By Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Andre Johnson has been working out every day since March, making sure he would be ready when an NFL team called for the services of the man with the most catches and yards of anyone still playing.
He waited a long time before the call finally came.
The 13-year veteran jumped on a plane Friday night and flew to Tennessee, making the Titans his third stop in three years in the four-team AFC South. He spent an hour with coaches before going to a hotel and was on the field Saturday for the morning walk-through and the afternoon practice — the first of training camp.
It’s a new kind of whirlwind for the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.
“I’ve never been in a position where I got a phone call and was told to get on a flight at six o’clock and come out and practice the next day,” Johnson said. “It was a little different, but it was fun to be out here.”
Tennessee is the team Johnson spent the first 12 seasons of his career shredding with reception after reception, touchdown after touchdown for the Houston Texans. He even fought then-Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan during a game in 2010.
That might have made this speedy transition a bit surreal if not for Johnson’s one-year stop with another division foe, the Indianapolis Colts, last season.
“I think it felt more weird last year than it did this year,” Johnson said.
Johnson found himself waiting for a call after what was a down year for the wide receiver in 2015. He caught only 41 passes for 503 yards with four touchdowns, his worst production in any season where he played all 16 games. He caught only 33 passes in 2011 when injuries limited him to seven games. The receiver said he has no issues with the Colts, who cycled through quarterbacks because of injuries to Andrew Luck.
It didn’t help that Johnson turned 35 earlier this month. Johnson said he wasn’t surprised with how the NFL trends toward younger players despite his career numbers of 1,053 catches for 14,100 yards.
“I don’t have anything to prove,” said Johnson, who worked out for Tennessee earlier this week. “I think my career speaks for itself.”
The Titans are glad to have Johnson in camp, a move that helped fill out the roster. As bad as Johnson’s season was last year, he still had more receptions than any Tennessee receiver. Last year, Harry Douglas and Kendall Wright led the receivers with 36 catches apiece, while Dorial Green-Beckham led the group with 549 yards receiving.
Tennessee needs better options for quarterback Marcus Mariota after going 3-13 last season, and the Titans are giving Johnson a chance to compete for a starting job. They also are asking him to mentor a couple big receivers in the 6-foot-5 Green-Beckham and 6-4 Justin Hunter. Wright, who got to know Johnson back in Houston, welcomed the veteran.
“I think he has a lot in him,” Wright said. “I mean as you see out here today, he’s still Andre Johnson and making plays. I think he can really help us a lot.”
Johnson made two very nice receptions that had fans cheering. With Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe working with the first-team, Johnson worked with the second-team.
“Well I’ve seen that before,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of Johnson’s leaping catches. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t on the same sideline, so I thought he looked good in these colors, I know that for sure. But it was really nice to see those plays made. That’s what we need to be successful, make some plays – big plays. You know, that’s what he’s been doing his whole career.”
The Titans are asking Johnson to learn one position, though he did practice at all three spots Saturday. Johnson isn’t setting any goals for himself right now beyond his simple focus.
“Making plays, enjoying the moment,” Johnson said. “Just trying to get better as a player.”