NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There are football coaches who believe all but their best incoming players have to earn recognition. They are nameless faces until they do something that warrants learning a name attached to an action.
Mike Mularkey has been that unknown face at a football practice, and he’s not interested in creating more of them.
So as he patrolled the Tennessee Titans' rookie minicamp practices over the past three days, the sheet tucked into his waistband provided Mularkey with easy-access information about some of the new players -- pictures.
He was pretty familiar with the team's nine draft picks, and the case was the same for five guys who were on the practice squad last year and were eligible to participate. He also oversaw 12 undrafted free agents and 27 tryout players.
Not everyone’s head shot was on the sheet, but a number of postage stamp-sized faces were there for handy reference when needed.
“It’s important to me. I want to get to know them so they know I care about them,” Mularkey said. “I don’t care who they are, tryout or draft. It’s really hard [to learn them all]. The first time I met a lot of them was [Thursday] night.
“I’ve been that no-number guy. It’s not good. Are you being seen? Do they really know I am here or am I a body? That was my point to them. … The quicker they can feel like they are part of us, the quicker they are going to perform better.
“You know if somebody doesn’t know your name. You know that. I try to. There are a bunch of ‘Yo.’”
The Titans preach that everyone has a chance, that nobody is set in stone. They try to work that way even though there are clearly guys who, after three days of trying out, will head home never to be heard from again.
One tryout player, tight end Andrew Price out of UNLV, said the effort by Mularkey and his staff was noteworthy.
“It’s an awesome feeling versus, ‘Hey, 89’ or ‘Hey, tight end guy, get over here,’" Price said. "If he says, ‘Hey, Drew, come over here. I’ve got to talk to you,’ you feel that personal connection. Like you actually have a shot. Like it actually matters.”