Tennessee Titans nickelback Vincent Fuller underwent Monday afternoon to repair his broken forearm, and will miss four to six weeks, according to Coach Jeff Fisher.
Fuller suffered the injury late in the first quarter while tackling New York Jets receiver Brad Smith in Sunday’s 24-17 loss at Giants Stadium.
According to Fisher, Fuller’s injury won’t be season-ending as had been speculated. The Titans, for now at least, will hold a roster spot for Fuller when he returns and likely go with rookie Ryan Mouton in his place as the nickelback.
“He played well in preseason at the nickel spot, so he’s a possibility,” Fisher said of Mouton.
Once Fuller returns, he will wear a protective cast on his right forearm to guard against further injury.
Fisher was less forthcoming on the status of cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
“As far as Cortland, I can’t say right now,” Fisher said.
The Titans had released cornerback Cary Williams from the 53-man roster during the week to create a spot for punter Reggie Hodges, and found themselves without enough defensive backs to play a nickel package late in the game when Jason McCourty, who had gone in for Finnegan, suffered cramps and did not finish the game either.
That left Mouton playing on the outside at right cornerback. Fisher expressed confidence in both rookies.
“Both Ryan and Jason are going to be good players for us in the secondary,” Fisher said. “We’ve asked quite a bit of them early on on special teams, as well as here early in the season to play on defense, and they’re going to be fine. It’s just a matter of them getting the reps.”
Given Mouton’s two lost fumbles in the return game, the 0-3 Titans are admittedly shopping for a return man.
Though Fisher would not say as much, the likely scenario would be the team looking for a player who could potentially help their shrinking numbers in the secondary as well.
“There’s a need for a returner. There are several guys out there that can help us. At this point, we’re just trying to see if they fit on the roster, and if they in fact can get it done,” Fisher said.
Veterans such as Justin Miller and R.W. McQuarters are available defensive backs who are also return men. Ex-Titan Tuff Harris, a safety, can do returns and is on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad. Fisher also said Mark Jones, who was with the team in training camp, but is a wide receiver by trade, was on the potential short list.
League sources indicated that as of Monday afternoon, the Titans had not made contact yet with the agents for McQuarters or Jones.
Fisher said Mouton’s struggles sometimes happen when a rookie is learning the ropes of the NFL.
“When you bring young players in at different positions, you really don’t know until you play them. Some of them come in – the Mike Rooses, Michael Griffins and Chris Johnsons – they come in and do well. Other players, it takes a little bit longer, and Ryan is seeing some things out there that he hasn’t seen before,” Fisher said. “I have confidence in him. I know eventually, he’ll be a good returner if we need to call upon him. He may be a good returner this week, I don’t know.”
The Titans offense has flashed some big plays at times in the first three games, but one critical problem has been the team’s fourth quarter production. Tennessee has scored just three points in the fourth quarter this season, that coming in the opener at Pittsburgh on a 45-yard Rob Bironas field goal.
Quarterback Kerry Collins has had his problems in the final period, as his passer rating in the fourth quarter is just 25.9, completing 8 of 24 fourth-quarter passes for 77 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Collins finished Sunday with 13 straight incompletions, though several passes were dropped.
“We had five passes dropped in the second half, and that does not allow you to make plays. Three or four of them were on third down. Kenny [Britt] has got a chance to make a play and create a fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2 on that last drive, and we can’t make that play,” Fisher said. “That’s what happens when you lose. You’re not making enough plays at critical times.”
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said he is frustrated not only with the team’s 0-3 start, but also with his own play, which has not produced any sacks yet.
He said his frustration level is close to what he experienced last year when a groin injury cost him six games and his effectiveness when he returned.
“It’s difficult,” Vanden Bosch said. “Being injured is mentally the most frustrating thing I have gone through as a player. Being healthy and not producing can be frustrating as well.
“I’m expected to be a playmaker for this team, and there are times when we need big plays, and playmakers have to make them. And that’s my responsibility.”
Fisher defended Collins’ play against the Jets, and says he has no thoughts of turning to Vince Young as the starter in the wake of an 0-3 start.
“That defense gave Tom Brady fits the week before,” Fisher said. “That’s a tough defense to attack. He made some great throws, and I thought he did a good job, as best he could, redirecting protections. Kerry is not the reason we’re in the situation we’re in.”
Tight end Jared Cook, who has been active but limited the past two weeks, could get an increased role against Jacksonville Sunday, if his ankle will allow it.
Cook has not caught a pass in two games, and played only a few snaps Sunday against the Jets.
“I’m hopeful that he’ll be 100 percent this coming week, but a lot of that is he’s still struggling with it,” Fisher said. “If we needed to turn to him, we would, but we didn’t. We want to get him involved in our game plan, but a lot has to do with how he responds this week.”
Fisher also indicated that Bo Scaife, suffering from a MCL injury in his left knee, will continue practicing this week with hopes of being able to play.