NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Colin McCarthy, Alterraun Verner and Jared Cook spent part of this week greeting fans during the 14th Titans Caravan.
Next week, they'll have an opportunity to greet new Titans at their respective positions when recent draft picks Zach Brown, Coty Sensabaugh and Taylor Thompson attend a rookie minicamp at Baptist Sports Park.
McCarthy, Verner and Cook are expected to play pivotal parts in the plans and successes of the Titans in 2012 and said the focus in the offseason will be the whole team getting better together. All said they'll welcome the opportunity to compete with and teach the incoming players.
McCarthy started seven of 13 games last season at middle linebacker as a rookie and recorded 76 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. It was a heralded start for a player that didn't have the benefit of a full offseason program between college and pro football because of the NFL lockout last year.
"It's going to be exciting," McCarthy said. "That's why a lot of guys are excited. To realize what we had last year with not really having an offseason. Our first preseason game was in the first month that we were with the coaching staff. To have this offseason to work with (defensive coordinator Jerry) Gray, to work with Coach (Frank) Bush, it's exciting. As a defense, we're excited to put new things in, build upon what we had last year and be able to game plan for certain teams and attack them in ways that last year we may have had to have been more vanilla, more basic, just so everybody was on the same page."
McCarthy said it will be interesting to see how the speed of Brown, a second round selection, will affect the linebacker corps.
"I'm not familiar too much with him," McCarthy said. "Obviously, I heard runs fast — an athletic linebacker. That's the NFL. You need to have speed, you need to be athletic, and I think he'll be a great addition for us. It's up to him as far as once he gets here, how much work he puts in. Obviously at linebacker, we'll be pushing him to get him as prepared as he can be to start the season."
Verner started 12 games as a rookie in relief of Jason McCourty at cornerback and made an immediate splash with three interceptions, 15 passes defensed a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in his debut season. He made three starts last season and rotated on the field in nickel packages last season. Verner, who has played and contributed in all 32 games of his career, is expected to join McCourty as the team's starting cornerbacks this season, but he wants to win the spot through a great competition with other defensive backs.
"I'm definitely looking forward to (greeting Sensabaugh)," Verner said. "I knew we were going to pick up a corner at some point in the draft, so seeing that it was Coty Sensabaugh, I already talked to (running back and former Clemson teammate) Jamie Harper about him, and he said that he's a great guy, is very smart and should be a great player. I'm looking forward to him coming in right out the gate. I know they're telling him to come compete for a starting job. For him, that should be his mentality coming in, and I think, create competition among all of us. Me and Jason (McCourty) experienced that the past couple of years, and I felt like both of our games improved because of that, so now it's going to be me and Coty and probably everybody else, and I think our game is going to elevate.
Cook set career bests in catches (49), yards (759) and touchdowns (three) in his third season. In addition to increasing Cook's role in the offense, the Titans agreed this offseason to a multi-year contract with Craig Stevens and drafted Thompson, who played defensive end at SMU, as a tight end in the fifth round.
"I'm excited," Cook said. "It's a little odd that he played D-end. I think everyone was kind of thinking that but it's exciting. Anytime you get new talent, you want to feel them out and see what they're like. He should be a good addition and he should come in and do fairly well. We've got a great tight ends coach in Coach Z (Zernhelt), and (offensive coordinator Chris) Palmer is going to teach him the ropes and how to play the game at the next level, so it should be pretty fun."
After the rookie minicamp, the team will begin organized team activities (OTAs) on May 30 and continue through June 22. The rookies will stay for another week, and the Titans will open training camp July 27.
Tennessee hosts New England at LP Field on Sept. 9 in an eagerly awaited matchup with the defending AFC champs.
"It really can't come fast enough, but it will at the same time," Cook said. "The offseason kind of speeds by, but we need this work as a team, and that's what we're going to focus on in these OTAs and this offseason training program. It's something that we didn't have last year, but we made out fairly well, so we're all looking forward to this offseason program this year — not only the camaraderie, but just to get better as a team."