AFC South: Antonie Caldwell

A review of the best member of the 2012 Houston Texans who’s still unsigned:

Shaun Cody, defensive tackle

Over the past four years, Cody started 57 of a possible 64 regular-season games.

In Wade Phillips’ 3-4, he worked as the nose tackle in the base defense, surrounded by far more notable players in the Houston front. He’s 30 years old and his eight seasons of wear and tear have taken a toll. In late January or early February he had “microscopic lumbar discectomy surgery for a lumbar disc herniation," per the Houston Chronicle.

There have been no indications that the Texans are interested in having him back.

Whoever is at nose tackle isn’t a part of the Texans nickel or dime packages, and they are in nickel and dime a good share of the time.

Cody missed three games last season and wound up playing 24.06 percent of the time on defense, and Earl Mitchell played 37.41 percent.

Mitchell will take over as the starter and Chris Jones, a sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green, will have the chance to win a backup job.

Others still unsigned include: Linebacker Bradie James, cornerback Stanford Routt, guard Antoine Caldwell, linebacker Barrett Ruud, safety Quintin Demps, and tackle Rashad Butler.

Texans comfortable rotating linemen

September, 26, 2012
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The Houston Texans are running the ball well and though the Broncos put some heat on Matt Schaub, the protection has been serviceable.

But a team that had a very solid offensive line last season is sorting through change. Their five guys played 13 regular-season games together in 2011. Then right guard Mike Brisiel left for a free-agent deal and right tackle Eric Winston was released for salary-cap savings.

That put Antoine Caldwell in line to inherit the right guard spot and Rashad Butler in line to inherit right tackle.

Caldwell won his job in the preseason, but Butler lost out to second-year man Derek Newton, a physical but still-raw player.

Then Butler landed on IR Aug. 31 with an arm injury.

Now both Caldwell and Newton find themselves in rotations.

Rookie Ben Jones (a fourth-rounder, not undrafted as I initially said) is taking some time away from Caldwell and veteran Ryan Harris, signed after Butler was injured, is getting some of Newton’s snaps. Against Denver, Caldwell played 57 percent of the time and Newton 75 percent of the time.

Gary Kubiak said the subs getting time helps keep the starters fresh and pointed to the way the team brought Duane Brown along in his first year as the left tackle with a similar rotation.

“We’re kind of playing seven football players up front,” Kubiak said.

If they feel they are getting the most out of that, so be it. But cohesion is one of the biggest buzz words around any offensive line, and when you’ve got four guys manning two spots, chemistry-building and familiarity come more slowly.

“We knew what we were facing when we got started this year, we know our challenges there and the key is we’re going to be good up front,” Kubiak said. “I expect us to be good up front. The best thing for us right now is we’ve got a young guard who’s earned reps, and we’ve got a young tackle that we’ve got to make sure as coaches we bring along the right way…

“I think there is a process here to becoming a seasoned pro and playing a lot of snaps and we’re trying to do it the right way.”

Sunday, the right side of the Texans' line will be dealing primarily with Titans end Derrick Morgan and tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. Morgan is getting better and Marks is especially good against the run. But the defensive linemen are surely guys the Texans think they can contain.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 7, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Debuting as linebackers: Longtime Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis debut as outside linebackers in Chicago in new coach Chuck Pagano’s 3-4. In nickel situations they’ll probably look a lot like they always have. But on early downs they’ll be moving around and far less predictable than they’ve been in the past. They have the most favorable matchups of anyone on defense for the Colts in this game -- Bears tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi are unproven pieces of a line that needs to offer better protection for quarterback Jay Cutler. (Here is Kevin Seifert on the matchups.) Pagano is going to find ways to attack those guys. The Bears should counter by getting the Colts into nickel and looking to attack nickelback Justin King and strong safety Tom Zbikowski until they prove they can slow the pass.

[+] EnlargeDerek Newton
AP Photo/Frederick BreedonRight tackle Derek Newton is part of a revamped right side of Houston's offensive line.
New right side: The Texans spent the preseason sorting out the right side of the offensive line after guard Mike Brisiel left for Oakland as a free agent and Eric Winston was released in a cost-cutting move. Enter guard Antoine Caldwell and the surprise winner of the right tackle job, Derek Newton. Per ESPN Stats and Info, the Texans averaged 5.1 yards per rush to the right side last season -- the NFL’s sixth-best average to that area. Caldwell played 210 plays at right guard last season, and Newton logged 11 plays at right tackle.

Crafty vs. crafty: Titans nickel cornerback Alterraun Verner is looking forward to going against Wes Welker. There are some things in which Tom Brady and Welker are virtually unstoppable. But Verner has a knack for staying on top of short, underneath stuff out of the slot and is good at trusting the coverage help a defensive call will provide. He said that although Welker is typically cast as crafty, he’s crafty too. Verner said that after this matchup, everything else will seem easier. How he holds up against the league’s most productive inside receiver will be a big piece of the Titans' defensive story Sunday.

Revealing an offense: Mike Mularkey said early in training camp that the Jaguars' offense won’t just be what we saw him call with Atlanta as offensive coordinator. Rather, he and his staff -- with guys like coordinator Bob Bratkowski, quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and running backs coach Sylvester Croom -- sat down and pieced together an offense that combines elements from all of their backgrounds. The first-team offense performed well in the preseason, so we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about its being vanilla. But I expect we’ll see some surprises on offense against the Vikings as we see what, exactly, Mularkey and his staff have constructed.

Questions to be answered: What’s the rotation at outside linebacker look like for Houston, and how much does first-rounder Whitney Mercilus get on the field to offer Connor Barwin a rest? ... Will receiver Austin Collie, not far removed from a concussion, play for the Colts? ... Does rookie linebacker Zach Brown get on the field for the Titans in packages with an emphasis on slowing the Patriots’ tight ends? ... With C.J. Mosley starting beside Tyson Alualu at defensive tackle for the Jaguars, how much will Terrance Knighton get on the field?

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