AFC South: Andy Alleman

Leading Questions: AFC South

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
10:49
AM ET
With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each AFC South team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

HOUSTON TEXANS

How do they fix the secondary?

New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is charged with repairing and revitalizing a defense that was 30th overall and dead last against the pass. His 3-4 front will alter a lot of things and the Texans will need to add some personnel to fill it out. Better work up front will ease some of the pressure on the defensive backs, but they will need more than that.

We don’t know when -- or even if -- there will be free agency. But the Texans need to make a big splash with a veteran outsider. Nnamdi Asomugha or Champ Bailey could knock every one down a peg at corner, shut down a side of the field or a primary receiver and help transform things. A veteran free safety like Eric Weddle could provide a big boost as well.

If the Texans think the pass defense can be fixed by coaching and will improve dramatically with a scheme and maturing kids, they’re overestimating what they’ve got, again.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Are they going to take action to address the offensive line?

We’ve heard for years about how the Colts would get better at converting that tough third-and-1 in the run game. We saw Bill Polian drop Ryan Lilja after pointing to the offensive line as a reason for the loss in Super Bowl XLIV. We heard Polian admit Rodger Saffold could have been a solution for the Colts at left tackle.

Now, as Peyton Manning heads into the final stretch of his prime, the Colts need to move from talk to action with regard to the offensive line. After last year’s comments, Polian added middling free agents Andy Alleman and Adam Terry and drafted Jacques McClendon in the fourth round. Only McClendon stuck and he did nothing.

Getting Manning more time for things to develop downfield and creating more of a push for ball carriers means investing at least one premium draft pick and landing at least one quality veteran via free agency or trade when those windows open. The Colts don’t have to find Hall of Fame linemen. But there is a lot of room between some of the guys they’ve been relying on and that level of talent.

They’re overdue to follow through with a real revamping.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

How do they fix the secondary?

With four games a season against Manning and Matt Schaub, the Jaguars are woefully unprepared to face them with what they’ve got at safety. Last season, Jacksonville spent its first four draft picks on defensive linemen. This season, they’d be wise to put a similar emphasis on the secondary, and safety in particular.

Ideally they’d have drafted an up-and-comer to go with a veteran brought in from the outside -- someone like Weddle, Dawan Landry, Quintin Mikell or Donte Whitner. They've already had Bob Sanders in for a look. While depth at cornerback is also an issue, I suspect Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and William Middleton will all look a lot better if they are playing with safeties who are superior to Don Carey and Courtney Greene.

They’ve got a big question at quarterback, too. It’s time to draft and develop a signal-caller with more upside who can be more consistent than David Garrard. But they contended last season with Garrard. It's possible they can make a playoff push with him under center -- provided they address the secondary.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Who’s the quarterback?

There couldn’t be a worse time to be uncertain at the position, and the Titans’ depth chart at the spot currently has blanks at starter and backup. Blame it on Bud Adams and his love affair with Vince Young.

New coach Mike Munchak and his offensive coordinator Chris Palmer don’t really know what they will be able to do offensively, because they do not know who they will be asking to do it. General Manager Mike Reinfeldt has said the team will find a veteran and use a draft pick. But if the draft comes before free agency and trades, it will be more difficult to be patient and to take more of a project guy out of college. It’s not a good year to need a quarterback in the draft, and the scouting department will have to show it can find someone in the group who will develop into a franchise guy.

Once they do, they could look to make a big move for Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton, Matt Flynn or any number of veteran options they believe could operate an offense that will remain run-centric keyed around Chris Johnson.
The Colts could have some big players back in the mix for Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Mike Chappell reports that Colts president Bill Polian said on his radio show that linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, as well as running back Mike Hart, could be back.

Others, including Joseph Addai and Bob Sanders, are likely further off.

But as Chappell points out, while Hart and Addai could provide a boost to the run game, none of the injury returnees is going to help the offensive line, which has been insufficient as a run-blocking group and increasingly leaky in pass protection. (Sacks remain low, but pressure is up.)

“I think oftentimes, you guys are driven by what you see on TV," said coach Jim Caldwell at a news conference Monday. "They can highlight a certain couple of areas, and you think that was the way the entire game went. I think they can sort of prejudice your opinion a little bit.

"What we do is we take a look at it. We think we have the right people in there, but we are always trying to jostle it around, trying to make adjustments, trying to make certain that not only do we have the right people, but also are we doing the right things with the folks that we have in there? That’s up for critique, and we challenge ourselves in those areas and we try to find a way to improve. That’s the important thing.”

Polian identified the offensive line as a position of concern after last season, really singling out the effort in the Super Bowl. They were comments several players bristled at. (Greg Easterbrook hit on some of this here in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column.)

Longtime line coach Howard Mudd was known for molding players who were not high draft picks or top free agents into effective contributors. He retired and passed the torch to Pete Metzelaars, a transition that seemed smooth.

But in a move that was a stunner then and is baffling now, Polian let right guard Ryan Lilja go. Lilja has received good reviews for his play in Kansas City, while the Colts have played two ineffective right guards.

Mike Pollak was benched in favor of undrafted rookie tackle Jeff Linkenbach three games ago.

Left guard’s hardly been solid either, with Jamey Richard getting displaced by Kyle DeVan.

There should be more options.

After Lilja was released, the Colts brought in a couple low-level free agents in Andy Alleman and Adam Terry. Neither stuck. Fourth-round rookie Jacques McClendon has been inactive or worked on special teams.

Polian and the Colts identified a problem, but they really didn’t do anything to fix it, unless we count the Tony Ugoh resolution and release as addition by subtraction.

In the past five drafts, the Colts have taken eight offensive linemen, five in the fifth round or later.

Charlie Johnson is a scrappy left tackle who’s been better than many expected but still might be ideal as a third, swing tackle. Ugoh, Michael Toudouze and Steve Justice are gone. Pollak has been benched. McClendon is a reserve as are seventh-rounders Jaimie Thomas and Richard.

However this season plays out, the offensive line must be the primary concern in the offseason.

It’s time to hit on value picks -- plural. Quality guys and the team’s draft slots may not line up. The Colts may need to maneuver to change that.

It’s critical to Peyton Manning’s chances for another Super Bowl in his remaining years.

Why didn't Colts do more on O-line?

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
11:28
AM ET
The mailbag is filling up with notes from panicked Colts fans.

The gist of their questions: Isn’t it time for the Colts to make a move to get one of the disgruntled offensive linemen out there: Marcus McNeill or Logan Mankins?

Sure, if the Colts found them a system fit, adding either would give a big boost to the offensive line.

But it’s uncharacteristic for the Colts to go outside looking for help. Those guys would be costly, and making a move would amount to a concession that Indy underestimated its offensive line issues.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Johnson
Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon SMIColts tackle Charlie Johnson, shown here last season working against Mario Williams, might be better off moving inside and playing guard.
That’s the confusing part of this.

Bill Polian was quick to say the offensive line was a primary issue in the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans.

But the Colts did little to fix it. Left guard Ryan Lilja was released. Two street free agents, Adam Terry and Andy Alleman, didn’t stick. Only one of eight draft picks was spent on an offensive lineman, and Jacques McClendon was not active in Houston.

The Colts couldn’t do major free-agent shopping because the CBA limited the top teams’ ability to do so.

Still, with the head honcho saying it was a concern, it sure seems like the Colts could have done more on the line to ensure better protection and better run blocking.

On a bad foot, Charlie Johnson put forth a courageous effort against Mario Williams. But Johnson’s not cast as a left tackle by a lot of personnel folks. If Indy had a franchise left tackle, Johnson would likely be better as a guard. Polian missed on Tony Ugoh in 2007. The guy they hoped to be the heir to Tarik Glenn was waived/injured and is now on IR.

Putting Peyton Manning at risk is a dangerous game. He was face down on the turf, an official checking on him after one hit. He bounced up. But will he always? He absorbed two sacks, eight additional hits and stuff that didn't register in the stat book.

The guys the Colts do have will play better. Manning can continue to get the ball out quickly and make pressure less of an issue. Joseph Addai can make the most of what’s there. Not every team has a Williams-like threat to mess things up.

In Sunday's loss, the Colts didn’t choose to go with two tight ends very often, leaving Johnson mostly on his own. Put tight end Brody Eldridge in to help the way I imagined and you’re taking one target out of the arsenal. Maybe the Colts do that more if they find it necessary. The choice at Reliant Stadium was to throw it more quickly with more options running routes.

I don’t expect Polian to be making calls about McNeill or Mankins Monday.

Polian talked before camp about throwing all the linemen in a pot and seeing who came out as the best group. Injuries to Jeff Saturday, Johnson and others made that system more difficult and there was no time to build continuity with the five who started against the Texans.

Still, today, I can understand why Colts’ faithful are wondering today why there wasn’t more in that pot.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 1

ANDERSON, Ind. -- They could have made a bid at an undefeated regular season and their hopes for a Super Bowl win were snuffed out by an onside kick and an untimely pick.

So it should concern the rest of the AFC South that the 2010 Indianapolis Colts appear to be better than last year’s version.

They get two high-quality players, who were injured for most of last year, back in safety Bob Sanders and receiver Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts added a third edge rusher and a blocking tight end in the draft.

“Coach [Jim] Caldwell wants us to be a consistent team and not one that plays really well one week and not one that goes into a slump the next couple of games and then comes back,” Peyton Manning said. “I think we have been pretty consistent. Our offseason work, our execution and our attention to detail in training camp make a difference.

“But what has happened in the past doesn’t guarantee you anything for this 2010 season. We have some new players, new coaches and it is up to us to go out and form the identity of his team and to go out and try to win games this season.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBob Sanders
AP Photo/Darron CummingsBob Sanders doesn't plan on changing his style to avoid injuries. "It's a physical game," he said. "I make tackles."
1. Can Sanders stay on the field? The thing that makes him so good is the same thing that makes him so injury prone. He throws himself around like a torpedo, and suffers the consequences. He’s upbeat and happy right now to be spending his time on the field and with coaches and teammates instead of in the training room with medical staff.

“I don’t think you can put yourself in less danger on the field,” Sanders said when I asked if there was any way he could be less reckless to try to preserve himself. “We’re football players so we’re going to be physical. It’s a physical game. I make tackles. You just never know what’s going to happen. You just have to play your best, hope for the best, I pray and put it in God’s hands and just try to do my job.”

When he’s out there, he’ll be more creative than when we last saw him playing consistently. Second-year defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is much more willing to blitz than Ron Meeks was.

As good as Melvin Bullitt's been as Sanders’ replacement, Sanders is a game-altering presence when he’s out there. Sanders is making plays in camp. If he’s out there, the Colts’ defense could be fantastic.

2. Will offensive line changes amount to an upgrade? Left guard Ryan Lilja was let go, so at least one spot will be filled by someone new. Tony Ugoh looked like the early choice, but he’s been pulled back to tackle to work for the injured Charlie Johnson, so Jamey Richard is in play. Richard might shift to center while Jeff Saturday recovers from a knee scope, which could open the door for rookie Jacques McClendon, if he’s healthy, or someone like Jaimie Thomas.

The talent pool now includes McClendon and tackle Adam Terry, but there was no overhaul. Pass protection combined with Manning’s ability to get the ball out quick meant few sacks, but the team needs to run better for balance. Short-yardage bugaboos have been a factor in season-ending losses the past two years.

New offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars has a chance to make minor alterations that could have a bearing, and a quality-blocking tight end like Brody Eldridge could even help revive the once bread-and-butter stretch play.

[+] EnlargeJerraud Powers
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireSecond-year cornerback Jerraud Powers had 66 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception during his rookie season.
3. Will secondary depth hold up? Bill Polian purged the roster of some injury-prone corners, then saw third-round pick Kevin Thomas go down shortly after the draft with a serious knee injury. Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey should be a fine top three, but if one gets hurt, Deshea Townsend or Marcus McCauley, who were available recently, could be the next option.

If the Colts have to go that deep down the depth chart, their pass rush will be even more vital. But how many teams would love for the fourth cornerback to be a primary issue heading into a season?

BIGGEST SURPRISE

It’s hard to find them with a very low-key team that drafts and grooms the bulk of its players. Polian’s harped on short-yardage failures, but then the team didn’t add a sure fire starter to the line with Andy Alleman (already gone), Terry and McClendon.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Before the Colts could start to sort things out, injuries dictated they move offensive linemen around. Saturday is out 2-6 weeks after a knee scope, and Johnson and McClendon are sidelined. It would have been nice to see Metzelaars have a full deck for a long stretch in order to best hold competitions and compare and contrast players. The sooner they resolve the lineup and start to build cohesion, the better. Now it’s probably going to be later than would be ideal.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeLarry Coyer
    AP Photo/Darron CummingsExpect more surprises out of Larry Coyer's defense this season.
    In Year 2 of Coyer’s tenure as defensive coordinator, I expect the Colts will be more exotic with an occasional surprise look or package -- perhaps most often utilizing their depth at safety where Sanders, Antoine Bethea and Bullitt make for three starting-caliber players.
  • While the defensive line shows fantastic speed and strength, Mitch King looked the least smooth during the drill in which linemen weave through blocking dummies, turn a corner and try to strip a quarterback. For those excited about him, an adjusted timetable might be advisable.
  • As the punter and kickoff man, Pat McAfee is electric. But teams in the market for a kickoff specialist might want to keep an eye on Garrett Lindholm, who looks like he can regularly put the ball in the end zone.
  • Powers carries himself exceptionally well. During a break in one practice, as most guys went to the cool-down tent or took themselves out of football mentality for a minute, he picked the brain of Reggie Wayne. Powers already has become a media favorite, too.
  • Manning could make good money if his only job was to put on clinics about how to best loft red-zone passes to the pylons in the back corners of the end zones.
  • Joseph Addai knows what he’s doing on every play, and Donald Brown is smart enough to follow his lead, though Brown doesn’t shine in pass protection one-on-ones versus linebackers. The Colts will be just fine if the line can block for the runners, and maybe even if it can’t. Brown’s had more than a year to get pass protections down. If that keeps him off the field any this year, it’s no one’s fault but his.
  • Better didn’t mean great for the interior defensive line in 2009. Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson continue to improve, and Fili Moala will make for a third 300-pounder in there. He appears to be comfortable and ready to contribute.
  • The Colts haven’t emphasized the return game and, at times, it’s felt almost like they de-emphasized it. But undrafted rookie Brandon James is a miniature speedster who is in position to win at least the punt-return job. He could give Manning and the offense a short field once in a while.
  • John Chick, who joined the Colts from the Canadian Football League, could win the fourth defensive end spot if he shows a good learning curve and durability.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

However unlikely it is, however many other times muscled-headed men (and women) cried wolf, however long Pinocchio's nose appears to be, Brian Cushing could be telling the truth. His problem right now is that it is an almost unbelievable truth, says Jerome Solomon.

Be cynical if you want. But if a guy can come up with an excuse this creative, I'm for giving him a pass. It took him several months and came after a few others were tested, but it's a good one, says Richard Justice.

John McClain can’t see Roger Goodell overturning Cushing’s suspension.

Mario Williams got a second opinion in Philadelphia and does not need surgery to alleviate hip troubles, says John McClain.

Williams has never consistently drawn double teams and hasn’t shown great pass-rush instincts, says Justice.

Prankster David Anderson is showing a desire to improve, says Jordan Godwin.

Dan Orlovsky will get extensive playing time against the Cardinals, says John McClain.

Antwaun Molden’s competing for a roster spot after an ankle injury, says Godwin.

Ageism, the Texans and the success cycle, from Rivers McCown.

Indianapolis Colts

Jerry Hughes gives the Colts a triple threat of pass-rushers, says Mike Chappell.

Bob Kravitz considers Colts to come for the Hall of Fame.

Expect John Gill to land on a reserve list while he gets his personal issues resolved, says Mike Chappell.

Andy Alleman is out, Adrian Martinez is in as the Colts shuffled an offensive line spot, says Chappell.

Anthony Gonzalez tried to make up for lost time in 2009 with offseason workouts with Peyton Manning in Tennessee, says John Oehser.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Joint practices between the Jaguars and Falcons are underway, says Tania Ganguli.

The Jaguars are dinged-up on the lines.

Mike Thomas is standing out, says Ganguli.

Vic Ketchman’s gut feeling is that Vince Manuwai won’t make the starting lineup.

Tennessee Titans

Tye Hill is finally back in the mix, says John Glennon.

Robert Johnson, who’s never played special teams before, is looking to make his mark on special teams, says Jim Wyatt.

The Titans have showed an interest in returner LeRoy Vann, says Wyatt.

Damian Williams is inching closer to action, says Glennon.

Ahmard Hall’s found a recipe for longevity, says David Boclair.

Derrick Morgan is planning on buying iPads for the defensive linemen instead of taking on a dinner tab, says Terry McCormick.

Scouts Inc.: Who's on the Colts O-line?

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
2:43
PM ET
Can Tony Ugoh be an effective guard for the Colts? And will newcomers Adam Terry, Andy Alleman and Jacques McClendon make contributions on the offensive line?

[+] EnlargeTony Ugoh
AP Photo/Darron CummingsThe Colts might be moving Tony Ugoh to inside guard.
Indianapolis’ offensive line isn’t that good. They don’t move bodies in the run game, they don't excel on the move in the Colts’ stretch-zone running game, and Peyton Manning's time management and ability to decipher coverage blows their true pass-blocking contributions way out of proportion. This is a group in flux.

President Bill Polian used a high draft pick on Ugoh to succeed Tarik Glenn as Manning’s blind-side protector. Ugoh was a raw, but very talented, prospect coming out of Arkansas who hasn’t worked out at left tackle. Now, there is talk of him moving inside to guard. I just don’t see it. Ugoh is a long-limbed, athletically-built specimen who needs to play in space as an edge-blocker. He plays too high and lacks strength. A move to the inside sounds like recipe for disaster, where heavier defensive tackles will get under his pads and push him all over the field.

The Colts want to be more physical up front, but still, I think Terry is the guy in this group who fits in best with what they do. He as a smart player who is more of a white-collar trench man rather than a real mauler. But he isn’t as nimble or quick as most want for the left tackle spot and isn’t a pile mover for the right side. But in Indianapolis, where Manning makes all those around him appear better than they are, he might be a real nice addition, even if it is only as the No. 3 offensive tackle on the depth chart.

Alleman is a journeyman guard. His lateral agility isn’t real good and double moves give him a tough time in protection. He also is not a great technician in either facet of blocking. He is a backup.

McClendon is a decent prospect, but adapting to this cerebral offense is very difficult on rookie linemen. One mental error while Manning is changing the protections might cause the franchise quarterback to get drilled by a pass-rusher. That isn’t to dismiss McClendon, but he would really have to impress to get an opportunity in 2010.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

RTC: Sinkhole found under LP Field

June, 29, 2010
6/29/10
10:45
AM ET
Reading the coverage...

The Buffalo News breaks down the key additions, losses and questions for all four AFC South teams.

Houston Texans

The Texans came in at No. 11 on Jason Cole's ranking of NFL defensive lines, thanks largely to Mario Williams.

Indianapolis Colts


Guard Andy Alleman thinks he'll fit in nicely with the Colts this season.

John Oehser examines whether the Colts will be deep enough at corner.

Jacksonville Jaguars


Former Jags quarterback Mark Brunell owes $24.7 million according to his bankruptcy filing, but ex-teammates expect Brunell to land on his feet.

The Jags will have an opportunity to make a statement early this season due to a challenging start to the schedule, according to linebacker Kirk Morrison.

Tennessee Titans

David Boclair of Nashville's The City Paper takes an interesting look at the life of Titans running back Chris Johnson through his online dealings on Twitter and Ustream. "Confident he has surpassed the accomplishments of peers such as Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush, Johnson has his sights set on the likes of Snooki, the Kardashians or Gene Simmons," writes Boclair.

A sinkhole 5-6 feet deep and 30 feet wide has been discovered at LP Field, which could indicate a larger problem beneath the stadium. Worse yet, the city's insurance may not cover the cost to repair it.

RTC: Hughes focused on learning in OTAs

May, 28, 2010
5/28/10
11:02
AM ET
Reading the coverage:

Houston Texans

The team agreed to a four-year deal with fifth-round draft pick Sherrick McManis, a cornerback from Northwestern.

Coach Gary Kubiak expects fourth-year receiver Jacoby Jones to compete with Kevin Walter for a starting job.

Richard Justine takes a look at Kasey Studdard, who entered the offseason as a starting guard but hasn't been given any guarantees.

Indianapolis Colts

Veteran offensive linemen Adam Terry and Andy Alleman, who both signed one-year deals for the veteran minimum this offseason, are hoping to find a home in Indy.

Organized team activities (OTAs) are more of a time for learning than competing for young players such as first-rounder Jerry Hughes.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Newly acquired guard Justin Smiley wants to show the Jaguars they made a good move to bring him in.

Tennessee Titans

Jim Wyatt outlines where things stand after May minicamp with some key players and positions.

Safety Donnie Nickey talks about his experience with the NFL's in-house internship program.

David Boclair explores Vince Young's affinity for nicknaming his teammates -- "Catfish," "Santa Claus" and "Pinball" are just a few.
Vince Manuwai, Wade Smith, Tony UgohGetty ImagesVeteran offensive linemen Vince Manuwai, Wade Smith and Tony Ugoh are expected to take on different roles or positions this season.
Be it running up the middle or stifling pass-rushers coming that way, the AFC South’s looking for change on interior offensive lines heading toward the 2010 season.

The Tennessee Titans, who blocked for just the sixth 2,000-yard rusher in league history, have made an alteration. The Indianapolis Colts, the defending AFC champs who allowed a league-low 13 sacks, are auditioning interior candidates. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars both identified the interior line as an area in need of improvement, too.

Yet of 32 draft picks by the four teams, just two were used on offensive linemen -- a fourth-rounder by the Colts for guard Jacques McClendon and a sixth-rounder by the Texans for guard Shelley Smith. And only three veteran additions seem like they can influence the mixes -- Justin Smiley in Jacksonville, Wade Smith in Houston and Andy Alleman in Indianapolis.

Said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “Didn't anyone in this division address the interior offensive line during the draft with any pick of substance? That seems odd.”

So here’s a team-by-team look at what’s going on inside, with some thoughts from Williamson:

Jacksonville

The Jaguars appear willing to have true competitions to hash things out.

Last year’s interior trio of left guard Vince Manuwai, center Brad Meester and right guard Uche Nwaneri is back. But the team is willing to shuffle, and at least two others are in play now as well -- Smiley, a guard acquired recently from Miami in a trade for an undisclosed draft pick believed to be a conditional seventh, and Kynan Forney, a backup guard last year.

At minicamp the weekend following the draft, Jags head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive line coach Andy Heck had flipped Manuwai to the right side, figuring he and right tackle Eben Britton are the team’s best run-blockers. With the aid of tight end Marcedes Lewis and fullback Greg Jones, the Jaguars could send Maurice Jones-Drew that direction and dare people to stop it.

But at organized team activities (OTAs) this week, Manuwai wasn’t working with the starters and Del Rio was talking about how the torn ACL the guard suffered back in the season opener of 2008 was still a factor for him.

“I think he’s still a little bothered by that but at some point you’ve got to get beyond that and go and he knows that,” Del Rio said. “I think Vinny still has a ways to go. I think Vinny’s working at it. He’s got his weight down. He’s trying but he needs to play better. I think he knows that. He’s working hard it and trying …

“We clearly [come] out of last year saying, ‘Look, we’ve got to have better play with our line, period,’ and our two young tackles [Eugene Monroe and Britton] we know are going to grow and get better but our interior line needs to pick it up as well. And they are working at it and they are challenging and competing and we expect them to play at a much higher level for us.”

I honestly think it’s wide open, but I’d be very surprised if Manuwai, who can be a very effective run-blocker, isn’t in the starting lineup for the opener against Denver.

Williamson says: “Adding Smiley could pay dividends, as this offensive line (especially on the interior) really was a problem area last year. Their protection up the gut was really poor. While I have some real doubts any more about Meester, I do like Manuwai quite a bit and expect more from him this year.”

Houston

The Texans' run troubles were in large part because of their backs. But they lost guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel early and it’s a tough order for any team to replace 40 percent of its line and keep plugging. Steve Slaton had a miserable year as he tried to deal with a neck injury, couldn’t hold onto the ball and wound up on injured reserve.

Pitts is a free agent who won’t be back and Brisiel has been working as a backup so far in OTAs. The team’s lined up with Kasey Studdard at left guard, Chris Myers and at center and Antoine Caldwell at right guard. But Smith’s been rotated in some early at center.

With offensive line guru Alex Gibbs gone, the team will still be using his principles. But the three remaining coaches who oversee the position -- John Benton, Frank Pollack and Bruce Matthews -- may have fresher eyes and a willingness to shuffle. And odds are it's second-round pick Ben Tate getting many of the carries behind that line.

We should see some real competition for all three slots. I’ve repeatedly hear good things about Myers. And because Caldwell was a third-rounder, I expect the team would probably like to see him stake a claim.

Gary Kubiak said Studdard and Caldwell have earned the right to say they are starters “right now.”

“We are as competitive in there as we’ve ever been as a team,” Kubiak said. “It’s going to be hard to hold a job, and it’s going to be very competitive to get one. So that makes the team better.”

Williamson says: “I thought Myers played real well and he is an excellent fit in this system. Their interior offensive line is loaded with no-name guys, but overall they are well coached and effective enough. Still, an upgrade at one of the starting guard spots would have been a real nice addition. … Smith is an ideal sixth guy, but not a liability as a starter.”

Indianapolis

The Colts paid him a bonus, but still cut Ryan Lilja who seemed pretty effective to me at left guard last season. Team officials have worked hard to deflect the idea the Colts made the move because they want to be bigger on the line. But it’s a sensible time for a change with Pete Metzelaars taking over for Howard Mudd as line coach and the team looking to be more effective in clutch third-and-short situations and the like.

Tony Ugoh, who lost out at left tackle, has worked at left guard in recent offseason practice sessions. Jeff Saturday is entrenched as Peyton Manning's guy at center. Kyle DeVan is the incumbent right guard, who came out of nowhere last season.

Presuming no other tackles are shifted inside and that left tackle remains Charlie Johnson's job, Ugoh and DeVan face their competition from Alleman, McClendon and 2008 second-rounder Mike Pollak.

Bill Polian has talked about throwing everybody out there and seeing what happens. With a new position coach, the fight for roles may not start with any true favorites. While they have to continue to favor pass blocking above all else, I do think it’s in their best interest to be a bit more determined to be able to call for and execute runs in key situations with more success.

Williamson says: “Saturday is obviously the leader and his symbiotic relationship with Peyton carries a ton of weight. He is smart and very technically sound. I do think his game is falling off ever so slightly though. I was shocked that they let Lilja go and thought he was far and away their best guard. Now, they really need to count on youngsters and those youngsters still have a lot to prove.”

Tennessee

[+] EnlargeEugene Amano
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesEugene Amano will be taking over at center for Kevin Mawae.
The Titans had the least concern here as they considered their roster, but with Kevin Mawae getting older and Leroy Harris on the bench and ready to play, they decided to go with youth and size. So last year’s left guard, Eugene Amano, is replacing Mawae at center, with Harris taking over at left guard.

Tennessee loses leadership and experience in the equation, but gains significant strength. Harris is very much an interior guy, but he’s athletic and smart enough that he played effectively at right tackle in a win at San Francisco last season.

A Hall of Famer as a player, line coach Mike Munchak knows when a guy is ready, and he’s fully endorsed this plan or the Titans wouldn’t be going with it. Whether Chris Johnson or someone like LeGarrette Blount is running up the middle, I think they’ll find a bit more daylight. And Vince Young should feel less inside rush closing in on him.

Williamson says: “You have to wonder how much Mawae will be missed. It isn't that he played great -- and clearly he isn't what he once was -- but just from the standpoint of making the calls and especially from a leadership perspective. So, this interior line is in transition. Right guard Jake Scott probably hasn't quite lived up to what Tennessee was expecting to get from him when they signed him in free agency, but he is a quality starting guard. I think Harris has a good amount of ability and could surprise with more playing time.”

AFC South uncertainty index

May, 24, 2010
5/24/10
1:04
PM ET
With all the teams that go from bad to great and great to bad from one season to the next, forecasting how things will pan out in the NFL is close to impossible.

It’s another ingredient in why the NFL is the best thing going in sports, another piece of the unpredictability we love.

Generally, I have trouble forecasting big things for teams that are counting on a high number of unproven players to make simultaneous jumps and be productive -- though they can emerge as far better than I expect, of course. Still, it’s why I am not particularly optimistic about the 2010 Tennessee Titans.

I thought I’d go team-by-team in search of less-than-established spots in the lineup to create an AFC South uncertainty index.

Let’s be clear: you may not prefer Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle for the Houston Texans, Kyle DeVan at right guard for the Indianapolis Colts, Brad Meester at center for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Michael Griffin at safety for the Titans. But they are guys who will play and have a degree of faith from the team.

I’m looking at spots where inexperience is a big factor.

We’re not pretending to know the season-opening depth charts here, simply building off last year’s versions. We’ll look a bit beyond starting lineups with significant roles and return jobs included. Here's our look in order of uncertainty. (Starting positions labeled with an asterisk.)

Titans (10, with three starters)

Kuharsky’s take: Sure, young and talented can be exciting and promising, but that’s quite a lot. You’d expect Morgan to be fine. And they went with numbers instead of value at corner, where I’d think one or two guys have to emerge. McRath, Stevens, Cook and Marks all need to contribute. If Jeff Fisher hasn’t found solutions in the return game, they’ve got serious issues.

Jaguars (10 with two starters)

Kuharsky’s take: Alualu, the first rounder, should fare well. Finding playmakers (beyond hyphen guys Mike Sims-Walker and Maurice Jones-Drew) out of the receivers and running backs is a huge issue. McGee or Karim panning out as a returner would help in that department too. With shaky veteran safeties, nickelback will be especially important.

Indianapolis (six, with one starter)

Kuharsky’s take: Potentially they’ve got just one starting spot in question. A season-killing knee injury to third-rounder Kevin Thomas hurts depth options at cornerback, but a lot of teams would be pleased for that to rank as one of its big issues. Eldridge could help upgrade run-blocking and Fisher and James seem to be more exciting return options than they’ve had recently.

Houston (four, with three starters)

Kuharsky’s take: I’d prefer to have inexperienced guys with upside in the mix at nose tackle and free safety, but they look to be sticking with the status quo in Shaun Cody and Eugene Wilson, respectively. If you’re going to have new starters, let them be high draft picks like Tate (second), Caldwell (third last year) and Jackson (first).
"Reading the coverage" this morning pointed you to this Mike Chappell story about the load of Colts heading toward free agency in 2011.

But before anyone who likes to wear a blue horseshoe panics, here’s a run through of Chappell’s list of the 19 guys who will be in line for restricted or unrestricted contractual freedom, divided into handy categories:

Will be signed this summer

QB Peyton Manning -- The Colts plan on ensuring the NFL’s only four-time MVP is the league’s highest paid player.

Close to essential

S Antoine Bethea -- The underrated glue of a secondary that does well limiting big plays.

LB Clint Session -- The Colts usually let linebackers leave, but this playmaker he should be an exception.

S Melvin Bullitt -- Presuming Bob Sanders’ time is close to over, this versatile defensive back won’t be easily replaced.

Like to keep, but replaceable

RB Joseph Addai -- He’ll be 28 for 2011 and Donald Brown should be ready to be the lead guy, but if Addai’s price is right and his health is good…

PK Adam Vinatieri -- A healthy and clutch season can make retaining him more important.

OT Charlie Johnson -- A versatile piece who's nice to have, but if he can secure a starting job elsewhere he could want to move.

Rather have than lose

DT Dan Muir -- They’ve invested a lot of time and effort in developing him.

DT Antonio Johnson -- They’ve invested a lot of time and effort in developing him.

Would keep for cheap

DL Eric Foster -- A versatile piece who’s a small, fast interior guy well suited for Colts.

DL Keyunta Dawson -- Ranks as the fourth end now, but can contribute as role player.

G Kyle DeVan -- Did admirable work as a surprise starter last year, but they added a few interior guys.

Expendable

OT Tony Ugoh -- His stock could change, but at this point could rate as the team’s fourth tackle.

TE Gijon Robinson -- Might not make the roster this season if fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge is the blocking upgrade expected.

S Jamie Silva -- Doesn’t seem to me to be in line to inherit a starting spot if a frontline safety leaves.

DE Ervin Baldwin -- Late add in 2009 is behind two Pro Bowlers, new first-rounder Jerry Hughes and Dawson.

WR Sam Giguere -- With quality crowd ahead of him, not going to find room to work as a receiver.

To be determined

G Andy Alleman – Haven’t seen him in Colts’ uniform yet.

OT Adam Terry -- Haven’t seen him in Colts’ uniform yet.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What will the Colts’ offensive line look like in 2010?

Straight answer: We don’t know and only can speculate. There will be a new left guard, as Ryan Lilja was let go. Beyond that…

[+] EnlargeColts
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesThe Colts will be missing at least one member of their 2009 offensive line.
The team has added three players: sixth-year tackle Adam Terry, fourth-year guard Andy Alleman and fourth-round draft pick Jacques McClendon. They also added three undrafted tackles (one who was on the practice squads in Cincinnati, San Diego and Philadelphia last season) and an undrafted guard.

Team president Bill Polian recently said the intent is to toss all 15 offensive linemen on the roster into the OTA, minicamp and training camp mix and see what shakes out. That leaves a lot of room for a lot of scenarios including a tackle like Charlie Johnson kicking inside.

It’s my feeling that of the four remaining incumbents, only center Jeff Saturday is a lock to return in the spot he was in last season. But I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if all four -- Johnson at left tackle, Saturday at center, Kyle DeVan at right guard, Ryan Diem at right tackle -- were in place on opening day in Houston, with only Lilja’s replacement a newcomer. The group, after all, was good enough to get the Colts to a second Super Bowl in four years.

Pass protection is going to remain priority one with Peyton Manning taking the snaps, but more effective run blocking in some crucial scenarios is a factor that can help the Colts.

They need to lock in a left tackle and go from there. Charlie Johnson could remain in the spot, though some think he’s best as the sixth man who can fill in for a few games here and there at tackle or guard. Tony Ugoh needs to make his claim to the job now, and could get a clean slate with Pete Metzelaars taking over for longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

A scout from another team told me recently that he thought Polian wanted to see Ugoh developed at the spot while the decisive Mudd had determined Ugoh couldn’t be effective enough for the Colts last year. We’ll likely never know if that’s the case, thought the results of the competitions could give us some degree of information.

Whoever the tackles are, they and the run game should get a boost from Brody Eldridge. He's the big blocking tight end the Colts drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma. He’s not going to hurt the Colts while getting in the way of an extra pass rusher either.

Polian not looking at returners

April, 24, 2010
4/24/10
7:20
AM ET
Golden Tate, Jordan Shipley and Javier Arenas are gone. The Titans think they got their man in Damian Williams.

Colts faithful hoping Bill Polian would get in on the action for another prospect who can upgrade the return game are going to wind up disappointed.

While it seems like a focus on getting Peyton Manning and the offense better field position could add a dimension, Polian said after Friday’s third round that he sees no dual threat remaining.

“I’m not so sure that there is one left that would be any more dynamic than what we have on the squad right now,” he told Indianapolis reporters. “I’m not sure, off the top of my head, I don’t think there is a dual return guy left. Obviously, that is an important skill set. There are some return guys down there, just none that I can turn to Coach (Jim Caldwell) and say, ‘This guy’s got the job.’”

If the Colts played next week, Polian said he envisioned Sam Giguere and Jerraud Powers handling the jobs. I’m presuming he meant Giguere for kickoffs -- he was second on the team in returns with five last year -- and Powers for punts. He indicated he didn’t see Austin Collie as a possibility.

“Again, we’re not focused on the return game,” he said. “When you go to the Super Bowl, you’re not hurting in that area. If you can get a dual return guy who can do both, one guy who can do both, it’s helpful because it takes the stress off other positions. But if you can’t, you can’t. The world is not going to end because we don’t have that.”

The return game was one of three areas where some speculated the Colts might change a long-standing philosophy.

I expected a return man, and I expected some added size on the offensive line. Two veteran additions, Adam Terry and Andy Alleman, do bring more size to the pool of linemen. While a lineman or two could arrive Saturday, I'm no longer convinced they'll be much bigger than the guys already on the roster.

I didn't envision a fullback for short-yardage run situations to be added, and I feel safe sticking with that.

Pat Angerer fits Colts' LB mold

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
8:51
PM ET
The Colts tend to cycle through linebackers, though they locked up Gary Brackett long-term and found a gem in Clint Session.

Second-round choice Pat Angerer could be a candidate to play on the strong side, where Philip Wheeler finished the year after Tyjuan Hagler had beat him out in camp but got hurt.

At Iowa, Angerer played his final three seasons in the middle. Jon Gruden just compared him to Zach Thomas. But Matt Williamson of Scouts is a little surprised about his 4.73 speed: “Angerer makes a lot of plays, but his lack of speed doesn't fit the Colts LB mold.”

He does, however, fit their size mold. He’s just over 6 feet and weighs in around 235 -- numbers right in line with Brackett and Session. Write-ups make him sound like a playmaker who might not have all the measurables, which are just the sort of things Bill Polian isn’t generally concerned with.

The Colts have five picks remaining -- 94th in the third, 129th in the fourth, 162nd in the fifth, 238th and 240th in the seventh -- and the lingering question is about the offensive line.

It’s perceived as a need after Bill Polian complained about the group's play in the Super Bowl and told Ryan Lilja’s agent upon the guard’s release that they were looking to get better. Adam Terry and Andy Alleman have been added, but many expected they’d address the offensive line high in the draft too.

Comments at his pre-draft press conference should have signaled for us to ease up on those expectations.

Instead they’ve gone with edge rusher Jerry Hughes in the first and Angerer in the second.
They added Adam Terry and Andy Alleman. Bill Polian’s analysis after the Super Bowl included a significant shot to the O-line. Ryan Lilja's agent said when the guard was let go that the Colts said they were looking to go bigger.

We've spent weeks interpreting that as indications that the Colts intend to get bigger on the offensive line.

Then, on Wednesday, he worked to debunk the idea at a session with the Indy press corps. Here is a snippet, courtesy of John Oehser:
“I would say no to that. I've never said that. I don't know of anybody around here who has. We've not deviated one iota from our formula, which is that we need to be athletic. We need to be smart. We need to be physical. I think we have players here who certainly fit that mold. They may not fit the mold of what other people think should be, but they're fine by us. It works OK for us. We've never felt like we need to get bigger or stronger. We're not that kind of a team.”

We’ll find out in the next three days, I suppose. But the primary prospect people are pegging for the Colts, Rodger Saffold from Indiana, isn’t really much bigger than what the team already has.

Saffold is 6-foot-4 and about 315 pounds. Last year’s left tackle, Charlie Johnson, is 6-4 and 305.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider