Sure, all the Tennessee Titans have Sept. 10 circled on their calendars. That’s the date of the Thursday night season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, accompanied by a national telecast on NBC.
But for one of the newest Titans, that game will be a red-letter date he is looking forward to and won’t soon forget.
Receiver Nate Washington, who signed a six-year, $27 million to leave the Steelers for the Titans in March, says that game might be bigger than the Super Bowl he won with Pittsburgh in February.
“That might be the biggest game of my career. I’ve been praying about it day in and day out,” Washington said. “That game might be bigger than the Super Bowl [for me], because not only do I get to play against the defending champs and the No. 1 defense, but I get to play against guys I consider brothers for the past four years. It’s not only going to be a big thing for me, but one of the most heartfelt things I’ve ever accomplished.”
Washington, who will receive his Super Bowl ring in June along with the rest of the Steelers, said he still has plenty of ties to Pittsburgh, even though he is finding his way around the Titans offense during the off-season work.
“There’s no hard feelings with those guys. I still talk to some of them on a daily basis. They still treat me like family,” Washington said. “They know, at the end of the day, it was a move I had to make, a business move with money and it was an opportunity for my career. It’s good to come from an organization like that and to an organization like this.”
Coming to Tennessee has not been without a few drawbacks — namely breaking old habits from his Steelers days to learning the Titans ways.
“For the most part, it’s going to be a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I thought my physical talent was going to slide me through, but it’s not,” Washington said. “It’s going to be a lot of learning all over again. They run a lot of the same things we ran in Pittsburgh; they just call it a little different. But at the same time, they’re used to doing it different ways and being in different spots. It’s going to be tough, but it’s been working so far.”
Specifically, Washington has had to cut down on the freelancing in his routes, that was allowed and even encouraged in Pittsburgh when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would scramble behind the line to buy time for his receivers to get open.
Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger prefers a stricter timing-based passing game with a pure pocket passer in Kerry Collins, and Washington is learning to adjust accordingly.
“I’m so used to running a route and then getting open, whereas here, you’re running to get open. I think it’s going to work,” Washington said. “Kerry has been working with me. Vince [Young] has been working with me. The quarterbacks have been working with me. Coach Dinger and Coach [Fred] Graves have been doing a good job of letting me know this is how it goes around here, and I’ve just been adjusting to it.”
So what sorts of nuances are different for Washington between Pittsburgh and Tennessee?
“You’ve got to get out of your breaks quicker, and my angles are different from what they would have been in Pittsburgh,” Washington said. “Even so much as a curl, you’d run a curl, but then sometimes you’d flatten out because Ben would run. But here, you curl, and boom, it’s right there.”
Collins, for one, is excited to have Washington on board, and believes the ex-Steeler can be a big help in a passing game that, while still conservative, has more potential potency than a year ago when he threw for 2,676 yards and 12 TDs.
“It shows that we’re willing to do what it takes to bring the guys in there to improve the passing game, which I think we need to. I’m obviously excited about the additions,” Collins said. “I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to turn into the Arizona Cardinals all of a sudden and throw for 4,500 yards, but I think you’ll see improvement. I think you’ll see improvement right away. We threw the ball when we had to last year and we were effective doing it, but bringing those guys in, I think we’ll be more consistent.”
That’s something Washington is working on, even as he learns the ins and outs of the Titans offense and continues the conversion from the Steelers system.
“Everything is different. It’s coming pretty good, but at the same time, it’s going to take a lot more time,” Washington said. “It’s just in the second day of practice, I know now that the routes they have, and this is where they expect it. It’s just now relating it into the plays we have. It’s going to be a slow process, but I’m just working on not making the same mistake twice.”