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Titans WR Michael Preston, TE Brandon Barden Try to Maximize Opportunities


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Michael Preston is filming a documentary of the hard work he's put in on the Titans' practice squad the past two seasons.

Last week he received the opportunity to add a reward to that storyline and show the differences that happen once a player moves up from the practice squad to the active roster. He can also add what it felt like to make his first catch in the NFL: an 11-yard pass from Jake Locker during the two-minute drill before halftime at Indianapolis on Sunday.

"That was a big milestone with me," Preston said. "I handed it back to the ref, making sure they don't drop the ball so you can keep going. The first one is very special, but I want to build on that one and get a couple more next time."

The Titans elevated Preston to the 53-man roster last week because Damian Williams suffered a hamstring injury against Houston on Dec. 2. Williams has missed practice the first two days this week, so Preston could be active again Monday night when the Titans (4-9) host the New York Jets (6-7).

"It's a different life. I'm shooting a documentary on it now, but it's sticking to your guns," Preston said. "It's the same recipe, just a different kitchen. That's how I like to look at it, so it's still hard work, you're still preparing like you're about to be out there, but you may not be out there, so when you do get your call, then you're prepared and ready for your opportunity."

Preston and tight end Brandon Barden, who spent all of this season on the practice squad until this week when he was elevated to replace Jared Cook (shoulder injury), said they hated to see their teammates get hurt, but they are determined to make the most of their opportunities.

Preston and Barden are football's version of baseball's late-season call-ups. NFL rosters stay at 53 men throughout the season instead of increasing from 25 to 40 down the stretch in Major League Baseball.

Preston and Barden, who played collegiately at Vanderbilt, each missed some practice reps early in their careers for different reasons.

Preston signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent in July 2011 after the NFL's work stoppage ended. Preston joined Tennessee after a four-year career at Division III Heidelberg in Tiffin, Ohio, and spending three games with the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League. Preston, however, missed out on the rookie sessions and organized team activities that he would have received had there been a full offseason in spring 2011.

Barden signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent this spring, but suffered a hamstring injury early during training camp. Barden recovered to play in Tennessee's final preseason game but missed the cut to make the team. The Titans, however, re-signed him to their practice squad.


"I felt like I was doing well," Barden said. "I never had any pulled muscles, and then I had this. I didn't know the recovery time, and sooner or later, I'm out five or six weeks and missing the preseason, but the Titans keeping me around showed faith, and I kept working all preseason with rehab and stuff. I'm finally feeling good, my leg's feeling good, so I'm finally ready to go." 

Preston has taken considerable pride over the past two seasons trying to emulate some of the top receiving threats — from Stevie Johnson to Calvin Johnson to Brandon Marshall — in the NFL. He said those experiences helped his development but it's "awesome" to now play the part of himself more at practice. He drew a roar from teammates with a dramatic catch during Friday's practice.

"One thing I do get out of being the other receivers, I get to watch their tape and see how they get open and try new things to add into my game, and that's something I take pride in too," Preston said. "If I can see something in another receiver, and emulate it in my game, and it helps me out on Sundays, that's very good for me as well."

Like Preston, Barden said life on practice squad can be "really tough."

"You grow real strong relationships with all the tight ends, so you don't want any of them to get hurt, even if that's the only way you get to get pulled up," Barden said. "I'd rather get pulled up for some other reason, but this is what happened. Cook got hurt, so I get to come up. That's not how I would draw it up, but I have to take advantage of the opportunity, and I know Cook will be fine in the future."

Titans coach Mike Munchak said he expects Barden will be active as one of three Titans tight ends, joining Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson against the Jets. Barden said "there's a little nerves" involved in the preparation but they are trumped by excitement.

"I didn't really play in the preseason, but then again I feel like I'm focused and I know what to do," Barden said. "I'm ready to get out there and make plays, whatever it may be, but there are some nerves. There's nerves every game, even in college."

Munchak said the opportunities in front of Preston and Barden are akin to Fernando Velasco's path that included all of 2008 and 14 games of 2009 on the practice squad before joining the 53-man roster full-time in 2010 and becoming a starter this season.

"Brandon's young, but he's getting an opportunity to find out where he's at," Munchak said. "Preston, the reps he got, he was 100 miles an hour last week, excited, had a nice catch and looking forward to the opportunity (to do more). So, it's good to see those kinds of things, even though 4-9 is not what you want, at least you get some good stories within the big story that are fun to watch."

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