Here is part five of our new series that will highlight the seven former Huskies about to enter their first NFL training camps this summer. Each day we’ll evaluate a single player’s individual prospects, likely fit with their new team and position competition. Today, we continue with Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who was selected in the third round of this year’s draft by the Tennessee Titans.
There’s bad, and then there’s worse.
You see, over here stands Miley Cyrus. But, over there tweets Amanda Bynes.
Now if you listen closely, streaming out of one speaker is Justin Bieber. But if you turn your attention to the other, there blares Nickelback.
And at this moment, on this late July day, down the street lives the guy who still has his Christmas lights hanging up high and proudly. But, then there’s the fella who can uncurl his fingernails simply because, as he tells you, he doesn’t have time to cut them.
Finally folks, there’s bad pass defense, and then there’s last year’s Tennessee Titans.
In 2012, the Titans had a front row seat to 31 touchdowns, nearly 4,000 yards gained and an opponents’ completion percentage of over 66 percent. Had those numbers been attributed to a single person, they would’ve made for one of the best quarterback stat lines in the NFL. Instead, it was a team effort amongst the leagues signal callers to shred Tennessee’s secondary better than a two-day old memo found at the office.
The Titans were to opposing passing games like black on rice.
Hence, we have the entrance of former UConn captain and three-and-a-half year starter Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
The 70th overall pick of last April’s draft has headed south after recording nine passes defensed and just a single interception over in his senior year. For the latter half of his collegiate career, Husky opponents largely avoided Wreh-Wilson. They simply refused to throw near the tall, athletic corner who possesses exceptional intelligence, as proven by his completed dual-degree and as told by his current coaches.
Scouts and coaches first noticed Wreh-Wilson for his ball skills, after he returned an interception for six points in back-to-back home games as a sophomore. While opportunities to do that again dwindled afterward, he continued to stick with opponents’ top receivers due to solid footwork, good quickness in short areas and above average speed. He also owns exceptional arm length (32.5 inches), which allows him to jam opposing receivers off the line in press coverage and fight for jump balls.
Yet, between the two main styles of pass defense, the twenty-three year old is actually best-suited for a zone scheme. By sitting back at the snap of the ball, he’s able to use his intelligence and field awareness to anticipate developing route concepts. Additionally, zone helps hide a slight stiffness in his hips that prohibits him from turning and running with receivers that fight well through tight man coverage.
This is a common issue with taller corners who also, like Wreh-Wilson, can struggle with their recovery speed. In regards to the rest of his game, the only other true inconsistency comes with tackling, which can be coached up. Overall, the Husky turned Titan offers a complete, scheme-versatile package as an outside cornerback with a slight favoring towards zone.
Interestingly enough, this is the exact opposite direction Tennessee appears to be headed.
This past off-season the Titans brought back former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (yes, that Gregg Williams) to help stop the defensive hemorrhaging. Given his coaching history, Williams’ presence seems to ensure that the unit will improve and do so via a more aggressive approach, which relies on man-to-man defense. During the team’s minicamp, coaches tried Wreh-Wilson out both at outside corner and nickelback within the new scheme.
At UConn, the Pennsylvania native played inside for about the same amount of time it takes you to say "Jonathan the Husky".
Simultaneously learning a new position and mastering a complicated playbook like Williams’ involves a lot of new information all at once, especially for a rookie. While Wreh-Wilson isn’t likely to play nickelback full-time, he still will have to pick up its nuances. First and foremost, he’ll have to grasp and practice how to consistently stick with smaller, quicker pass catchers. Then, he must be able to play with a great understanding of his teammates assignments, be cognizant of multiple angles and help a great deal with run support.
None of these issues crop up for an outside corner, where run support is simple, the angles are fewer and most times, he’ll be on an island. How often Wreh-Wilson sees time on the inside or on special teams will depend on the events of training camp and Tennessee’s pre-season games. If he wins a starting job, those totals should each register at zero minutes.
But, that’s a big "if", as cornerback should be the most interesting camp battle all summer.
Jason McCourty, the Titans’ best cover man by leaps and bounds, will be the most boring player in the competition because he should be guaranteed a roster spot. The man who lined across from him with the first-team in minicamp was Tommie Campbell, last year’s no. 2 cornerback to start the season. Campbell is a tall, fast corner at 6’ 3", who performed admirably in training camp a year ago and thus, earned him the starting job.
However, he lost his new gig after getting torched over the first few games on the Titans schedule. Little did the coaches know, the fire was just beginning. For the time being, Campbell is still probably Wreh-Wilson’s biggest competition to play on the outside in 2013. Now, let’s get to the man who replaced him last year.
Alterraun Verner, whose name very well may be stolen for a new character in the next Game of Thrones book, filled in for Campbell for the remainder for 2012. He’s a smaller corner, who boasts great versatility and as a result, may get moved to safety or nickelback for the upcoming season, since he too isn’t a great scheme-fit. Any move will hinge on how the Titan coaches feel about their depth at safety, and the development of second-year corner Coty Sensabaugh.
Sensabaugh lined up as the team’s starting nickelback in minicamp and can excel in man-coverage as a result of his outstanding athleticism. As told by his NFL.com scouting profile from over a year ago, the young corner still needs to refine his technique, since he was a late bloomer during his time at Clemson. Sensabaugh was picked by Tennessee in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
The underdogs to securing a place in the team photo for 2013 are sixth-round pick Khalid Wooten, George Baker and Matthew Pierce. Wooten, out of Nevada, offers kick-returning ability as well, and could find himself on the practice squad.
The Titans opened training camp today at the Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville. They open the pre-season at home against Washington on August 8th with kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m.