Titans competition fierce at right corner
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Alterraun Verner is listed as Tennessee's starting right cornerback, not that he's sure he will be on the field to start Thursday night's preseason opener against Washington.
He could be. But so could Tommie Campbell.
A starter last season, Verner is fighting for the job in training camp. They take turns practicing every other day with the first-team defense, and the Titans are taking advantage of Verner's instincts and intelligence to work him as the extra defensive back in the slot and as a backup free safety.
Campbell has the advantage of being 6-foot-3 and a perfect fit for the more physical press coverage the Titans want this season.
Who's leading? Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray needs to see them play in a few games.
''I'm anxious to see how they do against the Redskins because I know they got some guys that can really run ...'' Gray said. ''When we go against some other guys, that's when you're really going to get a chance to see who steps up and who wants a starting job at corner.''
Gray also sees Coty Sensabaugh, a fourth-round draft pick last year out of Clemson, competing for the job, too.
But through the first part of camp, it's been Campbell and Verner taking turns working at right corner with Sensabaugh working in the slot.
Verner has experience on his side. The 5-10, 186-pound cornerback was Tennessee's fourth-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2010, and he has played in 48 games with 31 starts.
He has six career interceptions and two forced fumbles. He sees his smarts and instincts as his biggest strengths, adding he plays physical for his size.
''If I'm playing the best I can, I feel that's at a very high level and I feel like I can compete with the best anywhere in the league,'' Verner said after practice Tuesday.
''So for Tommie to be in the competition, for Tommie to win the starting job, he has to play at that level too because if I'm playing that high and then they go with him, that means he had to be playing that high too, and that's a win-win for us.''
Campbell is the physical phenom the Titans couldn't afford to pass up in 2011. They used their final pick of the draft on the cornerback timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds at the Cactus Bowl All-star game after he finished up at California (Pa.).
The Titans have gotten him onto the field for 29 games through his first two seasons with his biggest highlights coming as a rookie when returned a kickoff on a reverse 84 yards for a touchdown and last year on a lateral for 65 yards on a punt return for a TD.
Tennessee ranked 26th last season, allowing 247.8 yards passing per game. So the defense will be including more press coverage so the Titans can get a bit more physical with receivers.
That plays right into Campbell's strengths, and the third-year player said that he'd love playing press coverage every snap.
Campbell, who started college at Pittsburgh before transferring to Edinboro, is feeling much more comfortable now in the NFL and said the game has slowed down a lot for him.
''Before I was out there covering a go route every play,'' Campbell said. ''Now I understand the situations, down and distance, know concepts, receiver splits, just little things like that. And that's helping me an awful lot with my technique, and my athletic ability can take over after that.''
The Titans open the regular season Sept. 8 at Pittsburgh. Campbell is from Aliquippa, Pa., and called that a little bit of added pressure considering all the family and friends back home that would love to see him starting that game.
''I don't dwell on it,'' Campbell said. ''I'm just trying to just focus on the things I need to do to get the coaching staff to trust me. That's one of the things ... I don't think they could trust me in the past, and I want to let them know they can trust me to do whatever they need me to do when I'm out there.''
Notes: K Rob Bironas missed practice again with a sore back, and coach Mike Munchak said the veteran probably will sit against Washington. That will allow Maikon Bonani to handle the kicking duties Thursday night. ... Rookie OL Brian Schwenke has been out since aggravating his left hamstring July 27, and Munchak said he should return next week and have a chance to play at Cincinnati. ... RT David Stewart and WR Nate Washington got the day off.
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