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VOL. 41 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 4, 2017

Titans brass helps ease Dodd’s injury angst

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The NFL can be a cold and cruel business. In such a high-risk business, one injury or a sudden drop in production can put a player’s very livelihood in jeopardy. NFL, in such situations, really can mean “Not For Long.”

Tennessee Titans linebacker Kevin Dodd felt that type of anxiety as a rookie after last season. Despite being a high second-round pick, Dodd’s production and play were sub-par in 2016 thanks to a fifth metatarsal stress fracture in his right foot that required surgery in May. A follow-up procedure was required this January after the injury did not properly heal.

It was at that point that Dodd started having fears that his NFL career might be over before it had really even begun.

“After I got that second surgery, I thought it was over with,” Dodd says. “But Mike (Mularkey) and Jon (Robinson) told me to be patient, and they would work with me, that this kind of thing happens. It was just a freak injury, and they told me to be patient.

“So I learned to be patient with this injury.”

The divide between players and management can sometimes be a gulf in professional sports, but it was the open-door policy that Robinson and Mularkey offered that helped Dodd shake his frustration and wait for the injury to heal.

“He was very, very frustrated,” Robinson told WSM’s SportsNight on Sunday evening. “He had an outstanding rookie camp right after we drafted him, showed a ton of promise. Then he gets the injury, thinks he’s coming back, and then it just never really gets back to where it needs to be, and he kind of got down on himself.

“I said, ‘Kevin, you’re a young player. You’ve got a ton of upside. You’ve just got to keep working, and you’ve got to trust us. Do what we’re telling you to do. He’s done a really good job. He had a really good off-season, and had a really, really good first day out there (Saturday).

“It was impressive to watch him move around.”

The injury, which limited him to nine games as a rookie, seems to be fading.

“I went and got it fixed,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient and let your body heal itself. You can’t put a timeline on this injury.”

While the NFL can be a very hard business – and a lack of production often means the cold reality of a pink slip – Mularkey says it is important that players know they can approach management when there are issues that need to be discussed.

“We are very supportive of all of our players, especially with a guy who had a tough rookie year,” he says. “He had a lot of pressure on him to come in here, was frustrated by the injury and couldn’t get over that.

“The problem is a lot of the guys get more down on themselves than anyone else. Jon and I, our coaching staff, the support staff here, we’re here for these guys. It’s important that they’re successful.

“I think they know that. I think he knows that better about us. With the situation he was put in with that foot, I think he knows us a lot better because of it.”

Robinson echoes that sentiment.

“Mike and I have told all the players that our doors are always open, when they’re frustrated about injury situations that they come across to come talk to us,” Robinson says. “Mike’s been in the league a long time. He’s been injured. I’ve been around players that have been injured.

“I’m glad that he had the confidence in me just to come and talk about what’s best for him.”

All that said, Robinson and Mularkey don’t want to leave the team unprotected in case Dodd’s injury recurs.

The Titans need depth at outside linebacker behind starters Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, so Robinson signed veteran pass rusher Erik Walden to a one-year deal.

Walden, though, isn’t just any old guy off the street. The former MTSU player is coming off a season in which he posted a career-high 11 sacks for the rival Indianapolis Colts.

The fact that Walden decided on the Titans as a destination is a sign that things are on the uptick in Tennessee. Veteran receiver Eric Decker also took a one-year flier with the Titans.

“You just look at all the talent they’ve got in place,” said Walden, who is beginning his 10th NFL season with his sixth different team.

Convincing veterans who are in the twilight of their careers and wanting to find a situation that is on the rise would have been a tough sell for the Titans – maybe even as recently as a year ago at this time.

But the fact that Robinson was able to bolster the roster with both players is testimony to the changes that have come about in the Titans’ organization.

“The coaches have a great atmosphere and the owner and the GM do a great job. It just felt like a perfect fit leaving Indy. I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m definitely blessed with this one, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. Now, I’m here,” Walden said.

Decker, too, was sold on the Titans after talking to a few players he had played with previously about the situation in Tennessee.

“I know some guys well in the locker room and had some good conversations and just felt the energy and the attitude and the direction this team was going,” Decker said, “and I wanted to be part of that. I think we’ve got a lot of talent and we’ve just got to figure out a way to put it on the field at the right time and capitalize.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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