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VOL. 36 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 7, 2012

Rare second chance at success for pair of Titans

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Darius Reynaud admits he watched NFL games last year with a little bit of envy. Released in final cuts by the New York Giants in September 2011, Reynaud had fallen completely off the NFL radar. Or so he thought.

“It was hurtful. I never had experienced that before,” Reynaud explains. “It was a humbling experience, going through the whole time of not playing.

“Monday through Saturday, I was good. So when Sunday came and I was watching the games, that’s when it hit me. Seeing those guys out there playing and knowing I should be out there too playing.”

Reynaud worked out and trained, but no team called.

“I didn’t get a tryout, nothing,” he adds. “That’s what teed me off, that I didn’t get a tryout. Every week, I’m watching games. I’m hearing of guys getting tryouts and guys getting activated from nowhere, and that’s what really got to me.

“The whole off-season, I was just training and trying to get better.”

Finally, the Titans called in December with an offer to sign a futures contract. Reynaud, a former receiver turned running back out of West Virginia University, jumped at the chance and made the most of it.

He dazzled this preseason with a 21-yard touchdown run and an 85-yard score on a punt return. When Marc Mariani broke his leg in the third preseason game and was lost for the season, it provided Reynaud the opportunity to ensure himself a spot on the 53-man roster.

“Words cannot describe how I feel. To God be the glory,” Reynaud exclaims. “I’ve been praying for this for a long time, and it finally came true. I just want to take advantage of my opportunities that He gave me.”

Reynaud’s spot on the roster seemed safe as soon as Mariani went down, but the former undrafted free agent was taking nothing for granted. After all, he had spent two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings before being traded to the New York Giants just as final cuts were being made in 2010. And, of course, last season he was tossed onto the discard pile.

“I’m still sweating,” he says, even after making the Titans roster. “I experienced it before in Minnesota and wound up getting traded. Even though I had a decent preseason, I was still sweating it out.”

Reynaud isn’t the only Titans grateful for a second chance.

Defensive end Keyunta Dawson also signed a futures contract after finishing last season out of the league. He did manage to play in two games for the Detroit Lions last year, but that stay was short compared to the four years he spent with the Indianapolis Colts.

“I’m truly blessed to have a job today and to be able to practice. I know there’s a lot of guys out there that’s searching for jobs, and I was out there last year,” says Dawson, who tried out in Houston, Chicago and Green Bay before landing with the Titans.

“It’s just a blessing. I’m so happy just to be out there and be part of this team. I love the city and I love the situation I’m in. I felt like it was the perfect situation for me.”

While Reynaud was waiting for his phone to ring, Dawson at least had the three tryouts. But he quickly became frustrated by the nomadic existence of an NFL free agent.

“I kind of moved around last year,” he says. “It’s frustrating, especially when you play four years with a team. You go in and think you have a good training camp and preseason, and you basically have to prove yourself again.

“It gets very frustrating. You’ve always got to have your bag packed, having that phone on and be ready and prepared to show up. It’s a pretty frustrating situation, one that I don’t want to be in again, but I had to do what I had to do.”

Dawson believes he has found a fit with the Titans and a great teacher in Titans pass-rushing coach Keith Millard.

“This was the first time I’d come into a situation like I have now where I actually have a pass rush specialist coach where that’s all he’s focused on,” Dawson says. “I got in with Keith Millard, and I’ve tried to learn the ins and outs of pass rushing and I’m just trying to get better every day using my speed and strength to try and get to the quarterback. I think that made a big difference in the offseason and in training camp.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak admits the club wasn’t really counting on either player at the start of camp, but they forced their way onto the 53-man roster with their impressive play.

“We always said on the d-line, we were excited about the guys we had,” Munchak says. “(Dawson) played hard from the day he walked in the door to OTAs, until right now, and he put himself in position to help us.

“So you’re excited for a guy that can come in when no one could really think he would be in the mix at the time. ... I think it’s exciting for him, and I know he’s thrilled. In the preseason games, every time he was in there, he just made plays, and good things have happened for him. You’re happy to see that.”

As for Reynaud, “He’s been making big plays and standing out from the beginning,” Munchak says. “But you still didn’t know how it was going to work out, how it was going to fit.

“But things worked out to where he’s here and he’s going to be a big part of our team. He’s a guy that can make plays, and he’s a guy you have to be concerned about when he’s on the football field.

“Hopefully, they’re not only gonna make the team, but they’re gonna help us win football games.”

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