Ben Troupe has already endured his share of ups and downs in just three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
As a rookie in 2004, his playing time early on was limited in part because of his struggles in picking up the offensive playbook. Toward the end of that season, however, he had become one of emergency starter Billy Volek’s favorite targets, dazzling teammates and fans alike with a couple of instances where he hurdled would-be tacklers.
Troupe finished with 33 catches for 329 yards, both rookie records for an Oilers/Titans tight end.
Only good things seemed in store for Troupe when he built on that performance in 2005 by posting a career-high 55 catches.
Last season, with veteran Erron Kinney’s career short-circuited by chronic knee problems, it was expected that Troupe would step to the forefront and play a major role in the Titans’ offense. It didn’t happen. He finished with a career-low 13 receptions and had his season end six weeks early thanks to a fractured right foot.
Troupe doesn’t look at last year as a lost season, mostly because even though he wasn’t productive, the team was — at least over the second half of the season.
“I don’t look at it as a lost year,” Troupe said. “Obviously, I didn’t perform up to my abilities, but in the same sense, the turnaround we had at the end of the season, I was excited about that. I just want to win games. True enough, my production level went way down, but that’s just more of a reason to work even harder this year.”
The 6-4, 270-pound Troupe says he isn’t exactly sure why his career got off track a year ago, but offers no excuses for it.
Troupe, who turns 25 in September, just wants to right himself and contribute again to the Titans offense as he enters what should be the prime of his career.
“I don’t put any excuses on it,” Troupe said. “The thing is I just have to go out and make plays. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m not an excuse maker. I just felt I wasn’t getting it done. I’m the type of player that I don’t really care about the praise, but I can definitely take the criticism when I’m not playing up to my abilities.”
Troupe does admit that the musical quarterback situation early last season with Volek, Collins and finally Vince Young calling signals probably didn’t work to his advantage, but says that doesn’t make his performance acceptable.
“It was probably more just me, going from Kerry to Vince and the transition from those two, but at the end of the day, I’ve just got to make plays when my number is called,” Troupe said.
Young hopes to reintegrate Troupe into the offense this season.
“Big Ben is a phenomenal athlete. Right now, he’s looking good catching the ball. He’s a big target and when you get the ball in his hands, it’s kind of hard to tackle him,” Young said. “I’m ready to get the ball in his hands so he can make big plays for us.”
But therein is one of the issues. Troupe looked strong and steady through the first few days of camp, but then Sunday was plagued by a couple of drops on the practice field, again raising questions as to which Troupe will the Titans get in 2007.
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to stay focused. You’ve got to know your assignment, and the biggest thing is you’ve got to carry it over from the practice field to the game,” he said. “You don’t have to feel as though you have to speed anything up or do anything differently. I think last year I was trying to do too much in the game instead of just kind of letting the game come to me on the practice field and letting it carry over.
“Some way or another, I just got away from the little things that help you make the big leap. And now I understand that you can’t be two different kinds of players, one on the practice field and one in the game.”
If Troupe can regain his previous form, it could be a big boon for a Tennessee offense desperately seeking weapons for Young during this training camp and preseason.
“He can bring another aspect to this team,” running back Chris Brown said. “You have a tight end his size that can move, that gives Vince a big target, and he catches the ball well. He can bring a whole new dimension to our game.”