearse became the Defensive Rookie of the Year after grabbing 14 1/2 sacks and forcing 10 fumbles in helping Tennessee to the first Super Bowl appearance in the franchise's 40-year history.
Tennessee isn't expecting that kind of immediate impact from Bulluck. But the 6-2, 232-pound player is expected to start this season at outside linebacker, joining veteran Eddie Robinson with free agent signee Randall Godfrey in the middle.
Linebacking was the weak spot in Tennessee's defense last season.
Starters Barron Wortham and Joe Bowden each had 81 tackles, compared to Godfrey's 143 with the Dallas Cowboys in 1999. Bowden is an unrestricted free agent, and Fisher said they hope to bring him back to a team that never stopped looking for linebacking help in 1999.
Bulluck's biggest impact will come against the run. Fisher pointed out the AFC Central features several big running backs and got even tougher Saturday with the Baltimore Ravens drafting Jamal Lewis of Tennessee.
"He's a fast player that knocks people down. He keys well, instinctively reads runs," Fisher said. For Bulluck, the selection ended a long day of waiting with friends and family getting anxious as the first round rolled to an end with him still waiting. He even spent some time alone in a room as tensions rose.
"I wasn't necessarily upset. I knew wherever I got picked I'd just help that team win. I just happened to be fortunate enough to land with the AFC champions," Bulluck said. Bulluck was an All-Big East Conference player after leading the league with a career-high 138 tackles but just two sacks at middle linebacker. But he started his college career at strong safety and moves quickly across the field.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said Bulluck has the feet and hips of a cornerback and the size of a linebacker.
For the Titans, it's the eighth time they have used their No. 1 pick on a linebacker. Kearse played linebacker at Florida even though Tennessee always planned to put him at end, so Bulluck becomes the first true linebacker taken in the opening round since Lamar Lathon in 1990.
Drafting Bulluck also offered a change for the Titans, who cited character when they chose not to draft Randy Moss in 1998. Bulluck was arrested for drunk driving in February 1999 and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Bulluck said he learned from the incident, and Fisher said he's confident that it was a one-time mistake.