It is hard not to notice Nate Washington at Tennessee Titans training camp.
On a daily basis, the free agent acquisition has been making the types of plays that gets a wide receiver noticed in ways the Titans have not often had over the past several years.
For Washington, who served as an understudy to Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes in Pittsburgh for four years, he is simply making the most of an opportunity that is finally his.
Washington arrived in the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Tiffin University, logged time on the Steelers practice squad in ’05, and eventually worked his way up to being the third receiver on last year’s Super Bowl team.
But signing a six-year, $27 million deal with the Titans this off-season didn’t mean to Washington that he had suddenly arrived. He says that won’t come until he takes the field as a full-time starter Sunday night in Buffalo for the first time in his career.
“It feels good to finally get to a point where all the hard work is paying off,” Washington said. “The long road that I’ve taken to get here is finally paying off, and I have my real chance to be starting, not because somebody got hurt, not because this person is ineligible to play this week because of an off-the-field incident. It feels good to finally be respected enough to go out and have a starting position that I’ve earned.
“To come out this week and get snaps with the first team offense, it’s going to be big for me, not only mentally and physically, but emotionally too, because all my hard work is finally going to pay off.”
Washington has quickly developed a rhythm in training camp with starting quarterback Kerry Collins, and the communication between the two has turned into a strong working relationship on the field.
“It’s just being where he wants me to be and him having an understanding of knowing where I’m going to be,” Washington said of the rapport with Collins. “He’s been doing a great job of, if I’m not in the position that he wants me to be in, he’ll explain it, and the next time out, I’ll do that.
“I think my best attribute is for them to tell me and me apply it. If he asks me to do something, I’m going to do it, and if it’s something I might do right, he’ll say, ‘Keep that, I like that better. I’ll adjust to you.’”
Collins has quickly learned that Washington will usually find the openings and be where he is supposed to be.
“It’s rare when he’s not in the right place when he’s supposed to be there. He’s got a good knack for the game, good timing, and speed is hard to replace,” Collins said. “He’s got the speed to get where he needs to get, and he finds a way to get open. As a quarterback, that’s all you ask for.”
Washington’s numbers in Pittsburgh were steady but not dazzling. He posted a career-best 40 receptions a year ago, but has a 16.4 yards per catch average for his career.
“He’s making a lot of plays,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’re doing some different things that he’s been use to in the offense and he’s picked them up well. He’s got the route tree down. He’s running all the routes. We brought him in because he can run especially fast and he made a couple big plays.”
Collins believes Washington will continue that, for one reason because he not only has the speed, but also possesses the smarts and drive to succeed.
“One of his best attributes is his brain. He’s a smart guy, and he’s willing to work. He works as hard as anybody out there,” Collins said. “He wants to learn. He’s always asking questions and he wants to get better. He’s got a real good drive about them, and that’s what’s going to help him be all we think he can be for us.
“He’s pretty unique. I haven’t had anybody that has his quickness off the line. He’s got the quickness, but he’s also got the top-end speed.”
And another quality Washington brings, often not found in top wide receivers – humility.
In a contrast of styles, the Titans will face Buffalo, which picked up controversial media star Terrell Owens in the off-season.
Does Washington want to try and measure up to T.O. on Sunday night as he makes his Titans debut? After all, Washington has been plenty noticeable on the practice field with his play in camp.
Hardly, he says.
“He can hog the show. I’d rather him hog the show than the show be on me, because I’m not out there for that,” Washington said. “I’m out there to get on the same page as my quarterback and get a winning season here to start. We’re not out there as a sideshow or a circus act, but we’re out there to get business done.”