Making an impact as an undrafted free agent in your rookie season is quite the accomplishment. That’s exactly what Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine did last year. Now in the midst of his sophomore training camp with the team, he’s eager to prove his worth to the coaching staff for the second year in a row. Westbrook didn’t simply earn a spot on the team in 2020. He was active for 14 games and saw eight targets in the passing game while also playing a prominent role on special teams.
Westbrook-Ikhine recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports. We reflected on his rookie season, that incredible special teams play against the Detroit Lions, discussed new offensive coordinator Todd Downing, and how he plans to impress the coaching staff over the next few weeks.
JM: You were actually initially released by the team last year when they cut down to 53 players. You were added to the practice squad and elevated to the game day roster for the Week 1 game against Denver. You earned a full-time spot on the team just a few weeks later. A lot happened for you in a short amount of time. You ended up being active for 14 games. What was the biggest lesson you learned during your first year in the league?
NWI: I learned how to conduct myself as a professional. That was probably the biggest lesson I learned. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to make sure you’re taking care of your body. You have to stay in the playbook and perfect your knowledge of it. The biggest thing you need to understand is that it’s a grind. You have to show up ready to work every single day. You talked about the highs and lows I went through. You never know when your opportunity is gonna come. When you get a chance, you have to take advantage of it. You might even mess it up a few times. Just keep pushing through and keep working for the opportunity. Whatever will be in this league, will be. It works itself out.
JM: We saw that happen for you. Which area of your game do you think grew the most during your rookie campaign?
NWI: I would say special teams. Coming out of college, I actually didn’t play any special teams at Indiana during my final two years there. I didn’t do anything on special teams. I had gotten hurt on a kickoff during my true junior year and the coaching staff decided to stop playing me on special teams. I really didn’t have any experience doing it in college. The fact that I was able to do it with confidence during my rookie year in the NFL, that’s definitely where I grew the most. I got more comfortable as the season went on.
JM: It’s funny you say that. Based on your rookie season, if they didn’t know any better, most people would guess that you were an excellent special teams player at Indiana. In fact, I wanted to ask you about that great special teams play you made against the Lions. They ran a fake and you made an excellent tackle just short of the sticks. What do you recall about that play? How and when did you identify the fake? You looked like a linebacker on the tackle (laughs).
NWI: We always talk about keeping your head on a swivel. I think every NFL player is reminded of that by their coaching staff on a pretty consistent basis (laughs). I was about to execute my assignment as the ball was snapped. I quickly noticed that the punter didn’t have the ball. I noticed that the snap went elsewhere. I understood what the situation was. They didn’t have far to go. I had to get on my horse and get over there to stop them from converting. I threw my body across the ball-carrier and prevented him from picking up the first down.
JM: It was a big stop in that game. When I first spoke with you right after you signed with the Titans as a UDFA, you told me that part of the reason you picked the Titans over other offers you had was due to your impression of wide receivers coach Rob Moore. Now that you’ve had more than a full year to work with coach Moore, what do you think of him today?
NWI: Working with him has been great. He’s a coach that’s been very successful in this league. He has so much knowledge to share with us. He hasn’t taught me everything he’s capable of yet. There’s so much more I can still learn from him. I’m excited to continue being teached by him. It’s been great to get back out there with him and start that process all over again. He’s a really good dude, a great person overall as a human being. He has so much knowledge of the game. I feel like his teaching style really resonates with me. When he talks, it sticks with me. I love the way he explains the different techniques and what not. We “get” each other.
JM: That’s terrific. We’ve talked about special teams a lot, but as a receiver, you made your first career catch against the Buffalo Bills in what turned out to be a massive win in the middle of the team’s Covid-19 crisis. What was that game, and first catch feeling like?
NWI: It was a great feeling. It sort of felt like deja vu with my first catch in college. I can’t remember if it was third down or not, but my first collegiate catch was a quick little five yard out route. It was very similar to my first catch as a Titan against Buffalo. In my head, I kind of had a snapshot from my college days as I was catching that first NFL ball. It was very similar to that play during my freshman year in college.
JM: Time flies. As you enter year two, is there a receiver on the team that you’re looking forward to being teammates with and learning from?
NWI: Its been great to see everybody. Being teammates with A.J. Brown and some of the other guys we had on the roster last year, it was a blessing. I’ve enjoyed getting back to that. Obviously, we added Julio Jones (laughs). He’s one of the best receivers in the game. I’m excited to continue learning from him because I know he has a lot to teach everyone in the receiver room, especially a young guy like myself.
JM: On the flip side of that, are there any defensive backs you really enjoyed practicing against last season?
NWI: Pretty much all of them, but Malcolm Butler definitely comes to mind. Win or lose, I always have fun competing against our guys. All of our defensive backs gave me a different look. That means I can learn something different from all of them. Whether I made a mistake or not, every moment is a teachable one. Butler and I actually had a common coach. I had a coach at Indiana that coached him in JUCO. We always had fun talking about that. He’s a great player and I had a lot of fun practicing against him.
JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today, Nick. In closing, what do your goals look like for the next few weeks?
NWI: The biggest thing is for me to show up every day ready to go. I’m healthy and here to work. I’m in good shape. I wanna pick up where I left off. I’m excited to get back in the swing of things, especially in this offense. I’m gonna make some new mistakes and I will learn from them. I’m excited to grow as a player.