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June 9, 2014

Titans going young to replace Pro Bowl corner

Former Lancer Wreh-Wilson in hunt for starting job

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee had one Pro Bowl player last season — Alterraun Verner — and lost the cornerback to Tampa Bay in free agency. The Titans are looking to replace him with someone from inside their locker room.

With Verner’s departure, Coty Sensabaugh is rotating with Blidi Wreh-Wilson between the cornerback spot opposite Jason McCourty and as the fifth defensive back in passing situations. Tommie Campbell also is working in as well as he returns from a season-ending shoulder injury, so new coach Ken Whisenhunt and his assistants can get a feel for what all they all can do.

“I like the competition there,” Whisenhunt said Monday. “I think it’s making all of those players better, and we’ll see how it is when the dust settles.”

To McCourty, it’s just part of the cycle of life in the NFL. He said he and Verner seized their opportunities when Cortland Finnegan left via free agency, and now it’s happening with the competition to replace Verner.

“With Vern moving on, it gives these guys the opportunity to show what they can do,” McCourty said.

McCourty joked that there won’t be any pressure replacing the 5-foot-10 Verner who wasn’t “that fast.” But Verner not only earned his first Pro Bowl nod, he led the Titans with a career-best five interceptions in 2013, tying him for fifth in the NFL. Verner also defended 26 passes, the most by a defender since this team became the Titans in 1999.

But this time last year, Verner was competing to keep his starting job. He alternated with Campbell during the offseason and into training camp before being told he would remain the starter. Both Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson, then a rookie, watched how Verner handled the competition and are trying to take the same mentality themselves this year.

“We both worry about each other, and we just make sure we’re both elevating our play,” Wreh-Wilson said. “I know we have Jason, who I always look up to him, and Coty and myself. We push ourselves every day because the better we play the better the defense will be.”

A third-round draft pick out of Connecticut last year, Wreh-Wilson is taller and heavier at 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds. He played 13 games as a rookie and got some playing time as the extra defensive back. In addition to size and range, Wreh-Wilson can play a variety of techniques whether pressing a receiver or giving him some space.

Sensabaugh has the edge in experience in this battle, which likely will go into August before any final decisions.

A fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2012, the native of Kingsport, Tennessee is 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds. Sensabaugh has six career starts and played 14 games last season as the nickel cornerback, or fifth defensive back, with three starts and two recovered fumbles before a season-ending foot injury. He got onto the field with McCourty and Verner as a rookie.

“I think it’s just the next step in line in this business,” Sensabaugh said. “All you can ask for is an opportunity, and we’ve been afford this opportunity. Me, Blidi, Tommie, Micah (Pellerin), Marqueston Huff. All of us are competing for this job. We’re just trying to go out there every day trying to make each other better to put the best product on the field.”

Notes: Rookie RB Bishop Sankey is expected to fly to Nashville on Wednesday night and rejoin the Titans. He has been back at college wrapping up exams at Washington before being allowed to go to work. Kicker Travis Coons, a fellow rookie and Washington teammate, also is expected in town this week as the Titans wrap up their organized team activities.

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