This is not the year to be an undrafted rookie in the NFL. The league has already trimmed the preseason schedule from four games to two and might eliminate the exhibitions altogether. For an undrafted first-year player like Cale Garrett, the mission to make the regular-season roster could be daunting.
Garrett, the former Mizzou linebacker, signed with the Tennessee Titans after the NFL draft. Last fall, his All-American campaign was cut short in the season’s fifth game when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle. He recovered in time to take part in the NFL combine but had to settle for a free-agent contract after going undrafted.
The NFL has already canceled Tennessee’s preseason games against Washington and Chicago. For now, the Titans have preseason games scheduled against the New York Giants Aug. 22 and at Tampa Bay on Aug. 29.
Garrett is one of seven undrafted rookies from Mizzou hoping to make rosters before the season starts, along with kicker/punter Tucker McCann (Titans), cornerback De’Markus Acy (49ers), offensive linemen Trystan Colon-Castillo (Ravens), Yasir Durant (Chiefs) Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms (Jaguars) and wide receiver Johnathon Johnson (Washington).
On Wednesday, Garrett spoke with the Post-Dispatch while driving from Columbia to Nashville, Tenn., where on Thursday he’ll undergo COVID-19 testing at Saint Thomas Sports Park, the Titans' practice facility, along with the team's quarterbacks and fellow rookies. The rest of the team is scheduled to report next Tuesday.
P-D: What was attractive about the Titans when you signed after the draft?
GARRETT: Being able to play for Coach (Mike) Vrabel and (linebackers) Coach Jim Haslett was super appealing as well as the opportunity to come in and compete. They didn’t draft a linebacker this year, so I just felt like this would be a good opportunity for me to contribute to a team and make a roster.
P-D: As an undrafted player do you go in thinking you have to make an impact on special teams?
GARRETT: Absolutely. That would have been my mindset. That should be everybody’s mindset coming in. What can I do to contribute? What can I do to help this team win ballgames and win Super Bowls? That has to be your mindset at the end of the day. I just want to play and win games.
P-D: When the draft came and went did you need time to to get over the disappointment or did you move on pretty quickly with the process?
GARRETT: It’s something that you definitely carry with you. It’s something that still bugs me. But I know you get everything you deserve. You earn the right to get drafted and you earn what you work for. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a drive to work even harder. I don’t look it as being upset. I look at it that it’s all on me. There’s so many other factors, but I’m going to control what I can control. Maybe that adds more of a chip.
P-D: What have you been able to do with the team since the pandemic shut everything down?
GARRETT: It was Zoom meetings for our OTAs (organized team activivities) and now it’s just been a dead period and they’ve kept us updated from week to week. We still don’t know what’s going on all the way. Things are still getting settled or they’re trying to between the PA (Players Association) and the owners and all that. There’s still a lot of uncertainties, but I’m just glad we’re getting to report, get tested and get to work and hopefully have football.
P-D: I know you like to travel and explore the world, but has the pandemic kept you at home for the most part?
GARRETT: Let’s see, I actually went to Gatlinburg after driving through Nashville and checking it out a little bit. One of my buddies has a rental cabin in Gatlinburg in the Smokies. I got out there and enjoyed it a lot. We did an 11-mile hike, my girlfriend and the dog we were fostering at the time. It was a great experience for all of us.
P-D: The fact that Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was one of those old-school linebackers in the NFL, how appealing was that for you?
GARRETT: It’s awesome to have what’s kind of like the same situation I had at Mizzou (under Barry Odom). I loved playing for a guy who’s a player’s coach. (Vrabel) played for so long and I think he arguably had a Hall of Fame career. Coach Haslett is also an old-school linebacker. He’s old-old school. I think he’s about 70. (He’s 64). But they’re both great guys and great coaches and have a lot of experience between them both as players and coaches.
P-D: With fewer preseason games how tough is it going to be for an undrafted guy in your situation to make a roster?
GARRETT: That’s a great question. I’m sure I’m going to find out soon. I’m hoping we get to those scrimmages or some intrasquad scrimmages. It’s the same situation: It’s up to me. I’m in control of whether I make the team or not. It’s a numbers game, too, but I’m going to give it my best shot and let things fall where they may. You have to look at the opportunity you have. I’m really looking forward to it.