AFC South: Aaron Morgan

Assessing the injury reports

September, 7, 2012
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Tennessee defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (knee) didn’t practice all week and is doubtful. He was looking very solid in the preseason and will be missed. New England running back Shane Vereen is out and tackle Sebastian Vollmer is one of six questionable Patriots.

Indianapolis left guard Joe Reitz is out, and Seth Olsen will fill in. Tough downgrade. Coach Chuck Pagano said receiver Austin Collie (back from a concussion) “could be” a game-time decision. Indy clearly would like the Bears not to know if he’ll play.

Houston running back Arian Foster (knee soreness) and outside linebacker Brooks Reed (hip) didn’t practice for the second day in a row on Friday and are both listed as questionable. Foster assured Texans beat reporters that he will play against Miami but is considered a game-time decision. Houston could plug Ben Tate in and be OK. First-round pick Whitney Mercilus would play for Reed. Dolphins left tackle Jake Long (knee) is probable.

Jacksonville will be without outside linebacker Daryl Smith (abdomen), a big loss. Kyle Bosworth is listed as his backup. Ends Austen Lane and George Selvie are also out, leaving Aaron Morgan as the only end behind Jeremy Mincey and rookie Andre Branch. We’ll see a tackle or two take snaps at end. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (knee) is questionable. The indications have been that he would play, but sparingly.
Some notes on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first unofficial depth chart, released in advance of their preseason opener against the Giants on Friday night at EverBank Field. Take note, it’s common for seniority to determine close spots on paper at this stage.

AFC South offseason hype awards

June, 22, 2012
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This piece written by Stampede Blue's Brad Wells on what the Colts’ praise of Donald Brown means got me thinking. (Rare, I know.)

Barring contract disputes, we don't hear teams say anything negative about players during organized team activities and minicamps. It’s happy time.

When we hear something exceptionally positive, it may well mean something more than it seems.

[+] EnlargeDonald Brown
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesDonald Brown "is doing a tremendous job and he is having a fantastic offseason," coach Chuck Pagano told the Indianapolis Star.
Unlike Wells I don’t believe the signing of Mewelde Moore is particularly significant. He’s cheap insurance who’s hardly guaranteed of a roster spot.

But the amplitude of the praise for Brown does appear to be a team trying to convince itself, and Brown, of something.

Writes Wells of the Colts hyping Brown: “Players who are truly good don't need to be talked up to the media or the fans. Usually, if a player is being talked up in the offseason, something is going on behind-the-scenes.”

Who else in the AFC South is in a similar position?

In Tennessee, it’s return man/receiver Marc Mariani.

As the Titans wrapped up minicamp, coach Mike Munchak spoke very highly of Mariani. He was a Pro Bowl return man two years ago, but with altered kickoff rules and the addition of Kendall Wright, Mariani’s less valuable.

He’s the team’s sixth receiver, and if everyone is healthy, he shouldn’t be able to move up.

He’s purely a slot guy, and while Munchak pumped up Mariani’s quickness, he lacks ideal speed for a receiver. His roster spot could be in jeopardy. If he sticks and plays much offense, there will be complaints (starting here) about the snaps someone else is missing out on.

In Jacksonville, we could fit quarterback Blaine Gabbert or rookie punter Bryan Anger into this category. But I think either would be a force. The Gabbert talk is wishful thinking, sure, but it’s also a new staff showing off its positive outlook about its potential franchise quarterback. Anger is a third-round draft pick and they have to defend his selection.

The guy who fits this is defensive end Aaron Morgan, who was on IR last season with a shoulder injury. This is the third offseason in a row a team in need at his position has talked him up. GM Gene Smith called him a bright spot in the offseason.

He made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2010 and played in seven games. They talked him up heading into that season and a year ago before he suffered the shoulder injury in camp. The third time needs to be a charm.

Am I missing someone with the Texans? I know they continue to speak more highly than seems appropriate about cornerback Kareem Jackson, but they haven’t poured that on nearly as thick as the Colts with Brown, the Titans with Mariani or the Jaguars with Morgan.

And Jackson has played more, with greater progress, than those other guys. I call him ineligible.

If I am missing an obvious choice for Houston, set me straight.

Jacksonville Jaguars cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Click here for a complete list of the Jaguars' roster moves.

Surprise moves: Three undrafted rookies stuck -- offensive lineman Cameron Bradfield, receiver Jamar Newsome and cornerback Kevin Rutland. The Jaguars already have a deep IR, with running backs Rashad Jennings and Richard Murphy, defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith (for the second year in a row), corner David Jones and end Aaron Morgan.

No-brainers: Getting another defensive back in a trade with the Jets for Dwight Lowery was a good move. With Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Drew Coleman and Lowery the team is deeper at corner than it was last year. But Lowery has some safety experience. Could the Jaguars want him there? The Don Carey experiment in the defensive backfield depth mix needed to end.

What’s next: This has to be the only team in the league with more fullbacks (three) than running backs (two). No matter how much Jack Del Rio talks of giving the fullbacks carries, a run-based team needs another running back. It should upgrade offensive line depth, too.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars aren’t looking for parades or pinwheels as congratulations. But in the two years since Gene Smith took over as general manager, they’ve basically gutted the roster. And while setting about a major rebuilding project, they remained competitive with a 7-9 season and an 8-8 campaign.

After another draft and an active free-agency period, they now feel the rebuild is complete.

“There is an expectation level in this league to win, and I think having some horses makes us all smile in this building,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think we went out and acquired some guys for the second and third level of our defense where we talked about needing some help. ... It’s going to help us be a whole lot better.

“The pressure, the demands, that’s part of what we do, and I love that part of it. It becomes a little more enjoyable when you know you’re getting closer to being on equal footing."

Del Rio’s not buying that the Colts are slipping, and he’s not waiting for them to. The in-house expectation is that this team is capable of competing for the AFC South crown no matter what any other team in the division has going for it.

Bolstered by four upgrades among the top 12 players on defense, Jacksonville is a team that should be much improved. The Jaguars won’t be a popular pick, but they could be a surprise, emergent team.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert and David Garrard
Phil Sears/US PresswireThe Jaguars say they will develop Blaine Gabbert (left) slowly and have David Garrard take the snaps as the team's starter.
1. Will there be a quarterback controversy? The team stands firmly with David Garrard and intends to bring first-round pick Blaine Gabbert along slowly. But Gabbert has looked great early, while Garrard tends to be inconsistent. There are bound to be times during the season when there is some pressure to make a change from inside team headquarters, not just from media and fans.

“If we ever get to the point where we think Blaine is better than Dave, that’s good for the Jaguars,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Because I think Dave is good enough to win with; I think we can win our division with Dave Garrard at quarterback. If Blaine is better than Dave, shoot, that’s good for us.”

Del Rio and Koetter could have a complicated job managing how and when to play Gabbert if they feel he’s forcing his way into the lineup.

“I’ve got a healthy appreciation for the desire out there to make it a story,” Del Rio said. “For us, we’re about maximizing our opportunities as a football team, playing the guys who give us the best chance to win games and working on the preparation. ...

“Through the course of competition and exposure and based on health, those factors kind of take care of themselves. I don’t think we have to get ahead of the story. I think we can just let it play out, and at least we are doing so from a position of strength. There is no reason to make it dysfunctional, make it unhealthy. What purpose does that serve? It’s not going to help us win more games.”

It sounds good, but it can get complicated. Garrard’s the guy right now, and the team and the quarterback need to do a better job of making sure he gets hit far less so he can make consistently good decisions with the ball.

Factor tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller and running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings into the mix with the receivers, and the Jaguars have sufficient weapons to complement a run-based offense. Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts could be a better three-pack of receivers than many people think.

2. How much better can the revamped defense be? If this defense doesn’t improve from 32nd against the pass, 28th overall and 27th in points allowed, Del Rio will lose his job.

The team shelled out $37 million guaranteed to three prime free agents: linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session and safety Dawan Landry. The Jags also added nickelback Drew Coleman.

That group, plus rookie defensive backs Chris Prosinski and Rod Issac, should vastly improve the defensive production and depth.

Smith wanted to build foundations early and spent his first two drafts working on the lines. Defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton should take up all kinds of blockers and create space for the two new linebackers and the underrated Daryl Smith to make a lot of impact plays.

“Jacksonville’s interior D-line really stood out,” Posluszny said about his research as a free agent. “They’ve got two studs in the middle that are very active, get to the ball a lot and certainly are going to take up a lot of blockers.”

Safety play last season was horrific, and Landry will be a significant upgrade even though he didn’t bring Ed Reed with him from Baltimore.

“I’m not looking for any grace period to assemble this defense,” Del Rio said. "Guys we’re assembling and counting on for the most part are veterans. ... We’re going to expect to play coming out of the gate as a winning football team, and defensively we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

3. Can they play well late in the season? December is a debacle for this team.

In the past three seasons in games played in December and beyond, the Jaguars are 4-11. They need to learn to finish games and seasons better. What can change it?

“I think in Week 13 or something, we had a better record than the Packers did last year,” Daryl Smith said. “They got hot, and who would have thought they would go on to win? That could be us. Why not? We have to try to stay off of that roller coaster, try to be consistent, just get better each week. Steady, steady, steady, then come late November or December, get hot.”

“I’ve been in the playoffs twice since I’ve been here and that’s been the formula. … We can’t feel like we arrived when we have a good game or played well and won a couple games.”

Del Rio says that with a more talented roster, he has to guide it to better work in the last quarter of the season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeAusten Lane
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireJacksonville could look to Austen Lane to help solidify their defensive line.
Beat writers and fans call Austen Lane “The Bringer of Pain.” It’s funny. But he looks like a guy who will make it hard for the team to look anywhere else for its second starting defensive end. He can be a ball of fury, and that will fit right in with the tone and tempo of the rest of the defensive front.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Right tackle Eben Britton came in with a reputation as a nasty player, and the team missed him last season when he was lost with a shoulder injury. I’ve picked him as a breakout-caliber guy this season. But word is he has not been great so far. Perhaps he’s still being cautious and easing his way back, but he needs to take things up a big notch soon.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Two years ago, people were writing off center Brad Meester. But defenses were taking advantage of weak guard play to get to him. He rebounded well last season and is a guy whom coaches love as a reliable offensive line leader.
  • Knighton’s weight always will be an issue. The defensive tackle is a great player and superlikable guy. The team cannot hold his fork for him. The more he can control it, the more impact and money he will make.
  • Prosinski could well be in the opening day lineup as the free safety. He worked with the first team early in camp and might be up to a pairing with Landry in the middle of the secondary. Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox need to play better at corner, but the Jaguars will improve from the safety upgrades and from the presence of veteran nickelback Drew Coleman.
  • Looking for an underdog to root for? How about undrafted free agent Marc Schiechl? He set a Football Championship Subdivision record for sacks at the Colorado School of Mines.
  • Scotty McGee isn’t working with defensive backs regularly anymore. Can he stick as strictly a punt-return specialist? He caught 185 punts on one day of camp. And the team should move away from using Thomas in the role, although McGee is hardly the only alternative.
  • I like Miller, and the team raves about his potential. But he’s been inconsistent early in camp with too many drops. He’s got great hands, so it seems to be a focus issue.
  • Larry Hart may be in the doghouse for coming back from the lockout overweight. At defensive end, he currently ranks behind Aaron Kampman, Lane, Jeremy Mincey and Aaron Morgan.
  • Fourth-round receiver Cecil Shorts was great in camp early, and I bet the undrafted crop of wideouts has at least one NFL-caliber guy. Keep your eyes on Armon Binns, Jamar Newsome and Dontrelle Inman.
  • Third-year receiver Jarett Dillard is running well after a couple of injuries cost him the bulk of his first two seasons.
  • Watch how much better punter Matt Turk gets now that he will be a beneficiary of the Jaguars’ topflight cover guys, Montell Owens and Kassim Osgood.
  • The Jaguars may be content to use Jones-Drew, coming off a knee operation, very minimally in camp and preseason games.
  • Veteran Jason Spitz has not been on the field yet, but I think the team would like for third-round pick Will Rackley to win the open left guard spot.
In training camp, Aaron Kampman talked of enduring a torn ACL last season and the fight to get back from it as “purifying.” I was intrigued that he saw such a torturous event in a football life that way.

Now he’ll have to find something good about a second rehabilitation, as he’s done for the year after tearing the ACL in his other knee during practice on Wednesday.

It’s an awful blow for the Jaguars, who made a big investment in Kampman as a free agent and have gotten four sacks, steady energetic play and quality leadership from him.

With Derrick Harvey recently demoted in favor of Jeremy Mincey, it's unclear how the lineup will shake out. Mincey is looking to return from a broken hand. The other ends on the roster are all rookies: Larry Hart, Austen Lane and Aaron Morgan.

That changes the complexion of the line in a big way. Neither will call for the sort of extra attention offenses have had to pay Kampman. Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu have been getting better in the middle, but a central push that flushes a quarterback needs to flush him into someone from the edge who’s also gotten free.

Houston right tackle Eric Winston spoke with the Jacksonville press about Kampman earlier this week:
“When [Jacksonville] signed him I was like ‘oh great’. I went against him in Green Bay and now I’m like ‘this is fantastic, now I get to see him twice a year? This is exactly what I wanted to see’. But he’s Kampman. To me, he’s a lot like Kyle Vanden Bosch, probably a little stronger. He’s a guy that, he’s going to get crafty, he’s going to give you a lot of different looks, if you tip things off he’s going to take advantage of you, you better bring your A-game when you play him because he’s going to bring his A-game every time. If you don’t, he’ll make you look bad.”

A B-game from Winston may now be plenty good enough for him to cancel out the edge threat from the Jaguars on Sunday.
Reading the coverage:

Michael Lombardi adds up rushing attempts and pass completions for an interesting chart in here.

Houston Texans

Alan Burge asks if you’d rather have Kareem Jackson or Leigh Bodden.

Indianapolis Colts

I look at John Chick for “On The Radar” last week. Here’s Phillip B. Wilson with more on the former CFL star.

Running down some of what Football Outsiders says about the Colts offense with Nate Dunlevy.

Jamie Dukes follows the consensus and ranks Peyton Manning the league’s top quarterback.

Brandon Scott previews Colts camp. There’s a Manning interview from his quarterback camp attached.

Rookie safety David Caldwell talked with Coltzilla.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Will this bumper sticker campaign help the Jaguars in Jacksonville?

A closer look at undrafted defensive lineman Aaron Morgan from Adam Stites.

Hunter Ansley thinks the Jaguars could be a surprise team.

Tennessee Titans

It’s not been the best Titans’ offseason, but don’t jump to say it’s the worst says David Boclair.

Kevin Matthews has special ties to the Titans, writes Phil Brame.

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