Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook continues to earn the trust of his coaching staff. Westbrook’s role on the Titans has consistently increased since the former Indiana standout first joined the Titans as an undrafted free agent at the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft. Westbrook first earned a role as an exceptional special teams player before growing into a pass-catching role. Westbrook took that desired step forward in 2021 by recording career-highs in receptions (38), receiving yards (476) and touchdowns (four). Westbrook was a consistent target for quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2021, particularly in a season that was ravaged by injury at receiver.
Westbrook should take another step forward in 2022 while offering some much-needed continuation. The Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles and released Julio Jones. Offseason acquisition Robert Woods continues to rehab from last season’s torn ACL, and rookies Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips continue acclimating to their new surroundings. It means Tannehill and the Titans offense will lean heavily on Westbrook, who has routinely earned praise for his knowledge of the playbook and overall consistency.
Westbrook recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports regarding his breakout sophomore season, how he’s been preparing to improve in 2022, his reaction to the A.J. Brown trade, being one of Tennessee’s veteran receivers, overall changes on offense, and so much more.
JM: You took a sizable step forward as a sophomore, having recorded 38 receptions for 476 yards and four touchdowns. Now that you’ve had some time to really think about it, how do you reflect on your second season?
NW: I feel very thankful and blessed. I’m proud of what I was able to achieve during the 2021 season. I was coming off a bit of an injury. I had surgery at the end of my rookie season. I basically spent all offseason trying to come back from that. I was at a crossroads coming into last season. I was dealing with an ankle injury and I was worried about my overall effectiveness going forward. All of these things were going through my mind.
Thankfully I was able to leave that in the past and fight through it during last year’s training camp. I earned a spot on the team and I was very blessed to be able to continue playing. I made some big plays last year.
JM: You made plays in the passing game. The Titans are expecting you to take another step forward and play an even bigger role in your third season. How have you been preparing for that?
NW: One of the biggest things is continuing to maintain health and take good care of my body. I’m making sure I feel 100% going into this season. This was my first offseason where I was actually able to do some offseason training without having to rehab an injury. That’s been a huge plus for me, and it comes first and foremost heading into the new season.
I’m building a mindset as one of THE guys in our receiver room, one of the top-two receivers on the roster. That’s what I’m striving towards. I’ve invested in sports psychology and game enhancement type stuff throughout this offseason. I’m doing everything I can to prepare for a big season. I’m trying to improve every facet of my game, both physically and mentally to get ready for the season.
JM: Expanding on that, I certainly wanted to ask how it feels to be a veteran receiver in the room now. How are you embracing that? It’s still your third season, but there’s been a lot of change at the position this offseason. You’re certainly the most reliable receiver that’s built some momentum with this team in recent years.
NW: It represents a cool opportunity for me. I feel like it usually doesn’t happen this early for a receiver that’s still in his third season, especially for one that went undrafted like I did. I’m definitely leaning on Robert Woods right now. He’s been in the league for a long time and he understands the game at the highest level imaginable, especially at receiver. I’m leaning on him for advice on how I can better myself, and how I can help some of the younger guys in our room.
It’s also not a totally new feeling for me. I was a captain that led a receiver room in college at Indiana. Of course it’s a little different because everyone is essentially the same age in college, and everyone in the NFL has already proven they can play at this level. It’s more about me trying to get the best out of everyone in our room.
JM: Sticking with this topic, when you were a rookie, I imagine guys like Corey Davis and Kalif Raymond helped show you the ropes. How are you repaying that to Treylon Burks, Kyle Philips and the other rookie pass catchers?
NW: I’m big on communication. I’ll let them know if I think there’s something they can be doing better. Sometimes it’s just about listening to them and showing a willingness to answer their questions when they have them. They’ve all been great so far. We went through minicamp and OTAs together, and now we have training camp coming up. They were always asking questions and trying to get better. I like that because I feel like I can answer their questions for the most part. I want to help them out. They had a positive mindset, and they all want to get better, which I appreciate. It’s awesome to see.
JM: You’ve built a lot of trust and chemistry with starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Being one of the veterans in the room, as we touched on earlier, do you feel like you and Tannehill will lean on that chemistry this season, given there’s been so much change?
NW: Yeah, I definitely think last season was the start of Tannehill and I building that mutual trust. I don’t really like using the term security blanket, because that sounds like a possession receiver, and no receiver dreams about being that (laughs). I want to continue building that trust to the point where Tannehill feels 100% comfortable with throwing me the ball. We want to continue growing that chemistry moving forward.
JM: Tennessee’s offensive coaches often talk about receivers that can play X, Z and the slot, and your name often gets brought up as an example. Todd Downing, Rob Moore, even Keith Carter, they all talk about that and say Nick Westbrook can play all of the positions because he understands our playbook. What is it about your game that allows you to play all three receiver positions for this offense?
NW: Like they said, the biggest thing is understanding the playbook. They’re not going to put somebody out there who doesn’t know what they’re doing. The first step is understanding your assignment on the different plays. It’s important to understand everybody else’s assignment around you, too. That’s what allows you to make those adjustments on the fly. It allows you to be an efficient player as well. It’s partially why I can play all of the positions.
Being a bigger receiver helps me out. That’s a part of my skill set. I’m a bigger receiver that trusts my size and speed. I can fight and play through contact when I’m out there. That, combined with knowing the playbook, allows me to play all of those positions.
JM: Now that you have so much experience in this offense and know this playbook so well, do you have a favorite route to run?
NW: I love running a deep ball. Every receiver does (laughs). I feel like that’s every receiver’s dream. I love running every deep route we have. I don’t have a single favorite, but I’d love to take the top off the defense a little bit more this year.
JM: What was your reaction to the A.J. Brown trade as a friend and teammate? I think everybody was shocked.
NW: I was shocked just like everybody else. I actually got the news from a friend. I wasn’t watching the draft or anything like that. It wasn’t on my radar. I was definitely shocked. I wish A.J. the best at the end of the day. I’m glad he got his contract. It’s awesome to see his success pay off. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do this season.
JM: Last we spoke, you talked about being excited to play alongside Julio Jones. What’s the biggest lesson Julio taught you in 2021?
NW: I would probably say the biggest lesson he taught me came from me just paying close attention to his overall approach to the game. I learned a lot from him and his mindset in our meeting room. His practice habits were outstanding. I love the way he approaches the game of football. He’s had that same attitude ever since he entered the league. He never let his fame or success get to his head. He’s consistent. It showed me why he’s one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game.
JM: This offense asks its receivers to do a ton of blocking in the run game. You’ve been a big part of that. We expect that to continue with a healthy Derrick Henry in the backfield. What do you enjoy about blocking?
NW: What I most love about it, it’s sort of our [wide receivers] way of evening the playing field. When running routes, we’re getting grabbed, held, and even tackled. When blocking, it’s our time to take control of the defense and dish some of that back out at them. I can impose my will on a defensive back. A pancake block feels awesome (laughs), especially as a receiver. It’s not as easy or common for us as it is for an offensive lineman.
JM: We’re not even at training camp yet, but if you had to pick one of your teammates at any position to be the team’s breakout star this season, much like you were last season, who would you choose and why?
NW: I can’t single anybody out (laughs). I can’t do that. If I had to pick, I would just pick every wide receiver in our room (laughs). I want to see them succeed and do well so bad. I would pick our guys for sure.
JM: That’s fair (laughs). I’ve appreciated your time today as always, Nick. In closing, what are your goals as we head into training camp a few days from now?
NW: I’m going to continue getting my body as healthy as possible for the grind ahead. I’m getting myself in the best shape of my life. I’m preparing for training camp. Once we get there shortly, I’ll be doing everything I can to carve out yet another consistent role for myself. A new year represents a fresh start. I understand that nothing is going to be handed to me. I want to reaffirm what the coaches and general manager think of me, why they want me in Tennessee.
Building on that, it’s then about building trust and chemistry with Ryan Tannehill and all of my teammates on offense. I want them to trust me to be that guy at receiver.