We conclude our trip around the Tennessee Titans at the start of the 2011 offseason with a look at the nickelback position.
When I wrote about the nickelback position in the cornerbacks preseason preview piece, Vinny Fuller was the incumbent at the position and seemed to be pretty secure in his spot. As the 2010 season unfolded, though, we saw that wasn’t the case at all. He first lost his spot in nickel to rookie corner Alterraun Verner, and then ended up inactive the season’s final three games.
With Fuller gone and Verner the starter, how will it look in 2011 when the Titans play with extra cornerbacks?
The safest bet is we’ll see a lot of what we did the second half of 2010: when the Titans go nickel, it’ll be Jason McCourty coming in and playing at a boundary position with Verner moving to the slot. Verner’s okay as a slot corner-not really agile enough, in my mind, to keep up with the prototypical slot receiver, but not really any worse than Fuller was at that. DC Chuck Cecil also had him bringing the blitz off the slot a couple times. I didn’t think Verner was a great blitzer and bringing him is more useful as an occasional tactical changeup than as a general strategic point.
If Verner goes down, then the question is what happens at nickel. I would expect McCourty to move into the starting lineup at corner opposite Finnegan, but this is where the lack of depth I wrote about in the cornerback preview concerns me most: I simply don’t know who plays nickel in that case. If Fuller doesn’t play in the nickel (and I believe he won’t), and he’s not starting at safety (and I believe he won’t), there’s not much reason for him to be back, and Drexel wrote as much in the safety preview.
If Fuller’s not around to fill in, then, who will? WIll Ryan Mouton improve this offseason? Will Pete Ittersagen or Chris Hawkins be the guy the Titans need? With the uncertainty of the CBA and when free agency will begin and what it will look like when it happens, I’m hesitant to suggest names of players the Titans could add. But while the top three corners are decent, there’s not adequate depth behind them, and I hope that doesn’t come back to bite the Titans the way it did in 2009.