Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis made his first public appearance with several of his teammates since the team began its organized team activities six weeks ago, but it wasn't on the football field.
Mathis skipped all 12 of the Jaguars OTA practice sessions as a way to protest the club not being willing to re-do his current contract. Mathis has two years remaining on the $25.5 million extension of his original rookie contract. The deal included $9.4 million in guaranteed money in signing and roster bonuses that locked him to the Jaguars through the 2011 season.
Mathis is scheduled to make $3.95 million this season and $4.45 million in 2011.
Instead of showing up at the Jaguars' football facilities, Mathis was a visitor at the adjacent Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Jacksonville Suns, the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. Mathis joined three of his football teammates as guests of the Suns and did several rounds of batting practice on the field.
Afterwards, Mathis broke his silence and spoke exclusively with The SportsXchange, explaining why he was not participating in team drills.
"A workout is a workout and I've been doing this a long time," said the veteran NFL cornerback who will play his eighth professional season this fall. "I'm not a rookie. I know what it takes to get my body right. Right now the practices are voluntary.
"There's nothing that says I have to be there. As long as the guys that I play with know where I stand, and they know where I'm going to be, come game day, I'll be ready then. That's all that matters."
Mathis said his differences with the Jaguars are part of the business side of the NFL. He wants to have his current contract replaced by one that would pay him similar to the top cornerbacks in the league.
"I've been in this business long enough and have seen a lot, a whole lot with my tenure here with the Jaguars," he said. "I know how businesses run. I'm going to do my part to get ready for the season, regardless who I'm facing. I always handle it in a business matter and I always will."
Mathis said he has not talked with Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio or general manager Gene Smith about his situation, nor does he plan to have discussions with them. He'll leave that to his agent.
"That's how this part is worked out. There is no one-on-one communication between me and Gene or (senior vice president, football operations) Paul Vance," Mathis said. "There's no business talk between player and GM. A lot of people don't understand that there's no one-on-one communication. The agent handles that side of it, but I'm always available.
"I've been here and have been here every offseason. I didn't go running out of town. I'm still here in Jacksonville. The guys still see my face, they know I'm here. I'm 100 percent down like I've always been."
Asked if he thinks he will be in the starting lineup for the Jaguars season-opener against Denver on Sept. 12, Mathis said that decision wasn't in his hands.
"If they plan on having me there, then I plan on being there," said Mathis who got married two weeks ago. "Like I said, it's the business side of it. We're all businessmen. We're not just football players, we're businessmen too.
"We have careers. We have families that we have to take care of as well. I'm going to do my part to be there."
Notes and quotes:
— On draft day in April when the Jaguars took Scotty McGee with their sixth-round pick, they made the announcement that he would be coming in to win a roster spot as a kick returner — handling either kickoffs or punts. McGee, who was a starting cornerback at James Madison, believes he can handle the returns but he wants more than that.
"I'm approaching that position (cornerback) as if I'm going in to be the starting guy," he said. "There are guys that are really good out there. I'm catching on and asking questions. I'm learning more about corner.
"I feel that I can bring something to the table at corner. The more I continue to study my playbook and learn the plays, I think I can help out in that area as well."
— The Jaguars will have competition for a Pro Bowl roster spot as a special teams player. A year ago, the Jaguars' Montell Owens made the Pro Bowl as a special teams standout.
At the same time, Kassim Osgood, free agent signee by the Jaguars last March, has been a special teams Pro Bowl invitee three of the last four seasons (2006, '07 and '09). No team is likely to send two players off its roster to the Pro Bowl for special teams, meaning the competition between Owens and Osgood could be pretty competitive.
"We're going to make a competition of it," Osgood said. "It's fun to be on a team with another guy right by your side running down the field. It's a little different for me, but definitely a bonus for our team."
Owens said he welcomes someone with Osgood's talent joining the Jaguars special teams.
"I know the first week we ran down on kickoffs, we were already communicating. It's natural. He's good at what he does," Owens said. "Him and I are sort of playing off each other. When you've got a bunch of guys with chemistry like that, nothing but good things are going to happen.
— There's no question that the Jaguars offense will revolve around two players — quarterback David Garrard and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Garrard leads the passing attack while Jones-Drew will once again be the workhorse in the team's running attack.
Heading into last week's OTA practices, which proved to be the team's final week when they incurred a weeklong penalty for violating the rules "concerning the intensity and tempo of (the non-contact) drills, Jones-Drew was singing the praises of the play of his quarterback.
"David is looking great. I've said this all along, a quarterback is only as good as the weapons around him. Even though they get all the pressure, if he's putting the ball on the money and we're dropping the ball, it's an incomplete pass. A lot of guys are stepping up around him and we're all trying to get better on offense."
— Officially, Tiquan Underwood is listed as 6-1, 178 pounds. Ask some Jaguars' players however, and they'll tell you that's being generous with Underwood's weight.
"We always get on him for being 125 pounds, but it doesn't matter," quarterback David Garrard said about his wise receiver. "He works hard and makes all the catches in traffic. He's never scared to get hit.
"I was just about to tell him out there after he made a nice catch in one of our practices that I don't care how much you weigh. If you can make plays like that and go out there and block, you don't have to be a prototypical wide receiver. It's just getting the job done and making a play."
Yes, but does he need to gain some weight, Garrard was asked?
"He does. He's 125 pounds."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're not going to take a poll and then make a decision based on that, so I'll just let it play out." — Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio when asked if he was a fan of the expected 18-game regular season schedule that will likely take effect in 2012.
Both share the same agent in Drew Rosenhaus and both have had time away from the Tennessee Titans off-season work even after signing their respective tenders. Tulloch, who did not sign his $2.521 million tender until just before the June 15 deadline, decided to skip all the Titans' organized team activities, even those that took place in the two weeks since he signed the offer sheet.
"It's about to wind down, so there ain't too much he's going to get out of the last two days at this point. I just hope he comes back ready. I know we need him back. We miss him on defense," Scaife said. "Someone like Tully, he's made a lot of plays for us. So I'm sure everything's going to work out for him."
Both players signed the tenders in part because it meant their 2010 salaries would be guaranteed. Scaife, who is scheduled to make $4.9 million this season after being franchised for $4.46 million last year, admitted as much when he signed his deal and finally reported for work at the end of May.
"That's definitely part of (signing the tender), to make sure your money is guaranteed. But everyone is a little different," Scaife said. "Some guys feel they need to stay away. In my case, it was just kind of to the point where I kind of missed my teammates, and missed being down here. You can't simulate that football stuff, no matter how hard you're working out. I needed to get some of that too to sharpen my skills. That's what was important to me and what I thought best fit me."
As for Tulloch's absence, something that has likely come as advice from Rosenhaus, Titans coach Jeff Fisher said his starting middle linebacker is losing out on valuable work time. In Tulloch's stead special teamer Colin Allred has been working as the starter.
"He's missing out. He's missing a lot. He's getting some advice from some place," Fisher said. "He's not here. I don't know what his intention is. He was our starter last year. Colin is doing a great job. He's playing inside and outside and playing the nickel. Until he decides to come in, Colin will be the guy."
Both players' missed time in camp apparently comes as a way to protest the Titans' lack of wanting to give them a long-term deal.
"I feel like if you produce and you've done things for the team, you should be compensated. I know every player feels like that. You put yourself at risk every time you're out there. This game is not guaranteed. Everything is not guaranteed," Scaife said. "You want to have that sense of security, and guys that have that sense of security and have that long-term deal, understand that. Some people might not understand that, but at the end of the day, you sacrifice your body for the team and the organization, and guys deserve to be paid. That's pretty much how it should go."
As for the Titans' stance in the matter, neither Fisher nor general manager Mike Reinfeldt have had much comment on the situation publicly, but the team's decision to use restricted tenders on both players, combined with little to no negotiations thus far, would seem to indicate that the club is somewhat reluctant to give either player a long-term extension with an uncapped year in place and a lockout on the horizon.
Notes and quotes:
— QB Vince Young said he plans to spend July 4 in Mississippi with Lucille McNair, the mother of slain former Titans QB Steve McNair. McNair was killed in a murder-suicide last Independence Day at a Nashville condo by a young woman who had been dating the former NFL star.
McNair was a mentor to Young during his teenage years and when Young starred at the University of Texas.
"I'm gonna go out to Momma Mac's house. ... I'm going to go out there and spend the weekend with Momma Mac in Mississippi. It's the one-year anniversary of Steve not being here. It's going to be a sad moment, but we're going to eat some barbecue and celebrate the life of Steve McNair and the things that he's done in my life as well as his family," Young said.
— Young also plans to have his annual get-together with his receivers to develop a rapport and workout together during the dead time between the end of OTAs on June 25 and the opening of training camp on July 31.
However, instead of going to his hometown of Houston, which has been the norm, Young says he and the group will travel to San Diego.
"It has nice weather, and we have some guys that have never been out there before," Young said.
— Backup QB Chris Simms and G Jake Scott have been drawing quite a crowd in the locker room after practice. The two have been engaged in battles of backgammon for several weeks since Simms rejoined the team this offseason after being released by the Denver Broncos.
"We had some guys out in Denver, and we used to play a lot," Simms said. "I got here, and Jake Scott, who is a former teammate of Brandon Stokley's in Indianapolis, he asked me if I played backgammon, and I said, 'Yeah, I do.' So I brought it in and we play."
The game started out just the two of them, but now usually has at least three or four observers crowded around the board to observe the proceedings.
— RB LeGarrette Blount says he is getting comfortable with the offense after missing the May OTAs because of NFL rules regarding school obligations. Blount attended the University of Oregon, which is still on the quarter system and still had classes going on during the Titans' May minicamps.
"I feel like I've definitely learned the system. I feel like I've learned the tempo and the game speed," Blount said. "I'm picking up the plays at the same pace as everybody else. I have a little more learning than everybody else, but I'm definitely getting adjusted."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm pretty sure he is. He's got to pay his bills." — QB Vince Young, when asked if he thought RB Chris Johnson would be on the field with him when training camp opens July 31.
After watching the Texans in their offseason program — conditioning, OTAs and minicamp — it's obvious to everyone that the one indispensable player is quarterback Matt Schaub.
The Texans have enough talent to withstand the loss of any player but Schaub. It's not so much that Dan Orlovsky is the backup after spending last season third behind Rex Grossman as it is Schaub's continued progress after playing the best season of his career.
Schaub, 28, enters his seventh season, his fourth with the Texans. Last season, he started every game for the first time and assumed a position as the team leader.
Schaub played with a separated left shoulder, and he played well, helping the Texans win their last four games to finish with a franchise-best 9-7 record and stay in the playoff race until the last Sunday.
Because the Texans' running game was pathetic, ranking 30th overall, Schaub was forced to throw a lot more than coach Gary Kubiak wanted. The Texans finished fourth in offense and second in passing.
Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have put a lot of emphasis on improving the running game. They drafted running back Ben Tate in the second round. They signed free agent guard Wade Smith and drafted guard Shelley Smith to help improve the interior offensive line.
Kubiak doesn't want Schaub dropping back as much. The coach says the more Schaub drops back, the more he's subjected to being hit, and the more chances he has of being intercepted. Schaub threw 15 interceptions and was sacked 25 times.
Check out Schaub's statistics and where he ranked in each of them: 583 attempts (first), 396 completions (first), 67.9 completion percentage (fourth), 4,770 yards (first), 8.18 yards per attempt (fifth), 29 touchdowns (fifth) and 98.6 rating (seventh).
At 6-5, 239, Schaub has outstanding size. He's smart and savvy. Last season, he proved his mental and physical toughness and stayed on the field.
Schaub is in command of the offense because he's had the same system each season, despite changes in coordinators. Schaub worked with Mike Sherman (Texas A&M) and Kyle Shanahan (Redskins) before they left for other jobs.
Rick Dennison, who spent his playing and coaching career at Denver, is in his first season as offensive coordinator. Dennison will call the plays. Because Dennison coaches the same system that Kubiak coached under Mike Shanahan with the Broncos, there's no adjustment on the field for Schaub.
"He made a lot of progress last season, and he keeps getting better," Kubiak said. "Matt works very, very hard on and off the field. His teammates respect him because he's worked hard to earn that respect. I can't tell you how much he means to this team."
Notes and quotes:
— OLB Xavier Adibi, a backup on the weak side during his first two seasons, is the leading candidate to replace Brian Cushing when the strong-side linebacker is suspended for the first four games because he violated the league's substance abuse policy. Adibi, 6-2, 242, is ahead of veteran Danny Clark, who spent the 2007 season with the Texans before moving to the Giants the last two seasons. Clark could make up the difference in camp and preseason.
— Coach Gary Kubiak often invites veterans to practice and games. He usually asks them to speak to the players. Each year, Kubiak runs in races with veterans. This year, he ran in the Impact A Hero 5K to help raise funds to provide emotional and financial support for severely wounded and disabled War on Terror veterans.
"My message is just one of thanks to them and all of their families," Kubiak said. "Anything we can do to help them. This is a very small piece, but I think we all need to appreciate what they do."
— FS Eugene Wilson is the only true free safety among the veterans. The coaches say the safeties are interchangeable. Dominique Barber is the top backup at both positions but is better suited for strong safety.
"We like our young players," coach Gary Kubiak said. "They've come a long way, but we're probably a little light there."
"He's got a lot of ability," coach Gary Kubiak said. "Obviously, we're trying to settle him down at one spot. I like his size. He's got a tough group to try to crack, so to speak, and probably the way he's going to do it is as a special teams player."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's really kind of funny, or maybe interesting, for me to watch him going through all of these things that I went through last season. There's a lot of learning that goes into it. We've been very impressed with what he's done." — Second-year DE Connor Barwin, when asked about the progress of DT Earl Mitchell, the third-round pick.
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