NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marcus Mariota says he probably wouldn’t throw the ball again in the same situation, not after seeing how close his pass came to being intercepted.
Luckily, Tennessee rookie Tajae Sharpe’s focus never wavered.
Instead, Sharpe caught the pass that Oakland cornerback Sean Smith just missed and finished off a 60-yard run in what Titans coach Mike Mularkey called a very impressive play.
“He doesn’t know if the guy’s cutting in front of him, or he’s about to take his head off,” Mularkey said.
“So to sit there and concentrate on the football coming to you when you probably don’t have good vision on it is very impressive on his part.”
That kind of attention to detail is what has turned a fifth-round draft pick out of Massachusetts into a receiver likely to start his first NFL game Sept. 11 when the Titans host the Minnesota Vikings in their season opener.
Not bad for a wide receiver whose small hands helped drop him further than Sharpe thought he should be drafted.
Leading the Football Bowl Subdivision with 111 catches last season couldn’t help the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Sharpe improve his draft status past 104th overall despite playing at the same school that produced Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.
“I kind of expected to drop a little bit coming from a smaller school,” Sharpe said of a program that moved up to FBS and didn’t become bowl eligible until 2013.
“I’m not going to agree with it myself. I feel like I deserve to be up there with the rest of the top receivers. But anybody has their own opinions and decisions to be made.”
Sharpe convinced the Titans new general manager Jon Robinson with his production and precise route-running.
Sharpe started 43 of 47 games in college and is UMass’ all-time leading receiver with 277 catches and 3,486 yards. As a senior, he had 1,319 yards receiving.
Once in Tennessee, Sharpe has worked his way up the depth chart quickly. He has been with the first-team offense since the end of the offseason program, a spot he hasn’t budged from since.
The native of Piscataway, New Jersey, now is poised to start along with veteran Rishard Matthews.
“I’m just happy I wound up here being a Titan,” Sharpe said. “I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. I ended up in a place I was supposed to be. I’m just thankful for this opportunity and just go out and make the most of it.”
The Titans went looking to give Mariota, the No. 2 pick overall in 2015, more help at wide receiver this offseason after tight end Delanie Walker led the team in both receptions (94) and yards receiving (1,088).
That helped Walker get to the Pro Bowl, but no wide receiver had more than 36 catches. Rookie Dorial Green-Beckham led the group with 549 yards receiving.
Robinson addressed the receiver group by signing Matthews from Miami in March, drafting Sharpe and then signing veteran Andre Johnson at the start of training camp. Those additions allowed Tennessee to trade Green-Beckham two weeks ago for a backup offensive lineman.
Through three preseason games, Sharpe has nine catches for 163 yards, averaging 18.1 yards per reception, to lead Tennessee (2-1) with the exhibition finale Thursday night at Miami (2-1).
“From the moment he’s got here, he’s been incredible,” Mariota said. “I mean he’s stepped on the field, he knows what he has to do. He knows his routes, and he consistently finds separation.
“It makes it easier on us quarterbacks because he’s a pretty wide target in terms of just his ability to catch a football and his ability to get open. Expectations with us are high for him, and we look forward to the season.”
Notes: WR Kendall Wright was sent home Tuesday with a high fever, so Mularkey said no update on the receiver’s left hamstring was available. Wright will stay in Nashville for treatment rather than go to Miami for the final preseason game. … The Titans waived RB David Cobb, a fifth-round pick out of Minnesota in 2015, and WR Jarrod West to reach the 75-man roster limit.
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