DETROIT -- It's getting harder and harder to understand the Jacksonville Jaguars' stance that Chad Henne will be the starting quarterback when the season begins on Sept. 7.

It's not that Henne has played poorly during the Jaguars' three preseason games. He has played pretty well, in fact, going 25-for-38 for 230 yards and one touchdown. But rookie Blake Bortles has been so darn good at the same time.

Bortles
Henne
Calm, confident, poised in the pocket, Bortles has recognized defenses and has been getting the offense out of bad plays. He has been scanning the field to find his second and third options.

He's doing everything you want your quarterback to do -- and he's doing it better than Henne. And yet, during his news conference after the Jaguars' 13-12 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Ford Field on Friday night, Gus Bradley said it again: Henne will be the starter against the Philadelphia Eagles to open the season.

It doesn't seem logical after comparing the two quarterbacks' performance against the Lions. Both played with the first-team offense against the Lions' first-team defense. Henne completed 9 of 14 passes for 70 yards and was sacked twice. Bortles completed 10 of 16 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown and was sacked once.

Then look at Bortles' numbers in the preseason: 28-for-44, 435 yards, one touchdown.

But the Jaguars aren't budging.

And that may be part of the reason Bortles has played so well.

"I think from Day 1 Gus and [general manager] Dave [Caldwell] have talked about creating a stress-free and anxiety free environment and that's exactly what it's been," Bortles said. "It's been perfect. It's been the perfect situation to learn and try to progress and get better. I know my role is the backup quarterback and to learn from Chad and ask as many questions as possible."

There are signs that he's ready now, though. Like the way he handled himself when he was inserted into the game late in the first half: 1:43 remaining, no time outs, ball on the Jacksonville 5-yard line. He took the Jaguars down the field and got three points on a Kasey Redfern field goal.

Or the throw he made to running back Jordan Todman. Bortles rolled to his right, didn't see any open receivers in front of him, and threw back across the field to a wide-open Todman on the sideline for a 24-yard gain.

The players see it.

"In the huddle he's just one of those guys you don't necessarily know if he's happy, if he's sad," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He's just even-keeled and that's something that you develop normally as you get more years in the league and you kind of get a grasp of what's going on around you. He has that right now."

Bortles also has the innate ability to know when to take shots down the field, too.

"I think knowing what your guys are doing and kind of taking calculated risks," he said. "There was a couple throws that weren't too smart but I think you've got to know the situation and when's it's OK to take that chance and when's it's OK to take the checkdown."

Bortles has performed well at each level during the preseason. He looked good in his debut. He looked better in his second game against a better defensive front. On Friday night he did it against the Lions' first-team defense.

He'll get a lot of playing time next week in the final preseason game, and it's a pretty good bet he'll play well then, too.

But the Jaguars hope that's the last time we see Bortles on the field this season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s early, for sure. We don’t know the 53-man roster. We won’t see the Tennessee Titans in action using a real scheme until Sept. 7 in Kansas City.

Acknowledging those caveats, I look at this team right now and think: It’s got to be an offensive football team.

I’ve said that at times in the past, that they needed to be, that they should be, that they had to be.

Things with this franchise in Nashville have always reverted to defense.

Longtime head coach Jeff Fisher was a defensive guy. While his successor, Mike Munchak, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, the overall tone didn’t change much in the last three seasons. That was part of why a change happened.

Things are different a lot of ways now.

Ken Whisenhunt came to Nashville with an extensive offensive background and a reputation as a clever playcaller able to get the most out of players.

The Titans have dedicated major resources in the last couple years to the offensive line, to pass-catchers, to running back.

The Titans should block well, they should pass protect well, they should catch and run well.

There is less to see/expect/count on from the defense.

This needs to be, should be, has to be an offensive football team.
INDIANAPOLIS -- A torn ACL and just months away from being 36 years old has caused Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne to drop 20 spots as the 56th best offensive player in ESPN’s #NFLRank project.

Wayne went into the 2013 season 36th in the rankings. His season came to an end when he tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of the Colts' victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 7. He finished with 38 catches for 503 yards and two touchdowns in seven games.

Wayne says he's healthy and hopes to play in Saturday's preseason game (8 p.m. ET) against the New Orleans Saints at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Wayne is 1,015 yards from braking Marvin Harrison's franchise record in receiving yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Wayne may not surpass Harrison's record this season because the Colts have two other legitimate receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. QB Andrew Luck can also use tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen in the passing game.

Hilton is the No. 70th-ranked offensive player in the league.

Colts need Landry to lead secondary

August, 22, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS – For as much as there is hope in the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive front seven this season, there’s as many questions about their safeties.

Part of the concern is because the Colts haven't named a starter yet to replace the departed Antoine Bethea at one of the safety positions. The other concern is whether LaRon Landry can be the player the Colts envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $24 million contract in 2013.

“I never have any pressure like that,” Landry said in his first comments since the end of last season. “I don’t feel any pressure like that as far as my role. I come in each and every day to try and lead by example. I’m my toughest critic. I’m the hardest on myself, so it’s never good enough for me. It’s never perfect.”

[+] EnlargeLaRon Landry
AJ Mast/AP PhotoWith uncertainty at one safety spot, safety LaRon Landry needs to perform at a high level for the Colts.
The pressure is on Landry, even though he says he doesn’t feel it.

Coach Chuck Pagano jokingly asked me if I knew who would be one of their starting safeties this season Thursday. Delano Howell, who was the frontrunner for most of the offseason, is dealing with a serious enough neck injury that he’s had to see several specialists. Veteran Mike Adams, who signed in June, just recently got a full grasp of the defense. Sergio Brown and Colt Anderson lack experience.

That means Landry has to be the backbone of the secondary. He has to make sure everybody is on the same page because the safeties depend on each other. That’s especially important in Pagano’s defensive system with his safeties being interchangeable.

“He knows the defense better going into Year 2,” Pagano said. “He’s got to be an enforcer back there. He’s got to be a dominant, dominant football player, which he’s done and will continue to do. We need all those guys, we need more interceptions, more out of all of them. Just make the plays you’re supposed to make, be where you’re supposed to be and the rest will take care of itself.”

Landry dealt with an ankle injury that cost him four games last season. That was a setback for him because he led the NFL in tackles during the early part of the season. He lacked consistency after returning.

Landry, like cornerback Greg Toler, needs to stay healthy. Fast and fierce is how Landry plays. He just has to be productive when he plays that way.

“I think, just like all those guys, just be there 16 games, that’s all,” Pagano said. “Greg (Toler) 16 games, Vontae (Davis). Seriously, you know? That’s his mindset, it’s our mindset as a coaching staff, and all those guys. Easier said than done when you play the game at the rate of speed that the guy plays at.”

Landry’s health came into question in June. He spent the offseason working out on his own, as he has done throughout his career, only to show up for the team’s mandatory minicamp with what turned out to be a hip injury that kept him out the entire camp. Landry was on the sidelines during the first two weeks of training camp.

"It’s hard for any competitor just to sit out and watch, but I know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I knew I had to go through the phases, the healing phases and I think just with the whole training staff, and strength staff, we’ve done a great job to nurse me back to health and get ready to play some of these preseason games so I could be able to come in the opener,” Landry said.
Hughes
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts second-year defensive lineman Montori Hughes is on a leave of absence from the team because of the recent death of his 3-month-old daughter, coach Chuck Pagano said.

Pagano said Maveah Alice Hughes, the daughter of Hughes and his girlfriend, Leigh Burton, died last week.

“I can't imagine,” Pagano said. “No parent should have to bury a child. We all go through circumstances. This is an extremely, extremely difficult time for Montori and his family. But we've got his back and we'll get through this thing as a family like we get through anything."

Hughes had been working as Josh Chapman’s backup at defensive tackle.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Neither Coty Sensabaugh nor Blidi Wreh-Wilson has stood out in a way that suggests one is the clear leader as the Tennessee Titans sort out the pecking order at cornerback opposite Jason McCourty.

Both will play, as both will be part of the nickel package and the Titans will field five defensive backs plenty.

I suspect Sensabaugh will play the nickel. He has experience there and seems to have a feel for playing the spot, which is a lot different than playing outside.

Sensabaugh
But playing inside in sets with five defensive backs doesn’t mean he couldn’t play outside in base. (And it's possible it could go the same way for BWW.)

“I would actually love that; I actually prefer it to a nickel coming in off the bench,” Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “What it means is the guy is pretty smart and pretty athletic. Not only can he run with the Megatrons and the A.J. Greens and all these big wide receivers, but they can also get down and run with the Wes Welkers and the smaller guys.”

Sensabaugh said he likes the idea of shifting inside to nickel from a corner spot, as he’d already be in the flow when he moved to the slot.

“If you have a guy who’s capable of that, I think it’s a really good thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind doing that because I like playing both positions. …

“It was tough for me my rookie year, because normally the first snap I would come in would be third down. I’d normally be in the slot receiver and they would normally go to him on that first play.”

Versatility remains a big theme for corners in the system Horton has brought to the Titans.

“We have a couple corners, maybe three, maybe four, that can play corner, that can play nickel, that can play safety,” Horton said. “That is ideal to me. When they want to go multiple wide receivers, I can bring a corner inside or I can put him back at safety.

"That’s my dream corner, that he’s smart enough and agile enough to play inside, outside or deep. We have that right now. We have three of them in training (Sensabaugh, Wreh-Wilson and fourth-rounder Marqueston Huff) and Tommie Campbell is coming along where he may be the fourth.”

Ken Whisenhunt said there is no deadline for when the staff will decide who will play which role.

Sensabaugh said he doesn’t really see an end to the competition for spots, roles and playing time.

“Both players are talented and we have some other guys that can play,” he said. “It’s going to be a season-long thing.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ask Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage which quarterback he looked up to growing up, and he'll tell you it's his brother, Bryan Savage.

This week though, Savage got to share a practice facility with another pretty good quarterback role model. He was working with some receivers when Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walked up to him unsolicited.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Jack DempseyHouston rookie Tom Savage got to meet -- and learn from -- Peyton Manning this week.
"I was like, 'Guys, you go. I'm going to talk to Peyton for a little bit,'" Savage said with a bit of a smile.

The reigning league MVP asked the rookie quarterback how he was mentally, how he was faring in his first NFL training camp.

"I'm not going to lie -- I got a little starstruck when I first saw him," Savage said. "It was pretty unique to go out there and watch one of the greatest play."

The positions in which the two came into the league are different. Manning was the first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, immediately expected to change a franchise. Savage was a fourth-round pick this May, a product of the Texans' patience at the position. He's not expected to start right away -- he's a project with size, arm strength, intelligence and a nomadic college football career that gave him little chance to develop. Savage is currently third on the Texans' depth chart after starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum.

Savage and Manning found common ground in how hard it is for a quarterback to come into the NFL.

"He kind of reassured me of the rookie grind and how it is for a rookie," Savage said. "It was good, it was good to hear. Just when you're not in, get as many mental reps as you can. Just keep grinding because he said it'll be a long year, but at the same time it's gonna be fun.

"... It's good to hear that he went through some moments, too, where he had to grind through it."

Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions in his rookie season in 1998. The Colts went 3-13 that year, but enjoyed a dominant run with Manning for the next decade.

"It is a process," Savage said. "Knowing that, obviously as a quarterback you don't want to lose games and throw a bunch of picks. You don't want to say it's OK because Peyton did it. You want to do the best you can do. But just take kind of his work ethic and put it on the field."

Savage watched that work ethic and its fruits this week. He saw Manning's command of his team, and how much his receivers respect him. He knew that didn't come easily.

Said Savage: "Everyone knows he's probably one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the history of the game."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Wayne is done trying to lobby with coach Chuck Pagano. The Indianapolis Colts receiver did it with his coach at the start of training camp. He did it when it came to his practice time. He did it before the first two preseason games.

Wayne knows lobbying won’t do any good. His status for the Saturday’s game against the New Orleans Saints will be determined by Pagano.

Bush
Wayne
So what do you say, coach, will Wayne play in his first game since Week 7 of the 2013 season when he tore his ACL?

“It’ll be a game-time decision,” Pagano said Thursday afternoon.

Ugh, the infamous game-time decision used by coaches.

Wayne said at the start of training camp that he wanted his first tackle in a game to come in the preseason, not on Sept. 7 against the Denver Broncos.

But that will likely be the case if Wayne doesn’t play Saturday because starters don’t routinely play in the preseason finale.

“I’ll just watch the Denver film from last year, watch the last time I got tackled,” Wayne said if he doesn’t play in the preseason. “I have to some kind of way. I have some kids. Sit in the middle of the living room and let them tee off on me. He says no go, I’ll be fine. I’ll be alright. There are not too many guys in this world who want to be tackled. I’ll be fine. I’ll be able to adjust. It’ll be Week 1, I guess.”

Wayne made sure to point out that he hasn’t had any kind of setback with his knee.

“I feel good, I feel like the Reggie of old. I really do,” he said. “Nothing has stopped me from doing what I have wanted to do. There’s no routes I can’t run. I feel fine. I guess it’s more that Coach Pagano and the Colts organization want to see me healthy for Week 1.”

Wayne wanting to play Saturday is about more than just getting that first tackle out of the way. He wants to be out there playing with fellow receivers T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks and the rest of the offense so they can get a feel for each other in a game that doesn’t count in the standings.

“Preseason, a lot of people think it’s nothing, but it’s very meaningful,” Wayne said. “You get a lot of stuff accomplished. You get a lot of stuff that you probably wouldn’t normally do in the regular season. You have an opportunity to try it out in the preseason. I just want to go out there and experience it.

“I want to be out there with my teammates. I want to be out there with T.Y. Hilton with Hakeem Nicks just to give people a glimpse of what they’re going to see. I want to be a part of that. I don’t want that to be the first time in Week 1.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a bit of a target on Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt on Thursday as the Texans and Broncos went through their final practice together.

Watt
Watt
 And that's just fine with Watt.

"Yeah, I'll take it any chance I can get," Watt said. "You don't normally fight when you win the rep. I have no interest in fighting someone when I beat you. ... That's why I don't normally get into fights. When you hit me, I don't feel a need to hit back. You can turn on the film, see what happened."

What happened yesterday was Watt beating Broncos tackle Chris Clark in a one-on-one drill early in practice. Clark tore off Watt's helmet and then took a swing at him after the play ended. An official threw a flag as Watt grinned and suggested Clark not get mad at losing.

He takes it as a compliment, mostly.

"Everybody wants to pick on the big guy," Watt said. "That's fine. You guys saw what happened yesterday. You win on the field. You don't have to fight if you win on the field. You win the rep, people tend to get chippy."

There were a couple skirmishes between the Texans' defense and the Broncos offense today. Watt was right in the middle of one. The Texans had taken him out when the next one started.

"It's football," Watt said. "Boys will be boys. You know how that goes. Handle it like a man. I don't think there was a real major scuffle so that was a good thing. It's football. There's testosterone out here. People get excited. We practiced against each other for three days. We're professional athletes. Guys get a little antsy."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Whisenhunt and Charlie Whitehurst aren’t ready to declare the Tennessee Titans' No. 2 quarterback out for Saturday’s game at Atlanta.

But Whitehurst has not practiced since injuring the pinkie on his throwing hand on Friday night against the Saints in New Orleans.

He was vague about what’s wrong with it in a way his coach will surely appreciate.

“It’s just sore right now, it is pretty sore,” he said. “It’s not broken. There is some stuff going on, but hopefully it’ll be quick.”

As for his status for Atlanta, he said: “I can’t really say either way, but I think you guys can figure that out.”

Without Whitehurst the Titans will go straight from Jake Locker to rookie Zach Mettenberger.

It's a pinkie on a backup quarterback and he said it won't be a regular-season issue. In the meantime, more Mettenberger, which is a good thing.

T.Y. Hilton No. 70 in player ranking

August, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- About the only good thing to come out of Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne having his 2013 season cut short because of a torn ACL was that it allowed fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton to speed up his development.

And that’s why Hilton was voted as the 70th best offensive player in the NFL in ESPN.com’s player rankings. He’s the first Colts offensive player to crack the top-100 ranking.

Hilton finished 2013 with 82 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns.

Hilton became quarterback Andrew Luck’s go-to receiver after Wayne’s season ended in Week 7. He had 55 receptions for 671 yards in the games after Wayne went down. Hilton also had 224 yards receiving against Kansas City in the playoffs.

Some think Hilton's numbers could go down some because of Wayne's return and the addition of Hakeem Nicks to go with tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

I disagree. I think Hilton will lead the Colts in receiving yards and yards per catch because those players will allow him to use his speed for big plays down field against single coverage.

Broncos OL tested by Texans front

August, 21, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Teams have various strengths, and one of the major benefits of practicing against a different team is the chance to test those strengths and learn from them, consequence free.

For the Texans' defense, that's come this week through facing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his wide array of weapons.

One of the biggest challenges for the Broncos' offensive line is dealing with the Texans' front.

“I like it for them because it’s a different animal for us," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "J.J. [Watt], [Jadeveon] Clowney. I mean, the rest of that crew is tough. ... It’s a great test for our guys to see where we are at and where we can adjust and improve.”

Watt has excelled this week against the Broncos' offensive line, even outside that now-famous one-on-one drill when tackle Chris Clark ripped off his helmet. Clowney has also had his moments against Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady. As much as the Broncos line is being tested, the talented rookie is learning a lot from those bouts.

“We struggled yesterday, and I think today with pads on, we were a little better," Gase said. "But still, when you see No. 99 flashing in there every once and a while and you see one of those hands go up you are just hoping he doesn’t get a piece of it. We were better today than yesterday and hopefully, when we get to the game Saturday, we will play better.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In order to be a playoff team or have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, you have to have great players. The Jacksonville Jaguars don't have any that qualify -- yet.

Marks
ESPN Insider Mike Sando believes there are a few on the way. Sando included four Jaguars players on his list of top 50 NFL breakout players in 2014 (Insider content): safety Johnathan Cyprien, running back Toby Gerhart, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.

Cyprien, a second-year safety from Florida International, came in at No. 5 on Sando's list, the highest spot of the four. Two other players were in the top 25 while another was in the top 40.

Marks is an interesting choice for the list because he could have qualified as a breakout player in 2013. He set career highs in sacks (four), pass breakups (eight), forced fumbles (two),and fumble recoveries (three). He did that while playing way too many snaps, too. But the addition of Ziggy Hood via free agency and a health Roy Miller alongside him should reduce the number of snaps he plays in 2014, which, theoretically will keep him fresher and therefore even more effective.

Sando had a few rules in picking the top 50: No rookies, no player who was ranked in the #NFLRank Top 100 (an ongoing series ranking the top 100 players on offense and defense), no older players, and avoid players who have signed a lucrative second contract.
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.

Luck
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.

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