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January 16, 2013

Mooney was ready when Titans called upon him

Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak kept his instructions simple when he sent the former Army fullback Collin Mooney into the NFL team's season finale.

"Just go in there, get four yards and keep the clock running," Mooney shared.

The West Point grad carried out Munchak's orders as he replaced Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson for his first snaps from scrimmage in his rookie season. Mooney ran the ball four times for 22 yards and two first downs on his first four attempts. Then the game ended on his final carry, a 3-yard loss as time expired, for an official season total of five carries, 19 yards.

But the two plays that stood out were eight yards on a third-and-7 from the Jaguars' 46 and six yards on first-and-5 from the Jaguars' 33 -- first down, first down.

"It was a good opportunity for me," Mooney said. "We just ran the same play and ran out the clock."

A good finish, yes, but Mooney had already impressed the Titans and been rewarded before the Jacksonville game. He spent 14 of the 16 games on the practice squad playing any role that needed to be filled -- fullback, running back, tight end and even linebacker.

He was activated for the season's 12th game against Houston to replace an injured player, although his playing time was limited to special teams.

I'm signed on for the next two years. I know they want me around, which is a good sign. Hopefully I established myself this year and I can do better next year.
- Tennessee Titans' Fullback, Collin Mooney

He was sent back to the practice squad and then activated for the season finale against Jacksonville. But this time the Titans didn't sign him to the standard NFL contract. They tagged on two more years to the deal that carries him through the 2014 season.

"I feel good," Mooney said. "I'm signed on for the next two years. I know they want me around, which is a good sign. Hopefully I established myself this year and I can do better next year."

The Titans' depth chart for the final game listed two fullbacks and three running backs, but NFL depth charts are fluid entering the offseason. There are free agency, possible trades and the NFL draft. Mooney isn't listed on the depth chart, but the 5-foot-11, 247-pounder has played both fullback and running back. He figures to be in the mix somewhere when the players return for offseason workouts and then training camp.

Not a bad way to finish the season -- especially with the way it began.

On the Titans' first day in pads in training camp, Mooney's gamble to opt out of his Army commitment after serving three yearsfor a shot at making an NFL roster suffered a sudden pop -- as in a torn knee cartilage.

In the dog-eat-dog world of the NFL, knee surgery in training camp for an undrafted free agent means a quick release. The team writes him an injury release check and washes its hands. The chances of catching on with another team are slim.

Mooney understood this and put off surgery and kept practicing. It was a decision that required grit, but unlike other football players, West Pointers say football practice is the easiest part of their day. Mooney finished training camp, 14 weeks on the practice squad and two more on the active roster before he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery following the final game.

"They told me after the season they appreciated the way I handled being injured and still able to practice and play," Mooney said. "I knew I was expendable and I had to deal with it and just push through it."

Mooney said when he was injured he talked with the team doctors and they told him he wasn't risking further injury if he kept playing. Munchak also talked with Mooney, and the former NFL offensive lineman said he understood what Mooney was dealing with by trying to get through the season.

"He knew what it was like that helped me make my decision," Mooney said. "It was uncomfortable at times, but it didn't hinder the way I could play."

Uncomfortable is a word that also describes Army alums following their favorite team as the Black Knights finished with a 2-10 record, including an 11th straight loss to Navy.

But Army's 1,000-yard rusher in the 2008 season says keep moving forward.

"Everyone just has to stay positive," Mooney said. "I see a lot of Facebook and Twitter posts with people getting down about it. But I don't want to be like some of the other alums saying you should do this or do that. We've got to stay positive and keep working. We'll get there." ** To chat with other Army fans about this article and more, please visit The 12th Knight message board.**



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