Dez Fitzpatrick’s tenure as a professional has been rocky to say the least.
After being selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft, hefty expectations were immediately placed on the shoulders of the former Louisville product.
The Titans’ receiving core was, to put it bluntly, barren at the time. Aside from A.J. Brown, the amount of potential difference makers at the wideout spot at the time was nothing short of of embarrassing.
That isn’t to say the likes of Marcus Johnson, Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Josh Reynolds were bad football players during that point in time. But they’re collective skill sets — at least on paper — didn’t fit the Titans’ need for playmaking at the receiver spot.
And for a team that was dead set on pushing for a dream run in the AFC’s annual playoff dance, that’s a big no-no.
Especially after the departures of two high volume offensive contributors in Corey Davis — now with the New York Jets — and Jonnu Smith — now with the New England Patriots.
So when the Titans selected Fitzpatrick — while also trading up to acquire his services — the early expectation was for him to immediately contribute in spots and ease the Titans’ concerns at receiver.
But as we saw last season, that scenario never came to fruition.
After the Titans acquired Julio Jones from the Atlanta Falcons, they didn’t need Fitzpatrick to jump in and help replace the production lost in the passing game. But even despite that wright being lifted off Fitzpatrick’s shoulders, the early portion of his NFL experience still bore a nasty, rotten fruit.
The Titans elected to include Fitzpatrick in the team’s traditional final cuts heading into the 2021 regular season. A move that eliminated Fitzpatrick’s chances to complete the task he was initially given, and instantly drove his his short, yet valuable reputation as a pro football player into the ground.
But now, one forgettable rookie year later, Fitzpatrick is confident that his understanding of the offense, and his overall game is better than it was a year ago.
“Definitely just focusing on, and honing in on the details of each route we have, every concept we have,” Fitzpatrick said in response to being asked what he’s done differently this off-season compared to last off-season. “And understanding the why [of] everything we’re doing.”
“I know the playbook now, I’m trying to learn all the positions I can, I’m trying to learn concepts instead of just the positions [on the field], so they can plug me in anywhere if they need me.”
However, even with Fitzpatrick’s apparent ascension on the field — both mentally and physically — he still possesses the status as a player on the roster bubble.
Because of that, every day reps have once again become extremely important for Fitzpatrick. Whether they’re in camp, or even during the Titans’ yearly exhibition schedule.
But those can be hard to come by, especially with the way reserve quarterback play can fluctuate in the preseason.
One such instance occurred on Thursday night, as Malik Willis and Logan Woodside both struggled to spread the football around evenly and efficiently to a group of pass catchers that desperately need the looks in order to prop up their cases to stay on a roster.
But Fitzpatrick wasn’t alarmed by those developments on Thursday night. In fact, he thinks the lack of targets and catches helped magnify what he did without the ball being in his hands.
“Opportunities are going to show,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think the most important thing for a receiver is what you do when the ball is not in your hand.”
“I think I took great pride in doing that on Thursday night.”
However, we know position specific results matter in this league, and that rings especially true for roster bubble players that are being given true shots to secure a roster spot.
That notion might not bear the same significance among Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson, as those two are heavy on the importance of details, technique, and your ability to contribute in other areas on the field.
But it’s still held close to the Titans’ chest when it comes to roster related discussions.
With the Titans scheduled to participate in two rounds of joint practices over the next couple of weeks, Fitzpatrick’s progress will be monitored closely as he continues to prove why he deserves to stay on this team.
Results will have to come, and they’ll have to be more consistent in nature. Because if they don’t, Fitzpatrick could be looking at another instance of being cut.
And you can only bet he doesn’t want to run into that scenario again.