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VOL. 37 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 06, 2013

Meaningless preseason game? Not for Stafford

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A training camp hamstring injury left Nebraska rookie safety Daimion Stafford with only one chance to impress Titans coaches.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Throughout the off-season, OTAs and training camp, one of the biggest questions for the Tennessee Titans was who would be the team’s fourth safety.

Michael Griffin remains the starter at free safety, and the Titans signed Bernard Pollard and George Wilson in the off-season, though both are more suited to strong safety. Pollard will be the starter there, with Wilson being the backup and playing in certain packages.

The Titans had plenty of options, and even worked out starting right cornerback Alterraun Verner at safety, just to see if that might be a move they wanted to consider.

There were veterans like Al Afalava and Tracy Wilson, both of whom were with the Titans in 2012. Plus, there were draft picks like Robert Johnson and Markelle Martin, both of whom eventually flamed out due to injuries.

Veteran Corey Lynch was brought in midway through training camp. Some thought a suitable player could be found once other teams made their final cuts.

But the man who emerged was a somewhat unlikely candidate – seventh-round pick Daimon Stafford of Nebraska, who halfway through training camp suffered a hamstring injury that cost him two valuable preseason games.

For a late-round pick trying to make an impression, it could have been a death knell. As the saying goes, “You can’t make the club in the tub.”

So when Stafford was finally healthy enough to play, he knew he had to make an impression, which he did in the Titans’ preseason finale last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

Most NFL fans think that final preseason game is meaningless, the last hurdle before real football begins. But Stafford, who had an interception, a fumble return and played well on special teams against the Vikings, knows otherwise.

“I think it came down probably to special teams, and I did pretty well on all the special teams I was in,” he says. “And then I made a couple of plays on defense, which I think the coaches probably wanted to see.”

Coach Mike Munchak admits seeing the rookie’s one-game stand probably helped to swing the pendulum in his favor, as Stafford outlasted veterans Afalava and Lynch to earn his way onto the 53-man roster.

“It helped him, there’s no doubt,” Munchak says. “We liked what we were seeing in the first preseason game and during camp. And I think that once he got in there in that game, he was in the right spot at the right time with a couple of turnovers.

“We need a guy like that, a guy with his size (6-foot-0, 218 pounds) that brings that power. It definitely helped him, and now we’ll see how he does growing up in the position as he’s getting some safety work.”

Stafford admits he was worried about his status when he suffered the hamstring injury.

“Of course, I was concerned, but I can’t control it,” he says. “The coaches told me if it was hurting me then you don’t need to be out there and hurt it more. Pretty much when I came back, I just wanted to show them I could get back to it.”

Stafford played it smart while he was out, watching the veterans ahead of him.

“I feel like I’m ready to go,” he adds. “This whole camp when I was out with the hamstring, I was just watching the vets at both positions, watching Griff, watching Pollard and watching George, just watching those older guys and how they moved out there on the field and the things that they look at. It helped me a lot at both positions.”

Still, he admits that without much on film to show for camp and preseason, he was a bit nervous on Saturday waiting for the call that never came.

“I was pretty nervous, but growing up, I always had coaches that told me to worry about things I could control. I just went out there and did my assignments on special teams and defense. If they liked what they saw, then I would be here, and if not, then I wouldn’t be.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.