TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: CORNERBACKS
In camp: Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, LeShaun Sims, Tye Smith, Kalan Reed, Joseph Este, Demontre Hurst, Jarell Carter, Rico Gafford, Joshua Kalu.
Offseason developments: The Titans jumped out of the gate early in free agency to land Butler, who made a name for himself with the Patriots. Ryan showed off his leadership skills by helping organize workouts among defensive backs during the offseason. He also added boxing to his offseason work, and trained with former Titans running back Eddie George. Sims and Smith enjoyed solid offseasons, while Hurst was re-signed and showed off his versatility while working at safety. Jackson also looked more comfortable and confident heading into his second NFL season. The Titans added a number of defensive backs as undrafted free agents, including Gafford and Este, who played collegiately at Tennessee-Martin.
In the spotlight: Butler. The former Patriots cornerback plays with an edge, and the Titans think he’ll sharpen the team’s play in the secondary. Butler signed a whopper of a contract back in March, and the next morning he was on the field running sprints by himself. That was a good sign. During the offseason, Butler displayed a no-nonsense approach in the much-improved secondary. The Titans like Butler’s physical nature, and he should provide a boost with his all-around play.
Battle to watch: Este vs. Gafford vs. Reed. Yes, these are back-end guys at the position, and there’s a reason I’m highlighting them here. Corner is arguably the strength of the team, with Butler, Ryan, and Jackson backed up by Sims and Smith, two guys who’ve played meaningful snaps in meaningful games. Behind them, the Titans could keep a sixth, or secure a guy or two on the practice squad. Este has flashed, but so has Gafford, a speedster who could be a factor in the return game. Reed, meanwhile, needs to find his niche. He’s a versatile guy who has upside, but he’s now in a battle at a crowded position.
Keep an eye on: Jackson. Without question, Jackson was a big success during his rookie season. He played the second-most snaps of any player in the NFL, logging time at corner, on special teams, and on offense. He started all 16 games at cornerback, and was solid. But we can’t ignore the fact Jackson didn’t record an interception last season, and he didn’t take a return to the house. Well, I’m expecting that to change in 2018, and you can be sure Jackson is as well. Jackson added muscle this offseason, and it should help him in run support and while defending opposing receivers.
Next up: Safeties.