Bond. Team bond.
You won't see one without another. They lift together. They eat together. They leave it all out on the field together. But for the Titans wide receivers, their closest allies are also their toughest competition.
"It's a friendly competition," wide receiver Harry Douglas said. "We want to make each person as an individual better."
Douglas signed with the Titans as a free agent in March, but he isn't the only new face in the receiving corps. The team also added seven more receivers in the offseason, including veteran Hakeem Nicks and draftees Dorial Green-Beckham and Tre McBride. If you're keeping score, that means eight of the 12 wideouts on the Titans' OTA roster are brand new to the organization.
"That's why there's a lot of competition in the room," third-year wide receiver Justin Hunter said. "We're all working, pushing each other and trying to make plays on the field."
The group is young. With a median age of just 23.5, the receivers are not only getting acclimated to a new team but also to the pro game.
"I think guys are still grasping the terminology and whatnot," Nicks said. "It's still early in OTAs, so this is the time of the year where guys can learn all that type of stuff. By the time training camp gets here, we'll be locked and loaded, and we'll be off to the races."
Entering his seventh season, Nicks has stepped into a leadership role. And his favorite way to show that is by pushing the young receivers to step up.
"I definitely feel like I can bring that to the group," he said. "If you know me, you know I'm one of the biggest competitors in this league. I take pride in that, and I look forward to making plays for this organization."
Douglas, too, has embraced his role as a big brother to his teammates.
"It is interesting because this is the first time I've been in a group where I'm the oldest guy," he said. "So it's a blessing being the oldest and being around these guys. I love their energy."
Second-round draft pick Green-Beckham says the vets are teaching him "the process."
"We're going out there and listening to everything they're telling us rookies to do. Just taking all that in," he said. "They've been in those same positions, so they know what goes on and how to react when times get stressful."
But with all these new faces, off-the-field bonding has become almost as important as chemistry on the field. When they're not practicing, you can find this group joking, talking, playing cards and going out to dinner together.
"That's one thing I learned while I was in Atlanta," Douglas said. "The closer you are off the field, the better you're going to be as a group on the field. And I think we're headed in the right direction."
Dorial Green-Beckham was limited in practice this week after re-aggravating a strain he sustained in rookie mini-camp. DGB says it's nothing serious, but Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he wanted to be cautious.
"If you pull it, you lose him for all the OTAs," he said. "We pulled him (out of practice), but I think he'll be all right."
Hakeem Nicks doesn't seem worried, either. He says tweaked hamstrings are a common injury for rookies because of their workload.
"They've got a year worth of football coming from college then straight into training for the pros then minicamps and OTAs," he said. "That's year-round football for them."
Nicks recalls also dealing with fatigued hamstrings as a rookie in 2009.
"That's the type of stuff you go through," he said. "But he's still working hard at getting the plays down and being where he needs to be."
Rookies and veterans took part in the second day of organized team activities (OTAs) Wednesday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Donn Jones Photography.com)
Nice to meet you, Marcus.**
With the addition of eight new wide receivers and the arrival of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, there's a lot of "getting to know you" going on at Saint Thomas Sports Park. But fourth-year wide receiver Kendall Wright says having a young quarterback hasn't altered his preparation.
"Both of our quarterbacks are young. It doesn't change anything," he said. "I've got to go out there and run the routes the same. I've got to make it all look the same. I've got to get in that spot where the quarterbacks expect me to be."
Hakeem Nicks isn't interested in this inexperienced QB chatter, either.
"I don't necessarily look at him as being young because he's in the NFL now. He's a grown man," Nicks said. "I think he's going to adapt fairly quickly. He's been making some throws that are pretty impressive to me."
Perhaps the receiver with the biggest adjustment will be Harry Douglas, who has spent the last seven seasons catching passes from Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. They entered the league together in 2008.
"Matt was my right-hand man," he said. "One thing I can say about Marcus, though, is that he's very intelligent. He's smart, he's athletic and he can play the game. He knows the game. He goes through all his progressions, and he throws well."
Regardless of his age, this wide receiving corps will have No. 8's back.
"We have to make the plays for him," Justin Hunter said, "even though he's a smooth guy. He's a real good quarterback. I see it in him."