When the Tennessee Titans drafted former Georgia linebacker Monty Rice with the No. 92 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, it was clear that Rice was going to play a big role in the team’s future at the position. With Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans no longer in the picture, Rice is ready to make that sophomore leap while factoring into the mix alongside David Long Jr. and Zach Cunningham.
Rice recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports regarding what he learned the most throughout his rookie campaign, his sophomore goals, soaking up knowledge from veterans, why he doesn’t fear Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, and so much more.
JM: You appeared in 10 games as a rookie and really started to earn a lot of playing time midway through the season, including four starts at inside linebacker. What was the biggest lesson you learned during your first year in the league?
MR: I learned how important it is to stay ready at all times. Just because you’re not getting as many reps in practice or whatever, that doesn’t mean your number isn’t going to be called shortly. You have to stay on point and be ready to enter the game at any given moment. My first career start occurred in late October against the Indianapolis Colts. I didn’t even know I was going to start that game until Saturday, the day before the game. You have to stay ready because you might get thrown into a game unexpectedly. You have to be prepared for all scenarios. That’s the best way to make sure you’re ready to take advantage of your opportunity.
JM: That’s a valuable lesson for a rookie to learn. Which area of your game do you think grew the most during your rookie campaign?
MR: I would go general and simply say getting up to speed in a new defense. The speed of the game in the SEC is roughly the same as the NFL, so I didn’t have a large transition in that area to be honest with you. I started playing faster towards the end of the season. Watching a guy like David Long Jr., he’s a smaller dude but he’s always giving it 100 percent. He’s always aggressive and ready to attack downhill. He’s always playing fast and physically. Watching David Long play helped teach me it’s tough for an offensive lineman to block you when you’re playing fast. Playing fast can also help you make up for a little mistake. It’s always important to play fast.
JM: That’s a great point. You had the unfortunate ankle injury just when things were really starting to click for you. You’re 100% healthy now and ready to compete. What was your mindset like throughout the road to recovery?
MR: I’ve been really focused on getting better during the offseason. I had a lot of stuff going on throughout my rookie year, both professional and personal. I found peace this offseason. I love my job. I’m blessed to be here and I’m ready to take advantage of my opportunity. I’m focused on what I have to do. I’m happy right now. I’m surrounding myself with people that want to support me for the right reasons. It’s all about positive vibes.
JM: We’re very happy for you. You talked about David Long Jr. You played behind him and some other veterans such as Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown last season. What was the biggest piece of advice they gave you during your rookie campaign?
MR: All of them told me, Rashaan Evans included, to take excellent care of my body while keeping my head in the playbook. They told me to come to work ready to go every single day. I wanted to be there and showcase a team-first attitude. I’m enthusiastic about playing for this football team. I was trying to attack every single day.
JM: What’s your favorite aspect of playing the linebacker position?
MR: I love running around and making plays. I love tackling people (laughs). Playing linebacker, it’s an interesting position. You essentially have control of the entire defense, especially if you’re wearing the green dot. It’s your job to help your teammates get lined up and ready for a play. It’s a challenging position that I love and embrace with open arms. I love playing this position. I’m happy that I developed into an inside linebacker.
JM: It really is a fascinating position. Do you remember having a “Welcome to the NFL” moment last season?
MR: Nope, because I welcomed people to me. I welcomed the league to Monty Rice (laughs).
JM: I love that (laughs). You talked about making your first start against the Colts. You didn’t feel like, “Okay, I have to go tackle Jonathan Taylor” or anything like that?
MR: I never felt that way because every player in the league puts on their pants one leg at a time the same way I do in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fortunate enough to play against, and compete against some players I grew up watching, but I’m here for a reason just like they’re here for a reason. I don’t fear anybody. I’m blessed. Between Georgia and Tennessee, I’ve already played against some of the best players in the country. I watched a lot of these guys on Sunday’s. I get excited from that point of view.
JM: We love your confidence. You have a new position coach this season. Coach Bobby King is the new inside linebackers coach, having replaced Jim Haslett. What’s your first impression of coach King so far?
MR: Coach King wants to improve every single inside linebacker in our position room. He’s always preaching improvement. He wants to help us achieve our goals. We’re excited to continue working alongside coach King.
JM: We’ve appreciated your time today, Monty. In closing, what are your goals for the 2022 season as we prepare to kick off training camp in a few days?
MR: I’m excited to get back into the swing of things while staying healthy. I’m going to continue getting stronger and stronger. I’m going to take great care of myself and make sure I’m eating right and putting good things into my body. I’m going to continue learning our playbook as much as possible. I’m going to hold myself accountable. Monty Rice is going to do what he’s supposed to do.