Stacy says famous draft-day Tweet was widely misinterpreted

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.”

 
(Photo: Getty Images)

Jun 5, 2015 12:45 PM

Mariota is Titans' latest attempt to find franchise QB early in draft

The Tennessee Titans need to be right this time.

After all, they have been wrong more than anyone else over the past decade.

From 2006 through 2015, NFL teams used top 10 overall draft picks on quarterbacks a total of 16 times. Only two teams did so more than once. One was Jacksonville, which took Blake Bortles third overall in 2014, three years after it used the No. 10 selection on Blaine Gabbert.

With last week’s pick of Marcus Mariota at No. 2, the Titans did it for the third time. They took Vince Young third overall in 2006 and Jake Locker eighth overall in 2011.

That means 19 of the NFL’s 32 teams have not picked a QB in the top 10 once in the past decade. That group includes 10 franchises that have made a combined 17 Super Bowl appearances over that time.

So why should anyone believe the Titans finally drafted the guy who can turn around the franchise and end a playoff drought that is at six years and counting?

“He has many, many strengths,” General Manager Ruston Webster said of Mariota. “He throws the ball well. He’s an excellent decision maker. I think his intelligence is very important for the position. … He’s an accurate passer. He has the ability to avoid the rush and make plays on his own – turn a bad play into a good play. I think just his character and his leadership is also strong. He has a lot of good points.”

To be sure, it all sounds good.

Former franchise officials were equally optimistic about Young and Locker when those two were selected as well. Both were dual-threat quarterbacks who offered the ability to make plays with their feet.

THIRD TIME A CHARM?
A comparison of the college football statistics for the three quarterbacks the Titans selected among the top 10 overall in the last 10 years:

Marcus Mariota
Passing: 779-1,167 (66.8 percent), 10,796 yards, 105 TDs, 14 INTs
Rushing: 337 carries, 2,237 yards (6.6 per carry), 29 TDs

Jake Locker
Passing: 619-1,147 (54.0 percent), 7,639 yards, 53 TDs, 35 INTs
Rushing: 454 carries, 1,939 yards (4.3 per carry), 29 TDs

Vince Young
Passing: 444-718 (61.8 percent), 6,040 yards, 44 TDs, 28 INTs
Rushing: 457 carries, 3,127 yards (6.8 per carry), 37 TDs

Mariota, of course, won a Heisman Trophy (2014), which neither of the others did. Young, though, won a BCS title. Mariota failed in two tries to lead Oregon into a BCS title game but did get the Ducks into last season’s inaugural College Football Playoff championship contest, where they were whipped by Ohio State.

All three averaged between 12.3 and 13.8 yards per completion. Young was the most accomplished runner of the bunch in terms of total yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. What distinguishes Mariota from the other two is his touchdown-to-interception ratio, a whopping 7.5:1. Neither of the other two even were 2:1 in that regard.

Perhaps most important is simply the fact that the Titans believe in him. Coach Ken Whisenhunt repeatedly has said that he expects Mariota to be the team’s starter when the season opens and plans to do everything necessary between now and then to make sure that is the case. Locker waited one full year until he got the chance. Young’s first turn came in the fourth game — at the behest of late owner Bud Adams.

“At Oregon, we talked about winning the day,” Mariota said. “That culture for me is kind of instilled. I’ll kind of bring that with me, and it won’t change who I am, and will hopefully provide some of that here. For the most part, just be who I am and get to know my teammates and earn their respect and move forward from there.

“… I’m looking forward to this challenge. Pressure to me is when you’re not prepared. For me, I’ve prepared myself for this moment, and I’m looking forward to it.”

It sure beats looking back on what has happened to the others in his position.

 
(Photo: Getty Images)

May 6, 2015 2:07 PM

Titans' offensive emphasis in draft a long time coming

There’s a simple explanation as to why the Tennessee Titans used so many of their picks in the 2015 NFL Draft on offense.

It was time. Beyond time, in fact.

Sure, it makes sense that after they took quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick that they wanted to get him some help. Part of the reason that help wasn’t preexistent, though, was because recent Titans’ drafts were decidedly defensive.

The seven offensive players the Titans selected (they had nine total picks) last Thursday, Friday and Saturday were the most since 2008, when they took eight. In the previous five drafts Tennessee never took more than three players on offense and this year’s haul was one more than in the previous three years combined.

ONE-SIDED DRAFTING
A year-by-year look at the number of players on offense and defense the Tennessee Titans drafted:

2015: Offense 7, Defense 2
2014: Offense 3, Defense 3
2013: Offense 3, Defense 5
2012: Offense 2, Defense 5
2011: Offense 3, Defense 6
2010: Offense 3, Defense 6
2009: Offense 6, Defense 5
2008: Offense 3, Defense 4
2007: Offense 6, Defense 4
2006: Offense 4, Defense 6
2005: Offense 8, Defense 3

“There were situations where we could have taken a defensive player and didn’t and just went with the offensive player and thought it was the best thing to do,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “It could have been a little bit closer with the gap, but that is the way it worked out.  We did work in free agency to make sure we could take some offensive players in the draft.”

After Mariota, the Titans drafted two wide receivers, a running back, a fullback and two offensive linemen. The final pick was wide receiver Tre McBride out of William and Mary, a player coach Ken Whisenhunt said was too good to pass up at that spot.

Second-round choice Dorial Green-Beckham should figure into the wide receiver rotation from the start. Third-round pick Jeremiah Poutasi will have the opportunity to compete for the job as starting right tackle, and fifth-round selection David Cobb offers a powerful running style to an offense that lacked a between-the-tackles presence in 2014.

“Well when you go with a quarterback at two, especially one you feel so strongly about, it’s pretty exciting,” Whisenhunt said. “I feel good about where we are and the pieces we have in place and what we can do with this. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see how much we can grow in this offseason.

“… Whenever you throw competition into the mix, like I’ve said a couple of times, it makes us all better. I’m excited to see that. I know the competition that we are going to have against the defense and those practices on the field will go a long way towards helping build a foundation for us to be better offensively. That’s one of the things that we absolutely have to do. We have to be a better offensive unit.”

May 4, 2015 5:20 AM

UT shut out of NFL draft for first time in more than half a century

The 2015 NFL Draft offered a stark illustration of just how far the University of Tennessee football program fell under former coach Derek Dooley.

For the first time since 1963, the Volunteers did not have a player selected. There were 256 total selections over the seven rounds and not one of them came from UT.

Thus ended the sixth-longest active streak in college football. Michigan and Southern California (76 years), Michigan State (75), Florida (63) and Nebraska (52) were the only programs that consistently had sent players to the NFL for a longer period.

Cornerback Justin Coleman was considered draft-worthy by most analysts but settled for a free agent offer from Minnesota.

This year’s group of draft-eligible players primarily were recruited by Dooley and his staff.

Even without any contributions from the Volunteers, the Southeastern Conference had the most players drafted for the ninth consecutive year.

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

During the 51-year streak, only twice have the Vols had just one player selected, but both of those instances came recently. Defensive end Robert Ayers, who went 18th overall to Denver, was the lone pick in 2009. In 2012, Malik Jackson was taken in the fifth round (137th overall) by the Broncos.

The Vols had nine first-round picks in five drafts from 1998 through 2002, but have had just nine first-round selections in the 13 drafts since that impressive run.

Entering the 2015 draft, Tennessee had 337 players drafted, the most in the SEC and the seventh-most among college football behind USC (487), Notre Dame (485), Ohio State (413), Oklahoma (367), Nebraska (350) and Michigan (345).

May 4, 2015 5:10 AM

Titans spend second day of draft getting help for first-round pick

There was no real mystery to what the Tennessee Titans did on the second day of the 2015 NFL Draft.

A day after they selected quarterback Marcus Mariota (pictured) with the second overall pick they got him some help. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, an obvious talent with some character questions, was their second-round pick (40th overall) and tackle Jeremiah Poutasi was their choice in the third round (66th overall).

“What we wanted to get out of this is if you’re going to draft a guy that high you have to give him some weapons and you have to give him protection,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “So that definitely played into our decisions [Friday].”

The notion was not lost on those players.

Green-Beckham is a 6-foot-5, 237-pound receiver who played two years at Missouri before off-the-field issues led to his dismissal. He enrolled at Oklahoma but was ineligible to play last season.

The top 2011 high school recruit, according to many, offers the potential for big plays the Titans have not gotten often enough in their passing game in recent years.

“I have a vision that we’re going to have a great career,” Green-Beckham said. “Me and Marcus Mariota are going to connect well. He’s going to have a big receiver like me to be able to go get the ball and he’s not going to have to worry. I know that I’m going to be able to help him out on a lot of things.”

Poutasi was three-year starter at Utah whom Webster described as a “huge man with power.” He’s 6-foot-6, 330 pounds and played both right and left tackle in college. The Titans first plan to have him compete to be the starter at right tackle.

“Man, I’m excited to block for that guy [Mariota],” Poutasi said. “I’ve seen him play in person and it’s just an honor to be on his team. He’s a valuable guy and my job is to not let him get hurt or even get touched.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

May 1, 2015 9:41 PM

Titans risk second-round pick on talented, troubled receiver

Dorial Green-Beckham didn’t get to step on a football field for anything other than practices last fall. That was the bad news.

The good news, as far as the Tennessee Titans were concerned, was that the 6-foot-5, 237-pound receiver from Oklahoma via Missouri also never stepped out of line as he did the previous two seasons, when he did play games – and played well, for that matter.

That was enough to convince the Titans to take the first-round talent in the second round Friday (40th overall). Initially, they had the 33rd pick but traded spots with the New York Giants and picked up an additional fourth and seventh-round choice as a result.

“There’s a player there that football is very important to and him not having football has had an effect on him,” General Manager Ruston Webster said. “He went to Oklahoma and handled himself well and stayed out of trouble when he wasn’t playing. He was just practicing. He was basically a scout team player.

“… My impression [was] that he understood that he probably made some mistakes and, if he wanted to continue to play football, he had to do the right thing.”

There was no ‘probably’ about it. Even Green-Beckham readily admits he made mistakes.

Three off-the-field incidents led to his dismissal from Missouri after two years.

He confirmed two arrests for marijuana possession. The first was when he was with four other teammates and another when he was in a car in which the drug was found. Charges in the latter incident ultimately were dropped when the owner of the car assumed responsibility.

Then he allegedly forced himself into an apartment and pushed a female down some stairs.

No one pressed charges in that incident and when asked about it Friday he denied that he pushed anyone, but Missouri coaches and administrators had seen enough. He transferred to Oklahoma but the NCAA denied his petition for immediate eligibility was denied.

“I feel like myself as being the best receiver in the draft,” he said. “I know my off-the-field issues have caused me to drop out of the first round but I’m just blessed to have this opportunity right now to play for the Titans.”

In his two seasons at Missouri, he caught 87 passes for 1,287 yards (an average of 14.7 per reception) and scored 17 touchdowns. He looked to be well on his way to living up to the expectations when he was widely considered the top high school player in the country back in 2011.

“Missing that year really hurt,” Green-Beckham said. “It made me a better player, a stronger player. … Now feel like I missed a season but I get to play in the National Football League then I’m going to give everything I’ve got and just show everybody what they missed out on for a year.

“… There’s not one day I’ve taken lightly. I’ve always competed and I’ve always stayed focused.”

Similarly, Webster conceded that the decision to draft Green-Beckham was not one the organization made lightly. It included the approval from ownership.

“You have to go through and do all your work,” he said. “Our scouts and our people put in a lot of time. We brought him in here, spent time with him. From that standpoint, it’s a difficult decision. It really is.

“He’s a talented guy that, if everything goes well, he probably goes in the first round.”


(Photo: Getty Images)

May 1, 2015 8:38 PM

Titans quickly ran out of reasons not to draft Mariota

If it was a race, Marcus Mariota won it with his finishing kick.

The Oregon quarterback started out as one in a pack of elite prospects the Tennessee Titans planned to analyze in preparation for the 2015 NFL Draft. By the time the first round started Thursday and the Titans were on the clock for the No. 2 overall selection he had left the others in the dust in the minds of the franchise’s brain trust.

“There was a real feeling as time went on that he was worthy of being this pick and being our quarterback,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “So there was some of that ‘Tell me why we shouldn’t do this.’ In the end, I think – to a man, in the draft room, with our coaches, in our meetings – it was unanimous.”

In addition to other top players such as USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams and Florida linebacker Dante Fowler, Mariota had to distance himself from concerns that he was ill-prepared to run the pro style offense of Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Mariota won the 2014 Heisman Trophy with his prolific and proficient execution of Oregon’s spread offense. He threw 105 touchdown passes with just 14 interceptions in three years as a starter, including 42 and four last season. He added 2,237 yards and 29 touchdowns rushing and was the starting quarterback for 36 victories.

Even with that body of work, it was his mind that convinced the Titans the transition would be a smooth one.

“We got to spend a lot of time with him,” Whisenhunt said. “We got to actually talk about his plays on tape and what he looked at, what he saw and how he processed things. Then we got a chance to send him some things and he came in here talking our language a little bit, and that’s always a good assessment of how he processes things. So we felt really good about him.”

Whisenhunt said he expects Mariota to be the starter when the season opens and plans to add some things to the playbook designed to take advantage of the 6-foot-4, 219-pounder’s particular attributes.

The second-year coach is convinced, though, that those things will not alter the basic philosophy of the offense, which relies heavily on a pocket passer who can get the ball down the field.

“I think in any situation as rookie coming into the league and going through this process you have to try to market yourself,” Mariota said. “I did my best trying to convince any team to give me this opportunity. The Titans were able to do that for me and I’m going to make the most of it. I’m just so excited and happy to be a part of this organization.”

The feeling is mutual because – in the end – the Titans did not think there was any other choice.

“I don’t think anybody starts knowing who their pick is going to be,” Webster said. “But he was one of the guys that we said, ‘OK, we are going to do our work on him and see if he is the guy.’ Obviously, with him being the quarterback, he was going to be in the mix all the way. There were other players there during the early parts of this process and he was part of that group.

“We kind of went through every step with (Mariota) along the way, from going through the season watching him play to the combine and visits and those types of things. … It went well. Every minute we spent with him it just felt better and better.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 30, 2015 10:18 PM

Mettenberger not going anywhere, except down the depth chart a spot

All is not lost for Zach Mettenberger.

Just his place as the Tennessee Titans starting quarterback.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt maintained throughout the run-up to Thursday’s first round of the 2015 NFL Draft that the team expected any player it drafted with the second overall pick to be a starter from Day One. He reiterated that stance Thursday shortly after the Titans tabbed Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota with that choice.

“That’s the plan,” he said. “That’s what we anticipate being the case. We’re going to work hard. We’ve got OTAs and [training] camp and a lot of reps and we’re going to push (Mariota) to try to get him prepared.”

They don’t intend to push aside Mettenberger completely, though. The sixth-round pick in 2014 who started six games as a rookie still has a reserve of goodwill with the coaching staff and management that remains unchanged. Plus, this is a franchise that has used at least two different starting quarterbacks in 11 of the last 12 seasons — including last year, when it had three.

“One of the things that was important for Zach to understand was he built up a lot of good equity with what he did,” Whisenhunt said. “There’s a lot of potential there and we’re excited about Zach. But the way this league is going now, very seldom do you get a quarterback that goes through the whole season. So Zach will get an opportunity at some point. When he does, he’s got to be ready to take advantage of that.”

Mettenberger was 0-6 as a starter and was fourth among all rookie quarterbacks in pass attempts last season. Of those four, though, he had the best yards-per-attempt average (7.9), the second-highest completion percentage (59.8) and the second-highest passer rating (83.4).

He now drops to No. 2 but remains ahead of veteran backup Charlie Whitehurst.

“He’ll get a lot of work in preseason,” Whisenhunt said. “He’ll get some work with the (starters) and he’ll get prepared.”

And while he has moved down the depth chart a notch, there is no chance he will move to another team. Not according to general manager Ruston Webster, that is.

“I think (Mettenberger) will embrace the situation here,” Webster said. “And he won’t be traded.”

 
(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 30, 2015 9:46 PM

Titans listened, never seriously entertained trade offers of first-round pick

Ultimately, the Tennessee Titans were just being polite.

In the days and weeks that preceded Thursday’s first round of the 2015 NFL Draft they listened to what other teams offered in order to trade for the No. 2 overall pick. The truth was, however, that they wouldn’t hear of passing on the opportunity to select Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and a player they expect to be their starter when the season opens in September.

“It was going to be difficult to convince us to back out,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “We had conversations with different teams but nothing to the point of us not picking Marcus.”

Reports in the hours leading up to the selection said that Cleveland offered two first-round picks (Nos. 12 and 19), that Chicago offered a mix of picks a players, including veteran quarterback Jay Cutler, and Philadelphia was willing to part with several players and picks, including some obtained in a separate possible deal with a another team.

None of it happened and Webster declined to address any specific teams or trade proposals. He only conceded that “several teams” were interested in pursuing a trade.

“This entire process you hear things, you hear about all these different scenarios,” Mariota said. “I wasn’t really worrying about it and just focused on whatever team was going to give me an opportunity.”

That team is the Titans.

They now have drafted a quarterback in the top 10 for the third time in 10 years. Vince Young was the third overall choice in 2006 and Jake Locker was the eighth pick in 2011. Neither became the franchise quarterback Webster and his staff believed Mariota to be.

“Really, at the end of the day we just felt strongly about Marcus and that’s the direction we needed to go,” Webster said. “There wasn’t enough reason for us not to take him.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 30, 2015 9:13 PM

Quarterbacks taken first and second an NFL Draft rarity

It’s possible that the Tennessee Titans won’t have to think twice when they make their first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“I think if you think a player is a franchise quarterback then that supersedes everything else,” general manager Ruston Webster said.

Given that Tennessee currently holds the second overall pick and so much pre-draft attention has been paid to quarterbacks Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon, the choice could be that simple.

Rarely, though, do two quarterbacks go with the first two selections in the draft. To be precise, it has happened just four times in the last 40 years. And when it has, it never has been the case that both actually turned out to be franchise quarterbacks, although the verdict is not yet in on Robert Griffin III who went No. 2 in 2012 after Andrew Luck went first overall to Indianapolis.

“There’s so many things that go into playing that position,” Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You have a criteria that you think is important for playing that position and you try to evaluate these young men based off of what that is. Some guys are going to be better in certain areas than they are in others.

“But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.”

ONE-TWO PUNCH
A look at the four instances in the last 50 years that quarterbacks were the top two choices in the NFL draft:

2012
First: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
Second: Robert Griffin III, Washington
What happened: Luck is a bona fide star who has led his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, including the conference championship game last fall. Griffin was the 2012 offensive rookie of the year but has battled injuries and inconsistency since.

1999
First: Tim Couch, Cleveland
Second: Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia
What happened: Couch won just 22 games and threw more interceptions (67) than touchdowns (64) in five seasons as the first selection in the Browns’ return to the league. McNabb led the Eagles to four straight NFC title games and one Super Bowl and was a six-time Pro Bowler.

1998
First: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Second: Ryan Leaf, San Diego
What happened: Manning became the most prolific passer in NFL history, led two different teams to a combined three Super Bowl appearances and has yet to conclude his Hall of Fame career. Leaf, with four wins in 21 career starts rates as one of the biggest busts in draft history.

1993
First: Drew Bledsoe, New England
Second: Rick Mirer, Seattle
What happened: Bledsoe might not rate as one of the all-time greats but he was a four-time Pro Bowler who took New England to the Super Bowl in his fourth season. Mirer was a starter for his first three seasons but never won more than seven games and finished his career with 76 interceptions and 50 touchdown passes.

“Through the years, if you look at the guys who have been picked in these spots there have been some that have made it and played really well and some that haven’t,” Whisenhunt said. “… Both of these young men exhibit a lot of the qualities you want to see. They’re both very intelligent. They’re asked to do a lot within their specific offense as far as checks, identifying things. And they’ve both been very successful.”

Winston and Mariota are both Heisman Trophy winners, but even that does not guarantee anything. Other Heisman winning quarterbacks in recent years include Eric Crouch, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel and established themselves, or look as if they will do so as bona fide NFL starters let alone franchise quarterbacks.

The last time the Titans took a quarterback in the first round was 2011, when they drafted Jake Locker eighth overall. Locker was the second quarterback taken and one of four to go in the first round that year. Only one, first overall choice Cam Newton, is a starter and still with the team that selected him.

Of course, there will be quarterbacks available in later rounds of this year’s draft but they won’t be Winston or Mariota.

“I do think that these two quarterbacks are clearly the best two quarterbacks,” Webster said.

But does that make them the top two overall picks?

Apr 30, 2015 5:05 AM

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