Twenty years ago, when college quarterback Drew Bennett beat the odds to make the Titans roster as an undrafted receiver, the stars aligned perfectly.
And when the opportunity came, Bennett made the most of it.
Bennett, 42, now lives back in Northern California, has two daughters and works in financial services and business development.
But two decades ago, he played so well as an unheralded and unknown player that it forced the Titans to keep seven receivers on a 53-man roster.
Bennett says he figured out early on that maybe he could play receiver at the NFL level, then took advantage when opportunities came.
“They used to bring in all the rookies the first weekend,” he recalls. “I came, and it was just the rookies, and I had no idea what it would be like when all the vets showed up, but it was kind of like, ‘Oh wait, I can do this. I’m getting open in one-on-ones and I’m catching some balls in seven-on-seven. It was actually a confidence builder. I was like, ‘This is fast and these guys are really good, but I feel like I belong.’
Bennett admits he had a few little tricks to try and gain a competitive advantage in camp. Generally, first-team receivers go against first-team corners in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills. Bennett would try to get a place in line, however, to make sure he could go against a veteran Pro Bowl cornerback like Samari Rolle in those drills whenever he could.
“No one is impressed by you beating an undrafted rookie cornerback in one-on-ones,” he says. “It’s funny, though. That’s kind of a tell on what the team thinks of you and what the coaches think of you and what the DBs think of you.
“The first few times I would cut or put myself up in line because I would see Samari’s gonna be up, he would be like, ‘Get out of here,’ and kick me out because he would want to go against the ones or twos – like a Kevin Dyson or Derrick Mason.
“But as camp went on, I had some catches and would be a little more involved, and I would cut line and go against a one or two, and they would no longer kick me out of line. They would take me seriously. I was like, ‘OK, here’s my chance.’”
Bennett also befriended veteran backup quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who began giving him chances in practice.
“I used to go and ask him a lot of questions,” Bennett says. “Even though he was a hard-nosed guy, I could tell he was good dude,” Bennett says. “I’d ask him questions, and he kind of brought me under his wing early on. We’d be in seven-on-seven. He called me ‘Slim.’ He yelled over to the sideline and said, ‘Slim, get in here.’ He’d call me into the twos (offense) versus the ones defense in seven-on-seven.
“He’d say, ‘I’m gonna throw you a comeback, so you’d better catch this.’”
Bennett making the final roster came down to the wire. He waited around on cut down, and no one contacted him. So by 5 p.m., he assumed he had made the roster, until he got a call from his mother, telling him she was sorry but was proud of him anyway.
She said she had seen on the Titans website that he had been released.
“I’m like, ‘Holy crap, they didn’t tell me,’” Bennett remembers.
About that time, receivers coach Steve Walters walked by while Bennett was on the phone. Bennett ended the call, stopped Walters and asked him if he had made the roster or not.
“I told my mom I had go to. I said, ‘Hey coach, did I make the team?’ He said, ‘Let me go find out. You were right on the bubble.’
Walters had an interesting answer for Bennett when he returned: “You’re on the team, but don’t go buy a car because you’re the first person we’re going to cut if we have to make a roster move,” Bennett recalls.
Bennett found out a few years later from then-general manager Floyd Reese that the Titans were planning to cut him and move him to the practice squad. But a friend of Reese’s, who worked in the Washington Redskins personnel department at the time, inquired about Bennett and said they would pick him up if the Titans released him.
So Reese kept Bennett on the 53-man roster.
Bennett went on to catch 273 passes for 4,033 yards and 25 touchdowns during his six years in Tennessee.