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Titans CB Competition Continues

Posted Aug 16, 2013

By Isis Freeman, For Titans Online

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The frontrunners for one of the Titans’ starting cornerback positions include a player who looks the part and one who’s proven he can play it.

Heading into the 2013 season, the Titans are looking to play more “press man” coverage, where cornerbacks play a physical style of defense against receivers at the line of scrimmage. This concept permits almost always involves a cornerback that is physical, tall, and fast.

Tommie Campbell played against Washington and will start at Cincinnati Saturday. Click here for a slideshow from last week's game.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and Titans coaches think Tommie Campbell’s physical attributes are exactly what they envision in a press cornerback. Campbell, a seventh-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, and fast on his feet.

“Tommie is what you would draw up as a prototypical corner, a guy who can press and can run,” Gray said. “That’s what you really want. You want a guy that looks like that, that has the athletic ability and all of the God-given tools. This is really what the League is kind of going to.”

Campbell has split reps at cornerback with the first team during training with Alterraun Verner, a fourth-round pick in 2010 who started all 16 games at cornerback opposite Jason McCourty in 2012.

Verner is 5-10 and 186 pounds but his keen strategic awareness and physical toughness, have allowed him to play larger. While Campbell fits the prototype for a NFL cornerback, Verner is versatile and focused, exhibiting an understanding not only of his position, but also of the entire defensive scheme.

“He’s smart,” Gray said. “He’s really good a corner with great ball skills. Plus, he understands what everybody else needs help on, so he’s going to help make those plays. What I like about Verner is his attention to detail.”

The Titans wanted to see Verner apply those qualities at free safety earlier this year during OTAs, while giving Campbell more snaps at corner, but have alternated the two at corner during camp while also taking a look at second-year pro Coty Sensabaugh, who replaced McCourty early against Washington in the preseason opener.

Two-time Pro Bowl selection and Titans safety Michael Griffin spoke highly of Verner’s versatility and his overall understanding of defense.

“Verner started out as a nickel back, so it’s almost like being a corner with the mindset of a linebacker or a safety, because sometimes you have to play the run,” Griffin said. “He’s played all different types of positions. Verner’s one of those players you could put anywhere on the field and he will make plays. He’s very instinctive. He’s one of those guys who understands concepts and can go make plays. He can bring the all-around game to the position.”

Verner started against Washington, but the playing time for the first-team was limited. Campbell will get an opportunity to start Saturday at Cincinnati. This shift in the starting roster illustrates the competitive nature of training camp and the usefulness of preseason games to evaluate players.

“You still want the guys to understand that you’re in training camp mode,” Gray said. “Training camp is more of a competition. You’re still competing. (Against Washington) I thought Verner played a whole lot better than Tommie (Campbell), but you want to wait. You don’t want to pass judgment right now.”

Verner has not allowed his start last week to make him complacent. He has instead focused on using the competition to improve his game.  

Alterraun Verner returns a fumble he forced and recovered for a TD against Detroit last season. Click here for a slideshow from that game.

“The whole competition is something that I don’t really pay attention to. I just go out there and worry about me executing and doing my job,” Verner said. “In turn, that will just help out the battle. If Tommie (Campbell) wins it, he’ll have to be doing his job, too. If we’re both doing what we can, it’s going to help us both out. So that’s what I am focusing on.”

It is this sort of veteran perspective that Campbell appreciates in his fellow cornerback. Campbell similarly focuses on the learning opportunities that the corner battle provides.

“Vern is shorter than me, slower than me, but he’s a tremendous football player,” Campbell said. “He understands the game. He knows what’s going on in a play before the play even starts. He’s one of the guys that I can learn a lot from.”

When asked about what earning the starting spot would take from his end, Campbell spoke about gaining a confidence level and consistency similar to those of his counterpart Verner. While he acknowledges his speed as an asset, Campbell said it is not enough.

“It will take me being consistent, believing in what I can do, and just trusting myself and not relying on my speed all of the time,” Campbell said.

Verner and Campbell love the position. When asked to describe their position’s appeal, neither cornerback faltered.

“Our job is simple,” Verner said. “Usually we just have to cover a particular man and make sure he doesn’t catch the ball. I also like that you get the ball thrown at you, so you have more opportunities to get interceptions, to get the ball in your hands.”

Similarly, Campbell expressed: “The whole defense is basically depending on you on the edge. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do out there on the edge, then a touchdown could happen at any moment. It’s basically you versus him and if you’re able to win your match up, it helps the defense out a lot.”

Until the Titans face the Falcons for their third preseason game, the position is still up in the air for grabs. Coaches, players and fans are waiting to see who comes down with it.

Preseason Live: Tennessee Titans

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