Injuries thrust Titans CBs Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton, then rookies, into key roles earlier than expected last season, and just as the Titans encountered a rather tough stretch of the schedule. Both received extended playing time in a Sunday-night game vs. Indianapolis and Peyton Manning on Oct. 11; seven days later, both started as the visiting Titans faced the Patriots and Tom Brady.
The results were not pretty. In the two games, the Titans surrendered 735 passing yards and nine passing TDs, six from Brady alone.
In an interview with PFW this week, Titans secondary coach Marcus Robertson recalled the unenviable task McCourty and Mouton had during that two-game stretch, using the term "unfair" to describe the challenges the rookies faced at various points. McCourty started in place of the injured Cortland Finnegan in both games, while Mouton replaced the injured Nick Harper vs. Indianapolis and then started at New England. (Both young corners also started and played regularly in an October loss to Jacksonville in which Jaguars QB David Garrard threw three TDs in a Jacksonville win.) However, Robertson thinks McCourty and Mouton benefited from the experience of playing early last season, with both having learned the value of consistent preparation and improvement.
"It's imperative that every day, you have to find a way to get better," Robertson said.
McCourty and Mouton are two of the contenders to start at left cornerback this season. (Finnegan is the clear starter on the right side.) McCourty got the first shot at working with the first-team defense in organized team activities, but Mouton has also received some work.
"Both Ryan and Jason are getting better and better each day," Robertson said.
Robertson told PFW the competition for the starting job could last through the second preseason game, but no firm timetable had been set. Other cornerbacks who will compete for playing time are veteran Tye Hill, a former first-round pick, and rookie Alterraun Verner, who starred at UCLA. Robertson, a Pasadena, Calif. native, first got acquainted with Verner as a freshman and has liked what he has seen of the rookie since he's joined the club for OTAs.
"He has a feel (for) the game," Robertson said. "He's somewhat a technician. And he works at it."
At safety, SS Chris Hope and FS Michael Griffin form a talented tandem, and Vincent Fuller is a valuable reserve. Griffin, who made the Pro Bowl after the 2008 season, comes off a disappointing '09 campaign.
"Somewhere along the line, Michael Griffin lost a little focus. He got a little too comfortable," Robertson said of Griffin's performance last season, adding that Griffin relied too much on natural ability at times last year. However, Robertson, who himself played safety for 12 seasons, told PFW he was "very proud" of the way Griffin responded after having struggled early last season and likes the way Griffin has applied himself in the offseason.
"He's becoming a student of the game," Robertson said.
Robertson is hoping for better cohesiveness from the secondary this season and fewer breakdowns, some of which he chalked up to players trying to do too much. He wants his safeties to trust the cornerbacks, even if they give up a few plays.
"It's important for everyone to do their job," he said.
Overall, Robertson has high hopes for the cornerbacks and safeties. "You can expect this secondary to do some big things coming into 2010," he said.
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