AFC South: Al Smith

The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans “had a player-organized performance incentives pool to reward big plays” with money, reports Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Gregg Williams coached for 11 years with the franchise including a term as defensive coordinator from 1997-2000.

But the players who spoke to Wyatt said that Williams, now at the center of the NFL revelation that the Saints ran a bounty program while he was coordinator there, was not involved.

Current and former Oilers and Titans, including some who played for Williams, said the practice is common in NFL locker rooms. They said their coaches were aware of the incentive pools and didn’t discourage them, but they didn’t organize bonus programs or hand out money for deliberately injuring an opponent.
“That stuff has been going on since Buddy Ryan, and long before that,” said former Oilers linebacker Al Smith, who played for Ryan (Oilers defensive coordinator in 1993) and later for Williams. “Buddy used to put it simple: If you take the other team’s best player out, your chance of winning increases dramatically.

“Gregg felt the same way, but that’s the theme across the league. It was never ‘Go blow this guy’s knee out and you’ll get paid.’ It was just football. It was a defensive mentality thing.”

Wyatt talked to 12 players. Former Oilers/Titans safety Blaine Bishop strongly denied that Williams had any sort of program like the one the league found in New Orleans. (Disclosure: Bishop and I work for the same radio Nashville radio station.)

Former linebacker Keith Bulluck did a good job putting into perspective the whole idea of chasing a quarterback with a financial incentive to injure him.
“No coach that I ever played for ever asked me or any of my teammates to deliberately take someone out either on purpose or for any amount of money. It is football, and at the end of the day it is a strategic game, and as a defender I am trying to get to the ball as fast as possible with a bad attitude and hit the ball carrier as hard as I can within the structure of the game,” he said.

“But you don’t try and inflict injury on somebody. And as far as us going out there to take Peyton Manning out — it is hard enough to get to him, so to take him out in a way in which he wouldn’t be able to come back into the game would be pretty noticeable and pretty absurd. We had a hard enough time just hitting him.’’

It’s a fast game. Guys are paid big dollars to hit hard. What level of extra motivation would be added by pools that might award them a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars for especially big hits?

I question the professionalism of a guy who needs that sort of boost to do his job well.

But maybe later I will be reaching out to the other seven members of the blog network to see if we want to set up something where we all toss in some bucks and the big entry of the week gets something a little extra.
Sheldon Spencer, an NFL editor at ESPN.com HQ, has been digging through draft history for the past several weeks to assemble round-by-round all-star teams.

Here’s a description of the process -- AFL drafts aren’t a piece of this until the NFL and AFL merged drafts in 1967. We’re talking about players who performed well with the franchise who drafted them.

The AFC South’s had a lot fewer picks than any other division in the NFL since the Jaguars and Texans have not been operating for long and the Titans only date back to that 1967 draft. The Colts have candidates dating back to 1953. Indianapolis and Tennessee are sure to have multiple entries in the series that take us back to Baltimore and Houston.

Here’s the seventh-round and beyond team.

The Colts' Raymond Berry is the division’s lone representative.

Three others earned mentions in the also considered category: Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, Colts defensive tackle Fred Miller, Oilers safety Ken Houston. Also of note in the also considered category is Earnest Byner, now running backs coach in Jacksonville.

Here’s the sixth-round all-star club.

Oilers linebacker Al Smith, and Colts safety Antoine Bethea make the team.

Colts linebacker Cato June was considered, as were a couple of Bos from the Oilers: Bo Orlando and Bo Scaife.

Stay tuned for more division-specific details as other teams are unveiled. On Wednesday, we get the fifth and fourth rounds, Thursday the third and second and Friday the first.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.

The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.

Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.

"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"

Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.

"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.

"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."

More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.

Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.

Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.

George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville

McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.

"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.

"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."

George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.

"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.

"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD