Kokomo — Mike Otto doesn’t get recognized often when he’s out and about in Nashville, Tenn.
He likes it that way.
“Not too much,” the former Maconaquah and Purdue football standout said of being recognized. “A lot of times it’s ‘man, you’re really big, you must play football.’”
Being 6-foot-5 and tipping the scales at 310 pounds, it’s not easy to keep a low profile, but the fourth-year lineman for the Tennessee Titans prefers that attention go elsewhere.
“We’re not allowed to go out wearing any Titans gear at any time,” Otto said. It’s not a team rule or a coach’s rule, it’s a rule imposed on linemen by the veterans of the unit. “Offensive linemen mentality [is] never bring unwanted attention on yourself for any reason. We get noticed for being really big. Our faces are kind of anonymous.
“I think the mentality of being low key is kind of general [among linemen in the NFL] but the Titans take it to another level.”
Otto explained that the tradition dates back to when the franchise was in Houston. The linemen take more satisfaction in team achievements. Plus, on game days, there’s plenty of excitement to go around.
With the season starting this weekend, excitement is about to hit a fever pitch.
“It’s an incredible time,” Otto said. “It kind of finally feels like all the work that you’re putting in since the previous season is coming together.
“Fans of the game understand the hype and they’re excited because they get to go out and watch it. We feel that same kind of excitement, but it’s on a completely different level because we’re on the field. We feel the energy from the fans. It’s an unbelievable feeling and it’s a whole lot of fun.”
Tennessee hosts Oakland on Sunday in the team’s regular-season opener. Otto’s status for game day is uncertain. He played in two preseason games but had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee two weeks ago and his status is day-to-day. He’s not participating fully in practice yet but is holding out hope he’ll be cleared to play on Sunday.
Otto is in his fourth year with the Titans. After being drafted in the seventh round in 2007, he spent his first season on the practice squad, played in one regular season game and one playoff game in 2008, then played in 14 games last year.
Outside of his knee procedure, he’s feeling optimum.
“I feel solid,” Otto said. “Up until I had my knee scoped, I was having the best camp I have had since I’ve been here. I’m at the point where I know the offense so I can go out and play. I don’t have to sit around and think ‘who do I have to block and what do I have to do?’ I’ve got enough experience under my belt now that I can go out there and compete with anybody I’m playing against.”
Otto explained his duties are to play on special teams — field goals and kickoffs — and to back up both the right and left tackle spots manned by Michael Roos and David Stewart.
As the season begins, confidence is high. Otto thinks the Titans’ offense is strong enough to lead the team. Running back Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards last season. The Titans were 8-8, losing their first six games then surging to win eight of their last 10 to close the season.
Otto said the team mood is “extremely excited. We’ve got a back like Chris Johnson, who in our opinion is the best running back in the league. He can score a touchdown on any play. Being out there and watching him run is special. Our defense is revamped.
“It’s exciting. It’s the start of a new season. We feel like we can have a really good team and go out there and open some eyes.”
Sundays are the reward for a long work week. Otto explained his work day starts when he arrives at the team’s facilities around 6:30 a.m. to get prepared for practice. The on-field part of his work day is small compared to the amount of time spent in meetings to study the week’s opponent.
All the tedium evaporates on game days.
“It’s an incredible feeling — the culmination of everything that you’ve been working for our entire careers from middle school and high school to college,” Otto said. “Now you’re out there looking around and see the NFL shield on the field and NFL everything all around you.
“First time you run out of that helmet on the sidelines in the tunnel and see all the fans screaming for you, you realize ‘hey, this is the NFL stage, what I’ve been working for forever.’ It’s overwhelming.”