AFC South: Alge Crumpler

Final Word: AFC South

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Full effort: The Jaguars have struggled in the second half this season. To win at Reliant Stadium they’ll have to change the trend or jump ahead early. Jacksonville has not had its bye yet but still has the fewest second-half points in the league (29). It is 30th in point differential (minus-46) and 31st in yards per game (132.4). The defense and running game need to carry over what they did against Baltimore in the Monday night upset, while Blaine Gabbert has to do a lot more in the passing game.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Jim Brown/US PresswireArian Foster has stepped up for Houston in the passing game with 287 receiving yards over the past three games.
Foster and more Foster: Arian Foster was fantastic last week, topping 100 yards rushing and receiving and scoring three touchdowns. ESPN Stats & Information says he’s averaging 4.0 yards a carry over the last two seasons against defenses with eight men in the box. The Texans would be wise to continue their patient approach with ailing star receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) and continue to rely heavily on Foster. With Johnson out, Foster’s been targeted 20 times, the most of any Houston player. Only Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Jimmy Graham and Steve Smith have more than Foster’s 287 receiving yards over the past three weeks.

Another run-game factor: Chris Johnson’s struggles running the ball for the Titans have been a giant story. We’ve talked extensively about his shortcomings and the potential for changes on the line. But tight ends have been big for him when things have gone well. Craig Stevens took over for Alge Crumpler as the team’s primary blocking tight end last season. But Stevens is dealing with a rib injury and there is only so much he can do, given the level of pain he has to deal with. It’s hard to heal when you’re constantly getting hit in the area in question. Watch him and see if he’s able to take people on and if he’s less effective later in the game.

Scoring defense woes: The Colts have allowed at least 23 points in all seven of their games this season. If they give up 23 to the Titans, they will become the second team in the last 30 seasons to allow at least 23 points in their first eight games of a season, joining the 2010 Texans. How can they slow the bleeding? Well, they’re giving up touchdowns 63.3 percent of the time opponents get inside the Colts' 20-yard line. There seems to be little to lose by playing more aggressively with tighter coverage close to their goal line. It can’t be much worse.

Double division action: With two head-to-head division matchups, the standings will tell us a lot come Sunday night. Houston can pull away, or allow the Jaguars to be right in the mix. The Titans can rebound and stay close to the top, or be part of Indianapolis’ first win and come out of things in third place. Labeling contenders and pretenders will be easier after we see how these two play out.

Camp Confidential: Tennessee Titans

August, 22, 2010
8/22/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 18

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Since 2002, Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans have had a losing record in the first month five times. Last season, it wasn’t just a bad start, it was a miserable 0-6.

Fisher and his staff have often been masterful at guiding a team’s climb out of a hole, but starting off on more level ground is a necessity if the young 2010 Titans are to re-emerge as a playoff team.

“Camp’s different than it was last year, we have four preseason games rather than five, we had injuries to deal with,” Fisher said. “We’re going to work on a couple opponents [earlier], prepare for them a little differently.

“We need to get off to a good start this year.”

A lot of recognizable names are gone, and that’s fine if a youth movement is as stocked as they believe it is. But it’s the sort of roster that could need time to settle in, which could mean early struggles again.

THREE HOT ISSUES

Will there be sufficient leadership?

[+] EnlargeAhmard Hall
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesAhmard Hall is a likely candidate to help fill the leadership void in Nashville.
Even if Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck, Alge Crumpler and Kevin Mawae were all starting to tail off and even if the Titans feel they have an upgrade over each, that is still as big a loss of collective leadership in one offseason as I can recall. The people in place to lead now -- guys like safety Chris Hope and fullback Ahmard Hall -- have to maintain, or increase, their level of production to attain and maintain the credibility that batch had.

Linebacker Will Witherspoon was the biggest veteran addition, and he looks to be a top candidate to take on a leadership mantle. But as a newcomer he’s got to figure out how to fit himself smoothly into the mix.

“With me it’s more about deciphering how to approach individuals,” Witherspoon said. “…Those are the kind of things you have to figure out. You look at the stages of leadership and different types of leadership. I’m not the guy who’s a loudmouth, getting down a guy’s throat.

“But I will, if I feel like I need to, take a guy aside and say look, ‘Here’s what I see, here’s what going on and here’s how people feel about it. Here’s what I can tell you is going to change it or you’re just going to end up with a real problem.’”

Vince Young needs to play a solid 16 games.

He’s got the league’s most explosive back behind him, an excellent offensive line protecting him and the franchise’s best crop of wide receivers in some time. Things are set up for Young to succeed as the team’s starting quarterback.

The Titans need to know they can count on him to bounce back from play-to-play, series-to-series, day-to-day and week-to-week. They need improved accountability, accuracy and consistency. They need for him not to provide reasons for fans to debate whether Rusty Smith is actually the team’s quarterback of the future.

There are more questions on defense, and the Titans need to do some scoring to allow for the sort of mistakes some of the young defenders are bound to make, especially early on.

Can the pass rush and secondary improve?

[+] EnlargeChris Hope
AP Photo/Stephen MortonChris Hope and the Titans' secondary will have to defend better against the play-action pass.
The pass rush was insufficient and the secondary failed to hold up when it needed to last. Fisher said the back end needs to be better on play-action but that the regular rush against drop back passes should be improved with a deep crop of defensive linemen.

“If we can get back to where we were with the guys rushing up front in the rotation, they’ll be fine,” Fisher said. “The play-action pass, that’s got to get done by the secondary. You don’t get as quick pressure on the quarterback in the play-action pass. We gave up too many plays in the play-action passing game last year. That’s going to require better play from the linebackers and the secondary.

“On drop backs we should really be able to do some more things.”

They don’t have clear-cut guys as the primary rushers or for the No. 2 corner spot. But they have the next best thing in what appear to be a deep pool of young options.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Harris and Stevens: Offensive lineman Leroy Harris and tight end Craig Stevens might prove more effective than Mawae and Crumpler, the two guys they are replacing. Harris is actually at left guard, with Eugene Amano sliding inside to center. Stevens doesn’t have Crumpler’s girth but can fend off a would-be tackler and/or slip out into a route so long as concussion issues don’t surface again.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Morgan out: First-round pick Derrick Morgan has been sidelined for camp with a calf injury. The defensive end has missed so much installation and work it will be tough for him to contribute. The Titans have to hope some combination of William Hayes (once he’s healthy), Jacob Ford, Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Raheem Brock can effectively rush off the edge from the start.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeLavelle Hawkins
    Don McPeak/US PresswireLavelle Hawkins has been impressive during the preseason, but can the fourth-year receiver rise on the team's depth chart?
    Offensive line coach Mike Munchak consistently develops talent, but the Titans have virtually no experience behind their starting offensive line. Mike Otto could be sufficient as the backup swing tackle, but they could look for a veteran interior swing guy after cuts.
  • Lavelle Hawkins has gotten great reviews and is more of a traditional slot receiver than Justin Gage. It’ll be great for the team if Hawkins provides an option inside, but I’ll wait until he’s deployed in a meaningful game before buying the hype.
  • Babin is a new reclamation project for defensive line coach Jim Washburn. He’s suited for the team’s go-get-the-quarterback mentality and in practice, and in the first preseason game, appeared to be getting off the ball with excellent speed.
  • Jared Cook is only now starting to flash and create the buzz he generated at this time a year ago. The second-year tight end is a physical specimen and an attractive target, but word is he’s not as reliable as he should be. One thing that can hurt his cause: Stevens, while nowhere near Cook as an explosive threat, has been catching the ball well.
  • Dowell Loggains was promoted to quarterbacks coach when Fisher shuffled his staff a bit with the late departure of running back coach Kennedy Pola. Loggains has used some creative new methods to keep things fresh for his guys. It seems small but can make a big difference.
  • Ryan Mouton is not on par with the more consistent Jason McCourty or the more instinctive rookie Alterraun Verner among the cornerbacks vying for the No. 2 spot. I expect McCourty to start opposite Cortland Finnegan with Verner backing up the effective, but oft-injured, Vincent Fuller at nickelback. Verner’s ability to find a pick almost every day is one of the big stories of camp.
  • Sen’Derrick Marks is significantly stronger than he was as a rookie and could be an influential player for a defensive line that’s expected to be much more productive.
  • The Titans saw young defensive coordinators Gregg Williams and Jim Schwartz reach new comfort levels in their second seasons. Chuck Cecil expects to follow a similar course. Cecil knows that if he doesn’t, he’ll face another season of uncomfortable questions.
The Titans' addition of veteran tight end Sean Ryan amounts to Craig Stevens insurance.

Ryan
Ryan
“Just a blocker,” Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson said. “Tough kid. Hard worker. Limited abilities. Will struggle to separate. Little quickness. Zero downfield ability.”

Stevens has a huge fan in Frank Wycheck, the former Oilers/Titans tight end who’s now the Titans' radio play-by-play man. I work with Wycheck on The Wake Up Zone on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville. We’re on the air now and I asked him for his thoughts on Ryan during a break.

“He is the same type of guy, he’s pretty much an older Craig Stevens,” Wycheck said. “In camp you need bodies, you need guys. And Sean Ryan could be a guy that kind of pops and you like him and he clicks. If he does well he could put them in position to keep four tight ends. But if he’s not head and shoulders above Craig Stevens his worth isn’t as much.”

Bo Scaife and Jared Cook will be the passing-target tight ends. Stevens will draw the dirty work after the free-agent departure of Alge Crumpler, who got too much attention for being extra big and not enough attention for a big role in Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard campaign.

The Titans carried Scaife, Crumpler, Cook and Stevens last year.

Journeyman Ryan has been out there, some Titans fans will say, so how good can he be?

But if Ryan has a big camp Tennessee could decide it needs to stick with the four tight-end idea. If Stevens were to get hurt, they’d likely need a blocking tight end to fill in rather than trying to use Scaife or Cook in more of a blocking role.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple of notes, a couple of quotes and a couple of thoughts out of the Titans' organized training activities session Tuesday morning.

  • Two receivers made nice sideline plays, showing nice body control and feet. Nate Washington climbed the ladder and spun on the first, which was delivered by Vince Young to a spot where nothing bad could have happened but wasn’t exactly crisp. Justin Gage's play wasn’t quite as nice and came on a better thrown ball from Young.
  • Will Witherspoon had a short-range interception over the middle of Kerry Collins.
  • During a punting period, Ken Amato struggled to snap consistently and Brett Kern had to show off his athleticism to collect a few of them. (It couldn't have been a wild snap drill, could it?) Damian Williams was among the handful of players fielding the punts and looked comfortable, but there was no one coming at him in a drill that was about the punts not the returns.
  • First-rounder Derrick Morgan was dealing with some tightness left over from Monday and wasn’t a participant. Jeff Fisher said the team is being careful and indicated it’s not a big deal.
  • Fourth-round corner Alterraun Verner and undrafted running back LeGarrette Blount were the two missing rookies. As their classes at UCLA and Oregon are still ongoing, NFL rules prevent them from joining the team yet. They will surface in June.
  • Jeff Fisher’s not nearly as worried about the Titans’ leadership void as I am on a team that’s minus Kyle Vanden Bosch, Kevin Mawae, Keith Bulluck and Alge Crumpler: “A lot has been made of this, but I’m not concerned about the leadership on this football team. You can have leadership and you can have an awful locker room. This is a good locker room. …There are enough guys here that will step up.”
  • Always reluctant to go the hypothetical route, Fisher delved into Keith Bulluck a bit: “Hypothetically if Keith was fine for the start of training camp and able to play in the preseason games and is 100 percent and we were able to get him under contract, he’s a starter, yeah. But that’s the best-case scenario and it’s not going to be a realistic scenario just from the timing standpoint as you deal with the ACL.” I feel confident the Titans are moving forward with no intention of re-signing Bulluck, who’s unrestricted.
  • As for the other incumbent outside linebacker, David Thornton, who’s coming off shoulder and hip injuries: “He’s still a ways away right now,” Fisher said. “Right now he’s not able to practices, so no, he’s not [a starter]. …[His injury tendency] is a legitimate concern. Sometimes guys will have a couple years where they have issues and then can put it behind them and can play a number of more years. It’s not going to be because David didn’t work at it.”
Houston Texans

Exploring Brian Cushing’s roots with Jeffrey Martin.

Trindon Holliday, the fastest player in the draft, was the fastest draft pick to sign, says John Clayton.

Houston’s OTAs start Monday, says John McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

"You may change color in a couple of rooms or move some furniture around or pick up a new piece of furniture, but for the most part, the structure of this thing is intact. We're not trying to change a system or bring in a new scheme or anything like that." Clyde Christensen talked to Phil Richards.

A pre OTA-look at the corners with John Oehser. This continuing series is worth catching up on if you’ve been away from it like I have.

Bill Polian ultimately passed on the left tackles in the draft because they did not fit the Colts’ draft philosophy says 18to88.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The No. 2 receiver spot ranks as a biggie for Dirk Koetter, says Vic Ketchman.

The pass rush has nothing to do with tackling problems at safety, writes Ketchman.

Count the Republican party of Florida as a Jaguars' supporter, says David Hunt.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans will bear down on Kenny Britt, says Jim Wyatt.

With Alge Crumpler gone, Craig Stevens needs to graduate into a reliable blocking tight end, writes John Glennon.

Nate Washington says Chris Johnson looks great, writes Wyatt.

No shows by Johnson and the Redskins Albert Haynesworth are two different things, says David Climer.

A look at other business decision issues the Titans have faced before Johnson, from David Boclair.
Joe in Chicago writes: The past few weeks I’ve been hearing a lot about players receiving roster bonuses. How does that work? If a player does not receive a roster bonus would it still count against the cap (if there was one) or does it work like an expiring contract that would not have any cap hit?

Paul Kuharsky: There are really two kind of roster bonuses.

If I give you a big contract now with $30 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus, with roster bonuses of $5 million next year and $5 million more the year after, they amount to deferred payments. If I’ve paid you the 20, it’s pretty much assured I’m going to pay you the other 10.

The second kind come later in a contract and are there to force a decision: If you’re due $2.5 million at the start of the league year, I either have to judge you to be worth it, which pretty much ensures you’re going to be on the team this season, or I cut you to avoid it, which gives you the opportunity to go find a better gig.

If you’re cut to avoid it, it wouldn’t count against a cap.

OK, we go heavy on the Titans from here. Before the complainants from Houston, Indy and Jacksonville perk up, let me say I can only answer the questions I get and the mailbag address is no secret.

Onward…


Titan4fan in Brentwood, TN writes: Why are the Titans not making any roster moves? I am a 10 year PSL season ticket holder ready to give them up, tired of watching Ravens and Jets improve dramatically while we do nothing. We are in the second wave of FA several good options available. Need a quality cornerback, safety, defensive end, quarterback and returner that can be signed at a reasonable price. We are paying a backup quarterback $7.5M that needs to retire. We could use that money plus the other $18M saved on players not re-signed that we could upgrade. Titan fans are getting tired of Bud Adams’ and Jeff Fisher’s plan, they deserve a championship. Bud spend some money, you can't take it to heaven with you!!!! Now is the time.

Paul Kuharsky: Good options are available?

OK, I’ll bite. Please give me a couple names.

They got a veteran corner, linebacker and, if the Eagles don’t match, defensive end.

That’s not bad for a team looking to build through the draft. They’ve got experienced insurance or depth, and can now go get kids with upside.

Who is it you want that’s available right now? How many FAs did Colts and Saints add last season before they went to the Super Bowl?

As for Kerry Collins’ money -- he doesn’t get a new dime until the first week of the season. (And it’s $5.5 M left not $7.5.) So with no second quarterback in play, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to make a move now?


Brad in Houston writes: PK, what is your take on Kirk Morrison? I believe he is a solid run defender and a very consistent player who would fit what the Titans do. Could something materialize with sending LenDale White to Oakland in exchange for Morrison so that no draft picks are lost? Morrison was only tendered with a 3rd rounder.

Paul Kuharsky: I like what I know of him. But it would take a third or a fourth. People don’t give away good players for your junk and a lot of the league doesn’t regard White in a good light. Also, does Oakland need a running back? I don’t think it does.

Here’s something that touched on Morrison at the start of free agency.


Jim in Memphis writes: Because the Titans are a small-market team, does that constrain their activity in free agency? They seem to want to save the bank, but have spent in the past and been burned. Steve McNair and Eddie George come to mind. It seems to me that they spend when they see something great and rarely miss.

Paul Kuharsky: No. Small market stuff is way over played. Does it hurt New Orleans or Indianapolis? They were in the Super Bowl. It’s not about saving the bank, it’s about paying what they judge someone to be worth. You think they should have spent on George and McNair? It was clear when they left they were done (McNair had one more year in him, George none) and the Titans had made the right decision rather than the sentimental one.


Gerald Ball from parts unknown writes: Four questions. 1. Will the Titans make a run at Nate Vasher, the 28 year old Pro Bowl CB just released by the Bears? 2. Will the Titans start going after linebackers who can rush the passer like South Carolina's Eric Norwood (who has a third-round grade)? 3. Jordan Shipley is very good at returning kicks and punts, and would help the Titans more at wide receiver in 2010 than Lavelle Hawkins and Paul Williams put together. Any chance the Titans have interest? 4. Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler won't be in Nashville past 2010. Are the Titans likely to get a TE in the draft? Thanks!

Paul Kuharsky: 1) Don’t think he’s a fit. Once a Pro Bowler doesn’t mean always a Pro Bowler. Doesn’t sound like a great Titans’ match. 2) They don’t rush the passer often with their linebackers, so I don’t see why that would become a focus. But sure you’d like your backers to have that skill set. 3) Sure they’d love Shipley. They just don’t have a pick anywhere near where he will get drafted, I don’t think. 4) Maybe late. But the tight ends of the future are Jared Cook and Craig Stevens, both recent third-rounders. Crumpler left between the time you wrote in and I posted this.


Darcy in Columbus, OH writes: On your recent draft update and the past you have mentioned the Titans need for a defensive end. I realize it's a primary need, but wouldn't be easier to "kill two birds with one stone" by drafting a corner/return specialist with the first pick? Such as Kyle Wilson (if he's still there) or Devin McCourty (family)? Just wanted to know your input? Thanks

Paul Kuharsky: It’d be a nice bonus. But if you don’t love him as a position player, you can’t let the return skills over-influence you. And if he’s good enough to start on defense, you’re not going to want to use him as a special teamer for very long.

McCourty shouldn’t get graded up because they have his brother.


Josh Cates in Louisville, KY writes: I have a question about RFAs, and, as a Titans fan, I'll use LenDale White as my example to make the question clear. Do the Titans have Right of first refusal by default, or do they have to tender him the lowest RFA tender to have that right? And if they don't, and he doesn't get signed by another team, is he still a Titan next year? If so, at what salary -- RFA tender salary or his current contract salary?

Paul Kuharsky: You have to tender him, but tendered at any level you get ROFR. If you don’t tender him, he becomes free to sign anywhere -- see Marlin Jackson of the Colts who jumped to Philly. (Untendered, you’re basically unrestricted, but still categorized as restricted though no one has a right to match.)

You can pull an RFA's tender at any time, but it had to be put on him by the start of the new league year. And a guy can sign it at any time.

White will sign it -- they all do. The deadline is before the draft, and a team will say, “You’re last, best chance to get traded is on draft day, and we can’t move you if we don’t have you under contract.”


David Dunston in Nashville writes: Why don't you stir someone else's pot? What say we give Vince Young a chance to continue without constantly reminding the world that he could "fall back to the things that got him demoted the first time.” I guess you media guys do that so you can say, “Hey, I warned you.” Funny you hardly ever hear someone come out and say, “Boy, I blew that one... and let's face it, in the world of "Expert Opinion" most media blows it more than they get right. And they never have to answer for it. I like your articles most of the time. I might still get the Tennessean if you were still there. But you are National now, so cut us some slack.

Paul Kuharsky: I’m giving him a chance. Why in the world would I not be allowed to use his past as a potential predictor of his future? I did it with a number of players in that post – see Kris Brown, for example.

I don’t understand the idea that I am national now so I should cut you some slack. Please explain?

As for never admitting I am wrong, please see here (for a general admission) and here (for a Young-specific example).
Houston Texans

Bob McNair supports overtime reform, says John McClain.

McClain’s current draft thoughts and musings.

The Texans are hardly alone in being slow in free agency, says Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

A look at the cornerbacks from John Oehser.

Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s the deadline day for season-ticket renewals. Here’s an update from Michael C. Wright.

Quinn Gray is going to coach at a local high school, says Hays Carlyon.

Businesses are trying to help the Jaguars sell tickets, says Kevin Turner.

Tennessee Titans

Terry McCormick’s piece on Alge Crumpler’s departure to New England.

Jon Runyan is making a run for Congress.
It’s Titans’ Tight End Day at the AFC South Blog, or in the case of this post, former Titans tight end.

Titans Radio was first to report that Alge Crumpler has a deal with the tight-end needy New England Patriots. (Earlier Thursday I posted this column on Jared Cook.)

In two seasons with the Titans, Crumpler moved from his role in Atlanta as a top pass-catching tight end to a heavier on-the-line run blocker. He played a big role in Chris Johnson’s 2,000-yard season.

I’d heard questionable things about Crumpler as a locker room guy when he arrived in Nashville, but came to see they were unfounded, and suspect they were simply one mistaken impression of him from Atlanta as a new regime looked to sweep out the locker room.

The soft-spoken Crumpler is funny and smart and I’ll remember him for telling me there is no way I’d get his weight out of him, for advising Johnson unsuccessfully in the course of this piece, for insightful opinions about his friend Michael Vick during tough times and for his work with Jared Cook and Craig Stevens.

It’s Stevens, a third-rounder out of Cal in 2008, not Bo Scaife or Jared Cook, who stands to inherit most of Crumpler’s blocking work.

Here’s something what Cook said about Crumpler when we spoke Wednesday:
“Crump was a big influence on my first year, he just taught me so much. Every chance I got I would ask him questions, just picking his brain a little bit. He was kind of a backbone, to correct a lot of things when I came off the field in any aspect of the game. It’s just part of the game, if he won’t be here, well, that’s just part of football.

“Me and Crump, we’re two different types of tight ends. I think that’s more of Craig Stevens M.O. than mine.”

Cook progress vital for Titans

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
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Jared CookAP Photo/David RichardBecoming more consistent is important for Jared Cook if the tight end plans on being more involved in the Tennessee Titans' offense.
If there is a bigger X factor on offense in the AFC South for 2010 than Titans tight end Jared Cook, I’m not sure who he’d be.

As a rookie, Cook dazzled us with his post-draft, training camp and preseason work. His height, speed and athleticism made him look to be an impossible matchup as a route runner. He looked like he would plug in and be the team’s second-most dynamic offensive weapon, behind only Chris Johnson.

Then he suffered an ankle sprain and disappeared. Tennessee got nine catches for 74 yards out of him in 14 games, and the word out of team headquarters was his confidence plummeted and he did nothing to force the Titans to get him on the field.

“He needs to become much more consistent week to week if he’s going to play for us,” offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said this week. “He has to be more consistent in everything before he can play.”

And how much does he need to know what a consistent Jared Cook can bring?

“Oh, a tremendous amount,” Heimerdinger said. “Hell, I don’t even know who our team is besides C.J.”

It’s not surprising that a gruff coach like Heimerdinger would be unenthusiastic about his group in March as he prepares to prod them into improving and sets about refining the schemes in which people are deployed.

But Cook has the potential to make Heimerdinger a happier man. He also has the potential to make the Titans look bad. They traded their second-round pick this season, No. 48 overall, to New England in order to snare Cook with an extra third-rounder, No. 89, last year.

And Tennessee has a lot of needs, so a lot of people, Cook included, will be acutely conscious of how the trade will ultimately measure out. Some want to jump the gun and judge Cook a failure after one season, but it’s far too early for such conclusions.

“I’m aware,” Cook said. “I know I just have to do what I do best. Definitely it’s a chip on my shoulder, so as long as I put in hard work, everything is going to be all right.”

(Read full post)

Scaife signs his monster tender

March, 16, 2010
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I first learned through ESPN's Adam Schefter that Bo Scaife had signed his $4,908,200 restricted free-agent tender.

Scaife
Scaife
That’s a 10 percent raise for Scaife on what he made in 2009, when the Titans franchised him to prevent him from hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent -- and an excellent salary for him. The last year of the CBA changed the parameters for free agency and Scaife moved backward, to restricted status.

I am sure he’d rather have a long-term deal, with the Titans or someone else, but I’m not sure he’d get the sort of contract that would line up with the salaries of 2009 and 2010. After this year he will have made over $9.3 million in two seasons, more than I imagine he could have made in the first two years of a free-agent deal last year.

To me, Scaife’s not as dynamic as he was earlier in his career. But he’s still a valuable cog, especially with Vince Young at quarterback. Jared Cook is unproven, Craig Stevens is a blocking tight end and Alge Crumpler remains unrestricted.

I’m planning to write more about the Titans at tight end later this week, so please stay tuned.

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is working to refine his throwing motion. Will he play QB or some other position in the NFL? Let's assess his chances of landing in the AFC South.

Houston: Ideally you'd like a backup whose strength matches the starter's. That would be difficult with Tebow in Matt Schaub's offense. The team signed Dan Orlovsky to a pricey backup contract last year, then installed Rex Grossman as the No. 2 when he outplayed Orlovsky in camp. If they are especially active in free agency and whittle down their needs list, maybe they take a late flier on him. But with the crowd at quarterback, versatile Rice tight end James Casey selected in the fifth round last year and a reasonably long list of other priorities, Tebow does not seem like a fit.

Draft probability: Super low.

Indianapolis: A lot of analysts have used the Colts as an example of the sort of team Tebow needs to wind up with. In a stable, winning organization with no quarterback uncertainty, he would have the time to develop and find out whether he's a signal-caller or another niche. That's nice, but the Colts made the rare move of drafting a guy they hope to develop last year in Curtis Painter and then carried three quarterbacks until backup Jim Sorgi got hurt. Dallas Clark is one of the league's top-flight tight ends, and they already have great options out of the slot with Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez.

Draft probability: Low.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars drafted a quarterback with a slow wind-up at No. 7 overall in 2003 and Byron Leftwich has been gone a couple of years already. Tons of people automatically put Tebow in Jacksonville because he's a local guy who would be a huge story. But the Jaguars are not going to let their marketing people make their picks. They've swung and missed at a lot of Florida guys. They don't have a second-round pick because they traded it last year for a third-rounder (Derek Cox). They spent a sixth-rounder on quarterback-turned-tight end Zach Miller in 2009 and second-year GM Gene Smith needs another talented class that can contribute right away. All strikes against Tebow in my eyes. If he is to land in Jacksonville, it would have to be in the fourth round or later.

Draft probability: Low.

Tennessee: The Titans could well be in the market for a young backup to develop into an insurance policy behind Vince Young, but because they're dealing with a starter who's not a traditional pocket passer, I'd sure hope they'd think about a traditional pocket passer. If Tebow is to become some sort of H-back , perhaps he'd fit. But right now the Titans are expected to have Bo Scaife, Jared Cook and Craig Stevens around, with the possibility of Alge Crumpler too. The Titans have a lot of roster replenishing to do and lack a second-rounder from the trade that brought them Cook.

Draft probability: Low.

Mailbag: Position change requests

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
11:49
AM ET
Jahon in Carlsbad, CA writes: Paul, Since the Texans are letting Dunta walk, do you think they will make a play for Nnamdi Asomugha? Granted he has a huge salary, but he would also be a huge upgrade. Thanks, Jahon

Paul Kuharsky: Noooooooo.

Huge contract and would come with a steep price in draft picks. They can’t afford that with the needs they have beyond corner.


Peter in Nashville wants to know if I see the Titans chasing Dunta Robinson. “I know he isn't the shut down corner he was a few years ago, but he is still very good and would be great when paired with Cortland Finnegan. Is the price too high or will the Titans go for it? The Titans are not cheap, but certainly careful when it comes to signing players. Thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: Just because a corner with a recognizable name comes free he’s not automatically the right guy for the Titans.

It takes more than that. He’s probably on the downside -- he gave up some big plays last year, he's had a major injury. He’s going to be expensive. They are looking for upside and value. A non-match from my vantage point.


snozzberry in naptown writes: If San Diego gets rid of Darren Sproles, do you see the Colts making a move acquiring him? There is the rule of the final eight to contend with so maybe they would have to release somebody like say Bob Sanders, who would be picked by another team without a doubt. Or what about dropping Joe Addai?

Paul Kuharsky: Please list all the big-time outside free agents the Colts under Bill Polian have brought in?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Joe Addai, who’s going nowhere. Releasing Sanders doesn’t amount to having a free agent signed away, so it would do nothing to help them with the Final Eight rule.

Polian hasn’t been compelled to get a big time returner for years and is pretty set in his ways. If he changes them now, we’ll see it in the draft not with Sproles.

This edition of “My Primary Complaint” hits on some of this offseason fantasy football.


Colby in Houston writes: Hi Paul, Hoping you can clear something up for me. Assuming an uncapped year, how does D. Robinson leaving Houston affect the team in free agency? Doesn't a team have to lose a high profile free agent before they can sign another or is that just for the final eight playoff teams? Is this a signal that Houston may be willing to go after a higher profile free agent? Also, do they receive any compensation like a supplemental draft pick for losing a D. Rob? Thanks

Paul Kuharsky: It doesn’t affect them at all, except that they have a hole at corner and they are down one expensive salary.

They can sign anyone they want -- only the final eight can’t -- but I wouldn’t expect them to be major players in free agency. Maybe one big swing like they did with Antonio Smith last year, and that would leave them with one less need in the draft.

They’ll get a supplemental draft pick for Robinson in the 2011 draft.


Joseph in Kingsport, TN writes: Paul, love the column. Check it obsessively throughout the day. Keep up the wonderful work. Love the detail, insight, non-bias (or is anti-bias a better description of your view? hmmm I'm not quite so sure), and your love for the game of football itself. Being as how you covered the Titans closely for awhile, I'm sure you have plenty of memories of the Titans organization and players. I was just curious, what is your favorite memory of Steve McNair that you'd like to share with us, your faithful readers? Sorry for the nostalgia.

Paul Kuharsky: You are very kind and I appreciate it. Please keep clicking.

The first one that jumps to mind on McNair, and I’ve written about it:

In 1998, when they were still at their temporary facility on the outskirts of Nashville, he came out early for practice. Unprovoked he whimsically took a bunch of blocking pads in the offensive line area, built himself into a teepee, and sat in there doing quiet Native American style chants. Kind of makes me laugh picturing it. Just kind of symbolic of his looseness and humor.


Shaun in Nashville, TN writes: Paul, Is there any chance that the Titans move Vincent Fuller to corner, and let one of the young guys play the nickel while they mature? Does Fuller have the skill set to play corner?

Paul Kuharsky: No, he doesn’t. He’s not an outside cover guy. He’s a safety who’s very good covering an inside receiver. You weaken yourself at two spots if you try to move him outside.


Dustin in Stanford CA writes: Hey Paul, I was wondering where I could find the dates of all of the important off season events? (Combine, Start of Free Agency, Compensatory Draft Pick Announcements, Supplemental Draft, etc.) Thanks!

Paul Kuharsky: Here is a good list.


Peter in Nashville writes: Hey Paul, It seems like of all the years to trade away your 2nd round pick, this was a bad year to do it. I am not saying Jared Cook isn't going to pan out, but with a draft class this deep, it seems unfortunate. Titans could have gotten a very good insurance policy on Young by drafting a good QB in the second round without raising the scrutiny of drafting one in the 1st round. Thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: Never a great year not to have one -- second round picks are often the value/production home run. (The Titans with Cook and the Jaguars with Derek Cox both traded seconds to New England for thirds last year. AFC South helping rebuild the Patriots.) VY's their guy, so I'm not sure that second would have been a quarterback with all the needs they have.

Unless Cook turns into a Antonio Gates or Anthony Gonzalez, it’s easy to second guess. But last year you would have said nice to see them be aggressive. And it’s way too early for us to determine just what they got in Cook.


Henry Milton from parts unknown writes: I know that the Titans have needs on defense, but Kenny Britt, Justin Gage, Nate Washington, Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler aren't nearly enough catching the football even if they had Peyton Manning throwing it. Help isn't going to come from Paul Williams and Lavelle Hawkins, and they can't count on Jared Cook. What are the Titans going to do to get better on the offensive side of the ball?

Paul Kuharsky: I disagree completely.

You failed to mention the team’s No. 1 offensive weapon, Chris Johnson. And Vince Young’s a huge run threat. With those two, a receiving trio of Britt, Washington and Gage with Scaife and Johnson as additional outlets is plenty good enough to win with. Why debate the fourth receiver? Under Heimerdinger, that guy isn’t not playing unless one of the three ahead of him is hurt.

Cook may still be great. He’s going to get every chance and it’s far too early to judge.

The primary thing they are going to do to get better on offense, I think, is get better on defense.

And the Titans top three receivers would all be very good with Peyton Manning throwing to them.


larod201 in New Orleans, LA writes: Do you think Jason Jones has the skills to move to DE for the Titans, at least on running downs? A lot of people had him projected there when he came out of college and he seems to lack the bulk to play inside & stay healthy. It would give the Titans more flexibility in this year's draft if he could. What's your opinion?

Paul Kuharsky: Yes, he could play defensive end. But he’s not as good there as he is at tackle. They want him to work the weights and become sturdier, and I expect he will. If you move him, then you have a hole at tackle. So why put him at his lesser position when you have to fill a spot anyway?
The read of the day: Football Outsiders Vince Verhei and Tom Gower look at the division.

It’s playoffs or bust for both David Garrard and Matt Schaub, says Clifton Brown.

Houston Texans

Don’t expect LaDainian Tomlinson in Houston, says John McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

John Oehser’s position-by-position analysis gets to offensive tackles.

Tony Dungy’s joined Facebook and Twitter.

Examining the credit Bill Polian gets with Deshawn Zombie.

It’s absolutely silly to me that anyone in Indiana is thinking this way. But brace yourself. Terence Moore found some who think Peyton Manning threw that pick on purpose.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Ernest Wilford’s one-year deal is worth the veteran minimum of $630,000, reports Michael C. Wright.

Montell Owens enjoyed his recent time at Harvard, says Ryan Robinson of Jaguars.com.

The draft has better tackles than guards or centers, says Vic Ketchman.

Modest free-agent additions can be big, as Zoltan Paksa shows by comparing Brian Russell and Bernard Pollard.

Tennessee Titans

Kevin Mawae is heading for free agency and Alge Crumpler hasn’t heard anything, says Terry McCormick.

Bo Sciafe’s scheduled for a big tender, says Jim Wyatt.

Johnson tops 2,000-yard plateau

January, 3, 2010
1/03/10
11:41
PM ET
Chris JohnsonAP Photo/John FroschauerChris Johnson becomes the sixth player in NFL history to go over 2,000 yards rushing.
SEATTLE -- The packaging wasn’t what he wanted.

How great would it have been to go over 2,000 rushing yards on the season with a 62-yard touchdown sprint?

It got called back on a debatable holding call and Chris Johnson had to join an exclusive club weaving together smaller runs, with nothing longer than 12 yards, during a 17-13 win over the Seahawks.

The hosts managed to prevent the big play, keeping Johnson away from Eric Dickerson’s all-time record, but allowed him to become the sixth running back to reach the magical number.

It took 36 carries, seven more than he’s ever had before, for him to get to 134 rushing yards and a season total of 2,006. That is the fifth-best ever, ahead of O.J. Simpson’s 2,003 in 1973.

He was already talking about targeting Dickerson’s 1984 record 2,105 yards next year, a season Vince Young said won’t end until the Super Bowl.

“I didn’t get the record (this) year, so that’s what’s next for me,” Johnson said. “That would be my goal coming into next year. That would be something I can work hard for.”

Based in the Bible Belt, Johnson has spent his second season converting a lot of football people. He’s got swagger. He’s got a sense of humor. And, having talked about 2,000 yards back in training camp, he’s got the right to predict the outlandish without drawing raised eyebrows and scoffs.

Johnson thinks he can beat Usain Bolt over 40 yards, because Bolt’s best work in the 100 comes after that. Go ahead and laugh. That’s what everyone did when he talked 2,000 back in July or August.

(A bit of context: Johnson finished second in a Florida state high school final to Walter Dix in the 100-meter dash, and Dix finished third behind Bolt in the Beijing Olympics. And again, we’re talking 40 not 100.)

“He set a goal and people kind of laughed it off,” Titans tight end Alge Crumpler said. “And every week as we got closer and closer people realized it was attainable. I’m proud of him.”

Johnson just ran for 2,000 yards for an 8-8 team, a team that started 0-6 and trailed by enough often enough that running plays on offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger’s play sheet should have been crumpled up and tossed in a sideline garbage can.

The club he joined, for reference: Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis and Simpson.

Now, with your permission, I will meander a bit rather than take the straight line Johnson prefers.

Called back

Just before he got to 2,000, Johnson had one of his signature breakaway runs -- darting through the line, he left the people chasing him looking like they were in slow motion as he went those 62 yards.

But fullback Ahmard Hall was called for a hold of linebacker David Hawthorne.

Referee Ed Hochuli said he had no question about throwing the flag.

“The ruling was that he hooked him with both arms at the point of attack, and pulled away from where the ball carried ran right by him,” Hochuli told a pool reporter.

But Hawthorne said while he was happy for the flag, he didn’t know it involved him until a couple reporters surrounded him when the locker room opened.

“You just told me,” he said.

Hall was surprised by the call and said it’s a block he makes all the time.

Tennessee’s veteran center Kevin Mawae talked with Hochuli about it and the ref said he wouldn’t have called it unless it was legit.

“My opinion now, not talking bad about the referee because I don’t want to get fined, but unless it’s just so blatant and a takedown, you’ve got to just let the guy go,” Mawae said. “We’re on the cusp of breaking an all-time record and to have it take away like that is just disappointing.”

It’s hard to know what unfolds from there if the 62-yard run stood. Take away the six yards Johnson was credited with on that play, the eight additional yards he gained on that drive and figure he would have had at least 48 more than he finished with. That gets him within 51 yards of Dickerson and puts him third all-time.

And if Dickerson was in range at the end, Mawae said Jeff Fisher would have allowed for more carries at the end of the game instead of instructing Vince Young to kneel down twice to run out the clock.

A young face of the league

By all accounts including mine, Johnson’s a good guy. If you’re scared off by gold teeth or dreads or less than perfect grammar, you’re missing out on friendly and funny.

Peyton Manning’s not vacating any major endorsement slots anytime soon, but should Johnson be near the front of the line of the next wave of marketable NFL stars?

“I feel I should,” he said from behind a podium under Qwest Field, a sparkling cross hanging over a sharp purple, silver and white tie loose at the collar under a gray vest. “I don’t know if any back has done it in two years. That’s what any guy wants to plays any sport. They want to be the next Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or whoever you want to name. They want to be that guy.”

His name doesn’t sing. But Crumpler said he doesn’t see an Average Joe moniker slowing down the running back.

“If you can get a Chad Johnson that level of attention, you can get it for Chris Johnson,” Crumpler said.

Said Hall: “With the braids and everything, a lot of people try to stereotype him. He’s a good guy. He’s a great guy. He doesn’t get in trouble. He’s never been in trouble. He definitely should be up there with the rest of the guys as a face of the league, according to his accomplishments.”

A special line on a resume

Mawae has played in 241 games in 16 seasons and been named to seven Pro Bowl teams.

The big hole in his career is the Super Bowl, and he still expects to get to one.

At this point, though, where does being part of the line that blocked for one of just six 2,000 yards back in history rank for him? What slot on his NFL resume should it occupy?

“This would probably have to be No. 1 right now,” he said. “No. 2 is winning the rushing title in 2003 (with the Jets and Curtis Martin).”

Johnson doesn’t know that yet, and I’m certain he will be flattered by it. As the Titans go through a Monday meeting and take exit physicals, Mawae said he expects there will be a moment he will let the running back know how he feels about what he did.

Others will too.

While they have several alternates that will likely get to the game, Johnson’s the only Pro Bowler now. He once promised cars to his linemen if he got to 2,000, then quickly backed off. But premium gifts have been purchased and will be presented Monday.

And he’s inviting them all to join him at the Pro Bowl, though he’s unsure how many will accept and be with him in Miami.

The next big number

Hold 2,106, Johnson’s yardage, up against $560,000, his scheduled base salary for next year, and even the staunchest opponent of contract renegotiation might allow agent Joel Segal to broach the topic.

Johnson’s also slated for $800,000 in 2011 and his base should jump from $960,000 to $2.5 million in 2012 because of an escalator.

The 24th pick in the 2008 draft is outperforming his five-year, $12 million deal, with $7 million guaranteed, but that’s what the Titans get for being smart enough to draft him.

Running backs have short life spans, Segal knows. If Johnson waits for his sixth year to get what he’s worth, odds are he won’t be worth it any more. Still it’s awfully early for any renegotiation.

“We’ve talked about that, about the money situation,” Hall said. “I think he and his agent will handle that well, but I don’t think the team will want to risk anything with CJ. I think he’s the best running back in the league right now as far as production goes.

“I think both sides will handle it well and get something done, because you definitely don’t want to break up this chemistry that’s going on with CJ. …He’s outplayed the contract and I think he deserves more money.”

General manager Mike Reinfeldt said the Titans haven’t even begun to ponder such things.

“He’s had a very special year,” Reinfeldt said. “But it’s also very rare that going into the third year people redo a deal.”

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