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Tommie Campbell Making Impression with Extra Snaps at Corner

Posted Jun 12, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If Jason McCourty were to draw a press man cornerback, the resemblance to Tommie Campbell would be pretty strong.

“A guy of Tommie’s build is just a natural for it: 6-foot-3, long arms, he can run, he’s quick coming out of his breaks,” McCourty said. “So for him to get up and pressure you, it just comes natural and he’s done a good job of it so far.”

The Titans are shifting to a more aggressive defense than they deployed in 2012. One aspect of doing that is becoming more physical with wide receivers at the line of scrimmage while still protecting against the deep ball.

Campbell’s size, speed and strength have earned him a significant amount of reps during organized team activity practices in which the third-year pro has the opportunity to show coaches he’s learned how to cover not only speedy receivers but ones that are crafty.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive back, said he recently spoke with Campbell about “what you are thinking when you are covering.”

“He gave me the answers I need to know. He said, ‘My first year I was just out there running. Last year, I really didn’t know,’ but this year he’s understanding what people are doing to him,” Gray said. “He knows what they’re doing within the route, and if you can think like that, you can play really good at corner.

“Most guys think, ‘I’m 6-3, I can run a 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash), I can cover anybody in this league,’ ” Gray continued. “Well, nobody runs go routes all day so how are you going to cover a curl, out or hitch and go, and he has to understand that and not get panicked when he gets behind and he’s shown some of that this offseason.”

Campbell has made his mark on special teams the first two seasons and was able to get playing time on defense at the end of 2012. His breakup of a short pass to Jacksonville’s Toney Clemons enabled Zach Brown’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown in the season finale.

Campbell said he’s enjoyed the amount of time on the field during organized team activity practices this offseason and Tennessee’s shift to a more physical defense.

“It’s been real good because that’s one of my strengths but I’ve got to continue to learn and get better every day and not make the same mistakes,” Campbell said.

The on-field reps have given Campbell more experience with the reality of playing cornerback in the NFL. During one recent OTA practice Campbell caught a deflection in stride and began sprinting the other way with the interception but also allowed a deep completion to Kenny Britt. During another, Campbell broke quickly on a pass and broke it up, but wanted more, shouting, “I should have picked that.”

Campbell went to the film room to see what happened on the catch by Britt and said he’s developing a “short memory” that allows him to go from one play — with a good or bad outcome — to be ready for the next, which McCourty and Titans coach Mike Munchak said is important.

“He’s got to learn the fact, like a lot of players do, but especially when you’re a corner that receivers are going to catch the ball on you every so often,” Munchak said. “They’re going to make some plays, and it’s more of how quickly you can let go and move on to the next play, how quickly you can (avoid letting) that play affect the rest of the game for you.”

It’s a lesson that McCourty, a fifth-year pro, has learned as he advanced from reserve to starter to a defensive captain in 2012. Pittsburgh capitalized on a long touchdown pass against McCourty in the first quarter last year but he remained focused and recorded a critical interception before halftime to deny another scoring opportunity and give the Titans a chance to add a field goal by Rob Bironas for a 16-10 halftime lead in a game the Titans won 26-23 as time expired with another long kick by Bironas.  

“We’re all competitors and we want to win every time we step out on the field, but those guys on the other side are pretty good too,” McCourty said. “You’ve got to learn, at DB in general, to move onto the next one. It’s easy mentally but very hard physically and when you’re going up against some of the talented wide receivers in this game, you’ve got to understand that they can catch a pass or two.”

Campbell said he wants to build off “rule number one,” which is “don’t give up the deep ball” and he’s accepting the fact that pro receivers will make some plays.

“That’s one thing I take pride in, not giving up the deep ball,” Campbell said. “Even if they do catch it, make the tackle then and there. Sometimes they’re going to catch it. You don’t want them to, but if they do you want to limit the gain and live to play another snap.”

The Titans are scheduled to wrap up OTAs this week and have a mandatory mini-camp next week before breaking and returning to work next month for the start of training camp, which will provide more opportunities for Titans players to show coaches what they can do and guide the construction of the defensive scheme, which may evolve week to week, depending on the opponent.

“For us, the coordinators have to have a good feel for matchups and realize that, ‘Hey, we can play this  coverage because this guy can do this,’ ” Munchak said. “We want to play to our strengths, and that gives us more versatility if we have guys we feel can match up and not have to have too much help over the top. You can get extra guys on the backs, you can double team a different player so those are things you’re looking for if we do start trusting different players, then we can start leaning other ways to help you win.”

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