NASHVILLE — For six Titans draft picks, 13 undrafted free agent signees and most of the 34 tryout invitees, Friday meant putting on a NFL jersey and running onto a pro practice field for the first time.
The first day of Titans rookie minicamp was particularly special for two players — linebacker Avery Williamson, a fifth-round draft pick out of Kentucky, and running back Antonio Andrews, a free agent out of Western Kentucky — who grew up nearby as big fans of the team.
"Most definitely, I was always a Titans fan when I was young," said Williamson, who played at prep football power Milan High School some 100 miles west of Nashville. "So, to put on a Titans uniform, itâs amazing."
Williamson was certainly bright-eyed about having a spot in same locker room of many former Titans he grew up idolizing. He ran through names like running back Eddie George, quarterback Steve McNair, defensive end Jevon Kearse and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
But Williamson also mentioned idolizing former Ravens star middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who was a Titans nemesis on several occasions. That drew a chuckle from those surrounding him.
"It’s cool to know that they were in the same locker room as I am in right now," Williamson said of the former Titans greats. "I finally got a (pro) jersey. Nothing’s promised, but I am enjoying the process right now. It’s cool to see that name on the back of my jersey."
Ditto that Titans-centric excitement for Andrews, who went to high school at nearby Fort Campbell. He then played collegiately at Western Kentucky.
"I always grew up liking the whole Tennessee Titans’ organization," Andrews said. "Coming to the games and just seeing fans and how the atmosphere was, this is an organization I want to be in.
"This whole city really loves its football team. You really can’t beat that."
Like the other draft picks, Williamson has a leg up on making the 53-man roster. At Kentucky, the 6-foot-1, 246-pounder had 296 career tackles, including 135 as a junior to rank second in the SEC (seventh nationally).
Williamson was drafted to eventually play one of two middle linebacker slots in the club’s new 3-4 defensive alignment.
"I want to bring some depth and make the plays on special teams this year," Williamson said. "That’s my goal, and hopefully I am going to get some reps this fall at linebacker.
" … I want to show them that I am a guy that deserves to be here and deserves to be on that 53-man roster"
It’s a different route for Andrews, who went undrafted despite leading the nation in total offense the past two years. Last year, he led the Sun Belt Conference in rushing (1,730 yards) to break his own school record.
It surprised many that Andrews wasn’tdrafted. But he said that by the end of the draft, nearly every NFL team called to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
"Being drafted is more of a pride thing," Andrews said. "You just want to hear your name called. But at the end of the day, you want to go where you want to go. So, everything worked out for the best. I have no hard feelings, but I do have a chip on my shoulder."
In 2012-13, Andrews set the NCAA record for total yardage over a two-season span with 5,780 yards. That total came from rushing (3,458 yards), receiving (910), kickoff returns (1,081) and punt returns (331).
"It gives the coaches more of an opportunity to put me on the field," the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Andrews said of his offensive versatility. "I can contribute on special teams, and I am a three dimensional-type of running back. I do a lot of things to get on the field."
The Titans released six-year running back Chris Johnson last month and then drafted Washington running back Bishop Sankey (Round 2). They also signed Dexter McCluster via free agency, who gives Tennessee the same offensive versatility as Andrews.
"Close to the end of the draft, I had just about every team calling," Andrews said. "But I knew off the top of my head I wanted to go to Tennessee. I always wanted to play here. I felt like it was the best place to go to."
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was a good first day of camp. The rookies will be back on the field Saturday and Sunday, while the entire squad convenes May 27-29 for the first of three voluntary organized team activities sessions, before mandatory minicamp (June 17-19).
"It’s always fun whenever you get these guys on the field," Whisenhunt said. "A lot of them right now are overwhelmed. Some of them got in (Thursday) night and trying to learn a lot of things in a short period of time. But we were able to function today, and that was good."
Whisenhunt warned the players it was a marathon and not a sprint â training camp doesn’t start until late July — but he also acknowledged the players were eager to get on the field.
"It’s probably a combination of pressing and competitiveness," Whisenhunt said. "You see both of those things. As much as you want to talk about, ‘You’re not going to make the team today,’ once they get out here and their juices start flowing and they start competing, then they really start pressing.