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Verner, Defense Ready for Test from Offense


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Alterraun Verner said he's ready for things to "get real."

Verner, the third-year cornerback, and his Titans teammates begin organized team activities that will pit the offense and defense on the same field on Wednesday for the first time this offseason.

"It's all different, when, what I like to say, when it gets 'real,' " Verner said. "I can't wait to go against the receivers and get better in that sense."

Verner and other players in the secondary have been working with new position coaches Brett Maxie and Steve Brown in an offseason program since April 23. They have focused on technique and coverage responsibilities. Cornerbacks often have one-on-one responsibilities that are easy to grasp but can be challenging to deliver. Verner said he has used the extra study time to focus on learning the responsibilities of linebackers and defensive linemen on each play.  

"Our assignments aren't as tedious as a linebacker or defensive line, with all the stunts they do," Verner said. "We can see what all the other guys are doing."

The extra effort could help Verner with a possible move to nickel back in certain situations this fall. Last season, the Titans started Jason McCourty and Cortland Finnegan at cornerback, then subbed Verner at cornerback and moved Finnegan inside as a fifth defensive back in some arrangements (usually third downs). Finnegan signed with St. Louis as a free agent earlier this offseason, and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray places high importance on the nickel position.

Verner has been working at the spot and appears to be next in line for the starting job but he's not taking that for granted. He said he will be happy wherever coaches play him.

"Right now, they have me working inside, but it doesn't matter to me," Verner said. "I guess I want to play inside. I like being with the linebackers and getting to blitz, come in a little bit and guard some of the slot guys cause that's where the ball goes most of the time, that's why you have the Wes Welkers, the great tight ends, they like to work those areas, especially on third down, so I would love to be that guy like Cortland was last year, but wherever they feel fit, I'm going to play."

Verner said there are multiple differences between playing nickel and corner. Nickel backs may be called upon to provide more support against the run, and Verner said the position may require more solid tackling than cornerback. It also, he said, requires rapid response.

"You have to have quicker reactions because the ball is going to be a lot closer," Verner said. "So when the ball is thrown, you're not going to have that much time to react, where if you're on the outside, it might be a fade, the ball is going to be in the air longer, comeback (routes), things of that nature, you have a little more time to react. At the nickel, you have to have more of a film study, more of a preparation because things happen a lot faster."

Verner said he expects McCourty to start at one cornerback position because of how well the fourth-year pro played last season and how well he expects the Titans' most experienced cornerback to play this season. After McCourty's spot, Verner said he considers the competition open. Second-year pros Chris Hawkins and Tommie Campbell played with the Titans last season, and Ryan Mouton is trying to return to action for the first time since the 2010 season. The Titans also have fourth-round pick Coty Sensabaugh, free agent signee Terrence Wheatley and undrafted rookie Gary Wilburn on the roster at cornerback.

Verner said the players at cornerback have a good camaraderie and McCourty is accepting more of a leadership role with "a very humble approach." He said that Maxie and Brown are providing comprehensive evaluations of each player with an attentive focus on technique.

Gray plans on installing much more complexity to the Titans' defense this season since he and coaches have a full offseason to work with the players. Last year's lockout prevented such work, and Gray went with a more basic scheme than he prefers because of time limitations.

The Titans tied for 18th in yards allowed (355.1) but ranked eighth in points allowed (19.1). They recorded 28 sacks, which ranked next to last, and are aiming to improve on that number by a significant factor this season, which will be fine with Verner.

"The new system means we're going to get a lot more pressure on the quarterback, so that's what I like," Verner said. "I see more ways for us to get to the quarterback, a lot more schemes."

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