We continue our trip around the Titans position by position after the conclusion of the 2010 season with a look at the cornerbacks.
Back in the preseason when I looked at the corners, I was optimistic about Cortland Finnegan and cautious about the fate of the other starting corner, which I expected to most likely be Jason McCourty. McCourty did end up winning the job at the start of the year before getting hurt and having the starting job wrested away by rookie Alterraun Verner.
So, how’d they do in 2010, what can we expect from them in 2011, and what happens if they get hurt?
Personally, i was a little disappointed in Cortland Finnegan‘s play in 2010. I was slow to jump on his bandwagon, then optimistic after a good 2009, but I’d rate his play last year as only middling. At this point, I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t deserve to be considered up with the elite corners of the league like Nnamdi Asomugh and Darrelle Revis, but is probably in the great morass of #1 corners in the league. He’s capable of playing well against all types of receivers, and capable of getting consistently beat by top quality #1 wideouts. In some ways, he was the perfect corner for a Jeff Fisher team, normally agressive in run support, feisty, and unwilling to back down from a physical challenge even when discretion was the better part of valor. We’ll see if new DC Jerry Gray places the same kind of emphasis on run defense and physical play from his corners, but even if he doesn’t Finnegan remains a very valuable player and one they couldn’t easily replace.
Jason McCourty ended up playing in 12 games on the year, starting 6 of them. I thought for the most part he played adequate but unspectacular football, about what you’d expect of a #2 corner, and a big improvement from his work as a rookie. Fisher and Cecil obviously disagreed to an extent, keeping him on the bench except in nickel packages after his injury. The Titans did end up playing a decent amount of nickel, so he got on the field. Unlike Finnegan and Verner, McCourty is an outside player only, and he struggles sometimes to keep up with more agile receivers.
Part of the reason McCourty was relegated to the bench was Alterraun Verner‘s good play during his injury. The fourth-round rookie came in and did the kind of things he needed to do to earn more playing time, playing physical football and good run defense. He ended up starting 12 games, including the final 8. Unfortunately, sometimes his rookie status showed up and he didn’t always do the things that got him in the lineup in the first place. Aside from the occasional run fits issues, which he should correct with experience, I like him best as a cover-2 corner who can come up and attack guys. He just gets beat too much in man for my taste, and that was true when he was otherwise playing well.
The fourth corner was Ryan Mouton, who I didn’t see make the same strides in his game as fellow second-year man McCourty. He only appeared in 9 games and gave me approximately no confidence in his play when he was in the game on defense before going on IR in December. Promoted to the active roster when Mouton went to IR was Pete Ittersagen. Ittersagen was an undrafted rookie who spent time on the practice squad after a preseason injury before his promotion. He appeared in the final 3 games, playing mostly special teams. Replacing Ittersagen on the practice squad was Chris Hawkins, who was also signed to a futures contract after the season ended.
The good news for the Titans is that Finnegan, McCourty, and Verner are all under contract and should continue to be able to contribute their strengths going forward. The Titans were fortunate that Verner was able to play well when McCourty went down, as the depth beyond the top three is probably best characterized as “lacking.” Mouton’s lack of development is, at least for me, deeply discouraging, and I’m not optimistic about his future.
I’ve long thought the Titans should be more aggressive than they have been in improving their cornerback depth, but if Patrick Peterson falls to #8 or they’re sold on Prince Amukamara, I will not be the least upset if they take him with their first round pick. If not, I wouldn’t be sad to see them grab a corner with their second or third round pick. Being the Titans, though, they may take a guy in the later rounds or think a bargain-basement free agent or internal improvement from Mouton, Ittersagen and/or Hawkins or better safety play can give them the help I think they need.
More on the corners and their abilities to come in the nickelback preview when that goes up in the next couple days.