The Tennessee Titans have always been the boring team that ran the same plays the same way against any competition. They rarely adapted to their opposition and they never put offenses on their heels. Their “bend but don’t break” motto was more like “bend, break, and shatter” at times.
A defense is supposed to counter the offense’s schemes with their own set of mismatches, but until last season Tennessee didn’t even know how to use their personnel’s talents the right way. Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray brings a mentality that is quite refreshing to say the least. Gray made a bold move when he put Cortland Finnegan inside for the nickel/ slot cornerback. It worked. Finny isn’t here anymore, he is back with the boring Jeff Fisher and his new St. Louis Rams. That is okay though because unlike Jeff Fisher, Jerry Gray has a plan.
The versatility of Alterraun Verner is very comparable to that of Cortland Finnegan. His ability to be quick and shifty like a receiver, accompanied with great tackling, makes him the perfect candidate to replace Finnegan. I am sure Gray has noticed and he has most likely informed Verner of this role. A role that involves playing outside with McCourty, but moving to the slot in nickel and dime packages will certainly make Verner a happy man. I have high expectations for Verner this year and wouldn’t be surprised to see him with 5+ interceptions by the end of the season.
The real question is who will play the outside corner when Verner is in the slot. My vote is on Tommie Campbell. His athleticism and size is second to none. Jerry Gray seems to be pleased with his development going as far as saying Campbell’s technique may be better than anyone not named Jason McCourty. The good news for us is he was a 7th round pick, so there is no rush. If he pans out, we won’t see a drop off in our coverage ability.
Another versatile player that will expand our options on defense is Zach Brown. I have a strong feeling that Jerry Gray will invest more time into Brown’s development than any other player he has coached in the past. Brown’s athleticism enables the Titans to add an extra blitzer from anywhere on the field. If Brown is asked to blitz off the weak side he will fly off the ball, but that isn’t the best part. When running zone blitzes, a guy like Brown gives the offense a look before the snap that morphs into something totally different. In just seconds Brown can get into a passing lane that a quarterback thought was empty. He can show blitz, but drop into coverage and vice versa with a quickness we have never seen on defense in Tennessee.
This coming preseason will show us the direction our defense is heading, but the reality is we play New England week 1. Boring and restricted will never work against Tom Brady. You have to confuse and pressure a guy like that.
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