Chip now a boulder on Freak’s shoulder in 2nd stint as Titan
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Jevon Kearse stops to imitate what he calls the full Southern drawl and says, “Welcome back, welcome back.”
He can’t sneak into a restaurant for a quick bite to eat or a store to pick something up without someone recognizing him and letting him know just how happy they are to see him back with the Tennessee Titans.
Not that Kearse minds.
The player cut by Philadelphia in February is determined to revive his career after a serious knee injury in 2006. It’s with the same team that took a chance on a player described as a tweener coming out of Florida back in 1999 — too small to play defensive end and too big for linebacker.
“Back in ’99, I had a chip on my shoulder,” Kearse, a defensive end, said after a minicamp practice. “Ten years later, that chip turned into a boulder so now I’ve got a boulder on my shoulder. So wow!”
Determined to prove doubters wrong, Kearse had 36 sacks in his first three seasons, was a two-time All Pro and won Rookie of the Year honors. That helped him earn an eight-year, $66 million contract with Philadelphia in 2004 when he was too costly for a Tennessee team forced to rebuild by salary cap woes.
Now his motivation is proving that he is the defensive end who had four sacks in two games in 2006 — before he tore multiple ligaments in his left knee during Philadelphia’s overtime loss in Week 2 to the New York Giants. Kearse returned in 2007 but struggled with swelling in the knee. He had only four sacks in 14 games.
Now Kearse says he’s feeling fine.
“It’s just a chance for me to prove to everyone no matter the speculation on whatever they’ve been hearing or what they thought had been going on through that stuff up in Philly. I’m still the same player. That scheme of things were different up there. All I’ve got to say is the proof is in the pudding, so I can’t even talk about it. Just watch and see,” Kearse said.
Philadelphia’s loss is Tennessee’s gain.
The Titans, desperate to fill the free agency losses of ends Antwan Odom (Cincinnati) and Travis LaBoy (Arizona), signed Kearse to a two-year deal worth $6 million.
Coach Jeff Fisher denied it was nostalgia. This team took a similar chance on defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch in 2005 after he had torn both his anterior cruciate ligaments, gave him a one-year deal and watched him become a two-time Pro Bowler.
Vanden Bosch knows recovering from knee injuries can take up to two years. So far, he likes what he has seen from the man nicknamed the “Freak” for his speed and long arms. He thinks Kearse is as fast and explosive as anyone currently on the Titans’ roster.
“Jevon’s come in with a good attitude. He’s been working hard. I can see some of the things he had here in the past …,” Vanden Bosch said. “He can really present problems for offenses once he gets used to the way we’re doing things here and gets back to the way he used to do things. I think he’ll be an effective player.”
The Titans gave Kearse his old No. 90 jersey and the same corner locker. Assistant coach Jim Washburn, who coached Kearse during his first five NFL seasons and acted as a father figure, remains in the same job. In the locker room, only five players still remain that Kearse played with before.
Kearse has been a regular during the offseason program to prove to his teammates that he’s still got it. For now, Kearse is planning on playing every down and won’t even comment on the chance he could be a pass rush specialist.
He gave a glimpse of his old self on the first play of a team drill last week, scooping up a fumble. He hasn’t forgotten what to do with such a ball when the games count.
“I’m going to pick it up and take it to the end zone and let everyone know I’ve still got these wheels,” he said.