Are you experienced? As this season starts, Locker just might be

For Steve McNair, it was a turning point.

His 12th career start came in Week 7 of 1997, his third NFL season. He and the then-Tennessee Oilers had lost four in row, and he had thrown multiple interceptions in consecutive contests for the first time in his career. The previous week he was a miserable 12-for-28 for 101 yards at Seattle.

Beginning with the following week’s 30-7 victory over Cincinnati and continuing through the end of 2003, the third overall pick in the 1995 draft went 64-33 as a starter. That stretch included back-to-back 13-3 seasons, the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history and a co-MVP award.

Although it guarantees nothing, that bit of franchise history is notable because Jake Locker, now in his third NFL season, will make his 12th career start for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Pittsburgh (noon, CBS).
To this point, the 10th overall pick 2011 has been underwhelming in the role. His completion percentage is pedestrian. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Most notably, his won-loss record is terrible courtesy of four defeats in his last six outings.

If nothing else, McNair’s history gives the Titans reason to believe that a quarterback does not need a full season as a starter to learn all he needs to be effective in the NFL. Perhaps three training camps and 11 starts are all it takes.

“I think he’s just more comfortable with what we’re doing,” coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday. “He’s much more at ease in his relationship with the players, the receivers, the backs out of the backfield, the screen game. There’s a lot of things he’s just a lot better at. … We’re excited about where he’s at. We’re going to find out where we’re all at. Most teams in the league are in the same boat. You just don’t know quite what you have until you get it started.”

Vince Young did not have to wait nearly as long for his opportunity. The third overall pick of 2006 was a starter by the fourth game of his rookie season and logged 11 starts by mid-December.

He carried a five-game win streak into his 12th, in Buffalo on Christmas Eve, where he completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 127.7 passer rating remained his best for a full game until a rout of Oakland in the 2010 opener.

Young maintained that early momentum all the way through 2007, when he led the Titans to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance. His completion percentage in his first – and only – full season as a starter was a tidy 62.3, still his career-high.

A look at how McNair, Young and Locker performed in their first 11 NFL starts:

PASSING
Locker: 177-314 (56.4 percent) 2,718 yards, 10 TD 11 INT
Young: 156-301 (51.8 percent) 1,789 yards, 10 TD 11 INT
McNair: 160-292 (54.8 percent) 2,136 yards, 12 TD 9 INT

RUSHING
Locker: 41-291 (7.1 yards per carry) 1 TD
Young: 73-462 (6.3 yards per carry) 5 TD
McNair: 55-311 (5.6 yards per carry) 0 TD

RECORD AS A STARTER
Locker: 4-7
Young: 6-5
McNair: 5-6

Like McNair and Young, Locker did not enter the NFL as a finished product. He arrived strong-armed, undeniably athletic, equipped to make something out of nothing, which made him — in the eyes of team executives — worthy of selection early in the draft.

He also had technical flaws, however, some of which might never be remedied. McNair learned to maximize his strengths. Young’s weaknesses eventually overwhelmed his gifts.

Based on what current Titans coaches saw through his first 11 starts, they retooled the playbook in offseason to focus on the things Locker does well.

“Obviously, he is a talented young player,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’m really impressed by his mobility, his accuracy on the move that he has displayed in the preseason. We have some concerns about containing him. … His escapability is a part of what they do both by design and by ad lib. That is something you have to be concerned about if you are on defense.”

As was the case with his first-round predecessors, coaches committed to Locker as soon as they felt prudent. None simply walked into a starting job. In this latest case, it was after one season as Matt Hasselbeck’s understudy. Locker would have gotten to his 12th start last season had a shoulder injury sustained in the opener not sidelined him for more than a month.

So it is now. Has he experienced enough that his experience will start to pay off?

“I’m just trying to learn [with] every opportunity I get,” Locker said. “You always wish you had more snaps, but I’m just trying to learn from every one I get the opportunity to take.”

Sep 5, 2013 6:01 AM

As season looms, renovations (and new menu items) are a constant at Bridgestone Arena

With the Predators rookies opening camp today, the full team reporting next week and the preseason opener 17 days away, we checked in with Predators president Sean Henry and did a walkthrough of the on-going upgrades at Bridgestone Arena.

Henry likes to point out that, ideally, renovations never stop at an entertainment venue; however, the current round of upgrades is the largest capital improvement project in the arena's history.

It primarily focuses on the Demonbreun side of the building — a long-forgotten back entrance that needed to be "activated" with the opening of the Music City Center across the street. (See rendering below.)

When the puck drops for the regular season opener Oct. 8 against Minnesota, the first big upgrades will have made their debut. Henry said the new marquee at Fifth & Broadway — which will include a double-sided video board, replacing the static sign and LED display on the current marquee — will be ready in early October, along with two new video components on the arena's Demonbreun side. The largely empty exterior wall of the rehearsal space at Demonbreun and Fifth has long featured over-sized player photos. Those photos will be replaed by 15-by-28-foot video board. Along the long side of the arena will be a rolling scroll of upcoming events at Bridgestone.

The overhaul of the ingress and egress of the rear plaza — which will include a revamped south entrance, plus expanded public gathering space, band stage and other branded spaces — should be complete by mid-November.

Henry expects all actual construction to be done by the "end of fall 2013."

The final pieces of the puzzle — which are expected to include a new pub-style, open-to-the-rear-plaza bar the lower level of what is now the parking garage and expanded retail space along Fifth — should be complete by March.

Despite serving what The Score's Jo Innes called the NHL's best hot dog, Bridgestone Arena is developing a reputation for serving arena food that is lauded for its local touches (like chicken-and-waffles and well-executed, if PG-13, hot chicken) and their simple fun (bacon on a stick!).

This season the chefs will roll out two new signature dishes: country-fried steak-on-a-stick and French-Canadian favorite poutine.

Poutine is typically served topped with brown gravy, but this is Nashville. The Bridgestone Arena version will feature sausage gravy. While we're told pimento cheese was briefly considered, ultimately the chefs stuck with what works and will use the traditional cheese curds.

 

Sep 5, 2013 5:30 AM

Mayor simultaneously pumps brakes, doubles down on Sulphur Dell

Mayor Karl Dean simultaneously managed expectations and doubled down on his desire to put a new baseball stadium in North Nashville today.

At a courthouse press conference, the mayor confirmed reports from The Tennessean that Metro is pursuing a return to "baseball's historic home in North Nashville," before taking a big pause and emphasizing a crucial conjunctive adverb.

"However," he said. "We are still early in the process."

Dean confirmed the city is exploring the acquisition of state-owned and private land on Jackson between Third and Fifth avenues north, but repeatedly said few details beyond what had already been reported would be forthcoming in the short term.

The crucial question — how the reported $80 million project, including a $40 million stadium — will be paid for went unanswered, beyond Dean's statement that "the deal would have to make sense for the taxpayers."

"We are committed to moving forward only if it makes economic sense," he said.

But, crucially, the mayor did say, at least during his time left in office, there would be a new park in Sulphur Dell or there'd be no new park at all, quashing once and for all any hopes of a stadium at the old Thermal Plant site in SoBro or at the foot of the Korean Veterans Bridge on the East Bank. The former was all-but a done deal in 2008 and the latter was briefly considered a frontrunner as late as last year.

Indeed, the Sounds — and even former Nashville Vols who actually played at the original Sulphur Dell — were on the record, in the past, as being unenthused about the prospect of moving to North Nashville.

Sticking with the theme that all of this is very early — the mayor wouldn't commit to any "hard timeline" on the project — Dean said at some point the area's neighborhood associations would be brought into the discussion, though he said "this is a project for the whole city."

That notwithstanding, At-Large Councilman Jerry Maynard said the relocation of the Nashville Sounds was another positive step for North Nashville.

"Three years ago, we we were working with the mayor and talking about having economic development in North Nashville, north of Broadway. But this is a step process. First of all we did the 28th Avenue Connector, millions of dollars in investment. Look at Jefferson Street. Without the mayor, we would not have gotten that $3 million in grant money to clean up Jefferson Street," Maynard said. "The Sounds were not going to come to North Nashville had we not made the investments on Jefferson Street, Hope Gardens, with Germantown, all of those investments going on there. The Sounds were not coming. And so with all these investments and with the economic growth taking place because of the leadership of the mayor and the council, now the Sounds have agreed to come. And so you have to give credit to the mayor. But we've been working closely with him for the last four years."

One little bit of news, though not unexpected: Toby Compton, executive director of the Sports Authority, was in attendance, all but confirming the new stadium would be part of the authority's bailiwick. Greer Stadium is administered as part of the Metro Parks Department.

Aug 23, 2013 12:00 PM

What your $40 million might get you

If indeed the mayor's supposed plan to build the Nashville Sounds a stadium in Sulphur Dell comes closer to fruition, we'll get an idea of what, exactly, the $40 million stadium will look like.

For now, all we've got is speculation and comparison.

Let's take a look at what's been happening with minor-league parks around the country.

Given its proximity and its growing threat to our Itness, plenty of folks are asking what it would take for Nashville to mimic Memphis' AutoZone Park, considered one of minor-league baseball's best. Unfortunately, the Memphis Redbirds are sui generis, owned by the nonprofit Memphis Redbirds Foundation, which bought the team from a previous owner, which issued massive amount of debt to build the stadium. (Here's a good run down from the Memphis Business Journal.) In any event, AutoZone Park cost more than $80 million to build in 1998 — inflation-adjusted to $107 million. It was built to "major league" specifications and seats more than 14,000 people. It is not really comparable to what could happen here.

Nor should Nashville look to Columbus, Ohio, where the Clippers play in 2009's Ballpark of the Year, Huntington Park, a $70 million project that seats more than 10,000. Similarly, Birmingham's new Regions Field came in with a $64 million price tag.

In fact, in the last decade or so most every ballpark built in the $40 million range has been at the AA level.

One exception is from a fellow PCL team. The Omaha Storm Chasers' Werner Park, which opened in 2011, was built for $36 million ($36.7 million in 2013 dollars):

 

 
The park seats more than 9,000 — though 3,000 of that is on a grass berm in the outfield. The beyond-the-fences area also includes a carousel, basketball court and whiffleball fields. Native Nebraska limestone chunks serve as benches on the concourse and as amphitheater seating in the outfield. The two-story suite section is decked in glass and wood-paneling.

Down in AA, The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home to the Southern League's Suns, opened in 2003 with a $34 million price tag, $42 million in today's dollars:

 

 
The park is the largest in AA, seating 6,000 in stadium seats with space for roughly 5,000 more on berm seating (near the lower right hand side of the photo above) and in bleachers. Built around a desanctified 115-year-old church, the park is decked out in brick, tucked between the city's football stadium and its arena. The stands are almost completely roofed (which, as anyone who visits Florida's First Coast can attest, is a must because of the area's propensity for pop-up storms) and if you look closely at the center field fence (a whopping 420 feet from home, by the way) you can see that a section of it is chain-linked for a field-level view of the action).

Over in the Texas League, the Arkansas Travelers play at the $40.4 million ($44.7 million in today's dollars) Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock:

 

 
Sitting at the foot of a bridge and offering cross-river views of downtown Little Rock, the park seats nearly 5,300 with room for 2,500 more on the outfield berms. (Sense a theme?) North Little Rock was a railroad town and the design of Dickey-Stephens emphasizes that, as noted by BaseballParks.com, which named the park its best in its debut year of 2007. It also has an old-style organ, right on the concourse!

Finally, there's ONEOK Field in Tulsa. The Drillers began play at the $39.2 million ($41.3 million infaltion-adjusted) stadium in 2010. Designed by Populous, the sports-architecture giants that did Nashville's ballpark location study, it is tucked into Tulsa's urban center. Previously, the Drillers played near the city's fairgrounds.

 

 
Sitting in the city's Greenwood District, ONEOK mimics the art-deco architecture of its neighborhood, a historically African-American center of commerce that was also the location of the eponymous Greenwood Riots, one of the worst race riots it American history. It seats 7,833 and is part of a broader development plan for the area, which totals roughly $60 million all told. The park includes several higher-end restaurants, a playground, lots of grass seating and some of the closest-to-the-action seating in minor-league baseball. Unusually, a lot of the metal used isn't the typical steel, but zinc. Also, the ballpark had an usual (and frankly, controversial) financing plan. From BaseballParks:

Like most cities, Tulsa didn't have a lot of extra money, so an unusual arrangement was devised to pay for the $60 million project. $30 million would come from private donations (that were solicited based on the premise that the the park would spur economic development downtown), $5 million from the Drillers' lease and the remainder from a very controversial assessment fee imposed on downtown property owners. Those business owners were none too pleased with these new fees, which the city insisted wasn't a tax. Helping to ease the situation during the tough economic times of recent years, a $25 million revenue bond was acquired from the Tulsa Stadium Trust, which was set up to own and operate the ballpark, by the Tulsa Community Foundation. This bond will be repaid as downtown businesses pay the annual assessments over time.

Given the trends and the cost, we can expect a 7,000- to 8,000-seat stadium (the Populous study, in its 204-page glory, can be found here and projected 8,400 seats), with perhaps extra room on the berms. That could be close to the 11,000 projected for the proposed "First Tennessee Field" at the Thermal Plant site. It'd be easy to compare Nashville's situation with Tulsa — moving from an aging mammoth to a cozier confine closer to the city — and its not a bad place to look. Don't hold your breath for $30 million in "private donations," though the talking points in the last 18 hours or so have been that the Sounds will foot a "significant" portion of the stadium price tag.

A caveat on costs: the cost of the Music City Center dropped because labor and materials were cheaper as the project was built in a down economy. That's unusual enough to be noteworthy, as large civic projects almost never come in cheaper or, frankly, even near projections. As the economy has improved, labor costs and material costs will go up. Even if projected at $40 million, the final price could prove much higher indeed.

Aug 22, 2013 11:30 AM

Sounds set to move to Sulphur Dell?

The Tennessean with the big news of the evening: that the mayor's office is in discussions with the state (and each side offers different interpretations of how deep those discussions are) on an $80 million development between Third and Fifth Avenues along Jackson in what was the broader Sulphur Dell area back in the olden times.

No word yet on how we're paying for this, though smart speculation is that there will be some TIF involved.

Highlights from Rau and Garrison:

• The $80M total project cost includes a $40M stadium, a $10M Metro-financed parking garage (which will be used by state employees in exchange for the 13 acres of state-owned land needed for the 20 acre project) and a $30M private residential development.

• The proposal could be unveiled at the Sept. 12 state building commission meeting, which kicks off an ambitious timeline that would have the project ready for Opening Day 2015, mere months before Mayor Dean's term is exhausted.

• Also in the plans are references to a new Tennessee State Museum site and new locations for the state library and archives.

Aug 22, 2013 6:11 AM

Commentary: Why the Titans closing practices is a dumb idea

Team says it's just following what 25 other teams do
Aug 19, 2013 2:41 PM

Titans get more valuable, still can't keep up with the (Jerry) Joneses

Forbes  has the annual run-down of NFL franchise valuation. The Titans come in right in the meaty middle of the pack at 19th, worth $1.055 billion, per the magazine's infamously SWAG-gy calculations.

Revenues grew a paltry amount — about $8 million year-over-year — and operating income, similarly, just blipped up — about $200,000 more than 2012. Still, the total value of the franchise grew by 4 percent — the league average was 5 percent and the Cowboys, the team at the top, grew by a boffo 10 percent.

Aug 14, 2013 10:43 AM

Preds renew ECHL affiliate deal

The Cincinnati Cyclones ice hockey team, which plays in the third-tier ECHL, has renewed its affiliation agreement with the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers organizations for the upcoming season. The Preds have been one of the club's parent organizations since 2007.

Jun 19, 2013 12:03 PM

Sports Authority OKs arena upgrades

Updated Demonbreun plaza, new restaurants slated for October opening
Apr 25, 2013 10:45 AM

Nashville Metros lose league affiliation, franchise appears in danger

After 24 years, future of soccer team in doubt
Feb 7, 2013 2:29 PM