ProToppers: The Case For Antonio Andrews


I’m a Tennessee Titans fan. At least I try to be, although that has become increasingly difficult in recent years as team ownership seems content for mediocrity and the occasional first-round exit from the playoffs. Each year, my friends talk about the Bengals and Colts with youthful and giddy optimism, while I’m stuck wondering whether it will be Jake Locker’s or (insert underachieving veteran quarterback’s name here) breakout season. Some call it pessimism, I call it being a realist.

My fandom has always been marred by heartbreak. I’m a hopeless romantic. When the Oilers packed their bags and moved to Nashville,  I jumped on the bandwagon. It was easy at the time – the Bengals were the Bungles, the Titans were a Super Bowl contender, and how could you not love those navy and blue uniforms?

The Titans made it to the Super Bowl that year, losing to the St. Louis Rams. You probably remember Kevin Dyson’s outreached arm, stretching with all his might, as Mike Jones tackled him at the one-yard line.

One. Yard. Short.

I should have hung up the cleats then and called it a career. But I didn’t. There’s always next year, I thought. Unfortunately, that was my highlight of being a Titans fan.

After years of mediocrity, I now look for anything to be excited about each year with the Titans. That’s why I was thrilled when the Titans signed former WKU tight end Jack Doyle. Finally! A Topper on the Titans, the best of both worlds. Except the Titans felt they didn’t need Doyle, and cut him. They already had enough tight ends, and didn’t want to invest their time in a project from a smaller school. But the Colts saw Doyle’s potential. He’s now catching passes from Andrew Luck and blocking for Trent Richardson, as the Colts reload with young talent and stay competitive for years to come. Meanwhile, the Titans remain average.

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That brings me to another Topper now on the Titans’ practice squad, Antonio Andrews. Please Tennessee, don’t let another former Topper slip through your fingers.

During my time on the Hill, I had the privilege of watching the two greatest running backs in WKU history: Bobby Rainey and Andrews. I watched Rainey break record after record for the Tops, and then Andrews break Rainey’s records. Rainey was great, but Andrews was even better.

After a couple of years bouncing around the AFC North, Rainey finally found a home in Tampa Bay. For some reason, Andrews has yet to find a spot on an active roster for an NFL team, despite nearly breaking Barry Sander’s NCAA record for most all-purpose yards in a season, and having the most all-purpose yards ever in a two-year span. At WKU, Andrews was lethal at running the ball, catching out of the backfield, and returning kicks. You would think his services would be in high demand. [ed. note – Rainey did have to wait nearly two years before getting his shot with the Bucs.]

While, yes, it’s fantastic the Titans didn’t flat out cut him like they did with Doyle (maybe there was a learned lesson there), the question still remains – does Andrews deserve a shot on the 53-man?

Like Doyle, Andrews strikes me as a “utility” player at the next level – someone who may not excel in any one aspect, but has a skill set that allows him to contribute to a team in multiple areas. Andrews does not have breakaway speed (he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.82 seconds at the draft combine, which is slow for a running back), but has great vision that makes up for it. He had an impressive prep career as a high school quarterback, and it shows in his ability to see the field better than other backs.  Andrews has an uncanny ability to use his field vision to find holes behind his blockers, as well as the lanes to gain adequate yardage as a return man. This ability alone would make him more than serviceable as a kickoff or punt return specialist, and he already has plenty of experience. At WKU, Andrews compiled 1,780 kickoff return yards and 382 punt return yards in his career.

In addition to his ability to see the field, Andrews also proved to be a workhorse at WKU. He rarely lost yardage running the ball, because he followed blockers, lowered his shoulders, and powered through runs for yards after contact. Despite lacking elite explosiveness, Andrews rushed for over 1,700 yards his junior and senior seasons. At the professional level, Andrews would be a perfect fit as a third-and-short back to bring in and pick up a few yards for a first down. Furthermore, if he could improve his blocking, Andrews could be an asset in the short yardage passing game, as he also excels at catching out of the backfield and running for more yards after the catch.

So could the Titans use a third down back or return specialist? Through their first four games, the Titans rank 31st in punt return yardage and 28th in kickoff return yardage. During the offseason, the Titans brought in Dexter McCluster to return punts, but he has so far disappointed. Leon Washington, the bottom running back on the depth chart, serves as the primary kickoff return man, and also hasn’t impressed.

My suggestion to the Titans? Cut Washington, and promote Andrews to the return specialist role. Andrews is more dynamic and has a higher ceiling. The Titans need a spark in the return game, and Andrews might just be the lift they need. It would also give the Titans the luxury of having another weapon besides injury-prone Shonn Greene to use in third-and-short and goal line situations.

So that’s the case for Antonio Andrews. If the Titans want to improve, they don’t have to go out and sign some big-name free agent. The sports world is filled with teams that have success building from within, and Andrews gives the Titans that option. Please Tennessee, from a fan, don’t mess this up.

Do you think the Titans should promote Andrews? Would you rather see Andrews on another team? Send us your comments below, or tweet us at @WaveTheRedTowel!