Hope's hold on starting job might be in jeopardy following latest injury

Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:02pm

It is not a question of winning and losing.

Thanks to free agent Jordan Babineaux, the Tennessee Titans have shown they can win when veteran safety Chris Hope is injured. The latest example was Sunday’s 31-13 rout of the Cleveland Browns, which included Babineaux’s 97-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Given the backup’s production in Hope’s absence, first-year coach Mike Munchak ultimately might have to wrestle with the question of whether a player could — or should — lose his job because of an injury.

“Most people say the same thing, I guess — you don’t usually lose your job because you get hurt,” Munchak said Monday. “ … We’re [thinking] along those lines and you weigh the situation when the time comes and see what’s going on. We’ll determine that when Chris is healthy.”

Hope is expected to miss four to six weeks because of a broken arm sustained early in the game at Cleveland. He will have surgery later this week.

Cornerback Jason McCourty had a similar injury last season. He missed four games during which rookie Alterraun Verner intercepted two passes, broke up eight and recovered a fumble.

Upon his return to action, McCourty was a backup for five games before he reclaimed his role as a starter.

“Once I had the little [protective] shield on my arm, I felt like I was 100 percent,” McCourty said. “No one cares that you had been injured for four weeks, so you have to make sure you have that confidence to go out there and play.”

“… It’s tough whenever you have to watch your teammates play a game on Sunday and you’re not able to go out there and play.”

Hope sat out the previous two games — victories over Baltimore and Denver — with a shoulder injury sustained in the season-opening loss at Jacksonville. He reclaimed his spot against Cleveland but was injured in the first quarter.

Even in his limited action, he has made 11 tackles.

Babineaux is one of seven players on the defense with at least 20 stops and one of two — linebacker Will Witherspoon is the other — with an interception and a fumble recovery.

“When he starts, we’ve won both games,” Munchak said. “[Sunday] he had a big play and we ended up winning that game. We feel comfortable with him just because [defensive coordinator] Jerry [Gray] worked with him before and a lot of people in this organization knew him. He’s stepping up and doing exactly what you’d hope a guy would do who gets those opportunities.”

Babineaux spent the previous seven seasons with Seattle, where he started just 29 games total. He intercepted at least one pass each of his last six seasons there and earned the nickname “Big Play Babs.”

“I think the confidence that he has in himself and his teammates have in him shows when he’s out there,” Munchak said. “That’s what you want. If you’re not starting, you want to have that confidence that if you do go in the team is happy you’re in there and they know they can win with you — no matter what the position is.”

Back to work: Fullback Ahmard Hall completed his four-game suspension for violation of the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. He reported to the facility at roughly 10 a.m.

The Titans have a one-week roster exemption for him, during which time they will evaluate his fitness level and decide who they want to cut in order to make room for Hall on the active roster.

“We are happy [Hall] is back and hopefully that will help us,” Munchak said. “We will find out.”

Quinn Johnson, acquired in a trade with Green Bay the day Hall’s suspension was announced, caught three passes for 30 yards but did not have a carry in Hall’s place.

Other injuries: Results of an MRI to determine the extent of tight end’s Craig Stevens injury were not immediately available. The initial diagnosis was a cartilage issue and not a broken rib.

“You don’t want to laugh a lot, which he doesn’t anyways so I think we will be OK there,” Munchak said. “That’s when it gets really painful, so I think he has to be careful who he hangs out with.”

Right guard Leroy Harris (knee/ankle) also was injured against Cleveland. His situation, likewise, was not considered serious.