Reframing my view of Tommie Campbell

May, 29, 2014
May 29
11:06
AM ET
Circumstances the last few years made me overly critical of Tommie Campbell.

The Titans cornerback is physically gifted, but things haven't clicked for him mentally in his three seasons since he was a seventh-round pick out of California (Pa.). I don't know that they ever will, but he gets a fresh chance with the new coaching staff, and perhaps they can get him to a place their predecessors could not.

[+] EnlargeTommie Campbell
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesTommie Campbell may be getting a fresh start with Tennessee's new coaching staff.
He's got tantalizing size at 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds. And he can really run.

My beef hasn't really been with him, so much as with his coaches. But Campbell suffered collateral damage.

Despite the fact that Alterraun Verner was clearly a superior talent, former defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was enamored with Campbell's physical gifts. For two camps in a row Gray acted like Campbell would win the starting spot opposite Jason McCourty, and it amounted to insulting Verner.

The Titans have a reasonable succession plan in order for life after Verner, who signed a free-agent deal with the Buccaneers. Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh are at the front of the line. They did the same thing when Cortland Finnegan left for a big free-agent deal in St. Louis, with Verner poised to take over.

I don't think there was a scenario where the Titans were going to re-sign Verner.

But you know what made it even less likely? The way Gray acted with regard to Verner versus Campbell in the summer of 2012 and 2013.

Verner exited gracefully, but also admitted "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."

Gray did not exit gracefully when he was not brought back in the Titans coaching change. Even if Mike Munchak had accepted the team's conditions and returned, Gray was a goner and the team would have changed defensive coordinator, likely to Gregg Williams.

It wasn't Campbell's fault that Gray pumped him up so much and that he basically insulted a better player in so doing.

Campbell played in the first eight games last season on special teams and had a tendency to draw penalties. He re-injured a troublesome shoulder, sat a few games and went on IR. He's had surgery and feels set to be a better player this go-round.

"I may be out of the loop right now -- or some people may think that -- but you never know," Campbell recently told David Boclair of the Nashville Post. "Come August, that's when positions are won or lost. It ain't OTAs. It ain't minicamp. It's preseason and I am going to be at full strength and ready to go during the preseason…"

"Obviously I plan on being the starter, one way or the other. So that's the goal. That's the goal for every player on this team. That's my goal. It's going to continue to be my goal."

His primary patron is gone. Gray is coaching defensive backs in Minnesota.

We don't know how holdover assistant secondary coach Steve Brown or new secondary coach Louie Cioffi or defensive coordinator Ray Horton or coach Ken Whisenhunt feel about Campbell now.

We do know, like everyone else, he starts with a clean slate.

The Titans haven't talked about a three-man competition to replace Verner. I expect Wreh-Wilson or Sensabaugh will win the starting job and the other will work as the nickel while Campbell battles fourth-round rookie Marqueston Huff for the top backup spot.

I'm interested how Campbell responds to the changes.

I'll watch him now determined not to hold Gray against him.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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