NASHVILLE – Taylor Lewan’s larger-than-life persona has been a Tennessee Titans constant for almost a decade now.
He is an entertainer extraordinaire, a wise-cracking, sharp-witted smart aleck, who – along with former teammate Will Compton – has crafted a national following for their “Bussin’ with the Boys” podcast.
One of Lewan’s favorite social media catchphrases: No Bad Days.
But in talking to media Tuesday, the seemingly ever-upbeat Lewan revealed he does indeed have bad days, and that in fact, his 2021 season probably featured at least as many of them as it did good ones.
He began by taking us back to the 2021 offseason – still in the process of recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in October of 2020 – when Lewan couldn’t even run until about month before the start of training camp.
Lewan’s limited physical preparation and the resultant loss of confidence predictably made for a nightmare of a season-opener. He was the primary culprit when the Titans surrendered six sacks in a 38-13 loss to Arizona, his play so disappointing that Lewan was booed by home fans when – after suffering from cramps – his return to the game was announced.
Things gradually improved as the season progressed, but his overall performance didn’t match the Pro-Bowl levels he showed earlier in his career. The team’s offensive struggles didn’t help, nor did the top-seeded Titans’ upset loss to visiting Cincinnati in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“Last year – let’s not get it twisted, that **** was ******* miserable,” Lewan said Tuesday. “You guys can bleep that out … but seriously, that **** was miserable. The first game was terrible. … The middle (and) the end of the year, things started going well. But damn, it was not fun. Every week was like you’re not feeling your best.”
What Lewan did about those crushing feelings of personal and team disappointment, however, was encouraging.
Instead of simply allowing those negative thoughts to run hard-charging sprints through his mind, Lewan tripped them up by reaching out for help.
“You’re making 100 excuses in your head and then you get down, and you’ve got to go unpack all those things,” Lewan said. “You can’t pretend it didn’t happen. I had to go and talk to a lot of people and figure that stuff out, unpack that stuff. Once we did, I feel a whole lot better. I feel like more like myself than I ever have.”
Not The First
If that theme sounds like a familiar one, it should.
Only weeks ago, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill revealed that he sought – and benefited from -- therapy in the aftermath of a sub-par season that ended with three interceptions in the playoff loss.
“It's a deep scar," Tannehill said. “Every time I closed my eyes I kind of re-watched the game. I didn't get a whole lot of sleep for weeks. I was in a dark place, and it took me a while, a lot of work to get out of it.
“I've worked through it, but therapy, talking to people, time helped. It took a lot of work to get through it.”
The decision of two franchise cornerstones to share their mental-health struggles – and their means of coping with them -- just so happened to occur in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.
But we know these types of issues – whether in the sports world or otherwise – occur on a regular basis.
Think back to last November, for instance, when former Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown detailed a depression so deep in 2020 that he considered taking his own life. He also climbed out of his dark hole by reaching out for professional help, and by talking to one of his closest friends – New York Jets receiver Elijah Moore.
“It was a dark moment,” said Brown, who posted a social-media video about his experience. “It just came with my heart that I wanted to share with others and help others so much as I can.”
The fact that more and more NFL players are opening up about mental-health issues is beneficial in a number of ways:
• It continues to reduce any remaining stigma surrounding the significance of mental-health concerns, delivering the message to professional athletes that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
• It shows that NFL teams recognize the importance of supporting their players’ mental health, as illustrated by Titans coach Mike Vrabel last season in regards to Brown.
“I do appreciate (Brown’s) courage and willingness to share that message,” Vrabel said at the time. “The mental health of our staff --everybody in this building -- is something I focus on very regularly. That’s a huge part of our business and what we do.”
• The elevated platform of NFL players such as Brown, Tannehill and Lewan means their message is delivered to a multitude of people who are not professional athletes, encouraging them to follow similar paths.
In the moments following the Titans’ OTA session on Tuesday, an energized Lewan looked happier than ever, trading light-hearted barbs with reporters before offering a self-evaluation much improved from last year.
“Being out here now is already a world of difference to me,” Lewan said. “I can put a helmet on. I’m not gasping for air after four or five plays – (going) through a whole period and I’m laughing, talking trash with the boys. It’s a good time.
“Football is now fun for me again. If there’s any difference you want to know between last year and this year, I’m enjoying the hell out of myself now.”
No Bad Days? That’s a stretch.
But Lewan is the latest Titans player to show he can effectively deal with them.