Relentless. Selfless. Integrity. A dream to coach. Unique.
Those were just a few of the ways Donnie Yantis and Derek Hagan described Tennessee Titans undrafted rookie tight end Tommy Hudson. Yantis, former tight ends coach at Arizona State, and Hagan, currently an offensive assistant with the Sun Devils, would know best.
Hudson, who played 39 games at ASU over five seasons, will have a chance to make the same impression on the Titans’ coaching staff this summer.
In an era where tight ends have become weapons in the passing game, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder was primarily utilized as a blocker in a run-heavy offense during his college career. That, according to Yantis and Hagan, didn’t bother Hudson. Instead, it revealed something else: a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win football games.
“He is always a team-first guy, and that shows up on a daily basis,” Hagan, who is Arizona State’s all-time leading receiver, said. “He always tries to lead by example. He always tries to push his teammates. That’s the type of guy you want on the field at all times. He bought in.”
Added Yantis: “He's going to give you everything you want, everything you need, and everything he has. He's a true team player. He wants to win. He wants to help the team win. He’s selfless.
“At ASU, we just didn't throw the tight ends the ball very much and he never lost his motivation. He does whatever it takes to win. If he needs to insert in the run game at be a factor that way, he’ll do it.”
Hudson’s experience as a run blocker will be valuable as he fights for a spot on the Titans’ roster. In 2019, Tennessee finished third in the NFL in rushing offense with 445 attempts for 2,223 yards and 21 touchdowns. Running back Derrick Henry led the league with 1,504 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We really worked his technique the last couple of years on the back-sided zone, inside zone, front-sided zone, and he’s got some inside zone experience,” Yantis said. “With Derrick Henry there, I know that will motivate Tommy. Tommy is going to do everything in his power to create that gap or cut-back lanes when you’re running an inside zone on the backside.”
Hudson’s strength as a blocker belies the fact that he is a natural athlete with soft hands, who can catch if need be. Despite a lack of reps, Hudson also has strong knowledge of route combinations, route trees, route leverage and more, according to Yantis.
“He has good ball skills. Excellent hands. Soft hands,” Yantis said. “When you're talking about a natural at catching the football, he's a natural. The guy can throw the ball 65 to 70 yards too. He’s a good athlete. He played baseball and basketball in high school. He’s a big kid that can help the Titans.”
What stood out to Hudson’s coaches most, though, was his preparation off of the field.
In the meeting room, Yantis said Hudson took notes like a quarterback and never shied away from sharing his input when something went wrong on the practice field.
“He’s really a dream player to coach. He’s very intelligent. He’s very detail oriented,” Yantis said. “He writes down every single thing that we talked about in our installed meetings, our individual meetings, team meetings and offensive meetings. He would carry that all out onto the field. If we did something funky in a practice, he’d say, ‘Hey, coach, in a meeting we said we are going to do this.’ He would actually correct me. That’s a good thing.”
Hagan played eight seasons in the NFL, the last with Tennessee (2014). He noted that oftentimes the NFL game can be more mental than physical and that is what will give Hudson a chance.
“Once you teach him how to do something, he’s going to process it,” Hagan said. “He’s going to try to take what you’re teaching him on the practice field to the games. Everybody is great. You got guys who are talented across the board. You got defensive lineman who can run 4.5’s and 4.4’s. Guys can move.
“The mental side is big. Once you can understand what’s going on before it even happens, it’s going to help you out 10 times more.”
Yantis sees no problem with that.
“He understands the concepts. It’s exactly what we taught him at ASU,” he said. “He’s been able to have some one-on-one time with the tight ends coach. That’s a bonus for him. Tommy will study that (playbook) like the back of his hand.”
The Titans have three veteran tight ends under contract (Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt and Anthony Firkser), and they added another unproven player early in the offseason (Cole Herdman). They also have Parker Hesse, a converted fullback who spent all of 2019 on the practice squad.
Hudson is the biggest of the bunch. And he has an outsized work ethic.
“They’re going to see a guy who is striving for greatness, and that’s going to push himself to the limit. He’s going to keep going and going until he wins. There’s no quit in Tommy Hudson,” Hagan said.
Added Yantis: “It would not shock me at all if Tommy made the roster and played for the Titans.”