Make no mistake, Ryan Tannehill loves throwing the ball to A.J. Brown.
The Tennessee Titans quarterback has hooked up with Brown more than any other pass catcher since he became the starter midway through the 2019 season. Brown has accumulated 1,000 yards in both and made his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2020.
But as the 2021 season approaches, Tannehill needs to develop a rapport with other wide receivers, tight ends and backs. For all intents and purposes, his relationships with the others on the roster pale in comparison to the connection he shares with Brown. Few are established as NFL players.
This week’s organized team activities (OTAs) provided Tannehill an opportunity to get to know – in a professional sense – free-agent additions and rookies looking to become trusted targets given that Brown has yet to take part in the voluntary workouts.
“Not having A.J. gives us opportunities to see what the other guys we have can do,” Tannehill said. “They’re getting more reps. They’re getting moved around to different spots.
“I love throwing A.J. The ball. But there are opportunities that are created by him not being out there. It’s been fun to see those guys work and we’re going to continue doing it.”
One of the receivers Tannehill is getting to know this spring is Josh Reynolds, who signed with the Titans in March after four years with the Los Angeles Rams.
Reynolds was mostly a role player with the Rams behind the likes of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Fresh off the best statistical season of his career, he comes to the Titans with his sights set on a larger role.
The two have a built-in bond because both played collegiately at Texas A&M.
“He’s an A&M guy,” Tannehill said of Reynolds. “I’ve been a fan since he was playing back at College Station [Texas] and following him off to the Rams. I know kind of that he brings to the table. … He’s tall, rangy, great hands. Excited for him to join the team.”
In addition to Reynolds, rookie wide receivers, including fourth-round pick Dez Fitzpatrick (Louisville) and sixth-round pick Racey McMath (LSU), want to carve out roles for themselves.
For Tannehill, establishing relationships with them is all about learning on and off the field.
“They’re learning a new playbook,” Tannehill said. “We’re really just trying to get those guys up to speed with how we do things around here. As a quarterback, I am trying to help them see the game the way I see it. Just coaching them through routes and varying coverages.
“A lot of information they’re learning right now. It’s just a matter of being able to learn a little bit each and every day.”
Brown surely will continue to get his targets in 2021. The 6-foot, 227-pound 23-year-old has established himself as one of the top young wide receivers in the game.
But with so many unknowns currently behind him on the roster, Tannehill acknowledged that the Titans need to get creative in their efforts to get him the ball this season.
“A.J. is not going to sneak up on anybody,” Tannehill said. “Everyone knows the talent he has. It’s a big opportunity for the guys that we have to find opportunities to get open.
“A.J. will continue to do his thing and we’ll have to be creative and make sure he gets his opportunities. As I said, teams are going to account for A.J., and it’s going to be a team effort.”