NASHVILLE — To say Mason Kinsey isn’t the same player he was two years ago would be an understatement.
Then he was an undrafted rookie from a Division III school (Berry College) who had never sent a player to the NFL. He was a wide receiver with obvious physical gifts – elite speed, in particular – but had no significant experience dealing with the caliber of competition he suddenly faced every day in practice.
Kinsey brought a kid-like, wide-eyed candy store vibe to the field that made him the kind of underdog fans like to love, but didn’t exactly match the egos and accomplishments of those who borrowed. a much more traditional way. .
“He’s come a long way in that regard,” Tennessee Titans receivers coach Rob Moore said. “I think he understands that to survive in this league you have to have a certain professionalism to maintain the success you need. I think he got that part.
It would also be inaccurate, however, to say the 23-year-old has established himself as an NFL player, or that he’s certain to stay with the Titans once training camp and preseason are in. courses completed.
“He’s ready for the battle of his life right now,” Moore added.
The first obvious signs of Kinsey’s progress came last year in the preseason when he was the team’s leading receiver with 14 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. That was more than twice as many receptions and yards as anyone else in those three tune-up contests.
It was a clear indication that he could produce against NFL-caliber talent under playing conditions as opposed to 2020, his first year, when the preseason was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. All he did during the regular season was practice – he spent time on two teams’ practice squads.
Kinsey’s biggest milestone then came last October when he was an active roster addition for the Titans’ Week 7 game with the Kansas City Chiefs. He played just three snaps on offense and two on special teams in his NFL debut — a 27-3 triumph at Tennessee that, to this day, remains his entire official experience.
“It was exciting,” Kinsey said. “I had the occasion. Didn’t get a lot of shots, but just tried to make the most of it. It was a blessing for sure, just being there and seeing everyone in the stands. It was awesome. So that definitely gave me some motivation to come to camp this year.
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This year’s draft provided additional motivation.
The Titans selected UCLA wide receiver Kyle Philips in the fifth round. Both have similar builds — Kinsey is 5-foot-10, 202 pounds, Philips is 5-foot-11, 189 pounds — and both have skill sets that match what teams want in slot receivers. Each also serves as a punt returner.
Given the realities of roster building and Tennessee’s affinity for bigger wide receivers who can also make a difference as blockers in the running game, the odds that Kinsey and Philips will both be part of the roster of 53 players at the start of training camp are almost non-existent. .
“That’s what it’s all about – it’s about competition,” Kinsey said. “They’re going to make every room competitive, and I’m doing everything I can to help Kyle. It’s not like I don’t like Kyle or I think it’s this rivalry. That’s the job – come and compete.
One thing Kinsey has in his favor is experience, limited as it is in his case.
Although he only appeared in three preseason competitions and one in the regular season, he trained with and against NFL players for almost three weeks over the past two seasons. When the Titans cut him at the end of the 2020 preseason, the Patriots immediately signed him to their practice squad. When New England released him a month later, it took just three weeks before the Titans placed him on their practice squad, where he remained until the end. Each of the last two Januarys, Tennessee quickly locked him in with forward contracts, allowing him to be involved in all offseason work.
Along the way, he’s developed a deeper understanding of attack that he says allows him to play “faster, a little more comfortably.”
“His hard work, his dedication to learning this offense – not just the slots receiver, but being able to plug in and play anywhere – his versatility and reliability has been impressive over the years,” the offensive coordinator said. Todd Downing. “He came here a few years ago and he was just a bull in a china shop. Now he’s starting to understand where he fits in the program and how he can help and take advantage of opportunities.”
Now he has to find a way to stay for another season.
“You have to come here thinking like, ‘Somebody’s here to take my job,'” Kinsey said. “And I think that goes for everyone in the team. It doesn’t matter where you are, what position, how many years you’ve been in the league, you have to come thinking, ‘Somebody someone else is coming to try to take the job I want.”
“Every year is live or die.”