When Jonnu Smith exited the Titans as a free agent in the off-season, many presumed that Anthony Firkser would step in and fill that void.
After all, Firkser had 39 catches, nearly matching Smith's 2020 total of 41 receptions.
But in 2021, Firkser's role didn't change all that much. He still was pegged into much of the same third-down receiving tight end and occasional H-back role, rather than more of an every-down tight end role that Smith had held.
Firkser also dealt with a knee injury that kept him out of two games in September, and though the Titans never said as much, probably slowed his progress for awhile even after he returned.
The result was a bit of a disppointing season statistically for Firkser, who needed a late flurry of receptions to finish with 34 catches for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Those scores came in the Titans final two games of the regular season, including their first score Sunday in Houston.
Of late, however, Firkser has started to pick up the pace, returning to form as a reliable pass-receiving option for Ryan Tannehill over the middle and in the red zone. Though Firkser had at least one catch in all 15 games in which he played, in the last two regular-season games, he has picked up the pace with seven catches for 80 yards and two scores.
So what has triggered Firkser's sudden re-emergence?
“I think Anthony is playing with more confidence. I think he has done a better job chipping when we have asked him to chip, and I think that has given him a lot of confidence, just for him to be able to start that,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “I felt like that really improved in the 49ers game, and then when we have asked him to go out on routes, he has gotten into routes quicker. He had some really nice plays yesterday. I think the confidence level has really improved there.”
Firkser's resurgence has come at a good time with the Titans readying for the playoffs as the top seed in the AFC. In fact, Vrabel said he is going to use Firker's boost as a teaching moment for the entire Titans team during the bye as a way to measure areas of improvement.
“It is a great lesson. One that we are going to use this week,” Vrabel said. “I have asked the coaches – I have started to compile a list of one thing that each guy can do whether that is physically, mentally, technique, understanding what we are asking them to do, just one thing and try to make sure that everybody knows what that is that we are asking them to focus on. That can be a great reminder of taking care of the little things and letting the other things take care of themselves.”