Washington Redskins offensive tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels aren’t freaking out over facing Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse on Monday night. They plan to keep the “Freak” from waving past them by tying up his unusually long arms.
Like a boxer facing an opponent with a longer arm span, Jansen and Samuels hope to keep the 1999 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year away from quarterback Brad Johnson with a series of body blows. It may be more of a wrestling match to prevent Kearse from using his 85-inch arm span 8 inches longer than the average 6-foot-5 person’s.
“If you get on him as soon as possible instead of letting him reach and grab you, you’ll have an advantage on him,” Samuels said. “You can’t make any silly mistakes. He’s going to make some plays.”
Said Jansen: “You have got to get into his body. His arms are to his advantage.”
Not that Kearse is all arms. There’s also 4.43 speed over 40 yards with Kearse tying Washington cornerback Deion Sanders for the fastest opening 10 yards ever at the NFL scouting combine and a 40-inch vertical jump. That blend of size, speed and agility led to the nickname given him by college teammates.
But an NFL rookie-record 14 1/2 sacks and 10 forced fumbles last season weren’t enough for the Titans. Coach Jeff Fisher knew teams would start double-teaming Kearse during his sophomore season. Kearse spent the offseason working on fundamentals instead of relying on pure athletic ability. Now Jansen faces a better all-around player in what Fisher and Redskins coach Norv Turner said would be one of the game’s key matchups, though Kearse also will play some snaps against Samuels.
“Jevon made a lot of his plays with effort and speed and athletic ability,” Fisher said. “We spent the offseason working on technique, but because of his success he’s been getting double-teamed. He’s still playing full speed. He’s looking forward to this matchup.”
Kearse’s numbers are down because of persistent double-teams; he has only sacks, five quarterback pressures and 36 tackles for the Titans (6-1). However, defensive end Kenny Holmes is benefiting from single blocking on the right side for five sacks.
The Redskins realize they will need a tight end aside Jansen to help against Kearse for part of the game. However, the tight end also may help Samuels against Holmes, leaving fullback Mike Sellers as the safety net should either defensive end break free. However, guard Jay Leeuwenburg is in no mood to worry about Kearse.
“It doesn’t matter who we are going against,” Leeuwenburg said. “You have to stick with what you do well, stay focused and try not to change because of what he does.”
Quarterback Brad Johnson is a little more concerned, though. After all, Kearse will be going after Johnson’s head.
“We only have three timeouts, so we have to run the ball at him sometime,” Johnson said jokingly. “I feel confidence in Jon. I never think twice about him.”
Kearse had said he didn’t know much about the Redskins’ offensive tackles, but after reviewing game films yesterday, he felt his duel with Jansen would be an all-nighter.
“He’s just another guy I’m going to have to go down to the fourth quarter with,” Kearse said.
The Redskins plan to run regularly at the Titans’ 11th-ranked rushing defense. Although Washington isn’t eager to test Tennessee’s fourth-rated pass coverage, it also doesn’t want Kearse getting many shots at Johnson. Better to run against a defense that has allowed only two 100-yard rushers over 24 games than regularly risk the Titans’ pass rush.
“We have to run on Kearse,” Turner said. “We don’t want to be sitting in a lot of passing situations where we’re single-blocking him. People are paying a lot closer attention to him. You have to give your tackles some help, but both ends are playing extremely well so you can’t help both sides.”
Otherwise, “Le Freak” may replace “Who Let the Dogs Out” as FedEx Field’s favorite tune.