sports 4 days ago

Ex-Seabreeze, B-CU star Eric Weems embracing new role, searching for first ring

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. — Zach Dean The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Jan. 12--DAYTONA BEACH -- Eric Weems had seen this movie before.

The former Bethune-Cookman and Seabreeze star, now with his third NFL team -- the Tennessee Titans -- knew last weekend's 21-3 halftime deficit to the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs wasn't insurmountable. Compared to what he experienced just 11 months ago as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, this was nothing.

"I knew we could come back, I was on the other side of it last year," Weems said of Atlanta's 28-3, Super Bowl collapse that will forever live in New England football lore. "It's a four quarter game. Guys came into the locker room, and they were so poised. Nobody was too high or low. It felt good to be on this side of the comeback this time around."

The Titans would go on to stun the Chiefs, 22-21, for their first playoff win in 15 years. For Weems, it put the veteran one step closer to a return trip to the Super Bowl, something the 32-year-old admitted has been on his mind a lot as he enters the back-half of his career.

"My only goal is to win it all," he said. "Once I do that, I'll look back and reflect (on my career). I'm not satisfied with just getting here anymore. I want that ring."

The former Wildcat, who starred at the school from 2003-07, has been the definition of an NFL Journeyman.

Despite a stellar four years at B-CU, Weems went undrafted in 2007 and signed with the Falcons as a free agent. He didn't see the field his rookie season until the final game, and didn't record his first career catch until Week 12 the following season -- a 4-yard reception against Carolina.

In 2009, Falcons receiver Harry Douglas went down with a knee injury, opening the door for Weems to see more playing time, both as a receiver and kick returner. The ex-Sandcrab finally found his footing on special teams, returning 48 kicks for 1,214 yards -- both Top 10 in the league.

"He's a lunch-pail guy and has been since the second I met him," said former B-CU quarterback, and current offensive coordinator Allen Suber, who played with Weems during the 2003 season. "We spent the whole summer together coming into his freshman year. I was just trying to figure out how we would implement him into the offense and what his skill-set would be.

"After that first game, I knew he was the best freshman I'd ever been around."

That first game was one of the most lopsided openers in Bethune-Cookman history -- a 62-14 drubbing of Savannah State in the 50th Gateway Classic, at Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium. Weems finished with five catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns -- two rushing and two receiving.

"We had some talented guys back then," laughed Suber. "There weren't very many freshman who came in and made impacts. It's not like it is today. He put in an unbelievable amount of work, starting with that first summer. None of the success he's had has been a surprise to me. He loves life and he loves football. I don't remember a day where he didn't want to practice."

Weems had a two-year stint with the Chicago Bears in 2012-13, before returning to Atlanta the following season.

But Weems' finest professional season came in 2010, where he finished sixth in the league with 1,100 kick return yards and a touchdown, and 230 punt return yards and a touchdown. He also recorded 16 tackles on special teams, was the only player in the NFC to return a kick and a punt for a score, and was named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team.

Later that year, Weems etched his name in the history books, returning a kick 102 yards for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional game. To this day, that play is still the longest in postseason history.

"Guys at my age, they have a lot of crazy experiences," laughed Weems.

It's been seven years since that playoff moment, and, admittedly, a lot has changed for the one-time electric return man. For starters, he's no longer in Atlanta.

The Falcons chose not to resign him this past offseason despite a decent 2016 season -- he was seventh in the league with 273 punt return yards, including a 73-yarder against Oakland in Week 2. Weems was signed by the Titans early last spring, but was cut a week before the season. Ironically, it was another Harry Douglas knee injury that re-opened a roster spot on Tennessee, and Weems was brought back.

"He's a very good special teams player, and that is really where his role lies," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said last spring. "He can play personal protector on punts, he can play an inside position on kickoffs, and he has returned both kickoffs and punts. That kind of versatility ... that's a pretty rare dude.'"

That versatility has come in handy this year, as Weems no longer returns kicks. Early in the season, he was surpassed on the depth chart by exciting rookie Adoree' Jackson.

"The main thing I tell him is to take care of the ball," said Weems, who now plays primarily on the kick coverage units, recording nine tackles in 16 games. "I'm out there blocking for him, so it's up to us to spring him free. You know, times change. Guys coming up (like Adoree') with zero experience, sometimes you need guys that have been there before and are able to calm them down. They need that type of leadership."

That will be especially true Saturday night in Foxborough, when the Titans -- once again a double-digit underdog -- face the New England Patriots with a spot in the AFC title game on the line.

For Weems, it will be his eighth career postseason game, good for fourth-most on the team and second-most in B-CU history. More importantly, however, it's against the Patriots, the team that ripped that elusive ring off his finger nearly one year ago.

"Come ready to play," Weems said of advice he's given the players leading up to Saturday night. "They're a great team and they give maximum effort. They're well coached. You have to be ready to come out ready to play and have your head on straight. That's the main thing, just be yourself. Keep calm, don't get too excited and come ready to play. I'm looking forward to it."

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