NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chinese takeout. That was what Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said he was planning to eat for Thanksgiving dinner last year.
Of course, Vrabel would have liked to have joined his family for the holiday, but he had to stay at the office to prepare for a Week 12 game against the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. That’s NFL life.
Even the offseason is demanding. Here’s a sample of what Vrabel’s schedule looked like during minicamp:
4:30 a.m.: Leave for the office
Coaches fitness club. They pick different things to do — sometimes they push the blocking sled. It’s another bonding opportunity for them. Vrabel makes it a point to commit to finding 30 minutes for his own health. “This is a stressful environment. I have to remind myself to take care of myself mentally and physically.”
Plan team meeting
Meet with coordinators
Meet with director of sports medicine Todd Toriscelli to talk about the health of the team
Sit in on different position meetings
Stop by the training room to talk to players
More meetings, review practice film
6 p.m.: Leave the office
In addition to his responsibilities at the facility, the Titans’ community events in the evening can keep Vrabel out later.
“If there’s something going on at night, I have to get some more work done during the day so that I can get out for that appearance or event,” Vrabel said.
The second-year head coach always has football on his mind, continuously evaluating ways to improve his team. But he’s also a family man who strives to stay involved with his wife, Jen, and two sons, Carter and Tyler. How does he balance the two?
In short, it’s maintaining priorities despite numerous demands of the job.
Vrabel’s oldest son, Tyler, is a 19-year-old redshirt freshman offensive lineman for Boston College. Sometimes Vrabel flies up to Massachusetts to check out Tyler’s games if the Titans have a bye week or a Thursday night game.
— BC Football 🏈 (@BCFootball) April 3, 2018
His younger son, Carter, 17, is a pitcher on Father Ryan High School’s baseball team in Nashville. Vrabel has no problem wrapping up his day at St. Thomas Sports Park to take in Carter’s games, even if one of them starts at 4:30 p.m.
“You love what your family loves. There’s a lot of baseball games. Carter loves baseball. When there is a baseball game, I am leaving,” Vrabel said.
Since Carter is at games or practice a lot, Jen doesn’t cook as much as she used to. But Vrabel said his favorite dish she makes is lemon chicken with pasta. Jen said she got the recipe from Heidi Bruschi, the wife of former New England Patriots teammate Tedy Bruschi.
“She made it the first time we went over to their house for dinner. I was like, ‘I need this recipe!'” Jen said.
Staying connected with family is something Vrabel stresses to members of his staff, too, especially during the offseason.
“I tell our staff that we work too much during the season for any of our guys to miss something that their family has in the offseason. That’s not healthy for their families,” Vrabel said while sitting at his desk after a minicamp practice in June. “It’s not healthy for them. They’re not going to be productive here at work if they’re thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was at that game.’ If their kid has a game or a dance recital, I need them to be involved in that.”
Vrabel’s assistants appreciate his work-life philosophy. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was especially thankful to Vrabel for allowing him to go to Canton, Ohio, last year during training camp for former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Pees will be taking the trip once again this August when Ravens safety Ed Reed is inducted. Both players played for Pees in Baltimore.
“Coach Vrabel does a great job of giving coaches long weekends off during the offseason, along with several full weeks off during that same period,” Pees said. “We have almost five weeks off in the summer. During the season, he is a head coach that doesn’t watch the clock. It’s get your work done and go home — myself along with all the coaches truly appreciate that.”
Navigating the season grind
Strangely, coaching in the NFL has afforded the Vrabels more time together than when he was a linebackers coach at Ohio State.
“Fridays are always our nights because we have a teenage son that doesn’t want to hang out with Mom and Dad, so he goes to high school football games,” Jen said. “It’s fun. He’s usually home earlier, and we grab dinner. When he coached in college, he really didn’t have a night like that, so we cherish that night. It was the same when he played. Fridays were always the best. It became like a date night or family night.”
But on other weekday nights during the season, Vrabel can get home from the facility as late as 11 p.m. He needs time to wind down before he can sleep — that’s when he has to fight poor eating habits. Vrabel shook his head at the thought of all the late-night snacks and leftover pizza he has put away.
Eating healthy in season can be tricky. Like most team employees, Vrabel mostly eats what is provided at the team facility. He loves the Buffalo chicken wraps.
“I’ve been hammering too many of those. They put them there, and every time you walk by, you’re tempted to grab one,” Vrabel said with a smile.
On weeks when the Titans have road games, Vrabel doesn’t see his family much on Saturdays or Sundays. Vrabel and his wife primarily text each other to keep in contact. Back-to-back road games are the worst because there are times when the team returns to Nashville late at night so Vrabel might not see his family on consecutive weekends. Jen bought Mike an inflatable queen-sized mattress for the occasional nights when he has to crash at the office.
Sleeping at the facility is something Vrabel tries to avoid. But sometimes it’s necessary to save time and get a jump on the next day.
Home games afford him a chance for more family time. Vrabel goes to the facility around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday but returns in time to chill with the family. “We like to sit around and watch college football,” Jen said.
After a casual college football scouting session, Vrabel heads to the team hotel around 7 or 7:30 p.m. before a home game. The Sunday afternoon games allow him to get home earlier and see his family before going back to work Monday.
So what do the Vrabels do to get away from the grind? They planned an RV trip to Atlanta this summer. Vrabel laughed as he told the media that he did a good enough job on a similar trip last year to talk Jen into taking the journey again. Sitting behind the wheel on the four-hour trip gave him plenty of time to think. Although it’s the offseason, the relentless pursuit of finding an edge over the opponent won’t allow Vrabel to detach from football entirely, especially with training camp rapidly approaching.
“I think it all the time. You’re always thinking about a play or a player throughout the course of your day or night or time off,” Vrabel said.
Megatron partners in marijuana-for-CTE research
Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and his business partner, ex-NFL lineman Rob Sims, have partnered with Harvard University to research the benefits of medical marijuana in the areas of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE, as well as the management of pain.
The duo — who co-own the cannabis company Primitive — announced the partnership, which includes a six-figure donation with the option for future money given to the International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute at Harvard during the Cannabis Capital Conference in Detroit on Thursday.
“We can be in position to develop a treatment for CTE,” Sims told ESPN on Thursday night. “There’s been suggestion that CBD (cannabidiol) and stuff can help cognitive disease, and we think that potentially there could be a treatment going forward that we can produce.”
Sims and Johnson were part of Harvard’s Global Catalyst Health Summit in May, when they agreed to make the commitment to give research money and start a consortium with the brain performance company NESTRE to work with the institute and Dr. Wilfred Ngwa. NESTRE has worked on brain training with NFL athletes, including former quarterback and current ESPN analyst Josh McCown later in his career.
As part of the partnership, Harvard will do medical research for Primitive, run clinical trials related to CTE and pain and also will provide quality assurance from Harvard Medical School for any products the company creates. As former NFL players, Sims and Johnson say they have researched studies on CTE and football that show a prevalence of former players having the disease, which can be diagnosed only postmortem.
“As being former athletes, we know there’s some sort of CTE or some sort of damage, 99% I think they say in the study,” Sims said. “So that means I may be walking around with some form of it. It’s really about the hope. Just providing hope, improving the game, making the game safer for former players after they are done.
“Really just being able to help people. I’m a second-generation NFL kid, both my father and father-in-law. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of what it looks like when you’re done playing ball. If we can help this facet of people suffering from CTE or other cognitive disease, that’s the real goal here.”
This is the beginning of what Johnson and Sims are hoping is a long-term partnership with the institute. If they are able to help people, they figure the business portion of it will follow.
“What our mission is going to be is just to improve quality of life,” Sims said. “So, you know, with NESTRE and the brain training and the human optimization, we believe there’s a way to continue to improve your brain function through working out.
“Then from our position, with that data that we’ll be able to gain, we believe that we can produce plant medicines, or cannabis, using nanotechnology to deliver payloads to areas where people would have symptoms of CTE, like mood and anxiety and memory loss. That’s the goal in the end.”
Sims said there isn’t a set date for the clinical trials to begin, but he is hopeful they can start during the first quarter of 2020.
This is the latest business venture for Sims and Johnson, who started working as a real estate company and then also opened a consulting firm before choosing to go the cannabis route after Michigan legalized marijuana in November. Their first attempt to get a license was rejected by the state, but those issues have since been rectified and their first cultivation facility is scheduled to open within the next month or so in Webberville, Michigan.
That’s a long way from their beginnings, when they never imagined they would be partnered with Harvard.
“Never in a million years, man,” Sims said. “I was trying to get Calvin to flip one or two houses with me two years ago, and then we ended up getting into cannabis real estate, and then we ended up getting into the licensing part of it, and now we’re getting into the medicine part of it.
“So it’s been quite a journey and I’m just looking forward to the future.”
Kessler in protocol, latest QB injury for Eagles
Another game, another quarterback injury for Philadelphia Eagles.
Jacksonville defensive end Datone Jones came free off the edge on Kessler’s blind side and put a big hit on the quarterback. Kessler attempted to continue to play, but the officials stopped the game to have Kessler examined. After a trip to the medical tent, the 26-year-old was brought inside TIAA Bank Field and later placed in concussion protocol.
Rookie Clayton Thorson replaced Kessler.
Kessler starting in place of Sudfeld, who suffered a fracture on his non-throwing wrist in the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans. Sudfeld is recovering from surgery and is expected to return at some point early in the regular season. Given that timeline, the Eagles declined to bring another quarterback into training camp this week.
Carson Wentz has yet to play this preseason. Coach Doug Pederson has been trying to create a gamelike atmosphere during practice and is giving the bulk of the snaps to the first team, preferring to have those players work in a more controlled environment as opposed to exposing them to injury in the preseason.
That might continue, given what has transpired over the past two weeks.
Backup quarterback has been a storyline in Philadelphia all offseason with the departure of former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Jaguars in March. Foles stepped in for the injured Wentz each of the past two seasons and helped lead a playoff charge. Wentz was lost for the year with torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in 2017 and was shut down with a stress fracture in his back in December.
Colts have ‘guarded optimism’ on Luck
Despite Andrew Luck‘s prolonged absence and confusion about a lower left leg injury, the Indianapolis Colts have a “guarded optimism” for the quarterback’s availability to open the regular season, according to sources familiar with the team’s sentiments.
Colts coach Frank Reich said this week he would like to know who will line up quarterback for the team’s opener following the team’s week 3 preseason game Aug. 24 against the Bears. Reich wants to see enough progress to feel better about Luck’s chances, a source added.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard said earlier this week that tests done on Luck on Monday night revealed the quarterback has gone from dealing with a calf strain, which he originally was diagnosed with in March, to currently having pain in the “high anklish” area of his left leg.
Ballard said Luck will not play in the preseason.
Luck has been diligent in his rehab and has been working with independent throwing tutor Tom House, per sources. There has been enough progress that has encouraged “guarded optimism” but, as one source clarified, it is nothing more than that until the Colts see Luck on the field working with the team.
The Colts first regular season game will be Sept. 8 on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers.
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