Darius Jennings has fought tirelessly for four years to make an NFL roster. With the Tennessee Titans, he might finally accomplish his goal.
Offensive starters for the Tennessee Titans played just one series in the team’s preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. That was a good decision on the Titans’ end.
After quarterback Marcus Mariota methodically drove the team straight down the field for a touchdown, there wasn’t anything left that the team needed to see.
The touchdown that Mariota threw was to receiver Darius Jennings, a fourth-year player out of the University of Virginia. The play itself was pretty uneventful.
With the ball on the four-yard line, Jennings ran a very simple in-route against cornerback Davon House. Mariota’s pass allowed him to stay on the move and dive across the goal-line for a touchdown.
The play itself might have been uneventful, but it represented something monumental. For Jennings, it was a sign of just how far he has come over the previous four seasons.
After going undrafted in 2015, Jennings was signed by the Cleveland Browns as a free agent. He was waived by the team during final roster cuts, ultimately finding a spot on the Browns’ practice squad.
Scoring Drive: 9 plays, 71 yards, 4:38 pic.twitter.com/vWcMUmmWZ0
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) August 10, 2018
Situations like that one have become a pattern for Jennings. Over his three NFL seasons thus far, he has been waived eight total times by four different teams (Cleveland, New York Jets, Chicago, and Tennessee).
It’s a moment—having a team tell you they don’t want you anymore—that Jennings has still not gotten used to despite it happening to him eight times in three years. “I understand it’s a business, but I’m a competitor. Every time I step on the field I feel like I belong. So when somebody tells you that they’re going to release you, it adds fuel to the fire.”
Jennings’ fate when he first joined the Titans prior to Training Camp last year was the same as his fate with the Browns, Bears, and Jets. He was waived by the Titans during final cuts and was added to the team’s practice squad after clearing waivers.
One year later, Jennings situation with the Titans is far different. Instead of being a longshot to even get a spot on the practice squad, it is looking more and more like he is a lock to be on the team’s 53 man roster when the season begins in early September.
Jennings recognizes and understands the unique position he has found himself in. “I wouldn’t say that it’s just starting to go right—I feel like it’s always right—but things are definitely going well right now.”
Usually, a player who has been cut as many times as Jennings has gets metaphorically swept under the rug during Training Camp. That hasn’t been the case for him so far in 2018.
Instead, people inside the Titans organization haven’t been able to say enough good things about him. He’s also backed up their words by making a litany of nice plays on the field during practices.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota and offensive coordinator have each expressed the trust they have for Jennings, affectionately known to them as “DJ.” Head coach Mike Vrabel has also not had a shortage of good things to say about Jennings.
“I think that he’s a true pro,” said Vrabel on just the fourth day of Training Camp. “I think he’s a guy that competes, studies, and knows where to be. I think the quarterbacks are starting to like him. He’s very decisive on his routes, they trust him. They trust him that he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be.”
On Saturday, the thirteenth day of practice, Vrabel doubled down. “He’s doing great. He’s done that since the spring—he’s competed. Another thing is he’s been out there every single day. He hasn’t taken a day off, he hasn’t had a knick, he just goes out, catches the balls, and makes plays.”
Historically, Titans fans have loved to root for the underdog. They did it with Marc Mariani, a seventh-round draft pick turned Pro Bowler, and countless other players, some of whom did not see the success that Mariani did.
Jennings should be Titans fans’ new player to root for. He is a guy that deserves to be rooted for.
Not only does Jennings have a great underdog story within the NFL, but he is a genuinely good man outside of it. He does a good bit of charity work in his hometown of Baltimore with “Next One Up,” a program that provides mentorship and leadership opportunities to at-risk youth.
It’s a program that has a lot of importance for Jennings. “It’s right in my hometown–I’m from Baltimore. With Next One Up, just giving kids that opportunity. Get them off the streets, make sure they’re focused, help them with their homework, help them work out. Just trying to give them that outlet and platform to succeed in life.”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) August 6, 2018
If good karma is real, Jennings is starting to see rewards come his way. His hard work on the field and his generosity off of it are beginning to pay off.
Despite being able to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, Jennings remains humble. He knows that the battle, one he’s been fighting for nearly four years, is not over yet. “There are still 90 guys on the team. They haven’t cut the roster down to 53, so you have to come out here every day…You learn how to do that throughout the business. I’ve been cut eight times, you can’t get too high too early.”
What would it mean to Jennings if he is finally able to make an initial 53 man roster? “Two out of the past three years I’ve been on the active roster but just not week one day one. To do that is definitely a goal. I feel as though it should be everybody’s goal out here—that’s how you make this team better. That’s how we become great.”
If there’s a guy to root for as Training Camp and the preseason begin to wind down, it’s Jennings. He deserves everything coming his way.
We will learn Jennings’ fate on September 1, when NFL clubs must trim their rosters from 90 to 53. Every indication to this point is that Jennings will, and should, be a part of the 53.
Cover image via Titans Online.