Tennessee Titans receiver Nate Washington practices during a minicamp June 20 at Baptist Sports Park. - JAE S. LEE / THE TENNESSEAN
Seldom does a wide receiver lead his team in catches one season but is almost an afterthought the following year.
Meet Nate Washington.
2011, Washington authored a 74-catch season, the most by a Titan in
seven years. But much of the offseason focus at wide receiver has fallen
on the return of Kenny Britt from knee surgery and the arrival of first-round draft pick Kendall Wright.
That's fine with Washington. Entering his eighth NFL season and his fourth with the Titans,
Washington is comfortable in his own skin. He has emerged as the leader
of an otherwise young receiving corps and places more emphasis on the
overall production of the unit than individual glory.
of funny to be the old man in the room," he said. "I'm very blessed to
be here this long, looking forward to another season and having these
guys looking to me for leadership.
"I accept that responsibility. I'm very proud to say that I am the guy they look to. I like having that leadership role."
not just talk. In the last couple of years, Washington has matured into
the consummate pro. Last season, he played through pain and injuries,
taking on double-coverage after Britt was injured in Week 3, and still
put up big numbers.
"It was almost like people had a certain idea
of what Nate could do and what Nate couldn't do, and then he showed a
different side of himself last season," Titans offensive coordinator
Chris Palmer said.
"I think he took a step forward. I expect him to keep putting up numbers for us. I don't see him slowing down a bit."
was no better example of Washington's commitment to the team than the
Titans' 23-17 win at Buffalo in December. He left the game with an ankle
injury but returned to make a 12-yard reception on third-and-8 in the
fourth quarter, keeping alive a drive that resulted in a field goal.
acknowledges he has "grown up quite a bit" and now has "a better
understanding of what it takes to be a professional and a leader." He
remembers arriving in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 and
being struck by a wide receivers meeting room that was chaired by Hines
"It seems like just yesterday I was in there making fun of
Hines and all those guys that were in their eighth or ninth year in the
league," he said. "You look at them and say, 'Man, they've been around a
long time.' Now I'm in that situation.
"I'm sure some of these
guys look at me and wonder how you stay in the league so long. The funny
thing is, I don't think of myself as one of the old guys. But I guess I
When Washington broke in as a rookie in '05, Britt was on
his way to All-Hudson County honors as a senior at Bayonne (N.J.) High.
Entering training camp later this month, only five players on the Titans roster have been in the NFL longer than Washington.
guys look up to him because of the way he studies and competes," said
fellow Titans wideout Damian Williams, a third-year pro. "If you want to
see somebody do something the right way, you just watch how Nate does
Washington is a survivor who keeps things in perspective, in
part because of his humble NFL beginnings. He arrived in the league as
an undrafted rookie out of Tiffin University. His only reception as a
rookie was a key third-down conversion in the AFC Championship game
victory over Denver.
For those keeping score, a total of 31 wide
receivers were drafted in 2005, including six in the first round. Of
those six first-round picks, only Roddy White has more career receptions
The Titans drafted three wide receivers that
year -- Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones and Roydell Williams. Roby is the
only one currently on an NFL roster, and his impact is on special teams.
then there is Washington, who last year ranked second in the league in
third-down receptions with 29. A player once known for little more than
his straight-line speed now is a go-to receiver.
"As you get a
little older, you have to work on the little things and keep improving
on things like route-running," he said. "You have to do what you can to
stay ahead of the game."
Nate Washington is coming of age before our eyes.