AFC South: 2013 NFL combine

How teams avoid scouting groupthink

February, 28, 2013
They bunch up in a line at the 40-yard mark of a 40-yard dash, leaning, crouching or craning for the right view to see the finish and click their stopwatches at precisely the right time.

NFL scouts and talent evaluators are together a great deal, though not always so intimately.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNFL scouts intently watch linebacker Manti Te'o run the 40-yard dash during this year's combine.
They overlap when they visit campuses during the season to see practices, meet kids and watch tape. They are seated next to each other in press boxes on Saturdays at games. At the East-West Shrine Bowl, at the Senior Bowl, at the scouting combine and in those timing lines at pro days, colleagues and competitors exchange pleasantries.

And they have at least casual chit-chat about what they see from, and what they hear about, the players they are gathered to check out.

Such time together doing the same work for 32 teams can put an evaluator in position to be influenced by the gravitational pull of groupthink, a concept that was greeted with sour faces by the people I asked about it at the NFL scouting combine.

“If you point 20 scouts out in the stands, I'm confident they'd all say, ‘I'm so anti-herd mentality,’” said Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who worked his way up from college scouting. “That's the easy way to go. If you just agree with everyone, then you have shelter. If you stand outside the pack and you beat the drum for something that's not popular, then you stand alone. But it shows you have courage. It also shows you believe in that player and that opinion you formulated by hard work.

“That's something I told our staff when I opened our draft meetings. This is your venue to state your opinion. You were away from your families. You were on the road. You were guzzling coffee and staying in bad hotel rooms and those types of things. Now talk about your guy. You put in all the work, so you should have a strong opinion. I feel like if you go with the flow, you're just going to be an also-ran.”

Older, crusty scouts who have been there and done that and seen it all may be friendly with their peers and popular mentors in the business. But odds are the respect they’ve earned and the longevity in the business result from an ability to see things in players that either boost or lower draft stocks and help make good decisions that involve millions of dollars and a franchise’s fortunes.

I spoke with two scouts about groupthink and herd mentality.

“The percentage of scouts that fall into the herd mentality today is probably 50 to 60 percent,” one scout said. “Twenty years ago, the number was closer to 25 or 30 percent. The median age of scouts has dropped drastically over the past 10 years. This is partly due to the age of general managers has dropped in the past 10 years.

“The younger GMs seem to prefer younger scouts to work under them because they are less opinionated. And most of those young GMs did not grow up on the college side; they grew up in pro scouting or working on the salary cap and in the office answering to someone daily instead of being out on the road scouting and working by themselves, somewhat independently.”

Working alone fosters the sort of independent thinking that is the goal in scouting, and in plenty of other lines of work.

Here at the AFC South blog or on the radio, I strive to have a unique take. But some subjects don’t lend themselves to one. Sometimes, without even realizing it, the tug of prevailing wisdom latches onto me. I hope to catch myself more often than not. But I read and listen to a lot of other opinions. Certainly, herd mentality can slip into my thinking.

Some of it is human nature, and fighting against the current can be difficult work.

A second scout shared his strategy for staying at arm’s length from the competition. He helps keep himself away from the herd mentality by steering clear of the herd.

“I get sick anytime I show up at a school and see other scouts,” he said. “I act cranky, so people think I am a jerk. It usually distracts from conversation. A lot of times I ask coaches I know if I can come in at weird times -- 5 a.m. gives you a three-hour head start and 4 p.m. and staying until late can work too, especially at the big schools.”

General managers at the top of a team’s scouting pyramid can do a lot for their scouting staff by banging the drum for individuality.

Seattle general manager John Schneider said he’s proud his organization gives scouts a lot of leeway. He wants strong opinions. But he also doesn’t expect a scout to know everything all on his own.

“We try to work it where we feel like we don't have all the answers all the time,” Schneider said. “We're looking for more and more questions, and answers to be questioned."

Fear is one big reason to get lured by the herd.

Stick your neck out and be right, and that’s great. But the reward of that success may not be as strong a result for an evaluator as is the failure of going out on a limb and being wrong.

Batting averages for any scout are not going to be close to perfect. In evaluating football players for a living, a scout has to accept he’s going to miss. Ideally, the guy who hired that scout isn’t going to crush him for it. That GM has an opinion and likely a less-than-perfect batting average too.

In another level of groupthink, scouts dread bosses who try to bully underlings to co-sign their opinion, hoping instead that differing viewpoints are always welcome.

“I encourage our scouts to just do the work and have convictions in what you see and let us kind of manage the draft and let us kind of make the decisions for us,” new Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said. “Just give us back what they see.

“I’m never going to be the type of boss to be like, ‘Man, you really missed on that guy.' Because we’re all going to miss. We’re all going to have situations where we maybe undervalue somebody or overvalue somebody.”

Combine takeaways: Tennessee Titans

February, 26, 2013
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Tennessee Titans in Indianapolis…

The Titans could be active early in free agency: This is a team that has largely sat back in free agency and let the early market sift out before getting involved. But both coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster said at Lucas Oil Stadium that they expect to be negotiating with at least one free agent during the three-day period where conversations are allowed before free agency opens.

No cuts on the immediate horizon: The Titans have $18.021 million in salary-cap room, so nothing is pressing in terms of salary-cap cuts. But general manager Webster said the team would trim salaries as it makes additions through free agency and the draft. Presumptive translation -- when the Titans get a guard, they can part with either Steve Hutchinson (due a $4.75 million base, he would cost $3 million in dead money cap hit) or guard/center Eugene Amano (due a $3.935 million base, but they’d save only about $1 million by cutting him). The other could be gone post draft.

The draft is deep at the right spots for this team: Before the Titans signed veteran safety George Wilson, Webster talked about how all three of the team’s biggest needs -- guard, safety and defensive end -- are deep in this pool of prospects. I pushed to see if Webster would put the three in order and he ranked guard and safety as the top two. He didn’t talk about the depth at kicker, but said if the Titans lose Rob Bironas as a free agent, Tennessee would consider drafting one. Three seem to be ranked as draftable.

The Titans will remain a team capable of using two-back sets: Quinn Johnson is a free agent to-be. His size -- 6-foot-1, 263-pounds -- fit the mold former offensive coordinator Chris Palmer wanted. We don’t know if he’s the same sort of fit for what Dowell Loggains intends to do while in the job. But Munchak said the Titans will carry a fullback and that Chris Johnson runs better in certain circumstances with one and in other circumstances without one. Loggains and new running back coach Sylvester Croom will talk with CJ about some play-by-play preferences on that.

Tennessee seeks mature additions: Webster says out of the info overload he looks for buzz words that relate to maturity. He wants to be sure the Titans wind up with guys who can handle the combination of free time and big money that they will wind up with after they are drafted. Everyone is coached to say the right things and give the right indications as they talk with scouts, coaches and executives. So there is work to sift out who’s really equipped to handle things and who is not.

Combine takeaways: Indianapolis Colts

February, 26, 2013
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis ...

Ryan Grigson is way more comfortable: A year on the job and a situation with far fewer difficult questions makes a huge difference for a general manager. Last year at the combine, he was sweating and nervous while unable to offer much on the Peyton Manning situation. This time, with a playoff berth in his first season at the helm, he was far more relaxed and joked about the difference in just one year.

Pat McAfee could be tagged: The Colts punter has indicated he’d be fine with being tagged. The number is about $3 million. But the Colts would clearly like to strike a long-term deal. “He’s a major priority in free agency,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Obviously, we’ve reached out and are working to get Pat re-signed. We saw what he did for us last year. He’s a great weapon." New deal or no new deal, expect McAfee to remain the team's punter and kickoff man going forward.

It’s premature to say what the offense will look like: Chuck Pagano is excited about new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. “I’m sure there will be things we’ll look at and look to implement as far as the West Coast concepts go, a few more check-downs, underneath routes, run after catch,” Pagano said. Andrew Luck's completion percentage will certainly go up and while Hamilton will surely continue to look for strikes downfield, this offense is unlikely to put it the way Bruce Arians did.

Indications are the Colts want a veteran lineman: Given a choice between a rookie cornerback or a rookie offensive lineman in the lineup, Grigson said he’d prefer a rookie corner. The logical conclusion, then, is that a team with a ton of cap room that is pledging not to go crazy in free agency will prioritize at least one veteran O-lineman. One report says they'll target Louis Vasquez if the Chargers allow him to reach free agency.

They could have a traditional fullback: Tight end Dwayne Allen did some fullback-style work last season. Hamilton will emphasize the run more than Arians did. But the Colts don’t yet know if they’ll use a tight end when they have a play that calls for a lead blocker or if they’ll have a more traditional fullback. “We’ll do our evaluations here, study everybody that’s here and then, at the end of the day, if there is a traditional fullback type body out there that fits what we’re doing, fits the system and everything else, then we’ll make a move on him,” Pagano said.

Combine takeaways: Houston Texans

February, 26, 2013
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Houston Texans in Indianapolis…

Connor Barwin is a core player: Sure he is, as long as he’s affordable. Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 and there was an offer on the table as the 2012 season kicked off. He passed, and was far less productive after his gamble. General manager Rick Smith can call him core, but to me a core guy is one you can’t survive without, and they certainly should be able to replace him if he finds a free-agent deal that compels him to leave.

They seem content with what they have on the right side of the offensive line: They platooned at both right tackle and right guard in 2012, and it sounds like they’ll be content to allow Brandon Brooks or Ben Jones to slug it out at right guard (or perhaps split time again) and see Derek Newton as the right tackle going forward.

They will keep the option of a franchise tag for Glover Quin as a possibility for as long as possible: The safety tag is about $7 million. It’s a palatable number, but the Texans have only $5.768 million in cap room. If they can’t reach a long-term deal that will produce a lower salary-cap number for 2013, tagging Quin will force the team to restructure a deal or two or cut someone that helps create room.

Brooks Reed could play inside: But that doesn’t mean the Texans are planning to move him. Gary Kubiak made it sound like they want more of a contingency plan if they have the sort of issues inside like they did last season. Move Reed inside and you create a hole outside, especially if Barwin leaves.

They’re still a young team, experiencing what they need to in order to make a jump: Yada, yada. This was quite a bit of spin, but what else can Smith say at this point when evaluating where the team stands? “We’re going to continue to add players, which is what this weekend is all about,” he said. “But I see a group of men that have gotten the experience that’s necessary to go make a real run at it and I think that’s where we are right now.”

A young quarterback is always a possibility: Said Kubiak, "In this business, you better be looking for young quarterbacks you think have a chance to be a 10-, 12-year guy. This year will be no different." T.J. Yates isn’t a sure thing. But the Texans only carried two quarterbacks in 2013, so the team would have to find someone it prefers to Yates in order to draft a QB. I don’t think they spend a premium pick on the position.

Video: Behind the scenes at NFL combine

February, 24, 2013

AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky takes you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Video: Day 3 NFL combine takeaways

February, 23, 2013

Paul Kuharsky, Kevin Seifert and Bill Williamson deliver the top stories from day 3 of the 2013 NFL combine.

Video: On Josh Chapman and ACLs

February, 23, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Colts awaited their chance to look at a fifth-round defensive tackle last year, some fans started weaving a funny tag line through the conversation: Josh Chapman will save us.

Indianapolis definitely needed a defensive line boost. It didn't come, and Chapman never got on the field. The ACL tear he suffered in his final year at Alabama never healed enough to allow him to play.

But the team expects him to be a factor in 2013 as it continues to look for pieces that better fit their still-new 3-4 front.

Saturday at the NFL combine, ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell spoke with me about Chapman's recovery. We also talked about how Adrian Peterson set a ridiculous bar for guys like Chapman, Kenny Britt and Brian Cushing as they recover from similar knee injuries.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Since the turn of the century, the NFL hasn’t seen a guard drafted higher than 17th.

The buzz at this year’s NFL scouting combine is that two prospects -- Chance Warmack from Alabama and Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina -- are both worthy of being selected higher than that.

“On film, there's no doubt,” said Mike Munchak, the Titans coach who’s a Hall of Fame guard drafted eighth overall by the Oilers in 1982.

The Jaguars and Colts need offensive line help. But Jacksonville seems unlikley to go guard all the way up at No. 2, and Warmack and Cooper will likely be gone by the time the Colts are on the clock at No. 24. Tennessee drafts 10th and has pledged to upgrade the interior of its offensive line. Whether those moves come through free agency, the draft, or both remains to be seen.

But Warmack is from Atlanta and played at Alabama, and indications are if he were picking a team instead of a team picking him, it could be the Titans.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network rates Warmack as something bigger than the draft’s best guard. He ranks him the draft’s best player.

“It’s widely known that guards aren’t drafted that high,” Warmack said. “If that did happen, that would be an honor as a player that plays guard. I’m not thinking about that right now.”

Said Cooper of Warmack: “He is a big guy. I’m glad I got to see him in person and see that he is a human [chuckles]. After all that I heard about him, I mean, they just make him seem unstoppable.”

Munchak has talked in the past about how guards have been devalued in the draft.

He’s been with the organization as a player or coach since 1982, and since then the team has drafted 11 players classified as guards coming out of college.

Bruce Matthews, Munchak’s closest friend and the Titans' offensive line coach and another Hall of Famer, was a first rounder in 1983.

The breakdown of the rest: One second-rounder, one third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, two fifth-rounders, one sixth-rounder, one seventh-rounder, one 10th rounder and one 11th-rounder.

Munchak offered his reasoning for why line value in the draft has shifted dramatically to tackle.

“I think what's changed is the defensive ends changing in stature,” he said. “You've got guys that are 255 pounds that can rush the quarterback the way they can now. They're great athletes. Back when I played in the '80s, maybe even earlier, the ends were bigger guys and you had more tackles available that can probably match up. I think it became a matchup problem for the left tackles. They're hard to find.

“It's hard to find [big ends] that are 255 pounds and can rush. So the supply and demand is lessened, and I think the demand for tackles became more valuable, especially a left tackle. For that reason, you have guards, there are more of them and you push that back a little bit.

“But if you have someone that is special, someone that is really good, that kind of gets thrown out the window. So you have to decide where you want to pick a guy like that.”

While the Titans/Oilers haven’t invested many quality draft picks at the position, they haven’t spent a lot in free agency, either. The two of note were relatively recent: Jake Scott in 2008 and Steve Hutchinson in 2012.

While Warmack was listed by the Crimson Tide as 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, Cooper measured in at the combine as “only” 6-2 and 312.

They are the top two guys at the position, but hardly the only guys projected to be solid pros. Pro Football Weekly gives the guard group an A-plus.

“I know there are a bunch of great guards in this draft,” Cooper said. “If we all get drafted high and I’m not the first guard taken, I’m not mad at all. I mean, I’m a competitor. I love to compete. So if I am drafted first out of the guards I’ll be ecstatic. If I’m drafted high and I’m not the first, I’ll be OK just the same.”

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Manti Te’o news conference will be regarded as the media highlight of this NFL scouting combine.

The overall review is that he handled himself well and helped defuse the fake dead girlfriend story more than he had previously.

From an AFC South point of view, I figure it’s inevitable that people will pick up on this: He mentioned the two teams he met with last night were Houston and Green Bay.

Houston certainly needs an inside linebacker, but Te’o has been a 4-3 middle linebacker, not a 3-4 inside linebacker. (Although ESPN's Bill Polian just told me he thinks Te'o could be a weakside inside guy in a 3-4, and maybe even a weakside outside guy.)

More importantly, let’s take this as our annual reminder about how insignificant meetings can be in terms of news value.

Te’o will meet with 18 more teams today for a total of 20 in his time at the scouting combine.

Some of those teams will use their 15 minutes to confirm that they like him. Some will be using the time to confirm that they aren’t interested.

It’s that way with every player.

Most teams have seven draft picks. That's what the Texans have, as of now. Even if they use a 15-minute interview on every guy they wind up drafting, they will have talked to 53 others they don’t draft.

Please, let’s avoid penciling in Te’o to the Texans at this point.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Last year they took a shot, drafting wide receivers in the third and fourth round.

The Texans still have high hopes for DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin, though Posey’s recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered in the playoff loss in New England. They still like Lestar Jean, too.

But Houston’s being honest: It needs a dynamic second receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and eventually, potentially, take over his mantle.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsHouston needs a receiver able to stretch the field. Is Cal's Keenan Allen a solid fit for the team?
“I think that continues to be right now a big focus for us as an organization,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We drafted a few young guys last year. I do have a young guy in Lestar Jean that I think a lot of. DeVier Posey was making big, big progress and now we're dealing with a significant injury that is going to take some time

"So I think it’s important that we continue to strengthen our team in that area. Andre is in Year 11 or something like that now, so we’ve got to find some other guys to continue to produce alongside of him.”

The team's current No. 1, Kevin Walter, could wind up a salary-cap casualty. He does dirty work that doesn’t get enough credit, and that’s important. But if your dirty-work guy is also the second receiver on the field most of the time, it helps the offense if he’s a bigger threat against the one-on-one coverage he’s likely to draw.

Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee is likely to be gone by the time the Texans draft 24th in the first round.

Cal’s Keenan Allen and Terrance Williams of Baylor probably rate as possibilities at the spot.

Evaluators say Allen can line up outside or inside and is a smooth route runner and at 6-foot-2 and about 210 pounds, he’s got some size. Allen rates himself as a physical, Anquan Boldin-type of receiver.

He won’t run at the combine because he tweaked an old knee injury in training so questions about his speed are likely to linger until his pro day on March 14.

“I feel like I'm a starter, self-motivated, a humble guy,” Allen said. “My work ethic is there. I'm a film junkie so I'm definitely doing that type of preparation for the game.”

Williams ranks as more of a vertical guy, and stretching the field more is something the Texans need to do to pen space for Arian Foster and Owen Daniels.

“I can stretch the field in a hurry,” Williams said.

He dismissed concerns that he’s only a vertical route runner, saying that when he’s asked to run other routes he’ll prove he can do so reliably.

West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is most different from anyone the Texans already have. He’s a smaller, slot-type of guy and should bring a spark to the team that lands him. But like anyone who’s 5-8 and 174 pounds, durability is a concern.

Austin admires Wes Welker, who’s pretty much the patron saint of up-and-coming slot guys nowadays.

“I think I’m a little quicker and faster than him,” Austin said. “So I figure if he can do it, I can do it, too.”

It’s not a great receiver class overall. Pro Football Weekly rates it as a "C" group.

Houston went for guys in the middle of the draft last year and didn’t find immediate impact. A choice near the top of a middling class could do a lot for a team that could be one big piece away from being a constant matchup problem.

Ryan Grigson loves some combine slips

February, 23, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Grigson doesn’t come to the NFL combine rooting against anyone.

But he sort of does.

In 2012 as a first year GM, he wasn’t upset when a couple players he already really liked -- tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Vick Ballard -- ran slower than many evaluators would have liked or expected.

The less-than-blazing times hurt the stock of the two prospects a bit for some of Grigson’s competition. That gave Grigson a chance to pounce on two players -- Allen in the third round, Ballard in the fifth -- who wound up helping the Colts win 11 games in a rebuilding year and get to the playoffs.

The Colts are looking for both of them to be key pieces for the franchise going forward.

“I personally love when that happens,” Grigson said of a combine slip. “Because I’ve learned lessons from starting at the bottom, from being a scout at the very lowest level, at the entry level, and watching draft boards get way out of whack. I just cataloged that and took mental notes. When Anquan Boldin fell down draft boards because of the timed speed, and at the beginning of the process he was way up there? You’ve got to make note of that.

“But you also have to temper it with you don’t want to take a guy too early when you love him when the market is bearing he be taken later. It’s still a risk. Because if you try to trade back, it just takes one other team to be thinking like you are.”

So take heart, guys who don't run as fast as you hoped while you’re in Indy.

A decision-maker may be watching that thinking, "I really love that guy, I really want that guy, and that may have just helped him slip to me."

Video: Day 2 NFL combine takeaways

February, 22, 2013

Paul Kuharsky, Kevin Seifert and Bill Williamson deliver the top stories from Day 2 of the 2013 NFL combine.
INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Houston Texans traded DeMeco Ryans after the 2011 season, and as they look to recover from a 2012 filled with injuries at inside linebacker, I’ve maintained that a one-dimensional position doesn’t require big attention. It can be easily filled.

Tom Gower of Football Outsiders and Reading and Thinking Football sees it as a bigger need. He argues, basically, that if the Texans had a better inside linebacker to go with Brian Cushing, they wouldn’t be so quick to get out of their base defense.

That versatility would be helpful and would give defensive coordinator Wade Phillips more options for how to, say, cover a tight end like Rob Gronkowski.

It’d be good if Phillips had extra alternatives, sure. The Patriots' quick-snapping offense gave the Texans all kind of troubles last season, twice. Perhaps if Houston could simply have stayed in base, we'd have seen less panic and more preparedness to match up with what New England does so well.

So what’s general manager Rick Smith think about an inside linebacker spot where injury-prone Darryl Sharpton is the primary option at this point?

“Obviously, you want the best players you can find, a guy that can stay on the field,” Smith said at the scouting combine. “You make a mistake if you try to limit yourself just to trying to fit a particular player in a particular role. I think what you try to do is you get the best football players and you let it sort itself out.”

If the team adds an inside backer who could be a three-down player, how much might Phillips change how he deploys his personnel?

“What I think is it gives him some options,” Smith said. “If we have two inside backers who can stay on the field in passing situations and match up better against [tight ends], I think that’s a positive. If he wants to employ a three-safety system in other situations, whether it’s longer distances or a blitz package or whatever it is, if he wants to employ those, he can. I think the more you have players who can stay on the field and impact the game, I think that’s the option, that’s the ultimate for him because it gives him the flexibility that he likes.”

There is one other possibility at play here.

If the Texans re-sign Connor Barwin, as they say they want to, then they’ll have Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus as outside linebackers.

Coach Gary Kubiak indicated they could look at Reed inside.

"He's very capable of being a stack player, playing inside in our 3-4,” Kubiak said. “Yes, that could happen. But we've liked him as a Sam, he's a heck of a Sam player. But you always have to have some flexibility with one player or two players in various situations when you come across like what we did last year.

“Depending on what happens with our football team moving forward right now, with Connor [Barwin] and some other things, we're always looking for some flexibility."

We’ll have to stay tuned.

But with or without Barwin, I expect the Texans will be adding a linebacker in free agency or the draft. The questions remain, with how much of an investment or with how high a pick?
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams are longtime friends.

Or perhaps they were longtime friends.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGregg Williams, a new senior assistant/defense for the Titans, and Jeff Fisher have a distant friendship at this point in time.
Fisher, the coach of the St. Louis Rams, said at the combine that he has not spoken to Williams since the NFL reinstated him. The former defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, Williams recently completed a yearlong suspension for his role in the Saints' pay-for-injury program, as judged by commissioner Roger Goodell.

Williams is now senior assistant/defense with the Tennessee Titans, for whom he previously worked, with Fisher as the head coach.

Fisher fired Blake Williams, Gregg’s son, after the season; Blake had been the Rams' linebackers coach. Fisher made it clear he had moved on from Gregg Williams, the man he brought to St. Louis in 2012 to be his defensive coordinator.

On Friday, Fisher said that decision didn’t come after the season, but during it.

“I made that decision well before the season ended, that we wanted to go a different direction,” Fisher said. “It probably wouldn’t have been as easy had we not had the assistants that we did on the staff. But when you’re talking about Dave McGinnis and Chuck Cecil, then coach [Mike] Waufle, you’ve got guys who have coordinated. I’m very fortunate to have gotten Frank Bush, who has also coordinated.

“We just felt like we wanted this to be the Ram defense, so we’re moving a little different direction than from what Gregg’s philosophies are.”

That’s a tidy answer. But if all that defensive coordinator experience helped make Williams expendable, it seems a bit odd none of those coaches were named defensive coordinator. Instead, Fisher recently hired Tim Walton as his new coordinator. Walton previously coached defensive backs for Detroit under another former Fisher assistant, Jim Schwartz.

Fisher expressed no ill will toward Williams. And I wouldn't expect him to publicly.

“I’m very happy that it worked out the way it did,” Fisher said. “I believe Gregg can help the Titans and help coach [Mike] Munchak and, of course, Jerry Gray. The other side of that is that they can help him to re-establish himself back in the league.”

We have no idea how Williams feels about Fisher at this point, either.

But when the Titans introduced Williams, he trumpeted how important it was for him to work with people he knows, like Munchak and Gray.

Well, he knows Fisher, too.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts won’t be ranked 32nd in preseason power rankings. Barring an unfortunate setback, they won’t lose their head coach for a 12-game-long fight with cancer.

So will the 2013 team have a harder time finding things to rally around?

Chuck Pagano met the media for the first time this offseason Friday at the NFL scouting combine and updated us on how he’s doing. (Click that link. There is some funny stuff in this news story.)

While I fear potential for a letdown simply because the extraordinary circumstances of last year won’t be duplicated, Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson don’t think it’ll happen.

Pagano said he doesn’t believe his team will be lacking in motivation a year after shocking the NFL world with a playoff season.

“We know what the expectations are now, they’ve set high expectations for themselves, the bar is really high,” he said. “We’re just going to keep working the process and continuing to build the monster and move forward. We fully expect to back up last year with another great season.”

Perhaps a more normal year will allow the team to blossom in new and different ways.

“There is no doubt with Chuck being ill, it galvanized our team, it really brought us together, maybe sooner that in would have had he not,” Grigson said. “I just know this: We look for the same type of guys this year that we looked for last year. Guys that play snap to whistle, guys that buy in to the philosophy, and that’s just to play hard, be physical, do the right thing, get in our book ...

“I feel like we’ve laid really as solid a foundation as possible because of what Chuck implemented on day one. I think we’re in a good place in terms of our culture and our philosophy.”