NASHVILLE — A few days ago, as the Tennessee Titans rookies were being introduced to the rest of the squad, there appeared to be quite a logjam of former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga players among the newbies.
This apparently caused several of the veterans to turn to third-year Titans offensive lineman Corey Levin with a singular question: "Corey, what's up with all these Mocs?"
Indeed, in addition to Levin, there were three more former Mocs on the 86-man training-camp roster when the Titans staged their first practice Friday: defensive lineman Isaiah Mack, defensive back Kareem Orr and wide receiver Joseph Parker. All of them hope to eventually make Tennessee's team as either an active roster member or practice squad player, as Levin first did in the fall of 2017.
"It was a good day, but I've still got a lot to learn," said Mack, whose cousin, former City High and University of Memphis product Tony Brown was a mainstay on the Titans' defensive line for five seasons from 2006 through 2010.
Added Orr following Friday's practice: "It was great. Some things I've got to work on technique-wise. But it was good. Just got to keep working."
Said Parker, who caught a couple of passes thrown by Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota: "It was kind of surreal; it was really cool."
It all started for the three rookies on the final day of the draft, which somewhat ironically took place in Nashville. Almost as soon as it had ended and their names hadn't been called, Titans representatives reached out to each of them about attending rookie camp.
"I'd talked to them at both our pro day at Chattanooga and Tennessee's pro day in Knoxville," Parker said. "I really liked the culture here. I thought this would be a good fit."
So the three of them all wound up in rookie camp not long after the draft, and all three remained with the team for six weeks of workouts before being sent home for five weeks from mid-June until late-July. They reconvened at the Titans' Saint Thomas Sports Park headquarters just north of Nashville on Thursday.
And if it seemed as if that trio, plus Levin, made up a good chunk of the roster, at least part of that was due to their alphabetical spots on the roster.
Of those 86 names, Levin stands 47th, Mack 53rd, Orr 57th and Parker 59th. That means the team is hearing "University of Tennessee at Chattanooga" a lot in a short period of time. Then again, the Mocs did begin camp with the most alumni on the training camp roster with four. By comparison, the University of Tennessee had one: linebacker LaTroy Lewis.
The credit for that, if anything more than a happy accident, may go to Levin, whose professionalism and work ethic were an immediate hit with the Titans coaches.
In fact, choosing almost the same words that Levin used early in his rookie season, Parker said of first impressions after Friday's workout: "Just paying attention to the little things. Little things mean so much. Every detail's important."
Said Mack of Levin: "He's been a good guy. I lived with Corey for a little bit when I first got here. He's always been able to keep me on my toes."
Added Orr: "(Levin's) been talking to us some, letting us know none of us is here by accident."
Orr has a special reason for wanting to make the Titans: his young daughter Scottie Jade Orr, who's coming up to see him in camp on Saturday. Until then he intends to "keep my head down and keep improving my technique."
For Mack, he'll no doubt try to remember all Brown has been teaching him over the past few weeks.
"I got a Tennessee Titans football when I was in elementary school," said Mack, who starred at Northwest Whitfield High School before signing with UTC.
"I remember seeing the Titans and (Atlanta) Falcons scrimmage one time at Coahulla Creek High School. I've been a big Titans fan for a long time, probably because of Tony, who's worked with me a lot this summer."
The Titans actually face the Falcons in a regular-season game in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 29. Whether any or all of the Mocs currently on the Titans roster will be there that day remains to be seen, though it would be a shock for Levin not to be in the offensive line rotation.
Still, it has to be a good sign for the UTC program moving forward that the Titans' training camp began with more Mocs on the roster than any other school. It's a better sign that Keionta Davis is on the New England Patriots roster for a third straight season with a chance to earn a second Super Bowl ring. Throw in former Mocs C.J. Board (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Tae Davis (New York Giants), plus the Hall of Fame career of Terrell Owens, and the school's NFL footprint can stack up quite nicely against the vast majority of FCS programs.
None of that guarantees anything to rookies Mack, Orr and Parker. When you weren't drafted, the chances of making it are fairly small.
But one thing Mack said early Friday afternoon following his first workout against the veterans at least shows that he's been well-prepared by Brown, Levin and his former UTC coaches for what awaits him in the days and, hopefully, weeks to come.
"Everything that's minor in college," he noted, "is major at this level."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.