NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bishop Sankey appreciates a pair of cleats that are broken in just right.
The running back and second-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans made sure to bring a black pair of Nikes he felt comfortable in to Saint Thomas Sports Park for a weekend that is designed to correctly initiate rookies to the NFL.
|Titans rookies Antonio Andrews and Bishop Sankey speak with running backs coach Sylvester Croom.|
Sankey arrived Thursday night and quickly tried to gather as much information as possible about the offense and his responsibilities within it to prepare for a three-day rookie minicamp that began Friday. Sankey and classmates said they had "wow" moments when they saw their names on NFL practice jerseys.
"It was cool seeing the jersey, but once you get out here in practice, you realize it's just football and your focus switches from, 'Oh, wow, I'm here in an NFL uniform to OK, I've got to get these plays down and try to earn the trust of the coaches.' "
Whether it was a draft pick like 11th overall selection tackle Taylor Lewan, fourth-round defensive back Marqueston Huff, sixth-round QB Zach Mettenberger or undrafted free agents like former Fort Campbell QB and Western Kentucky RB Antonio Andrews, there was a concurrence among rookies that their work has only just begun. They agreed that the league's structure of having the rookie minicamp before they work with veterans will be helpful to their learning process.
"I haven't done anything yet. You get drafted in the first round, that's great," Lewan said. "You're the first person the Titans picked, that's awesome, something I'll cherish forever, but I haven't done anything. I don't even have a real sign on my locker yet, so I'm ready to play ball and make this team."
Huff said reflecting on the experience took him back to youth football when he played a non-throwing quarterback.
"I was just going to go out there and running, and then you move on to running back and receiver and on to defense," Huff said. "That's kind of where I've been since then, and I just look at how much I've grown physically and mentally and just how much smarter I got and how much respect I have for this game, and to be on a level to have the great coaching success that we have here, it's just a great honor for me."
Mettenberger, a starter at LSU the past two seasons, participated fully despite some limitations to his fluidity because he is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in LSU's 2013 regular-season finale against Arkansas. Friday marked the first time Mettenberger had faced teammates in the huddle before facing down a defense.
"It's great. This is the part I love, going out there with my teammates and playing ball," Mettenberger said. "That's something I've been wanting to do my whole life, and now that I've got my first practice as a Titan under my belt, it's really just a huge weight off my shoulders. Now, it's about keep learning, keep growing and keep progressing."
Andrews, who grew up a Titans fan, said the minicamp enabled him to learn more about teammates and running backs coach Sylvester Croom and gave him a good opportunity to show his on-field and personal attributes. Andrews also took a moment to enjoy the moment.
"I know the 53-man roster hasn't been made, but when you see your name on an NFL team, it's real emotional," Andrews said. " 'Man, I'm here. I've been waiting on this since I was 4 years old,' and now that I'm here, I don't want to leave, so I'm going to do everything I can to stay and play as many years as I can and hopefully for the same team because I love the Titans organization."
LEFTY, RIGHTY: Most of Lewan's snaps Friday occurred at left tackle, but he also had his "first significant reps at right tackle," which will require some adjustment.
"Everyone thinks right tackle and left tackle are the same thing, but they're not. I'm left-handed, so it's kind of like writing with my right hand," Lewan said. "There's going to be some growing pains there, but because I have great coaches, they're willing to help me out, but I definitely, obviously feel more comfortable at left tackle, but like I said when I got drafted, I'll play wherever."
Titans draft picks and undrafted free agents participate in a rookie minicamp at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Donn Jones Photography.com)
FEELING WELCOME:** While rookies didn't participate in official activities with veterans who were in Phase II of the team's offseason workout program, they did meet teammates in the building this week. Mettenberger, who arrived Monday, said the veterans welcomed the rookies.
"All the guys in this locker room are great. That's something that I really like. Day one, you walk in this locker room, and there wasn't an entitlement of vets vs. rookies," Mettenberger said. "They brought us all in and have been great with us and are trying to get us coming up as fast as we can because they know there's a lot of guys in this class that can help this team win."
TRYOUTS: Twenty players were offered tryouts during the minicamp, including two with quite familiar names. LB Greg Lloyd, son of the former Pittsburgh LB with the same name, and S Alonzo Highsmith, son of the former Houston Oilers RB (and third overall selection in 1987) with the same name, were among the group.
Lloyd was selected by Philadelphia in the seventh round in 2011 and has since spent time with the Eagles, Colts and Bills. He said football has "been in my blood since the beginning" and he hopes to continue that.
"When an opportunity is given to you, you've got to rise to the occasion, so the opportunity is being given to me and I don't plan on wasting it at all," Lloyd said. "Every snap is an opportunity to prove myself and that's how I take it."
Others who participated in the tryout were: Syracuse QB Drew Allen, Brown WR Tellef Lundevall, South Florida P Justin Brockhaus-Kann, Arkansas WR Julian Horton, South Dakota State CB Winston Wright, Houston CB Zachary McMillian, Bowling Green S Jerry Gates, TCU RB Waymon James, Anderson (Ind.) LS Jon Akemon, Oklahoma State FB Kye Staley, Arizona LB D'Aundre Reed, Stanford G Kevin Danser, American G/T Viondy Merisma, Miami DE David Gilbert, Eastern Kentucky NT David Carter, Louisiana Lafayette DT Lanier Coleman and DE Cordian Hagans and Wake Forest DE Kristopher Redding.
The tryouts allow Titans coaches to have a full practice as well as the opportunity to take a closer, in-person look at additional players.
SIGNED: The Titans on Friday announced the signing of tackle Will Poehls, an undrafted rookie out of Montana, marking the 89th player out of the maximum 90 currently allowed on Tennessee's roster.