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Newton to Titans? Should be a figment of imagination

The Titans wasted a draft visit by bringing in Cam Newton on Thursday.

A) He’s not going to be there when the Titans select eighth overall.

2) The Titans shouldn’t bother if he is.

What is the first thing you do when a waiter brings your food to the table and says the plate is piping hot? You touch the freakin’ plate. You either burn your hand or say to yourself, “Oh, it’s not that hot.”

The Titans burned their hands on a plate five years ago. The plate was Vince Young, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft. At first the Titans thought the waiter was wrong. “It’s not that hot.”

In 2010 it melted the franchise. Young, whom Jeff Fisher never fully entrusted with the keys to the offense, and almost assuredly was correct in not doing so, had a very public spat with his coach after a loss to the Redskins on Nov. 21. Now, less than five months later, the mentally fragile QB and NFL’s longest-tenured coach are both out of work, and the franchise is at somewhat of a crossroads. Its owner is 88 years old, its new coach is in his first year as a head coach at any level, and its only QB is a 2010 sixth-round pick who in one start last season showed that the Titans may have chosen him too high.

To this mix you want to add Newton? Let’s see. Auburn listed him as 6-6, 250. He’s a run-first QB who played in a spread-option offense, won the national title in his junior season and bolted for the NFL. Now scouts are labeling him as immature, unaccountable and possessing a lousy work ethic.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. I seem to recall a University of Texas signal-caller who’s 6-5, 232, run-first guy who played in a spread-option offense, won the national title in his junior season and bolted for the NFL. He turned out to be immature and unaccountable and of questionable work ethic.

Who knows? Maybe Newton will be a franchise QB for some team. But this one? No way. The scars from touching that plate five years ago still haven’t healed.

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Bracket assistance, Aisle 1: Bobby Mac’s NCAA picks

It occurs to me that at least a handful of you will be interested in my NCAA picks. You can access them below through the following hyperlinks. Please feel free to forward any winnings to me.

West Region breakdown

East Region breakdown

Southwest Region breakdown

Southeast Region breakdown

Obviously I like the Big East. A lot. But matchups determine outcomes. Sometimes teams are just difficult matchups for other teams. For example, the Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Ohio State, struggled mightily this season in two meetings against Northwestern, which didn’t even make the field of 68. The Buckeyes beat the Wildcats by one point during the regular season even when NU didn’t have its leading scorer, who was out with a concussion, and by overtime in the Big Ten tournament. Go figure.

In my picks I have Pittsburgh winning it all, and I don’t have Duke making it to the Final Four. But if Blue Devils freshman PG Kyrie Irving is even close to 100 percent and does play, I like Mike Krzyzewski and his bunch to cut down the nets again.

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Luv ya, Blues: Titans using old-school approach to hiring coaches

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Anyone else feel like they’ve seen this movie before?

When Munchak and Matthews show up at your door, that’s pretty hard to turn down.

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Titans no worse off than 2007 Falcons, and look at them now

January 31, 2011 2 comments

The notion that the Titans franchise is in a state of complete and utter chaos is foolish.

Presumably this notion springs from the fact that for the past 16-plus seasons it has been anything but chaotic. Whether you loved Jeff Fisher or despised him, his was a steady hand. He gave away very little publicly, and his players almost always had his back. For crying out loud even his most problem of children rushed to his defense in the wake of his “parting ways” with the Titans.

Just because a franchise has lost a head coach and four assistants and has no discernible QB worth his salt we’re now supposed to believe this team is about to fall into a Raider-like abyss?

I suppose it could happen. Then again, it might not. This is about exactly where the Falcons were after the 2007 season. Actually, they were worse off. Arthur Blank looked like a moron for hiring Bobby Petrino from the University of Louisville. Petrino resigned 13 games into the season, with a 3-10 record, to take over at Arkansas. The players were mostly fine with it because they never liked him anyway. 

Petrino ostensibly had taken the job for the chance to mold young quarterback Michael Vick. You might remember that Vick never took another snap for the Falcons. The Falcons used three starting QBs in 2007, immortals all: Joey Harrington (10 starts), Chris Redman (four) and Byron Leftwich (two). Harrington and Leftwich were gone after that season; Harrington never took another NFL snap. 

The Titans used three QBs this past season: Vince Young (eight starts), Kerry Collins (seven) and rookie Rusty Smith (one). Only Smith remains under contract.

In Atlanta, DBs coach Emmit Thomas took the reins from Petrino for the final three games. He had been with the franchise before Petrino, and he survived after 2007, too. But everyone knew he wasn’t going to be the next coach.

So there were the Falcons – no head coach, no QB and an owner who had signed Petrino for five years and $24 million. Maybe Bud Adams has allowed some dumb things to happen recently if Fisher re-upped defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil then fired him and extended all of his assistants without front-office knowledge, but he has never hired Bobby Petrino.

The Falcons hired Patriots Director of College Scouting Thomas Dimitroff to be general manager and Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith as head coach. The fan base went, “Who? What? Huh? This is how we’re going to recover from a college coach and a QB with a pitbull empire?” Dimitroff and Smith proceeded to take Matt Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. 

Three years later the Falcons have compiled a 33-15 record and have made the playoffs twice. They had the best record in the NFC this season (13-3).

I believe any potential Titans head-coaching candidate should look at this franchise and see a lot of positives. Four openings on the staff? Great, I can hire my own people without a lot of frustration or aggravation. We need a QB? Fine, we have the No. 8 pick in the draft.

Arguably your three best players – RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt and DT Jason Jones – will be 25 or younger when the 2011 season starts. There are more promising young players, too – DE Derrick Morgan, the 2010 first-round pick, return specialist Marc Mariani, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie this season, and CB Alterraun Verner, another member of the 2010 draft class who emerged as a starter.

Now, I’m not saying the Titans are in an enviable position. Far from it. But I’m at least saying I don’t think they’ll have a draft position in 2012 any worse than what it is this year.

You want a franchise truly in chaos? Ask yourself this: Would I trade the Titans organization – owner, front office, coaches and players – for this franchise, even with its head coach in place? The quarterback is only 31 and he’d rather retire than stay. The starting receivers are more in tune with reality TV than actual reality. The offensive coordinator was fired on Monday. You harped on Fisher for having only six winning records in 16 seasons and his .542 winning percentage; this coach has two in eight seasons and wins at a .469 clip and the franchise signed him to an extension!

The Titans certainly face a challenge. Yes, it’s a big one. But Chaos, thy name is Cincinnati.

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Titans say Fisher will attend Friday news conference

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

The Titans’ offseason suddenly has become messier than a Mel Gibson breakup.

Jeff Fisher is out after 16-plus seasons.

The coach wins his showdown with the mentally fragile quarterback. The beloved d-line coach leaves for another team because he presumably isn’t thrilled with some of the other defensive coaches. The defensive coordinator, who gets re-upped late in the season when no one on earth can figure out a legitimate reason as to why, gets fired by his close friend the coach less than two months later.

I believe you can find this manifesto on the net if you Google “How to Implode an NFL Franchise.”

We’ll know more Friday. The Titans have scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference, and now former Titans head man Jeff Fisher is supposed to be among the attendees. Strike anyone else as a wee bit odd? “Hey, Jeff, you’re out. But while you’re packing up your office could you come down the hall and chat with the media for a bit?” Awkward.

A few other random bits:

  • I wrote a player reaction to Fisher’s ouster Thursday night for You can find it here: Thanks to the guys who got back to me, especially Jason Babin from Hawaii.
  • I wrote another piece for on Marc Mariani’s journey from University of Montana walk-on to AFC return specialist at the Pro Bowl. Efforts to reach Mariani for reaction to the Fisher news were  unsuccessful.
  • Here’s a question I’d been pondering all week before I knew the team would be looking for a head coach: Who’s the proverbial “home run” for a defensive coordinator hire? In the pros, there really isn’t one. You can’t hire other DCs because it’s a lateral move and that’s frowned upon if not outright forbidden unless you slip in the added cheesy title of associate head coach. There’s just no one to be had that will appease the fan base.
  • The immediate bigger question is who becomes the head coach. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak could be the choie, and he’d be a good one. That would at least bring about some shred of continuity, which looks really necessary at this point. I’d love to see Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams get in the mix, too. He spent 11 seasons with the Oilers/Titans, the last four as DC. The best thing about Williams is he likes to blitz. And he sure did a number on Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl last year.
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Some Vanderbilt basketball observations

January 24, 2011 1 comment

I’ve now seen the Commodores play exactly half of their 18 games from courtside at Memorial Gym. Here are some observations as they prepare for their final 12 SEC games:

Goulbourne has 56 rebounds in his past five games.

1. This is not your father’s Vanderbilt team. It’s unlike any Commodores team I’ve seen either, and I’ve been in Nashville for the past 10 years. It used to be Vandy got by on guile and 3-point shooting. This group might be the most athletic in Vanderbilt history. It has guys on the perimeter who are 6-7, 6-8 and 6-9 who are long and can rebound and defend and finish at the rim. This isn’t Barry Goheen or Scott Draud or Greg LaPointe. This is 6-8 forward Lance Goulbourne posting 56 rebounds in a five-game stretch. This is 6-7 forward Jeffery Taylor catching alley-oop inbounds passes that make SportsCenter anchors squeal. In years past these were the types of players on Kentucky and Tennessee and Alabama who killed Vanderbilt. Now they play for Vanderbilt.

2. One of the many reasons I like Kevin Stallings is because his players get better. The same cannot be said of even a majority of college coaches. Goulbourne is now one of the top rebounders in the SEC. Last year he averaged 2.1 rpg. Center Festus Ezeli has gone from afterthought (3.8 ppg, 3.2 ppg) to focal point (12.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Sophomore guard John Jenkins has raised his scoring average by more than 7 ppg and leads the SEC in scoring (18.7 ppg).

3. Health is a major concern, because if healthy this is a Sweet 16 team, maybe more. Right now Ezeli (knee), backup center Steve Tchiengang (ankle) and forward Andre Walker (ankle) all are struggling with injuries. Walker (4.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg), a true glue guy, has been limited to eight games. Ezeli and Tchiengang (5.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) are playing, but their minutes have been limited. With all three Vanderbilt is a serious threat to win the SEC. Walker’s absence has allowed Goulbourne to blossom and freshman Rod Odom to gain valuable experience. But Walker’s calming influence and decision-making will be critical come March.

4. Brad Tinsley (9.9 ppg, 4.6 apg, 4.4 rpg) has played well at the point for the most part. It’s hard to argue with his numbers. But would I trust him with the ball in the closing minutes of a tight first-round NCAA Tournament game? Probably not. Stallings has turned to Taylor to go one-on-one in late-game situations a couple of times, with mixed results. Tinsley has been solid, but if there’s a weak link or a spot where you can attack Vanderbilt, this is it.

5. No lead is safe, in either direction. Already Vanderbilt has blown double-digit leads on the road against Tennessee and South Carolina. If not for those two losses they’d be sitting at 16-2, atop the SEC East and probably in the top 15 in the rankings. But they’ve gotten sloppy with big leads. They can fall into bad habits of taking questionable shots and turning over the ball. By the same token, they can get back in any game, too, because they have some lineups where everybody on the floor can shoot the 3. Jenkins has unlimited range, and Taylor deserves a lot of credit for adding the trey to his arsenal. The crowd loves it when Tchiengang steps out there, too, and he’s perfectly capable.

6. Jenkins is deadly. When the sophomore from Station Camp High School has his feet set, forget it. You can wait for the ball to come out of the bottom of the net. He’s added a stepback 3 to his repertoire, and he already has taken more free throws through 17 games than he did all of last year in 31 games. That’s a critical improvement because he’s one of the best free-throw shooters in the country.

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Titans Sixer: Fisher, Young battle lines drawn

December 19, 2010 Leave a comment

You barely survived without it. You clamored for its return. Herewith, the Titans Sixer in all its glory.

The Titans beat the Texans 31-17 Sunday at LP Field. What follows are six things I think I learned about the boys in powder blue., who managed to end a six-game losing streak.

1. Jeff Fisher isn’t gonna go quietly. A six-game losing streak can take a toll on a coach, physically, mentally, emotionally. NFL coaches, by their nature, are not guys who like to be questioned. About anything. So when little old ladies and bag boys at Kroger are starting to ask why you can’t win it wears on you. Fisher has looked haggard and seemed on edge at times during this rough stretch. Was TE Bo Scaife really benched Sunday so the Titans could keep eight defensive linemen active, as the coach said, or was he on the inactive list because he told The Tennessean during the week that the locker room was divided over the treatment of Vince Young? Fisher seems to be relishing every opportunity to zing Young in some form or fashion. Witness No. 2.

2. Fisher was unmoved by Vince Young’s appearance. Young slipped onto the sidelines near the end of the first half and hung out till the fourth quarter. Some teammates said they were happy to see him; others, like Fisher, said they had no idea he had been there. Fisher couldn’t resist taking a shot, either. “Most injured reserve players, not all of them but most of them, are here. They come before the game starts, they stay until it’s over with.” Can you feel the love?!?

3. Jason Babin may be pricing himself out of the market. The Titans got Babin for one year and $1 million. That’s bargain basement when you consider what he has delivered: a career-high 12 sacks, the most of any defensive end in the league. Babin told Sportsinthe615 this week that he wanted to stay in Nashville. “I really feel like I’m gonna be here,” Babin said. “I bought into the system. They like me and I like them.” But you have to wonder. On the one hand if anyone should know what a system means to him, it’s Babin, who never has been used as well as he has here under d-line coach Jim Washburn. On the other hand, he also has never seen the kind of money that gets thrown at defensive ends who produce like he has this season.

4. Fernando Velasco deserves a lot of credit. It’s not often a center gets much, but listen to what Kerry Collins had to say about Velasco’s first career start at center: “We made a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage. A lot of the things they (the Texans) do blitz-wise were critical for him to make the right calls and everything. I thought he did an outstanding job. I’m glad to see him play well with the opportunity he’s been given. He’s a guy who has helped us out a couple of times this year.” Velasco helped open holes that allowed Chris Johnson to rush for 130 yards, tied for his third-best output this season.

5. Kenny Britt has a chance to be the next Randy Moss. When I say that I don’t mean the current Moss, I mean the Hall of Fame Moss. Britt changed direction on one reception Sunday, nearly pirouetting all the way around to make a grab, and you just knew there were only maybe a handful of receivers in the league who could have made the same play. Physically Britt is a freak. If his desire to improve on the mental side catches up, the sky is the limit. Will it? Not if you listen to Britt, who tossed out this gem this week when asked about the notebook Moss keeps on cornerbacks: “I don’t wanna see it. I didn’t like books in school and I don’t like them now.”

6. Chris Johnson, while still very good, no longer has a fifth gear. If you were at LP Field Sunday you know that’s a true statement. I don’t care whether a defender had an angle or not, last year he was gone on at least two plays where the Texans caught up to him. If DeSean Jackson asks for a match race, CJ better stay off his Twitter account.

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