Neal luxury Titans couldn't afford

Thursday, May 10, 2001 at 1:00am

Lorenzo Neal was a valuable member of the Tennessee Titans, but not an essential one.

While rumors floated around for weeks that the Titans would re-sign him after his March 1 release, the truth of the matter is Neal was expendable.

When the salary cap crunch hit the Titans a little over two months ago, many were surprised Tennessee would release Eddie George�s lead blocker, especially after George had openly campaigned for a fullback when Neal was signed two years ago.

But the Titans were so snug against the salary cap, some hard choices were made and Neal fell victim to that.

Was Neal valuable to the Titans? Absolutely. But when the Bengals signed the fullback to a two-year $1.4 million deal Monday, it essentially took the Titans off the hook regarding Neal.

In truth, with Tennessee so snugly cushioned against the salary cap, the Titans couldn�t come anywhere near that type of money for essentially a one-dimensional role player.

Neal is a good guy in the locker room and was great at what he did � opening holes for George � but essentially the Titans were in a situation where they needed a cheaper alternative in that position. If Neal was essential to the Titans, he would have never been allowed on the open market the first place. He would have been restructured that week leading up to March 1 as 10 other Titans with hefty contracts were.

Besides, the Titans offense is so heavily geared to the two-tight end set, that as effective as Neal was, he only played in approximately 38 percent of the team�s offensive plays in 2000.

Counting the Titans� one postseason game last season, that computes to approximately six-and-a-half games of work � a full season by Yancey Thigpen standards, but not in the eyes of the Titans front office.

Despite the hopes by many Titans fans that Neal would eventually be brought back, it is evident in Tennessee at least he was the classic victim of the NFL salary cap.

To put it into layman�s terms, with rising gas prices and mounting bills, Neal was the luxury vehicle the Titans could no longer afford.

McNair clinic

Titans quarterback Steve McNair has mostly been in the news regarding his on-going recovery from a shoulder infection and the talks regarding the extension of his contract.

However, today, McNair will be in the news for a different reason � a free football clinic for kids he will announce at a press conference at the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase at Opry Mills.

McNair has formed the Steve McNair Foundation, which will be involved in projects in Nashville and in his home state of Mississippi. The clinic is the first official event of the foundation.

�Steve just kind of wanted to give back to the community and give something back to kids,� foundation spokesman Don Weatherall said. �Steve holds an annual football camp in Mississippi, and he wanted to do the same thing here in Nashville. He wants to give back and he believes the best way to do this is to give his time.�

Applications for the football clinic, set for June 7-8 at Goodpasture Christian School, can be picked up at area Shoe Carnival and Captain D�s locations. Boys ages 9-18 are eligible and will be chosen by random drawing.

The clinic will be run by former Titans defensive lineman Mike Jones and will feature a group of NFL players and college and high school coaches to work with the participants.

After the clinic, the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase will feature a Post Clinic fund-raiser June 8 at 8 p.m., featuring live entertainment. Tickets may be purchased through the Steve McNair Foundation. For information, call (601) 264-9490.

Fisher�s show returns

The Jeff Fisher call-in radio show, which airs on WGFX-FM104.5, the Titans flagship radio station, will resume July 24 from 6-7 pm. The 26-week show features Fisher and Titans play-by-play voice Mike Keith talking about the team and fielding phone calls from fans.

During off-season WGFX has been airing a weekly Titans show on Tuesdays featuring Keith, Titans broadcast producer Larry Stone and Titans tackle Brad Hopkins.

The fifth season of Fisher�s weekly television show Monday Night Live with Jeff Fisher begins Aug. 20 on WKRN Channel 2 at 6:30 p.m.-7 p.m.

Film at 11

If you missed the Tennessee Titans Caravan, you�ll have one more chance to share in the experience.

Monday�s final stop of the caravan was filmed by NFL Films for a future segment to be shown on Fox�s Under the Helmet.

The caravan stop that day featured new Titans defensive end Kevin Carter and included stops in Springfield, Ashland City, Portland, Gallatin and Elkton, Ky.

He want me

XFL running back Chrys Chukwuma, signed Tuesday, brings the number of players on the Titans� roster to 78 and the number of running backs to four � although there is still no fullback currently on the roster.

Chukwuma, who was in the Dallas Cowboys camp in 2000, spent the spring with the Las Vegas Outlaws of the upstart football league. He finished the XFL season with 20 carries for 104 yards and one touchdown, averaging a respectable 5.2 yards per carry.

Chukwuma, a 6-foot, 232-pound running back, played college football at the University of Arkansas. He was mainly a backup for the Outlaws, playing behind former Western Kentucky running back Rod Smart, also known as the infamous �He Hate Me.�

Chukwuma�s own XFL nickname on the back of his jersey was �Chuckwagon.�

Chukwuma gives the Titans a body at running back for this week�s mini-camp, which will be missed by both Eddie George (toe surgery) and Mike Green (NFL Europe). Dan Alexander and the remainder of the rookies won�t report to the mini-camp until Wednesday.

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