We continue our preseason positional analyses by looking at nickelback. It's a bastardized spot in that it's not officially recognized as a position. It's a hybrid and the players who man the position are categorized as cornerbacks, defensive backs or safeties, not as nickelbacks, at least not by the NFL.
A good case in point is Vincent Fuller, who has been Tennessee's nickelback for the last four years. You'd think that he'd be called a nickelback by now but he's still officially listed as a safety. But I don't have a problem calling him a nickel.
I've been impressed by Fuller ever since the Titans selected him in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. When all the other rookies reported to the team, they were each issued a playbook specific to their position. Fuller was given two playbooks, one for safety and one for corner. Jeff Fisher wasn't concerned about Fuller's ability to learn two playbooks, saying that Fuller was the smartest man in the building.
Former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was also complimentary that summer, saying Fuller already knew how to play all the positions in the secondary.
I know that at Virginia Tech he played both corner positions, what the Hokies call the "field" and "boundary" corners, before switching to safety his senior season. A Virginia Tech writer told me the change was huge for the Hokie defense, helping the team to win the ACC that year.
Fuller only appeared in one full game in his Tennessee rookie season before breaking his ankle on the kickoff of the second game. He's appeared in every game in the three seasons since then and played solidly, although it took him a while to fully recover from the ankle injury.
The man backing Fuller up is third-round draft pick Ryan Mouton, who's been working at the position in minicamps and OTAs. Unless there are injuries, Mouton shouldn't play many snaps on defense this year, perhaps an occasional dime package. I'd expect to see a lot of him on special teams, with possible work as a gunner and as a kick/punt returner.
Like most position groups on the team, nickelback is one that appears to be in good shape with inexperienced depth as the only question mark.
We'll undoubtably discuss Fuller and Mouton a little more as we continue with our preseason analyses of the Titans position groups.