Troy Walters, who backed up Cris Carter at the end of his career, gave a few breathers to rookie Calvin Johnson and in between once ran a reverse behind a Peyton Manning block, saw how to get to Canton during 98 games and eight seasons with four teams as a Stanford-smart-steel-belted-second-line NFL wide receiver.
But Walters took a more circuitous route back to the pros to coach, a 10-year paid-his-dues sojourn through six colleges that included a stint as the wide receivers coach at Texas A&M with a room of graduate assistants by the name of Zac Taylor, Ben Martin and Clint Kubiak. One day Walters told them, "You guys remember me when you're head coaches."
"Those guys were very thorough and they worked their tails off," said Walters this week, his first as the Bengals assistant wide receivers coach. "I wasn't surprised when Zac got the job. Very detailed and he was the only coach that knew all the signals. If something happened to him, we were in trouble."
Taylor, in his second season as Bengals head coach who counts Martin as his offensive line assistant, sent some signals with the two hires that rounded out his staff for 2020. Neither Walters nor assistant special teams coach Colt Anderson has coached a snap in the NFL. But they played for a combined 16 NFL seasons with Anderson, an undrafted safety, playing in 84 games during eight seasons with three teams while earning a rep as a smart, resourceful special teams player under some highly regarded kicking game coaches.
"They will be able to use the traits that made them great players in this league to help our players now," said Taylor in a news release announcing the hires and sending the message he wants it done smartly with reliable players.
At 43, Walters is one of those fortuitous finds for an NFL team. A guy with a hard-to-argue-with resume. When he was the offensive coordinator coaching the receivers at Central Florida in 2017, Walters was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award that is given to the top assistant coach in the nation before leaving with head coach Scott Frost to become his offensive coordinator at Nebraska.
Now he'll team with Bob Bicknell, the Bengals' third-year receivers coach that has led four receivers to five 1,000-yard seasons with four NFL teams now that Tyler Boyd has checked in with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
And here comes Walters, who backed up three 1,000-yard seasons in Minnesota (one by Carter, two by Randy Moss), seven in Indianapolis (four by Marvin Harrison, two by Reggie Wayne, one by Brandon Stokley) and one in Arizona (Anquan Boldin). In Arizona he saw Larry Fitzgerald miss 1,000 by 54 yards and in that first year in Detroit Calvin Johnson fell more than 200 shy of 1,000.
He's seemingly played with most of the greats this century and says Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has that kind of greatness.
"He's in that class with those guys," Walters said. "What is so impressive to me about him is how he plays and how he carries himself and what Bob and the guys here say about him. No ego. First class."
Walter took plenty of notes during his four seasons with head coach Tony Dungy's Colts early in the century. Dungy, Harrison and running back Edgerrin James are in the Hall. Manning is a lock next year. Wayne was a finalist earlier this month.
"That group in Indy, we really worked hard," said Walters, who got his 1,135 yards on 102 career catches. "We came to work every day. We had fun playing the game, but we came to work. The tone is set by the No. 1 receiver. And Marvin was a just a real pro. Every day, same thing. Such an explosive player. He could go get it."
Walters has a little chuckle when it comes to what Manning taught him. Just take a look at the film clip from the Colts' win over the Bengals on Oct. 6, 2002 in Indy, where Walters took a reverse handoff and followed Manning for a 17-yard gain and the longest run of his NFL career. With The Sheriff, you couldn't tell the calendar, apparently. Whether it was an April OTA drill or an August training camp session or a January Wednesday before a play-off game. Or a reverse in October.
"All the reps mattered. Every rep," Walters said. "So if you went one-on-one in OTAs, he expected you to get open. Same with a play-off week. He was going to let you know. That's what made the people around him better. Him holding guys accountable. You didn't want to let him down. If you didn't gain his trust, you weren't going to be on the field."
Walters, a fifth-round pick in 2000 by the Vikings, was named the best receiver in the country at Stanford even though Florida State's Peter Warrick was the first receiver drafted when he went with the fourth pick to the Bengals. Under head coach Tyrone Willingham, Walters left Palo Alto as the Cardinal's all-time leading receiver, and both Willingham and Dungy left their marks on him as a coach.
Dungy probably had the most influence on him with his almost serene calm in the face of on-field chaos. Walters never forgot how Dungy responded to the death of his son during the 2005 season.
"We went there to comfort him, but he ended up comforting us," Walters said. "He truly walks the walk."
The news reports said Walters and Nebraska mutually parted ways earlier this year. He says it's time to get back to the NFL, a spot where he thought he just had to coach.
"I eventually wanted to get to the league. Get back to the NFL. I'm excited," he said.
He's certainly knows how the league looks at its best.