AFC South: Coty Sensabaugh

Alterraun Verner made a graceful exit from Tennessee as he signed a four-year, $25.5 million free-agent deal with Tampa Bay.

He appeared on The Midday 180 in Nashville as our guest Friday largely to say thanks to Titans fans.

Verner said he expected some heat for leaving, but that the Titans' fanbase has been largely congratulatory.

[+] EnlargeAlterraun Verner
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsAlterraun Verner was the Titans' lone Pro Bowl selection last season.
He was polite, professional and not angry, but also said the Titans didn’t always make him feel loved and appreciated. In free agency, feeling loved is crucial.

You can hear the interview I’m about to quote from here.

I’m fine with the Titans' ultimate plan to allow Coty Sensabaugh or Blidi Wreh-Wilson to win the open starting spot, just as Verner won it when Cortland Finnegan left. I know Tennessee was the victim of its own accurate pricing -- if the Titans offered a deal at the end of last season averaging $6.5 million a year, Verner’s agent would have scoffed. Yet that’s what he ultimately got from the Buccaneers.

“That’s why I said the money really isn't the issue because in some sense, Tennessee kind of [ultimately] offered something around where I'm at now,” Verner said. “It's not really the money that was the issue. It's kind of rooted a little bit deeper than that. So maybe if they would have did this offer before the season started or maybe during the season, maybe I would have did it, but once the season ended, it was going to take a little bit more -- not necessarily money -- but just different ways of approaching the whole situation, they would have had to do a little different for me to probably come back and consider coming back."

So did the Titans undervalue him in non-financial ways?

"In answering that question, I think it's very tough because there's a lot of changeover, new coaches and everything like that,” he said. “At times, I felt that I could have been undervalued or maybe not appreciated enough. You know, I don't need to get slaps on the back or pampered or anything like that. I've never been that type of person or player to really want that. But at times I felt like I'm being demeaned or being put under when I felt like I'm being a professional, I'm doing everything right.

“I practice, I play every game -- hurt or not hurt -- I don't really complain and I'm a team player. But at certain points I feel like I gained, or should have earned, more respect at certain areas. It would take too long to go real deep into it or anything like that. It's not like I'm saying that the front office or coaches or anybody is bad or treated me mean or anything, there's just certain things that they could have did a little bit different or that they did do that wasn't the most ideal or most respectful way of doing things."

Here’s some leftover ill effects from the poor job Jerry Gray did as the Titans' defensive coordinator for the past three years. In both 2012 and 2013, Gray pushed hard for the bigger, faster Tommie Campbell to win the job opposite Jason McCourty.

Verner consistently outplayed Campbell. Everyone should have to compete for his job, of course. But the way Gray propped up Campbell was a joke, and I imagine Verner resented it to some degree.

Surely that at least played a part of what he’s referring to when he says there were times he felt “demeaned” or “put under.”

He’s landed in a good spot. Like virtually everyone else who follows the team, I wish him well and expect big things.

Survey says: Worst pain ever

November, 20, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For this installment of “Survey Says” I asked Titans, “What’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt?”

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson: “My ACL injury, I would say. In 2007, my rookie year. It was excruciating. It felt like hell. Painful, very painful, I would say the first couple days coming out of surgery, when they have to bend it, fresh out of surgery, The bending of the knee trying to get the flexion back, that’s the most painful thing I ever felt. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Coming out of surgery it was just that throbbing feeling, like it’s got a heart in it.”

Guard Chance Warmack: “I dislocated the ring finger on my left hand in the Auburn game. I had to play with it for two games, the Georgia game and the Notre Dame game. It never had a chance to heal properly. I buddy-taped it. I remember the Georgia game, it kept popping out, we had to keep popping it back in. It felt like my finger was going to fall off. I was blocking with four fingers.”

Wide receiver Nate Washington: “I was playing basketball and I got hit in the eye and my eye was open so the guy actually moved my eyeball a little bit. I had a patch on my eye for about two weeks. I was 20, 21 years old. It was excruciating pain. I did not know it would hurt like that, I couldn’t open my eye for about two weeks. Black eye, eyeball was red. Worst football injury was a hip pointer, because you can do absolutely nothing. No loud talking, no sudden movements, no sneezing, no coughing. I’ve broken bones before but hip pointer is the most immobilizing nagging thing. But the eye was worse.”

Linebacker Akeem Ayers: “My appendix, this year, right before the season started. That s--- was terrible. It was kind of like a sharp, endless pain type of deal. This was there for about 12 hours, just non-stop until it was taken out. It was like a knife and some punches at the same time.

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsCraig Stevens said his broken rib was "the most excruciating pain I've ever felt."
Guard Andy Levitre: Getting pleurisy. It’s an inflamed lung, so every time you breath, it feels like you are getting stabbed in your chest, but it’s your lung rubbing up against your rib cage. I feel like that’s the most painful thing I ever had, it was in college. I had it for a few days and it bough me to tears, it was that bad. It was insane. I couldn’t take full breaths. That was bad. I ended up going to the ER. I tried to tough it out for a few days and then I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “When I broke my rib, by far the most pain ever. Two years ago we were playing Cleveland and Eugene Amano came and landed with his knee right here (points to left side of his torso.) I couldn’t get up or anything and then it kind of clicked back in and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not so bad.’ Then I ran down there and I actually made a tackle and fell on the ground. I couldn’t get up. For about a week, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t move. I would lay down and I couldn’t get up, I needed help to get up, that’s how bad it was. It eventually healed. It would heal and I would play with it and re-break it before it had a chance to really heal up. Every time I re-broke it, it was like I’d go back to square one with that pain. After about four weeks of re-breaking it, I took a game off, then I started feeling better."

Tight end Delanie Walker: “Probably when I broke my jaw two years ago against Seattle. Dec. 24. After the morphine wore off, that’s when it was worse. The flight was two hours, and that’s about when it wore off. That’s when I felt it. It just felt like someone was kicking me in the mouth nonstop, over and over. Took me three weeks to recover. I played in the NFC Championship Game.”

Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Probably when I broke my leg in high school. I broke my fibula, I had to have surgery. It was a 10 on a scale of 1-10.”

Defensive tackle Mike Martin: “When my shoulder came out. Kind of came in, came out, slipped a little bit in college, my senior year against Illinois. I was going to tackle Juice Williams, get a sack and my linebacker came and hit the back of my shoulder, slipped it out, it was horrible. It reverberated all through my body, it felt like it was going through all my limbs, that’s how bad it was initially.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Richard ShermanUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesBackup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to face a stifling Seattle secondary and the league's best corner in Richard Sherman.
Sunday's game between the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks is a matchup between two winning teams coming off losses, and both are missing key players on offense.

Quarterback Jake Locker is out for the Titans. Both starting tackles -- Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini -- are out for Seattle. Tight end Zach Miller could also sit.

The Seahawks have a 10-game home winning streak on the line, hoping to rebound after their first defeat of the season, 34-28 to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Titans hope to get a stagnant running game going and find some consistency with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Paul, it looked like Fitzpatrick had a rough first outing for the Titans subbing for an injured Locker. Do you think Fitzpatrick will improve, and how difficult will it be for Tennessee to have success on offense while Locker is out?

Kuharsky: Fitzpatrick is certainly capable of playing better than he did in the loss to Kansas City, when he had three very bad quarters and one good one. I'm not sure what the Titans can do to help him if they are unable to run the ball. If they can bring some balance with Chris Johnson (and maybe Shonn Greene, who's still trying to get back after knee surgery), it could be a lot less difficult. Fitzpatrick hardly has Locker's excellent speed, but he scrambled around pretty well against the Chiefs. With Locker in the first four games, the Titans didn't turn the ball over and overcame their deficiencies running the ball. Without him, they need Fitzpatrick to imitate the mistake-free youngster. But Fitzpatrick is more of a gunslinger than Locker and is streakier, and that's probably too much to ask.

Terry, the Titans pledged to be a great running team. It hasn't really panned out that way. Last time Johnson was in Seattle, he had a 2,000-yard season. What's the run defense going to be like?

Blount: It's been all but impossible to run up the middle on the Seahawks. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is as strong a run stopper as there is the NFL, and it takes two blockers to handle 325-pound Red Bryant. If that fails, it's tough to get past middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Wagner probably won't play Sunday because of a high ankle sprain. Nevertheless, it's difficult to establish a running game on the Seahawks. Seattle is an aggressive outside pass-rushing team, so occasionally a back can get yardage outside, but not often.

Paul, Locker told us on the conference call Wednesday what a disappointment it is that he won't get to play this weekend in front of family, friends and University of Washington alumni who love him for all he did to help turn around the Huskies football program. He is a beloved guy here and a huge hero in this community. How is he viewed in Nashville?

Kuharsky: Nothing close to that yet. People who have given him a chance know he's an eminently likable guy, a hard worker and a well-respected leader, but plenty of fans called talk radio over the offseason talking about why Fitzpatrick would be a better choice or how it should at least be a camp competition. Even after Week 2's overtime loss in Houston, when he overthrew a wide-open Kenny Britt on a crucial third-and-1 late in the game, there were calls for change. (It's a throw he's got to make.) The game-winning drive against San Diego showed people what he can do. Locker also had a fantastic two-plus quarters against the Jets, which seems to have done a lot to win more people over. In playing style and development arc, I think he is a lot like Steve McNair so far. If that holds true, impatient fans will wind up happy.

Terry, home field is viewed as such a giant advantage for the Seahawks. Can you give us a tangible feel for just how loud and crazy the atmosphere is there?

Blount: In the San Francisco game, where the outdoor stadium decibel record was set at 131.9, it was so loud that it was difficult at times to even hear people talk in the enclosed press box. I know every team believes its stadium is one of the loudest, and I've been to most of them, but trust me, there is nothing like CenturyLink Field. It's deafening.

Paul, cornerback Alterraun Verner is off to an outstanding start this season with four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman is viewed by some as the best corner in the NFL, but is Verner the most underrated?

Kuharsky: He could have had another two picks last week on balls he didn't manage to haul in. Verner has been really good. The team wasn't sure what it had in him. The Titans knew they got a good football player out of UCLA three years ago. But as they revamped this offseason, with Gregg Williams joining the coaching staff and the Titans determined to get more aggressive, they figured a big increase in press-man coverage would move them away from Verner's strengths. They wanted Tommie Campbell, a faster and bigger guy to win the job. (Some wrote about how Campbell has some of what makes Sherman so good.) But Campbell didn't catch on and bombed in training camp, and Verner proved to be better. If Coty Sensabaugh hasn't recovered from his concussion for Sunday, Verner will start in base and move into the slot in nickel, with Campbell replacing him outside.

The Titans rush pretty well, and Verner is getting his hands on balls all over the field. Who has had the best success slowing Russell Wilson and how?

Blount: Even though Seattle came back and won the game, the Texans had the most success because of their talented defensive front and all-everything defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Both Houston and Indianapolis took advantage of Seattle missing starters on the offensive line and teed off on Wilson on third down. Nevertheless, Wilson is the best I've ever seen making the most of a bad situation and finding the opening the defense gives him. Anticipating when Wilson will roll out and cutting off his running lanes is the key, but it is far easier said than done.

Survey says: The Titans' bad habits

September, 26, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coaches want to instill habits.

In many ways, that’s what coaching is. Most coaches don’t want players thinking too much during a play, they want them reacting to things according to a plan, using techniques that have become habit.

But most things involving habits also include bad habits.

I asked Tennessee Titans middle linebacker Moise Fokou what bad habit he’s had to overcome in his football life, and how overcoming it and retraining himself has paid off.

“Even in college I was guilty of moving too fast,” the fifth-year pro said. “A lot of times you want to react fast and diagnose the play quickly, and get to it before the play gets there, almost. I’ve always been one of those guys who’s pretty quick. And when I diagnose, I kind of get to the play before.

“Sometimes that habit will get me in trouble, because what I thought I saw wasn’t exactly what was happening. I’ve learned to use my quickness as an asset, but also kind of to play it slower. Diagnose a play, then react as quickly as possible -- instead of reacting as soon as you see it. You still get there, but make sure it is what you are seeing.”

[+] EnlargeMoise Fokou
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsTitans linebacker Moise Fokou said learning to slow himself down has paid huge dividends.
Fokou is in the middle for the Titans, but came to Nashville with NFL experience at the Will and Sam linebacker spots. According to Fokou, at those positions, seeing what's happening and getting there immediately is more pressing.

“At the Mike, you kind of have to be the top-off, make sure everything is safe,” he said. “So I’m doing more reading and reacting than reacting and reading right now.”

I toured the Titans locker room to talk bad habits with many others, trying to get an answer from someone at every position. I like doing surveys like this because I always get unexpected answers. I figured most answers would relate to technique, but many didn’t.

Here's what I learned:

Jurrell Casey, defensive tackle: “I would say finishing. A lot of times you get into a situation where you get beat, pinned at the line of scrimmage or whatnot and you think there is no way out of it. You’ll kind of just sit there and let the quarterback move around. On your first move, you have to learn how to convert into that second move. Now my biggest thing is converting into that second move and not letting a guy win after the first move.”

Craig Stevens, tight end: “Not getting off on the snap count. It's an advantage that offensive players have. I try to focus on that. Sometime I didn’t pay attention to it like I should. You’ve got to focus on it. It helps a lot. You can get off before [defensive players] can.”

Jason McCourty, cornerback: “I don’t know what to say, I don’t want to put anything out there and people go, ‘That’s his habit, let’s attack him doing that.’ [Then 30 seconds about how reps at press coverage have helped the secondary play it better, followed by me asking if he was going to give me a habit.] I’m not going to give you a habit, I’m going to talk around the question.”

Shonn Greene, running back: “Maybe in pass pro(tection). Grabbing a guy outside his shoulder pads instead of keeping my hands in. If you do it, it’s a lot easier to get called for a hold, and it’s not the right technique to use. You’ve got to keep them inside. … That’s a habit I’ve had that I’ve been trying to correct. I’m better at it now, but it’s just one of those things that sometimes it slips.”

Derrick Morgan, defensive end: “Not sticking to my rush plan. Sometimes I would kind of abandon it and start trying new stuff. Now I don’t get discouraged, I just stay with the plan. You can’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work the first time. Stay with it, with what I’ve been practicing.”

Nate Washington, wide receiver: “Making a move before I get the ball, taking my eye off the ball, not looking it all the way in. Especially now with coach (Shawn) Jefferson here, that’s his main thing -- eyes, eyes, eyes. Making sure you’re looking the ball all the way in. A lot of times, if you look at a receiver if he drops the ball, nine times out of 10 it’s going to be because he turned his head too fast, looking to make a move without the ball.”

Rob Turner, center: “I think as an offensive lineman, you’re always working on your hands. You get caught in positions, defensive linemen move, they are running a game, they are working to get off a block, arm-over. And it’s something you constantly fight, to improve your hand placement. You may have them in a good spot to begin with, and a guy makes a move and you have to replace it or pull it out. That’s something I’ve constantly worked at, is getting better with my hands. You get away with stuff in college -- not to speak bad of every college player, but not every college player is an elite player. So I think you get away with more stuff because a guy isn’t as strong or doesn’t take great footwork. There is more room for mistakes at that level. Once you make a move to the next level, every one of those attention-to-detail things becomes more important.”

Darius Reynaud, return man: “For me, it would be on punt returns. Judging the ball and judging those guys, for me as a punt returner, I tend to stop to see where everyone is at before I go. That’s my bad habit. Against Pittsburgh, when I caught it, I just hit it and ran and got a 27-yard average on it. I need to catch the ball and go forward with it.”

Coty Sensabaugh, nickelback: “Eyes looking at the wrong thing. Say you’re in man-to-man coverage, you’re guarding the receiver really well. Then instead of looking at him when he breaks, you’re looking at the quarterback. He can separate from you. I’ve gotten a whole lot better at it. I had a bad habit of it in college. My college coach used to correct me on that and really get on me about that, so I got out of the habit pretty well.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Munchak likes to talk about guys being professionals and doing their job.

Enough of them did their job for the Tennessee Titans to beat the San Diego Chargers and get to 2-1.

But there should be some serious shakeout for all the penalties in the game. Not every call is going to be right, but 11 penalties for 116 yards by nine different players certainly does not fit under the heading of being a professionals and doing your job.

Tennessee fans were up in arms about the officiating and had a couple of legitimate complaints. Eric Weddle got away with pass interference against Justin Hunter. Kenny Britt was flagged for an illegal block above the waist that looked like a hand on the back.

Still, the Titans amassed 10 penalties for 110 yards in the first half before settling down. San Diego got four first downs from penalties while the Chargers committed five for 45 yards and gave up first downs from infractions.

“It’s frustrating because when you see them on tape I think a lot of them are touch fouls,” coach Munchak said. “I think a lot of them seem unnecessary.”

I wasn’t in the room and in talking to a few people who were, it’s unclear if he meant they were unnecessary to commit or unnecessary to call.

I sure hope he’s not making excuses.

Many of his players and his offensive coordinator and were not.

“As a team we definitely have to be smarter, because those penalties are going to come back and bite us,” cornerback Jason McCourty said.

“It’s discipline,” left guard Andy Levitre said. “That’s something we have addressed as a team and obviously it’s yet to be fixed. I don’t know how we’re going to go about it. Obviously it’s up to the coaches. But we have to do a better job with that, that’s going to cost us big-time down the road.”

“That’s unacceptable and we’ve talked about it three weeks in a row,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We need to find a way to fix that because it’s not smart football.”

A rundown of Sunday’s offenders:

Three matchup questions I have as I consider the Tennessee Titans game Sunday at the Houston Texans.

1. Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner and Coty Sensabaugh will all have a role in trying to slow down receiver Andre Johnson, who looked excellent against the Chargers on Monday night. Most of the time, a defensive back wants to get his hands on the receiver early to throw things off. But McCourty said there are times when Johnson wants a corner to jam him, because it sets him up for short routes. “Sometimes it works as an advantage and sometimes, with his strength, he uses it against you,” McCourty said. “Sometimes you have to lay off. You have to mix it up. He can be running a slant and let you get your hands on you and grab you and throw you by.”

2. As a member of the Bills, Titans left guard Andy Levitre played against Houston lineman Antonio Smith a year ago. Smith didn’t play in the opener after a suspension for a preseason incident with Richie Incognito. Smith will spend a lot of time trying to get past Levitre, but the Texans move people around up front, in part to prevent blockers from gaining any sort of consistent rhythm. “He’s strong enough to play inside but has still got that quickness of an end,” Smith said. “He’s an active guy, he plays all over the field.” J.J. Watt is the guy everyone is talking about and he’s a big issue for David Stewart, Chance Warmack and the whole line, but let's not forget about Smith.

3. Bernard Pollard was close to the line of scrimmage most of the time in Pittsburgh. The Titans often played Michael Griffin deep in the middle of the field alone. The combination of the Tennessee pass rush, solid coverage by the cornerbacks and minimal downfield threats from the Steelers allowed for that personnel distribution in the secondary. Can the Texans, who know Pollard well as he once played for them, force the Titans to back Pollard off and be more involved in coverage? Play-action passing is a giant piece of the Texans' offense, and Pollard is likely to be tested more.
A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s the most important step you take on any given play.

I recently toured the Titans locker room asking that question. A lot of guys said it’s the first step, and that didn’t surprise me. But in getting the same answer from guys at different positions, I got different rationale.

Let’s run through the replies.

Running back Chris Johnson: “The step is once you see the hole, you’ve got to hit it. You can’t really hesitate. In the whole game you might have two maybe three big home run plays where it’s going to open up for you and you can’t hesitate, you have to hit it. Once you see the hole, that step, you’ve got to hit it. Your mind is making a decision with your feet.”

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTight End Craig Stevens says he has to be set by his second step to be ready to make contact.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Your eyes tell you which step to take, the first step. It’s having your eyes on the receiver and going off of the right thing. It really just depends on what the receiver does. I mean we’re basing everything on the receiver. Your eyes tell you everything.”

Receiver Kenny Britt: “It depends on what route it is. Most of it is being precise all the time with the quarterback. Depending on whether they are blitzing and what the coverage is, you’ve to be in the right place at the right time. You’re starting point is everything to your route, you have to get off the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to know if he’s going to press you, if he’s going to ball on you. It’s about getting off the line clean.”

Safety George Wilson: “A lot of time it’s that first one. You’re trying to get that run-pass key. If it’s pass and you step up in the hard play action sometime that’ll take you out of position for where you are supposed to be to defend the pass. It’s important that you have your eyes in the right place every place so that your first step is the right step.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill: “The first step. Get off the ball first. If I beat my man, nine times out of 10 I’ll cause disruption in the backfield. …Now my man is back to defense and I’m on offense, he’s got to figure out what we’re doing. If he’s first, you’ve got to work like hell to get back in position.”

Left tackle Michael Roos: “The first one. It’s the one that starts all your other steps. If your first one is too wide, you’re going to compensate, try to make up for it. It might be wider, you might cross over. On a pass set if your foot’s not square, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, that means your body is turned, now you get an inside move, you can’t turn, correct yourself as fast. You’ve got to gain the right amount of ground otherwise everything falls apart after that.”

Fullback Quinn Johnson: “It’s pretty much the same thing as the offensive line, it’s the first step. It’s like Coach [Sylvester] Croom tells me, if I take the wrong first step, everything else moves downhill. I’m off course and everything goes off timing. I watch it on film. When I take the wrong first step, everything else goes bad. When I take the right step, everything else goes good.”

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy: “First step. Obviously, downhill. As a linebacker you’re playing run first, pass second. Getting your run-pass key and reacting as fast as you can off of that.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “You’ve got to get off the ball as quick as you can and make that first play-side step. But then really my most important step is my second step, because it brings your whole body with it and that’s where your power is. Whenever I’m run blocking, I’m always making contact on my second step. Short, quick step. Get your two feet on the ground as quick as you can.”

Kicker Rob Bironas: “Has to be the first step, yeah. If the first step’s wrong, the next step’s wrong, the whole thing’s wrong. If you step off the wrong direction or over-stride, then you are trying to make up for that the whole way. In my case, it’s a jab step and then two steps to the ball. I just roll into or fall into my jab step. It’s just five, six inches with my left foot.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans made the right choice in going with Alterraun Verner over Tommie Campbell as their starting cornerback opposite Jason McCourty.

Campbell is bigger, stronger and faster, which prompted the Titans to over-tout him in training camp in 2012 and again this year.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was a physically gifted cornerback, too, when he played for the Rams, Oilers and Buccaneers. Gray earned four Pro Bowl appearances from 1985-93.

A year ago, the Titans were looking for Campbell to either win an outside job as a starter or prove capable of taking over an outside job in the nickel package, allowing Verner to shift inside. After a camp full of hype about Campbell, the Titans then pulled an opening-day surprise with Ryan Mouton playing nickel.

[+] EnlargeTommie Campbell
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTommie Campbell was not able to beat out Alterraun Verner as the starting cornerback.
Gray has talked about how important it is for a corner to be smart, and that is one of Verner's top qualities. At another point the coordinator spoke of how, given a raw player with great speed, he would be able to shape him into an effective player. Campbell fits in that category.

Today’s development is mostly about Campbell. He failed to seize a massive opportunity heading into his third year. The Titans wanted him to win the job and he couldn't navigate the road they paved for him.

But it’s an indictment of Gray and the defensive coaches, too. They’ve either overestimated Campbell, failed to develop him or both.

Here’s Mike Munchak’s positive spin when I asked about Gray’s failure to mold the Campbell clay into what he indicated he could:

“Well it’s not over yet, Tommie’s still here, Tommie’s still part of our team. I guess the timing for everyone is always different, how quickly they come on, how they can contribute, how quickly they can take over a position. It’s still a work in progress and like I said, give Vern some credit too for playing well and doing a good job. We still have both of them on our football team and this conversation can change quickly depending on what happens. He’s still in it, he’s still able to keep getting better, as far as who’s first, it’s going to be Vern.

Getting limited second team reps in practice and working on the scout team does not provide the same opportunity to get better that Campbell had through the summer, camp and the preseason.

Campbell was not in the Titans’ locker room during a lengthy period during which it was open to the media Monday. A team official said he didn’t know where Campbell was.

Free safety Michael Griffin said Campbell is still learning some of the nuances of playing cornerback in games.

“In practice, Tommie does a good job, he plays physical,” Griffin said. “When it comes to the games, I guess the hardest part is trying to understand what’s legal, what’s not legal. Because he gets away with a lot of things at practice. But I wouldn’t count Tommie out, you never know when his name may be called.”

Verner was gracious, saying he and Campbell are friends who were rooting for each other and wanted it to come down to who made more plays and not be about either of them failing.

I like Verner and think he’s a heady football player. His training camp body of work was better.

But the 2012 Titans gave up the most points in the NFL and the most points in franchise history. The team ranked 26th in pass defense.

And so the solution in the secondary was to sub out a subpar strong safety, Jordan Babineaux, with Bernard Pollard. Pollard is a better player, but he’s not an ace in coverage, though, he doesn’t care for people to say so.

Of the Titans first five defensive backs, four of them -- McCourty, Verner, Griffin and nickel back Coty Sensabaugh -- are the same as they were last year.

Perhaps that group matures and plays better and has a better pass rush in front of it.

But the Titans strategy with regard to the pass rush wasn’t to add a premier pass-rusher. It was to bring in run defenders to reduce the workload of the rushers already in place.

Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers will be the primary edge pass-rushers with Kamerion Wimbley getting work too. Those three, too, were part of the defense that let teams score an average of 29.4 points a game.

With Gregg Williams’ influence, they will surely blitz more.

My big lingering question is, "Did the Titans change enough on defense?"

The Pittsburgh game will begin to tell the story.

But the offense might want to aim to score 30.

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley

Quarterback Jake Locker played a confident and efficient first-half. The run game looked good again. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey turned a triple play with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all in one swoop.

Those were encouraging developments.

That was about it for the front-liners, and those positives were swallowed up by a pretty lengthy list of bad stuff for the Tennessee Titans in preseason game No. 2, a 27-19 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday night.

A look at much of what went wrong:

Third-and-long failures. Tennessee allowed Cincinnati to convert third-and-longs and string together three long drives before halftime as the Bengals built a 17-3 lead. The headliner in third-down defensive gaffes was strong safety Bernard Pollard. He and nickelback Coty Sensabaugh missed chances to tackle Mohamed Sanu on a 24-yard catch and run to the 1-yard line that set up Cincinnati’s first score. A bit later, Pollard couldn’t bring down a crossing Brandon Tate, who ran away from him for another third-and-long conversion.

Injuries. Both strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers (right ankle) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (knee) rode a cart to the locker room after suffering first-half injuries. Both rank high on the list of players the Titans can least afford to be without. The Titans don’t have a quality, big linebacker backup for Ayers and Wright is probably the most unique receiver on the team. Ayers was on the sideline in the second half, not in a walking boot per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean on Twitter.

Drops. Receiver Nate Washington could have made a tough catch at the goal line. He was well covered by Adam Jones for a while, but the ball looked like it went through his hands. Receiver Kenny Britt let a good throw from Locker bounce off his hands. Undrafted tight end Jack Doyle had a terrible drop on what should have been an easy catch for a good gain.

Run defense. Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard looked very good (seven carries for 37 yards). He took one carry 22 yards and went the same distance for his one catch. Bernard got a lot of his work on one drive and looked to tire out the Titans' defense. On a Cedric Peerman run, the Titans missed two chances at a tackle for a loss (linebacker Patrick Bailey and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua), allowing him to escape outside.

Missing kicks: After moving ahead 3-0, the Titans missed three field goals in a row, with two of the off-target kicks coming from Rob Bironas and another from Maikon Bonani. It’s bad enough that the Titans had to settle for field goals. Bironas hooked the first miss wide-left, and the second went wide-right. The usually reliable Bironas missed time recently with a back issue and this was his first preseason action. Hopefully for Tennessee, his problems were related to rustiness.

Solid fade: The Bengals got a very nice Andy Dalton throw and Sanu catch on a 2-yard fade in the back left of the end zone. Tommie Campbell wasn’t as bad as he was in the preseason opener, and he had a good play on him here. He did get his hands on Sanu early, but Sanu just made a good play. That said, he didn’t look to seize the job in this game. Alterraun Verner made two plays in the first five minutes of the second half. Forget the physical attributes. Verner is a just better football player who understands the game better and has superior instincts.

The second half: The second and third teams fared better and produced a couple of touchdowns. One gaffe of note early in the fourth quarter, however: Right end Scott Solomon crashed to the middle of the field rather than containing on his side. Young Bengals running back Dan Herron reversed course and ran to where Solomon should have been. The result was a 39-yard touchdown scamper that wound up providing the winning margin.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tommie Campbell looks to be the favorite to be the Titans' second starting cornerback on opening day.

But it's not like incumbent Alterraun Verner has just disappeared.

He's worked outside, he's worked at the nickel spot, he's even worked at deep safety. Coaches and teammates continue to talk about his professionalism and high-quality performance.

The most popular line about Verner: We've got to find a way to get him on the field.

That sounds nice.

But where exactly is that if Campbell is starting, if Coty Sensabaugh is excelling as the nickel and if Michael Griffin is locked in as the starting free safety?

It's hard to see it unless it's some sort of mix-and-match platooning, unless it's in packages that change game-to-game or unless someone is hurt.

Still, Verner is not punching holes in the phrase, however.

"I'm expecting to be an integral part of the game," he said "I'm going to still be able to make a difference in a game in some way, shape or form."

Campbell has an advantage in size (he's 6-foot-3, 198 pounds to Verner's 5-10, 186) and physicality, and the Titans want to play more press coverage.

Veteran safety George Wilson said Verner is no pushover in such coverage, having "held his own" against Kenny Britt, the team's most physical receiver, during Saturday's scrimmage.

"He's not the biggest guy," Wilson said. "But he has the heart of the biggest guy."

Verner is a smart player and a smart guy, who's approached the competition in just the manner the team expected.

"Our team, our coaches are going to put the best men out there," he said. "So if I happen to be one of the best people in that given package in that given game for that given play, they will do their best to accommodate that. And if I am not, they'll accommodate otherwise.

"All I can do is be the best I can be every time I'm out there and I know that me doing that, other people have to elevate their game so that they're going to be ready to play."

Video: Cornerbacks shine at Titans camp

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
7:23
AM ET
Tennessee Titans cornerbacks Coty Sensabaugh and Tommie Campbell have stood out after four practices into training camp.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The highly respected Andre Johnson seeks the ultimate team goal, not more personal ones, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Arian Foster isn’t going to rush to return from his lingering calf strain, says McClain and Tania Ganguli.

To which I say: And he shouldn’t. But it’s hard to forget in June he said the only reason it was attention-worthy was because it was a slow news cycle and the press needed headlines. If it was such a little a deal as he maintained then, he’d be practicing now, right?

Two injured candidates for the right tackle job, Derek Newton and rookie Brennan Williams, have worked their way back from knee injuries, says Dave Zangaro of CSH Houston.

The Texans' Week 3 game against Baltimore will come against a team missing tight end Dennis Pitta, who suffered a serious hip injury Saturday, says CSN Houston.

In these nuggets from Drew Dougherty of the team’s website: Johnathan Joseph’s new workout routine, video of Foster talking about his movie role, Brooks Reed on J.J. Watt practicing his motivational speeches, and receivers catching tennis balls.

Indianapolis Colts

With his traditional opening day arrival theatrics, Reggie Wayne got to Anderson, Ind. by helicopter, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

The newest member of the Colts, rugby player Daniel Adongo, started off by learning some basics -- like Practice details from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union tell us of a far better day for Chad Henne than Blaine Gabbert.

To which I say: Fans who watched it and are reading about it should be upset that Gabbert was struggling just to take snaps. Even if it's just one afternoon, he should be past such things.

Was Gabbert’s bad practice a big deal, asks O’Halloran.

Gus Bradley said how Gabbert bounces back can be the biggest thing to come from Saturday, says John Oehser of the Jaguars website.

Low expectations of the Jaguars offense gives first-year coordinator Jedd Fisch an opportunity to formulate a creative offense, says Gene Frenette.

Marcedes Lewis wants to forget about the past two years, says Mark Long of AP.

First-year guard Drew Nowak tweeted that his car got hit on the way to the team hotel, but that he’s fine, say O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

Two newcomers from Super Bowl teams -- Bernard Pollard and Delanie Walker -- see great expectations with their new team, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Details of Saturday’s practice fight, from John Glennon of The Tennessean, who also touches on Brian Schwenke’s hamstring, Coty Sensabaugh's surge, and the return of navy blue jerseys for a couple games. Here’s a picture that gives you a sense of the fight -- from a fan who took it during a period of practice when media was not allowed to take pictures or shoot video.

Pollard says part of what the Titans' defense has to do is get a kid receiver like Justin Hunter ready for action. (With video from Wyatt.)

If cornerback Tommie Campbell pans out, he could be like Seattle's Richard Sherman, says Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.

The coordinators talked of early standouts, on the other side of the ball, says Glennon.

The Titans' offense is streamlined under Dowell Loggains, says Teresa Walker of AP.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some observations from Friday evening’s Tennessee Titans training camp, the first open to fans...

In 7-on-7 work with no linemen:

Tight end Taylor Thompson angled away from a defender and was open about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, but Jake Locker missed him with a wobbly ball that sailed too long.

Undrafted rookie receiver Rashad Ross was well-covered by corner Tommie Campbell, but quarterback Rusty Smith zipped a short pass completion to him anyway.

From his own 15-yard line, Locker looked for receiver Michael Preston but his terrible pass found cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

In team periods:

Locker rolled left, against his arm, a few times by design. On one, he did very well to square his shoulders and hit Craig Stevens. On another he hit Justin Hunter, but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had it so well sniffed out he would have leveled the rookie receiver if allowed.

Locker threw a deep ball over Nate Washington's head up the right sideline. After he bounced one to Kenny Britt, Locker hit Damian Williams on a very nice pass down the middle for roughly 20 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey showed great lateral movement and got nearly to the sideline to end one breakout running play by Jalen Parmele. Later Casey managed to knock the wind out of Shonn Greene after tracking him on a dump off pass closer to the line of scrimmage and the center of the field.

You can already see stretches where the Titans are working to mimic the sort of no-huddle, high-speed offense they will sometime have to defend. With a new batch of offensive players quickly taking over for the group that just ran routes and blocked, the defense had to race to get back into position for a snap.

On a “now” pass, the quarterback throws immediately to a receiver split wide who hasn’t really moved off the line of scrimmage. The ball has to arrive in a way that the receiver can run with it immediately. Locker threw one left to Kendall Wright, but Wright had to bend at the waste to pull it in from too low. That doesn’t lend itself to the play working.

Line of the day, from Britt to safety Bernard Pollard: “Your name’s Bernard, you ain’t THAT tough.”

Receiver Marc Mariani let a Fitzpatrick pass bounce off his hands that was picked off by linebacker Tim Shaw.

Campbell does look very confident and was in good position a lot. On another play, where Locker had someone in his face as he checked down short over the middle, Campbell closed and batted down a pass thrown for Hunter.

Backup kicker Maikon Bonani has a gigantic leg. But during the field goal period he had one atrocious miss, shanking his ball low and left and missing the wide screen set up well behind the goal posts.

I wanted to note one play in particular: Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun and the defense couldn’t get lined up. Multiple players were shouting calls, waving each other around and didn’t know what to do or where to line up. It’s a play where Fitzpatrick has to get his guys set -- maybe one was late, but I didn’t see it -- snap it quickly and take advantage of the defensive confusion. Instead, however, Fitzpatrick waited a long time and the defense found some semblance of organization. He wound up throwing a short incompletion that may have been a throwaway. The defense can’t win that play but did.

“Yes, we’d want him to snap it,” Mike Munchak said afterwards. “I don’t know if he was waiting for the defense or waiting for one of our guys. Generally, in a game we’d go. In a practice, I think he was making sure, because we weren’t in a hurry-up mode. The offense should have an advantage there, yes.”

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