Tajae Sharpe got the memo.
When the Tennessee Titans signed Adam Humphries as a free agent from Tampa Bay and then spent a second-round pick on Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown, it meant that the competition in the wide receiver room was about to ramp up this off-season. It also meant that the holdovers from 2018 needed to step up their play in order to still have a prominent role in the offense.
Sharpe, who caught 28 passes last year for 316 yards and two touchdowns, knows full well that he has to compete in camp and preseason to fend off the challengers who are now penciled in ahead of him on the Titans depth chart.
“It’s what this team needs. Everything that wants to be great needs to have competition at every single position. That’s what this thing is about every year, there are going to be guys coming in at your position,” Sharpe said after Tuesday’s open OTA practice. “They’re going to work hard to come in and try to play, and you’ve got to work hard to stay on the field. It’s all part of this business. You’ve just got to focus in on things you can get better at and continue to do the things you are good at and let everything play out for itself.”
Coach Mike Vrabel said that the receivers have to show enough production now and in preseason to carve out a role for themselves when the regular season arrives in September.
“There’s a lot of examples I use about pro football, but that’s what it is. They’re going to bring guys in, we’re going to bring guys in at every position. It’s your job to understand that, and to withstand that, and carve out a role for yourself through practice, and eventually preseason games, and then once we determine a roster,” Vrabel said. Whether that’s Tajaé or Taywan (Taylor), I mean, you know how I feel about those guys. They come here to work every day, they work hard, and the quarterback – they’re dependable.
“Taywan helped us at times, and Tajaé helped us a lot of times last year. That’s just the nature of the NFL, is that you’re going to have to stand up to competition and find a role for yourself, and carve one out through the course of time.”
Judging from Tuesday’s work, Sharpe might find himself as a red zone target. During two different red zone periods, Sharpe caught four TD passes from quarterback Marcus Mariota, including three in a row in team drills. The fourth catch came in seven-on-seven.
Sharpe, now in his fourth year, credits much of that to his familiarity with Mariota and Mariota’s trust in him.
“In the quarterback-to-receiver connection, you’ve got to have that trust. A lot of the times, routes are based off timing, so he doesn’t trust you to be where you are, if he can’t count on you, he’s not going to throw you the ball,” Sharpe said. “You’ve got to do everything you can to be as detailed as possible, so that every quarterback in the room has full confidence in you when they throw the ball your way.”
With the new arrivals, Sharpe said the competition does create a sense of urgency that is maybe greater now than three years ago when he was one of the Titans’ go-to receivers as a rookie.
“There is definitely a sense of urgency. They have a sense of urgency with them to want to get on the field, an as older guy you’ve got to work hard to stay on the field. So you’ve got to work on the details,” he said.
Sharpe might even see something else new for him this season – the possibility of being on a special teams unit to enhance his value when the 46-man game day rosters are chosen.
“Anybody that can play special teams gives themselves more value. If (the coaches) can use you on the special teams unit, then when we get down to Saturday or Sunday, and we determine who’s going to be on the final gameday roster, special teams is a large part of it,” Vrabel said. “I think that we could probably always carve out a role or some kind of niche for a guy that maybe hasn’t done it. But again, we have to identify what a player’s strengths are and find a spot for him from what he does best.”