Titans' opponents exasperated by curse of Kearse
Posted: Tuesday December 21, 1999 03:21 PM
Jevon Kearse is so dominant that he has already drawn comparisons to Lawrence Taylor. Scott Halleran/Allsport
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The best teams can hope for is to slow down the man known as the "Freak." Stopping Tennessee Titans end Jevon Kearse has been impossible so far this season.
Through his first 14 NFL games, Kearse, nicknamed for his 86-inch wingspan and 4.43 speed, already has the league rookie record for sacks at 13 1/2.
Opponents have tried blocking Kearse by moving a tight end or running back over to help the right tackle. The Atlanta Falcons last week became the first team to move both a tight end and a back to double-team Kearse.
The result? He still wound up with two sacks, giving him the rookie record.
"You have to account for him," Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said of Kearse. "He's one of those Lawrence Taylor-types where you have to make sure you take care of him."
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said it looked at times as if Kearse was being blocked by three Falcons.
"He just works. He's got that unique sense about him to escape blocks and find the ball," he said.
The previous sack record for rookies had been 12 1/2 and was shared by Simeon Rice (1996) and Leslie O'Neal (1986). Kearse tied the mark by sacking Danny Kanell on the Falcons' fourth play from scrimmage. He got No. 13 1/2 in the third quarter by chasing down backup Tony Graziani off a bad snap.
With his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame, Kearse fell to No. 16 overall in last April's draft because teams worried about how he would hold up over a full NFL season.
It hasn't been a problem. Even though his weight has dipped as low as 245, Kearse seems to be peaking as the Titans prepare for their first playoff berth since 1993. He has 91/2 sacks, 38 tackles, eight quarterback pressures, six forced fumbles and four passes knocked down over the past six games.
The way Kearse has been playing, the Titans expected him to start seeing some different formations designed to stop him, said defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
"It's interesting to see what they're going to try to do to him now," said tackle Mike Jones. "They can't stop him. It's just futile attempts, messing up their snaps. He's a dominant player. It's an honor to get that kind of attention."
Kearse's teammates are enjoying the attention, too. They have combined for 19 sacks, giving the unit more sacks than the entire defense managed in 1998.
"Teams are trying to figure out different ways to confuse him and chip him or block him and frustrate him," Jones said. "Sooner or later, someone (else) is going to come through."
The success hasn't gone to Kearse's head, even though he enjoyed his record sack with a rare bit of celebration. Ask him about his play, and he quickly shares the credit with teammates and coaches.
But Kearse does have plans for his sack record.
"Hopefully, I'll just try to improve it some and just give the next rookie who tries to get the record something to look forward to," said Kearse.
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