- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.