Rookie's interception return speeds Titans to victory

Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 12:02am

Tommie Campbell stayed loose.

Early in Saturday’s preseason game — when starters and veterans got their most significant playing time to date — the Tennessee Titans rookie cornerback rode a stationary bike on the sideline.

Once he got on the field, it only looked as if he was on wheels. Campbell returned an interception 90 yards down the left sideline and easily ran away from any would-be tacklers as he did so.

It was the only time the Titans scored in the second half but was enough to lift them to a 14-13 victory over the Chicago Bears before 69,143 at LP Field.

“You never know how fast a guy is until he does something like that,” fullback Ahmard Hall said. “He looked pretty fast, man. So I’m excited about what he can do.”

A seventh-round draft pick out of Indiana (Pa.) University, Campbell hardly took the express lane to the NFL. He started his college career at the University of Pittsburgh but ultimately spent time at three colleges and working as a janitor at the Pittsburgh airport over six years between when he graduated high school and the Titans selected him.

The interception came with the help of inside pressure from the defensive line and after the Bears had driven from their own 16 all the way to the Titans’ 21.

“I tried to find out where the fastest guy on the field was,” Campbell said. “So I took off running. … Being out there with guys like [Devin] Hester, guys I’ve seen on the video game, that was the first time for me. So it was different, you know?”

In fact, it was out of character with much of went on throughout the contest.

Chicago’s offense — both with starters and reserves — drove the ball repeatedly and put points on the board, or at least had the opportunity. Tennessee had the ball for just 2:28 of the opening period and 24:23 for the contest.

The Bears had four possessions of more than 10 plays as they racked up 416 yards of total offense to the Titans’ 220. One long drive ended with a touchdown and two others with field goal attempts, only one of which was successful.

Then there was the one Campbell cut short with just over a minute to play in the third quarter.

"Whether the receiver is in the wrong or whatever, we can’t do that. It’s as simple as that," Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. "We can’t throw the ball directly to him.  We would like to have that one back."

Campbell’s pick was the second of the night for the Titans, which equaled their total through the first two preseason contests.

Safety Michael Griffin ended Chicago’s first drive when he corralled a ball that went off the hands of intended receiver Roy Williams, a former teammate of Griffin’s at the University of Texas. That too led to a scoring opportunity, but kicker Rob Bironas missed a 51-yard field goal attempt to the right.

“You just want to start out fast and get off the field a whole lot quicker,” linebacker Gerald McRath said. “I’m definitely proud of how guys stepped up, especially the rookies. TC making the pick and getting points on the board — that’s what you look for.

“… The guy is fast. He can run.”

Late in the game — as the offense attempted to run out the clock — Campbell was back on the bike.

There he stayed until the defense was thrust back into action with 1:05 to play and Chicago having used all of its timeouts. The Bears only got as far as their own 36 before they failed on fourth down with seven seconds to play.

“I’m just over there keeping my legs warm so I don’t get tightened up,” Campbell said. “Obviously, speed is my biggest asset and I can’t be out there like I’m slow so coaches think I’m taking plays off.

“I can’t let that happen.”

It seems there’s little chance of that now.


• Defensive end Jacob Ford (hamstring) and wide receiver/returner Marc Mariani were injured during the game. Munchak said he did not think either was a serious issue.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan (knee), defensive end Jason Jones (knee) and wide receiver Kenny Britt (hamstring) did not dress for the contest.

• Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed on just three pass attempts in the first two preseason games but was just 1-for-4 through the first quarter. He played through the first drive of the second half and finished 12-22 for 135 yards.

• Wide receivers Nate Washington and Damian Williams each had a team-high six passes thrown their way. Washington finished with team-highs of four receptions and 66 yards. Williams had just one catch for 13 yards and a couple of drops.

• Rookie running back Jamie Harper scored Tennessee’s only offensive touchdown with a 9-yard run in the final minute of the first half.

The fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson has all three Titans’ rushing touchdowns and three of the team’s five total touchdowns this preseason.