NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are making a change in starters. Not at quarterback where Kerry Collins has the job over Vince Young as long as the team keeps winning, but at middle linebacker where the speedy Stephen Tulloch is replacing Ryan Fowler.
It's a move that caught Fowler, who started 14 games last season and the first three this year, by surprise.
"It definitely came as a shock to me. It went from, `There is no competition,' and then skipped the competition part all together and went to a replacement without any warning," Fowler said Thursday. "I understand the coaches will do what they need to do to win, and they probably have the best interests of the team at hand.
"I'm not mad about the change. I'm a little disappointed in the way that it took place without any warnings."
The Titans (3-0) signed the 6-foot-3 Fowler away from Dallas as a restricted free agent in March 2007, and he beat out Tulloch for the job. But the 5-foot-11 Tulloch, their fourth-round draft choice in 2006 off of a great North Carolina State defense that also featured Mario Williams, started the final two games when Fowler hurt a shoulder.
Tulloch also started three preseason games at outside linebacker, playing so well he had some teammates thinking he should be starting.
Told that Tulloch would be starting, Fowler said there wasn't much discussion and he believes the move is indefinite.
The move is a bit surprising because Tennessee currently leads the NFL in fewest points allowed through three games with 29. The Titans also rank third in yards allowed.
Fowler said he had refocused on being a physical player after experimenting with some finesse moves during the preseason. He had been told his performance against Cincinnati on Sept. 14, in which he had seven tackles with two for losses, was his best yet with Tennessee.
"I hadn't been approached or talked to or showed any concern by any of the coaches since the season started, and by all accounts, I had been getting nothing but positive feedback from coaches and scouts alike," Fowler said.
Tulloch, whose locker is beside Fowler's, was lifting weights and not available to reporters Thursday after practice. Coach Jeff Fisher would only say that they like the matchup against Minnesota (1-2) and Adrian Peterson with Tulloch.
Fowler said it couldn't be based on production because he has 18 tackles and is tied with Keith Bulluck for the lead among linebackers. But he said he'll try to lose a few pounds to improve his speed.
"I was focusing on being the hammer they wanted me to be," Fowler said. "I thought I was on the right track. I guess there was some communication lost somewhere in there. It's probably my fault for not paying close enough attention."
Bulluck called it a tough situation for coaches and Fowler and Tulloch. Bulluck had been counseling Tulloch to have patience, comparing Tulloch's situation to his own as a first-round draft pick in 2000 who didn't take over as the starter until the final game of the 2001 season.
"They didn't make a change and our defense wasn't playing as well as we are playing. It's a coach's decision. It shouldn't change anything the other 10 of us do to prepare or anyone else on this defense," Bulluck said.
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said Tulloch had a great training camp and preseason.
"I know it's hard to wait your turn and be patient, but he did. He kept his head on straight, and that's what happens in this league," Vanden Bosch said. "You'll get your opportunity if you keep working hard, and he's got his opportunity now."
Notes: Running back LenDale White hurt his shoulder and was limited in practice Thursday. ... But receiver Justin McCareins (groin), cornerback Nick Harper (ankle), and running back Chris Henry (sick) all practiced after sitting out Wednesday. Vince Young (sprained left knee) did not practice and watched from the sideline.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press