Either Jeff Fisher has forgotten the adage that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, or rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner really is smart enough to make the Tennessee Titans look like geniuses for trading up to get him in this year’s NFL draft.
It probably won’t take long to figure out which is the case.
Verner, a fourth-round pick out of UCLA, will be the starter at left cornerback Sunday against Denver because Jason McCourty will be out with a broken forearm sustained in Sunday’s 29-10 victory over the New York Giants.
The full extent of McCourty’s injury and the expected length of his recovery were not known when coach Jeff Fisher held his regular weekly press briefing Monday afternoon.
“There is potential to surgically correct, but at this point we don’t know,” Fisher said. “Now he could have came back in the game, he was prepared to – he was casted and could have come back into the game (Sunday), if need be, in an emergency situation.”
Verner kept things under control throughout the final two-plus quarters against the Giants. He made four tackles, broke up one pass and recovered a fumble and the Titans (2-1) shut out New York in the second half.
However, it was at the exact same point a season ago – the fourth game – that an injury forced Tennessee to go with a rookie at that exact same position. Then, it was McCourty who subbed for Nick Harper and two weeks after that another rookie, Ryan Mouton started on the right side in place of Cortland Finnegan.
The Titans gave up more than 300 yards passing in all three games, the only time all season three straight opponents surpassed that mark. That stretch ended with the 59-0 loss in the snow at New England, in which the Patriots threw for 426 yards and six touchdowns.
The secondary finally settled in with the return of Finnegan and the addition of veteran free agent Rod Hood.
“Last year, when Ryan Mouton and (McCourty) had to come in there was no experience there,” safety Michael Griffin said. “They had to just come in right away. Verner’s been getting a lot of reps (in the) dime (package); he’s been getting a lot of reps on special teams and things like that. There’s no let-off if he’s the starter.”
If there is, it likely will mean trouble for the Titans.
At the end of play Sunday the Broncos (1-2) were first in the NFL in passing offense at an average of 350 yards per game. They had completed more passes than all but two other teams and an average of two out of every five completions resulted in a first down.
“(Verner) is different,” Fisher said. “He’s a football player, he’s instinctive and he understands. He can play either side, left or right and he can play the nickel at this point. He’s very intelligent, very competitive.”
The Titans obviously felt good about Verner long before this.
They traded two veterans – running back LenDale White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson – to Seattle at the start of the fourth round (the teams also swapped sixth-round selections) in order to move up seven spots to get Verner.
Following a strong showing in offseason workouts, he competed for the starting job throughout training camp. The Titans eventually settled on McCourty, who had his first career interception against the Giants before he was injured, based on the fact that he’s more physical and has more experience.
“Going into the season we didn’t know who the starter would be, and it’s a positive thing that we got (Verner) enough reps so that if this did happen there would be no slack-off,” Griffin said. “So I feel very confident going into this game.
“We know (Verner) will tackle, we know he will make plays on the ball and he’s a great player.”