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VOL. 37 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 9, 2013

One long-shot wide receiver tutors another

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Meet Michael Preston. Unless you're a diehard Tennessee Titans fan, Preston's name might not jump out at you as you peruse the roster.

Preston hails from Division III Heidelberg, which not exactly THE Ohio State University when it comes to football. Heidelberg, in case you're wondering, is a liberal arts school in Tiffin, Ohio, with a total enrollment of 1,600 undergrads and graduate students.

So it's safe to say that Heidelberg isn't exactly the fast track to the NFL.

In fact, for Preston, being with the Titans has been a slow-but-gradual process that might finally pay dividends this fall for both the 24-year-old wide receiver and the Titans.

Preston came to the Titans in 2011 as an undrafted free agent, showing the coaching staff enough to land a spot on the team's eight-man practice squad.

He repeated that process last year, signing to Tennessee's practice squad after being released in final cuts.

In the final month of a dismal 2012 season for the Titans, Preston got his chance and made the most of it. He was promoted to the 53-man roster and wound up catching five passes for 59 yards.

Now that the 2013 season is drawing near, Preston finds himself back in the same situation he faced the past couple of years, trying to get noticed in a crowded field of receivers that includes former first-round picks like Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright, solid veterans Nate Washington and Kevin Walter, plus other high picks in rookie Justin Hunter and Damian Williams.

In other words, it is probably the most talented lot of receivers the Titans have had since the team relocated to Nashville 16 years ago, and for an unheralded type like Preston there is little margin for error and only a handful of opportunities to impress.

Through it all, 6-5, 213-pound receiver has done just that, making the most of his chances seemingly each and every day in practice.

“He's making that decision hard, because he's a big guy and all he does is get better,” Titans coach Mike Munchak says. “He makes the catch on the balls that are thrown at him and he runs good routes, so he does all the things you want him to do.

“It's gonna be interesting to see how these next four weeks go for somebody like him.”

For someone like Preston, it might be easy to be intimidated in the midst of players – Britt, Wright and Washington – the Titans have invested so much in. But he says he remains unfazed and focused on the task at hand, claiming a spot on Tennessee's final 53-man roster.

“I consider myself a very talented player and one who is able to compete right along with those guys, if not eventually step out and be in the same list with those guys,” Preston says. “I'm not intimidated at all.”

As part of the process, Preston has found a kindred spirit and mentor in Washington, who once upon a time was an undrafted free agent in the Pittsburgh Steelers camp, looking up at guys like Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward while trying to make the jump from a small college in, of all places, Tiffin, Ohio, where he played at Division II Tiffin University.

“We're both from a college in Tiffin, Ohio,” Washington says. “I went to Tiffin University, and he went to Heidelberg, which is a smaller college that's around the corner from Tiffin.

“You see a guy come in like that, it kind of warms your heart,” Washington adds. “You remember those times when you were a younger guy fighting for a position. Everybody may not know your name right now, but you're fighting to make sure everybody knows it by the end of camp.”

Washington also spent his 2005 rookie season on the Steelers practice squad. So Preston is quick to absorb whatever advice the veteran imparts to him.

“We had the same route to the NFL, just five years apart,” Preston says. “I definitely lean on him when difficult situations come up, and he is always there to give me advice on certain things about the business and on the field.”

“In my earlier years, he was telling me not to get too down on myself because it's always a process. Now, it's about being more detailed on my routes and catching the ball and things of that nature, and always conducting yourself as a pro off the field.”

Preston's talents have become more and more noticeable as in preseason camp.

As a bottom-of-the-depth chart receiver, he knows part of his contributions will have to come on special teams, and he getting time on both the punt and kickoff units.

“One of my goals is to make the team and to help all across the board,” Preston says. “It's essential that you show up strong on special teams.”

But it also never hurts to just impress as a pass-catcher, something Preston has done on several occasions, including an amazing leaping grab in the corner of the end zone from Jake Locker last week. Preston says it was rewarding because the two had failed to hook up earlier on the play, but made the necessary adjustment the second time around.

“We had just missed on that play earlier, because we miscommunicated a little bit,” Preston explains. “But me and Jake talked about it and got it corrected and were able to make the play the second time.”

As Washington says, it never hurts to be seen making a good play.

“That's all he has to do, continue to make his plays and give everything he has on special teams and let the chips fall where they may,” Washington explains. “I'm very proud of Preston. He comes from the same area I come from collegiate-wise. I understand what he's going through. He just has to make sure he's giving everything he has, and that's all he can control. That's what he's been doing, he's making plays.

“Any play that comes your way, you have to make. As an undrafted guy from a smaller college, you have to go above and beyond.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.

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