Shortly after Kevin Aldridge said “I do,” he found himself muttering “I do?”
Aldridge and his new bride Lyndsey had only been married for a couple of weeks this off-season when the Tennessee Titans approached him suggesting he needed to play this spring in NFL Europe.
As it turned out, Aldridge, an undrafted free agent who spent five weeks on Tennessee’s active roster a year ago, says a two-month stay with the Barcelona Dragons has been worthwhile, even if it has meant only seeing his better half for her one week-and-a-half visit.
“When they first asked me, I didn’t think I needed to go, but now I’m glad they sent me,” Aldridge said. “It surprised me that I’d be going to Europe, especially just two weeks after getting married. It was a tough decision. At first, I didn’t think it was a good idea coming over here, but I’m getting experience that I wouldn’t get in just mini-camp.”
Tennessee’s primary reason for shipping Aldridge abroad was not to make his heart grow fonder by his absence from Lyndsey, but to help him learn the ropes as he makes the transition from defensive end to defensive tackle.
“The thing that he needed was playing time,” Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. “He hadn’t gotten a lot of playing time and when he did get in, he mostly played defensive end. We thought if we could get him in a situation where he could get in both spots and get on film, it would help him.”
Moving to tackle could certainly help Aldridge’s chance come training camp. There is little room at defensive end, what with Jevon Kearse expected back healthy along with a group that includes veterans Kevin Carter, Carlos Hall and Juqua Thomas.
But the situation at tackle, at least for now, is a different story. The Titans lost veteran John Thornton to Cincinnati as a free agent, and let Henry Ford go as a cap cut. That leaves Robaire Smith and Albert Haynesworth as starters with fourth-round rookie Rien Long, untested James Atkins and a host of undrafted rookies to battle Aldridge for a shot at the 53-man roster and a spot in the four-man tackle rotation.
“I’m definitely excited about that,” said Aldridge, whose NFL Europe season has one more week, plus perhaps the World Bowl. “I want to leave here and be another NFL Europe surprise story. They only drafted one tackle, so I feel like it’s my job to lose. I’m pretty excited about it.”
To help make the transition inside, Aldridge has put on about 15 pounds, helping him gain some additional strength.
“I was around 269 or 271 when I left, and I’m in the 285 range now,” he said. “The extra weight is adapting well to my body. I haven’t had any problems. It’s not like I’m having a hard time breathing or being in shape or anything.”
The 6-1 Aldridge has acquitted himself well in his new position, with 23 total tackles, including 13 solo stops. He also has a half a sack to his credit for the Dragons, who are in a three-way tie for second at 5-4 entering this week’s game.
“I’m having a pretty good year. I’m learning a lot of things and working on a lot of things that the coaches want me to work on,” Aldridge said. “The coaches wanted to me to move to defensive tackle and get myself familiar with it.
“That position is a lot more physical. You have to prepare for double teams, and you’ve got to be mentally tough. It’s not for everybody.”
The reports the Titans have received on Aldridge are encouraging enough.
“From what we’ve seen and hard, he’s practiced hard and played hard,” Reese said. “He’s gotten nicked a little bit and missed a little practice time, but other than that, I would think the coaches would say they’ve been impressed with him.”
Now the big question is how much Aldridge can impress the Titans upon his return and whether or not his additional work in Europe will hinder him physically once the rigors of training camp begin to take their toll.
“We’ll get around five weeks off [before camp] or if we go to the World Bowl, then four weeks,” Aldridge said. “[The practices are] real laid back. So my body feels great. I’ve got a couple of nicks, but other than that, I’m ready to go play.”
And ready to return to Nashville to see his wife.
The Titans remained quiet on the first day of post-June 1 free agency. Reese said he did not anticipate any moves Monday, regarding restructure, releases or signings of any players. The Titans have only about $950,000 worth of cap space, and hope to add punter Craig Hentrich and perhaps quarterback Neil O’Donnell and center Gennaro DiNapoli back to their roster in the coming weeks.