Jevon Kearse is back on the field with the team that originally drafted him, the Tennessee Titans, after what could be classified as one good season in the four he spent with the Eagles.
On the day Kearse signed in 2004, owner Jeffrey Lurie called Kearse "truly one of the best players in the National Football League," and head coach Andy Reid called signing Kearse "a slam dunk for our side." It's probably safe to say they envisioned more than the 22 sacks Kearse recorded with the team. They certainly didn't foresee a day when Kearse would be healthy but just not a part of the game plan for three games down the stretch, after losing his starting job at midseason last year.
At Titans camp this weekend, Kearse seemed to put the blame for his failings on the Eagles' defensive scheme, rather than a decline in his ability brought on by age or injury, according to an interview with the Tennessean's Paul Kuharsky.
"I'm still the same player, but that scheme up in Philly was different," he said. "All I've got to say is proof is in the pudding, so I can't even talk about it. Just watch and see."
Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn pushed it even further.
"He's a punch line of some jokes. In Philadelphia, he's a joke," Washburn said. "I still think he has some ability if he can stay healthy."
You wonder if this is some sort of response to what Jim Johnson said during Eagles minicamp last weekend or a way for Kearse to motivate himself. Our guess is the latter.
“Yeah, I think it’s been a good offseason. If you get Asante and Chris Clemons, those are two playmakers," Johnson said. "I told our defense that we are on a three-game winning streak. We beat Dallas and New Orleans on the road and Buffalo here, and we didn’t really lose any players. We picked up some more players and had a good draft with what we wanted draft-wise, so you feel good and you feel positive.” (Emphasis added ours.)
Kearse was pretty good in 2004. He notched only 7 1/2 sacks, fewer than expected, and he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but he got pressure, teams gameplanned around him, and the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. The next year, the same 7 1/2 sacks didn't look nearly so good on a 6-10 team. In 2006, Kearse seemed energized, and he had 3 1/2 sacks before tearing up his knee in the second game of the season. Last year, he played in 14 games, managed just 3 1/2 sacks, and had a penchant for being on the field when bad things happened.
He made it only halfway through an 8-year contract that would have paid him a total of $60 million before his release on the eve of free agency. He signed as a free agent with the Titans in March and spent the offseason working at the team's facility.
"Back in '99 I had a chip on my shoulder," Kearse said. "Ten years later, that chip's turned into a boulder. So now I've got a boulder on my shoulder."