Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports that the Tennessee Titans are undergoing schematic changes defensively, transitioning from their usual Cover 2 to a press-man-oriented scheme, and that change could alter the responsibilities of cornerback Alterraun Verner:
He’s not exactly an under-the-radar player, thanks to 31 starts and six interceptions in three seasons, but the defense is undergoing changes that could alter his role. His skill set is better suited to a zone cornerback, but he could play inside or outside, and even get some reps at safety in a pinch. If Campbell or Wreh-Wilson prove capable of playing on the outside, the Titans will look to take advantage of Verner’s versatility elsewhere.
Verner, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, has been an impressive cornerback since making the jump from UCLA to the Titans.
He's a very aggressive ball hawk who knows how to make plays on the ball when it's in front of him. That's why he played well when the Titans played Cover 2, but the schematic change makes many wonder if it will be difficult for him to sustain his success if he continues to play on the perimeter.
On the perimeter, he's been a good player, showing the ability to disrupt and jump receivers' routes. Although the Titans primarily have played Cover 2, which requires the perimeter cornerbacks to sit in the flats and attack downhill, they have also spent time in Cover 1 (man-free).
Cover 1 is different than Cover 2 because it's a press-man coverage that has everyone in man coverage but the lone safety in the middle of the field. Verner has the talent to play in this type of style and has flashed the ability to play in the scheme before. If one simply looks back on the interceptions he's made over his career, he'll note that Verner is very instinctive and even one of them has come playing press man.
That one came against Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in Week 2 of the 2011 season.
It was 3rd-and-3 and the Ravens had the ball just outside the Titans' 45-yard line. They had four potential pass-catchers spread out across the formation, three to the right and one to the left. The lone one to the left, Lee Evans, was set to face Verner in man coverage.
When the play began, Verner was in man coverage because of the Titans' Cover 1 robber play call, which featured the strong safety roaming underneath while the free safety secured the middle of the field. That left the cornerbacks on an island, resulting in them having to play with an inside shade and essentially pin receivers to the sideline.
As the play developed, Verner shuffled his feet and stayed square while Evans ran his route.
Evans first ran a vertical stem of roughly 10 yards, and then slowed down and stuck his right foot into the ground. He broke off the top of his deep out route and immediately looked back to Flacco. That suggested to Verner that Evans was watching the ball, so he made a plant and cut of his own.
Verner stabbed his right foot into the grass and closed the gap between himself and Evans in a hurry.
The closing speed and burst enabled him to jump in front of Evans and easily intercept Flacco's throw, returning it down the sideline for a four-yard gain.
The play is merely one sample of Verner having success in press-man coverage, but there are more that can be found. He has the talent to play well in the coverage, which many assume speed is a prerequisite for; rather, technique and discipline are needed the most, both of which Verner has.
If the Titans choose to play him at a different position, as Wyatt suggests could happen, then the slot or safety are possible.
In the slot, Verner would be able to have a little more freedom and be able to rely on his instincts to make plays downhill, like he did in the Cover 2 scheme. He also has the physical skill set to do the job, possessing short area quickness, closing burst and ball skills.
As for safety, it's a position that he should be tried out at, but there's uncertainty whether he has the range that one looks for in the position. Ideally, the free safety position would have a player who is very rangy because it gives the team flexibility to play and disguise more coverages, whereas a less rangy defender forces the team to be more predictable.
In Verner's case, he can break down and quickly close the gap in short areas, but there's doubt about his ability to cover sideline to sideline.
Overall, Verner can be a good press-man cover corner if he plays with technique and discipline. Playing in press man is all about those two things because taking missteps in a backpedal or shuffle can lead to a touchdown, and patience is needed to watch routes unfold.
Many cornerbacks have one or the other, not both, and they find themselves to be inconsistent defenders. Verner has the potential to have both and be a quality player in the Titans' new press-man coverage as long as the 24-year-old continues to develop.