Heading into the 2012 season The Tennessee Titans are still faced with one glaring weakness, the defensive backfield. In order to compete for a playoff spot this year we must address our lack of a proven player as our nickel back and add more depth at the safety position.
Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are the starters at CB, and Jordan Babineaux and Michael Griffin are the starters at safety, that much we know. Behind Babineaux and Griffin is 6th round pick Markelle Martin who, I feel, will start as soon as next year and be a Titan for a long time. I love his game. He was an absolute steal in the 6th round. The team mainly just needs one more safety for depth purposes. Heading into OTA’s and training camp we still don’t know who will step up and be the starting nickel back. Yes, I said starting nickel back because in our defense the nickel back position plays about 50% of the time. Last year we had Finnegan who was pretty solid, solid enough to get a 50 million dollar payday from the Rams. With the loss of Finnegan that leaves the Titans extremely vulnerable at one of the most important positions on the football field. Don’t fret, all is not lost, we have options so let’s look at them.
The main players involved for the nickel position are Tommie Campbell, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Mouton, and rookie DB Coty Sensabaugh. While these players may have talent and upside, they are unproven and very raw. Campbell is a former 7th round pick who the Titans seem to be high on, Hawkins bounced around practice squads before sticking with the Titans last year, Mouton is coming off of an Achilles injury and we still don’t know if he’ll even be back to 100% this season, and then there is the rookie Sensabaugh, who many people felt was a reach in round 4, but is considered a sleeper with a ton of upside. Trotting out a very raw DB or rookie to play 50% of the time in the league can be a recipe for disaster, especially for a team that many consider to be a playoff dark horse heading into the season. And what happens when we have to deal with injuries, which happen every year, they just do.
So what can the Titans do? Trust me, it’s not all hellfire and brimstone! The Titans brass obviously felt so worried about this position that they took a DB very early in the draft in round 4(my attempt at sarcasm). I also want to make it clear that just because a team comes out in a 3 receiver set doesn’t automatically mean that you have to counter with your nickel package. Can Zach Brown help if he’s playing in our base packages? Sure, he runs a 4.50 and does a pretty decent job dropping into coverage. Is there a chance that we line up in some 3-4 sets? I think there is, especially with a full off-season to be able to implement Jerry Gray’s defense. Now what percent of the time would we play 3-4, if I had to guess I would say 5-7% of the time. There will also be veterans that are being let go now and more that will be let go once training camp starts that we can look at. Yesterday the Bills cut Drayton Florence and Albert Breer just reported that he is on his way to meet with the Titans. Maybe he’s the fix, we’ll see.
For an up and coming team, this is easily our biggest weakness and could turn into a flaw that keeps us out of the playoffs. If this area is addressed adequately before the season starts (which I think it will be) then we can look forward watching our defense flourish and really play some good ball.