Sitting on the stool in front of Randy Moss’ locker one afternoon last week, alongside a pair of cell phones were two containers, one of coconut juice and the other a large bottle of Pedialyte. Despite a profound lack of use in the six weeks since the Tennessee Titans claimed him off waivers, the 33-year-old who’s universally regarded as one of the best — and most disruptive — wide receivers in NFL history had not actually gone nuts or thrown any tantrums.
In fact, it was just the opposite. Teammates and coaches described him as a positive locker room presence. A mentor. A smart guy. A student of pro football history.
Those four items on the stool were telling, though.
Coconut is reputed to boost one’s immune system thanks to its unique mix of vitamins and nutrients. The Pedialyte, a product designed for infants, is used by many athletes to replenish electrolytes and stay properly hydrated.
As he nears the end of his 13th NFL season, Moss clearly endeavors to stay young and fit. Yet if he’s waiting for the phone to ring (one of them, at least) and for someone to offer him an opportunity somewhere else, it’s not coming anytime soon.
It was clear even before the Titans played the Houston Texans on Sunday that Moss’ career would not be rejuvenated with the Titans. Following abbreviated stints with the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings this season, he was destined to ride out the remainder of the campaign — not to mention his current contract — in relative obscurity, a rare thing for someone who carved out a place in the national sporting conscious while he played college football at Marshall.
On Nov. 14, when he made his Titans debut at Miami, Moss was viewed as someone who could make Tennessee a Super Bowl contender. By Dec. 9, when the Indianapolis Colts came to town for a Thursday night contest, he was a backup to second-year receiver Kenny Britt and was on the field for fewer than 20 offensive plays.
“Randy has done everything that we’ve asked of him and more,” coach Jeff Fisher said the day after the loss to the Colts. “Randy was encouraging his teammates and excited about the game, ready to play when he got the opportunity. He had no issues, it was just one of those things where Kenny was the starter at that position, he got hurt, he came back, and we wanted to work him back in the game.”
The most obvious reason for Moss’ irrelevance as a member of the Titans is opportunity. Even when he was on the field against Indianapolis, Kerry Collins threw not a single ball his way. In his first five games as a Titan, an overall average of three balls came at him.
Why that is the case requires a deeper examination of what is going on with the Titans right now.
First, Moss built his reputation as a Ferrari-type receiver, a high-performance machine. It takes a special touch to appreciate and maximize all his potential. The Titans offense, conversely, is more of an ATV, chewing up ground in small chunks with the running game and short passes. Titans quarterbacks are not used to looking down the field, where Moss tends to excel.
It’s probably telling that it was the season’s first meeting with Houston (Nov. 28 at Houston) that Moss had his busiest day. Rookie Rusty Smith, in his first career start, targeted Moss five times and completed three throws to him.
Veterans Collins and Vince Young had much more difficulty locating him, although Collins has tried on occasion. Moss did draw a pass interference penalty for a big gain at Miami while Collins was under center, and he was open deep on Dec. 5 against Jacksonville when Collins underthrew him, a fact the quarterback was the first to admit.
“The biggest chance he had for a big play was when Kerry underthrew him and he couldn’t come back to get it,” offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. “That was on Kerry. I think sometimes it takes a long time to fit with quarterbacks, and you come in … and it’s hard to find all the things that a wide receiver does well so you can get him the ball.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated,” he added. “He’s been a good teammate, and he hasn’t said anything to me.”
The fact that Moss had a different starting quarterback each of his first three games with Tennessee only slowed that process. Heimerdinger said he has designed things specifically to take advantage of Moss’ strengths. In the flow of the game, those things simply did not work as planned because Moss was not open, the quarterback didn’t (or couldn’t) see him, a block was missed, and so forth.
Then there’s the simple fact that all the coconut juice and Pedialyte in the world can’t blunt the effects of time. Simply put: Randy Moss is not as fast as he once was.
He tends to get by on guile more than gas, and for that sort of approach to work, the quarterback needs to know exactly what the receiver is thinking and doing. Titans quarterbacks have not had enough time to figure him out. Consider that he had three touchdown receptions and a 15.4-yard receiving average (the best at any of his three homes this season) in his four games with New England, where he had played since 2007. Compare that with a combined two touchdowns and an average of less than 13 yards per catch with the Titans and Minnesota Vikings.
“He’s not frustrated, he’s just always wanting to do more,” Britt said. “That’s what every player on this team is always wanting to do … just to help this team out. We know if we get the ball in his hands, he can help us out. That’s all he wants to do.”