Nationals

Munchak keeps Loggains at OC, hires 3 assistants

Munchak keeps Loggains at OC, hires 3 assistants

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Dowell Loggains will remain the offensive coordinator for Tennessee, and coach Mike Munchak has hired three new assistants - Sylvester Croom, Shawn Jefferson and George Henshaw.

Munchak announced a handful of coaching moves Thursday.

``The goal in every decision I have made has been to do whatever I believe puts us in the best position to win this year,'' Munchak said in a statement. ``I believe with the new coaches that we have added and some shuffling of the current coaches, we have made our staff better. We were able to add proven coaches and by moving others around, it will change the dynamic in the meeting rooms and on the field.''

Titans owner Bud Adams decided to keep Munchak for a third season after a 6-10 season. Munchak responded by studying his coaching staff over the past two weeks, and he decided not to keep linebackers coach Frank Bush, running backs coach Jim Skipper and tight ends coach John Zernhelt. His biggest move was not renewing a contract for the designer of the Music City Miracle play, and letting Alan Lowry leave after 17 seasons, the last 14 coaching special teams.

Croom, head coach at Mississippi State between 2004 and 2008, brings 21 years of experience coaching in the NFL. Croom coached running backs last season at Jacksonville and also was offensive coordinator for Detroit between 1997 and 2000. Croom coached Steven Jackson in St. Louis between 2009 and 2011, a stretch that included two Pro Bowls.

He'll be working with Chris Johnson, who made a pitch earlier Thursday on Twitter for Munchak to bring back Earnest Byner, his first position coach with the Titans.

Loggains worked as offensive coordinator the final five games of the season after Munchak fired Chris Palmer on Nov. 26. With Loggains moving to offensive coordinator, Dave Ragone moves from coaching receivers to Loggains' old spot as quarterbacks coach. Henshaw will be Tennessee's new tight ends coach, rejoining a franchise in the same job he held for nine seasons from 1997 to 2005. His tight ends caught 845 passes, most in the NFL in that stretch.

Jefferson originally was a ninth-round pick by the then-Houston Oilers in 1991, and he played 13 NFL seasons with San Diego, New England, Atlanta and Detroit. He will coach receivers, the same job he had with the Detroit Lions. He worked the past five seasons with Calvin Johnson, who led the NFL with 7,080 yards and 50 touchdown catches in that time.

Nate Kaczor is moving from assistant offensive line coach with Bruce Matthews to special teams in replacing Lowry. Chet Parlavecchio will move from special teams assistant to coaching linebackers.

Munchak now has to fill those two spots, though the biggest question remains Jerry Gray's future as defensive coordinator after the Titans gave up a franchise-worst 471 points. The Titans coach defended Gray the day after the season ended and said only that he is always looking to improve his staff in his statement.

``So it is still a work in progress,'' Munchak said.

Notes: The Titans also signed QB Nathan Enderle to a futures contract. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Enderle was the fifth-round draft pick by Chicago out of Idaho in 2011 and spent that season on the Bears' roster. Chicago waived him last June, and he spent training camp with Jacksonville before being cut before the season. Enderle threw for 10,084 yards and 81 touchdowns in 45 games as a four-year starter at Idaho.

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Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Before the Nationals faced off with the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, Washington’s hitting coach Kevin Long sat down with FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci. Long told the veteran reporter that he guaranteed young phenom Juan Soto would hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole.

It was considered a lofty prediction, as Cole was in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber year and had allowed just one earned run in 22.2 postseason innings thus far that October. But sure enough, four innings into the first game of the series, Soto did exactly that.

In his first at-bat, Soto looked overmatched and struck out on three pitches. He got his second look three innings later and must have learned something, because he took Cole’s 1-0 pitch—a fastball high and outside—and sent it 417 feet to the opposite field.

At the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event, Long spoke with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas about what went into that prediction and why he felt compelled to make it.

“First and foremost, I do believe that Juan Soto is one of the best high fastball hitters in baseball,” Long said. “I’ve seen him numerous times take high fastballs and take care of business. Gerrit [Cole] doesn’t pitch in much, so I figured it was going to be out over the plate.

And the other factor there is, we weren’t getting much credit. They basically were cashing that game in as a loss. ‘We can’t beat Gerrit Cole. Gerrit Cole is too good. Gerrit Cole hasn’t lost since May.’ So I just said, ‘You know what? Let me just make a prediction, because I’m sick of hearing about how we’re not going to be able to do anything against this guy…and it ended up working out, it’s pretty cool.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST BELOW

The Nationals entered the World Series facing the longest odds Las Vegas oddsmakers had given to an underdog since 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were heavy favorites over the Colorado Rockies. Given that Washington went on to stun the baseball world and win in seven games, it isn’t surprising that most national fans didn’t quite yet understand what kind of player Soto is when the series began.

“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, ‘That was one of the most impressive home runs I have ever, ever seen,’” Long said. “As a left-handed hitter, number one. A 97-mph fastball and how far he hit it was remarkable. It truly was.

“We were putting together pretty good at-bats off him in those big situations you just need one guy to come through and that was Juan Soto’s moment. He got the pitch, he didn’t miss it and I don’t know if Gerrit was admiring it—I’m sure he wasn’t—but he was probably like, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty special.’”

Now, Soto is entering the 2020 season as the undisputed top hitter in Washington after Anthony Rendon departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. Long doesn’t want Soto to change his approach too much, but rather just focus on what got him to this position in the first place.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot extra, he’s just got to basically be the Juan Soto he’s been,” Long said. “His swing is really, really good. He makes adjustments really well. He’s smart. He gets it, and at 21 years old that’s what makes him certainly unique.”

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Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews help lead AFC to victory in Pro Bowl skills competition

Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews help lead AFC to victory in Pro Bowl skills competition

Lamar Jackson was excellent this season finding his receivers across the field en route to an MVP caliber season. 

As it turns out, he’s not so good at hitting targets that aren’t human. 

Jackson struggled in the precision passing event, an event with moving targets labeled from one to five points and scored just two total points on 17 throws. 

But Jackson’s poor performance in the first event didn’t hurt the AFC, as it won the 2020 Pro Bowl skills competition over the NFC.

“A lot of bad throws,” Jackson said of his performance in the first event. “A little wind with me. It’s all good.” 

As soon as the event aired, Jackson immediately took to Twitter.

The events that followed were: The Gauntlet, Best Hands, Thread The Needle and Dodgeball. 

Jackson and teammate Mark Andrews competed in the Best Hands and Thread The Needle competitions. 

The duo’s obvious chemistry resulted in the second-best time, 49.4 seconds, out of four total pairings. 

The next drill was another passing drill called ‘Thread The Needle,’ which Jackson fared better in. He scored 12 total points, tied for the second-best of four passers. The concept of the drill was to throw the ball past a defender guarding a wall with nine targets, each with a corresponding point total.

In the final event of the night, the AFC beat the NFC two games to zero in dodgeball — led by Jackson and Andrews’ division rival, Browns wideout Jarvis Landry.

Jackson didn’t start the night well, but thankfully for him, the next targets with numbers he’ll see will be actual receivers at the Pro Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

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