JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s early in the process and there is still a long way to go, but the fact that Justin Blackmon has voluntarily entered a treatment facility is a good sign that the troubled receiver may finally be turning his life around.

That should make the Jacksonville Jaguars cautiously optimistic that there’s a chance he could one day be back on the field.

Admitting to a problem is the first step in solving a substance-abuse issue and that seems to be what Blackmon is doing. Recovery is a long process, though, and relapses are common, so even though Blackmon has finished almost half of his commitment there’s still an element of uncertainty about his future.

If Blackmon does indeed complete the program, prove that he has turned his life around, and is reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, then Jaguars GM David Caldwell’s decision not to cut Blackmon after his third alcohol or drug-related arrest in July could turn out to be one the best he’s made in his two seasons.

There was public outcry to cut Blackmon -- including what I wrote -- and take a stand about unacceptable behavior, but Caldwell was firm that there logical reasons not to do so.

Since Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension for his third violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse program, he isn’t being paid and doesn’t count against the salary cap or roster limit. His contract is essentially paused, meaning he still owes the team 2 1/2 years of service if he were to ever return. Plus, if the Jaguars did cut him they would have been unable to recover any bonus money they have already paid.

Blackmon has been very productive when he has been on the field, catching 93 passes for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in 20 games. It’s hard not to think about the kind of impact he could make if he rejoined a position group that would include second-round picks Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, Ace Sanders, and undrafted rookie gem Allen Hurns. Provided Robinson, Lee and Hurns continue to progress, the Jaguars could potentially have one of the best group of young receivers in the league.

That’s looking far ahead, though. Right now the only thing to focus on is that Blackmon appears to finally be committed to getting help. That’s good news for him and the Jaguars.
HOUSTON -- A whole slew of very important Houston Texans didn't practice Wednesday.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien was asked during his Wednesday news conference if he was planning to rest some key players during the week. O'Brien said: "There is nothing more important than the health of the team."

That's not the case with all of the players who sat out Wednesday's practice, but we'll go through which ones might have legitimate injury concerns.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here’s a breakdown of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis' 2016 contract extension, per ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.
  • He’ll get a $1.5 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year. His base salary is $3.5 million and he has escalators based on his sacks.
  • He’ll get $250,000 for 10 sacks. It goes up to $500,000 for 11 sacks and $1 million for 12 sacks. Mathis had a league-high 19.5 sacks last season and has four other seasons of at least 10.5 sacks during his 13-year career.
  • Mathis was due a $3 million roster bonus at the beginning of the league year in 2015. That’s been changed to $3 million of per-game roster bonuses. He’ll get $1 million for one game on the 53-man roster and then $125,000 for each game on the roster after that.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Ace Sanders admitted that it wasn’t easy to watch his Jacksonville Jaguars teammates the past four Sundays while he was at home serving his four-game drug suspension.

It was hard for him to see the team struggle and not be able to help, especially with Cecil Shorts and Marqise Lee out of the lineup with hamstring injuries.

[+] EnlargeAce Sanders
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAce Sanders caught 51 passes as a rookie in 2013, ranking second on the Jaguars.
His irritation, though, didn’t result in frustration.

"It could be tough at times, but at the end of the day, it’s only yourself that you can blame for the reason you were out," Sanders said Wednesday. "You couldn’t harp on it too much. Just have to look at some of the positive stuff.

"You actually get a chance to sit down and be a spectator and actually take what you see watching the game and remember that stuff when you get back to play. That’s really what I did."

Sanders was back on the practice field Wednesday for the first time since Aug. 26, two days before the Jaguars’ final preseason game. He returned four punts and caught one pass in that game and then began his suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse program.

His return comes at a good time because the Jaguars won’t have rookie Lee and veteran Shorts is not expected to play on Sunday against Pittsburgh. That makes Sanders, who caught 51 passes as a rookie last season, the team’s most experienced receiver.

How much playing time he will get will be determined in practice over the next three days. He has been able to participate in meetings throughout the suspension so he’s up to speed with the offense.

"I don’t know what to expect," Sanders said. "Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it."

That will almost certainly be returning punts, at least, which is what the Jaguars drafted him to do last season. Sanders didn’t exactly light it up -- he averaged just 5.6 yards per return on 25 returns -- but he was pressed into more duty at receiver than the Jaguars had anticipated because of injuries to Shorts and Mike Brown and Justin Blackmon’s two suspensions. His 51 catches were second to Shorts' 66.

That was with Chad Henne at quarterback. Now it’s Blake Bortles, but Sanders said there’s no worry about becoming comfortable with the rookie.

"I think we can build [a good rapport] pretty quickly," Sanders said. "He’s a hard worker; we’re all hard workers. I’m quite sure if we go out there and just play football, that’s something we all know how to do. A quarterback-wide receiver relationship, we got to throw a little in OTAs and I got a feel for him there. He’s a gamer. I can just play with a competitor."

What will help is that Sanders said he’s in a better place now mentally than he was when he decided to take a leave of absence to deal with personal issues just before training camp began. He missed all of training camp and most of the preseason before returning to the team on Aug. 24.

"[I'm excited] just to come back in and get in the flow of things," he said. "Really just see where that takes us as far as the team, as far as me being a teammate. Just to see where we go from there."
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt didn't want to reveal what he was planning for his mother after he signed his six-year, $100 million extension. Connie Watt got one surprise today on her birthday.

"Growing up, on TV I saw all the commercials with cars with red bows on them at Christmas time," Watt said today. "I always thought to myself, 'Who can do that? Who can just buy a whole car for somebody’s birthday or for Christmas and put a bow on it and drive it? Could you imagine if you could do that for somebody how awesome that would be?'

"My whole life my parents have made sacrifices for me. They’ve done everything. They’ve made it so my brothers have had opportunities for success. To be able to give back to her and to surprise her like that, and to see my brother got me a nice video of her when she first saw it, there’s really no better feeling in the world than that to be able to take care of your family, take care of those closest to you. There’s no better way to spend my money than that."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars gained a receiver and lost one Wednesday.

On the first day Ace Sanders can practice with the team following his four-game drug suspension, the Jaguars announced that rookie receiver Marqise Lee will miss his second consecutive game with a hamstring strain. The team announced Monday that veteran receiver Cecil Shorts is not expected to play in Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, either.

Lee, who has eight catches for 73 yards, started the first two games of the season but has struggled with the offense.

If Shorts cannot play, the Jaguars will be left with Sanders, rookies Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, second-year player Mike Brown and recently acquired second-year player Tavarres King. Sanders, who caught 51 passes as a rookie last season, missed all of training camp while on a leave of absence. King spent most of the 2013 season on the Denver and Carolina practice squads and has yet to be active since the Jaguars signed him Sept. 16.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here is the latest look at what could turn out to be a banner crop of rookie receivers.

They are listed in order of targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We’re using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game.

Here’s the list of the top-targeted rookie receivers (16 targets needed to qualify):

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (36 targets): After catching five passes for 76 yards and a TD he has 21 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns.

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo (32): He caught four passes last weekend but one was for a touchdown and he now has 17 catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (28): A five-catch game in the rout by the Dallas Cowboys has him at 23 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (26): He caught five passes against San Diego and has 17 catches for 192 yards. He’s the only receiver on the list without a TD catch, but he has 23 targets over the past three games.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (25): He finally caught his first TD pass and now has 17 catches for 203 yards and one TD. But Evans suffered a groin injury in the Bucs' upset over Pittsburgh and is expected to miss two to four weeks, which could push him off the list.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (23): He had five catches against the Chargers, including a 44-yarder that would have gone for a touchdown had he not bobbled it and tripped. He has 12 catches for 254 yards and three TDs. Hurns leads all of the rookies and is second in the league in average yards per catch (21.2).

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia (23): He has 15 catches for 141 yards and two TDs after a relatively quiet game against San Francisco.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts' decision to give linebacker Robert Mathis a contract extension Tuesday came as a surprise.

Based off Mathis’ 2013 stats -- an NFL-high 19.5 sacks -- he deserves every penny of the 2016 extension that could pay him as much as $6 million.

But nobody knows if Mathis will be that same player when the 2016 season rolls around. Nobody even knows if he would be that player today because he’s not on the field chasing down opposing quarterbacks and getting strip sacks.

First there was the four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs that kept Mathis off the field, and now a torn Achilles, which happened while he was working out during his suspension, has him out for the rest of the season. The Colts have decided to pay Mathis the remaining portion of his $2.3 million base salary this season when they didn’t have to because his torn Achilles is categorized as a non-football injury. Mathis returned to the team's facility Monday.

Mathis will be 34 years old and coming off a torn Achilles at the start of the 2015 season.

Shortly after his injury was announced earlier this month, I talked to ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell about the road Mathis has ahead of him. He’s looking at about a six- to nine-month rehabilitation period.

“It always gets harder to return from these big injuries as you get older, but let me say this: Age isn't the full factor,” Bell said. “... It makes it harder because your body doesn't recover as quickly. Even in the day-to-day rehab it can be taxing and your tissue is a little more brittle with age. You're summing up the history of all the abuse your body has taken over the course of your professional athletic career. That total of the wear and tear will factor into what you have to deal with coming out of surgery.

“I'm not saying you can't have a comeback or can't return to a top level of play. The history of being an athlete at that age, you're going to show some decline as an elite athlete as you get into your 30s with or without an injury. There are some guys in their 20s who struggle to come back from Achilles tears. It's a tough injury. Then there are guys in their 30s who will recover and come back in top form. Age isn't the full factor, but it certainly is one of the factors that makes it little more difficult.”

The Colts have a saying they like to use inside the organization: "Trust, loyalty and respect." They backed up that statement in giving Mathis an extension with the hope he'll be able to continue terrorizing quarterbacks.

The Film Don't Lie: Texans

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what areas the Houston Texans must improve.

The most glaring issue for the Texans against the Buffalo Bills, playing without a fully healthy Arian Foster, was their trouble running the ball.

Their 37 rushing yards marked the second-lowest total in the league during Week 4. Their 1.54 yards per carry was the lowest. They were the only team with negative rushing yards before contact (minus-2), which might indicate issues with blocking. The Texans ranked third to last in first downs per rush attempt, getting a first down only 8.3 percent of the time. Houston ran the ball 15 times on first down and gained only 12 yards.

By comparison, the league averages in Week 4 were 4.22 yards per carry, 74 rushing yards before contact, and 4.42 yards per carry on first downs.

They were playing an excellent run defense spearheaded by one of the best defensive fronts in football, featuring Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes. Dareus had three tackles for loss.

Foster admitted after the game that he wasn't feeling 100 percent healthy. The Texans knew that going in, and they gave him only eight carries, using him more successfully as a receiver. He was limited all week with what was listed as a hamstring injury.

This is their identity, though. Being able to control the game on the ground wasn't necessary against the Bills because the Texans' defense was able to so thoroughly discombobulate quarterback EJ Manuel, who was benched a day later. Moving forward, though, it's an important part of who the Texans are.

The Film Don't Lie: Colts

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Indianapolis Colts must fix:

The Colts had success getting pressure on Jacksonville quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blake Bortles and Tennessee quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger the past two weeks, but their challenge is about to get steeper.

Now the Colts, who have seven sacks in the past two games, are about to face a quarterback with Super Bowl experience and one who will pick apart their defense if they can’t find a way to pressure him in Baltimore’s Joe Flacco.

Flacco has completed 63.4 percent of his passes and is averaging 264 yards a game through the air. Sacking him has been a challenge for every team this season. The Baltimore quarterback has been sacked only three times this season, which is best among the top 10 passers in the league.

Colts cornerbacks Greg Toler and Vontae Davis will have their hands full if the front seven can’t pressure Flacco, who was 6-of-8 for 172 yards and three touchdowns on passes of at least 15 yards against the Carolina Panthers last weekend, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And the Colts won’t have LaRon Landry’s experience in the secondary at safety because he’s suspended four games for taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The Film Don't Lie: Jaguars

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
An examination of what the Jacksonville Jaguars must do after their loss to the San Diego Chargers:

The Jaguars' secondary has given up big plays on a pretty regular basis through the first four games, and that has to have Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown excited about their trip to EverBank Field on Sunday.

The Jaguars have given up a league-worst 25 passing plays of 20 or more yards in four games, including six for touchdowns. The main reason has been coverage busts, particularly from the free safety position. That’s why the Jaguars benched Winston Guy before the Chargers game. Still, receiver Eddie Royal got open for two long TD passes, and watching the film showed both were coverage busts. One came because the Jaguars had linebacker Geno Hayes responsible for running with Royal and there was no safety help over the top. The other came because Guy, back on the field in a three-safety coverage, bit on an out-and-up move and got beat over the top.

The Jaguars cut Guy on Monday and are going with second-year player and sixth-round pick Josh Evans, who started against the Chargers and played well, according to coach Gus Bradley. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz is likely out this week with a concussion, so 2013 seventh-round pick Demetrius McCray will get the start.

That’s certainly not ideal in terms of personnel, but the Jaguars are limited by the lack of talented depth on the roster. But the bottom line is this: They have to do their job and be disciplined. If they are responsible for a certain player coverage area, that’s where they should be. It sounds simple, but it has been an issue all season in the secondary.

Coaches understand being beaten physically on a play. That happens. Mental mistakes, being out of position and freelancing have to stop happening. If not, Brown is going to add to his NFL-leading five touchdown catches.

The Film Don't Lie: Titans

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A weekly look at what the Tennessee Titans must fix.

All sorts of circumstances have prevented the Titans from running the ball often early in games this season. As they prepare for the Cleveland Browns' visit to LP Field on Sunday, the team should examine its rushing offense.

The Titans have been falling behind, and they haven’t had the ball much. Per ESPN Stats & Information, they’ve run the ball just 19 times in the first quarters of their four games combined. Only Miami and Seattle have run fewer times in the first 15 minutes of games.

On those 19 runs, Tennessee has averaged 6 yards. But the Titans have not been able to force the issue.

No matter when in the game or when they’ve run, they’ve run well. They are fifth in the NFL at 5.03 yards per rush, but 20th with only 95 rush attempts.

“If you think you’re going to come out every week and take control of the game running the football, that doesn’t happen in the NFL," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “And if you can show me a team that does that every week, then that would be the first time I’ve seen that.”

I understand the circumstances that have led the Titans not to run enough early. But I think they need to be more deliberate with it, and they can be.

They’ve run more often in the third quarter, with 33 attempts (ranking second in the NFL).

My proposal for the Browns game: Pretend the first quarter is the third quarter and show a determination to run in order to control the game better. It should help them get away from the deadly low time of possession the Titans have had in losses to Dallas and at Indianapolis.

No, the Titans can’t control the game by running early every week. But with their line and backs, they are built to do it at least occasionally.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Lost in the news of Da'Rick Rogers' arrest and release from the team and LaRon Landry's suspension was the return of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis on Monday.

Mathis' four-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs ended, which means he's allowed to return to the facility and communicate with members of the organization again.

Mathis was sitting in his customary seat in the team meeting room Monday as they talked about Sunday's victory over the Tennessee Titans.

"I looked up there and saw his face and saw him sitting there, had to take a double take," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It was awesome, awesome to have him back. It's great to have Rob back in the building. Again, his presence alone brings a ton of energy and excitement and enthusiasm to everybody."

Mathis is supposed to be preparing for season debut against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend, but a torn Achilles will keep him out the rest of the season. Now he'll be counted on to provide leadership in the locker room and on the sideline the rest of the season.

"He's got to earn his check somehow," Pagano joked. "Just like Reggie (Wayne). Reggie got enough time off to have surgery and mend up for a little bit and then he got back out here and ‘assistant coach.' So that's what his title is now. Great teammate, assistant coach, locker room patrol, he's got all kinds of assignments. I've got a whistle for him in my office ready to roll."

Hopefully Mathis can help Bjoern Werner, who is starting in his place, because the second-year player has yet to register a sack this season.
videoINDIANAPOLIS -- That "horseshoe" tradition the Indianapolis Colts so often talk about continues to take hits.

The latest mishap -- safety LaRon Landry's being suspended for four games for taking performance-enhancing substances -- continues to show this supposed model franchise isn't so perfect and also hurts its depth at the position.

Owner Jim Irsay was arrested and is currently serving a six-game suspension after a guilty plea to one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He was also fined $500,000. Linebacker Robert Mathis just returned Monday from a four-game suspension for taking PEDs. Receiver LaVon Brazill was suspended 10 games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for the third time. Chris Rainey was released after he pulled an immature prank involving a fire extinguisher during training camp. And receiver Da'Rick Rogers was released early Monday morning after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence.

These aren't mistakes members of the Colts organization have made over the past few years. All those incidents have happened over the past six months.

Landry pulled a social media no-no when he tweeted an Instagram picture and comment that said, "Sometimes things aren't what they appear to be," with an inappropriate illusion in the photo. He deleted it minutes later. Landry, who works out twice a day at times, often posts pictures of his muscular physique on Instagram and Twitter.

The suspension adds to what's been a disappointing start with the Colts for Landry after he signed a four-year, $24 million contract in 2013. It also puts the Colts in a position they can't afford, given that they will face Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger in the stretch he's sidelined. Landry, who will lose about $750,000, will miss games against the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's eligible to return Oct. 27.

The Colts have lacked a pass rush, but their secondary, led by cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler, has been solid this season. Losing Landry wouldn't be a big deal if the Colts had depth behind him. But they don't have much behind their second-leading tackler.

Delano Howell (neck) is on injured reserve. Colt Anderson missed Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans with a groin injury, which leaves Sergio Brown as the likely starter if the Colts don't sign a player ready to immediately step in against the Ravens. Recently, the Colts worked out several veteran safeties, including former Houston Texan Chris Clemons. The team also promoted Dewey McDonald from the practice squad Monday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker is likely to be involved in practice when the Tennessee Titans start to prepare for the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday.

At his Monday news conference coach Ken Whisenhunt said he's optimistic about his starting quarterback, who missed Sunday's blowout loss in Indianapolis with an injured right wrist suffered a week earlier during a loss to Cincinnati.

"He's further along, hopefully we'll see Wednesday that he will be able to practice and see where that is," Whisenhunt said. "...He didn't throw today, I think he'll continue with treatment. He was very close Sunday. I would anticipate that he'll practice Wednesday."

Asked if Locker is the starter if he's healthy, Whisenhunt asked a question in return: "Has it been said differently?"

Whisenhunt said Charlie Whitehurst did a good job of running the Titans' offense, even as it was a poor offensive performance.

Rookie Zach Mettenberger quarterbacked two series at the end of the game. If Locker returns to action, Mettenberger would return to being a game-day inactive, at least for now.

Whisenhunt said the week off might help Locker reset after struggling. "But sometimes it's better to stay in the fray, that"s the way you get better."