Somehow the nickelback position doesn’t get a lot of respect from fans. It’s as though the nickel is viewed as the third best corner on the team. I look at it as if he’s a starter. After all, he plays more than the middle linebacker, who’s considered a starter. Every team needs a good nickelback, especially with the popularity of three-WR formations.
These are the nickelbacks now on Tennessee’s roster and my thoughts on them:
Vincent Fuller – He’s listed as a safety, where he’s played occasionally in the past, but seems to have found his niche at nickel. Fuller had two shining moments in 2007, one in prime time, with interception returns for touchdowns. I don’t know why, but his play declined in the second part of the season. Was it because of injuries? He was shaken up in the Chiefs game but his decline started before then. Maybe he was just hampered a little with lingering injuries. He didn’t start against the Jets even though the Titans opened with a nickel defense. Whatever the reason for his decline, he’ll have to fight off the competition for his job this summer. Fuller is a restricted free agent who the Titans will undoubtedly tender.
Eric King and Kelly Herndon will be in the mix for both the corner and nickel positions. You may have read my take on them in the positional review of the cornerbacks, where I noted that King got a start in Fuller’s place against the Jets and that Herndon is probably better suited to play nickel than corner. I like King a lot better than Herndon.
Safety Michael Griffin has the ability to play nickel, but I’d be shocked if the Titans go in that direction.
Outlook: I’m worried about Fuller’s regression and hope it was simply due to an unreported injury which he can recover from. If that’s not the case, the Titans need help at the position. King is the best and most logical replacement if Fuller can’t get the job done. At least one draft pick will be spent on a corner, who will probably also compete for playing time at nickel. This is one position I plan on keeping an eye on in training camp, in addition to the left corner spot.
Next in the series: the safeties.