Originally created 01/12/00

'The Freak' runs away with defensive rookie award



NEW YORK -- The Freak Show drew rave reviews this season.

It was so good that Jevon Kearse, the record-setting rookie end of the Tennessee Titans nicknamed "The Freak," ran away with the voting for The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year, announced Tuesday.

Kearse, selected 16th overall in last year's draft because some teams felt he was too light to play end, had 14 1/2 sacks, tops in the AFC and a rookie record. He also had 18 pressures, keying the Titans' fearsome pass rush, and forced uncounted motion penalties from blockers.

Then there were the 10 forced fumbles. Yes, 10.

That was good enough to earn all but one of the votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members. Washington cornerback Champ Bailey received one vote.

"I didn't expect the moves I had to be so successful," Kearse said. "I kind of expected them to play me for my speed move a lot. I've come up with a lot more."

And whatever he's come up with, offenses have struggled containing him. In Pittsburgh in Week 10, he reached what he considers perfection.

Kearse sacked Mike Tomczak, forcing a fumble. Kearse picked it up and scored before halftime.

"I'm one of the people who isn't satisfied with just taking on my block or just beating the tackle," he said. "What I want to do is beat the tackle. That's one phase. Get to the quarterback when he has the ball, another phase. Then strip the ball and pick it up and go score with it.

"It's the perfect play."

Bruce Smith, the career postseason sacks leader and a perennial All-Pro -- he didn't make it this year, while Kearse did in his first season -- studied Kearse on film to see what the fuss was all about.

"I've watched closely," Smith said. "I'm very impressed by the outstanding year that he's had. His physical attributes, his wingspan, his tall frame, his explosiveness, the way he can run down a running back or a wide receiver -- I tell you I haven't seen that before since the likes of guys like Lawrence Taylor.

"The hard part will come now. ... Now that he's made a name for himself, he's going to have to do this every year."

Kearse plans on it. The Titans surged from 8-8 to 13-3 and the best wild-card record in NFL history in part because of how the defense freaked out opponents.

"Those players like Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor are players that really stick out as Pro Bowl players that you really keep an eye on them," Kearse said. "When I first got to Florida, I started watching defensive ends and watching those guys ...

"Hopefully, I'll be able to carry out the tradition and be good in years and years to come."

Kearse is only the second member of the TennesseeHouston franchise to win top defensive rookie honors. Linebacker Robert Brazile took the 1975 award.

Last year's winner was Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson, who this year joined Kearse on the All-Pro team.

So did Kearse's longtime friend, Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James, the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"Me and him are good friends," James said. "We said we were going to bring it back to Florida, bring back the rookie of the year trophies.

"I talk to him every week. He is out there handling his business. He got picked 16th, which was way low, and he's going out and playing great.

"When we were in high school and were doing well, we would always talk. Then he played at Florida and I played at Miami. We said it was going to be `The Freak' and `The Edge' in the pros."

And it is.