NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -NFL coaches are starting to ask themselves how they let Cortland Finnegan slip by.
Sure, he's considered short for the position at 5 feet 10, and the cornerback played at Samford, a school that hadn't had a player drafted since 1969.
The Tennessee Titans took him in the seventh round in 2006, and he has made their decision pay off by becoming their starting cornerback opposite veteran Nick Harper.
And the rave reviews are pouring in for the second-year pro.
``He's played tremendous, not just from the coverage standpoint,'' Carolina coach John Fox said. ``He plays the run well, and he plays blockers well. He's been very impressive. In fact, we're getting on our scouts about how we didn't know about him.''
That was before the 23-year-old helped hold Steve Smith to three catches for 15 yards in the Titans' 20-7 victory over the Panthers last week.
Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said when a player drafted in the seventh round is a success, it means a coach's own team passed on him six times.
``He's shut down some of the top players in the league. He's incredibly competitive. He's fast. We know that. He's one of those guys that got an opportunity coming from a small college and has really taken off and is making himself a nice career,'' Del Rio said.
Heady praise. Then again, credit the Titans with noticing a player timed at 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash before the draft. He had a 44-inch vertical jump and was strong enough to bench 225 pounds 14 times.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday it was Finnegan's return skills that jumped out at them. Finnegan returned 70 kickoffs for 1,980 yards with three touchdowns, and he averaged 15.1 yards on punt returns. He holds the NCAA record for the Football Championship Subdivision with his 28.3-yard average on kickoff returns.
Finnegan also had 338 tackles at Samford, a school whose last draft pick was Gary Fleming - another seventh-rounder.
``He was a one-man wrecking crew in their defense, knocking people down, making plays on the ball,'' Fisher said. ``We just felt with the 40 time and the athletic ability, he would project nicely at the corner spot.''
Finnegan, whose mother retired from the Army after 20 years, showed up with the Titans and started working. His goal? Earn a roster spot.
``I never had the mind-set I could be a starter right away. They gave me the opportunity. I felt comfortable with it last year at nickel back. I learned the defense and became comfortable at the corner position,'' Finnegan said.
He not only made the roster, he played in all 16 games last season with two starts. He played as the fifth and sixth defensive back and had two sacks with 57 tackles, including 15 on special teams.
The Titans signed Harper to help replace the suspended Adam ``Pacman'' Jones. Fisher also opened up all competition in the secondary with safety Chris Hope the only safe starter. Finnegan didn't waste the opportunity.
Harper calls him an aggressive cornerback with a short memory. Hope sees Finnegan as a hard worker who's very critical of himself.
``He has a lot of motivation to prove himself coming from the college he comes from and being smaller, not getting drafted high. He has a lot of motivation, a lot of things working for him,'' Hope said.
Finnegan also isn't a player the Titans have to worry about getting into trouble off the field. When he left a radio show a few minutes earlier this year, it was to make it to church.
That doesn't mean he doesn't enjoy hearing coaches talk about what they missed in not noticing him earlier.
``To hear that makes you smile,'' Finnegan said. ``At the same time, I'm in the best place right now.''

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