AFC South: Al Afalava

Tennessee Titans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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Most significant move: Marc Mariani came back from a vicious broken leg suffered in the preseason in 2012. A shoulder injury suffered in the preseason opener cost him the rest of camp and the preseason, and the Titans put him in injured-reserve Saturday, ending his season. He might have been ready as soon as Week 3, but the Titans clearly didn't like the uncertainty. They could have waived him injured, exposing him to a claim. In that scenario, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who was instrumental in the Titans drafting the receiver/returner out of Montana in 2010, might have wanted him. But the Rams or anyone else would have had to have added him without getting to examine the injury, and Mariani's not under contract beyond this year so a new team could have been at risk for picking up a year's salary and getting nothing out of him. If he wasn’t claimed, he would have reverted to Tennessee’s IR. By putting Mariani directly on IR, he is assured of his $575,000 base salary this season but won’t play anywhere. The move means Darius Reynaud is the returner. He showed himself to be only the team’s fifth-best running back during camp, but sticks to handle punts and kickoffs.

Wildcard: If Rusty Smith clears waivers, the Titans will want the fourth-year quarterback back on their practice squad. He’s not been on the active roster for nine games in any of his first three seasons, so he retains his practice squad eligibility. If Smith is claimed, the Titans will need to find a young quarterback for the spot, who they can work to develop as insurance and who will be able to offer an option as the No. 2 if Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick suffers an injury that results in any missed time. One team that won't claim Smith -- his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars.

What's next: I could see the Titans shopping for a veteran safety as they sift through cuts. Seventh-round pick Daimion Stafford is on the roster now, but the Titans are heavy with strong safeties and light at free safety. They’d probably like better balance and Stafford could ultimately land on the practice squad. With 10 defensive linemen plus strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers in line to play a good share of end, the last pure end -- Keyunta Dawson -- is hardly a lock at this point. Only one injured Titan, rookie linebacker Zaviar Gooden, is likely to miss the season opener at Pittsburgh.

Tennessee Titans cuts: S Al Afalava, T Daniel Baldridge, TE Brandon Barden (injured), DT Stefan Charles, DT Zach Clayton, TE Jack Doyle, LB Gary Guyton, DT DaJohn Harris, S Corey Lynch, FB Collin Mooney, DE Nigel Nicholas, RB Jalen Parmele, WR Rashad Ross, LB Tim Shaw, QB Rusty Smith, LB-DE Scott Solomon, G Kasey Studdard, WR Dontel Watkins, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Khalid Wooten, C-G Fernando Velasco

Placed on Injured-reserve: WR/returner Marc Mariani.

Titans confirm 10 cuts

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn -- The Tennessee Titans announced in a news release their first 10 cuts, eight of which had previously been reported by The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt.

The 10:

S Al Afalava
T Daniel Baldridge
TE Brandon Barden (injured)
DT Zach Clayton
LB Gary Guyton
DT DaJohn Harris
DE Nigel Nicholas
RB Jalen Parmele
G Kasey Studdard
WR Dontel Watkins

All of these moves were predictable.

Clayton was a seventh-rounder in 2011. Harris made last year's team as an undrafted free agent, and Afalafa was a veteran backup.

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The game book from Week 3 told us quite a bit.

While the "did not play" list isn’t ironclad -- even professional stat crews miss guys when there are 90 a side -- it tends to be pretty telling.

Of healthy guys who didn’t play, four of the six were part of the cuts that got the Titans from 90 to 75. Defensive end Nigel Nicholas was listed a not having played, but he actually played five snaps.

The Tennessee-Minnesota game book doesn’t offer such hints, though plenty of the coming cuts to get the Titans down to 53 are obvious.

The Titans sat a slew of veterans, both dinged and healthy. The team granted preseason action to plenty of guys who won’t be on their team, and a number who won’t be on any team.

Here’s the list of guys who didn't play:

WR Kendall Wright
WR Kenny Britt
RB Shonn Greene
RB Chris Johnson
CB Jason McCourty
S Bernard Pollard
FB Quinn Johnson
LB Zaviar Gooden
LB Zach Brown
LB Akeem Ayers
TE Brandon Barden
WR Marc Mariani
WR Nate Washington
DE Derrick Morgan
DE Ropati Pitoitua
DT Sammie Lee Hill
DT Jurrell Casey

Barden is the only guy on that list who is a likely cut, and he tweaked a knee during the preparation week. The injured Johnson could lose out to Collin Mooney. Mariani (shoulder) is in a fight for the return job.

Otherwise, everyone on that list is on the team. Ten of them will be starters. Wright is the third receiver. Greene is the second running back.

So we get no hints.

One more game book note: It’s preseason for the stat guys, too. They gave credit for Daimion Stafford's third interception to Al Afalava.

Priority one: Tennessee Titans

January, 23, 2013
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Today we look at the biggest issues facing each team in the AFC South and give you an opportunity to assess priority one:

Pending free agents of note: Tight end Jared Cook, kicker Rob Bironas, return man Darius Reynaud, fullback Quinn Johnson, guard Leroy Harris, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks.

Weaknesses: Defense. The Titans couldn’t stop good teams from moving the ball and scoring points. They need a better pass rush to hurry quarterbacks up and better safeties/ safety play to bolster the secondary. Jake Locker was inaccurate and inefficient in his first year as the quarterback, plus he got hurt.

SportsNation

What should be priority one for the Titans?

  •  
    7%
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    31%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    39%
  •  
    3%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,203)

Unsettled starting jobs: All three interior offensive line positions require attention. Steve Hutchinson could retire, but isn’t the answer at left guard if he doesn’t unless the other two spots get big upgrades. Fernando Velasco was the center after a camp injury to Eugene Amano, and Harris was the right guard until an injury ended his year. Strong safety is up in the air too, where Jordan Babineaux and Al Afalava don't cut it.

Depth issues: Critics will be quick to say the offensive line depth is a question, but the Titans needed starts from six backups, and no one can be 11 deep on the line. Upgrade starters and the backups may be fine. They aren’t deep enough at end or safety. They need a better option for if/when middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is hurt. I’m OK with the top three corners, but one injury and they’re in trouble.

Health concerns: Locker had postseason surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder. On the offensive line, Hutchinson had right knee surgery after he was injured with four games left and right tackle David Stewart is coming off a broken leg. Returner Marc Mariani suffered a compound broken left leg, tibia and fibula, in the preseason. Kenny Britt was back from knee issues, but was determined to get to the bottom of swelling and soreness this offseason.

Unseen issue: Coach Mike Munchak fired four assistants (including offensive coordinator Chris Palmer during the season) and brought in three outsiders while moving some others around. Will we see improved play on special teams and from linebackers, tight ends, receivers and running backs?

Fraying Titans overmatched by Bears

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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Mike MunchakAP Photo/Wade PayneMike Munchak and the Titans have a lot of work to do after Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches warned players all week about how Charles Tillman strips the ball, offering specifics of his techniques.

Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?

Not anything good.

Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears on Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans prepared a game plan for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.

It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.

“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...

“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”

Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.

But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal-formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?

“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”

Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.

“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”

He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.

“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”

The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.

“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesChicago's Charles Tillman made an impact right from the start of Sunday's game.
The log for the first 15 minutes:
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”

Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.

“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.

I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special-teams coach, Alan Lowry.

The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.

“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”

“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”

Where do they go from here?

A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple of teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.

Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.

What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?

Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.

That didn’t happen.

After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.

Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.

Tennessee Titans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Click here for the complete list of Tennessee Titans' roster moves.
Most significant move: Al Afalava didn’t stick with the Colts when they were thinned out in the secondary, but he’s the Titans' fourth safety at the start. Another former member of the Indianapolis secondary, Aaron Francisco, had done some great special teams work and I thought he would win that job. Afalava may be sturdier, which could have helped his case. With end Dave Ball (concussion) and Leger Douzable (shoulder) put on IR, there was room for an additional tackle. But the Titans cut Zach Clayton in favor of DaJohn Harris on the inside rather than keeping both.

Onward and upward: Running back and returner Darius Reynaud was a big story in camp, and may have been destined to stick even before return man Marc Mariani suffered a terrible broken leg. The running back can do nice work in the screen game and should be a pretty good returner. On defense, Pannel Egboh, has floated around the practice squad circuit. Now he gets the big payoff and should get some work as the third end who takes some snaps on clear run downs while giving Derrick Morgan or Kamerion Wimbley a rest.

What’s next: The Titans third corner, Tommie Campbell, is in his second season. And beyond him cornerback depth is very inexperienced, with rookie Coty Sensabaugh and Ryan Mouton (who missed his second season hurt). A veteran corner could be a quality addition. The team is heavy at running back with Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, Jamie Harper and Reynaud plus fullback Quinn Johnson. I’m skeptical of the need for a fullback who’s not an ace special teamer, and Quinn Johnson is not one.
ANDERSON, Ind. -- It’s trendy to call the Colts aging and to view the Texans and even the Jaguars as up-and-comers in the AFC South.

But if Indianapolis is healthy, it’s awfully risky to be ahead of the curve regarding its demise.

This is a team that lost a ton of talent to injury last season and still won the division at 10-6. It’s added some nice pieces on defense through bargain-basement free-agency. It drafted two offensive tackles who should be pillars, and also selected a short-yardage back.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about a big rebound year, and most teams aren’t even talking rebound when it comes to following a division title.

“I think it’s really the same team,” middle linebacker Gary Brackett said.

The same team is a major threat to win the division and compete for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Should it break through for the third Super Bowl appearance of the Peyton Manning era, a huge prize awaits: The game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Manning’s health.

Peyton Manning
Photo/Michael ConroyIt's unclear how soon Peyton Manning will return from offseason neck surgery.
He spoke after signing his contract and has been seen around the team a couple of times during training camp at Anderson University. But like in 2008 following offseason knee surgeries, he’s not practicing.

This time it’s a result of neck surgery in May. It’s the second year in a row Manning had a neck procedure after the season. But he and the team have expressed confidence that all he needs is time and rehabilitation. It’s unlikely that a five-year, $90 million contract would have gotten done if the medical staff and management had any doubts.

While the Colts move forward without Manning, his absence also puts them in limbo. No matter how strongly they spin Curtis Painter’s performance, the defense isn’t being pushed in practice the way it would be if Manning was running the other side.

And no matter how precise the routes, how good the blocking or how well-timed the play, the offense will still need to sync it all up with the star quarterback once he returns.

That knee in 2008 limited him early, when the team struggled out of the gate. Coming back from a neck injury, Manning is less likely to have any sort of mechanical issues or physical limitations that affect his passing. That’s one case for expecting a better start after so much missed time.

The timetable for his return is unknown. You know the drill: They say he’s progressing well, that they are optimistic, etc., and no one outside a very tight circle has any real idea when he will re-emerge. He was spotted once throwing with what a witness called “decent velocity.” Hey, encouraging news is encouraging news.

2. Is the secondary deep enough?

Last season, the Colts were stretched virtually everywhere. Aaron Francisco wasn’t on the team for opening day, ranking as the fourth or fifth option at strong safety, and he played a good share of the season as the starter.

Behind free safety Antoine Bethea and re-signed and healthy strong safety Melvin Bullitt, there are unproven options including Al Afalava, Joe Lefeged, Mike Newton, David Caldwell and Chip Vaughn.

And after the top three corners -- Jerraud Powers, Justin Tryon and Jacob Lacey -- there also isn’t proven depth.

“At the safety position, I’m confident that we’re going to get two guys that will emerge there,” Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said. “We see enough signs to know that there is quality in that group.

“I also think there is some quality in the backup corners. Kevin Thomas is one of them. There are some interesting guys, and they’ll play themselves on or off the roster based on the preseason. But based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’d say we’ve got a good group and one or two guys will emerge.”

They will all benefit, of course, from a better pass rush. And if Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are better supplemented by Jerry Hughes and Jamaal Anderson on the edges and Tommie Harris provides a solid nickel push in the middle, they could have one.

3. Will the passing game have enough consistent weapons?

The ability of the 2010 Colts to get production from the likes of tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White was remarkable.

Austin Collie
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Colts hope Austin Collie's concussion issues are in the past and that he'll be on the field for the entire season.
But if they can’t count on often-injured receiver Anthony Gonzalez or Austin Collie, who was shut down last season after concussion issues, it will be harder to make things go again.

Reggie Wayne is in fantastic shape and working hard, and will be a key target for Manning as always. Dallas Clark is back from a wrist injury. If the Colts are calling plays for those two and Pierre Garcon, Collie and Gonzalez, they can be potent. If the group shrinks, the effort is more exhausting.

Manning averaged 6.92 yards per attempt in 2010. That’s the lowest mark in his career outside of his rookie season (6.5). The Colts need to find more big plays and move the ball with a little less effort to be the kind of team they want to be.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

If the Colts get a significant contribution out of Anderson, Harris or linebacker Ernie Sims, it’ll be a win. All three signed cost-effective one-year deals that amount to low-risk, high-reward scenarios. Polian said in a normal year, the market wouldn’t have given the team an opportunity to sign players like these, veterans who are all ideally suited for Indy’s defense. If they get something from two of them, it will make for a home run. Three-for-three amounts to a grand slam. Harris looks very good so far, while Sims is recovering from an appendectomy.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Polian was singing Philip Wheeler’s praises and saying that while the team loves starting strongside linebacker Pat Angerer, it loves Wheeler too. But he failed to hold the job last season and should be able to win and hold a starting job by now. Brody Eldridge gets a mention, too. He had knee surgery after last season, and a setback means he hasn’t seen the practice field yet. They need him to be part of the run game.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Delone Carter is coming into a perfect situation as a rookie. He’s unlike any of the Colts' other running backs and should get chances in short yardage and goal-line situations. If Javarris James ran for six touchdowns last season, Carter could run for 12 this fall. The Colts can continue to praise Donald Brown, but with Joseph Addai back and Carter in the fold, when does Brown get on the field?
  • It was a surprise to find Lacey as the No. 2 cornerback at the start of camp. He was better as a rookie than in his second season. And he can be an effective piece of the secondary. But I’d bet on Tryon passing him before opening day.
  • After one long and hot afternoon practice session, two players stuck around to catch machine-thrown balls: Wayne and Bethea. Those are some solid veterans and the kind of guys any team would like to have leading the way.
  • Manning didn’t react well to TV crews that saw a recent throwing and running session. My understanding is that the Earth is still spinning, however. I understand being private, but everything and everyone cannot always be controlled. Did I miss the catastrophic outcome?
  • The buzz is good on Hughes, and with him and Anderson in the mix, the Colts may pace Freeney and Mathis better. That could make for fresher stars in December and January.
  • They won’t talk until after the season, but as of now I’d expect the Colts to try to keep both Wayne and Mathis with new contracts.
  • Jacques McClendon or Joe Reitz could be an upgrade over Kyle DeVan at left guard. The big question on the line to me -- presuming Anthony Castonzo takes over left tackle reasonably quickly -- is right guard. Mike Pollak has had sufficient opportunity, and the team can aspire to be better there. Couldn’t they be better with Ben Ijalana there until he’s ready to displace Ryan Diem at right tackle?
  • 'Tis the season for Garcon to prove he's a consistently reliable threat. He had too many drops and too many lapses last season. He needs to be more than fast. He spent more time with Manning this offseason, before the neck surgery, than he did last offseason.

First look: Colts' depth chart

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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ANDERSON, Ind. – A first look at the Colts’ first unofficial depth chart gives us some nuggets to consider:

Austin Collie out for Chargers-Colts

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
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The Colts just issued their weekly Tuesday injury update:
"Defensive back Bob Sanders (biceps) and wide receiver Austin Collie will be out this week against San Diego. Collie will be held out as a precautionary measure. After being cleared medically to participate at New England, he encountered symptoms from his previous injury at Philadelphia (concussion), though there was no recurrence at New England. Running back Joseph Addai will progress to practice this week for conditioning purposes. Addai will participate in non-contact drills only, and a timetable for a full return to action is uncertain. The club has placed defensive back Chip Vaughn (ankle) on injured reserve, and defensive back Al Afalava has been signed as a free agent."

The Colts will use Blair White as the third wide receiver. We wrote about him earlier today.

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