Tennessee State selects 'Too Tall' Jones for Merritt Classic honoree

Ed “Too Tall” Jones will be the honoree at the 17th Annual John Merritt Classic.

Tennessee State University recently announced the plan to honor one of its football program’s all-time greats. A basketball scholarship brought him to campus but coach John Merritt eventually convinced him to play football.

Jones left TSU second on the school’s career sacks list (he had 106) and later became a three-time All-Pro defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys. He was the first overall pick in the 1974 draft and set a franchise record for games played for the Cowboys.

From TSU:

Tennessee State was not prepared for a football player of Jones’ size to suit up for the team, so Jones was given a uniform that didn’t quite fit. Much to the delight of his teammates, Jones ended up looking like a child who had outgrown his clothes. His appearance led teammates to call him “Too Tall” because he looked too tall to play football.

The 17th annual John Merritt Classic will be Sept. 6 at Nissan Stadium. Festivities to recognize Jones will take place at halftime of the contest between TSU and Alabama State.

(Photo: TSU athletics)

Aug 3, 2015 5:13 PM

NeXovation blames lender in Superspeedway morass; Dover in talks with others

The planned sale of Nashville Superspeedway to locally based NeXovation has fallen through, but NeXovation CEO Robb Sexton says he's not giving up. He says a big reason his team hasn't closed on its $46 million deal is that its lender hasn't followed through and, as such, caused lengthy delays. Now that the Dover deal has expired, NeXovation can look for other funders to back its plans.

"We have invested millions of dollars in the Speedway sales process and we are not going to allow the negative actions of others to deter us from our goal," Sexton said in a statement issued late Friday.

SEE ALSO: Dover's new 10-Q, in which execs say they are in talks with other potential buyers

Aug 3, 2015 11:54 AM

Five For Clicking: 3 August 2015

Five stories to read today...

From Puck Daddy: "Why trading Shea Weber finally makes sense for Nashville"

Former Tennessean beat man Josh Cooper says if the Predators are ever going to trade their captain, now's the time.

From SBNation: "Tennessee Titans wide receivers are practicing with great drills for 11-year-olds"

The Titans have changed WR coaches but not their penchant for wacky drills.

From Vice Sports: "Supporter-Owned Socccer Team Fights For its Future in Nashville"

Can Nashville FC make it to the bigs? Not as currently constructed, probably, but it's a good start.

From The Tennessean: "Vanderbilt rape trial, mistrial cost TN taxpayers more than $111 million"

An odd way to phrase this as criminal trials are frequently quite expensive but maybe then that's the point.

From the New YorTimes: "Roddy Piper, a Master Villain of Professional Wrestling, Dies at 61"

One of the greats.

Aug 3, 2015 9:21 AM

Beefed up Casey believes bigger will be better in 2015

Move over Atkins and Paleo there’s a new diet in town: The Jurrell Casey diet.

Nothing about it is traditional. Not even the results.

“Honestly I eat whatever I please,” Casey said Thursday during the Titans training camp press conference. “I just make sure to workout hard and stay in shape as I do it.”

Last season Casey’s playing weight was 285 to 290 pounds and that just did not work the style of play he wants to employ. 

“I’m a couple pounds heavier. I’m at 298 so I’m feeling good, feeling great,” Casey said. “I had to get a little bit heavier, last year I felt I was getting moved a little bit easier than normal. I didn't like playing at the weight I was at last year so I said I’ve got to come back and put a little bit of weight on.”

Last season the Titans surrendered 137.2 rushing yards per game, ranking 31st out of 32 teams. The ultimate goal for Casey is not just to be able to eat whatever he wants, but to grow into a bigger body with the intent of breaking up double teams and stopping the run.

“Sacks and all that don’t matter if you cant stop them on first and second down,” he said. “So our job is to stop them and put them in third and long as much as possible so we get as many opportunities to rush the quarterback.”

With a bigger, healthier body to go along with some new playmaking teammates both offensive and defensively, Casey seems optimistic about the upcoming season.

“I think every year should be exciting. You never know what the season is going to pan out for you. Every game you’ve got to take one at a time and try to win as much as possible,” Casey said. “Bringing in the amount of players that we’ve brought in this offseason and adding players on the offensive side, you know big time players, is going to boost our confidence a little bit more and give us the opportunity to go out and win games.”

He’s hoping a couple extra pounds help as well.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 3, 2015 5:15 AM

Predators stay on schedule when signing players to long-term deals

David Poile is not interested in love at first sight.

The Nashville Predators general manager believes in a professional courtship, if you will. His theory is that it takes time for two parties to get to know one another, to trust one another, to believe in one another.

There comes a time, though, when commitment is the best option.

The latest examples were the recent deals for 25-year-old forwards Craig Smith (five years, $21.25 million) and Colin Wilson (four years, $15.75 million).

“When a player is in his mid-20s and has been with you for a few years and you believe you know what he’s capable of, I think the best thing to do is for both sides to commit to one another for the long-term or you just move on,” Poile told the Nashville Post last week.

Of course, there’s no such thing as forever in the NHL. Four or five years, in these cases, constitute a long time and even those deals come with no guarantees.

Poile has negotiated similar packages with other notable players throughout the years. Some worked out better than others.

A look at others to whom the Predators have committed, and vice versa under comparable circumstances:

 
2007
DAVID LEGWAND

(27 years old)
Six years, $27 million

Why: The deal was done early in the season and went into effect with the start of 2008-09. At the time, the first draft pick in franchise history already was the Predators’ all-time leader in goals, points, game-winning goals and overtime points.

Return on investment (ROI): Legwand scored 20 goals for the first (and only) time in the first season of that contract. At the end of 2007-08 he had 327 points in 549 games (an average of .596 points per game). In 407 games that followed he had 239 points (.587 points per game). Basically, the Predators got what they paid for but not what they hoped for.

 
2008
MARTIN ERAT

(26 years old)
Seven years, $31.5 million

Why: This deal was done shortly after the 2007-08 season, one in which Erat tied his career-high with 57 points and set personal bests in goals (23), game-winning goals (six) and registered his first career hat trick.

ROI: He played almost five of the seven seasons on that deal with Nashville but scored more than 20 goals just once. He did set a career-high with 58 points in 2011-12 and scored four playoff goals (half his current career total) in 2010. Much like Legwand, he remained consistent but never made the offensive jump the franchise anticipated.

 
2011
PEKKA RINNE

(28 years old)
Seven years, $49 million

Why: This deal was done early in the 2011-12 season and was considered a critical first step in the team’s plan to lock up him, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to long-term deals before they became free agents. At that time he already had been a Vezina Trophy finalist once and was on his way to a second.

ROI: He set franchise records with 43 wins and 73 games played in 2011-12 – before the deal took effect. Injuries and illness were issues for the first two seasons but he finally started to deliver a big payoff with 41 wins and 2.18 goals-against average (and a third Vezina Trophy finalist nod) last season. The market for goalies has not quite caught up to this deal but it still looks like a good one.

 
2012
KEVIN KLEIN

(27 years old)
Five years, $14.5 million

Why: In the wake of Suter’s departure two months earlier, Nashville was desperate to keep the rest of its core defense intact and executed this deal hours before NHL owners locked out the players for four months. Plus, Klein topped 20 points for the first time in his career the previous season.

ROI: The 2003 second-round pick played just one season and part of another before the Predators traded him to the New York Rangers. In 94 games played under this pact he had just 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). At a time when his experience was supposed to mean the most, management shipped him out to make room for the next round of young defensemen.

 
2013
ROMAN JOSI

(23 years old)
Seven years, $28 million

Why: Having played just one full NHL season (a lockout-shortened season, at that) Josi proved himself a worthwhile complement to defense partner Weber. Rather than risk a repeat of the Ryan Suter fiasco, Predators management convinced the youngster to commit the rest of his 20s to them.

ROI: In the first two seasons of the deal Josi consistently has gotten better. Last season he was Nashville’s highest scoring defenseman and joined Weber among the top five in Norris Trophy voting. If the upward trend continues, this deal is going to look like a bargain in the last couple seasons.

 
PATRIC HORNQVIST
(26 years old)

Five years, $21.25 million

Why: The last pick in the 2007 NHL draft averaged 26 goals during his first three full NHL seasons. Twice in a span of three seasons (2009-10 and 2011-12) he led the team in goals, which made him (at the time) the only player drafted by Nashville to do so more than once.

ROI: In announcing the deal Poile said Hornqvist "has become – and will remain – an integral member of our core group." Well, he remained with the team for one season in which he scored 22 goals and his attitude soured. He went to Pittsburgh in the trade that brought James Neal, a more versatile and mobile threat.

 
2014
RYAN ELLIS

(23 years old)
Five years, $12.5 million

Why: A first-round pick (11th overall) in 2009, Ellis had no shortage of believers within the organization after his first full NHL season. Most notably, concerns about durability due to his size were eased when he played 80 games in 2013-14.

ROI: The deal makes sense because the salary sets reasonable expectations for a player who accomplishments in junior hockey, in many cases, were beyond comprehension. An injury limited him to just 58 games but he scored 27 points, the same number as the previous year and a clear indication that his game includes some significant offensive upside.

 
(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 3, 2015 5:10 AM

Transfer wide receiver won't have to wait to play at MTSU

Jocquez Bruce planned to be a blueshirt at the University of Tennessee this fall. Instead, he’ll be a Blue Raider.

The freshman wide receiver out of South Doyle agreed over the weekend to walk on at Middle Tennessee State. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, which confirmed the player’s plans with his former high school coach, Bruce will get a scholarship from MTSU in January.

He will not have to sit out a year under NCAA transfer rules because he never signed a national letter-of-intent with UT.

From the News Sentinel:

Bruce's original plan to blueshirt at UT meant he was eligible to enroll and play this season without being an initial scholarship counter for the 2015 signing class. In order to count as a blueshirt, Bruce had to arrive at UT as a walk-on, forego an official visit and not receive an in-home visit from UT coaches during recruitment. In return, the expectation was he would be awarded a scholarship for the fall semester. That scholarship would have counted toward next year's recruiting class.

Bruce reportedly had been suspended from team activities and announced a little more than a week ago he would leave UT.

MTSU opens preseason camp Thursday.


 

Aug 3, 2015 5:05 AM

Festus Ezeli's life, career paths take him back to Africa

Festus Ezeli has come a long way – literally and figuratively.

Born in Nigeria, he moved to the United States in 2004 as a 15-year-old and a year later he got cut the first time he tried out for his high school basketball team.

Now he is back in Nigeria as an NBA champion.

Ezeli will play for the Africa Team in Saturday’s NBA Africa Game, a first-of-its-kind event for that continent that will take place Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“To bring NBA basketball out there just shows how much basketball has grown in that continent," Ezeli told Yahoo Sports, in a lenghty piece about his life and his professional journey. "Pretty soon, Africa is going to be a contender in basketball. Eventually, it's going to rival the United States. We just haven't tapped that resource yet. This is the beginning."

Between his arrival in the United States and his recent turn as a role player for the Golden State Warriors in their run to the 2015 NBA championship, Ezeli spent five years at Vanderbilt, where he developed into an NBA draft pick (30th overall in 2012).

His mother preferred he go to Harvard, something each of them recounted for Yahoo, but Ezeli was interested in the best possible balance between education and basketball.

Now his mother would rather he not return to Africa because of concerns for his safety. Ezeli again made his own decision.

"I've been beyond lucky, blessed or whatever it is," Ezeli said via Yahoo. "I've had people come into my life that I never expected. I've had people come and support me that I never expected. They all are a part of my journey.

"… Nothing is impossible. You just have to be able to dream big and work hard for it."

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 31, 2015 11:59 AM

David Price goes flat after trade to Toronto

Former Vandy ace David Price is on his way north of the border after a trade sent him from Detroit to Toronto. That's a fairly short trip, but it's a good thing Price isn't scheduled to start for the Jays until Sunday. He caught a flat tire and has been tweeting the experience. The sort of tires he needs were not immediately available but a quick interview with Dan Patrick saved the day. Price's beloved ride, Jenny, will be ready to go in no time and the five-time All-Star should make it to Rogers Centre no problem — unfortunately, for this Royals fan.

Jul 31, 2015 11:57 AM

Belmont alumna's golf apparel venture takes off

Over at our sister blog Southern/alpha, Ayumi Fukuda Bennett has the story on the promising start of Sydney Elizabeth, a women's golf apparel company launched last year by Belmont then-student Sydney Hudson. Since launching formally online, the business has run through its inventory twice and Hudson now is working on custom gear for eight high school and college teams.

Though the business is still very young, Hudson’s next big goal is to be a vendor at the PGA Merchandise Show within the next year. And as she continues to grow her online traffic and physical presence in more stores, her golf apparel has extended to all customers who seek trendy, functional attire.

“A lot of girls buy them to wear with a t-shirt and sandals to go shopping or lunch with their friends!” said Hudson. “It has taken off faster than I ever imagined and I feel so blessed to get to wake up every morning and do what I love. I have God, my family, and friends to thank for that.”

Jul 31, 2015 11:44 AM

Reasons to believe: Titans in 2015

This is the time of year when anything is possible.

The Tennessee Titans, having missed out on the postseason for six straight years, have yet to lose a game. Of course, they haven’t won one either.

It is a challenge to think this team can craft a major turnaround with — among other things — a rookie quarterback, no proven running back and a continued transition to new schemes that were implemented in 2014. Yet for those inclined to do so, there is no current evidence to dispute their point of view.

If ever there was a time for optimism, this is it. So we offer it up, matched by an equal dose of pessimism for those who are convinced nothing notable has changed under coach Ken Whisenhunt and General Manager Ruston Webster.

 
Three reasons to believe the Titans will be a playoff team in 2015

The new kid: Marcus Mariota was named the starting quarterback about the time the Titans used the second overall pick in the 2015 draft to get him. In short, the guy is a winner. He got the 2014 Heisman Trophy, won 36 games as a three-year starter in college and threw 105 touchdown passes with just 14 interceptions at Oregon. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III recently got their respective teams to the playoffs as rookies. So it can happen.

The old man: The addition of Dick Lebeau to the coaching staff might have been more important than any offseason player transaction. There’s not a team in the league that doesn’t employ at least a few concepts on defense that Lebeau, who is 77 years old, pioneered. He has proven that he can make stars of high draft picks and undrafted longshots alike with his scheme that emphasizes speed and can attack an offense from most anywhere.

The bad boys: Increasingly over the last couple years, the Titans have been willing to take on guys who come with character concerns but who also have undeniable ability. They drafted tackle Taylor Lewan in the first round last year and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham in the second round this year. They also added free agent cornerback Perrish Cox this offseason. They all offer the potential to provide significant upgrades — just as long as they can stay out of trouble.

 
Three reasons to believe the Titans will miss the playoffs once again

The quarterback: For all of Mariota’s obvious virtues, he ran a spread offense at Oregon and the vast majority of spread quarterbacks have struggled with the transition to the NFL. For crying out loud, the guy never had called a play from a huddle until his first workout with the Titans. It’s simply asking too much for him to learn all he needs to know about a pro style offense and elevate this team at the same time.

The coach: Yes, Whisenhunt (pictured) led the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance in his second season as head coach of that franchise. Then, though, he went 8-8 in his first season and only improved by one game (9-7) before his team got hot in the playoffs. Overall, his record as a head coach is 45-65 and he has not had a winning record in his last four seasons in that role.

The talent: Tennessee has had one player named to the Pro Bowl in the last four years — and that one, cornerback Alterraun Verner, left in free agency the ensuing offseason. The interior of the offensive line is the same group that struggled much of the last two seasons, and the defense does not have a proven pass rusher (no one has led the team in sacks in back-to-back seasons since Kyle Vanden Bosch in 2005, '06 and '07). Last year’s leading rusher, Bishop Sankey, had 569 yards. Examples of where this team comes up short are abundant.

 
The bottom line

Yes, it happens in the NFL. Teams got from terrible to the top (or at least close to it) in short order. One recent example is the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 2-14 in 2012 but then went 11-5 and made the playoffs the following season, their first under coach Andy Reid. That, however, is the exception. And that Chiefs team had a handful of Pro Bowl players in place.

The Titans remain very much a work in progress, and there is a lot that must be done before this franchise legitimately can ponder the possibility of a playoff berth.


(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 31, 2015 11:00 AM