Tennessee Titans

Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is a highly ranked prospect in this week’s NFL draft.  Vaccaro was one of only 23 players invited to New York City to attend the draft.  

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Ask Kenny Vaccaro what he hopes the outcome of this week’s NFL draft will be, and the answer is quick, confident and smoothly spoken.

“I want to be the first safety taken,” Vaccaro said. “I don’t care if it’s the first or second round, I just want to be the first safety off the board.”

The draft prospects are looking bright for the Brownwood native, who played for four years and started at safety in every game during his junior and senior years. In his four-year career, Kenny Vaccaro managed 264 tackles, five interceptions and four forced fumbles. Many analysts have listed Vaccaro as a first-round pick, citing his size, speed, hard-hitting grit, flexibility and instincts on the field. 

“I think I was explosive on my breaks,” Vaccaro said at Texas Pro Day, where he went through drills but skipped the 40-yard dash due to a hip flexor injury. “I was really happy with how my hip held up. I thought I did a good job today.”

Vaccaro ran through private workouts for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, though a bevy of other coaches seem to have their eyes on him too.  

“I’m fired up to go anywhere,” Vaccaro said at Pro Day. “This has been a dream my whole life. Wherever I go, I’ll excel at that team.”

Even if that team isn’t in his home state.

“I’m from Texas, I played for the best university in Texas,” Vaccaro said. “To play for America’s team would be great, but I just want to have the opportunity to play for any organization.”

Despite last season’s often listless defense, Vaccaro shined, leading the team in tackles and earning lauds including a first-team All-America selection by Pro Football Weekly and a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He duked it out in October with West Virginia’s speedy receiver Tavon Austin and tallied 11 tackles during the game.

Beneath Vaccaro’s tattooed skin, football runs deep in his blood. Vaccaro’s uncle, A.J. Johnson, played in the NFL with both the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers. He aided the Redskins in claiming a Super Bowl victory in 1991.  

“Kenny is tough,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Kenny is like [Seattle Seahakws safety] Earl Thomas. He’s like a [Tennessee Titans safety] Michael Griffin. It’s easy to compare Kenny to the great ones. He plays with passion every day and he practices with passion.”

Vaccaro was invited to New York City to attend the draft, one of only 23 players asked to attend. The draft will begin Thursday night. 

“We have had a lot of guys that are invited to New York for the draft and it has always been a highlight,” Brown said. “It obviously means that you are going to be a first-round pick and very high on people’s list. It’s a great compliment to not only Kenny and not only [defensive backs coach] Duane Akina, but to our entire program.”

Despite the recognition and flurry of praise he’s received heading into the draft, Vaccaro is quick to give thanks for his talent, his accomplishments and his future.

“I never thought I’d be at this point,” Vaccaro said. “I’m so blessed. I thank God everyday that I got the opportunity to play this game.”

Fantasy Football

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) stiff-arms Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant (52) during a 13-7 win Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

As October winds down and we enter the eighth week of the NFL season, it’s easy to wonder where the time has gone. In case you missed it, here are a couple of observations from the first two months of games: One, Robert Griffin III is really, really good. Two, Peyton Manning is back and as effective as ever. Lastly, fantasy football is still a crapshoot. Looking ahead to this weekend’s games, here is some advice to help make your fantasy lineup a sure thing:

Players to Start:

1) Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears

Although he hasn’t reached the end zone since Week 1, Forte is completely healed from an ankle injury and is back at full strength. Considering the Bears are facing the struggling Panthers, who Forte gashed for a total of 416 rushing and receiving yards and three touchdowns in their last two meetings, he should be due for a huge day. Expect Forte to rack up fantasy points in both the running and the passing game.

2) Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee Titans

Stepping in for injured starter Jake Locker, Hasselbeck has played considerably well over the past three weeks. With Locker out again and the Titans facing a Colts team that has given up at least two passing touchdowns in all but one game this season, Hasselbeck is a good option at quarterback this week. 

3) Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts

Many people believed Wayne would struggle this year without Peyton Manning throwing to him. That’s hardly been the case, however, as Wayne has had at least 70 yards receiving in every game this year. With the Colts’ offense working efficiently under rookie QB Andrew Luck and Indianapolis facing a generous Titans secondary, Wayne should have a solid game Sunday.

Players to Sit:

1) Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers

After a strong start to the season, Smith has struggled lately, turning the ball over four times and throwing only one touchdown in his past two games. Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier for Smith this week, who faces the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. So far this year, Arizona has given up the second fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Sit Smith if you have another viable option.

2) Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

With the Steelers’ top two running backs injured, Dwyer seized his opportunity last Sunday, rushing for 122 yards against the Bengals. However, with Pittsburgh facing a Washington Redskins defense that is ranked dead last in fantasy football against the pass and tenth against the run, the Steelers will likely be throwing the ball Sunday.

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: Fully recovered Forte should gash Panthers D

Photo Credit: Daily Texan Sports | Daily Texan Staff

You won’t find the name Wade Davis on the Jim Thorpe Award trophy or on any Pro Bowl roster, but the former NFL cornerback who had stints with the Titans, Seahawks and Redskins made headlines last month by becoming the fourth ex-NFL player to come out as gay.

Davis, now nine years removed from his playing days, came out publicly to Outsports.com, telling of the challenges that came from being a closeted gay man in the NFL.

“You just want to be one of the guys, and you don’t want to lose that sense of family,” Davis said. “Your biggest fear is that you’ll lose that camaraderie and family. I think about how close I was with [Tennessee Titans teammates] Jevon [Kearse] and Samari [Rolle]. It’s not like they’d like me less, it’s that they have to protect their own brand.”

Davis was forced to keep his secret in order to enhance his chances of making the Titans’ roster. He sometimes had to go to great lengths to conceal his identity after a teammate told him not to associate with another player believed to be bisexual, as it would jeopardize his position on the team.

“I can remember going out that night, going to a strip club, spending probably $1,500 just to make sure ... if they even had a glimmer of a thought that I was gay, that I wasn’t,” Davis said. “I was willing to make it rain just like the rest of them were.”

He had a great shot at making the roster, but suffered a hamstring injury. Instead, Titans sent him to NFL Europe, where he won the World Bowl with the Berlin Thunder. Due to other injuries, his NFL career came to end in 2003 without an appearance in a regular season game.

Davis now works for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a group that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths in New York City. He was also called in by the President to aid his 2012 re-election campaign.

Yet, Davis would have faced a different experience coming out as a gay man in the NFL in 2012. A new breed of NFL players have risen up in support of gay players in the NFL.

At the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, Heisman winner Robert Griffin III revealed that he once had a gay teammate on his high school football team and would not care if one of his NFL teammates came out as gay. Running backs Trent Richardson, third pick in the 2012 draft, Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and the 49er’s LaMichael James also stressed that sexual orientation doesn’t matter to them when it comes to football.

Of current NFL players, Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, and Connor Barwin, the linebacker who helped lead a revamped Houston Texans defense to their first playoff appearance, are few of the many players who could be counted in support of the first openly gay NFL player.

“Times are really changing and people are understanding that there’s really no reason to have an issue with [being gay],” Barwin said. “Embrace who people love and how they love.”

Although no current NFL player has ever come out while currently playing the game, the prevailing trend tells us it’s only a matter of time.

Tennessee Tians placed franchise tag on Michael Griffin Monday. a two-time Pro Bowler, Griffin starrted for Longhorns when they won a national title game against USC that season. His eight blocked punts are a Texas school record.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Tennessee Titans have tagged safety Michael Griffin as their franchise player.

The Titans announced the move Monday a couple hours before the NFL deadline to use the tag.

The move to tag Griffin still allows the Titans to work on a long-term contract before July 16 with the safety who was their first-round draft pick in 2007 out of Texas. Griffin was due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.

Another team could sign Griffin to a contract, but the franchise tag allows the Titans to either match the contract or be awarded two No. 1 draft picks.

“Tag your it,” Griffin wrote on Twitter after the Titans’ announcement.

By tagging Griffin, the Titans are on target to return both starting safeties.

The 6-foot Griffin is a two-time Pro Bowler, the last in 2010 when he led the team with four interceptions and ranked second on the team with a career-high 153 tackles. In 2011, he ranked third with 96 tackles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions. For his career, Griffin has started 73 of 80 games played and he has 17 career interceptions with seven forced fumbles and four fumbles recovered.

Sophomore Mandy Ogle had her second career home run and set a career high with four RBIs during Texas' convincing victory.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The season has barely begun and the Longhorns are already rewriting the Texas record books with a 23-0 win against the California State Fullerton Titans Thursday night. The Texas offense overshadowed a top notch Texas defense with a lights out performance in the first game of the Texas tournament.

Up 12-0 at the end of the second inning, the 18th ranked Longhorns broke their first record of the night — a 12-year-old single game record for number of runs scored by a Texas team in a season opener. The record had previously been held by the 1998 Longhorn team who flew past St. Edward’s University 10-0 to open.

The second broken record, for most runs in a single game, came in the bottom of the third when sophomore Brejae Washington’s two RBI single plated sophomore Mandy Ogle and freshman Gabby Smith for the 18th and 19th runs of the night. The 1999 squad had held the record previously with 17 runs against the University of Texas at San Antonio before Thursday.

Finally after four innings, the Titans pulled their starting pitcher — a junior who gave up 15 hits and 20 runs.

“You have to adapt to every pitcher and we were helping each other out,” Ogle said. “We would come in and tell everyone what we were seeing, everyone was working with each other and we were just on.”

Although the Texas offense started out strong with three runs in the bottom of the first, it was the nine runs scored in the bottom of the second that really set the tone for the night. Junior power hitter Taylor Hoagland and Ogle headlined the power offense, each producing a multiple score home run. After a nine run second inning, senior team captain Lexy Bennett brought the home run count to three with her own multiple run bomb.

By the end of the third inning, each Longhorn in the starting line up, with the exception of the junior Blaire Luna, their All-American pitcher, had scored. In addition, all starters finished the night with at least one base hit, with the exception of junior first baseman Kim Bruins, who was walked and hit by pitch twice.

“It was pretty nice,” Ogle said. “We were just having fun, having our own little Texas party in the dugout.”

Jerry Gray was supposed to be a perfect fit for Texas as its new defensive backs coach. But the lure of a promotion and a pay raise was too tempting to keep him at his alma mater, and Gray accepted the defensive coordinator position for the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

“I know the timing of this isn’t ideal, but this was something that I couldn’t turn down,” Gray said in a statement.

Saturday was junior day at Texas, and high school junior recruits were in Austin for official visits to the university. Gray replaced Duane Akina as defensive backs coach 26 days ago, after filling the same position for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

Gray took a pay cut to leave Seattle, and was going to make $425,000 with Texas. He will reportedly make over 1 million annually with
Tennessee. Gray returns to the Titans, where he spent four seasons as the defensive backs coach a decade ago. Current Titans head coach Mike Munchak was offensive line coach while Gray was in Tennessee, and began recruiting Gray for the job as soon as he was hired as Jeff Fisher’s replacement. “I am excited to have this opportunity,” Gray said in his statement. “I have known Mike for a number of years and if he is a head coach like he was a player or a position coach, we are going to be in great shape.”

Texas head coach Mack Brown now has yet another coaching void to fill on his staff, and will make his seventh hire this offseason. He said he was “obviously disappointed” with Gray’s departure in a statement released Saturday.

“But at the same time, we’re really excited about the wonderful opportunity he had to be the defensive coordinator of the Titans,” Brown said. “That’s the only place he would have left here for, and we want to wish him the best of luck.”

Where Brown looks to replace Gray is unclear, but there are a few names on the table. Former Nebraska secondary coach Marvin Sanders resigned earlier this month, citing personal and family reasons. If he is still willing to coach, he may be a good fit for the Longhorns, as the Cornhuskers have had one of the best secondaries in the country the past two seasons.