Titans first-round pick Kenny Britt was part of an ESPN piece during training camp that was entitled, “Hey, Rookie, Welcome to the NFL.”
For Britt and the nine other Titans rookies who made the 53-man roster, the welcome will be more than the usual jump that occurs in the transition from college to preseason to the NFL regular season.
It’s going to take place to kick off the 2009 season, and will be in the hostile environment of Pittsburgh against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Nate Washington, a former Steeler who defected to the Titans as a free agent this off-season, knows first-hand what the intensity will be like at Heinz Field, and is doing all he can to prepare the rookies for what will be leading up to and just after kickoff.
“It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be intense. The fans up there are crazy,” Washington said. “It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere. It’s kind of unfortunate because it’s our first game of the season, and actually going into the first regular season game from the preseason, that’s a big jump [for the rookies], but going into a regular season game that has a playoff atmosphere, that’s even a bigger jump. I’ve been telling a couple of the guys to just be prepared mentally and block everything out as much as you can. Remember at the end of the day, it’s just football.”
That’s a message Britt is trying to tell himself as he prepares for his debut on the national stage.
“I never considered myself as a rookie from when I first came in,” Britt said. “I’ve been playing the game of football for at least 12 years, and that’s what I always put in my head, that it’s just a little bit faster and more detailed in everything we do.”
While Britt exudes confidence, he already has seen the difference just in the preparation change from the preseason to the regular season.
“It magnifies it a hundred times, maybe a million times. Preseason, everybody was mostly calm, now everybody is uptight and detailed in everything we’re doing on the field,” Britt said.
Veterans are doing their best to help prepare their first-year teammates for what is at hand.
“The thought this week is that everybody has to be aware of what kind of environment we’re going into,” Collins said. “Certainly guys like myself and Kevin [Mawae] and guys who have been around can help some of the young guys. Everybody has played in loud stadiums, but for a rookie in his first game in the NFL, this is going to be a challenge for them to be able to handle it.”
Some Titans players say there is really no way to prepare someone for it.
“We were talking about that. This is bigger than Monday Night Football. This is almost bigger than a playoff game. This is the kickoff to the season,” safety Vincent Fuller said. “Everybody is watching this game. This is their first taste of regular-season NFL football. This is going to be a big game, it’s primetime. I don’t think there’s anything we can say that’s going to prepare them for what they’re going to go through.”
So what do you do to put their minds at ease?
“We’ve got to bring them along and make sure they’re focused on everything that goes on in the meeting room and taking care of their responsibilities. That’s what it boils down to,” Fuller said. “After you get those butterflies out of your stomach and take that first hit, it’s just playing football.”
Linebacker Keith Bulluck says is simply about weathering the early storm of the environment that is most important.
“I don’t think there’s any way to prepare the rookies for this game. It’s gonna be pretty jacked up,” Bulluck said. “For the guys that were here last year, probably the atmosphere is as close as it can be to a playoff game for the regular season. After the ball is kicked and a couple of snaps go by, it’ll probably be jacked down about 50 percent. The whole anticipation and build-up leading to the game is going to be huge.”
Titans coach Jeff Fisher believes the veteran core of the team can help calm any nerves that might flare up with the rookies.
“There’s enough guys in this locker room that will pull them around. I’m not concerned about the wide-eyes and those other things associated with it,” Fisher said.
For now, Titans rookies are simply soaking everything in and waiting for things to unfold.
“I’m pretty calm about it. I can’t really speak on something I haven’t experienced,” rookie running back Javon Ringer said. “All I can do is just imagine about it. Thus far, it’s pretty cool, and I’m pretty relaxed about it. I’m just watching guys and seeing how they go about their business.”
Welcome to the NFL.