Sometimes on word can say a lot. Then again, it also leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Both were the case back on April 30, when former Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy wrote one word, “Yikes,” on his Twitter page moments after the St. Louis Rams drafted former Georgia running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick.
Many understood that it was Stacy’s assessment of his role on the team for which he was the leading rusher in 2013 (973 yards, seven touchdowns). He lost playing time in 2014 to rookie Tre Mason, a third-round pick out of Auburn, and with Gurley on board it was immediately apparent that Stacy could lose his roster spot as well.
Many did not process the word that way, though, the Commodores’ all-time leading rusher told Sports Illustrated. Instead, they saw it as a criticism of the team’s decision.
“It was meant to be kind of humorous,” Stacy said. “I didn’t think it'd get the reaction it did, to tell the truth. I was just trying to be funny. At the end of the day, I should have worded it better."
He eventually deleted the post but not before, he said, it “got like 20,000 re-tweets.”
The Rams understood, which is why they traded him a short time later to the New York Jets, where he is one of five running backs currently on the roster and vying for playing time.
“It’s a human reaction,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff told Sports Illustrated about Stacy’s Tweet. “Anyone who knows Zac knows he’s a terrific human being. Tone and nuance don’t exist on Twitter. People’s natural inclination is to go negative and to assume the worst.
“… I think we often want to penalize athletes for being real human beings. But Zac is a great kid and he didn’t mean anything negative. It was just raw emotion and it wasn’t anything like lashing out toward the team.”
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Most of what ESPN analyst Mel Kiper says at this time of year is about what is to come.
The man who helped pioneer the NFL mock draft has seemingly endless opinions about who should be drafted where and why, how prospects rank in each position group. He is likely to be a ubiquitous presence between now and the 2015 NFL draft, which is now a month away.
In a conference call last week, though, Kiper looked back to the 2014 draft and said former Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews went undrafted far too long.
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Matthews in the second round (42nd overall). He was the seventh wide receiver taken overall and the second picked in the second round.
"If Matthews continues to develop, he's an elite receiver,” Kiper said, according to Philadelphia magazine. “He's a number one. They hit the jackpot with Jordan Matthews. He should've been a one.
“We talked about that, if you flipped Matthews with [first round pick Marcus] Smith, it would have been a little bit better. [Coach] Chip [Kelly] took exception to that, but that was my feeling. Matthews should've been a one and Smith shouldn't have been a one."
Matthews played all 16 games (10 starts) for the Eagles and finished with 67 receptions, 872 yards and eight touchdowns.
Smith, a defensive end out of Louisville, was Philadelphia’s first-round choice (26th overall). He appeared in just eight games.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, negotiated prior to the 2011 season, took a lot of the negotiating out of rookie contracts.
Apparently, it negated the need to wait as well.
Less than a week after they were selected, fourth-round draft picks DaQuan Jones, a defensive lineman, and Marqueston Huff (pictured), a cornerback, agreed to contract terms with the Tennessee Titans.
A year ago, it was a month after the draft that the first Titans’ selections signed. All came to terms by late June except first-round draft pick Chance Warmack whose deal finally was completed July 30.
Jones (6-foot-4, 322 pounds) was the 112th overall selection out of Penn State, where he was a two-year starter.
“With us switching to a 3-4 defense with [defensive coordinator] Ray Horton, the more guys that have the flexibility to move along the defensive line the better,” general manager Ruston Webster said following the draft. “The fact that he has that size and the well-tuned athleticism, he can play the five technique, the nose, and the three technique for us. The more guys we can add like that, it helps Ray be more creative as well as help the team with depth.”
Huff (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) was the 122nd overall selection out of Wyoming, where he was a three-year starter (two at cornerback, one at safety).
“The one thing when we first got here and met with our coaches and we were going through free agency and Ray Horton talked about the guys that were versatile enough to play both [cornerback and safety],” Webster said. “So actually we talked about a few players in free agency that were like that and he fits that mold. He is one of those guys who can play in the nickel or can play corner or he could play free safety and I think will help us on special teams.”
The Tennessee Titans expect DaQuan Jones to be a player who is difficult to move.
His size (he is 6-foot-4, 322 pounds) and strength are welcome additions to the interior of the defensive front because coaches and scouts believe he can occupy space and hold his ground.
It’s already clear, though, that he is someone who is willing to stick it out.
Jones, like everyone else who played for Penn State at the time, had the opportunity to transfer in the wake of a scandal that involved Jerry Sandusky, that school’s former defensive coordinator, and forced legendary coach Joe Paterno out of his job late in 2012.
Instead, the New York native stayed and helped the program remain competitive in the Big Ten and restore some of the prestige that had been lost. He was a starter in 23 of the Nittany Lions’ 24 games since, a first-team all-conference performer in 2013 and was named the team’s Outstanding Senior Player in 2013.
“That’s not an easy situation and just in meeting with him and speaking with him, he is an impressive young man,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think his actions of what he did there and how he is consistent over the years speaks a lot about him as well.”
Jones’ position coach at Penn State, Larry Johnson, was named interim coach following Paterno’s dismissal and had a reputation for developing NFL players. He remained on the staff when Bill O’Brien became head coach.
By staying, Jones also continued progress toward a degree in criminology and spent last summer as an intern with a police department not far from the university.
“I’m glad that I stayed because I had the best four years of my life,” Jones said. “To be able to be coached by Coach Johnson was a blessing and I enjoyed every second of it. At the same time, we still had a great team there and a great core value of players and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m happy I stayed.”
That he did is only one reason the Titans are now happy to have him in town as part of this week’s rookie orientation.
“It says a lot,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “A lot of players left. It was a tough situation and not only did he stay, he helped those guys win games and kind of persevere through a real difficult time. So, he was a real impressive young man to talk to and besides the fact he’s big man. He can help us inside and just make us better there. It says a lot about him.”
For all six of the players selected by Tennessee Titans, last weekend’s NFL draft was a positive experience.
It was the culmination of years of hard work for all of them. Likewise, it marked their entry into the league and an opportunity to make a living in the sport. For some, it meant a significant payday awaits in the not too distant future.
For those already on the team the draft had various meetings – not all of them good.
A look at some whose situation changed for the better and others whose situation changed for the worse based on what the Titans did in the draft:
• LOSER – Mike Martin, defensive line: While it remains to be seen which linemen fit into the new scheme the best, Martin is the only one of seven interior linemen who weighs less than 300 pounds. The seventh came in the fourth round of the draft when Tennessee selected 6-foot-4, 322-pound DaQuan Jones.
• WINNER – Michael Griffin, safety: Some were surprised when he signed a five-year deal prior to the 2012 season. Few believed he would be around for the end of that deal. As he enters Year Three of that pact, though, there is not even a young free safety on the roster to back him up let alone push him for that position.
• LOSER – Tyler Wilson, quarterback: Sure, Zach Mettenberger’s selection creates uncertainty about Jake Locker’s long-term future with the franchise, but it casts serious doubt about Wilson’s current status. It will be an upset if Mettenberger does not supplant Wilson as Tennessee’s No. 3 quarterback.
• WINNER – Brian Robiskie, wide receiver: Originally a second-round draft pick by Cleveland in 2009, he got a contract after a tryout during the recent minicamp. When the Titans didn’t draft a wide receiver, that meant he was in position to battle Marc Mariani and Michael Preston for fourth on the depth chart, a spot neither of those two have attained.
• LOSER – Michael Roos, tackle: Any thoughts he had about extending his career with the Titans to an 11th season vanished the moment Taylor Lewan was drafted in the first round. Roos (pictured) might as well enjoy the $6.625 million he is scheduled to earn this year, which is the last on his current contract and last money he’ll receive from the Titans.
• WINNERS – Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerbacks: There was much pre-draft speculation that the Titans would pick a cornerback in the first round, someone who could step in as a starter to replace free agent departure Alterraun Verner. They did pick a cornerback, but it was not until the fifth round that they got Marqueston Huff, who might ultimately be a safety, That means Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson are now free to duke it out over the rest of the offseason to see who replaces Verner.
If interest from NFL franchises is an indication, Vanderbilt’s football team still has some work to do in order to build a national reputation.
The eastern half of the country seems well aware of the Commodores, though, based on the fact that seven undrafted players from the 2013 team signed as free agents with teams from South Florida to the Great Lakes region.
Those deals, agreed to Saturday and Sunday, followed the selection of three players in the draft, two of them to Eastern teams. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews went in the second round to Philadelphia and offensive lineman Wesley Johnson went to Pittsburgh in the fifth.
The lone ‘Western’ exception was cornerback Andre Hal, who went to Houston in the seventh round. It’s worth nothing, though, that former Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Ed Lambert is a scout for the Texans and regularly attends Commodores games.
It should be pointed out, though, that last year's two draft picks went to St. Louis (running back Zach Stacy) and Seattle (offensive lineman Ryan Seymour). So it's not like the program is rumor throughout the rest of the country.
A look at where Vanderbilt’s undrafted players after being passed over in the NFL draft:
Walker May, defensive end
Javon Marshall, safety
Kenny Ladler, safety (pictured)
Jonathan Krause, wide receiver
Steve Clarke, cornerback
Carey Spear, kicker
Chase Garnham, linebacker
The Tennessee Titans didn’t get help at every position in the 2014 NFL draft.
It helped, therefore, that one spot they ignored during the seven-round selection process was wide receiver, where there still were plenty of prospects, albeit longshots, eager to sign free agent deals.
“I think they’re always going to be guys that become available,” vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson said. “I hate to say it because I played wide receiver, but it’s almost like we’re a dime a dozen. You can find guys.”
The Titans certainly had no problems doing exactly that. The team formally announced Monday that it had agreed to terms with 13 undrafted players – four of them wide receivers.
• Jaz Reynolds (6-2, 201) Oklahoma (pictured): His college career was stop-and-start in that he played as a true freshman in 2009, redshirted in 2010, played in 2001, sat out 2012 and was back on the team in 2013. Both seasons he missed were because of violation of team rules. His best season was 2011, when he had 41 receptions for 715 yards and five touchdowns.
• Josh Stewart (5-10, 178) Oklahoma State: He caught 101 passes for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore but his production dipped slightly as a junior. He has good hands and was productive in college but is small and is more quick than fast. If he contributes anywhere it will be as a slot receiver.
• Derel Walker (6-1, 188) Texas A&M: He played two years in junior college before he transferred to A&M where he caught 59 passes for 903 yards and five touchdowns. The vast majority of those numbers came last season.
• Eric Ward (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) Texas Tech: A fifth-year senior in 2013 he finished with a team-high 84 catches for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns, but those are fairly pedestrian numbers in Texas Tech’s pass-happy offense. He is solidly built and a reliably route runner who looks more like a slot receiver than one who can play outside
The other undrafted free agents who agreed to deals with the Tennessee Titans were: Ri’Shard Anderson, cornerback, Syracuse; Antonio Andrews, running back, Western Kentucky; Travis Coons, kicker, Washington; Jadon Gayle, defensive end, Virginia Tech; Gabe Ikard, center, Oklahoma; Justin McCray, guard, Central Florida; Jamal Merrell, linebacker, Rutgers; Hakeem Smith, safety, Louisville; and David Wright, tight end, Westminster (Pa.).
It is still a possibility that Jake Locker will be the Tennessee Titans quarterback for a long time.
There was a sense that his days were numbered, though, when franchise officials capped their participation in the 2014 NFL draft Saturday with the sixth-round selection of quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
It has been just three seasons since the Titans got Locker with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft. After Steve McNair was drafted fifth overall in 1995 it was four years before the team used another pick on a quarterback. Likewise, it was four years between Vince Young’s selection at No. 3 and the next time the Titans chose a quarterback.
“I can’t speak about a long-term situation with Jake, that’s something that will play itself out based on how everybody plays,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Every player in the NFL, it’s based on what he does now. It doesn’t matter what he has done in the past or what you think he can do in the future.
“… We feel good about Jake. That doesn’t change our opinion on Jake. We are just trying to make our football team better.”
Mettenberger is similar to the others who followed the first-round selections in that was selected late in the draft. The Titans used a fifth-round pick on Kevin Daft in 1999 and a sixth-round choice on Rusty Smith in 2010.
The good news for Locker is that those two never advanced beyond third on the team’s depth chart.
Neither, however, faced the same level of college competition as Mettenberger, LSU’s starting quarterback for the last two seasons. Daft played at Division II California-Davis and Smith starred for Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt Conference.
“I think playing in the SEC against some great talent and good defenses, you get a real sense of where he is physically,” Whisenhunt said.
Plus, Mettenberger has arm strength that far exceeds what the other two displayed.
“He is just so big and throws the ball so well,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “And the talent level … they say that a quarterback’s talent is in his arm and that’s the case for him. He throws the ball really well.”
Those aren’t the only differences.
When Daft and Smith were drafted Jeff Fisher, who had a defensive background, was entrenched in his position and the team embodied his core principles of ball and clock control.
The current situation is unique in that Whisenhunt is in his first year as Titans coach and likely looking to put his personal stamp on the organization. He has an offensive background, calls his own plays and works closely with the quarterbacks.
“I enjoy working with quarterbacks,” Whisenhunt said. “They’re all different. I’ve been very lucky to work with some outstanding quarterbacks, each one of them is different.
“I’m excited to work with Zach. I’m excited to work with Jake, obviously, [and] with Charlie [Whitehurst] and even Tyler [Wilson]. Our four that we’ve got on the team right now, all different, came different ways, but [I am] excited to work with all of them.”
McNair and Young also were unquestioned starters at the time the next quarterbacks were drafted. McNair started every game in 1997 and 1998. Young, although in and out of the lineup during his first four seasons, started the final 10 games of 2009 and won eight of them.
Injuries limited Locker to just 18 starts the last two seasons and a little more than a week ago the franchise declined to exercise an option that would have extended his contract through 2015. That means Locker is in the final season of the deal he signed as a rookie.
Now comes Mettenberger.
“I will tell you one thing about it,” Webster said. “There is one guy that I don’t worry about handling things, and it is Jake Locker. Jake and I have a really good relationship, or I feel we do.
“In talking to him, he is really not fazed by any of it.”
He’s certainly not on solid ground either.
Jordan Matthews thought he proved he was worthy of a first-round pick when he became the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading receiver over the last four years.
After he went to the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round (42nd overall) Friday, it was clear he was not prepared to let it go completely. It simply meant he would have to prove that he should have gone earlier.
“I was made for this, but I think it's just God putting me in a position to keep that chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I wasn't going to get complacent, but now I'm really definitely not. It's a part of it.”
Matthews was the seventh wide receiver drafted and the third out of the SEC.
He also was one of three Vanderbilt players selected. Offensive lineman Wesley Johnson went to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round (173rd overall), and the Houston Texans made cornerback Andre Hal the first pick of the seventh round (216th overall).
Some speculated that four or five Commodores might get drafted. Safety Kenny Ladler, for example, participated in the NFL scouting combine along with Matthews, Johnson and Hal. Kicker Carey Spear was considered a longshot.
As it was, the three matched 2008 for the most Vanderbilt draft picks in a year since 2001, when four were selected.
Matthews, the earliest pick out of Vanderbilt since tackle Chris Williams was a 2008 first-round choice by Chicago, doesn’t plan to talk about his draft position anymore. He will let his play speak for itself.
"I'm going to go in and be the best teammate I can be,” he said. “I want to earn the respect of those guys, so I'm going to go in, shut my mouth and get to work.”
Some might think the Tennessee Titans sold their soul when they drafted Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft on Saturday.
The Titans thought enough of the former LSU quarterback, though, that they traded their seventh-round pick to, and swapped sixth-round selections with Washington in order to move up eight spots to No. 178 overall and get the player who generally was rated as a fourth-round (or better) talent.
“We considered him earlier,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “But when we got to the sixth round we felt at that point, especially after a couple of the other quarterbacks had gone, we had to make a move to get him.
“We had heard that there were other teams that were trying to move up to get him so we felt like it was a low-risk, high-reward situation.”
The risk with Mettenberger – similar to that with first-round choice Taylor Lewan on Thursday – was character concerns related to two off-the-field incidents, one early in his college days and one much more recent.
There were multiple pre-draft reports that he failed a drug test at the NFL scouting combine in February. Plus, in May 2010 he pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery that were the result of an incident at a Valdosta, Ga. bar two months earlier.
He declined to discuss the issue with the drug tests but did respond when asked about the guilty plea.
“That was something that happened a long time ago,” Mettenberger said. “I talked to the coaching staff and the GM about it. They understood what I did and what things happened and transpired. I took a long, hard road to get to where I’m at and now I’m an NFL player.”
An NFL player with a lot to prove.
“The jury is still out on me and I’m going to do everything I can to prove everyone wrong, that I am a great player and a great person,” Mettenberger said. “More importantly that I’m a great person. I really want to show that to everyone.”
A look at Zach Mettenberger and how he fits in with the Titans:
Who is he?: A 6-foot-5, 242-pound well-traveled quarterback who began his career at the University of Georgia, where he was kicked off the team after his off-the-field incident. From there, he spent a year at Butler Community College and then to LSU, where he was a two-year starter. He earned All-SEC honorable mention and was a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist.
Scouting report: Has a strong pocket presence. Not only is he willing to stand in and deliver the ball while under pressure he can get it out with defenders hanging on him and continually gets up after being hit. He showed improved pre-snap reads and quick decision making in 2013, his first year in a pro style offense. His release is slower than most would like because of a long arm motion. Issues with inaccuracy range from missed opportunities for yards-after-the-catch to simple wild misses.
Why the Titans took him: The future of the position is completely unsettled – and the present is not so solid either. Starter Jake Locker is in the final year of his contract. Backup Charlie Whitehurst is a career No. 2 and third-stringer Tyler Wilson is already with his second team in as many years.
How he fits: Mettenberger’s first responsibility is to unseat Wilson for the third-string job, which seems almost a certainty. From there, he can take aim at becoming a starter in future seasons or even position himself to start if Locker’s durability issues resurface. Depending on how things go, this pick could look like a real steal a few years from now.
Historical perspective: Since 1994 only three quarterbacks drafted in the sixth round have become starters of some renown –Matt Hasselbeck (1998), Tom Brady (2000) and Marc Bulger (2000).
Worth noting: Four years ago Tennessee took quarterback Rusty Smith with the 176th overall selection, two spots ahead of where they got Mettenberger.
What they said: “I think the biggest thing is just competing for an opportunity. He’s got to come in here with that attitude. In talking with him I feel like that’s what he’ll do.” – Whisnehunt.
“You hear certain things and your read certain things on the internet about a guy [and] you have some preconceived notions. But Zach’s actually a great guy to talk to. He’s a down-to-earth guy, a fun guy. He’s an intelligent guy. So I was impressed with him that way.” – Titans scout Jon Salge.
“I have no control over why things went the way they did [in the draft]. All I know is I have an opportunity to be a part of a great franchise and I just need to make the most of it.” – Mettenberger.
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