Vols receive commitment from 4-star defensive tackle

Tennessee’s productive offseason on the recruiting trail continued on Tuesday, as 4-star defensive tackle D’Andre Litaker (Murfreesboro, TN) announced his commitment to the Vols.

Litaker is Tennessee’s eighth in-state recruit of the upcoming class and 13th overall. He joins Nashville’s Brant Lawless as the Vols’ lone defensive lineman snags of the cycle. According to 247sports, Tennessee has thus far constructed the nation’s 7th-best recruiting class, trailing Miami, Ohio State, LSU, Penn State, Texas, and Notre Dame.

What it means for Tennessee

Anytime you can add talent on the defensive line, that’s a plus, especially in the SEC. According to Litaker himself, SEC offenses are facing a nightmare scenario when he’s on the field.

“It’s going to be pretty tough,” Litaker told Rivals.com. “SEC teams are going to have to switch up their offense because of me.”

Litaker obviously doesn’t lack confidence, but a concern going forward that Tennessee has to keep an eye on is his ability to stay healthy. Only eight plays into his junior season, Litaker suffered an ACL injury that forced him to miss the entire season. Assuming he stays healthy for his senior year, Litaker will one day run through the Power T and terrorize offenses. But if knee problems flare up again, the Vols should probably move in a different direction.

What the Cleveland Browns would have to give up for a quality starting NFL quarterback

It’s easy to make fun of the Cleveland Browns, so here it goes.

While typing this sentence, the Browns were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. In the apparent renaissance of Cleveland athletics — where the Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to defeat a historically potent Golden State Warriors team and the Cleveland Indians were one win away from a World Series — the Browns finished 1-15. Whenever I have a child, I’ll legally change my last name to Brown and name my son/daughter Cleveland so they can get ridiculed in school.

Sure, there are franchises with longer playoff droughts (the Buffalo Bills) and stretches of losing football (da Rams), but there’s a certain charm to the Browns’ futility. It’s not that they are woefully dysfunctional, it’s the manner in which they choose to be.

I think back to the movie Draft Day — the most ridiculous sports movie ever created — where Kevin Costner’s job is the most readily available in the United States: General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. Seriously, let’s have that job title in every sector. It’s sure to boost the economy. But then again, this is the Browns, so maybe it’ll trigger another Great Depression.

In this gold standard of modern cinema, Costner goes rogue and somehow manages to coordinate the greatest draft performance of all time, using an intricate combination of oddball questioning and Jedi mind tricks to snag his desired players and picks. How he convinces Seattle to trade with him is absolutely preposterous, and the Jacksonville GM becomes so flustered and unsure of his abilities that it makes me wonder if that’s an accurate representation of the real life Jacksonville GM.

But what if I told you Draft Day isn’t about the Browns? The film is actually symbolic of what the other 31 NFL teams do to Cleveland on a year-to-year basis. When the draft rolls around, every franchise has set up an elaborate series of trap doors for the Browns to drop into. Like clockwork, Cleveland falls for every trap and sends itself into a habitual twilight zone.

Just look at they’ve performed in every draft since 1999:

  • 1999: Used the top overall pick on quarterback Tim Couch when they could’ve drafted Donovan McNabb. Couch had his “moments,” but overall, was a colossal bust.
  • 2000: Another bone-headed selection at No. 1. The Browns selected defensive end Courtney Brown when they could’ve had LaVar Arrington or Brian Urlacher.
  • 2001: Back-to-back blunders on the defensive line. Used the No. 3 pick on Florida defensive tackle Gerard Warren when Richard Seymour was available.
  • 2002: Cleveland drafts right in the middle at No. 16 and foolishly selection running back William Green. Meanwhile, transcendent safety Ed Reed was readily available.
  • 2003: After making the playoffs in 2002, the Browns draft at No. 21, where they select center Jeff Faine. Not much quality was available here, but Willis McGahee and Dallas Clark certainly provided more value to their respective teams than Faine did during his short stint in Cleveland.
  • 2004: Perhaps the team’s most consequential blunder. At No. 6, they draft tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Just eight picks later, the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Ben Roethlisberger. In his career, Big Ben is 21-2 against the Browns.
  • 2005: Remember how I said 2004 was perhaps the team’s most consequential blunder? Well, that statement is incorrect. With the third overall pick, Cleveland selected wide receiver Braylor Edwards… WHEN THEY COULD’VE DRAFTED AARON FREAKIN RODGERS. Sure, Rodgers looked like a goat back in 2005 and had a wonky delivery, but 12 years later, Rodgers is in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Cleveland, if it looks like goat, smells like a goat and quacks like a goat, it’s probably Aaron Rodgers.
  • 2006: With the No. 13 pick, Cleveland selects defensive end Kamerion Wimdley. They originally began with the No. 12 pick, but swapped with the Baltimore Ravens, who used the Browns’ original pick to draft Haloti Ngata. Lol.
  • 2007: Cleveland uses the No. 3 pick on left tackle Joe Thomas. An incredible pick. Thomas hasn’t missed a snap since being drafted and is a perennial Pro Bowl selection.
  • 2008: This is the draft that killed the Browns’ future. If you’ll recall, they actually finished 10-6 in 2007. Although they missed the playoffs, 10 wins for Cleveland might as well be three-consecutive perfect seasons. But the franchise was set back thanks to a porous 2008 draft performance. The Browns held the fewest picks (5) and didn’t have a pick in the first three rounds. They traded their first round pick to Dallas the year prior so they could draft…. Brady Quinn. They then traded their second and third round picks for a pair of defensive linemen that were both gone by the time 2011 rolled around.
  • 2009: Cleveland pulled a play right out of the New England handbook and traded back in the first round three times. It originally held the No. 5 pick, but swapped it to the Jets for the No. 17 and No. 52 picks. Then, at No. 17, they traded with Tampa Bay for its first round pick (No. 19) and a sixth-round selection. Then, at No. 19, the Browns swapped with Philadelphia at No. 21 and received yet another sixth-round pick. Ultimately, Cleveland drafted center Alex Mack, who in seven seasons with the Browns earned three Pro Bowl nods.
  • 2010: With the No. 7 pick, Cleveland drafted cornerback Joe Haden. When healthy, Haden is an elite defensive back, but that’s the issue: He’s rarely healthy.
  • 2011: The Browns appeared to hit the jackpot when they traded the No. 6 pick to Atlanta for a host of picks. Of course, the Falcons used that pick to draft Julio Jones, and after Cleveland traded up to the 21st pick, it opted to go with defensive tackle Phil Taylor over budding superstar Cameron Jordan.
  • 2012: The Browns and Vikings swapped first-round picks, which provided Cleveland with the glorious opportunity of drafting Trent Richardson. Meanwhile, Minnesota drafted pro-bowl offensive tackle Matt Kalil and the Carolina Panthers later snagged Luke Kuechly. This is also a good time to mention that the Browns drafted Brandon Weeden at No. 22, a quarterback who was already exiting his prime as soon as he entered the league, and passed up on Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
  • 2013: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad draft class. The Browns selected Barkevious Mingo at No. 6, and although he isn’t with the team anymore (my beloved Indianapolis Colts have him…lol), there wasn’t much this draft class had to offer.
  • 2014: Minnesota duped Cleveland once before, so the purple and gold thought maybe, just maybe, they could pull it off again. Well, they did just that. Again, the Vikings stood one spot above the Browns. Cleveland had its sights set on a player, so they swapped their No. 9 pick with Minnesota’s No. 8 pick to draft… Justin Gilbert. Meanwhile, Minnesota drafted stud linebacker Anthony Barr. The Browns could’ve used their pick to draft Odell Beckham Jr. or Aaron Donald. Think that’s bad? Oh, it gets much worse. Cleveland traded up to No. 22 so they could draft Johnny Manziel. You know who was waiting in the wings? Derek Carr.
  • 2015: The Browns used the No. 12 pick on defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Not a bad pick, but Shelton’s teammate at Washington, cornerback Marcus Peters, would’ve been a much better selection.
  • 2016: It’s too early to tell, but the Hue Jackson regime didn’t receive much help despite Cleveland holding 14 draft picks. The Browns used their first-round pick on Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman. In fact, five of the team’s 14 selections were pass catchers.

Cleveland has yet another chance to alter its course in the right direction heading into Thursday. They’re tied with Cincinnati for the most total picks (11), hold the No. 1 overall pick (where they’ll draft Myles Garrett… if they don’t pull a Cleveland), and have a host of flexible assets — the No. 12 pick, a pair of second-round picks (that Brock Osweiler trade was silky smooth) and the first pick in the third round.

But the Browns have had plenty of assets before and still managed to come away with nothing. It’s obvious their front office and scout department are not fully in sync, especially when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, which is unequivocally the genesis of the franchise’s problems.

Since 1999, 26 different quarterbacks have started for the Cleveland Browns, with only ONE completing a full season. That’s no recipe for NFL success.

Cleveland is the embodiment of why having a franchise quarterback matters. If we look at all 51 Super Bowl champions, what’s the common theme? Franchise quarterbacks.

Pittsburgh has six Lombardi Trophies thanks to Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. Dallas secured two with Roger Staubach and earned an additional three with Troy Aikman. All five of New England’s championships featured Tom Brady under center. San Francisco started its dynasty with Joe Montana and capped it off with Steve Young. Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls ever with Bart Starr, then had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers snag one apiece. The New York Giants won a Super Bowl with Phil “The Greatest Broadcaster of All Time” Simms and two with Eli “Rain” Manning. Denver got two with an aging John Elway, then another with an aging Peyton Manning. Peyton also helped the Indianapolis Colts win a Super Bowl over 30 years after the combination of Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas got it done for the Baltimore Colts back in 1971. The Raiders — whether it was Oakland or Los Angeles — had solid quarterback play from Ken Stabler (1976) and Jim Plunkett (1980 and 1983). Miami went back-to-back in the early 1970s thanks to Bob Griese. The Chiefs lone Super Bowl victory was spearheaded by Len Dawson, while the Rams went from worst-to-first in 1999 thanks to the arm of Kurt Warner.

There are outliers, of course. But even if a Super Bowl winning team was absent exceptional quarterback play, it either received surprising performances from an otherwise inconsistent signal callers (Look at the 1987 and 1991 Redskins, plus the 2012 Baltimore Ravens) or featured an elite defense (The 1985 Bears, 1990 Giants, 2000 Ravens, 20002 Buccaneers, 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos).

Not only are Cleveland’s shortcomings at quarterback evaluation well documented, it’s also failed at constructing a complete team.

But given that quarterback is the sport’s premier position, it can mask a lot of problems. Unfortunately, the Browns haven’t drafted one quarterback with the capability since 1999. Their list of quarterbacks is as depressing and inconsistent as Drake’s career.

Which Drake album is each Cleveland QB since 1999?

I’ll include every major release of Aubrey Graham’s since 2010, while pairing Views and More Life together. I’m doing it because this is my article and I can do whatever the hell I want to do.

Thank Me Later (2010)
Quarterback Description: Utter trash.
List: Tim Couch, Doug Pederson, Charlie Frye

Take Care (2011)
Quarterback Description: Displayed potential, but inconsistent overall
List: Colt McCoy, Brian Hoyer, Derek Anderson, Josh McGown, and Cody Kessler

Nothing Was the Same (2013)
Quarterback Description: The failed experiment.
List: Johnny Manziel, Brady Quinn, RGIII, and Brandon Weeden

If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late (2015)
Quarterback Description: The throwaways
List: Jeff Garcia, Jason Campbell, Jake Delhomme, Ty Detmer, and Trent Dilfer

Views (2016) and More Life (2017)
Quarterback Description: Forget it ever happened
List: Connor Shaw, Austin Davis, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Seneca Wallace, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Thad Lewis, and Luke McGown

Of all the icons just mentioned, Cody Kessler stands out as the one with the highest upside, but is he the answer? Essentially, Kessler is a poor man’s Alex Smith who got absolutely murdered behind Cleveland’s “offensive line.” How Kessler voluntarily trotted onto the field after every one of his concussions is beyond me. And sure, Cleveland aggressively attacked the offensive line free agent market this past offseason, but this is Cleveland we’re talking about. The coaches are programmed to downgrade players not named Joe Thomas.

So if Cleveland wants to at least have a fighting chance in multiple wars — the war to escape the conversation of the worst franchises in sports, the war for the AFC North and the war for Cleveland athletic supremacy — it needs a quality starting quarterback. Someone they can plug in immediately, regardless of the surrounding personnel, and get immediate results from.

Unfortunately, this draft class has little to offer.

Deshaun Watson is the class’ top prospect — he’s a proven winner with athleticism. But his ceiling is low and his accuracy is troublesome. Mitchell Trubisky is too inexperienced at this juncture to carry Cleveland’s incompetent roster. Patrick Mahomes is a joke. Let’s stop entertaining this, please. Deshone Kizer says he has the body of Cam Newton and the mind of Tom Brady. Unfortunately, he has the tape of Deshone Kizer. Joshua Dobbs is an Aerospace Engineer. He’s also inconsistent when it comes to throwing the football, which is a pretty big deal IMO JMO H2O. Davis Webb… ha.

The aforementioned names won’t turn Cleveland around overnight. So the Browns’ easiest path to immediate success after flirting with 0-16 is by shooting their shot and going after an existing NFL starter.

Here’s how they can get them.

Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)

What Green Bay would need: The entire city of Cleveland, LeBron James traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Aaron Rodgers is in the perfect stage of his career. He’s experienced plenty of high-pressure playoff games and still has at least six remaining seasons of making throws like this:

Rodgers is basically LeBron James — the perfect physical specimen with unmatched vision whose executed so many how-in-the-hell-did-you-do-that moments that it’s become normal at this point. Rodgers just had a season where he went 40-7 and it might be the fourth best season of his career. Similarly, LeBron just went 26-8-8 on nearly 55 percent shooting and he’s probably had five better seasons.

Rodgers might not be the G.O.A.T. — that’s Tom Brady — but in terms of pure throwing ability, there’s nobody better. That blink-of-an-eye delivery, the impeccable touch on downfield throws, and the way his throws always seem to slice through any wrinkle of space.

That’s why his price is so hefty. He’s so sensational at dropping our jaws and elevating the players around him that giving the Packers the entire city of Cleveland for his services wasn’t enough. So I had to reward Wisconsin basketball with LeBron James to the Milwaukee Bucks. Could you imagine the LeBron-Giannis combo? With a (hopefully) healthy Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, Landon Brogdon, Greg Monroe, and Delly?

Screw this hypothetical situation, THAT needs to happen now!

Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)

What Indianapolis would need: An infinite supply of books since Luck’s Book Club would move with him, neck beard grooming kits because Luck wouldn’t be there to guide the team, and a boatload of board games.

Andrew Luck has swag because he doesn’t have swag and couldn’t care less about it. You have Brady married to a supermodel, creating $200 cookbooks, and embarking on multiple revenge tours against the commissioner. You have Rodgers breaking up with insanely attractive women and playing second banana in a fractured family to Jordan Rodgers, a.k.a. the winner of The Bachelorette, a.k.a. the color commentator for the Tennessee-Tennessee Tech homecoming game last season.

Meanwhile, Luck’s at home reading books and playing board games.

If Luck were to go to Cleveland, the Browns would have to compensate Indianapolis with all its books because that Andrew Luck Book Club is going to be sorely missed.

But Luck’s true vallue — aside from his neck beard — is his understanding of life with Arena Football League talent around him, and his ability to thrive in that situation.

Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)

What Seattle would need: Contract where Future performs at halftime of every game.

The Seahawks are in serious need of culture. With Marshawn Lynch gone and Richard Sherman spending considerable time on the trading block, Michael Bennett isn’t cavalier enough to bring the culture by his lonesome.

Given the modern trends in hip-hop right now. Future is undoubtedly the King of the Culture. But because Russell Wilson took his girl, there’s no way Future was allowed around Seahawk games.

If Cleveland wants Russell Wilson, it must provide Seattle with what it’s been missing these past few years. To quote Future, “I just took a b**ch to eat at chipotle/ Spent another 60 thou on a rollie.”

The. Culture.

Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)

What Atlanta would need: Every therapist in Cleveland.

When analysts say the Atlanta Falcons can make it back to the Super Bowl, I don’t think they understand the magnitude of Atlanta’s loss in the Super Bowl. It’s not that they blew a 28-3 lead, it’s the fact that they had several opportunities to ice the game with simple handoffs. As Michael Lombardi said on multiple platforms, “Atlanta’s opponent wasn’t the Patriots, it was the clock.”

No matter what Matt Ryan or any other Falcon says, the team hasn’t gotten over the Super Bowl, and I doubt they ever will.

Luckily, Cleveland is a sports town with enough battle scars to fully sympathize with Atlanta’s pain. While Atlanta has The Collapse, Cleveland has The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Blown Save, The Move and The Decision. If any sane Cleveland fans still exist, that’s a miracle.

The Falcons need therapy and the Browns certainly have plenty of them, but they’ll keep a few for Matt Ryan, who’ll probably need therapy because he’s playing for a team whose entire helmet is its logo.

Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

What Ne–… lol.

Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

What Tampa Bay would need: A nationwide effort to restore Florida’s crab legs.

The most savage moment in NFL draft history: After being drafted No. 1 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015, not only did Winston not attend the draft, but as soon as the ESPN live coverage switched over to his location, in his hands were none other than crab legs, which he infamously stole from a Publix during his turbulent sophomore season in Talahassee.

During his first season, it was apparent Winston was still obsessed with crab legs.

But after he slimmed down, it got me thinking: Did he consume every single crab leg in the state of Florida?

I choose to believe he did. I don’t know if Cleveland is a hub for crab legs, so it needs to convince the nation to provide crab leg relief for all of Florida if the Browns want Winston.

Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)

What Oakland would need: A bunch of money to keep the team in Oakland.

This is just sad. The Raiders belong in Oakland, and if they’re going to move cities, why couldn’t it have been Los Angeles?

They have the young, budding superstar quarterback (Derek Carr), they could potentially have the league’s most interesting running back (Marshawn Lynch), a star wide receiver (Amari Cooper) and an absolutely devastating defensive force (Khalil Mack). It’s so much better than what the Rams and Chargers have to offer.

As fun as Los Angeles would be, like I said, the Raiders belong in Oakland. The Black Hole is legendary, and the Bay Area needs to tough-nosed team to offset the softness of the Golden State Warriors.

If Jimmy Haslam can shell out the money for the Raiders to stay in Oakland, then Derek Carr will fall right in his lap.

Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)

What Tennessee would need: Brock Osweiler.

Both are on the same level: Trash.

Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)

What Dallas would need: An elaborate plan to convince Tony Romo to ditch CBS and join the Browns so Jerry Jones has a way to get rid of Dak Prescott and reunite with the love of his life.

Simple enough.

Kirk Cousins (The Washington)

What Washington would need: Trade a quarterback who politely asks reports, “Did you enjoy what just transpired?”

Imagine if Cousins’ cousins were reporters, then there’s no way he yells at them.

Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)

What Kansas City would need: Any quarterback who doesn’t have Alexsmithphobia, aka, the fear of throwing past the line of scrimmage.

They already have Cody Kessler, so.

Matt Stafford (Detroit Lions)

What Detroit would need: Nothing.

Detroit’s population decreases every year, he’ll likely leave at some point. Just gotta be patient.

Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)

What New Orleans would need: Brock Osweiler.

Because he’s tall and New Orleans is tired of its midget quarterback problem.

Eli Manning (New York Giants)

What New York would need: Real, game-worn memorabilia.

It’s an epidemic.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by wikimedia commons

What Butch Jones actually said during his Orange and White postgame presser

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

Deciphering a Butch Jones press conference is what I like to call the “Southern Da Vinci Code.”

On the surface, Butch doesn’t say anything, but underneath his cliche-laden filibusters are plenty of subtle jabs, excuses and soundbites to keep fans tossing and turning at night.

It might be a new season, but it’s the same old Butch.

Opening Statement

“First of all, our in-game operations did a good job of keeping us posted throughout the day and the spring game to let us know what was going on. I would like to thank our fans. You all are amazing. We had 35,000 people despite the weather conditions. We had families waiting in line since 5:30 this morning for the autograph sessions. I’d like to say thank you to them.

 

“We came out, and I liked the way we competed for a spring game. You always want a clean game. You don’t want to have turnovers or penalties, so that part was great. The thing that is invaluable that you can’t coach until you are in an in-game situation is the game management, such as substitutions. It was great for our players and coaches as well. Those are things that our players did a good job of handling. I think it was a very clean spring game.

 

“This team has taken major steps [this spring], but we still have a lot of work to do. It starts with getting back to the weight room and getting bigger and stronger and continuing to build team chemistry. We held 20 players out today. Some were precautionary reasons. Some were post-surgical reasons.

 

“It was great to have all our Vols For Life back. All eras were represented, and it was great to have our former players show up like they had been. I thought it was a great day. Unfortunately, it was cut short, but I liked the way our players competed.”

What Butch actually said: Tennessee’s brand took a massive gut punch after last season and it showed with a measly attendance figure of 35,000. Don’t buy into Butch’s “weather condition” diatribe — perfect weather conditions maybe would’ve added 5,000 more butts in the stands, making an attendance of 40,000 still 20,000 below Butch’s average attendance at Orange and White games. Whether he wants to admit it or not, Butch understands how his poor performance last season has negatively affected the program.

On the quarterback’s progress

“They made tremendous progress. We talked all spring long about don’t compare just compete. I think a lot of times younger players have the tendency to look over their shoulders and focus on what the other individuals are doing instead of themselves. I thought they competed all spring, and I thought that was evident today. The quarterback challenge is a great measuring stick for us when they go out there. We can see how they respond when all eyes are on them. There aren’t 10 other players on the field. I’ve been pleased with the quarterback position all spring. Going into the summer months, the evolution of Team 121 will be doing a good job of continuing to grow and build on momentum. Most progress occurs during the summer months in terms of leadership and getting the details, accountability and toughness.”

What Butch actually said: Butch’s definition of tremendous is different than the rest of ours. For example, a quarterback going from a completion percentage of 56 percent to 73 percent is deemed tremendous by the average person. In Butch’s world, tremendous progress doesn’t hold the same level of expectation. Tremendous is simply a buzz word he uses to make everything appear better than it is. Remember, this guy is a magician with words. And based on the limited access the media has to spring practices, nobody outside of the Vol football inner circle truly knows what progress Dormady or Guarantano have made.

On timetable for determining the starting quarterback

“There is no timeframe. I want them to compete. Competition is extremely healthy, and they’ve all elevated their games because of it. I want them to compete. We have no timetable. I was really pleased with the way they competed today. I thought the receivers caught the ball well. But again, there is no timetable.”

What Butch actually said: Dormady is the starting quarterback. Given that Butch is in a do-or-die season with a new athletic director breathing down his neck, and especially given how Dormady left Guarantano in the dust, Butch knows who his quarterback is. But this is also a coach who wants to replicate the Bill Belichick media model: Say as much nothing as possible to avoid narratives that could potentially distract the program. I don’t understand the logic behind not announcing Dormady as the starter unless Butch is genuinely undecided. If he is, John Currie needs to start searching for Tennessee’s next head coach.

On if anybody has the edge in the QB competition

“No, the great thing is that every day you get the opportunity to better yourself. I feel comfortable with all of our quarterbacks. I thought they progressed exceptionally well. They just need to continue to do that and compete on a daily basis and not worry about anything else. They don’t need to let clutter or distractions get in the way. They’ll be just fine.”

What Butch actually said: Butch is lying here. Let’s not even entertain the idea of Will McBride or Zac Jancek at quarterback. If 0-12 is the mission, then those are Butch’s guys. Sheriron Jones is the Flavor Flav of the team — he’s a great hype man, but he can’t throw, just like Flavor Flav couldn’t rap. Since the beginning of 2016, the talk of Tennessee’s future at quarterback has centered around Dormady and Guarantano. And as I mentioned before, Butch knows Dormady got the best of Guarantano.

On the narrative that the team has lost a lot from last season

“Well I think, however you want to describe it, the word would be opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for a lot of players that maybe haven’t had the opportunity in the past. That’s the great thing about college football, a third of your roster turns over every single year. So within that turnover, it’s new leadership opportunities, new roles; some individuals were role players on special teams, (now their) roles have expanded. That’s what makes college football very special. We’re going to have to rely on some true freshmen as well. This is a football team that works. They don’t consider outside noises and what people think, they just come to work every single day. And again, we’re going to need that mentality and we’re going to need that focus. Obviously we lost a lot of production, but I’m proud of these seniors who have left the program, and their lives are about to change in another week. You look how far we’ve come and you know, draft weekend is going to be very special here at Tennessee.”

What Butch actually said: Butch uses opportunity here as another way to put a positive spin on a dire situation. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities on Team 121, but only because Butch hasn’t managed his roster properly since his arrival in 2013. Elite programs plug holes immediately after a drastic roster turnover, but the Vols don’t possess that luxury. Instead, they face uncertainty across the board, and as much as Butch says his players “don’t consider the outside noise,” the outside noise has a point here: Tennessee football has more questions than answers.

On the wide receivers

“Well you mentioned Jauan at the wide receiver position. I think he had a great and consistent spring. I think he did some really good things. I think he improved his craft. There is going to be a number of individuals who are all youngsters, so every rep they get is going to be valuable. I think Marquez Callaway had as good of a spring as anyone on our football team. He was consistent. He practiced (in practices) 1-15, and he continued to grind and get better. We asked a lot of him in terms of reps. He had the highest rep count on the team. Latrell Williams is growing up right now, so for him to get the valuable reps during (practices) 1-15 was very critical. In moving forward, it will be great to get Brandon Johnson back in June. I think he adds another dynamic to the receiving core. Getting Josh Smith back will help us as well. I think that entire group continued to grow and get better, but we will be extremely young there.”

What Butch actually said: The wide receivers might be the offenses Achilles heel. Butch has literally described essentially every player in the same fashion he described Jennings, Callaway and Williams. Notice how he didn’t get overly specific — that’s because he probably can’t. When Jones is genuinely praising a player, he usually provides more detail and conviction in his tone. But the real humdinger of this quote is the ending: “I think that entire group continued to grow and get better, but we will be extremely young there.”

Built-in excuse. Classic Butch.

The most imporant performances of the Orange and White game

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

Trey Smith (Offensive tackle)

Arguably the most hyped prospect of the Butch Jones era, five-star early enrolleee and straight-up behemoth in the trenches, Trey Smith, put on an impressive showing Saturday.

He didn’t play at his natural position of left tackle. Instead, he routinely dominated interior defensive linemen as a right guard.

While it’s true Tennessee is currently depleted at defensive tackle (Shy Tuttle, Khalil McKenzie Jr. and Kendall Vickers were all out due to injury), thus potentially devaluing Saturday’s showing, Smith still outperformed his freshman label by a considerable margin.

The technical improvements were obvious. His footwork was stable and he rarely allowed his assignment to gain leverage. Obviously, Smith’s natural strength is his biggest asset, but against the nation’s top defensive linemen, he’ll have to use more brain than brawn.

There were a few deer-in-headlight moments when he was asked to block up-field, but Smith’s progress and inclusion on the offensive line this early is a development to keep an eye on.

Nigel Warrior (Defensive back)

Warrior was described by defensive coordinator Bob Shoop as the “best player” during spring practice.

Those high remarks for the rising sophomore were verified by a strong performance on Saturday.

Warrior played the safety role to perfection. He flew around the field and recorded four tackles, while also showcasing his skills in coverage. He was also solid in coverage, and although he allowed a downfield completion to Ethan Wolfe, that had more to do with Dormady’s excellent throw than poor coverage.

It’s clear Warrior knows how to navigate space when pursuing the ball. What he’ll have to improve upon is navigating space in coverage, an area where defensive backs often go to die.

Darrell Taylor (Defensive end)

Darrell Taylor is known more for his infamous Battle at Bristol quote “We gon whip they fu**in a**” than his play. But now that it’s his time to shine, Taylor can no longer hide behind the mystique of creating an era-defining hashtag. And by era defining, I mean a brief period in September when Tennessee was actually good enough to warrant using the hashtag #WGWTFA.

Only seven months after that quote, Taylor began receiving comparisons to Derek Barnett, who only happens Tennessee’s all-time leader in sacks, a record previously held by the legendary Reggie White.

It’s a stretch, but Taylor is off to a positive start. He recorded two sacks during the Orange and White game, but his motor and ability to bend off the edge the way Barnett did is still TBD.

Jauan Jennings (Wide receiver)

There’s no bigger skeptic of Jauan Jennings than me, and Saturday did absolutely nothing to dispel my discomforts with Jennings as a No. 1 wide receiver.

Yes, Jennings has a knack for the “moment.” Two of the Vols’ most memorable plays from last season belong to him — his 64-yard touchdown reception over Teez Tabor and his iconic Hail Mary snag against Georgia.

But as a route runner, Jennings leaves a lot to be desired.

He’s a physical specimen who can box out like a center, but can’t run the route tree. Eventually, the endzone fades — one of football’s shockingly low-percentage plays that should go extinct immediately — must be paired with an arsenal of routes that can help Jennings create separation from defensive backs.

On Saturday, Jennings caught his patented fade in the endzone, as well as a pair of simple, short routes to the outside. But on routes deeper than five yards, Jennings didn’t look the part of a No. 1 wide receiver. Rather, he resembled the classic case of a No. 2 receiver struggling to be the guy. It can’t be understated how valuable Josh Malone was to Tennessee’s passing game last season. With Malone gone to the NFL, defenses can primarily focus on Jennings, especially when the receivers behind him are a hodgepodge of question marks.

Carlin Fils-Aime (Running back)

Carlin Fils-Aime’s claim to fame is the bone-headed fumble he caused during Tennessee’s stunning loss to South Carolina last season.

His lack of awareness cost the Vols a shot at the SEC East, but with that play in the rearview mirror, as well as the departures of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, Fils-Aime’s exhilarating burst is now the counterbalance to John Kelly’s ruthless running style.

The blink-and-you’ll-miss moments of roadrunner speed were few and far between for the sophomore during the Orange and White game, but that had more to do with the offensive line failing to establish an edge.

Still, Fils-Aime must develop a knack for creating his own space and using his burst to take advantage of rapidly closing gaps.

Daniel Bituli (Linebacker)

Similar to the defensive line, very few know what to expect from the linebackers this season. Darrin Kirkland Jr. is the unit’s foundation in the middle, but the edges remain a concern.

Daniel Bituli has work to do before Butch entertains the idea of starting him — he’s raw and unprepared for consistent dosages of regular season action. With that being said, on Saturday, no defensive player was mentioned more than he was.

He was hyper-aggressive, tenacious, omnipresent, quick, whatever you want to call it. Wherever the herd of defenders charged, Bituli was always in the middle of it. While the stat sheet won’t blow anybody away (4 tackles, 2 of them solo), Bituli passed the eye test with flying colors.

The winner of Tennessee’s Quarterback Duel was fairly obvious on Saturday

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

The Orange and White game — like any other spring game — is accurately described as a glorified practice.

Nobody can touch the quarterback, any injury — regardless of its degree — places a player on the sideline for the afternoon and the players likely don’t place too much emphasis on a scripted scrimmage five months before actual football.

But with the 2017 version of the Orange and White game came a storyline debated in every classroom and barber shop in Knoxville: Who’s succeeding quarterback Joshua Dobbs?

Five quarterbacks are on the depth chart, but it’s widely understood only two legitimate candidates exist: Junior quarterback Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano.

Although head coach Butch Jones has insisted all spring that the quarterback competition is close, Saturday’s culmination of spring football told a completely different story.

Dormady isn’t the sexy, dual-threat quarterback Guarantano is — he’s a pure pocket passer, a trait that’s foolishly been used against him. He also didn’t exhibit a level of extroverted swagger during post-practice interviews that his confident, if not naive, counterpart often did. Instead, he exhibited nothing but complete control of Larry Scott’s offense, as well as the poise and accuracy needed for an SEC quarterback.

Opening drives

If first impressions mean everything, Dormady made the most of his. He navigated the opening drive like a seasoned veteran, operating in a number of personnel groupings while executing a variety of throws, from quick rollouts to endzone fades to Jauan Jennings to downfield dimes to Ethan Wolfe.

On the other hand, Guarantano predictably played like a redshirt freshman on his debut drive. After a pair of handoffs, Guarantano’s first pass attempt was nearly intercepted by D.J. Henderson. On the throw, Guarantano was clearly affected by pressure, but not in the traditional sense that a quarterback is. Instead of rushing a throw, the fan-favorite actually spent too much time evaluating the field. The problem was, he failed at multitasking. While keeping his eyes downfield, his pocket maneuverability was a disaster and his footwork came undone. By the time he decided to make his throw, the damage had already been done.

Second act

Dormady followed his razor-sharp opening drive with a worthwhile encore performance. If he put Guarantano on notice with his execution on the opening drive, then Dormady’s second drive was him grabbing the competition by the throat. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Eli Wolfe was an absolute gem. His pocket presence can only be described as pristine. Under the chaotic conditions of a hectic pocket, Dormady calmly stepped up, quickly scanned the field and delivered strikes in tight windows.

Guarantano showed progression in his second drive, but the issues that plagued his first career attempt popped its ugly head once again on a pair of throws during his chance at redemption. He completed all four of his passes, but one completion — which came on a third down — was grotesquely inaccurate.

Other quarterbacks

Both Will McBride and Zac Jancek failed to take a rep. Credit that to the storm, which prematurely ended the game at halftime. Even with reps, neither has the body, arm or accuracy to survive a single moment of SEC football.

The only other quarterback who received an opportunity to show off his skill set was Sherion Jones. Although the redshirt sophomore is deserving of the “Tennessee hype man” title, Vol fans better pray to the high heavens he never sees any meaningful snaps during the regular season.

Let’s start with the positives: Jones is mobile.

Alright, the positives are done.

Now for the negatives.

On throws outside the numbers, Jones was a cataclysmic failure. His first pass attempt wasted a gorgeous route by tight end Jakob Johnson, who was wide open as he ran toward the sideline, but Jones put so much air underneath his pass, that only the attendees had a chance to make the catch. On another outside pass — this time of the short variety — Jones was so inaccurate that his intended target — running back Taeler Dowdy — was forced to land awkwardly, resulting in the game’s lone injury.

With those two throws also came sloppy footwork and poor body language. Jones knew he played bad, but even when Guarantano struggled, he still displayed optimism. Jones might be the hype man, but he certainly isn’t the leader.

Guarantano wasn’t even subpar on Saturday — he was just bad. But Tennessee faithful can rest at night knowing Jones isn’t the backup.

Verdict

Dormady was master class on Saturday, while Guarantano clearly isn’t the quarterback fans expected him to be… yet.

With Dormady, the Vol offense played under three personnel packages fairly evenly — 10, 11 and 12. Meanwhile, Guarantano was primarily placed in 11 personnel. The offensive variety under Dormady was evident despite such a small sample size, and in a conference full of defenses who blend elite athleticism and high-football IQ at a daunting level, any shade of unpredictability is paramount.

Furthermore, when Dormady faced pressure, he was swift in his movements and decision making. Guarantano was not, as evident by his late, off-target throws and two accepted sacks.

At the end of the day, the Orange and White game is and will always be a glorified practice, but Butch Jones doesn’t need the summer to ponder who the starting quarterback should be.

It’s Dormady.

Stats

[efstable width =”100%”]
[efstable_head]
[efsth_column]Player[/efsth_column]
[efsth_column]Cmp/Att[/efsth_column]
[efsth_column]Yards[/efsth_column]
[efsth_column]Touchdowns[/efsth_column]
[efsth_column]Accurate/Inaccurate[/efsth_column]
[efsth_column]Cmp/Att under pressure[/efsth_column]
[/efstable_head]
[efstable_body]
[efstable_row]
[efsrow_column]Quinten Dormady[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]10-of-10[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]120 yards[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]2[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]10 accurate/0 inaccurate[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]2-of-2[/efsrow_column]
[/efstable_row]
[efstable_row]
[efsrow_column]Jarrett Guarantano[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]4-of-5[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]41 yards[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]0[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]3 accurate/2 inaccurate[/efsrow_column]
[efsrow_column]4-of-5[/efsrow_column]
[/efstable_row]
[/efstable_body]
[/efstable]

Kendrick Lamar Week: His best verse

Kendrick Lamar — a.k.a. The King of Rap — is releasing his fourth studio album this Friday. So we here at TNJN thought that we would honor Kendrick’s divine status by providing you all with our scorching Kendrick Lamar takes. David Lodovisi, Quinn Pilkey and Robert Hughes will reveal their favorite Kendrick feature, verse, song and album.

BEST VERSE

Kendrick Lamar is a rapper who raps verses. Most of the time (read 100 percent of the time), he transports you to an alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. 

You get the point.

Lodovisi

First verse of “HiiiPower”. Shut up and don’t @ me with another verse, peasants. This is early Kendrick  — it’s on Section.80 —  but this is the verse that catapulted his confidence so he could give the world good kid, m.A.A.d. city and To Pimp a Butterfly.

Let’s take this line-by-line, word-by-word and syllable-by-syllable.

“Visions of Martin Luther staring at me/Malcolm X put the hex on my future some catch me.”

Immediately, we see Kendrick bringing up two prominent Civil Rights figures (MLK and Malcolm X), but what’s interesting is his exclusion of MLK’s last name, which makes me think this is a double entendre for Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther. I could be wrong because my IQ resembles the plastic bag I just put over my head. I just thought it was interesting.

“I’m falling victim to a revolutionary song/The Serengeti’s Clone/Back to put you backstabbers back on your spinal bone.”

I’ve had plenty of backstabbers in my life. Two of my ex-girlfriends cheated on me. So I want to put them on their spinal bones. Haha jk i don’t actually care.

“You slipped your disc when I slid you my disc/You wanted to diss but jumped on my d***.”

HOW. DOES. HE. DO. THIS.

Refer to the “back on your spinal bone” part in the previous line. Kendrick then says “You slipped your disc when I slid you my disc,” which refers to a spinal injury when listening to his music.

Then, of course, people want to diss Kendrick. But then they hear his verses, re-evaluate if they enjoy existing on this planet and become faux fans.

“Grown men never should bite their tongue/Unless you eating p**** that smell like it’s a stale plum.”

No comment.

“I got my finger on the morthaf***** pistol/Aiming it at a pig, Charlotte’s web is going to miss you.”

WHAT.

HOW.

OMG.

The first time I heard this line, I went repeated it at least a dozen times. A Charlotte’s Web reference in a song is so dope. Wow, Kendrick, please! I have a family!

“My issue isn’t televised and you aint gotta tell the wise/How to stay on beat because our life’s an instrumental.”

This is getting ridiculous. The words “beat” and “instrumental” are obviously related, as instrumentals are usually centered around beats. Haha.

“This is physical and mental, I won’t sugar coat it/You’d die from diabetes if these other n***** wrote it.”

My. Word.

This verse isn’t even human at this point. Kendrick won’t sugar coat what he’s saying, but if somebody else said it, there would be so much sugar coating — or in LeBron’s case, sugar coding — that you’ll get diabetes and die.

Kendrick, not in front of my children!

“And everything on TV just a figment of imagination/I don’t want a plastic nation, dread that like a Haitian/While you mothaf***** waiting, I be off the slave ships/Building pyramids, writing my own hieroglyphs.”

The perfect ending to this monstrous verse. Kendrick fears a “plastic nation,” but while everybody is sitting around, he started making moves.

Six years later, he’s the King.

Bow.

Hughes

My personal favorite is one of his longest verses, but his rhythm, rhyme, storytelling and speed are just too good for me to overlook.

Spoiler: It’s the first verse in “m.A.A.d. city” from the album good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

Strap on your seat belts and bring your inhaler; heck, bring an EpiPen, because this verse is a lot to handle. Here we go.

Like David did, we’re going to take this a few lines at a time.

“Brace yourself”

Dangit, I couldn’t even make it past this line without stopping. Kendrick is literally telling all of us to brace ourselves because he’s about to spit a verse so mind-boggling that we need to take some time to prepare ourselves, but then he keeps going and you are already playing catch-up, just trying to hang on for dear life the rest of the verse. Anyway, let’s start back from the top

“Brace yourself/I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane/This is not a rap on how I’m slinging crack or move cocaine/This is cul-de-sac and plenty Cognac and major pain/Not the drill sergeant but the stress that weighin’ on your brain.”

Ok, Kendrick, chill out. That’s a lot for me to process. So you’re going to tell me a a little about your past and how you weren’t a drug dealer, but you were still caught up with the pressures of substance abuse (all while making a reference to a pretty good movie). That’s cool, but just give me some t–

Nope. He just keeps going.

“It was me, L Boog, and Yan Yan/YG lucky ride down Rosecrans/It got ugly waving your hand out the window–Check yourself, uh.”

I assume all of those people are his friends, but the most important part of this verse is the “uh.” He gives us, if only for a moment, a split-second to (attempt to) catch up to what he’s said and what he’s about to say.

“Warriors and Conans/Hope euphoria can slow dance/with society/the driver seat/the first one to get killed/Seen a light-skinned [expletive] with his brains blown out/At the same burger stand where *beep* [a gang] hang out/Now this is not a tape recorder saying that he did it/But ever since that day, I was looking at him different.”

Stop. The. Match.

Kendrick, please, man, you’ve already told us enough. I don’t want to be an accessory to the crime you are talking about or the crime you are currently committing by murdering this verse. Just stop, man. You win.

Nope, he continues.

“That was back when I was nine/Joey packed the nine/Pakistan on every porch is fine/We adapt to crime/Pack a van with four guns at a time/With the sliding door.”

You witnessed this when you were nine years old? NINE. YEARS. OLD?! And then he just keeps going, like it’s not a big deal. He was used to the violence and being around guns all the time already. Wow. But he’s not done, not even close.

“[Expletive] you shooting for if you ain’t walking up you [expletive] punk?/Picking up the [expletive] pump/Picking off you suckers/Suck a [expletive] or die or sucker punch/A wall of bullets coming from/AKs, ARs, ‘Aye y’all, duck,’/That’s what momma said when we was eating that free lunch.”

This portion is a blend of tragedies. Violence is so prevalent in his life that he’s not afraid to tempt death, but then he hits you with more sadness when he says that his family has to be wary of gang violence, even while eating a lunch that his family cannot afford themselves.

“Aw man, [expletive]/All hell broke loose/You killed my cousin back in ’94/[Expletive] your truce/Now crawl your head in that noose/You wind up dead on the news/Ain’t no peace treaty/Just pieces BG’s up to pre-approve.”

Now, it’s personal for him, so he goes even harder these last few lines.

“Bodies on top of bodies/IVs on top of IVs/Obviously the coroner between the sheets like the Isleys/When you hop on the trolley/Make sure your colors correct/Make sure you’re corporate or they’ll be calling your mother collect/They say the governor collect/all of our taxes, except/when we in traffic and tragic happens/That [expletive] ain’t no threat/You moving backwards if you suggest that you sleep with a TEC/Go buy a chopper and have a doctor on speed dial, I guess/m.A.A.d. city.”

How? How is he this good? He’s telling a story about gang violence and how nobody cares about it while absolutely destroying a verse at the same time. I don’t understand.

That’s why he’s the best, and that’s why I cannot contain my excitement for his new album.

Pilkey

There’s no verse in Kendrick Lamar’s entire discography that evokes more emotion than the second verse on “Sing About Me.” The song comes near the end of good kid, m.A.A.d City, after the climax of the album’s story. The entire song is gut-wrenching in the way it paints characters of Compton residents that Kendrick knew in his early life. The second and most powerful verse is sung from the perspective of a young prostitute, the sister of the titular character in Section.80‘s “Keisha’s Song.” The narrator berates Kendrick for using her sister’s story to sell albums:

“You wrote a song about my sister on your tape / And called it Section.80, the message resembled “Brenda’s Got a Baby” / What’s crazy was, I was hearing about it / But doubted your ignorance how  could you ever just put her on blast and sh*t / Judging her past and sh*t, well, it’s completely my future”

She feels that Kendrick has co-opted a deeply personal story for his own gain. It seems to be a sensitive subject for Kendrick: he attempts to bring light to serious issues he faced in his youth without exploiting those around him. The emotion in his voice is palpable through this verse as he views things from the perspective of someone who feels used by him. Still, as the narrator says several bars later, she doesn’t care about Kendrick’s intentions.

“And I’m exhausted, but f*ck that ‘Sorry for your loss’ sh*t / My sister died in vain, but what point are you trying to gain / If you can’t fit the pumps I walk in? I’ll wait / Your rebuttal a little too late / And if you have an album date, just make sure I’m not in the song / ‘Cause I don’t need the attention bring enough of that on my own”

Kendrick shows empathy for the narrator and is able to see things from her perspective. Still, he knows that he wants to get her story out into the world and ultimately decides to do just that yet still show a different perspective by including this verse on the album.

“And matter fact, did I mention I physically feel great? / A doctor’s approval is a waste of time, I know I’m straight / I’ll probably live longer than you and never fade away / I’ll never fade away, I’ll never fade away, I know my fate”

There are inherent dangers in the narrator’s line of work, but she doesn’t care.  In fact, she feels immune from those dangers. She attacks Kendrick’s career as rap, implying that his fame will fade as she continues to thrive. She repeats that point several times. The verse continues, but the voice fades out. Just seconds after she announces she will never fade away, she literally fades away. The next verse is from Kendrick Lamar’s perspective.

It’s not his most exciting verse or his most impressive technically. But if there’s one verse that combines Kendrick’s natural rapping ability, the emotions that he can evoke and his social consciousness and empathy, it’s this one. And that’s what makes it his best.

Featured image by wikimedia commons

Edited by David Bradford