Young Players Look to Continue Growth in Final Game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --Alterraun Verner said this week is for pride and progression.

Verner is one of several younger Tennessee players who view this final week of the season and game at Indianapolis as an important end to this season with this team and a key to next season. The Titans (6-9) visit the Colts (9-6) Sunday.

Tennessee is guaranteed its first losing season since 2005, but the game can affect the playoffs. Indianapolis can clinch the AFC South with a win or tie or a loss or tie by Jacksonville at Houston. The Titans and Colts are the only two teams who have won the division since its creation in 2002.

"You never want it to end like this," Verner said. "You want to go to the playoffs. You never want to end on a sour note. You want to go out with a win, something that you can build on, show what type of progress you can have for next year, so it's a big week."

The rookie has made 10 starts at cornerback this season and played in each of Tennessee's games. He has 91 tackles this season, including 12 against Indianapolis on Dec. 9, three interceptions and 15 passes defensed. Aside from the disappointment of missing the playoffs, Verner said it was good to be finishing his first season.

"I guess for a rookie or in my perspective, it's the end of the beginning," he said. "You've officially got one year in the NFL. It's a good feeling, knowing that you've finished and completed a whole year. Now, you've got a lot more that you're trying to think about, whereas a vet could be going down to the wire, so it's a different feeling."

Second-year receiver Kenny Britt, who has 37 receptions for 690 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing most of five games with a hamstring injury, said Sunday is an opportunity "to show that we never gave up on our season."

"(It's a chance) to go out there and play our hearts out and know that we're a good football team and we've got good coaches here and if we put our minds to it, work hard and play together, we can make anything happen," Britt said.

Second year tight end Jared Cook has received more playing time in the past two weeks and responded with eight catches for 138 yards and his first career touchdown in that span. Cook said the Titans want to improve their record, and that motivation always exists against a division foe.

"It's about preparation and hard work," Cook said of his recent production gains. "You go into a game, you never know what to expect, you've just got to be ready. I'm going to continue to work hard for it."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher has said younger players are likely to play more this week but has declined to name them because of competitive reasons.

"This final week is important. The practice sessions are important," Fisher said. "We've got guys on the practice squad that know each and every rep is important. We've got younger guys that we've brought up as of late that need to do well on special teams. Everybody is going to get an opportunity, so it's very important for everybody."

Nine-year NFL veteran safety Chris Hope, who has played in nine postseason games, said it is a new experience to be eliminated from playoff contention before the final game of the regular season. He said the Titans will turn to their opportunity to partly spoil the Colts' season. 

"Any time you touch the field, being a professional, you have to play like it's your last time," Hope said.

Second year linebacker Gerald McRath said younger players also realize that every game in the NFL could be their last, so it is important to make a lasting memory each time.

"This is the last time this team will be together," McRath said. "We can never get this team back, so you owe it to one another, to yourselves and to the fans."

The Titans once led the AFC South with a 5-2 record through seven games but have lost seven of their past eight, falling short of their own expectations, McRath said.

"This is when you see how serious your team is," McRath said. "I say that meaning when you didn't do as good as you wanted to, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It's that feeling, you know you should have been in the playoffs or you know we lost games we shouldn't have lost, so what are we going to do about it. Are you going to sit at home and watch the playoffs, watch other teams keep their seasons going, or are you going to (work)? I see it as a time you get away from it a little bit but (also) a little bit of time that I can get started before someone else can."

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