|Veteran helping Titans not miss suspended Pacman Jones|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 October 2007 12:59|
The key? The Titans cornerback finally relaxed.
``Once you get your first interception, you get your hands on the ball, you tend to relax. 'Hey, I've done touched the ball.' Then you fall into a groove and you start feeling like there's no play you can't make,'' Harper said. ``You start feeling like you should touch the ball every time it's in the air.''
No one, not even the Tennessee Titans, will ever know how much they've missed suspended cornerback Adam ``Pacman'' Jones this season. Harper, the seven-year veteran with the Super Bowl ring, is a big reason why.
The Titans signed the cornerback in March to a three-year contract, weeks before the NFL suspended Jones for the 2007 season. He came to Tennessee fresh off his Super Bowl victory with the Indianapolis Colts.
He didn't intercept his first passes until last week's 38-36 victory in Houston. But he has made a strong impact on a defense that is the NFL's stingiest against the run a year after being last in yards allowed.
Harper ranks behind only linebacker David Thornton and tackle Albert Haynesworth in tackles with 40. He has forced a fumble and recovered one, smothering a ball lost by linebacker Keith Bulluck at the end of his own interception last week.
``All I can say is we're happy with the play of both our corners at this point,'' Titans secondary coach Chuck Cecil said of Harper and second-year pro Cortland Finnegan. ``They need to keep trying to improve and get better every week and maintain and get better.''
This isn't what was expected from a Tennessee defense that lost its best player in Jones. He had four interceptions in 2006.
But this year's team is off to a 4-2 start going into Sunday's game against Oakland (2-4) and already has 10 interceptions through six games compared to 17 for all of last season.
Harper credited a crash course in the defense with getting him up to speed. His new teammates appreciate the leadership he brought and his physical play against the run.
``He makes plays,'' Bulluck said. ``He brings toughness. He's not scared to come up. Actually, I would label him a physical corner. He's not afraid of contact.''
Safety Chris Hope signed with the Titans last year after winning his own Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh, and said Harper's leadership and knowledge has been a big help. Hope said Harper has helped the cornerbacks prepare by preaching that a player plays as he practices.
``He's just living proof of what hard work takes, especially coming from a smaller school, not getting drafted and all the things he's been through,'' Hope said of the cornerback who went to Fort Valley State.
Harper, who spent 10 days in Iraq this offseason, gave credit to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for putting him in position to pick off his second ball against Houston, baiting Rosenfels into throwing a slant that Harper jumped in front of in the third quarter.
``I was just waiting to get that first one, so I could break the ice. The ice is broken. Now I've just got to calm down and get more comfortable in the defense,'' Harper said.