Bates a Big Presence in a Small Role

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – He is part football player, part Flavor Flav.

The Tennessee Titans signed Daren Bates in 2017 to beef up their special teams and to provide some depth (if needed) at linebacker. He has been exactly what franchise officials hoped – and more.

Bates also has evolved into the team’s unquestioned hype-master. It’s not so much a responsibility – no one formally asked him to do that job – as it is the natural reaction of his teammates to his natural energy, which seemingly knows no bounds. His frenetic personality spills out in the music that blares from a oversized radio he keeps at his locker and from his interactions with teammates, which often include some dancing, rapping or both.

To see Bates off the field is to understand what makes him such a fit for his primary role on it. It is easy to imagine him on the sideline while the offense or defense does its thing as a ball of nerves, the energy building up, eager for release. Think of a teapot on a hot stove, just on the verge of boiling. Then suddenly he is sent out to help cover a kick or to block for a return and all that pent-up emotion and enthusiasm bursts from him in the controlled chaos that is a kick or a punt in the NFL.

Coach Mike Vrabel has singled him out numerous times in recent weeks for the pride he takes in his special teams play and the effect he has on the others who are on the field with him in those moments.

“I mean, that’s my job,” Bates said. “That’s what I’m here to do. Personally, I like to make my teammates better, so all the guys that want to play special teams and get better, that’s why we compete against each other, to see who can be better. We all are making plays and making our team better.”

It was Bates who made one of the biggest plays of last Sunday’s 42-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the Titans took a 21-3 lead on a 74-yard, Derrick Henry touchdown run, Bates forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and one play later Tennessee scored another touchdown.

In 103 appearances for three franchises (he also has played for the Raiders and Rams) he has made 66 tackles on special teams, including a team-leading nine this season. That was the first time he got the ball out and the first time he recovered a fumble in one of those situations.

“I was just running down the field trying to get a tackle and the ball just came out,” he said following the game. “… I just saw the ball and got to it.”

He made it sound simple, but his effort did not go unnoticed by his teammates, who were still hyped about it following the contest (see the above video).

Every team can use a player like Bates, who keeps guys around him loose and upbeat, who lightens the mood and who provides energy and animation that helps break up the monotony of a long season. Chances are not every team does.

Fewer still have a player like him, someone who often sees the field only in kicking situations and who survives in the league because of his ability to run down and cover kicks or block for returns. In this age of specialization, most players have at least a minimal role on offense or defense in addition to what they do on special teams.

“I think they were more prevalent maybe 10 or 15 years ago when there was some, certainly, [special teams] specialists, and that’s what they did,” Vrabel said. “… (Bates) understands that that’s his role on this team is to be a core special teams’ player, and to help the young guys that maybe aren’t as familiar with special teams in the NFL. He does that.”

Bates, though, has not been on the field with the defense since Sept. 29 at Atlanta. Then, it was only for two plays.

That does not mean he has not been busy, on or off the field.

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