Camp observations: To glove or not to glove

A show of hands reveals a difference of opinion among Tennessee Titans quarterbacks.

Two of the four in training camp, Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger, wear a glove on their left (non-throwing) hands. The other two, Jake Locker and Tyler Wilson, do not.

“I like feeling the football with my hands so I never have tried it,” Locker said. “Maybe I should but I’ve never tried it out.”

Whitehurst and Mettenberger only tried it recently.

In fact, Mettenberger said he has done it since he’s been in the NFL. That means it has been fewer than three months given that he was the Titans’ sixth-round pick in this year’s draft.

“I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way,” he said. “It’s just whatever you’re comfortable with or not. It’s something I started when I got here and kind of liked it. So I’m going to keep rolling with it.”

Mettenberger (pictured) said it was his former LSU teammate Stephen Rivers, now a Vanderbilt quarterback, who first recommended he try it. Rivers, of course, is the younger brother of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers.

Coincidentally, the elder Rivers and Whitehurst were teammates with the Chargers last season, when Whitehurst decided to go to the glove.

“Why do I do it? For grip,” Whitehurst said. “I don’t know if it makes a big difference. I’ve experimented with a throwing one on my right hand. … You put one on your right hand to experiment and you think, ‘I might as well put one on the left hand too just for the hell of it.’

“If I can get a little extra grip on the snap, holding the ball in the pocket, anything, why would I take the one on the left hand off?”

With the snap: One thing that has been noticeable through the first four days of workouts is the limited number of players jumping offside on either side of the ball.

Offensive linemen and receivers are waiting for the snap much more often than not. Those on the defense don’t try to anticipate the snap as much as expected at this time of year.

It will be worth watching whether or not it continues in the coming days. It is one thing to be dialed in and focused in the first few days of camp. It is another thing to continue in that manner as the mental and physical fatigue mount.

• Good news/bad news: The good news is that linebackers and defensive backs seem to have gotten their hands on more passes than has been the norm. The bad news is that they have not held on to enough of them.

Too often the defensive players are jumping up and down in a mix of celebration over a successful play and frustration over a missed opportunity for an interception.

The Titans intercepted 13 passes in 2013. Only nine teams had fewer.

Quote of note: “You can ask for it all you want, but it’s really the competitiveness of the players that’s going to drive that. We’ve been clear about what our expectations are. It’s a competitive business, and the only way you get better is to push each other and to compete in practice. I like it. It’s been good. It’s been good give and take on both sides. I’ve liked it since we first got here.” – coach Ken Whisenhunt on the level of competition during workouts.

Briefly: Safety Bernard Pollard and linebacker Wesley Woodyard don’t like to stand still. Several times during practices, when they are not involved in the action, the two do a quick up and back from sideline to sideline of an adjacent field. It will be interesting to see when/if others join in at some point. … It’s easy to see why Shaun Phillips has put up the sack numbers he has throughout his career. He might not win every rep but it’s rare that any blocker squares him up and stops him in his tracks. … Tight end Dorin Dickerson, a fourth-year pro who has played with Houston, Buffalo and Detroit, is definitely not the fastest guy on the team. Some members of the defense had fun with him Tuesday when he caught a pass and tried to accelerate in the open field.

Jul 31, 2014 5:15 AM

For Vanderbilt, game-planning for first game can wait a few weeks

It’s first things first for Vanderbilt football in its first camp under coach Derek Mason.

The first game, Aug. 28 against Temple, is not one of the first things.

“We’ll get to Temple the week before Temple,” Mason said Wednesday. “Here’s what happens: When you’re laying a foundation — I’m talking about how we tackle, how we move guys off the ball — camp isn’t what it used to be. Camp used to be what seemed like two months. Now camp has been condensed into a small window.

“So what you do with your camp period has to last you through the season in terms of what your fundamentals look like.”

The Commodores begin their fall camp Thursday, exactly four weeks before the opener. Rather than use any of that extra time to familiarize themselves with Temple’s schemes and personnel, they plan to focus strictly on their own schemes and playing style for the first three weeks.

It will be interesting to see how it pays off. Even with its success in recent seasons, Vanderbilt has lost its last three season-openers against Division I opponents. Those three defeats were by a total of merely 10 points and all were at home.

FALLING BEHIND
A look at Vanderbilt’s last three season-openers against FBS opponents:

2010: lost 23-21 vs. Northwestern
2012: lost 17-13 vs. South Carolina
2013: lost 39-35 vs. Ole Miss

The Commodores did open with victories in 2009 and 2011. In those years, however, they played FCS opponents Western Carolina and Elon, respectively.

The last season-opening triumph over an FBS opponent was against Miami (Ohio), 34-13 in 2008. That year the program made its first of four bowl appearances in a six-year span.

“You have to settle into the schedule of only having a week to prepare for your opponent anyway,” Mason said. “So let’s not deviate from what the schedule is going to look like for us.

“Let’s work on the fundamentals. Let’s make sure that these guys understand how we want to play and what it looks like. Then we’ll get to game-planning when the time comes because everybody’s first game is going to be about the same — how you execute fundamentally.”

So in that regard, they actually will be preparing for Temple each and every day.

Jul 31, 2014 5:10 AM

Poll finds Predators' view of Weber as franchise player not unique

David Poile is not crazy.

The Nashville Predators general manager effectively made defenseman Shea Weber the franchise’s cornerstone player four years ago when he named Weber captain. He reaffirmed that position two years ago when he and management matched the 13-year, $110 million offer sheet Weber signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.

As ESPN.com poll of a dozen NHL executives found that others look at Weber the same way.

Writer Craig Custance asked each of the executives to rank their top five choices for the NHL’s top “franchise player,” assigned a point value to each vote and added up the totals. Each executive was granted anonomity.

Weber tied for fifth overall with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, last season’s top rookie, and was second among defensemen to Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty, who was third overall. The top five: Jonathan Toews, Chicago; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Doughty; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim; and Weber and MacKinnon.

Here’s what Custance had to say about the thinking of those who included Weber:

Doughty gets the edge because of his age, but even at 28 years old, there’s still a lot of premium game left in Weber, who scored 23 goals last season for Nashville. “Weber brings leadership that Drew doesn’t,” a voter said. One coach had Weber at No. 6 on a five-man list and an executive who had Doughty and four centermen considered Weber hard as his lone defenseman.

“Weber, to me, would be in the mix there. [Duncan] Keith is a little bit older. I put Doughty just ahead of that crew. And the more I think about it, the more Oliver Ekman-Larsson is in that conversation. He’s not far behind those.”

Jul 30, 2014 4:04 PM

Cumberland's Hunt named NAIA baseball coach of the year

Virtue is its own reward.

Winning comes with additional benefits.

Cumberland baseball coach Woody Hunt proved as much Wednesday when the NAIA Baseball Coaches Association named him its national coach of the year. Hunt led Cumberland to the 2014 NAIA World Series title in addition to the Mid-South Conference regular season and tournament championships.

“It is a great honor when your peers recognize your accomplishments, but as I’ve said many times, this is really a team award,” Hunt said in a release from the university. “Our club went through a tough stretch in March but then continually got better each week in April and May and we got tremendous contributions from so many players along the way that allowed us to win another national championship.”

Hunt is the winningest active NAIA coach with a career record of 1,452-604-4 and has led his team to 40 or more victories in 20 of the last 22 seasons. The Bulldogs were 49-20 in 2014 and became the only No. 10 seed to win the national championship.

He has had 64 players earn NAIA All-America honors and 79 sign professional contracts.

He also was the NAIA national coach of the year in 2010, which also was the last time Cumberland won the NAIA crown.

Jul 30, 2014 3:34 PM

Vanderbilt's vision for 2014 not shaped by preseason predictions

It’s anybody’s guess. Or one team’s dream.

Preseason prognostications always are a crapshoot but they, nonetheless, have not been kind to Vanderbilt’s football team. Most forecasts have the Commodores pegged for fifth place in the SEC East even after back-to-back 9-4 seasons with bowl victories.

In their first year under coach Derek Mason, though, those within the program see their prospects for the 2014 season much differently – particularly after they saw the school’s baseball team win the College World Series earlier this year.

“I think everyone on our football team watched that [championship] game and said, ‘Well, shoot. It’s time to get ours,’” linebacker Kyle Woestmann said Wednesday. “That’s been the attitude here. That’s one thing I like about Mason. He’s had no problem standing up in front of podiums at speaking events and saying our goal is to win the SEC. That is our goal.

“It’s nice that we’ve won nine games in back-to-back seasons. It’s no longer, ‘Let’s make a bowl game.’ ‘Let’s have a winning season,’ that type of thing. It’s, ‘We’re just as good. We’re just as talented. We’re probably smarter. And we’re going to be more physical than a lot of teams in the SEC.’ It’s time for us to an SEC championship, and everyone knows if you win the SEC you’re probably going to go to the national championship [playoff].”

The Commodores resume work toward that end Thursday when they open fall camp.

They have questions about who will be their starting quarterback, their starters in the secondary, at wide receiver and at kicker. They also have big ideas about what they can accomplish.

“Dream big, big things are possible,” Mason said. “Dream small, you’ll be out there pitching newspapers. And that’s not a bad thing, but for us, we want to make sure that we have our own set of goals.

“I know in the media, in terms of where we’re picked and the speculation of where we’re going to wind up – that’s a good thing. I don’t think I’ve ever been picked to be on top. … I’m optimistic about what this camp holds for us.”

Jul 30, 2014 3:05 PM

Fulmer only misses coaching at Tennessee 'every day'

Phillip Fulmer has found a way to distract himself.

The former University of Tennessee player and long-time football coach probably won’t ever distance himself from that program.

It has been six years since Fulmer last coached the Volunteers and, he recently told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that not a day passes when he does not think about it his school and his former job.

"I almost try to block it out," Fulmer said. "But I miss it every day. Just not as much as I used to."

These days Fulmer is a consultant with East Tennessee State, which is in the process of resurrecting its football program that has been shuttered since 2003. ETSU will resume play in 2015.

He also recently had both his knees replaced.

UT has been to just two bowl games in the last six seasons, a streak of futility that started in 2008, Fulmer’s final season, when the Volunteers went 5-7.

Despite Fulmer’s efforts to keep his mind on other things, he said he thinks the program is in good hands with current coach Butch Jones.

“Butch has the right attitude and approach,” he said. “Now he still has to win, but he's doing things the right way.”

Jul 30, 2014 11:49 AM

Wright's numbers measure up to those of NFL's taller receivers

Call it a Napoleon complex. Call it short man syndrome. Call it little man disease.

Whatever you call it, it’s real. Confirmation and definitions of it exist from the upper crust of academia all the way to the urban dictionary.

This definition comes the latter: “An angry male of below average height who feels it necessary to act out in an attempt to gain respect and recognition from others and compensate for his abnormally short stature.”

Playing in the NFL at 5-foot-10, Kendall Wright is decidedly a candidate. Among the 90 players on the Tennessee Titans training camp roster only three (Dexter McCluster, Leon Washington and Waymon James) are shorter. Even one of the kickers has three inches on him.

The 2012 first-round draft pick seems utterly immune, though. He definitely is not an angry man and he doesn’t engage in the histrionics so many other wide receivers do.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t talk a whole lot but you can see his competitive spirit the way he plays the game,” quarterback Jake Locker said. “None of you could argue that with me. You watch him play the game and the emotion he plays the game with, the intensity … he’s just a football player. You can tell that and everybody else in the locker room can tell that. I think he gains respect that way.”

That, and he puts up some big numbers. Last fall he led the team and was seventh in the league with 94 receptions, the franchise’s highest single-season total in a decade and the fifth highest total in team history.

Over the last five seasons 22 different players have caught 90 or more passes in a season a total of 38 times. Just six of those 22, including Wright, were listed at smaller than six feet.

Wes Welker is the only one of the short guys to do it more than once. He did so three times, tied for the most over that span with five who 6-foot and taller. That group includes Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Jason Witten.

MEASURING UP
A look at the sub 6-foot players who caught 90 passes or more in a season from 2009 through 2013:

• Wes Welker (5-foot-9): 123 in 2009; 122 in 2011; 118 in 2012
• Antonio Brown (5-foot-10): 110 in 2013
• Steve Smith (5-foot-11): 107 in 2009
• Julian Edelman (5-foot-10): 105 in 2013
• Kendall Wright (5-foot-10): 94 in 2013
• Santana Moss (5-foot-10): 93 in 2010

(Note: The Steve Smith referenced is the one who played for the New York Giants in 2009, not the one who played for the Carolina Panthers)

Only two players in Titans/Oilers history have caught 90 or more passes in consecutive seasons. Haywood Jeffires did it in 1991 and 1992, at the height of the franchise’s run-and-shoot era, and Derrick Mason (also 5-foot-10, by the way) in 2003 and 2004.

If Wright can match – or exceed – last year’s numbers this season, therefore, it would be a notable achievement.

“I’ll be doing good if I get 95,” he said. “That’s better than it was last year. I mean, 100 is not important but if I get it that’s a good thing for me and for us. I’m not even thinking stats. I just want to be better than I was last year as an individual and as a whole team.”

Based on his size, most analysts classify Wright as a slot receiver. According to FootballOutsiders.com, though, he played more than 75 percent of the Titans’ offensive snaps in 2013, up from 55.8 percent his rookie season.

Through the first four days of this training camp, he clearly is the Titans’ No. 1 receiver.

“I love proving people wrong,” Wright said. “As long as people are saying negative things, that drives me to be what I am. It makes it that much better, that much more fun to go out there and work and be better than I was.”

OK. So maybe he has a little bit of it in him.

Jul 30, 2014 5:15 AM

Jones makes the most of every moment of UT football

There is no such thing as wasted time to Butch Jones.

The second-year University of Tennessee coach has placed a great emphasis on, and created real enthusiasm for the future with his first two recruiting efforts. His 2014 signing class was widely rated as one of the top five in the nation.

He makes the most of the present and rarely lets a moment go to waste. The tireless 46-year-old appears relentlessly throughout the state and region to spread his message of hard work and emphasis on the process.

Tuesday, for example, he was in Nashville to speak at a downtown luncheon hosted by the Nashville Sports Council. It was there that he spoke in depth about the past, which he considers an essential aspect of the program now and in the future.

“It's all about our former players; they're the ones that kind of built the program with their sweat equity,” Jones said, according to FoxSports.com. “It's all about them. They are the program.”

Former players have embraced Jones’ approach and even have been emboldened by it. Late last week at an appearance in the Chattanooga area, several voiced their support for him with a scathing assessment of his predecessors.

In recent weeks, other former players have traveled to Knoxville to reconnect with their personal history and help shape what is to come.

More from Jones:

“(Monday) was a great day because we welcomed Chad Clifton back; it's been a number of years since he's been in our building and he came in with his family,” Jones said. “It was good to be able to spend time with him. Earlier this summer Peyton Manning came back along with Eric Berry, Jason Witten and Albert Haynesworth.

“To be able to have these former players come back is great, and that's the power of Tennessee,” Jones said. “That's not only the great tradition we have, but also the affinity that our former players have for the Tennessee Vols and our football family.”

Jul 30, 2014 5:10 AM

Former MTSU running back gets another chance, signs with Indianapolis

Phillip Tanner had to wait for his next opportunity to make it in the NFL.

It came Tuesday when the Indianapolis Colts signed the former Middle Tennessee State running back, who first caught on in 2011 as an undrafted free agent with Dallas.

Shortly after the Colts announced the addition, Tanner posted, “Time to go to work!!!!” on his Twitter page.

Tanner will be with Indianapolis when it practices Wednesday.

He played 39 games in three seasons with the Cowboys. In that time he rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns, caught nine passes for 93 yards and was a regular contributor on special teams.

He was a restricted free agent this offseason and Dallas opted not to make the one-year, $1.389 million qualifying offer necessary to keep him.

The Colts need help at running back after veteran Vick Ballard sustained a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon last week. Of the other five healthy running backs currently on their roster, only free agent Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson have more experience than Tanner.

A lot of times it’s not when an opportunity comes but where – and it looks as if Tanner is now in as good a spot as any to extend his professional career.

Jul 29, 2014 3:14 PM

Golden Tate gets healthy in time to start training camp with new team

Golden Tate started his first training camp with the Detroit Lions right on time.

He wasn’t so sure he’d make it.

The 25-year-old wide receiver and one-time star at Pope John Paul II High School missed time during the offseason and was on the physically unable to perform list with a shoulder injury before the Lions returned him to the active roster Monday, their first day on the field.

“That was the first time I’ve ever done something to my shoulder, so I wasn’t sure,” Tate said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I kind of trusted the doctors. The doctors said I would be back by camp and here I am practicing Day 1. However, there was a lot of rehabbing and strengthening the muscles around it so it didn’t shut down, but I feel like I’m close to being pretty good.”

After four seasons and a Super Bowl victory with the Seattle Seahawks, Tate signed a five-year, $31 million deal with Detroit to be a starter opposite All-Pro Calvin Johnson.

Tate had career-highs of 64 receptions and 898 yards (he scored five touchdowns) last season. It seems logical to assume that he will have the opportunity to do even more this season given the amount of attention Johnson typically receives from opposing defenses.

“I think you realize that he’s a very important piece to our offense,” first-year coach Jim Caldwell said. “He adds a lot in terms of his ability to catch the ball and run with it. He’s a high-energy guy, but his leadership is also important as well. So, certainly, we are glad to have him back.”

Jul 29, 2014 2:49 PM