AFC South: 2012 NFL training camp

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches might be serving Derrick Morgan very well by playing practice-squad journeyman Pannel Egboh ahead of him some and stoking his competitive fires.

I don’t think they served him well with their explanations of the move. Mike Munchak talked of it simply being part of seeing more guys in the mix. Funny how the Titans feel compelled to test the mix there, but not so much with right guard Leroy Harris or No. 2 cornerback Alterraun Verner?

[+] EnlargePannel Egboh
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIPannel Egboh, right, doesn't care what his role is, as long as he makes Tennessee's 53-man roster.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray went with a different kind of copout. He talked about how he had five starters at defensive end.

A 2010 first-round pick not qualifying as a clear-cut starter would amount to a negative development, no matter the spin. But Morgan started against Tampa Bay, played plenty on first-and-10 and notched a sack of Bucs backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, so maybe the mixing it up at his spot is over.

I’ve heard from someone who would know that Egboh against the run serves Gray’s theme of getting guys on the field for the situations they are best at, and that the Titans view Egboh as a guy who needs encouragement and Morgan as a guy who might need a kick in the backside.

To his credit, while complimenting Egboh, Morgan disagrees entirely with idea that they need different treatment to maximize their production.

“I don’t need extra motivation, I have enough motivation from within and my own expectations,” Morgan said. “I don’t know what they were doing, but I’m just worried about getting better. … I want to be on the field. I’m not here to be a specialist. I’m an all around player. I feel like I’m solid against the run.”

Said Egboh of my theory that there is psychology involved in what the Titans have done with him and Morgan: “You’re getting way too deep for me.”

Here’s another concern I have with the idea of Egboh as a first-down run-stuffer. The NFL ran the ball 52 percent of the time on first down last season, and 51.1 percent of the time on first-down against the Titans. (Thanks to Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats and Info for the numbers.)

If the Titans want Egboh to give Morgan a break on run downs, then maybe they ought to consider pulling Morgan when a second-and-short comes up.

Egboh did say his feedback from coaches has been all positive.

Asked if he thinks he’s the starter, he said “absolutely not.”

But he did allow for the possibility that he’s going to make the 53-man roster. He spent part of 2009 on Houston’s practice squad, and part of 2010 on the practice squad in Philadelphia. Then 2011 he worked the whole season on Tennessee’s practice squad.

If he breaks through this time …

“It’ll mean everything, but I’ve thought about it, and when I do it, it’s just the beginning,” he said. “It’s one little accomplishment, but I’ll have a whole season to play. My No. 1 goal right now is to make the 53. But after that I’ve got to celebrate it quickly and move on and get ready to play 16 games.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker has been a Titans quarterback since April 28, 2011.

In 22 preseason and regular-season games since then, he’s not yet had a game plan drawn up specifically for him.

After officially naming him its starting quarterback this season today, that’s one of several reasons the franchise is very confident in him going forward.

“There are a lot of things he can do, there are a lot of phases of the game he can affect,” coach Mike Munchak said. “There are things we can do with him that we haven’t shown in the preseason. We haven’t helped him play his kind of game.”

Locker’s ability to move around and run is part of what made him an attractive draft prospect. And he’s fast, having run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.

But the Titans are careful about how they paint him.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Jim Brown/US Presswire"There are things we can do with him that we haven't shown in the preseason," Titans coach Mike Munchak said of newly crowned starter Jake Locker.
“It just brings a totally different element to the game, which we’ve had before, with guys like Vince (Young) and Steve (McNair), (Warren) Moon when I played,” Munchak said. “He’s a quarterback that can run. He’s not a running quarterback to me …”

“He can get out of the pocket, put the fear in the defense, that’s a nice thing to have. Does that mean that we have to move the pocket and do all these things, because he’s not capable of sitting in the pocket?" he continued. "No. We think he’s great in the pocket and we’re excited about that. The fact that he can do a lot of other things creates a lot of issues for teams that have to deal with him.”

Locker downplayed the differences we might see with him running the offense, saying there are “little nuances” but that the goal is the same no matter who’s quarterbacking -- trying to find ways to take advantage of all Tennessee’s weapons.

One of the weapons Locker spoke of, Nate Washington, sees all sorts of new, dynamic possibilities. Offense coordinator Chris Palmer has already said the Titans will feature some run-and-shoot principles utilizing more conventional personnel.

“He’s going to give us an opportunity to come out and do some different things that we haven’t shown,” said Washington, who broke through with his first 1,000-yard season with Matt Hasselbeck as the starter last year. “A little bit of everything with the spread, our heavy packages with the triple tight end. He gives us a little bit of everything and that’s going to be a positive for us.

“He does different things that Matt wasn’t able to do, of course, as far as running and being mobile. It’s a good opportunity for us to come out and show a little different diversity.”

The team was reaching a point where it was ready to rally around a guy.

“I’m excited for him,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “It’s who our guy is. Now we know. We can just get ready.”

Munchak expressed gratitude to Hasselbeck, who did wonders to smooth a difficult transition.

A first-year coach had no offseason time with players in 2011, but found a veteran quarterback able to fill a major leadership void and help spread his message of professionalism while talking of service to his teammates.

Hasselbeck couldn’t have handled losing the job more professionally.

“Matt's one of the best guys I know,” Locker said asked about their exchange after they learned the verdict Sunday night. “It wasn't awkward. It wasn't tough.”

When Hasselbeck signed a three-year deal as a free agent, the Titans told him they wanted to create stability and security at quarterback while looking to turn to Locker at whatever pace Locker dictated.

“I think his development as a quarterback in all areas has definitely been impressive,” Hasselbeck said. “… He's everything they hoped he would be and I would certainly agree. I'm a big fan of his. I think he'll do well.”
HOUSTON -- With 3-4s gaining momentum around the league, Connor Barwin would be a hot commodity on the free-agent market.

The Texans are talking contract with him a bit now, and would be wise to lock him up a year in advance of his contract running out. If there is no deal by the time the opener arrives, things will be put on pause until the season ends. The team doesn’t negotiate during the season.

Barwin said he’s hopeful something will happen, but will be fine if it does not.

In the meantime, the high-effort outside linebacker knows he can’t let up for a second as he looks to build on an 11.5-sack season.

“We understand what we can do,” he said. “I think it’s a really mature group of guys that want to get better. Just look at my position. I almost hate Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus, because you can’t even take a day off here and be lazy because those guys are going to practice too hard and you’ll look bad on tape.

“There is a lot of competition out here just at my position, I think at every position. I think that’s what Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak want and it’s going to allow us to get better.”

I've said I think the Texans desperately need to lock up either Barwin or left tackle Duane Brown before the season. Because having one of them plus quarterback Matt Schaub heading for free agency after the season will still put them in scary territory.

If all three have expiring contracts, they could really be at risk.

Camp Confidential: Tennessee Titans

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Like everyone in the NFL, the 2011 Titans were hurried together.

Unlike most other teams, they were hurried together by a new coaching staff.

Mike Munchak’s coordinators -- Jerry Gray on defense and Chris Palmer on offense-- had to show patience and restraint. They brought exciting new ideas to Nashville, but they weren’t able to implement much of them in the wake of the lockout. The personnel could only be revamped so much, but more importantly they didn’t have much time.

No offseason, no organized team activities and no minicamps meant sticking mostly to basics.

Now, they say, after a full offseason together, they’ll show us far more.

Whether Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is at quarterback, we’ll see Palmer implement run-and-shoot concepts while using two tight ends or a fullback. He’ll look to regularly threaten teams deep with what can be a great compliment of pass-catchers: Kenny Britt (presuming he’s healthy and available), Nate Washington, rookie Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Chris Johnson, Jared Cook and Taylor Thompson.

If the evolution into more of a passing offense pans out, Johnson should get more space when he takes a handoff, and that should help him rebound from a disappointing 2011 season. He’s looked better after participating fully in the Titans' offseason activities for the first time.

Defensively, Gray is looking to allow some players to excel in narrow roles in specific situations. Akeem Ayers, for example, should get to show off his rush skills by lining up as an end in a special rush package. Ideally, free safety Michael Griffin will play more in center field, where he's best.

Do Palmer and Gray have enough people to do what they want? And does what they want to do work? Progress seemed steady in the first couple weeks of camp, but there are still questions to answer.

THREE HOT ISSUES

The quarterback battle: It hasn't drawn the spotlight one might have expected, because it’s friendly and doesn’t pit good versus evil on any level.

The Titans drafted Locker eighth overall in 2010 to be their starter -- for a long time, they hope. It’s not a matter of if he gets into the lineup, but when. If he can take advantage of game situations to show improved accuracy and make plays from the pocket as well as on the move, Locker certainly has a chance to displace Hasselbeck now. He was better by at least a bit in the preseason opener and will start the second game Friday night at Tampa Bay.

But the team feels it’s going to compete for a playoff spot now, and the younger, less experienced quarterback comes with a learning curve. If coaches feel Hasselbeck has a mastery of the offense and is playing effectively, it might be difficult to make the switch heading into an opening month that looks very challenging.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
AP Photo/Wade PayneLinebacker Kamerion Wimbley looks to be an asset on the field and in the locker room.
The pass rush: Everything the Titans' defense wants to do can blossom out of a more productive pass rush. Gray came to the team determined to beef up the D and get back to run-stopping basics. The Titans certainly want to maintain that theme, but they need a better pass rush to go with it.

They hired Keith Millard to coach not a position but a skill: rushing the passer. I like the concept, but Millard was in Tampa last year and they were a bad pass-rush team. It also has to make you wonder a bit about the pass-rush education defensive linemen were getting from position coach Tracy Rocker.

Kamerion Wimbley looks like a potential difference-maker, but the other projected/expected starter at end, Derrick Morgan, is hardly locked in as a threat yet. He’s been working behind 2011 practice-squader Pannel Egboh recently.

The interior includes very intriguing rush guys in Karl Klug and rookie Mike Martin, and has some depth. Ayers is slated to scoot up and work as an end in some nickel situations, perhaps shifting Morgan inside. However, what hear about Ayers' versatility and what I see from him don’t match up yet.

Britt: A suspension under the personal-conduct policy is looming for Britt after a DUI arrest at a military base. He has not shown he's learned from mistakes and turned into a better decision-maker. And he’s still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered early last season and subsequent cleanup procedures. When healthy and available, Britt is an absolutely tantalizing receiver who can make everyone else’s matchups more advantageous.

His recent rehab work makes him look close to ready. His recent meeting with the commissioner makes us expect an announcement soon about some time on the shelf. Once that’s over, he has to settle down and show up every week while not giving the team cause for concern when he’s away from the facility.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

One big reason the Titans didn’t think cornerback Cortland Finnegan was worth the money he got as a free agent from St. Louis is that his brand of professionalism didn't match up with the team's. Finnegan was beyond feisty at times, and a surly mood and an ego that prompted him to leave the team for a day during camp in 2011 in a contract dispute weren’t things the Titans could overlook.

Know what to do and do it. That’s Munchak’s basic requirement of his players. In guard Steve Hutchinson and Wimbley, the Titans added two more standard-bearers of a message other players should continue to respect and respond to.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Estimating who will be good and who won’t in advance of a season is fraught with peril, but it’s hard not to do. Look at the Titans' first four games and it’s hard not to foresee trouble. The Patriots visit on opening day; any game against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is a major challenge. Then a trip to San Diego, where the Titans have long struggled. Detroit brings burgeoning quarterback Matthew Stafford to Tennessee before the Titans travel to Houston to face the division favorite.

With their current questions, it’s hard to envision the Titans ripping off a good start against that early schedule. But the league’s unpredictability is its best feature, so the quality of that four-pack is not written in permanent marker.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Titans have invested a lot of time and energy into Rusty Smith, and I don’t doubt they like their third quarterback. It’ll be hard to justify a roster spot for him, though. Third quarterbacks are a luxury, and both Locker and Hasselbeck should be on the team in 2013.
  • Johnson seemed to be back to form in practices, but it’s hard to gauge running backs in practices. He was awful in limited action in the preseason opener at Seattle, failing to press the hole and appearing completely disinterested in the passing game, where he had two drops. That was enough to officially put him back in the “major concern” department for me.
  • Dave Ball contemplated retirement after dealing with another concussion last year. He had another early in camp and is likely fading on the depth chart while missing time. Egboh should be the third end, and guys like rookie Scott Solomon and veterans Leger Douzable and Keyunta Dawson give the Titans some alternatives.
  • [+] EnlargeMike Martin
    Jim Brown/US PresswireRookie Mike Martin helps with pass rushing depth -- and could yet displace veteran Shaun Smith.
    Beau Brinkley is in line to be the long-snapper. The rookie right end out of Missouri takes over for veteran Ken Amato, who was not re-signed after filling the role since 2003. So far, so good for Brinkley, who’s been invisible through camp and a preseason game, which is what you want from a guy in that role.
  • Martin, a third-round pick from Michigan, has gotten some work with the first team and figures to be another piece in a talented group of interior linemen. Though he gives up nearly 20 pounds to Shaun Smith, he could help knock the veteran off the roster. Smith has worked hard at becoming more of a penetrator and turned quiet rather than being the boisterous guy of last season, but his changes may have come too late. The Titans brought him in last year as they tried to get bigger, but had to know he was a space-eater who wasn’t programmed to get into the backfield the way they want tackles to.
  • If Britt is healthy and somehow avoids suspension for his off-field transgressions, he certainly should be an opening-day starter. But if Britt isn't available, I won’t be surprised if Williams is ahead of first-round pick Wright against the Patriots on Sept. 9 at LP Field. Williams has become increasingly assertive and knows what to do, while Wright could need some time to bring an expanded repertoire onto the field.
  • Cook is the more explosive receiver, so he gets talked about. But the Titans’ other top tight end, Craig Stevens, is underrated. He’s a good blocker who may not have receiver speed, but can get open and make some catches when called on.
  • Weakside linebacker Will Witherspoon is a quality veteran guy in the locker room. But he comes and goes as a playmaker. Second-round pick Zach Brown brings tremendous speed. I don’t think he’ll dislodge Witherspoon from the job at the start. He may earn a role in covering tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Brandon Pettigrew and Owen Daniels -- players the Titans will be game-planning against in their first month. Tennessee has had some major issues recently covering top tight ends.
  • The Titans have a find in cornerback Jason McCourty, who is going to be good as their lead guy and will help reshape the tone of the defensive backs meeting room. I actually feel better about him and Alterraun Verner as the team’s starting cornerbacks than I do about Griffin and Jordan Babineaux as the safeties. My suspicion is that good offenses are going to find plays down the middle of the field.
The Colts big preseason win against the Rams came with a significant loss.

Inside linebacker Pat Angerer will miss about six weeks with a fractured foot that needs surgery, Chuck Pagano told Indianapolis reporters Monday.

Angerer emerged last season as a play-making force, shifting to the starting middle linebacker job in the Colts' 4-3 after Gary Brackett was lost in the first game of 2011.

In Pagano’s 3-4 hybrid, Angerer was to be a key cog in the middle, working with Kavell Conner.

“(Angerer) is the signal caller, he’s the guy that stands in front of the huddle,” Pagano said. “He has the respect of all those guys in the huddle. So when you lose your signal caller, you lose your middle backer, for an extended period of time, it means a lot. The guy’s productive, he’s a playmaker, he’s a warrior, he’s a Colt. He’s got all the Colt traits that you’re looking for, you know. So now it’ll be up to somebody else to step up and fill that void until we get him back.”

I thought Conner was effective against the Rams even after Angerer was hurt.

Jerrell Freeman was first in line as Angerer’s replacement.

Undrafted in 2008, he signed with the Titans out of Mary Hardin-Baylor, but didn't stick. Ultimately he landed with Saskatchewan of the CFL. In three years with the Roughriders, he totaled 144 tackles, 13 sacks, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

Pagano also mentioned Greg Lloyd and Moise Fokou, recently acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for cornerback Kevin Thomas, and Mario Harvey when asked about Angerer replacements.

The Colts will keep looking for possibilities, too.

Pagano was politically polite when asked about Brackett. But the former Colts linebacker doesn’t bring the team the sort of size it wants in the new scheme, and the team is in the midst of a youth movement.

Don’t expect them to call on the old guard. I think Fokou might be the guy to challenge Freeman, and they'll be happy with the backer who emerges until Angerer is back.
One of my arguments against the Jaguars selection of punter Bryan Anger in the third round of the draft was that it was an area of the draft where the team could likely have upgraded its depth on the offensive line.

See the previous year, when the Jaguars found Will Rackley, the starting left guard when healthy, in the third round.

It has not taken long for the Jaguars depth on the line to come into play.

Rackley’s recovering quickly from a high ankle sprain, but is out at least another week.

Rackley’s backup, Jason Spitz, is now out for about six weeks with a foot injury.

Backup center John Estes (knee) is a having surgery, which means right guard Uche Nwaneri is the emergency third option at the spot.

The Jaguars moved right tackle Eben Britton to left guard and inserted Cameron Bradfield at right guard for their preseason opener, and that construct remains in place on the revised, unofficial depth chart released Monday in advance of preseason game No. 2 on Friday in New Orleans.

"That’s a difficult thing when you get (multiple injuries at) the same position," coach Mike Mularkey told Jaguars reporters. "We’ve got some guys that can move around though, and not totally put you in a bind. It’s not the same as having the guys.”

Drew Nowak played defensive tackle at Western Michigan and was on the team's first depth chart as a defensive tackle. He's now a backup guard.

"He played fifty plays the other night," Mularkey said Sunday. "He’s been a guard for five days. He wasn’t perfect. He had five mental errors. But you talk about a guy that has a chance to be a player. He’s smart, he’s tough, it’s just amazing what he did. There’s another one. And he can work at center.”

While Britton is versatile, the team is looking to play better on the line, and his return from a back injury that cost him most of last season was the most significant change. Now he’s not where they had planned for him to be.

The Giants might be the best defensive front the Jaguars see, but they got pushed backwards a lot.

Jacksonville’s line is a better run blocking group than it is in pass protection, and pass protection has got to be better for quarterback Blaine Gabbert to be better. Gabbert has to be better for the Jaguars to be better.

General manager Gene Smith believes in foundation building, and his early high picks were left tackle Eugene Monroe and Britton in 2009, and defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith in 2010.

He took Rackley in the third round last year, and Rackley quickly moved into the starting lineup.

But the Jaguars started out camp with Bradfield, Spitz, Estes, Daniel Baldridge and Guy Whimper as their primary backup linemen.

Spitz was originally a third-round pick in Green Bay in 2006, and Whimper originally a fourth-rounder by the Giants in 2006. The rest were undrafted.

Did Smith give the Jaguars enough depth and enough options to get better at protecting Gabbert if their first five aren’t all in place?

It’s an early second-guess, but it sure would have been nice if they’d found one more lineman to have in the mix back in the draft.
It’s surprising to learn that the Jaguars and Maurice Jones-Drew have been in “constant contact” during his contract holdout.

What exactly might they be talking about? The weather? The Olympics? The presidential campaigns?

Each side appears unwavering. The Jaguars are insisting they won’t renegotiate a deal that has two years remaining. Jones-Drew is maintaining his scheduled pay is insufficient considering his production. I would have figured there wasn’t much talking going on.

But Adam Schefter’s report that Jones-Drew could stay out until the end of the month, or even into September, included the line about the frequency of communication.

And there has to be more to it than…
Ready to pay more?

No. Are you ready to honor your contract?

No. OK, talk soon.

So maybe it really is chit chat about current events, or maybe constant communication isn’t what it would seem.

At any rate, the update here is there is still no end in sight.

I cannot see the Jaguars moving off of their stance. But both sides will be very curious how Rashad Jennings runs against the Giants Friday night and beyond.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thursday evening thoughts following Titans practice:
Surprising: Mike Munchak said he hasn’t yet spoken to Kenny Britt since the receiver posted an Instagram picture of a fine sheet from the team. He was hit for over $9,000 for missing a session with trainers and popped off about it in what he wrote with the illustration. Munchak is tougher than Jeff Fisher was in terms of sticking to consequences attached to breaking rules. But, with regard to Britt, he’s hardly coming across like the new disciplinarian he pledged himself as when he took over for Fisher in 2011. I didn’t see Britt rehabbing today, but colleagues said it was an especially tough session. That could have been part of new consequences. Given a second chance on this topic, Munchak might have done better to express more than being upset about Britt taking the private matter public. But the coach said there will be no discipline for it. Britt's reponse to the reaction came in another Instagram post.

Not-at-all surprising: Matt Hasselbeck will start Saturday night in Seattle and go 12-15 plays, an amount Munchak hopes represents two successful series. Jake Locker will then take over and probably finish the half. Locker should see at least some starting linemen and receivers for at least his first series. Rusty Smith will take over by the start of the third quarter. Munchak has emphasized that starting the first preseason game has no meaning in the competition. Hasselbeck played the bulk of his career for the Seahawks and that he was the Titans' starter last year made it sensible that he be first out of the box, Munchak said.
video
Paul Kuharsky wraps up his visit to Anderson University in Anderson, Ind. where he spent time with the Colts. Where does the team stand with regard to its three biggest issues?
ANDERSON, Ind. -- I’ve not visited the Texans yet and I am excluding Andrew Luck from the conversation.

Given those two conditions, I’ve found a singular newcomer in watching practices of the Colts, Titans and Jaguars who’s only competition as an eye-catcher thus far is a player heading into his seventh season -- Titans free-agent addition Kamerion Wimbley, a defensive end.

Who’s this attention grabber?

Dwayne Allen
AP Photo/Michael ConroyTight end Dwayne Allen has showcased his versatility so far in camp.
Colts third-round rookie tight end Dwayne Allen.

As simpletons who need guys to fit cookie-cutter molds and job descriptions, many of us have been tempted to cast Allen as a blocker set to balance out the guy the Colts drafted a round ahead of him, Coby Fleener.

But while Fleener’s been streaky in the early stages of his first camp, I’m told Allen’s steadily been the same guy I’ve been watching over the last couple of days. He’s thick (6-foot-3, 255 pounds), athletic and versatile. He’s playing the “F” spot in the offense of Bruce Arians, a “move” tight end who can line up anywhere, shift anywhere, block as needed and get open to show off his quality hands and run with the ball.

It’s probably too gushing a review off a small sample, but even this cynic is having trouble resisting …

Allen looks like he was built for this offense.

It’s a great time to be a tight end coming into the NFL, I asked, isn’t it?

“It’s a great time to be a tight end coming into Bruce Arians’ offense, definitely,” he said. “Because it’s a very tight end-oriented offense and of course Andrew Luck is very tight end-friendly. With the three- and four-tight end sets he ran at Stanford, his comfort level right now is going to be hitting the tight ends and moving the sticks that way. ”

Allen and Fleener joke about their joint mission: Make sure Luck stays devoted to his tight ends and that the Colts stay a two tight end team. Don’t allow Arians and Luck to become curious about what five fast, tough wide receivers would look like on the field together.

Said Andrew Luck: "He's done a great job. He's really adapting, he's got great short-area burst, great short-area quickness and he's a lot of fun to play around."

Rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton could certainly understand it if the Colts rarely pull Allen from the offensive huddle.

“For his size and the things he’s doing?” Hilton said. “It’s incredible. I haven’t seen anyone like him. Running over people, he can block, and his route running is phenomenal.”

The early comfort level shouldn’t be a surprise.

“They are not asking me to do anything different than I’ve already done in college,” Allen said of his tape from Clemson. “I moved around a lot and showed a lot of versatility in college, especially this past year. So they’re just utilizing my talents.”

“Can I block? Yes. And I pride myself in my blocking. But I also think I am a hell of a receiver. And I pride myself on my route running and catching the ball.”
ANDERSON, Ind. -- There is a lot of room at the back end of the Colts’ roster.

It’ll be no surprise for them to be turning over spots 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 and 53 well into the season depending on what general manager Ryan Grigson and his scouting staff can find and what the coaching staff tells Grigson it needs.

Grigson
Grigson
And pedigree won’t mean a lot as they search. As well as the world is scouted, players can be found.

Ty Nsekhe is a 6-foot-8, 325-pound, 26-year old rookie offensive tackle. He’s played with the Corpus Christi Sharks of af2 and the Dallas Vigilantes, Philadelphia Soul and San Antonio Talons of the AFL.

Tight end Dominique Jones looks to rank third on a team that will use multiple tight ends. He went to Shepherd University and played for the Reading Express of the Indoor Football League and the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League.

“You’re only as good as the back end of your roster,” Grigson said Monday. “That’s why we will scour the CFL, the Arena League. That’s why our energy is going to be on digging under every rock and in every crack. We have so many spots to improve on and to develop. You can find talent in a lot of places. You just have to look really, really hard.

“You have to have the courage to actually sign those guys from places that might make some people scratch their heads. You have to have enough, what we call eye confidence, to come to me and say, ‘Grigs, look at this guy. I think this guy can play,’ no matter what league he’s in, no matter if he’s in the arena 9 league. They are all over the place. And we’re going to keep looking and digging.”

I don’t know what kind of chance Nsekhe has.

But Jones is involved in what the Colts are doing and on a team that will likely need four tight ends, and it won’t be a surprise if he’s one of them.
The Texans' first unofficial depth chart, released in advance of their preseason opener at Carolina on Saturday, contains no huge surprises.

Teams generally defer, at this stage, to the veteran over the rookie -- if not in the rotation or play time, at least on paper.

Here are a few items of note:
The Titans have been talking up the idea of strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers as a third-down, on-the-line rusher for awhile now.


Which automatically leads me to ask: If he’s working as a defensive end in those situations, who of your two top pass-rushing ends, Kamerion Wimbley or Derrick Morgan, is coming off the field?

Neither, Morgan told me.

“We started a little bit of that, we’ve got a couple packages, I’m moving in over the guard,” Morgan said. “It’s a good opportunity to key in on the rush and get me in a different rush situation with a guard.”

Morgan hasn’t worked inside like that since he was playing at Georgia Tech.

He said he will line up next to Ayers, with Wimbley on the other side, presumably next to Karl Klug, a very good pass-rushing tackle.

“That’s going to take some time to adjust to,” Klug said of Morgan’s potential to shift. “It’s always different rushing inside to outside. But a tired guard gets a guy who’s a little quicker like Morgan, he has to be a little lighter on his feet. Morgan can take him upfield and he can go speed to power and get him off balance.”

Prime pass-rush situations call for prime pass-rushers to be on the field.

If Ayers qualifies as one of the team’s four best, I am all for it. I have not yet seen evidence that he does rank as such, but he’s a primary pupil of new pass-rush coach Keith Millard.

I wonder, too, about the possibility of the speedy Morgan getting beat up inside. His ability to stay healthy is a concern.

“I feel comfortable enough to play in there,” he said. “You take advantage of your athleticism going inside and use your speed to your advantage on guards. As a good d-lineman, you should be able to rush anybody.”

Ayers as a rusher could become more important based on the status of Dave Ball. The pass-rushing defensive end contemplated retirement last season because of another concussion. Now he's dealing with symptoms again.
The Titans are ready to ramp up Kenny Britt’s rehab, and it sounds like he could be part of practice within two weeks.

Britt
Britt
Whether his issues off the field land him on the shelf at the start of the season, we don’t know. But he’ll explain himself to the NFL today when he visits the league office, according to John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Britt recently had his eighth incident that required police attention, facing a DUI charge at the Army post at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

“I don't know what to expect -- a lot of questions,” he said.

Britt is on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) as he recovers from knee issues. His rehab has been intense and I watched him run straight lines, figure eights and laterally late last week. He looked smooth and comfortable.

Mike Munchak said Saturday the team would get more aggressive with Britt and he’d start cutting. How he reacts to it over the next couple weeks would give the team a good gauge for his readiness.

If he’s suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct penalty, that penalty could coincide with time on PUP or time out injured, the league says.

But I’d say it’s unlikely he start the season on PUP, which would mean he’d be out for at least the first six weeks of the season.

I can’t see how he doesn’t get suspended. Commissioner Roger Goodell put him on notice a year ago, when his troubles during the lockout didn’t result in league discipline.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you care to think the Jaguars are a mess and going to be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, they’re fine with that.

As they worked through the early days of Mike Mularkey’s first training camp, they repeated the new coach’s mantras (like, “we just want to get a little bit better every day”), fell in line with his policies (like potential $10,000 fines for answering media inquiries about injuries) and gave team-first answers to questions about the absence of their two biggest names -- Maurice Jones-Drew (holding out for a new contract) and Justin Blackmon (unable to strike a rookie deal).

Sure, they don’t have much choice but to buy in, but there is an undertone that suggests they have a secret to spring on the league in a couple of weeks.

Every team at this stage of camp thinks it can be good. In Jacksonville, a significant improvement from 5-11 is certainly possible, no matter what the popular storylines are. Honest.

Theirs is a defense loaded with quality, front-line talent. Beyond middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, most of it remains largely unknown. But if you don’t know linebacker Daryl Smith or cornerback Derek Cox or defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, that’s not the Jaguars' concern.

“If anyone feels we are not in a proper place or we have problems, that’s OK,” Posluszny said. “We feel like inside these walls we’re doing everything that we can to be a very successful team.

“Mularkey’s done a great job for us. He’s a former player who’s been through it. To me, that all means a ton, because he knows exactly what we are going through and what it takes to be successful.”

While the offense is being revamped, and Mularkey and his assistants are trying to reformat quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a horrific rookie season, the defensive system and bulk of the staff have been in place for a while now.

Gabbert has nice moments, but his overall inconsistency at practice halts any proclamations that he made a significant offseason jump.

No matter how much players and coaches talk about his gains in leadership, no matter how much faith the organization has in him, no matter how patient they are, it comes down to making throws under pressure.

The early snapshot says the defense can be really good, but that a limited offense could be the obstacle to the surprise the Jaguars would so like to produce. There is a lot of time to work on what’s been installed, to find what works and to run it better than it’s been run so far.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Phil Sears/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert finished his first season with 12 TD passes, 11 interceptions and a 50.8 completion percentage.
1. Is Gabbert good enough? He folded under pressure too often last season, but the rush wasn’t all he was facing. The team drafted him 10th overall intending for him to sit and learn for a season, but that plan didn’t pan out and Gabbert was hurried into the starting role for 14 games during which he had poor pass protection and very limited receivers.

There were big distractions off the field, too: Jack Del Rio got fired and the team was sold.

Mularkey was hired in large part because he’s developed quarterbacks, and he, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson have to get steadier play from Gabbert and get his arrow pointing up. His good moments look very nice, but there are still too many bad ones that leave you shaking your head. A kneel-down would seem less disheartening in many of those instances.

It’s a slow process, installing a new offense and rebuilding a quarterback’s confidence. Exactly how slow is the question we need answered.

Mentions of mechanical or technical adjustments by his coaches have been well-received, and he acts on them quickly. That’s great, but when the rush turns live and the pocket starts collapsing, will he have open people he can stand in and find? We simply can’t know yet.

2. The missing pieces. Jones-Drew is demanding a new contract. The Jaguars have said they won’t give him one with two years left on the old one. Boom -- a stalemate. I can’t see the team altering its stance unless he holds out into the season and it struggles horribly without him. He’s got an ego that will make it hard for him to return without any contract alteration, so this could drag on.

Blackmon is a rangy target who can go get the ball, and missing early camp is helping no one. He got a DUI after being drafted fifth overall, and the team wants insurance against any further troubles. Blackmon's unwilling to give the Jaguars what they are looking for, though.

So we’re seeing second-year man Cecil Shorts work in the Z spot where Blackmon will eventually be, with veteran addition Laurent Robinson at the X. Rashad Jennings is the lead back without Jones-Drew in camp, and is a bigger guy who also ranks as a power runner. I liked what I saw and heard from him.

3. Will there be enough of a pass rush? The Jaguars had 31 sacks last season, and to reach their potential on defense they need more in 2012. More consistent pressure and more sacks will come with improved coordination from the defensive linemen.

Their line coach, Joe Cullen, said they just missed on a bunch of chances last season, and another season together and the work they are doing now will result in better communication. The Jags face Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton in addition to two games against Matt Schaub and two against hotshot rookie Andrew Luck this season, and they won't win many of those without consistent pressure.

The relentless Jeremy Mincey promises the production will increase. Andre Branch was drafted in the second round to help, and looks like a quality player. Depth off the edge remains a concern. Austen Lane suffered yet another injury while I watched practices, during which John Chick walked the width of a practice field dragging heavy weight as he rehabilitated his knee.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeMike Mularkey
AP Photo/John RaouxNew head coach Mike Mularkey and his staff have made a positive impression on the players.
Mularkey and his staff. There is planning and logic to everything going on here, and the new staff has genuine concern for players on and off the field. Players are being told what the plan is and the right way to execute it. They felt that was lacking with the previous regime, and welcome it.

Position coaches like Olson, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and one of the key holdovers, linebackers coach Mark Duffner, are true teachers, and they have guys under them who want to learn. That leadership and teaching faltered in many areas at the end of Del Rio’s tenure. It’s present in full force now. If guys follow and doing so produces results, it’ll snowball.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

A lot more is in place for Gabbert, and everyone has a stake in his performance: the GM who traded up to draft him needs him to succeed; the new coach who was hired to polish him needs him to succeed; the high-priced free-agent receiver and first-round draft pick receiver need him to succeed; the talented defense needs him to succeed.

Gabbert’s saying the right things and working hard, and you can see improvement on some drop backs. But there are still enough dud plays sprinkled into practices to make you wonder if he can succeed. The team wants him to avoid turning the ball over -- staying away from the worst-case scenarios -- and it's a smart goal, but will it make Gabbert too cautious?

Can you ask him to be careful and function as a game-manager type when the best attribute he has is a big arm that can get the ball into tight windows? It might turn out to be complicated.

Also, there is not great roster depth. I have particular concerns about the offensive line, defensive end and safety if someone goes down.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The team appears to be high on undrafted rookie linebacker Julian Stanford out of Wagner. With Clint Session’s future in doubt because of post-concussion issues, Russell Allen is likely to start opposite Daryl Smith outside. Stanford could make the team as a special-teamer who can provide depth. Brandon Marshall, a fifth-round pick, also has what looks to be an NFL-ready linebacker frame.
  • Mike Thomas needs Blackmon signed, in camp and taking the bulk of the snaps at one of the two outside receiver spots. I’m convinced that to get his head right, Thomas needs to be given the slot role and allowed to focus on it exclusively. His snaps were cut down during my visit, with Shorts working at the front of the line in Blackmon’s Z spot. The slot is what Thomas is best suited for, and his performance has slipped when he’s been expected to do more. He had a lot of drops early in camp, and Mularkey agrees with the potential for less to be more with Thomas.
  • Josh Scobee has the leg to get a lot of touchbacks and Bryan Anger has the leg to force a lot of fair catches. The Jaguars obviously still have to work on covering kicks and punts, but how often will they actually be covering kicks and punts? If the offense can produce some first downs, we should see more scoring, and more scoring will mean more kickoffs from Scobee and less work for Anger.
  • The depth at tight end is interesting after No. 1 Marcedes Lewis. Colin Cloherty got a lot of work as the No. 2 early on, and Zach Miller is another move guy who’s very intriguing, though Miller is rarely healthy. Zach Potter is giant, but hasn’t earned a lot of time, and undrafted rookie Matt Veldman is also extra large.
  • Posluszny is the centerpiece of this defense. He covers a ton of ground and makes big hits. He’s a model for doing things the right way, which is a major point of emphasis for Mularkey and his staff. Posluszny was a solid signing last season, and continues to deliver just what the team hoped for. That helps offset the fact Session, who also came to Jacksonville for a big contract in 2011, might not be on the field any time soon, or ever again.
  • The cornerbacks look good. Cox is really solid, and Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis will be effective as the Nos. 2 and 3. The depth grew with last season's injury onslaught, and William Middleton and Kevin Rutland can play, too.
  • Branch, the rookie pass-rusher, came into the league facing questions from many teams about his ability to stand up against the run. The Jaguars have no such concern at this point. He’s got to be an effective part of a four-man group at end with Mincey, Lane and Chick. Branch certainly looks the part, but so did former Jaguars bust Derrick Harvey, so we can’t put much on the early eyeball test.
  • Along with Stanford, running back Jalen Parmele caught my eye. He’s spent time with Miami and Baltimore.

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