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Alterraun Verner's Versatility Opening Options for Titans

Posted Jul 24, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Alterraun Verner hasn’t been confused for an NFL linebacker, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about being one.

The 5-foot-10, 186-pound Verner has played cornerback and nickel back and hasn’t missed a game in three seasons. He started all 16 games at cornerback in 2012 but also likes moving inside to nickel because of the different challenges and opportunities that occur when defending the middle of the field instead of a matchup on the outside.

“Inwardly I’m kind of a linebacker, but my body didn’t fit that mold so I would love to be in the nickel because that’s the closest I’m ever going to be to being a linebacker,” Verner said during the Titans’ offseason program. “You get to mix in with the run, you can spot, you get your eyes on the quarterback, you can blitz. You can do so much at the nickel position, which I think would be a great challenge for me, but if it’s not meant for me to do that here because it’s best for me to do something else, I’m OK with that. As long as we’re winning, I’m good.”

The fourth-year pro received a different experience of defending the middle of the field this offseason when he took some reps behind Michael Griffin at free safety while Robert Johnson has been rehabbing an injury and Coty Sensabaugh handled a significant amount of snaps at nickel. The Titans are likely to continue experimenting with Verner as they take a look at Tommie Campbell and 2013 draft picks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Khalid Wooten at cornerback opposite Jason McCourty.

“Whatever sticks to help the team out best, if that’s me inside, if that’s me outside, if that’s me doing some type of hybrid position, I told the coaches I’m here to help us win and that’s the main goal,” Verner said.

Titans secondary coach Brett Maxie said he thinks the Titans could put Verner “anywhere on the field on defense and just let him go.”

“You can put him at end rushing off the edge, you could put him at linebacker, at safety, obviously at corner or inside as a nickel,” Maxie said. “He’s probably the one guy that you can say has the football intellect to play any place on defense.

“He has a very keen sense of things that are happening around him,” Maxie added. “He doesn’t just get locked in on his responsibility. He’s surveying the formation, he’s looking for any tips he can get during the pre-snap where he can get it communicated to everybody else, and he’s done a remarkable job. It just doesn’t surprise me.”

That’s not to say that moving from cornerback to safety should be easy. Even though cornerbacks and safeties are grouped into the secondary of the defense, the responsibilities change. Safeties must see the field from sideline to sideline, as opposed to generally having an axis line that splits turf between cornerbacks.  

“It’s different,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “He’s looking at both sides instead of being locked into one side, so I think it’s like any position when you move, it’s getting comfortable with your vision and your thinking and what’s happening around you and where your help is coming from. It’s hard.”

Maxie called the contrast between cornerback and safety a “different ball of wax.” He said Verner’s toughness helps him play bigger than his frame.

“He’s relentless, very physical and knows this is a big man’s game and a tough man’s game,” Maxie said. “He’s not going to go run into a brick wall. He’s going to find ways to get guys down. You don’t always have to go chest-to-chest with guys, especially guys that are bigger than you, so you’ve got to find other ways to get them on the ground, and that’s the kind of player he is. He’s going to outsmart them.”

Verner showed an example of alertness last season against Detroit. Late in the game, he came up on tight end Brandon Pettigrew after a short completion. Pettigrew is listed as 6-5 and 265, having considerable size on Verner, but Verner smartly went for the football. He stripped it before Pettigrew secured it and streaked 72 yards for a touchdown.

Maxie said Verner’s know-how increases his versatility, and while some adjustments may be necessary when switching positions, the staff has confidence in him at multiple spots.

“You watch film and see that this guy knows what he’s doing,” Maxie said. “It’s just innate. It comes natural for him.”

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