When the Tennessee Titans selected Adoree Jackson with the 18th overall pick of the NFL draft in April, it was easy to assume he’d step in right away as a starting cornerback opposite Logan Ryan.
That may still happen by the time the Titans open the season against the Oakland Raiders next month, but it’s no guarantee.
LeShaun Sims, it seems, isn’t surrendering his spot without a fight.
The competition between Sims and Jackson has been one of the Titans’ most compelling battles through training camp, in part because it features two players with vastly different pedigrees and personalities.
Sims is a former fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah who barely says a word.
Jackson is a first-round selection out of Southern Cal who has a big smile and an outgoing personality.
Sims was listed as a starter on the team’s first unofficial depth chart, and he’s expected to get the nod ahead of Jackson in Saturday’s preseason opener against the New York Jets.
“LeShaun is more of a quiet guy, but he’s loud on the field in his play,” fellow cornerback Brice McCain said. “Adoree, he’s just a happy guy, all the time. So you’ve got the best worlds. You’ve got a guy who’s quiet and just works, and another who’s very energetic and works.”
The 6-foot, 203-pound Sims took a while to adjust to the NFL last season after playing his college ball in the Big Sky Conference, but he made huge strides as 2016 progressed. Sims didn’t play at all during his first three games, but over the season’s final five weeks — which included two starts — he contributed 16 tackles, six passes defensed and an interception.
“As the year went on, I was in the system a little bit longer, and some of the older guys — like (Jason) McCourty and (McCain) — helped me out with film study as well as weak spots, like how the other team was going to attack me,” Sims said. “That helped out and played a big role. I think that gave me a little momentum going into the offseason.”
Sure enough, Sims earned one of the Titans’ three offseason player of the year awards by outperforming Tennessee’s other defensive backs and wide receivers.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey warns not to overlook a player like Sims just because he lacks the volume in the locker room.
“He’s very quiet, but don’t let that speak for him as a football player,” Mularkey said. “He’s all business. I’ve been around a lot of guys that don’t say a lot. But you can’t cover them or you can’t block them. … They speak volumes even though they don’t say squat.”
The 5-11, 185-pound Jackson, of course, was a human highlight reel who played for a high-profile school from a Power 5 conference. In his final season at USC, Jackson intercepted five passes, knocked away 11 more, returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns and had a 52-yard touchdown reception for good measure.
One of the first things the personable Jackson did upon getting drafted was text every member of the Titans secondary, telling them how excited he was about being part of the team and working with them.
“He’s always himself,” McCain said of Jackson. “Even though stuff might go wrong, like a bad play, he’s always happy. He can be hurt, be in pain, but he’s still happy about anything. It’s good to see that.”
One thing weighing in Jackson’s favor is the emphasis Mularkey is putting on the Titans defense creating turnovers this year. In addition to the five interceptions last year, Jackson also recovered two fumbles, a sign of how often he’s around the ball.
“He’s made some plays (in camp),” Mularkey said after watching Jackson make an acrobatic interception during one practice. “It was a great play. That’s the second time he’s done that. He’s doing some things we haven’t really been consistently doing around here since I’ve been here.”
In time, of course, Jackson — because he’s a first-round pick — will be expected to secure a starting cornerback spot.
But just when that will happen is uncertain. Sims certainly isn’t giving any ground.
“It’s all about trying to make yourself better at the end of the day, no matter who you’re competing with,” Jackson said. “You’re trying to make somebody else better and by doing that, you’re getting better.”
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.
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