Since Drexel just wrote about the cornerbacks, next up in our offseason look at the Titans position by position will be the nickelback slot.
Thankfully, while the Titans may have questions on the outside, when it comes to slot coverage, there’s an answer in place. Backup safety Vinny Fuller performed quite credibly at the nickelback slot in 2007 and 2008, and earned a 3 year, $7.5 million extension a year ago February to continue performing those duties. He did reasonably well when he was in there, but an injury in the third game of the season against the Jets kept him out of the next three games, when the Titans went from an unexpectedly rough start to season virtually over thanks to deficiencies in the pass defense.
Defense against the opponents’ 3rd and 4th wide receivers had been a strength for the Titans in the past-per Football Outsiders’ ranking of such things, the Titans were 1st in that category in 2007 and sixth in 2008, but slipped to 21st in 2009, worse than they fared against opponents’ #1 and #2 wideouts, and teams also threw more against their other wideouts than they had in the past, so it’s not simply a volume issue. As with the rest of the pass defense issues, an improved pass rush in 2010 will help those figures, but the Titans’ biggest question at nickelback will again be depth.
My eye says Jason McCourty is better suited to playing the outside position, while Ryan Mouton would be better at the slot. From the games Fuller missed, that seemed to be how the Titans saw it as well. My hope is that their experience last season and a productive offseason will leave one or both of them better suited to play the nickelback than they were last year if called upon to do so.
If they don’t think the Second Year Corners M are ready, or if they’re both required to play on the outside, and the Titans don’t pick up somebody in free agency, one option the Titans may consider is playing an additional safety, probably as part of a zone scheme. We saw this a little bit late last season with Kevin Kaesviharn in because of the injuries at outside linebacker. If the Titans add another safety in the offseason, a possibility I’ll discuss more in the safety positional analysis coming up in the next couple days, don’t be too surprised to see Michael Griffin playing over the slot.
Overall, though, barring injury, nickelback should be the Titans’ best position in the defensive backfield, and they should be better positioned in terms of depth than they were entering the 2009 season.