Titans players to face plenty of competition at camp

Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 12:16am

The NFL season is in its lull period now with training camp still a little more than three weeks away.

As the Tennessee Titans enter this camp, their offseason mantra has been about creating competition up and down the roster to sort out the best 53 players by the time the regular season begins.

At some positions, that competition is for backup spots only. For example, Kerry Collins and Tim Rattay aren’t about to unseat Vince Young as the team’s starting quarterback.

Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Albert Haynesworth, Michael Roos and several others don’t have to look over their shoulders either. But at some spots there appears to be legitimate competition that will brew once camp opens and the Titans are in full pads.

Let’s take a look at those positions, regarding the favorites and the challengers:

FREE SAFETY

Lamont Thompson vs. Calvin Lowry. Thompson has started 45 games the past three seasons for the Titans, but will have to fend off second-year man Lowry, who got lots of work with Chris Hope during OTAs, especially when Thompson was sidelined with a sore hamstring.

Vince Fuller could project himself into the mix, but the Titans apparently see him as more of a nickel and dime package player rather than an every-down DB.

Thompson, who has been criticized by some in the media for perceived inconsistencies in his play, has vowed to win the starting job. Lowry has had a good offseason and could mount a fairly serious challenge.

CORNERBACK

Reynaldo Hill vs. Cortland Finnegan vs. Kelly Herndon vs. Michael Griffin. The Titans claim that they have opened up both cornerback spots, but in reality, they did not sign Nick Harper away from division rival Indianapolis for him to sit on the bench. Barring injury or unexpected struggles, Harper will start. Who starts opposite him is up for debate.

With Adam “Pacman” Jones suspended, Hill is the only incumbent among the corners, and he is healthy after knee and ankle problems a year ago. Finnegan, the nickelback as a rookie, was slowed by a hamstring injury for part of the offseason, but is expected to compete for a job on the outside as well.

Herndon was a late signee after being cut by Seattle. He was still recovering from a broken ankle in the June OTAs, but should be ready to go by training camp, and has previous starting experience. Griffin, the team’s No. 1 pick, is trying to make the move from college safety to pro cornerback, but might eventually end up being moved back to safety.

Eric King looked solid during OTAs, but still has a long climb up the depth chart.

NICKELBACK

Cortland Finnegan vs. Kelly Herndon vs. Vince Fuller vs. Michael Griffin. Finnegan, who filled this role as a rookie, will have to fend off a veteran in Herndon, who could easily slide inside if he doesn’t win an outside job. Not only that, Fuller, a former nickelback and last year’s dimeback, could get a serious look as well. Griffin, touted as a quick study, is learning the outside role at the present time, but eventually will get a look here as well.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER

Ryan Fowler vs. Stephen Tulloch. The Titans ponied up around $11.5 million to land Fowler as a restricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys. Given that price tag, he is probably the favorite starting out to be the team’s middle linebacker. But that doesn’t mean that Tulloch, who showed playmaking instincts as a rookie, but sometimes lacked discipline in his reads and gap fits, can’t close the gap with a strong training camp and preseason.

RUNNING BACK

Chris Brown vs. LenDale White vs. Chris Henry. The fact that the Titans re-signed Brown, who appeared a goner at season’s end, should tell you all you need to know about their assessment of the running back situation. White found his way into the doghouse early by reporting to the offseason overweight, then injuring his hamstring. The debate on Henry within the Titans’ camp is how good will he be and how quickly can he get there.

Brown would appear to have the inside track for now, simply because he has a track record of sorts, including a 1,000-yard season in 2004. This is one spot where whoever wins the job at the start of the season will have to keep producing in order to keep it.

WIDE RECEIVER

Brandon Jones vs. Roydell Williams vs. Courtney Roby vs. Justin Gage vs. Paul Williams vs. Chris Davis. Perhaps the biggest question mark on the roster. The Titans let both Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade walk as free agents and chose to replace them through the draft and with a bargain basement free agent in Gage. None of these players totaled more than 27 catches a year ago, and three of these players will need to show themselves worthy in order to provide Vince Young enough quality targets.

Anything injured David Givens contributes in 2007 will be a bonus. So if not enough of this group steps up in camp, look for the Titans to try and swing late trade or scour through the waiver wire for help.

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