Sports

Titans release starting cornerback Cox going into bye week

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans are heading into their bye week with a fresh reminder of just how demanding — and brutal — the NFL can be.

After climbing to 6-6 and a half-game back of first in the AFC South, Tennessee released starting cornerback Perrish Cox Monday before the Titans left for a week off.

"There's no hidden messages," coach Mike Mularkey said of the decision to release Cox. "This is the way the NFL is. If you don't perform at the level that we ask, then we're going to find somebody that does. There's never a hidden message."

Mularkey said a week ago that he was thinking of not starting Cox, a six-year veteran who signed a three-year deal with Tennessee in March 2015. Coaches decided against what Mularkey said would have been a "drastic move" and instead started Cox for the ninth time in 12 games this season in a 27-21 win at Chicago .

Cox led the Titans with three interceptions and had started 22 of 24 games with Tennessee since signing. But his struggles helped Tennessee rank 25th in the NFL against the pass.

Tight end Delanie Walker, who also played with Cox in San Francisco, said he was a little shocked to see the cornerback released at this point.

"This is a business, and we do have a good GM and I think he makes the right decisions," Walker said.

Mularkey said they did not see the consistency they needed from Cox. They gave rookie LeShaun Sims 36 plays at Chicago and planned to promote Kalan Reed, known as Mr. Irrelevant as the final NFL draft pick out of Southern Mississippi, from the practice squad to take Cox's spot on the roster.

Tennessee hosts Denver on Dec. 11, and Mularkey said they will rotate at cornerback, including veterans Valentino Blake and Brice McCain along with Sims and Reed.

"We need some better play at the corner position," Mularkey said.

Even though practice couldn't hurt with the changes, Mularkey said his team needs a break after working 17 straight weeks including the preseason. The Titans will return in a week to practice before finishing with three of four games against teams with winning records.

Mularkey said the Titans should have everyone available against Denver. Cornerback Jason McCourty bruised a knee in the win at Chicago, while defensive lineman Jurrell Casey sprained a foot. Running back DeMarco Murray may get the first two days of practice off next week to give his sore toe on his right foot some extra rest.

The Titans would lose a divisional tiebreaker to both Houston and Indianapolis right now, having been swept by the Colts and just 1-3 in the AFC South. But their focus is in winning out hosting the Texans (6-5) on Jan. 1 in the regular season finale. A team whose last playoff berth was in 2008 heads into December still talking playoffs rather than draft status.

Mularkey said this is a big opportunity for Sims and Reed.

"We're still right in the thick of things," Mularkey said. "The more they can play, though, it's going to benefit us somewhere down the road with them playing in important football games."

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker