The performance of the Tennessee Titans' cornerbacks was often an accurate barometer of the team's success (or lack thereof) in 2009.
During the team's miserable 0-6 start, injuries forced rookies Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton into extensive on-the-job training and predictably, their struggles played a key role in the team's forgettable beginning to the '09 campaign. The return of the veterans from the injured list to the playing field was an integral component in the Titans' 8-2 finish.
As we move slowly but surely towards the start of the 2010 season, outside of All-Pro Cortland Finnegan, there's a few question marks at the CB position. Who's going to start opposite of Finny? Are the M&M youngsters (McCourty, Mouton) ready to step up? Will the Titans attempt to re-sign unrestricted free agents Nick Harper and/or Rod Hood? Or will the team acquire another starting CB via free agency or the first round of the draft?
The answers to those intriguing questions and more, after the jump.
We'll start off our CB analysis by stating the obvious: Cortland Finnegan is the team's best corner and has established himself as one of the league's top performers at his position. A nagging hammy limited his effectiveness early but once healthy, his chihuahua-like tenacity was a key ingredient in the team's improvement on the defensive side of the football in the second half of 2009.
There may be question marks surrounding the other guys, but there's no certainly no question that Finny is the team's #1 corner.
Much-maligned veteran CB Nick Harper is an unrestricted free agent and despite his less-than-stellar coverage skills, his tackling abilities have endeared him to Titans' Head Coach Jeff Fisher. As a result, the Titans have reached out to Harper and there's definitely a possibility that he could return to the Titans in 2010, for better or worse.
I wouldn't mind Harper returning as a veteran mentor for the likes of McCourty and Mouton but as the team's #2 starter opposite of Finny, I'd rather have someone else manning fort at that spot in '10.
Due to injuries at the CB position, Rod Hood was signed off the NFL free-agent scrap heap in the midst of the 2009 season and when his number was called, stepped up with some solid play. His somewhat shoddy tackling skills aside, he served as a defensive playmaker as evidenced by his three-game interception streak as a starter in November. Of course, his playmaking skills were sent to the bench in favor of the aforementioned Harper as Hood was often MIA for the remainder of the season.
I wouldn't be opposed to Hood returning as the team's second starter at CB but considering the team's infatuation with the veteran Harper, color me not too enthused about this possibility.
As I mentioned earlier, rookies Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton experienced their share of growing pains as they learned the ropes of the NFL the hard way: getting immediate playing time due to injuries to the veteran corners. Of the two players, I was a little more impressed with McCourty, who has decent size to go along with speed. As for Mouton, I soured on him early but that was mostly due to his inability to catch the football on punt returns.
Unlike the uncertain futures of Harper and Hood, there's no doubt that McCourty and Mouton will return to the roster next season and here's to hoping they will put their invaluable rookie experiences to good use by continuing to improve in 2010.
In terms of possible offseason moves at CB, the Titans could use either free agency or the draft to bring in some additional talent at the position.
Dunta Robinson and Leigh Bodden are the top talents available on the free agent market, but to attain either would probably require a hefty price tag. Restricted free agent CB Carlos Rogers is an intriguing name and his ability to tackle would fit in well with the Titans, but I'd be surprised if the team went after him due to his RFA status.
As for the draft, Boise State's Kyle Wilson is a guy that I like due to in addition to his corner skills, his ability to return punts. However, considering the team's other possible first-round needs at DE and DT, there's a good chance that taking a CB in the first round isn't going to become a reality on draft-day.
So what do you think, guys? Who should be the team's starter opposite of Finny? Is that guy currently on the roster, or will the team utilize free agency or the draft to find Finnegan a new sidekick?