After much deliberation, the Tennessee Titans have decided to stick with Alterraun Verner as the teams' starter at right cornerback.
Verner held off third-year pro Tommie Campbell, who had the superior measureables (6-2, 4.31 time in the 40), but could not break through to claim the spot opposite Jason McCourty. So it will be Verner, who held the position last year, on the field at the start when the Titans open the regular season at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I just think overall we weighed everything. We had a plan. We explained the plan to both of them going into the OTAs,” Coach Mike Munchak said. “After watching the body of work from practice to OTAs and games, we just felt Vern (Alterraun Vener) was the right amount of most consistent. We’ll start with him obviously starting but obviously Tommie (Campbell) will still be part of what we’re doing on defense, still be part of special teams. He’ll still play a big role, but just to start the game out, it’ll be Vern.”
Verner said he was fine with the competition because it made him step up to re-earn his spot.
“Competition is always good because it makes you a better player because you have to be able to respond and you have to be able to work on thing to get better,” Verner said. “If you're not working and getting better, then the person behind you is. Tommie did a good job and he is a hell of a player. … At the end of the day, I know what I still need to do to get better. I've still got a lot to improve on as a player.”
For the second straight year, the Titans gave Campbell an opportunity to claim a starting role, but he came up short. For a time, they even had Verner working as a backup free safety in OTAs to Michael Griffin.
“I always look at it the positive way that Vern stepped up and handled it well,” Munchak said. “From the first day we started talking about making adjustments and some other things, he’s handled himself really well. He just got better out here and continued to make plays on the field,” Munchak said. “Even when we were talking about moving him to free safety, he was working that during OTAs. He’s a player. He’s a guy that’s got good instincts. He communicates well. I give him as much credit as everything. Right now, it looks like if you’re going to put together a group, you weigh a lot of factors not just the individual play. With the defense, right now we think that the best way to go starting the season is with Vern starting at corner.”
Mariani IR decision
Munchak explained that decision to place Marc Mariani on injured reserve was one of timing as much as anything.
Mariani was out with a shoulder injury suffered in the first preseason game, and though he was close to returning to the practice field, the Titans ended his season by putting him on injured reserve.
“You’re looking at all the options there when you start predicting when will he be ready. You’re trying to figure out the roster and how much time will he miss, who you’ll want to cut if you keep him on the 53, and what if he’s not ready in the three weeks, four weeks whenever it is he’s coming off the shoulder,” Munchak said.
“We still wanted to see how he came off the leg injury. He only had one game, half a game under his belt playing wise. He’s been through a lot of rehab and a lot of work. Everyone knows how we feel about him. He’s a great kid. You want him on your football team.
“You’re trying to find a way to make it work. It just made it hard to figure out how do we do all that with what’s best for him and what’s best for us. He may have been ready, no doubt. He would have had a chance to come back on the field at some point, but there are no guarantees after that. We felt the best thing now was to put him on injured reserve, so that’s what we decided to do.”
Munchak said the decision to release last year's starting center Fernando Velasco was one that was tough. But in the end, Velasco lost out to Rob Turner as the starter and to Chris Spencer to be the backup. He had signed a $2.03 million restricted free agent tender in the off-season.
“Fernando obviously grew up with us here with me as a line coach. You know how we felt about him,” Munchak said of Velasco who came to Tennessee as an undrafted free agent in 2008. “It was just a matter of doing what was the best thing for the team, and when the time came, Chris did a nice job. Chris came in and got better since the time he’s been here.”
Kendall Wright returned to practice from his knee injury and is expected to play this week.
Also, Akeem Ayers did not practice on Monday, but should practice Wednesday and play against the Steelers.
Zaviar Gooden won't play this week due to his right ankle injury.