When the Titans lost Cortland Finnegan to St. Louis as a free agent, it was presumed that the club would likely have to dip into free agency to find some sort of replacement.
Thus far, the Titans have avoided that scenario, though they courted a number of veteran cornerbacks early in free agency, a list that included Tracy Porter and William Gay, as well as a brief discussion and some interest in trading for Asante Samuel.
As it turns out, the Titans have apparently decided to ride with what they have at the cornerback position, electing thus far to bring in only rookie fourth-round pick Coty Sensabaugh to compete as depth.
That means the Titans have a two-fold mission this offseason to get their defensive backfield where they need to be by the time the regular season opens up. The Titans appear to have settled on Alterraun Verner playing outside on early downs and playing the nickel-back role like Finnegan did last year on passing downs.
The second part of that equation then will be finding out which corner comes onto the field to play outside in nickel packages while Verner slides inside to the slot. The winner will likely come from among Ryan Mouton (coming off an Achilles injury that cost him 2011), second-year pros Tommie Campbell and Chris Hawkins and perhaps Sensabaugh.
But the guy with the biggest adjustment in responsibility will be Verner, who played that dual role as a rookie in 2010, but relinquished it to Finnegan last year as Verner settled into the third corner role on the outside. It’s something he is looking forward to getting back to, especially the part of playing nickel back.
“Right now, they have me inside. … Me personally, I want to play inside. I like being with the linebackers and getting to blitz. I want to come in and guard some of the slot guys because that’s where the ball goes most of the time, the Wes Welkers, the great tight ends, they like to work those areas, especially on third downs,” Verner said. “I would love to be that guy that Cortland was last year, but wherever they put me, I’m gonna play.”
While Jason McCourty could be a better pure cover corner, Verner might be the surest tackler among the cornerbacks, which makes him the right fit to man the nickel spot and act as a mini-linebacker in certain assignments and packages.
“There are certain packages where we might have to fill a game as a nickel, because our ends might be rushing outside and we have to fill the gap inside,” Verner said. “We have to play what the Sam (linebacker) does in our base package. Cortland was a great tackler, and they weren’t worried about him making the play in there. He knew how to make tackles in open space, so I would say that’s a big factor.”
–Tight end Jared Cook, who had 49 receptions a year ago for the Titans, now says he needs to build on last year as OTAs begin for Tennessee.
“I’m OK with the way it ended, but the production has to keep up obviously,” said Cook, who is entering his fourth year in the league. “That was last year and I really just want to come out and click on all cylinders and make some things happen.”
Cook’s production jumped by 20 catches in each of his first two seasons. After having just nine receptions as a rookie, Cook had 29 in 2010 and 49 last year.
–Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer wants to put much more of his playbook into the scheme this year. Palmer, who has run the same offense since 1990, only installed a little bit of it last year since there was no offseason due to the lockout.
“We implemented the beginning parts of the offense and the reads that the receivers have was minimal. What we’re hoping to do is increase the amount of options a receiver has in running their routes,” Palmer said. “We’ll determine during preseason what we can and can’t handle and adjust accordingly.”
–Defensive tackle Shaun Smith has turned to teaching and taking part in yoga classes this offseason in order to get himself in better shape. Last year, Smith, who signed a three-year deal with Tennessee as a free agent, had just one sack and was not a regular part of the defensive tackle rotation by the end of the year.
This year, he hopes the pounds he has shed will help him play better. Smith told The Tennessean he is now at 340 pounds, down from 362 a year ago.
Smith could be in a fight for his roster spot with the Titans pleased with 2011 rookies Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug and drafting Mike Martin in the third round in April.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“I’m comfortable with either guy who wins it.” — Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer on the battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker for the team’s starting quarterback job.