INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts' starters will have the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for their season opener against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 7 when they likely play into the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.

The starters played one series against the New York Jets on Aug. 7. They played a little bit longer against the New York Giants last week. The starters aren't expected to play much if they even play at all in the preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 28.

“There’s a lot of, obviously, important things in the game,” quarterback Andrew Luck said. “But yeah, if we do it like we have the past couple years, when you get to come out and do a drive in the second half, it’s good to get back in that mode, that rhythm at halftime of sitting down for 12 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever it is and coming back out then hopefully putting a drive together.”

Depending on if coach Chuck Pagano decides to play receiver Reggie Wayne, Luck could be working with his entire offensive unit outside of starting center Khaled Holmes (ankle) against the Saints.

“It’ll be exciting,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “I think we’ll be faced with some new challenges from week to week. The more evidence that you put on film that you’re going to do certain things, teams tend to scheme you up and have better answers in a sense. Our guys are working hard. It will be a tremendous challenge for us as an offensive unit, but I think we’re up to the challenge.”
INDIANAPOLIS – It would have only been natural for warning flags to go up after hearing about the Indianapolis Colts acquiring running back David Fluellen from Philadelphia for kicker Cody Parkey on Wednesday.

Trent Richardson is only averaging 2.4 yards a carry. Ahmad Bradshaw is coming off neck surgery, he’s wearing a red noncontact jersey during part of training camp and he’s yet to play in the preseason.

Don’t be alarmed.

Fluellen is just another running back to throw in the mix to compete with Daniel “Boom” Herron for the third running back position. Phillip Tanner, who was released Wednesday, reduced his odds to make the team when he fumbled in the end zone against the New York Giants last Saturday.

Fluellen finished fourth in rushing in school history with 3,336 yards while at the University of Toledo.

The Colts need some extra running backs on the roster because Richardson and Bradshaw likely won’t play in the preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 28.

That means Herron, Fluellen, Deji Karim and Zurlon Tipton will likely split carries against the Bengals if they survive the first roster cuts on Aug. 26.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hardly a passing play went by during the Houston Texans' and Denver Broncos' joint practice on Wednesday without a yellow flag flying out of an official's pocket.

They flew to the fury of defensive backs who insisted they did nothing wrong and to the amusement of some of those receivers who benefited from the calls that are part of the NFL's added emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

The practice was reminiscent of many preseason games this offseason -- and even to the receivers who benefit, that isn't always a good thing.

The excessive calls were a little annoying to Texans receiver Andre Johnson.

"It kind of makes the game longer," Johnson said. "It actually kind of makes you hate it a little bit.

"Every time you look around, there's a flag on the ground. It's football. It's a contact sport. Everything's not going to be perfect, you're going to get bumped around a little bit."

Johnson believes those calls won't be made so frequently once the regular season begins. One way or another, though, this is giving the Texans' defensive backs a chance to have a better understanding of what officials are looking for.

"We had a few flags today and we asked them what it was, what it was they threw the flag for," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They gave us some pointers on what to do and what not to do. It's just a part of the game."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tim Shaw joined a growing NFL fraternity when he revealed he has ALS.

He joined former NFL players O.J. Brigance, Steve Gleason and Kevin Turner, who also have the disease.

“I don’t blame football,” Shaw said.

But there are more NFL players suffering the ravages of the illness. In 2010, HBO’s Real Sports reported that 14 former NFL players had ALS. That same year the New York Times reported:

...(A) leading journal of neuropathology, however, suggests that the demise of athletes like (Lou) Gehrig and soldiers given a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, might have been catalyzed by injuries only now becoming understood: concussions and other brain trauma.”

Wednesday the entire Tennessee Titans team and many members of the support staff took the Ice Bucket Challenge in front of Shaw.

Later, on the Nashville radio show I co-host, Shaw said players should know if they are putting themselves at any additional risk, and he hopes studies will ultimately offer that information.

Two Titans who played with Shaw discussed the risks that come with the game.

“With the way this game is, there could be a connection to a lot of things,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “Hopefully they can find some kind of connection -- anything that could help guys, you just never know. It’s definitely possible...

“I don’t know if you can correlate football to (ALS). I’m sure this doesn’t help it. But there are a lot of risks in this game. You can’t let anybody fool you, we all know enough of them and we all know you’re doing something to your body that’s not good. You can’t say you didn’t know something could happen to you, not necessarily something that bad, obviously. But you put your body through a lot of stuff and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Said cornerback Jason McCourty: “It’s a rough, violent sport. We all enjoy the game, we love to play and we kind of know what we signed up for when we take part. It is what it is.”

McCourty saw Shaw Sunday night at a charity event held by linebacker Moise Fokou, then learned Tuesday night of Shaw’s diagnosis.

“Now for Shaw, he’s fighting a different battle,” McCourty said. “As teammates, former teammates, all we can do is encourage him and be there when he needs us.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marcedes Lewis has said numerous times that he has had his best offseason and is in the best shape of his career.

That has been evident with the way he has performed in training camp and the first two preseason games. He’s catching nearly everything thrown his way and his role in the offense has been as prominent as it was at the end of the 2013 season.

But as reliable and valuable as Lewis has been, there are that many questions about the players behind him.

Clay Harbor, who caught 24 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns last season, has been out with a calf injury since July 28, and when he will return to practice is unclear. There is hope that he will return for the Sept. 7 season opener.

"It’s doing a lot better," said Harbor, who suffered a partial tear of his calf muscle. "I’m working toward hopefully Philadelphia game Week 1. That’s what the plan is, and if everything keeps going well then that’s what I’m going to try to do, get ready for that week and try my best to play."

Harbor is the only other tight end on the roster that has caught a pass in an NFL game, leaving the Jaguars with undrafted rookies Marcel Jensen and D.J. Tialavea and second-year player Branden Barden, who played in three games with Tennessee in 2010.

Barden and Jensen are essentially fighting to be the third tight end because the Jaguars will only keep three on the 53-man roster. The one that doesn’t make it is likely headed for the practice squad, and right now that looks to be Jensen. Tialavea appears to be the odd man out.

"I think Barden is having a real nice camp," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "It’s fun to see him compete. He’s smart, has good experience and is catching the ball actually really well this camp."

Barden signed with Tennessee as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after a five-year career at Vanderbilt, ended up on the Titans’ practice squad, and then was signed to the active roster and played in three games that season. The Titans waived him after another stint on the practice squad and the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad last November.

Jensen is an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. He caught the staff’s eye during organized team activities and minicamp after making a few catches. He is intriguing because of his size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) and length, but he is a raw talent and has been relatively anonymous in training camp.

"I thought that was another great acquisition there to get a guy like him," Fisch said. "I think there’s some good upside there with him."

Potential is nice, but the Jaguars need production behind Lewis, especially if Harbor can’t return for the season opener.

Trent Richardson off to slow start

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
INDIANAPOLIS -- Look at Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson's preseason rushing statistics and you probably want to climb to the top of the nearest mountain and scream, “Here we go again!” at the top of your lungs.

Richardson has rushed for 34 yards on 14 attempts in two preseason games. That’s 2.4 yards a carry, which is even less than the 2.9 yards he averaged last season when he lost his starting job after being acquired from the Cleveland Browns.

Coach Chuck Pagano isn’t ready to join you at the top of the mountain, but he’s not kidding himself, either. He knows they need to run the ball better. It's a necessity that the Colts provide something on the ground to help open things up on the outside for quarterback Andrew Luck.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTrent Richardson's numbers so far in the preseason are reminiscent of last season's struggles.
“I think everybody wants this guy to get going and that guy to get going, but there’s some tough sledding right now and we’re working at it,” Pagano said. “I think having the capability to do the other thing is going to open things up in the run game for us.”

The pass Richardson and the Colts got last year because the running back was acquired during the season is gone. He had the entire offseason to learn the offense, he’s comfortable with Luck, and he said he’s in exceptional health.

Now it’s time for the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 to produce on the field.

“Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “We’re all accountable here. I will say this, there are a lot of backs last year that wouldn’t have got [2.4] considering the amount of people he had in that box and the amount of bodies that were hitting him before he even seemed to get the ball sometimes. He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53.”

Richardson’s first run of the preseason was for 8 yards, giving the indication that good things were to come with him. But he gained only 26 yards since then. The New York Giants, according to Pagano, loaded up the box on more than 20 of the first 30 plays of their preseason game last weekend. Richardson’s two longest runs -- 8 yards each -- came with Luck in the shotgun. Richardson's running with better instincts. It's just not showing up in the results, which is the determining factor.

“I think any time for any back, not only Trent, I think any time you spread people out and you’re in one-back situations, you’re in the gun,” Pagano said. “Everything’s dictated on what the defense presents. If they give you a light box, it doesn’t matter who’s in there, you’re going to have an opportunity to gain some yards. … It kind of depends on how the defense decides to defend you. If they go light box and they spread things out, I think for any runner he’s going to have an opportunity to gain more yards. First and second down, you can do the same thing. If they want to drop a safety down like this team likes to do, you’re still going to be, get a hat on a hat, you’re still going to have to get things blocked up and make a guy miss probably on his own.”

The verdict still can’t be determined with Richardson because he has played limited snaps in the preseason and the Colts haven’t had their full arsenal of weapons on offense. Receiver Reggie Wayne and running back Ahmad Bradshaw have yet to play in the preseason. The Colts are also dealing with injuries at guard and center.

“When Reggie’s out there, and T.Y. and Hakeem, you can’t double all of them,” Richardson said. “To have them with us, especially when Ahmad comes back, it’s going to be dangerous, and I like the direction we’re going in. I’m just proud to be able to be where we’re at right now. I know there’s still a lot to come and still a lot to work on. When it comes down to it, we’re just a work in progress right now.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple members of the Tennessee Titans have done the Ice Bucket Challenge to help raise funds and awareness for ALS.

But there has not been large-scale participation, and Tuesday evening we learned the reason: The team has been waiting for an announcement from former Titans linebacker and special-teamer Tim Shaw that he has been diagnosed with the disease, and players are expected to answer his challenge soon, collectively.

Shaw revealed his diagnosis in a short video posted on the team’s website, then challenged the Titans, the Penn State football team and the community where he went to high school, Clarenceville (Mich.).

Shaw was a popular role player in Tennessee after the Titans added him and Patrick Bailey before the 2010 season in hopes of bolstering their special teams.

Shaw is a proud Penn State alumnus who willingly discussed Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and the sexual abuse scandal that unfolded on campus and landed Sandusky in jail.

His diagnosis is terrible news, but he has quickly put himself in position to help the cause. The Ice Bucket Challenge is raising awareness of the disease and helping to raise funds to research a cure.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Training camp is gone, and with it go our daily camp reports. But the Texans are in a training camp-like setting right now as they spend the week in the Denver area to practice against the Broncos.

And so, we'll continue recapping practice as long as we can.
  • Right guard Brandon Brooks passed his physical and came off the non-football injury list on Tuesday. He did only individual drills today, starting the process of being eased back into full participation. Brooks said that as an only child, his team is the closest thing to having brothers, and he was happy to be back with them. "I'm starting from square one and have got to play catch up, but at the same time after practice I got some extra reps today in different pass pro," he said. "Any chance I get to get an extra rep in any practice I can, I need to do it."
  • Brooks' return was part of the trend of the Texans getting more whole as the season approaches. Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph did significant work in practice, all of them dealt with some level of injury during the offseason and training camp. "It's nice to have guys out there working in practice and it's one of those things were I've got to be able to communicate with them," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "With Andre, a lot of it has been after series or whatever it is talking to him on the sideline. It's nice to have him in the huddle."
  • It was a no-pads practice, but defensive end J.J. Watt made his presence felt in individual drills, team drills and with his own teammates. Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted that Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said after practice: "I was fine until J.J. Watt ruined our practice." Watt also spent some time tutoring outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney on hand placement and he had a nice time against the Broncos offensive line during one-on-one drills.
  • Aqib Talib is a guy who likes to try and get into receivers' heads. It was fun to watch him face Texans' second-year player DeAndre Hopkins. "I think they like to pick on guys that they know can beat them," Hopkins said. He did indeed beat Talib a few times. Once Hopkins clearly won off the line of scrimmage, then stretched to attempt a one-handed catch in the end zone -- the kind he often makes in practice, but couldn't quite haul in the ball. "I'm a grown man," Hopkins said. "I don't back down from any challenge. It's great when a guy like (Talib) comes out here and challenges me to get better." He added that Talib has earned his reputation as a great defensive back.
  • Yellow flags were plentiful at practice, much to the frustration of the Broncos' defensive backfield. Toward the end of practice, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions, though the second was waved off with a flag, to loud protests from Denver's secondary.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars coaches and players have talked about rookie quarterback Blake Bortles' development for weeks.

They’ve mentioned his knowledge of the offense, his ability to make the correct read, and how accurate he has been during the first two preseason games. That’s been proven by the fact that he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 277 yards, numbers that could be even higher considering three of his 10 incompletions have been drops.

Bortles’ rate of progress goes beyond stats, though, and one play in the Jaguars’ 20-19 loss to Chicago last Thursday captured it perfectly: His 29-yard hookup with receiver Kerry Taylor down the left sideline.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Andrew NellesBlake Bortles has passed for 277 yards in the Jaguars' first two preseason games combined.
The throw was perfect, right in front of Taylor and over the shoulder of Bears cornerback Demontre Hurst. It was thrown where only Taylor could catch it.

"Kerry did a great job of getting off the line and beating his guy and getting downfield," Bortles said. "There was good protection. I was able to get him the ball."

It was a little more intricate than that. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch had a run play called, but when Bortles got the line of scrimmage he saw the Bears were expecting run and had loaded the box. He audibled to a pass play, saw Taylor was in one-on-one coverage, and signaled the route Taylor should run.

When he took the shotgun snap, Bortles’ first option was receiver Mike Brown on the right side of the field. The second option was tight end Brandon Barden. Both were covered, so Bortles came back to the left side, saw Taylor had a step on the corner, and let it fly.

"He was able to see the coverage ahead of time, not during the snap but pre-snap," Fisch said. "He was able to get the indicators that he was looking for and then get the check and signal it properly and get those mechanics. That was a big play.

"… I think that shows a guy with great confidence. So, that part of it is fun, but he just has to continue to build and learn."

So, to recap: He recognized the offense was in a bad play for the defensive alignment, audibled to a pass play, and hit his third read for a big gain. That’s something with which some veteran quarterbacks struggle, but Bortles, in just his second professional game, nailed it.

"He’s definitely advanced," said Taylor, who caught three passes against the Bears. "He studies and he gets the reps in practice and does what he’s supposed to do. When we get out to the game we have trust in him that he can go out there and make those things happen.

"For him to see that and see the reads and see what’s there and what’s not there, it’s great for him, it’s great for our offense. It just shows that we have multiple quarterbacks that can get the job done."

This doesn’t mean Bortles is ready to become the Jaguars’ starting quarterback. He still hasn’t played with the first-team offense or faced a first-team defense -- that comes Friday when he gets about a quarter of work against Detroit -- and he is continuing to improve footwork and fundamental issues that were never addressed when he was at Central Florida.

But Bortles is clearly ahead of where most rookie quarterbacks would be at this point in their development. He certainly is ahead of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.

"I don’t think I really went in with any preconceived notions on where he was going to be," Fisch said. "Obviously, we were excited when we drafted him, so we thought he was going to be a very good player. We’re still excited on how he has progressed. I think it’s a situation now where each day we are just looking for improvement, and he has challenged himself to get better every day. So, really I’m not exactly sure where I expect him to be, so he is doing well for where he is at."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson decided against looking outside the organization for a replacement for safety Antoine Bethea during the heart of the free-agency period in March. Grigson didn’t address the position through the draft, either.

The Colts felt like they had their replacement on the roster in Delano Howell. Then they signed veteran Mike Adams in June, which indicated they weren't convinced Howell was ready to be the starter.

A neck injury has put Howell’s season, and possibly career, in question. The pressure is on Adams to step in and help a defense that’s shown vast improvements in the preseason.

“Pressure, what’s that? As far as I know, pressure busts pipes,” Adams said. “I’m not worried about any pressure or anything. I wasn’t given the job. I was here to compete for a job.”

Grigson said Howell is seeing a specialist for his neck. His 2013 season was cut short due to a neck problem.

Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano say the competition to start alongside LaRon Landry at safety is up in the air still because Sergio Brown and Colt Anderson are also in the mix.

“All those guys have the traits that you’re looking for to play in our system and in our scheme,” Pagano said. “They can all play down in the box, they can all get guys on the ground. They’re athletic enough to cover and they’ve got good range in the back end when they have to play in the deep part of the secondary. I think we’ve got guys that are more than capable. The better off your front is, the easier the job is back there.”

The reality is the job is Adams’ to lose.

He’s the most experienced of the group, having started 73 games in his 10-year career. Adams joked the day after signing with the Colts in June that he may be 33 years old mentally, but he feels 26 years old physically.

The Colts hope that is true because they like their safeties to have cover skills and the ability to play in the box.

“Watch me, that’s all I have to say,” Adams said Tuesday. “Sometimes I run better than most second- and third-year players. I’m in great shape. I’m good.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After a two-hour practice against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt walked over to a blocking sled sitting on the edge of the practice field.

It was the first action that sled had had in a while -- the Broncos never use them anymore -- and Watt put it through it. He delivered blow after blow with the force he reserves to dispatch opposing offensive linemen, pummeling the sheds for several minutes, finally yielding to catch his breath before moving on to his post-practice obligations.

Watt doesn't mind the work. He doesn't mind the fact that as the 11th pick in 2011 his rookie contract was significantly smaller than those selected before him. One goal for the new rookie scale in the collective bargaining agreement was to force players to earn big contracts, rather than get them upon arrival. And he doesn't mind that either (though, what choice does he have?).

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/TUSP/Jay BiggerstaffJ.J. Watt hopes that the Texans reward him with a long-term contract.
Those post-practice obligations included a barrage of questions about his contract situation following comments Watt made to Yahoo! Sports about hoping he'd earned the same appreciation he's seen other 2011 draft picks get.

Watt wouldn't say it today, but I will: He has earned the new contract he has yet to receive. There are salary-cap concerns to consider, sure, but those can be navigated without things getting ugly between the Texans and the best defensive player in franchise history.

The genesis of this came from a reaction to some of owner Bob McNair's comments earlier this month. In a conversation we had, McNair made clear he wouldn't be afraid to use the franchise tag on Watt. McNair brought up the concept of the franchise tag unprompted, noting that Watt would be with the Texans one way or another for the next four seasons: 2014 on his rookie deal, 2015 on the rookie deal's option year, 2016 on a franchise tag if necessary and 2017 on another franchise tag. I asked about the potential ill will using the franchise tag could cause in negotiations and McNair said he wasn't worried. He said that was just a negotiating tactic.

But using that franchise tag says something. It also lacks the security players crave.

Today, Watt reiterated that his goal is always to outperform any contract he has.

"You should want people to think you're underpaid because of how hard you work, because of how well you do your job, because of how you go about your business," Watt said. "That's just personal pride."

Mission accomplished, because Watt has far outperformed his contract. Getting him for just $1.9 million this year and $6.9 million in 2015, the option year the Texans picked up in May, is a steal. He's been one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the NFL for the past two seasons.

Today, Watt avoided actively voicing the frustration nobody would blame him for having at this point. He didn't demand a contract. He didn't say he'd earned the same consideration given to Patrick Peterson (five years, $70 million) or Tyron Smith (eight years, $98 million). He deferred business talks when asked today, saying the time hadn't come for him to get involved. He was asked why he didn't use his leverage, perhaps with a holdout, and said that he wanted to be with his team -- and it hadn't come to that point.

But there were hints of frustration even in his carefully selected words.

One came when Watt said this: "I think when you look around the league and you see a couple other guys from the 2011 draft class get contracts, I think it's just nice to see the appreciation being shown."

Another came when Watt said this: "I always try and put on the best face I can for this organization and be the best ambassador I can be for the Houston Texans."

And the third was this: "Right now I’m in football mode, so I worry about that. If the time comes that I need to get involved in the business side I will.”

The Texans shouldn't let that time come -- and I don't think they will.
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis and general manager Ryan Grigson both talked Tuesday like the linebacker will not play in the preseason.

“Do I ever question if Robert Mathis knows how to play this game? No,” Grigson said. “Has he done it at a high level for many years? Yes. It’s kind of trying to find a fine line to where you want him to be game ready, but at the same time, game ready for what? He’s not going to be there the first four games. So we’ve just got to be smart.

"Robert Mathis on his own, he’s going to be getting ready. He’s going to be taking mental reps. He’s going to be dreaming about playing. He loves this game. So he’s another one that you just kind of don’t worry about.”

Mathis is suspended the first four games of the season because he violated the NFL’s drug policy. His first game will be Oct. 5 against the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s not surprising that Mathis likely won’t play because the Colts have reached the point of the preseason where games are pretty scripted. The starters will play through the first half against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday and not many of the starters are expected to play in the preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Whenever my name is called I’ll answer the bell,” Mathis said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt has a very reasonable approach to the NFL's more stringent enforcement of defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference penalties against defensive backs.

The Titans need to feel out what's being called and what they can get away with, then play accordingly.

Players, coaches and fans may want the league or officials to modify their approach. Ultimately, it's incumbent on players to follow the rules and their enforcement.

"If it's not adjusted, we have to adjust to the penalties, find ways to be able to make plays and do everything the right way," cornerback Jason McCourty said.

Saturday night in New Orleans, the Titans were flagged for two pass interference calls, one for 28 yards against McCourty and one against Micah Pellerin that was declined.

I thought the call against McCourty was weak and what he did didn't amount to pass interference against Joe Morgan.

McCourty said he didn't think it would have been a penalty a year ago.

"But the way I looked at it was, if I'm better at the line of scrimmage, I would have been able to avoid that penalty all together, it may not even have been close," McCourty said. "There was something technique-wise I could have been a little bit better at, then down the field we would have had nothing to even be a possible penalty."

That's a great and healthy attitude and approach by McCourty.

Still, a rule enforcement alteration that favors the offense isn't going over well.

"It sucks," he said. "You would think there are enough rules to protect offensive players and to help put more points on the board."

Bernard Pollard, as is his style, offered an even harsher assessment, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

"You can just touch a guy and it's a flag now. It is getting out of hand," Pollard said. "This shows you the committee that's laying down the rules; those guys have never played the game. I thought 45 or 50 points a game was enough, but they obviously want more. They want to see an offensive game."

The Titans are the fourth-least penalized team through two preseason games, points out David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

So they've got that going for them. Which is nice.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s only natural for a receiver like Da'Rick Rogers or Griff Whalen to look over his shoulder and wonder how the other player at that position is doing.

The Indianapolis Colts are set (barring any kind of injury) with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief as their top four receivers.

That leaves Rogers and Whalen and the remaining receivers on the roster competing for one or two spots on the roster at that position.

Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said wondering how others are doing in the competition is the absolute wrong approach to take.

“Looking at the numbers is the worst thing you can do,” Hasselbeck said. “My advice to those guys is to not look at the guy next to you. You’re not competing with him necessarily. You’re competing against everybody playing football because teams are always looking to find players to help make their team better. Just worry about yourself, do the best job you can. Make the most of your opportunities.”

The Colts haven’t zeroed in on how many receivers they plan to keep on the roster. It wouldn’t be surprising if they kept six receivers, especially since veteran Reggie Wayne is coming off a torn ACL.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult because you see those guys making plays and doing great things,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “They’ve all had their moments. There’s a lot of guys just trying to make a case for themselves, so these next couple weeks are going to be very, very important for all those guys. Obviously we’re in a position now much better than any time since we’ve been here as far as the roster goes and the cutdowns.”

Rogers and Whalen are the front-runners for the final position or two at receiver.

Both have had their moments at different times.

Rogers spent most of last season on the practice squad before being called up and eventually having his first 100-yard receiving game against Cincinnati. The Colts are enamored with Rogers’ size (6-foot-3) and athleticism. But Rogers, who had maturity issues while in college, got off to a slow start in training camp and was outplayed by Whalen.

I asked a Colts official about Rogers’ lack of production in camp, and he responded, “Just wait until the lights come on. He’ll be fine.”

That person was right.

It started with Rogers making a 45-yard reception in the preseason opener against the New York Jets. Then he had a 14-yard touchdown reception against the New York Giants. Both of those passes were thrown by Hasselbeck.

“He was someone I invested a lot into last year,” Hasselbeck said. “I worked with him a lot. I like him, I trust him. Da’Rick has done a nice job of making big plays in the preseason, but he’s got a ton of room for improvement as far as earning the trust of the starting quarterback and the coaches.”

You might as well call Whalen "Mr. Reliable." He doesn’t have exceptional speed. He’s not flashy. He just simply gets the job done, and that’s all that matters.

Whalen and quarterback Andrew Luck were teammates and roommates in college at Stanford. It’s easy to tell that by their continuity on the field. They showed it last season. They showed at training camp at Anderson (Indiana) University and they showed it again when the two connected for a 5-yard touchdown against the Giants. Whalen is also a candidate to return punts.

It may come down to dependability (Whalen) vs. potential (Rogers) if the Colts go with only five receivers.

“I can’t think about it,” Rogers said. “Start to count numbers and you take yourself out the game.”

“It creeps in your mind," Whalen said. "Like human nature, I can’t completely ignore it. But I know focusing on it and dwelling on it isn’t going to help me. I try to focus on the things I can do. Like practicing hard every day and playing well in the games.”
So a bunch of us at ESPN filled out a ballot putting a number between 1-10 on every notable player in the league, and out of it comes our #NFLRank series.

As they are unveiled, there is no need for suspense where the Tennessee Titans are involved.

None of them are in it.

The Titans' lack of star power is a big theme heading into 2015. Their two best players -- receiver Kendall Wright and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey -- are very good.

Wright had 94 catches for 1,079 yards last season but just two touchdowns. The league is loaded with compelling and productive receivers. I think with coach Ken Whisenhunt calling plays, Wright will be used far more creatively and will get more scoring chances in 2014. In a year from now if he's not ranked in the top 100, I'd be surprised.

Casey had 10.5 sacks last season as a 4-3 tackle. He's not a 3-4 end. But he's got power and speed and will remain a pass-rushing force. I think it's less understandable for him to miss the cut here than Wright.

And neither of them were even the top-rated Titan.

Left guard Andy Levitre finished 118th on the offensive list, with left tackle Michael Roos ranked 123rd and Wright 145th.

On defense, Casey fell in at 115th, Michael Griffin 138th and Bernard Pollard 139th.

It's a list and it's rankings, and they get clicks and create conversations.

It's nothing worth being up in arms about.

If this team is any good, it's because the collective is good. Teams that are not star-studded can win if they are greater than the sum of their parts and if they do that, they can be good and stars can emerge.