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How Mike Vrabel balances life with a head coach’s relentless schedule – Tennessee Titans Blog

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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.”

  • Breakfast

  • 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

  • Practice

  • News conference

  • 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.

Staying connected

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.

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.



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Rams’ Todd Gurley stiff-arms QB Jared Goff’s compliment

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Last week, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley let his head coach shoulder the blame. This week, it’s his quarterback who intended to deliver a compliment, but perhaps didn’t find the right words.

“Sounds like I suck and then I made a good play,” Gurley said, straight faced with a shrug. “So, yeah, I guess so.”

Gurley, who has seen his workload increase in three of the Rams’ last four games, was referring to a stiff-arm touchdown run in which he battled Seattle cornerback Tre Flowers in a 28-12 victory over the Seahawks that caught the attention of quarterback Jared Goff.

So much so, that Goff stood at the podium after the win and lit up when asked about it. “He’s a bad dude,” Goff said. “It was vintage Todd.”

Vintage? Gurley didn’t think so … and made it known Thursday.

Against the Seahawks, Gurley rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and caught four passes for 34 yards. And that stiff arm? Nothing special. “Not my first time stiff arming nobody,” Gurley said. “Just a regular stiff arm.”

The Rams are 8-5 and chasing the Minnesota Vikings for the final wild card berth. On Sunday, they play the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (6-7) at AT&T Stadium.

Gurley has played an increased role in the offense and indications point to the trend continuing Sunday.

“The approach for us is that Todd is a big-time player,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He’s shown that he’s feeling good and when he’s doing those kind of things — whether it be through the pass game, through the run game — good things seem to happen for the Rams.”

After averaging 14.9 touches per game through the first 10 weeks, Gurley’s touches have increased to an average of 21 over the last four games.

When asked Thursday how he felt at this point of the season, compared to last season, Gurley responded, “It’s Week 15 in the league, ain’t nobody feeling rested. It’s Week 15, no one in this league is feeling well rested.”

Gurley had a season-best 28 touches in a Week 11 win over the Chicago Bears. In a Week 13 blowout over the Arizona Cardinals, he had 20 touches and last Sunday when the Rams defeated the Seahawks, he had 27.

McVay recently shouldered the blame for not giving Gurley more opportunity early in the season.

“Me not being an idiot,” McVay said last week, when asked what caused him to get the ball to Gurley more.

Gurley offered no alternative to McVay’s explanation.

“He said it, I didn’t,” Gurley said, chuckling. “That’s all I got to say. I don’t have anything else to say.”

The Rams offense has appeared to benefit from Gurley’s increased production, as Goff broke a month-long touchdown drought to pass for four touchdowns in the last two games.

Gurley was asked Thursday if the offense and other teammates benefitted when he was in rhythm.

“I feel like we all feed off of each other. I don’t really have to explain too much, you see the results over the last couple of years,” said Gurley, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons, as the Rams won back-to-back division titles and last season advanced to Super Bowl LIII. “When we’re running the ball, stuff is going well, stuff is opening up – so it’s like, it’s not too much really to explain, just got to go out there and do it, whether it’s in the passing game or the running game.”

Gurley has rushed for 721 yards and nine touchdowns on 177 carries in 12 games this season. He also has caught 26 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.

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Ravens QB Lamar Jackson breaks Michael Vick’s single-season rushing yards record

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BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson set the most impressive record of his young NFL career on Thursday night, breaking Michael Vick’s single-season rushing mark by a quarterback.

Jackson, the electric dual-threat quarterback and NFL Most Valuable Player front-runner, eclipsed his childhood idol in the first quarter against the heavy underdog New York Jets on a chilly night at M&T Bank Stadium. He entered the game needing 23 yards to eclipse Vick’s mark of 1,039, set in 2006, and gained 27 on Baltimore’s opening drive, breaking the record on a 5-yard run that preceded a 6-yard touchdown by Mark Ingram to put the Ravens up 7-0.

After the score, the Fox broadcast cut to a taped segment of Vick congratulating Jackson.

“Lamar, I just want to say congratulations on making history,” Vick said. “One of many milestones that you will surpass in your career. Best of luck in everything that you do. You deserve it. Keep up the hard work, and I’ll always be rooting for you.”

With the way Jackson has run the ball this season — from his spinning around two defenders on a touchdown run in Cincinnati to juking defenders off their feet on a weekly basis — it had long been anticipated that Jackson would shatter Vick’s record. Jackson recently said it would be “an honor” to surpass Vick, reiterating that the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback is his favorite player.

Just like many of his elusive runs, Jackson established the new standard for rushing quarterbacks in staggering style, doing so in his 14th game of the 2019 season (which includes not playing a full fourth quarter in four games). He entered Thursday’s game as the leading rusher for the NFL’s No. 1 ground attack and on pace to rush for 1,251 yards rushing this season.

Jackson, 22, broke the record despite not being at full strength. He was limited in a couple of practices this week and was listed as questionable after injuring his quadriceps five days earlier in a 24-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What makes Jackson’s achievement even more special is that no one previously got close to Vick’s record, which stood for 13 years. Before Jackson began sprinting past tacklers, the most rushing yards by a quarterback since 2006 came from Russell Wilson, who ran for 849 yards in 2014 — which were 190 yards shy of Vick. Last month, Vick acknowledged that he didn’t think his record would ever get broken.

Jackson and Vick are the only quarterbacks to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season, but they reached that milestone in different ways. Vick’s rushing yards were a near-even split between designed runs (52%) and scrambles (48%), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. With Jackson, 65% of his rushing total is off designed runs, most of which come on zone reads.

Jackson has repeatedly downplayed any individual milestones, saying his focus is on winning. But Jackson’s running has been a major key to Baltimore’s success. When Jackson has run for at least 70 yards, the Ravens are 12-0 (entering Thursday’s game).

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Pat McAfee likes what he sees every week from the Ravens and thinks Lamar Jackson deserves to be crowned MVP right now.

What sets Jackson apart from Vick is his ability to beat teams with his arm as well. In Vick’s record-setting season, he threw for 2,474 yards and 20 touchdowns (75.7 passer rating). Through 13 games, Jackson had already surpassed those numbers, passing for 2,677 yards and 28 touchdowns (109.2 rating). He could become the first quarterback in NFL history to finish a season with 1,000 yards rushing and a passer rating over 100.

This isn’t the first time Jackson passed a mark of Vick’s. On Dec. 1, against the San Francisco 49ers, Jackson recorded his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season, breaking a single-season record Vick shared. Last month, Jackson became the fastest quarterback ever in the Madden video-game franchise, with a 96 speed rating, moving him past Vick (who had a 95 speed rating).

Jackson’s popularity has exploded in his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. He is the current favorite to win NFL MVP with 9-to-1 odds at Caesars Sportsbook. He tops all players in Pro Bowl balloting. He also watched one of his autographed No. 8 jerseys get presented to Pope Francis a couple of weeks ago.

Jackson has led the Ravens to the best start in franchise history. Baltimore (11-2), which entered Thursday as the AFC’s top seed, can clinch its second consecutive AFC North title with a win over the Jets.

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I know Odell Beckham Jr. wants to be here

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BEREA, Ohio – Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry said Thursday that teammate Odell Beckham Jr. wants to stay in Cleveland, despite reports and speculation that OBJ is looking for a way out.

“I think he wants to be here,” Landry said. “I know he wants to be here.”

Sunday morning, Fox Sports reported during its NFL pregame show that Beckham has been telling opposing players and coaches before games, “come get me” out of Cleveland.

Beckham, who declined comment on the report after Cleveland’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, had fueled speculation days earlier when he was vague about his future with the Browns beyond the 2019 season.

“No one knows what the future holds, like tomorrow,” Beckham said then, when asked whether he wanted to be in Cleveland next year. “I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen.”

Landry, one of Beckham’s closest friends dating back to when the two played together at LSU, was more definitive, even joking that he would “beat his a–” if Beckham were confiding in other people and not him.

“He doesn’t want to leave, and he’s not trying to leave,” Landry said.

Beckham has gone seven consecutive games without topping 100 receiving yards, the longest such streak of his career. He has also been playing through a hip and groin injury, which has hampered how much he can practice during the week and has limited his explosiveness in games.

“It’s not even about trying to go somewhere else,” Landry said. “I think for him, he’s been a leader, he’s a guy that comes to work every day, he’s a guy that’s playing through injuries, all the things you want out of a player. Inside of this organization, he has a voice, he has responsibility to himself, to all of us, to go out there and compete each and every Sunday, and he does that.”

Beckham has only two touchdowns, as he and quarterback Baker Mayfield have struggled to find a consistent connection in their first year together. Mayfield defended Beckham after Sunday’s game, saying that the injury “wasn’t handled right” by the team’s training staff (Mayfield later apologized and said he didn’t intend “to throw our medical staff under the bus”).

Wednesday, Mayfield was also asked whether he thinks Beckham wants to be in Cleveland long term.

“I can’t answer that for him,” Mayfield said. “I mean, there’s all the rumors going around. But I have my conversations with him and I know what we talk about, so I trust him wholeheartedly.”

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