Pressure keeps sneaking up on tight end Jared Cook. It never has been his idea.
He came to the Titans with the weight of expectations already heaped upon him because the organization traded a 2010 second-round pick to move up and draft him during the third round in 2009.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Jared+Cook&iid=7502767″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/7502767/tennessee-titans-seattle/tennessee-titans-seattle.jpg?size=500&imageId=7502767″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]Cook (6-5, 246) was the talk of training camp and the preseason a year ago. He led the Titans in receptions (17) and yards (159) in the preseason. No one else even had 10 catches.
But it didn’t translate to the regular season. He was slowed by an ankle injury in the fourth preseason game. He had trouble blocking. He had trouble catching.
Cook finished his rookie year with just nine receptions for 74 yards. The dreaded “bust” word could be heard in the local media.
But no one at Baptist Sports Park is ready to give up on him yet. Unwittingly, though, Vince Young heaped more pressure on him after a recent practice. The quarterback was just trying to be nice.
“He’s a special tight end,” Young said. “He’s getting better and better. The speed and the height and the hands and the long arms that he has … he’s gonna make a lot of plays when he gets more comfortable in the offense. He’s gonna be one of those top tight ends like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, in that bracket, because he can go outside one-on-one with a cornerback, free safety, anything because of his size.”
Gates and Gonzalez have had more catches in single games than Cook had last season. Gonzalez is a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose next catch in the league will be his 1,000th. Gates probably needs only another season or two at his current pace to be considered the same.
Cook is just one year out of South Carolina, and he left early to enter the draft. He turned 23 in April. He’s neither Gates nor Gonzalez. Few are. He was floored when informed Young had mentioned him the same breath with them.
“Man, that’s big. For him to say that, that’s big,” Cook said. “As long as I do what I need to do and work hard I can be in a class with those guys eventually. Those are my goals.”
“It’s cool. … OK, actually maybe it’s a little bit of pressure,” Cook said. “I really appreciate that he thinks highly of me and that he can see that. Hopefully I can build a lot of confidence in a lot of people and not let them down.”
Every team would love to have a tight end who can stretch the field. Bo Scaife is not a field-stretcher. His career per-catch average is 9.6 yards.
Maybe Cook can start to put it together. There have been times during OTAs where he flashes what Young is talking about. Cook is a big target who can run with just about any tight end in the league. Now it’s about learning the nuances of the offense, and being able to block well enough to keep the coaching staff happy.
If you can’t play tight end and block then you’re not going to see the field a lot for a Jeff Fisher-coached team.
“Blocking was not something he was accustomed to doing in college,” Fisher said. “He has done well with it (during recent OTAs), and we hope it translates over because we haven’t been in pads yet.
“Training camp is gonna be real important for him from that standpoint. As a receiver he’s got all the skills.”
Cook believes he is better acclimated.
“It’s your second year,” he said. “You know the system. You know the coaches and what they expect of you. It’s a lot easier transition than your rookie year when you only spend 2-3 months with the guys before the season is on you.”
Jared Cook’s second season is about to be upon him. Only time will tell if he can go from just plain bust to joining the likes of Gonzalez and Gates with bronze busts in Canton, Ohio.
Something in between probably would suit the Titans just fine.
The question hung in the air like a Craig Hentrich punt.
Undrafted rookie free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount looked straight ahead forlornly, searching for the right words.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=legarrette+blount&iid=7444179″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/7444179/rose-bowl-ohio-state/rose-bowl-ohio-state.jpg?size=500&imageId=7444179″ width=”234″ height=”347″ /]The question: Do you understand that even if you make the NFL, even if you gain 10,000 yards in the next 10 years as a Tennessee Titan, still every story written about you will include the line, “You might remember Blount as the Oregon player who threw the punch …”
It knocked the wind out of Blount as easily as if he’d taken a linebacker’s helmet to his stomach.
The answer to the question?
“Yeah, I know that,” Blount said after a recent Titans practice and after a few moments of careful thought. “I’ve tried my hardest to get past it, and for the most part I’m doing really well with that. These guys around here don’t bring it up. I really don’t have trouble with it around these people. As long as my teammates are here to support me I’m definitely gonna be fine.”
You might remember Blount as the Oregon player who threw the punch after the Ducks’ 2009 season-opening loss at Boise State. His short right hand dropped Broncos defensive end Byron Hout to the blue turf and touched off a firestorm. Blount wound up suspended for the season, though he was reinstated in November, with most of the season and his chance to impress NFL scouts gone.
The Florida native went undrafted, but the Titans, who traded LenDale White on draft day, signed him. The team needs a power back, someone who can get the tough yards between the tackles while Chris Johnson (hopefully, anyway, because his holdout seems to be getting more contentious) is busy hitting home runs on the edge. Blount, at 6 feet and 241 pounds, could fit the bill.
And he is fitting in here. He at least looks the part, and he’s got great feet for his size. Blount had 17 touchdowns for the Ducks as a junior, so he has shown a nose for the goal line.
“I’m definitely picking up things faster,” Blount said. “They’re giving me all of the reps I can handle.”
Now can he shed his college rep, the one that paints him as a thug, as selfish and immature.
“I’m definitely looking forward to them giving me this opportunity,” Blount said. “As long as they give it to me I’m gonna take it and run with it.”
Blount understands not everyone is rooting for him.
“I think most people are excited that I’m in the situation that I am in,” Blount said. “But there are going to be people who always remember the punch who think I should be banned from football period.”
Blount long since has given up reading about himself. He said his mom and his sister check up on nearly every word written about him.
He doesn’t like the idea.
“They read about it all of the time,” Blount said. “And it gets to them and they just hate it. I was just like, ‘Stay off the internet.’ I told them that. Don’t be on there. … There has been some positive stuff lately. But every now and then someone is saying what’s he doing in the NFL, why was he even given a second chance to play and all kind of stuff like that. And they just hate it.”
When the Titans announced the signing of Blount they swore up and down they had done their due diligence. They could point to his reinstatement, to his apologies to Hout and Boise State coach Chris Petersen.
But all of that goes away in an instant if Blount is caught doing anything criminal or untoward, like getting cited for misdemeanor assault in a strip club around 3 a.m. And he knows it.
“I’m definitely on the straight and narrow,” Blount said. “I’m not gonna stray at all. No strip clubs, no bars, no nothing. As soon as I leave here at 3 o’clock I’m gonna go to my hotel room and stay there until 6:30 the next morning when I have to be back.”
Blount’s speech and manner are totally disarming. He’s thoughtful. He measures his words. He makes eye contact. He seems genuinely contrite. Given the opportunity, who wouldn’t take back one horrible moment in their lives?
Blount has watched tape of the punch. It’s practically inescapable. Search for it on YouTube and you’ll find several versions, many of which have been viewed more than 100,000 times.
“The thing is I don’t even remember it (the punch) happening,” Blount said. “It happened so fast. It was like a blackout. You know, blackout … lights on.
“It shocks me that I did that. I was like, what was I thinking? I was really upset for a long time. I didn’t practice for a few weeks. I didn’t do anything. I was just kind of was upset. I didn’t wanna do anything.”
Now he wants to do something: Enjoy football again and realize his NFL dream. And maybe, just maybe, be remembered as more than just the Oregon player who threw the punch …
“I hope I can do some good things here and people will start to forget about it,” Blount said. “I definitely hope so.”
The seismic shift in the college sports landscape has my head swimming faster than Michael Phelps.
Where is your school going? If it’s staying put, who is it gonna play every year that you’ve never seen before? Are you ready to hate a new school as much as you hate the ones already in your conference?
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Sports&iid=9091099″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9091099/university-nebraska-moves/university-nebraska-moves.jpg?size=500&imageId=9091099″ width=”380″ height=”244″ /]I’m a Northwestern alum, and I’m sort of underwhelmed by the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten, to be honest. I’m pleased to add a basketball program that the Wildcats need not fear, and I think the Purple is ready to stand toe to toe with the Huskers on the gridiron (that’s Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini in the photo).
I kind of figured on the league bumping up to 14 or even 16 teams, though. I guess that’s the nature of most of my disappointment. Instead, it looks like the Pac-10 will steal that thunder by adding a bunch of schools from the suddenly crumbling Big 12.
I have a lot of questions about all of this stuff, but not many answers. If you’ve got any, please respond in the comments.
- Why is Texas seemingly so panicked by the departures of Nebraska and Colorado? The Longhorns still are in a 10-team league in which they unquestionably are the big dog. UT in the Pac-10 makes no sense at all. Neither will trips to Pullman, Wash., or Corvallis, Ore. , in times when money is tight.
- Which team will be the 16th for the Pac-10? With Colorado already committing and Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State perhaps close, that’s 15. Surely that won’t be the final number.
- Why hasn’t the Big 12 been more aggressive? Couldn’t it have been at the ready to invite TCU and somebody else?
- What happens to Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor if Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State really do bolt for the Pac-10?
- Does the SEC really want Texas A&M? And if so, why? At this point that’s like adding another Mississippi State.
- If you were heading up the SEC, wouldn’t you stand pat before adding Big 12 leftovers? “Mom, is there any meatloaf left in the fridge?”
- Why did the Big Ten stop at just one school?
- Why did the Big Ten move up its timetable to get Nebraska in the league to 2011 instead of 2012? I’ve got a theory on this one, and the Big Ten should pay me for this idea if it hasn’t already thought of it. HOLD TWO GAMES FOR EVERY WEEKEND ON THE 2011 SCHEDULE AND PLAY THEM ON SUNDAYS AT 1 AND 4 EASTERN. IT’S NOT LIKE THERE WILL BE ANY NFL GAMES WITH WHICH TO COMPETE. THINK OF THE RATINGS FOR THOSE GAMES.
- Is the Big East really going to survive intact? Anyone see that coming?
- Can you explain Boise State leaving the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West Conference? It’s like trading a bowl of Special K for some oatmeal.
Yep, now there are some head-scratchers. Add your own or gimme some answers.
Oh, and screw Nebraska.
By BOB MCCLELLAN
The Titans 2010 rookie class has impressed the coaching staff to date with its intelligence. Coach Jeff Fisher has said he didn’t go about changing his locker room into a think tank, and there are plenty of NFL coaches who will tell you the last thing they want their players to do is think.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Myron+Rolle&iid=8171684″ src=”5/f/5/c/2010_NFL_Combine_25c9.jpg?adImageId=13080593&imageId=8171684″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]But the Titans loaded up on brainiacs such as Rhodes scholar Myron Rolle (pictured at left), Ivy League graduate David Howard (BS in economics) and early graduate Robert Johnson (three years to get his BS in sociology). Six of their nine draft picks already have their degrees.
Will it translate to on-field success? Fisher at least recognized that his new charges were picking things up quickly. “The learning curve is quite high at this point, but they’re doing a good job,” the coach said. “I’d say this group is a little further ahead after one day than some groups we’ve had.”
Herewith a very early look at the nine draft picks and their prospects on the field in the fall:
First round: Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech. Barring unforeseen circumstances Morgan will open as a starter. He slipped to the Titans at No. 16 overall (nearly every reputable and disreputable mock draft had him gone by then), and he’ll be prepped by Jim Washburn, one of the best position coaches in the league. Outlook: STARTER
Third round: Damian Williams, WR, USC. He practically already has been handed the jobs as the primary kickoff and punt returner. He’s another player the Titans were thrilled to see last until they picked in the third round since the team didn’t have a second-rounder and didn’t have a serious return threat on the roster. Outlook: SPECIAL TEAMS IMPACT PLAYER
Third round: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia. Diminutive typically is not a good word to associate with a linebacker. The Titans list Curran at 5-11, 235. The 235 is believable. The 5-11 is believable if you also believe in the Tooth Fairy and the comedic genius of Dane Cook. Curran may have been a reach in the third round, but he’s a tackling machine, and the Titans, at this moment, are razor thin at linebacker. Stephen Tulloch is staying away from OTAs because of his contract, and David Thornton’s health remains a concern. Outlook: SPECIAL TEAMS CONTRIBUTOR
Fourth round: Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA. Most of the talk about the competition to start opposite CB Cortland Finnegan has centered on second-year pros Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty. But Fisher says there is another player in the mix, too. “The draft choice can play out there, as well,” he said. The Titans traded up to draft Verner on day three, and the coach doesn’t throw around statements such as that one very often. The former Bruin is a sleeper to crack the lineup. Outlook: NICKELBACK, STARTER BY MIDSEASON
Fifth round: Robert Johnson, S, Utah. One of two safeties drafted in the later rounds, he looks less ready physically than Rolle. Both players have Chris Hope, Michael Griffin and Vincent Fuller ahead of them for sure, and there are more safeties on the roster. Outlook: SPECIAL TEAMS CONTRIBUTOR
Sixth round: Rusty Smith, QB, Florida Atlantic. Smith already has drawn rave reviews from the veterans for his strong arm in just a few practices. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger gets a sly grin whenever he talks about him. The Titans will bring Smith along slowly, but he’s a keeper. Outlook: NO. 3 QB
Sixth round: Myron Rolle, S, Florida State. Regardless of how much football he has played in the past year he’s still a physical specimen with an unmatched intellect. He’ll pick up the playbook and the nuances quicker than anyone else in the class, which will give him a chance to see the field. Outlook: SPECIAL TEAMS CONTRIBUTOR
Seventh round: Marc Mariani, WR, Montana. The Titans have a bunch of wide receivers ahead of Mariani. He’ll have to make plays in the return game if he expects to play at all. Outlook: SPECIAL TEAMS CONTRIBUTOR
Seventh round: David Howard, DT, Brown. Fisher likes his explosiveness, but he’ll essentially need to redshirt before he even thinks about getting into the rotation. Outlook: PRACTICE SQUAD