By Meghan Rose, Titans Online
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans rookie long snapper Beau Brinkley considers himself a realist, but he's hoping to make his mark in the NFL as a specialist.
Although the spotlight might shine on key offensive and defensive position battles with training camp in full swing, Brinkley knows for certain that his ability to adjust to an NFL-style and pace of play on special teams won't be overlooked as he vies for a roster spot.
"I love trying to prove myself," Brinkley said. "I've always had to do it, and I've always had to compete to get where I'm at."
Brinkley signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent on May 4, after spending four seasons as Missouri's long snapper. In 2008, Brinkley joined the Tigers as a preferred walk-on, and won the long-snapper job by the start of his freshman campaign.
And he caught the attention of NFL scouts and the Tennessee Titans, in particular, with his accuracy, snapping speed and that same competitive drive.
"He cannot only just snap, but then he can move and has a chance to be part of the coverage team down field," special teams coach Alan Lowry said. "That's really an important factor for us, because that's what we've had before."
Brinkley is trying to win the job that Ken Amato held for 125 games in nine seasons with the Titans. Amato's contract expired at the end of last season, and the Titans gave Brinkley an audition for the job this spring.
Heading into Saturday's preseason opener against Seattle, Brinkley remains the lone primary long snapper on the Titans' roster after Tennessee waived Jake Ingram on June 21. Barring an issue or injury, Lowry said he expects that Brinkley will get every snap of the preseason.
"The biggest thing for him will be to get comfortable in the pro game and the speed of it and how fast everything happens — just being able to adjust to that, still keep his accuracy and then use his athletic ability to help us cover," Lowry said.
While donning a Missouri uniform, Brinkley never botched a single snap in a game.
But in the NFL, snapping won't be the only element of the rookie's game. Throughout training camp, Brinkley has turned his attention to blocking after the snap.
"He can really fire the ball back there," punter Brett Kern said of Brinkley's talent.
"The biggest thing for him is that at college, he didn't have to protect at all," Kern continued. "So for him, he has to be able to pick up protections and understand the schemes that we have."
Lowry hopes that Brinkley's athletic 6-foot-4-inch frame will allow him to be mobile in coverage situations while he's on the field. And with proper footwork, Brinkley remains confident that he can translate his power and consistency into his blocking game.
"I'm not as big as the other guys, so I'm just trying to work on technique," Brinkley said. "That's what is going to help me a lot."
Brinkley's relationship with Kern and veteran kicker Rob Bironas will also help the rookie's growth on the field. And through training camp, the trio's dynamic continues to develop.
"They know the importance of (Beau's) job, and he makes them better," Lowry said. "If they have to worry about him, or if the snaps are all over the place or anything like that, then their job is not going to get done as efficiently as it should."
Last season, Bironas did not miss a single extra-point attempt, and he converted 90.6 percent of his field goal attempts — good for fourth-best in the NFL — successfully pushing through six of seven attempts from beyond 50 yards. Kern also enjoyed a strong season, setting a Titans/Oilers record with his 39.4 net-yard average on a total of 86 punts in 2011.
But a botched snap can quickly shake those numbers. Before the ball reaches the holder or punter, it must be accurately snapped.
"A lot of people probably take field goals, extra points and punt snaps for granted because a lot of the guys in the league make it look so easy," Kern said. "But you have to understand what each other is going to do in certain situations."
On Monday, Brinkley got his first taste of game action in a scrimmage-style practice against the Falcons in Dalton, Ga. Brinkley said that facing a different jersey on the field was a welcome sight. And with each additional snap, the Titans hope that Brinkley grows more comfortable and confident.
"Coming out, not knowing what's going to happen and facing it — it's just a big gain for me," Brinkley said.