NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As injuries pile up around the NFL, teams turn to practice squads to fill the voids – in particular the practice squads of other teams.
That's what happened this week for the Buffalo Bills and Titans practice squad running back Antonio Andrews. Bills running back Fred Jackson is expected to miss up to a month with a groin injury and C.J. Spiller has been placed IR with the designation to return after breaking his collarbone.
In need for depth at the position, the Bills called Andrews' agent on Tuesday with the desire to sign him to their active roster. Andrews could have accepted the offer without conversation with Tennessee's front office and been on his way to Buffalo. Andrews, however, had no such plans.
Tennessee's undrafted free agent in 2014 grew up just an hour outside of Nashville in nearby Fort Campbell, Ky. The opportunity to stay close to home and near his son made the decision a no-brainer.
Andrew's agent went to the Titans and expressed Buffalo's interest in signing the running back to its active roster. The mutual interest between both sides to keep Andrews in a Titans uniform made it a painless process to then elevate him to Tennessee's active roster.
"You always have to choose the home team," said Andrews. "I'm right here next to everything and close to my son … It feels good. It's a dream come true staying here in Nashville close to home. It's a great feeling to keep these colors on."
Whisenhunt said the decision to sign the talented rookie is one they were prepared for.
"There's no question we didn't want to lose Antonio," he said. "We had the thought putting him on the practice squad that his was going to happen at some point, so we were prepared for that."
Andrews posted 137 yards on 21 carries (6.5 avg.) with a long of 47 yards for the Titans this preseason. Whisenhunt said he's pleased with how Andrews has continued to improve and progress through the first seven weeks this season.
"In all facets of his game he isn't making as many mistakes," Whisenhunt said. "He's better in protection. He's done a good with his routes. He obviously has talent to run the football, but some of those runs that we were asking him to do were a little bit different in terms of the footwork and how you hit it. Those are all things where you see improvement from Antonio. He's accomplished what he set out to do and kudos to him."
Whisenhunt mentioned the team's desire to keep Andrews for the future outweighs the direct need for him now. The Titans have six running backs on the active 53-man roster at this point which means they'll have to change things accordingly with the practice squad.
"You can adjust with your practice squad," Whisenhunt said. "It happens in the league quite a bit … What you'll do is go heavier on the practice squad at another spot and that will compensate for that."
The Titans are required to keep Andrews on the 53-man roster for a minimum of three weeks, but Andrews says he wants to prove he's worthy of getting touches on Sundays.
"That's always the next thing on the list," he said. "I am going to put in the work and show what I can do. It's only a matter of time before things shake out the right way for me."
It's easy to feel lost in the shuffle when on the practice squad. By nature, players designated as such are needed for practices to spell the team's starters or work scout team. There is no glamour in the position. That's why Tuesday's events have left him feeling much better about where he stands in the eyes of the Titans brass.
"It shows me that they have a lot more faith in me than I thought they did," Andrews said. "Just being on the practice squad you don't really know how someone feels about you. The minute I got a chance to leave and they still wanted me shows a lot."