Titans’ Amato has a valuable role as 'specialist'

Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 11:44pm
Ken Amato sees little playing time although he is an integral part of the Titans' game plan. Photo by Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

When they are short at linebacker, the Tennessee Titans have a solution – in case of emergency, insert long snapper.

For seven years now, long snapper Ken Amato has practiced every practice with the Titans linebacker corps, sat in every linebacker meeting and has been available just in case he is needed. In that time, Amato has gotten into a handful of games, sometimes in Tennessee’s extra linebacker package, sometimes because of a rash of injuries and has managed to record seven total tackles outside his special teams work.

“I go to all the linebacker meetings. I do pretty much everything the linebackers do except play,” Amato said. “I’ve probably gotten into about seven games or something like that, give or take a little bit.”

That’s because even though he’s a linebacker, the Titans see him as something much more valuable.

Playing linebacker is something Amato enjoys doing, and probably would do more often, were he not the Titans’ long snapper who had both his 2005 and 2007 seasons cut short by season-ending injuries. Amato broke his leg seven games into the ’05 season, and tore the ACL in his knee two years ago, again in the seventh game.

“They used to let me do a lot more but I broke my leg one year and then had the ACL, so I’ve had to cut back on what I do,” said Amato, who played linebacker at Montana State.

The Titans even have taken him off the kickoff coverage teams because of the fear of losing a valuable specialist to another injury unnecessarily. Before the injuries came, Amato was on a number of special teams units and had 19 special teams tackles his first two seasons with the club.

Out of harm’s way

Certainly as a part of the placekicking sequence, the Titans can ill afford anything that might jeopardize the timing of field goals and extra points. That’s why kicker Rob Bironas would prefer Amato say out of harm’s way as much as possible.

“He loves hitting people. He played linebacker in college, and he’s gotten out there and played some linebacker for us in emergency situations when we’ve needed him,” Bironas said. “Obviously, it’s not something I personally want him out there doing.”

Amato has not played linebacker in an actual game since 2006, but still works some there in practice when needed. He said if long snapping was all he did in practice that he would get bored pretty quickly.

“I couldn’t do it. I’d get bored. I’d rather be out there running around or something. It’s always more fun to be out there,” he said.

Last week, Amato got a chance to work in drills, thanks to Colin Allred’s sprained ankle that left the Titans with only two middle linebackers in practice.

But even with the Titans shorthanded in the preseason opener against Buffalo Sunday night, coaches refrained from putting him into the fray — especially in an exhibition game.

Linebackers coach Dave McGinnis holds Amato in high regard in part because of his value on the practice field and in the meeting room.

“He is very well respected on this football team. In the linebacker room, he’s very well respected. He knows all three positions,” McGinnis said. “I can put him in anywhere that I want to out here in practice.

“He’s extremely valuable. He’s our long snapper and he does so many things. The fact that he has stayed so current at the linebacker position, he’s there at every one of my linebacker meetings, he’s the first one in the meetings and last one to leave. He knows it.”

Case in point: After one practice last week, veteran outside linebacker Josh Stamer was talking to Amato in the locker room and listening to Amato’s explanation of what he saw on a particular play and how it was defensed.

Two of the Titans leaders at the linebacker position, Keith Bulluck and David Thornton, wholeheartedly endorse Amato as a full-fledge member of the linebacker group, despite his lack of game time there.

“He’s our utility linebacker. He would be in there more if Coach Mac would let him, but he’s definitely seen live action,” Bulluck said. “The whole thing with Kenny is he’s just so valuable to our special teams. He’s our long snapper, and they try and limit his drills. But he definitely likes to get out there and mix it up at linebacker. That’s his position. We look at him as a linebacker who snaps.”

Waiting on a call-up

One of Amato’s first games at linebacker came against Green Bay on Monday Night Football in 2004 at Lambeau Field. In the extra ‘backer package, Amato came onto the field and made key tackle to help snuff out a Packers drive in that game.

Thornton said he has confidence that Amato would again come through if called upon.

“He understands every position at linebacker, not just the middle, and he can do the job very well. It’s an asset to us to have a guy in that position who can do more than one thing,” Thornton said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to use him too much, but in the event that something did happen, I think guys in our locker room and our team meeting room are confident that Kenny could go out and get the job done.”

That’s because Amato takes the time to continually adjust and stay up to date at the position by paying attention in meetings and on the practice field.

It is something that, when his playing career is finally over, could serve him well if he ever wants to pursue coaching as a profession, according to McGinnis.

“When Ken Amato is through playing this game at a professional level, when his career is finally over, if he ever wants to coach, I would recommend him to anybody for their staff, because he is high quality,” McGinnis said.

That will have to wait, because Amato, who joined the Titans in 2003, is having too much fun playing — even in a specialized role.

“I just enjoy playing the game, so whatever I can do whenever I can do it. I enjoy playing the game, it doesn’t matter where it is,” he said.

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