Countdown to camp: Jake Locker's ability to stay healthy, make the Titans winners

The Tennessee Titans report for the start of training camp Friday so each day this week the Nashville Post will look at a significant issue that faces them as they prepare for the 2014 season.

Today: The need for Jake Locker to stay healthy and play well enough to get the Titans back to the playoffs.

The issue: Locker, the team’s first-round draft pick (eighth overall) in 2011, has been the starting quarterback for two seasons but has started just 18 games. He has missed time with three different injuries and has spent time each of the past two offseasons recovering from surgery. Heck, even as a rookie, he missed several plays during a relief appearance against New Orleans because of injury.

Plan B: Unlike the previous two years when veterans Matt Hasselbeck and Ryan Fitzpatrick served as his backup, Locker now has four and half times the number of NFL starts as the other three quarterbacks currently on the roster combined. Charlie Whitehurst has started four times in eight NFL seasons and won just one. Tyler Wilson and Zach Mettenberger never have started. Thus, if Locker misses any significant amount of time this fall it will be a problem.

Historical perspective: One important aspect of the Titans’ 1999 Super Bowl season was the presence of veteran backup Neil O’Donnell. He went 4-1 as a starter when Steve McNair was sidelined by back surgery and when McNair was healthy he ran the scout team offense so effectively and competitively that it prepared the defense about as well as possible for what it would see in the game.

Also, 1999 was McNair’s third season as the unquestioned starter. Unlike Locker, however, he did not miss a single game in 1997 and 1998 plus he started six other times (he won four) in the two seasons prior to that.

Statistically speaking: The first six quarterbacks drafted in 2011 all have started more than 20 games. Locker was second only to first overall pick Cam Newton, but his eight victories as a starter are fifth and his 22 touchdown passes tie him with former Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert for fewest among that group. On the positive side, his 1.47:1 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions is comparable to those of Newton (1.52:1) and Andy Dalton (1.63:1) both of who have started all 48 games of their NFL careers. So it seems Locker’s decision making is ahead of his experience.

• What to watch for: With a new coaching staff and a new playbook, Locker won’t have the luxury of sitting out the preseason to make sure he’s healthy for the start of the regular season. One thing to look for when he is on the field, therefore, is his ability to sense the pass rush and then get the ball or himself out of trouble. He is a great athlete who runs well. He has not, though, shown elite pocket presence and he tends to keep his eyes down the field in hopes of making a play rather than rely on outlet passes to relieve pressure.

No contest: Typically, the most interesting training camp issues are the battles for jobs. No one will be watched more closely in the Titans’ camp than Locker, who has to compete with injuries, inaccuracy (his career completion percentage is 57.2) and inexperience rather than another player.

Prediction: If Locker plays 14 or more games, the Titans have a chance to make a playoff run in a division that looks like it could be one of the league’s worst. Yet it is impossible to imagine he will do so until he actually does it.

He’s going to get hurt again this fall. The Titans just have to hope that the law of averages works in their favor and that whatever ails him this time won’t cause him to miss more than a game or two.

Jul 23, 2014 5:15 AM

Titans announce plans for upgraded Wi-Fi experience at LP Field

The Tennessee Titans announced this week enhancements to Wi-Fi technology at LP Field designed to enhance the gameday experience for spectators.

According to a release from Extreme Networks, which will work with technology provider PCM to install upgraded systems prior to the start of the season:

“The technology will provide fans with the capability to seamlessly access mobile services and custom applications on game day. Concurrently, the Titans technology staff will have access to rich data analytics and visibility into the network.”

“The technology will provide fans with the capability to seamlessly access mobile services and custom applications on game day,” Titans executive vice president Don MacLachlan said in the release. “Concurrently, the Titans technology staff will have access to rich data analytics and visibility into the network.”

More from Extreme Networks on its approach to the project:

• Extreme Networks and PCM will install its high-density IdentiFi Wireless solution to provide Wi-Fi access that is made available for free to all fans and across LP Field, including the seating areas, club level, suites, press box, locker rooms and concourse.

• The Extreme Wi-Fi system is designed to support all high density requirements, including high-speed connections for streaming content and uploading photos, support of social engagement, in-venue mobile application delivery for value added services and efficient multicast video delivery with unicast-like performance and reliability.

• Extreme's Wi-Fi analytics technology provides the Titans with unprecedented near real-time visibility into what fans expect from their in-stadium experience.

• Extreme Networks analytics platform delivers deep insight and intelligence during the game to measure the fans experience and engagement with their mobile devices. Real time data and analysis shows the applications, web sites and social media interactions that are in demand.

Jul 22, 2014 1:58 PM

NHL's national television package largely ignores Predators

A coaching change did nothing to make the Nashville Predators more appealing to the NHL’s primary U.S. national television outlet.

NBC and NBC Sports Network announced Tuesday that they will broadcast a combined 103 games during the 2014-15 season beginning with an Oct. 8 doubleheader on NBC Sports Network.

The Predators, who never have been a big television draw, will appear just once as part of that package. A Feb. 26 home game against Minnesota will be the lone game shown that night on NBC Sports Network.

That means it will be more than four months into the season before the league’s national broadcast partner has the opportunity to explore the move from Barry Trotz to Peter Laviolette in depth as part of a televised contest.

It is clear that the approach has nothing to do with who is behind the bench.

Last season only two Nashville games, including one against Minnesota, was part of NBC Sports Group’s original schedule. Trotz, now the head coach in Washington, will be on NBC and NBC Sports Network eight times, including the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, before the country gets a look at his former franchise.

By comparison, division rival Chicago will be featured 20 times, most among the 30 franchises.

Things could be worse, though. Seven teams, including five of the seven Canadian franchises (Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton), are not on the schedule at all. The two U.S. franchises that missed out are Florida and the New York Islanders.

Arizona and Columbus, like Nashville, are slated for one telecast each.

Jul 22, 2014 1:08 PM

Countdown to camp: Life after CJ

The Tennessee Titans report for the start of training camp Friday so each day this week the Nashville Post will look at a significant issue that faces them as they prepare for the 2014 season.

Today: What the decision to release running back Chris Johnson is likely to mean.

The issue: Johnson was the Titans’ leading rusher in each of the last six seasons, the only running back in franchise history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and the most accomplished big-play performer in NFL history. There is no doubt that his performance slipped in recent years but his departure is bound to change things for the offense.

Who’s next: Veteran Shonn Greene and rookie Bishop Sankey are the ones who will get the majority of carries. Free agent addition Dexter McCluster will be a factor in the pass game and someone who will create matchup problems for opposing defenses. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said their respective workloads likely will vary from week to week based on game plans and game situations.

Historical perspective: CJ was only the third player in franchise history to lead the team in rushing at least six straight seasons. The first two were Earl Campbell (1978-83) and Eddie George (1996-2003) and things did not go well the years after they left. The Houston Oilers were 3-13 in 1984 and the Titans were 5-11 in 2004.

 • For what it’s worth: Statistically speaking, Greene (pictured) has been better than he generally gets credit for. Of all the running backs drafted in 2009 – there were 23 of them – he is one of only two with multiple 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL. He did it in 2011 and 2012 with the New York Jets and Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy has done it three times.

Optimist or pessimist: In the last 10 years there have been 12 rookie running backs crack 1,000 yards so there is reason to believe that Sankey can do it. However, CJ was one of three who topped 1,200 yards in 2008 and in the five years since only four rookies have rushed for 1,000 yards or more so it is happening less frequently all the time.

• What to watch for: Greene was signed in 2013 with the idea that he would be a short-yardage specialist who could convert third downs early games and keep the clock moving late. Provided he’s healthy (he was slowed or sidelined for virtually all offseason activities with a knee injury) he will have a chance to show what he can do on first and second down. If he is productive coaches can stick with him and pick their spots with Sankey.

The question with Sankey is how well he understands and performs his role in pass protection. He is a guy who will be used as a receiver out of the backfield but if he can’t do his job when he needs to stay in and block he won’t get many opportunities to be on the field.

Deciding factors: Production is everything at this position. The guy who can get the tough yards, doesn’t fumble and keeps the offense out of unfavorable down-and-distance situations is the one who will get the job.

Prediction: Greene missed his opportunity during the offseason to take hold of the job so the new coaching staff will look to the guy they drafted and who has the fresh legs to be the one who makes the offense go. Expect the rookie to lead the team in rushes and rushing yards but don’t count on him to make anyone forget CJ – not this year, at least.

Jul 22, 2014 5:15 AM

Former Nashville sports executive lands top job in Jacksonville

Dave Herrell, a former vice president of marketing and development at the Nashville Sports Council, has been named Jacksonville’s sports and entertainment officer.

He will be the city’s point man in dealing with the Jacksonville Sports Council, the chamber of commerce, Gator Bowl Sports and other entities within the city.
Herrell was appointed by Mayor Alvin Brown on Friday but still needs approval of city council, which is scheduled to meet on the matter beginning Aug. 18.

From the Florida Times-Union:

The Jacksonville City Council recently approved legislation that elevates the Office of Sports and Entertainment’s director to a position of reporting directly to the mayor. Herrell also will oversee the City’s Office of Special Events and the Film and Television Office.

“I am thrilled and honored to join Mayor Brown’s team and look forward to working alongside the many community partners that help drive Jacksonville’s success,” Herrell said in a statement. “Jacksonville has incredible momentum, and I am excited about the opportunity to play a role in something special.”

In Nashville, Herrell was instrumental in the creation and evolution of the Music City Bowl and helped the city attract high-profile events such as the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four, the SEC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and others.

For the last two years, he has worked with the Arizona Sports Foundation, which operates the Fiesta Bowl.

Jax Sports and the Taxslayer Bowl have borrowed freely from concepts launched by the Nashville Sports Council and the Fiesta Bowl.

“Our bowl structure is modeled after the Fiesta Bowl, and we looked to the Nashville Sports Council for many of the ideas that helped us launch Jax Sports,” Gator Bowl Sports president Rick Catlett said. “Without a doubt, Dave is a tremendous fit for this job. We’re very pleased that we will have someone at the city who has been at places that were our models for how we operate.”

Jul 21, 2014 2:31 PM

TSU's Bass starts 2014 where he ended 2013 -- as OVC's best defensive player

This one did not require a lot of thought.

Tennessee State defensive end Anthony Bass was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason defensive player of the year Monday, as determined by a vote of the conference’s sports information directors and football coaches.

And why not? The senior defensive end was the 2013 defensive player of the year after he registered 34 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss, 10.0 sacks, four pass breakups, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a blocked kick and a safety.

He also is one of six Tigers named to the preseason All-OVC team. Only Eastern Illinois and Jacksonville State, with eight each, had more.

Consistent with the view of which teams have the most top players, TSU was picked to finish third behind – you guessed it – Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois. The Tigers, though, did get four of the 18 first-place votes, which was as many as Eastern Illinois.

2014 OVC Preseason Football Predicted Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State (10 first-place votes) - 118
2. Eastern Illinois (4) - 110
3. Tennessee State (4) - 107
4. Eastern Kentucky - 82
5. UT Martin - 79
6. Murray State - 54
7. Tennessee Tech - 48
8. Southeast Missouri - 34
9. Austin Peay - 16

2014 Preseason All-OVC Football Team
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: DaMarcus James (RB), Jacksonville State
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Bass (DL), Tennessee State

OFFENSE
QB - Michael German, Tennessee State

QB - Eli Jenkins, Jacksonville State                     
RB - DaMarcus James, Jacksonville State
RB - Shepard Little, Eastern Illinois
WR - Adam Drake, Eastern Illinois
WR - Josh Barge, Jacksonville State
WR - Paul McRoberts, Southeast Missouri             
TE - Jeff LePak, Eastern Illinois
C - Max Holcombe, Jacksonville State
OG - Collin Seibert, Eastern Illinois
OG - Blake Burks, Jacksonville State
OT - Charles Sweeton, UT Martin
OT - Robert Myers, Tennessee State
 
DEFENSE
DL - Anthony Bass, Tennessee State
DL - Dino Fanti, Eastern Illinois                                           
DL - Caleb Lawrence, Jacksonville State
DL - Chris Landrum, Jacksonville State                                
LB - Nick Thrasher, Tennessee State                                                   
LB - Tony Bell, UT Martin                                                     
LB - Robert Haynes, Eastern Illinois
LB - Tra’Darius Goff, Tennessee Tech
DB - Daniel Fitzpatrick, Tennessee State
DB - Jourdan Wickliffe, Eastern Illinois                                 
DB - Marty Jones, Tennessee Tech                                                     
DB - De’Ante Saunders, Tennessee State             
 
SPECIALISTS
K - Andrew Lloyd, Eastern Kentucky                                     
P - Hamish MacInnes, Jacksonville State                              
RS - Shepard Little, Eastern Illinois

Jul 21, 2014 10:57 AM

Five For Clicking: 21 July 2014

Five stories to read today...

From FoxSports: "Pitchman: How Tom Emanski Changed The Sport of Baseball — And Then Disappeared"

How did Tom Emanski get rich? Where is Tom Emanski now? How did Tom Emanski get all those commercials on ESPN?

From The Tennessean: "Predators' Seth Jones stays in Nashville to train"

Hey, what's American hero Seth Jones been up to? Just training and teaching kids about hockey. Oh and being named the best blueliner at the World Championships (he's 19, by the way).

From the Washington Post: "When ex-pro athletes sell championship rings, this pawn shop keeps it secret"

The Kansas City pawn shop that caters to pro athletes is an interesting tale.

From Music City Miracles: "Enough with the pessimism about the Titans"

Are the Two Toners really one of the NFL's five worst teams? MCM doesn't think so (neither do I).

From Awful Announcing: "Could an NBA tournament be a television success?"

The NBA is floating the idea of an FA Cup-style tournament. They (and every non-NFL league) should do it.

Jul 21, 2014 10:00 AM

Countdown to camp: The search for a starting cornerback

The Tennessee Titans report for the start of training camp Friday so each day this week the Nashville Post will look at a significant issue that faces them as they prepare for the 2014 season.

Today: The search for a starting cornerback to replace Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent.

The issue: For better or worse, 19 of last season’s 22 primary starters, including 10 of 11 on defense, return for this season. While the switch to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Ray Horton is bound to produce some lineup adjustments, the only spot where there is no incumbent or clear-cut favorite is at cornerback opposite Jason McCourty.

The candidates: There are three of them, all homegrown. Coty Sensabaugh (pictured) was a fourth-round pick in 2012 and has been a regular contributor as nickel cornerback. Blidi Wreh-Wilson was a third-round pick in 2012 and Tommie Campbell was a seventh-round pick in 2011 who failed to unseat Verner in each of the two previous camps.

• Historical perspective: In the last five years, six different players have been All-Pro cornerbacks and all of them were starters as rookies. That group includes Richard Sherman, Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis. So chances are whoever wins the job is not going to transform the defense with his play. However, he needs to be a solid, reliable performer.

For what it’s worth, the last All-Pro cornerback who was not a starter as a rookie was Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan in 2008. He was a role player as a rookie in 2006, moved into the starting lineup the next year and then became an All-Pro.

Don’t forget: One of the worst decisions of Jeff Fisher’s tenure with the Titans was in a situation similar to this. In 2001, he chose DeRon Jenkins over veteran backup Dainon Sidney and rookie Andre Dyson. Not only was it the wrong choice (Jenkins was terrible) it also disillusioned veteran members of the defense who supported Sidney (who had four preseason interceptions, by the way). After four games Jenkins was benched in favor of Dyson but the damage was done.

What to watch for: Barring injury, Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson will alternate work with the first-team defense throughout the first couple weeks of camp. Likewise, each should start one of the first two preseason games. Campbell, slowed for much of the offseason because of postseason surgery, will have to find a way to convince coaches to give him a closer look.

The good news for Titans coaches is that the preseason opens with games against Green Bay (Aug. 9) and at New Orleans (Aug. 15). That means that, albeit briefly, they will get to see how these guys do against two of the best quarterbacks in the game, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

The deciding factor: The one who gets the job won’t necessarily be the one who makes the most interceptions. It will be the one who makes the most tackles in front of him not behind him and/or who forces opposing quarterbacks to throw to the other side of the field. Both are indications that the player – more often than not – is in the proper place within the scheme.

Prediction: Many league observers overlook Sensabaugh as a nickel specialist based on his play the last two years. That’s a mistake. The rest of the secondary trusts him and he has the size/speed combination that will make the coaches comfortable as well.

Jul 21, 2014 5:15 AM

Mason to make the rounds of ESPN's multi-media platforms

Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason will be in Bristol, Conn. on Monday.

The result of what he does there, however, will show up on ESPN properties throughout the coming weeks.

Mason is one of 63 coaches from college football’s five most powerful conferences who will make the rounds of the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” in advance of the season. In a span of roughly five hours he will appear on live programs, sit for interviews and a podcast with online reporters and smile for photographs to be used for gameday coverage.

A look at his schedule for the day (all times CDT):

9 a.m. ESPNU podcast with Ivan Maisel
9:30 a.m. SEC Network Talkbacks
9:45 a.m. Digital media
10 a.m. College Gameday
10:40 a.m. College Football Roundtable discussion hosted by Joe Tessitore
11:15 a.m. ESPN.com interviews with Chris Low, Travis Haney and Brett McMurphy
12:05 p.m. College Gameday
12:25 p.m. CFB Live
1:10 p.m. SportsCenter (taped segment)
1:55 p.m. ESPN Images

Jul 21, 2014 5:05 AM

Comcast, ESPN agree on SEC Network

ESPN and Comcast have come to terms that will have the former broadcast the SEC Network on the latter in time for football season:

ESPN and Comcast Cable have reached an agreement for carriage of the SEC Network, which will begin rolling out to fans and followers of the Southeastern Conference across Comcast markets at the start of the SEC college football season. Comcast subscribers will also have authenticated access to additional live events scheduled for the SEC Network's and Comcast's digital platforms - including the Xfinity TV Go app and website, WatchESPN and SECNetwork.com - with the ability to watch SEC Network live and on-demand content anytime, anywhere on their television, computer, tablet or mobile device. With the addition of Comcast, the SEC Network will be available to 46 million households nationwide.

"We are extremely pleased to have reached this agreement with ESPN to deliver the SEC Network to Xfinity TV customers on multiple platforms," said Matt Strauss, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Video Services, Comcast Cable. "Whether in the home or on the go, Xfinity TV customers will be able to watch their favorite Southeastern Conference teams in more ways than ever before."

Comcast is the nation's largest cable provider.

Jul 18, 2014 11:15 AM