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Friday, November 1, 2013
Finnegan unsurprised by Verner's success

By Nick Wagoner

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner has been one of the NFL’s biggest breakout performers in the first half of the season.

Alterraun Verner
Alterraun Verner, a four-year pro out of UCLA, has played in every game for the Titans since his rookie season.
That revelation comes as no surprise to St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who served as a mentor for Verner in their two seasons together with the Titans.

Finnegan said there are plenty of people who are taken aback by Verner’s emergence, though, starting with the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.

“I’m not surprised,” Finnegan said. “I think who is most surprised is Tennessee because they tried to count this young man out over and over and over. He’s only doing what I knew he could do all along. I’m the one laughing in the background like ‘I told you so.’ Honestly, they tried to do it this year and still he found a way to get in the starting lineup.”

Verner has done much more than just find his way into the starting lineup in 2013. Through seven games, he has 25 tackles, two fumble recoveries, four interceptions, eight pass breakups and a touchdown.

ESPN Stats & Information defines a disrupted dropback as a sack, a batted ball, a pass defended or an interception. Verner has 12, which is tied for fourth in the league, but the numbers get even better for him when divided by total dropbacks.

That formula comprises what’s known as disrupted dropback percentage, a statistic in which Verner ranks first in the NFL, disrupting an opposing quarterback’s dropback 4.6 percent of the time.

“This dude is a ball magnet, he really is,” Finnegan said. “In practice, he’s phenomenal. They have two great corners (including Jason McCourty) there, I feel like I sort of nurtured them. I’m the big brother that left there. I’m super excited to see these guys every time they're on the field.”

This week, of course, Finnegan will be happy to see his former teammates but hopes -- for team reasons -- to see players like Verner and McCourty not playing up to the standards they’ve set in the first seven weeks.

With Kellen Clemens taking over for Sam Bradford at quarterback, Verner and McCourty represent a difficult matchup that could make finding passing game success another tough challenge.

For his part, Finnegan can at least provide the occasional pointer to help Clemens and the Rams’ young receivers prepare for what the Tennessee secondary brings to the table.

“Absolutely, I don’t know if I can give away everything but they have some things, some tendencies and stuff,” Finnegan said. “But they have a new defense as well. I can just tell them what I know if they ask me something on film.”

An injury to safety Michael Griffin that’s kept him out practice so far this week left Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray telling the Tennessee media that moving Verner to free safety was one option for patching that hole against the Rams this week.

That’s a move the Rams would surely welcome and one that our Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky refers to as "coaching malpractice." Of course, given the way Finnegan describes the Titans' previous use of Verner, it probably wouldn't come as much of a surprise.