AFC South: Antonio Johnson

Free-agency primer: Titans

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
video
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Alterraun Verner, DE Ropati Pitoitua, KR Leon Washington, WR Damian Williams, DT Antonio Johnson, WR Kenny Britt.

Where they stand: The Titans re-signed outspoken, thumping strong safety Bernard Pollard, one of their most important free agents, with a two-year deal. He has spoken glowingly about the direction the team will head under coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. "We're going to be 11 dogs without leashes running around biting people," Pollard told a Nashville radio station 3HL. They also re-signed third-string running back Jackie Battle, who’s a staple special-teamer. It’s hard to know how other people project into the new systems that come along with a new coaching regime. The Titans have indicated to everyone on that list, beside Britt, that they are interested. But will the interest translate into new contracts?

What to expect: The Titans will wind up with a couple of their own guys back, though they are not desperate to keep anyone on the list. Verner is very likely to hit the market and find a team that puts a higher price tag on him than the Titans will. I believe Pitoitua can be a valuable piece of the new hybrid front, particularly in the run-stopping effort. Washington can bring a secure feeling to the return game. Williams is a smart and versatile fourth wide receiver, but there is a giant pool of free-agent wideouts and a quality draft class, so he'll need to settle for minimal money if he wants to stay and they want to have him. The team won't spend $100 million in free agency, as it did last year, but will make several key additions.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- We've awaited indications about the Tennessee Titans' interest level in some of their unrestricted free agents to-be.

Via Jim Wyatt we get the first signals about what Tennessee would like to do.

They are talking to Alterraun Verner, who may prove too expensive.

Per Wyatt:
The Titans also have talked with the agents for safety Bernard Pollard and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, who are scheduled to become free agents.

Indications are the Titans have either talked with or plan to talk with the agents for running back Jackie Battle, wide receivers Damian Williams and Marc Mariani, return man Leon Washington and offensive lineman Chris Spencer as well.

“A lot of those guys have had a positive impact on our team, so we're going to try and keep as many of those guys as we can,” (Ruston) Webster said.

Now we don't know if they are hell-bent on re-signing some of those guys or if their contact is more on a check-in level.

Ranking the guys from that group, Pollard is most important and Pitoitua is probably second. I'd put Washington third, and Williams fourth.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson is also a player they will consider bringing back.

Not on Wyatt's list of guys coming free who the Titans will talk to, at least at this point: Receiver Kenny Britt (no surprise at all), interior offensive lineman Rob Turner, receiver Kevin Walter and offensive tackle Michael Otto.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner is allowing room for sentiment on Sunday.

As he takes the field for the Tennessee Titans against the Houston Texans, it will creep into his head that it could be the last time.

Verner has a great feel for the game and a knack for being around the ball and breaking things up.

“Definitely that thought has occurred to me, but it’s not overriding where I am letting that emotionally distress me or get me away from the game,” Verner said. "It’s definitely crossed my mind that this could be [it]. Could be.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee Titans' Alterraun Verner
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe price tag looks to be high for defensive backs Alterraun Verner, No. 20, and Bernard Pollard, both free agents at season's end.
He’s timed things up well. After such a solid season, his price may be at an all-time high. I’m sure the Titans would like to keep him. But they’ve spent two recent offseasons trying to give his job away to Tommie Campbell and clearly see Verner's speed as a deficiency in an otherwise solid game.

Future: They should certainly try to keep him. But at this stage, there is no reason for him not to wait for free agency and check out the market. And I’ll bet a team that thinks it’s a corner away will offer him something bigger than the Titans will.

A look at other guys for whom Sunday could be The Last Time.

Running back Chris Johnson

We’ve written frequently about the cost-versus-production equation for Johnson, most recently here. St. Louis fifth-round pick Zac Stacy has a few more yards and a slightly bigger yards per carry average this season. Stacy made $581,500 in 2013. CJ made $10 million.

Future: It’s not working, as Johnson hasn’t been the playmaker he sold himself as when he got the big contract after three years. He won’t take less money – or sufficient responsibility, for that matter. They should move on.

Right tackle David Stewart

He broke his leg late in the 2012 season and has never returned to form, with all sorts of nagging injuries slowing him down this year. He’s questionable for this game with a shoulder injury. He’s been a tough, physical presence for the team for a long time. But he’s due $6.4 million in 2014.

Future: The Titans cannot pay him that much next year.

Strong safety Bernard Pollard

He’s delivered on what the Titans asked when they signed him for one year, providing attitude and toughness to go with solid play. They’ve used him smartly and if he’s not back they will have a hole that will be difficult to fill in both production and leadership.

Future: They should try to keep him, but it’s unclear what the market will offer. Surely there will be a multi-year deal to be had. Will the Titans offer one?

Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley

He’s not been a fit for the Titans, who grabbed him in 2011 after their failed pursuit of Peyton Manning. When they focused solely on him meant Mario Williams went to Buffalo. Even if there's a new staff and it wants to run a 3-4 that’s more suited to Wimbley, he’s not worth $6 million in 2014.

Future: It’s long been presumed he will be cut.

Wide receiver Damian Williams

He got benched for the Arizona game because of a violation of team rules, but such a slip was totally uncharacteristic. He’s a bright guy who can play every receiver spot. He’s ideal as a fourth with potential to be a solid third.

Future: They should re-sign him.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt

The last year of his initial contract has been a disaster during which he lost confidence and was unable to catch the ball consistently. He’ll likely be inactive again Sunday. In a new setting, perhaps he can recover. But he’ll get a minimum contract or something close to it, when a big season would have set him up as a free-agent prize.

Future: It’s elsewhere.

Quarterback Rusty Smith

He’s been the team’s developmental quarterback for four years, and he could never work his way to a place where the team wanted him to be the No. 2. He ended up in that spot only because of injury.

Future: If he’s not a No. 2 by now, it’s time to move on. Tyler Wilson was a late signing, and should take over the Smith spot as the developmental quarterback.

Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua

Started very strong but hasn’t been as good down the stretch. He gives the Titans good size in their run-down front and would benefit from better linebacker play.

Future: Worth keeping at the right price and contract length.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson

He’s a workmanlike run-down defender who’s a good piece as a role player.

Future: Shouldn’t be hard to keep.

Also with expiring contracts: Returner Leon Washington, returner Marc Mariani, running back Jackie Battle, wide receiver Kevin Walter, offensive tackle Mike Otto, interior offensive linemen Rob Turner and Chris Spencer.

Survey says: Worst pain ever

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
11:10
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For this installment of “Survey Says” I asked Titans, “What’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt?”

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson: “My ACL injury, I would say. In 2007, my rookie year. It was excruciating. It felt like hell. Painful, very painful, I would say the first couple days coming out of surgery, when they have to bend it, fresh out of surgery, The bending of the knee trying to get the flexion back, that’s the most painful thing I ever felt. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Coming out of surgery it was just that throbbing feeling, like it’s got a heart in it.”

Guard Chance Warmack: “I dislocated the ring finger on my left hand in the Auburn game. I had to play with it for two games, the Georgia game and the Notre Dame game. It never had a chance to heal properly. I buddy-taped it. I remember the Georgia game, it kept popping out, we had to keep popping it back in. It felt like my finger was going to fall off. I was blocking with four fingers.”

Wide receiver Nate Washington: “I was playing basketball and I got hit in the eye and my eye was open so the guy actually moved my eyeball a little bit. I had a patch on my eye for about two weeks. I was 20, 21 years old. It was excruciating pain. I did not know it would hurt like that, I couldn’t open my eye for about two weeks. Black eye, eyeball was red. Worst football injury was a hip pointer, because you can do absolutely nothing. No loud talking, no sudden movements, no sneezing, no coughing. I’ve broken bones before but hip pointer is the most immobilizing nagging thing. But the eye was worse.”

Linebacker Akeem Ayers: “My appendix, this year, right before the season started. That s--- was terrible. It was kind of like a sharp, endless pain type of deal. This was there for about 12 hours, just non-stop until it was taken out. It was like a knife and some punches at the same time.

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsCraig Stevens said his broken rib was "the most excruciating pain I've ever felt."
Guard Andy Levitre: Getting pleurisy. It’s an inflamed lung, so every time you breath, it feels like you are getting stabbed in your chest, but it’s your lung rubbing up against your rib cage. I feel like that’s the most painful thing I ever had, it was in college. I had it for a few days and it bough me to tears, it was that bad. It was insane. I couldn’t take full breaths. That was bad. I ended up going to the ER. I tried to tough it out for a few days and then I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “When I broke my rib, by far the most pain ever. Two years ago we were playing Cleveland and Eugene Amano came and landed with his knee right here (points to left side of his torso.) I couldn’t get up or anything and then it kind of clicked back in and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not so bad.’ Then I ran down there and I actually made a tackle and fell on the ground. I couldn’t get up. For about a week, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t move. I would lay down and I couldn’t get up, I needed help to get up, that’s how bad it was. It eventually healed. It would heal and I would play with it and re-break it before it had a chance to really heal up. Every time I re-broke it, it was like I’d go back to square one with that pain. After about four weeks of re-breaking it, I took a game off, then I started feeling better."

Tight end Delanie Walker: “Probably when I broke my jaw two years ago against Seattle. Dec. 24. After the morphine wore off, that’s when it was worse. The flight was two hours, and that’s about when it wore off. That’s when I felt it. It just felt like someone was kicking me in the mouth nonstop, over and over. Took me three weeks to recover. I played in the NFC Championship Game.”

Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Probably when I broke my leg in high school. I broke my fibula, I had to have surgery. It was a 10 on a scale of 1-10.”

Defensive tackle Mike Martin: “When my shoulder came out. Kind of came in, came out, slipped a little bit in college, my senior year against Illinois. I was going to tackle Juice Williams, get a sack and my linebacker came and hit the back of my shoulder, slipped it out, it was horrible. It reverberated all through my body, it felt like it was going through all my limbs, that’s how bad it was initially.”
A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.

The return of the Twitter mailbag

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
11:06
AM ET
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine defensive lines.

Williamson’s AFC South defensive line rankings:
1) Texans (J.J. Watt, Earl Mitchell, Antonio Smith, Jared Crick, Chris Jones)
2) Titans (Ropati Pitoitua, Sammie Hill, Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley, Mike Martin, Lavar Edwards, Antonio Johnson)
3) Jaguars (Jason Babin, Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Tyson Alualu, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Andre Branch, Jeremy Mincey)
4) Colts (Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Ricky Jean-Francois, Drake Nevis, Fili Moala, Aubrayo Franklin, Montori Hughes, Brandon McKinney)

I struggled a bit as I sort through that and consider how my own list should look. Ultimately I co-sign what Williamson has done here, and will explain it a bit after we talk with him.

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South defensive line units is:

  •  
    60%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 616)

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

Your overall assessment of the AFC South defensive lines:

“Overall, I wouldn't say this is a fantastic division for defensive line, but I think the Jags' defensive line is a little underrated since they produced so few sacks. With Watt in the picture, Houston is pretty strong with their 3-man front.”

Does judging a couple 3-4s vs. a couple 4-3s complicate things here?

“Judging varying schemes isn't difficult, but it is hard to overlook that teams that run a 4-3 have more starting caliber linemen and of course the opposite is true when evaluating linebackers in a 3-4, but I just look at it as to how well these players do their respective jobs”

Can you rank them in order of depth?

“Just in terms of depth, I would go: Tennessee, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston.”

Can you name a potential breakout player?

“Morgan could break out, he pressured the quarterback well last year but didn't get home quite enough. I also think Babin is still a very good player and while he has already ‘broken out,’ he could be perfect in this new Jacksonville D.”

How big a gap do you see between Houston and Tennessee?

“As I noted, I see Tennessee as deeper than Houston, but the Texans have the star power. Watt just might be the best defensive player in football and Smith is no slouch either. Like the entire Titans' D, their defensive line is solid, but they lack a true star or difference maker.”

Are you not a believer in the Colts new additions and newfound health with Chapman and McKinney?

“It’s hard to say on the Colts. They have a lot of bodies, but who will step up? Better health of course is important, but I have a tough time handicapping their defensive line overall right now.”

As for me…

The Texans should get the biggest production and have the best player in Watt and a candidate for the second-best player in Smith. The Titans and Colts seem certain to be equipped to slow the run far better. With the change of scheme and personnel additions in Jacksonville things will improve against the run and pass.

It’s difficult for me to put the Colts last as they’ve added a lot and get Chapman and McKinney back healthy. Their crop of defensive linemen are now all 3-4 guys.

I want to bump the Titans down as I like their depth but not their lack of proven sack guys, but look behind them and it’s not as if the Jaguars or Colts do, either.
In early March, I outlined a five-category plan for offseason moves for each team in the AFC South.

I considered finances, continuity, turnover, additions and the draft.

Today we’ll look back to see how my plan and the team’s offseason lined up and how they didn’t.

Next up are the Colts. Here’s the original post.

What I got right:

Turnover: “Nose tackle Antonio Johnson did good work but isn’t ideal for a 3-4. Josh Chapman and Brandon McKinney are on the roster, rebounding from injuries and better suited to do what the role requires. Receiver Donnie Avery was a nice reclamation project, but the Colts can and should be looking for an upgrade beyond Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.”

The team made no effort to re-sign Johnson, who wound up with the Titans. Avery moved on to Kansas City and the Colts brought in Darrius Heyward-Bey, who looks to be an upgrade.

What I got part right, part wrong:

Draft: "What was missed in free agency? The emphasis should fall on that, be it outside linebacker, corner, safety or offensive line. …Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins would be a very nice fit if he’s there at No. 24. Also: at least one offensive lineman, a 3-4 end (or two), outside linebacker depth and additional corners.”

While they signed Erik Walden in free agency, they went pass-rushing outside linebacker with Bjoern Werner in the first round and picked two offensive linemen. But the Colts didn’t draft a receiver, a corner or an end.

What I got wrong:

Finances: “The team has more than $43 million of cap room, which means there's no need to search for savings. Still, one contract appears to be too big. Center Samson Satele needs to be a lot better in his second year to prove he's worth the free-agent deal he got in 2012 that calls for a $2.8 million base salary in 2013. Cutting him would save only $668,000, however, and at least until the line is restocked, the team should keep options alive, not kill one off.”

Not only did the Colts keep Satele, once they drafted center Khaled Holmes in the fourth round, they traded A.Q. Shipley to Baltimore. Shipley played better than Satele when he was in the lineup for the Colts last season.

Continuity: "They already held onto defensive end Fili Moala with a new contract. I’d re-sign Jerraud Powers to a one-year, incentive-laden deal, but that requires that no one else gives him something better. If he stays healthy, he can be a productive contributor. If he doesn’t, the Colts will have given him every chance.”

Powers went to Arizona for a three-year, $10.5 million contract with $3 million guaranteed.

Additions: “I’d target these four players, hoping to land three. Ravens outside linebacker/end Paul Kruger played for Chuck Pagano in Baltimore and is coming off a Super Bowl win. He could fill out a nice linebacking corps and boost the pass rush. Provided that Atlanta’s Brent Grimes is on the right path to recovery from a torn Achilles, he could be great opposite Vontae Davis as a second starting cornerback. Houston safety Glover Quin could be a nice takeaway from the team the Colts are chasing in the AFC South and has enough versatility to fit with Antoine Bethea and ultimately take over his role. On offense, San Diego’s Louis Vasquez is the sort of guard who could help settle a line that has to be far better.”

Right positions, wrong names. The additions were Walden, cornerback Greg Toler, safety LaRon Landry and guard Donald Thomas.
Ropati Pitoitua and Sammie HillAP PhotoRopati Pitoitua and Sammie Hill add some much-needed weight to the Titans' defensive line.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Mike Munchak was promoted to coach of the Tennessee Titans in 2011, one of the first things his new defensive coordinator, Jerry Gray, talked about was the need for the team to get bigger.

The Titans had been a pretty good pass-rushing team. Smaller, quicker rushers may have been getting to the passer, but the team’s run defense had slipped. Adding stouter players would bolster the run defense and help everything, the Titans reasoned.

Heading into the third season of the Munchak regime, the franchise has made headway in getting bigger up front on defense.

“I really feel we have a lot of pieces in place that ... Jerry wanted, and the defensive staff wanted,” Munchak said. “You can’t always get what you want in this league.”

In 2011, the Titans’ 90-man roster included 15 defensive linemen who totaled 4,232 pounds.

Now they’ve got 16 who total 4,591.

The average weight per defensive player has risen from 282 to 287 pounds.

More significantly, Sammie Hill, who will start at defensive tackle, and Ropati Pitoitua, who should be in the rotation of defensive ends, are much bigger than players the Titans have deployed at those spots in recent years.

Hill joined the team as a free-agent addition from Detroit. Only undrafted guard Oscar Johnson (330) weighs more than Hill’s listed 329 on the Tennessee roster. Pitoitua is an imposing 6-foot-8. At 315, he’s the Titans' heaviest end -- by 38 pounds.

“I feel good about our size,” Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “It’s a big man’s game. They’ve made some big changes with free agency with Sam Hill, Ropati and Antonio Johnson coming in. It’s on both sides of the ball, the offensive and defensive lines.”

Antonio Johnson is listed at 310, but he said recently he’s at about 330. Rocker said the Titans want him to play at 325 or 330.

In Hill, the Titans found a young player they believe can blossom if given a bigger role than the one he had with the Lions, where he was behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Though he should draw regular double teams, he’s not simply a space eater. He’s got good feet for a man his size and is expected to penetrate and help move the quarterback off his spot, which will benefit the rush ends.

“I can get off the ball for the big guy that I am,” Hill said. “I try to be real disruptive. ... I don’t like to look at myself as just that big guy who occupies space. I like to get in there and cause havoc and disrupt the pocket and all that.”

Hill said he’s played as big as 343 and as light as 325, but doesn’t believe he’s sacrificed strength when he’s been smaller. He expects to play between 330 and 338 for the Titans. Any NFL player that size is carrying a little extra. But Hill is not fat. He said a preferred meal is a couple of baked chicken breasts with rice, and he doesn’t eat sweets.

In speaking with him, I learned that he drinks 3 1/2 to four gallons of water a day, an amount that surely would drown many of his teammates.

When you look at Pitoitua, it’s hard not to think: If the low man wins, how does he ever win?

He said his biggest disadvantage is his height, but the length that comes with it is his biggest advantage.

Said Rocker: “With him, it’s leverage. With the length of his arms, that changes the game for a lot of people facing him. And if you can recall, when the Giants played New England in the Super Bowl, it wasn’t so much that they sacked Tom Brady. There were a lot of tall people in there. You had a lot of trees in there, and it was hard for Tom Brady to complete passes. Ropati creates those things for us and can cause disruptions. We see him as a big-time run-stopper and a ball disruption guy.”

Offensive tackle Michael Otto’s been facing Pitoitua in organized team activities.

“He’s a big, strong dude,” Otto said. “He’s not somebody you’re going to blow off the ball and throw on his back. You’re fighting him the whole time, you just push. A stalemate is pretty good so long as he isn’t getting any penetration.”

If Pitoitua and fifth-round rookie Lavar Edwards (277) pan out, they can help chop down the snap counts of starting ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley. They both played more than 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season, which is far too much.

Rocker said that ideally, the Titans would be on the field 60 to 75 snaps a game, and guys such as Morgan and Hill would play 45 of them. That would be 60 to 75 percent.

Although the league is increasingly about good quarterbacks and stopping them, slowing the run helps a defense in its ability to focus on the QB.

That’s a primary reason the Titans wanted to be bigger.

They play in a division where they will see Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew twice, as well as a Colts team that is determined to run more and better.

They also will see Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore this season.

A season after giving up 4.2 yards a carry, that bigger defense needs to have bigger games when it comes to stopping the run.

RTC: Hasselbeck loving Luck

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
9:54
AM ET
Reading the coverage...

Houston Texans

According to Gary Kubiak, Ed Reed will be with the team for minicamp in mid-June, says Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle.

To which I say: He won’t be the only veteran watching if history holds. The Texans traditionally don’t practice the bulk of their key veterans in minicamp.

T.J. Yates and Case Keenum ran practice for the Texans while Matt Schaub had a day off, says Robertson.

Kubiak intends to pace things with nine-year veteran fullback Greg Jones once camp starts and people are in pads, says Robertson.

Arian Foster’s calf strain means he won’t work for the remainder of OTAs and minicamp, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

With a closer view, Matt Hasselbeck is even more impressed with Andrew Luck, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

With all the new guys, Phillip B. Wilson of the Star refers to his roster a lot while watching the Colts practice.

A thorough breakdown of how quarterbacks fared in the red zone in 2012, from Kyle Rodriguez at Colts Authority.

The Colts' top players of all time, according to approximate value numbers, from Rodriguez.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The NFL draft in 2014 will be the same weekend as the PGA’s Player Championship near Jacksonville, says Ryan O’Halloran.

Ninety percent of the Jaguars' offense has been installed, says John Oehser of Jaguars.com. Here’s Oehser’s Q&A with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. One interesting point about increased quarterback freedom to change plays: “I want them to go from being a (resident) to being a full-time surgeon.”

Oehser thinks a healthy Cecil Shorts could gain 1,200 yards in 2013.

Tennessee Titans

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson brings the Titans additional size on the interior, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

The Titans struck deals with four of their draft picks, says Wyatt.

New special teams coach Nate Kaczor is looking to put a stamp on the unit, says Wyatt.

Cornerback Jason McCourty and receiver Nate Washington said the first day of OTAs ranked as intense, per this video from Amie Wells of the team’s website.
Today, I set out to sketch out a list of the 10 most competitive position groups in the AFC South.

Putting them in order was more difficult than coming up with the list, but after some juggling, I feel pretty good about what’s below. I’m sure you’ll offer me input on what’s out of order, shouldn’t be included or should be.

The more overall uncertainty and the less sure we are of a starter or starters right now, the higher I ranked a spot.

10. Jaguars quarterbacks -- Blaine Gabbert would really have to blow this opportunity and Chad Henne would really have to have a good camp for Gabbert not to be the opening-day starter, I believe. Undrafted rookie Matt Scott could make the team as a third option, and if things go poorly for the veterans and the rookie shows well, he could get a chance at some point.

9. Titans interior offensive line -- Michael Roos is a lock at left tackle, Andy Levitre is a lock at left guard and Chance Warmack is a lock at right guard. David Stewart should be the starter at right tackle, though he’s coming off a broken leg and has a bad ankle. Center could be a good battle between fourth-round draft pick Brian Schwenke and Fernando Velasco. There will be huge battles for the interior backup slot(s), where the Titans loaded up with Rob Turner and Chris Spencer. (If they signed Eric Winston to fight with Stewart, this position would move up some.)

8. Titans defensive tackles -- Sammie Hill and Jurrell Casey are locks, and Mike Martin should rank third. If they keep five, who are the other two out of Karl Klug, Antonio Johnson, DaJohn Harris and Zach Clayton? Ropati Pitoitua is an end, but comes from a 3-4 in Kansas City and will also get a look inside, so he could factor in here, too.

7. Texans right side of offensive line -- I think they would have been fine sticking with Derek Newton, but he’s not healthy. He had major knee surgery and offensive line coach John Benton said during the draft that Newton’s status is up in the air. Enter Brennan Williams, a third-round pick out of UNC that the Texans feel could be fine as the starter. At right guard, Brandon Brooks could displace Ben Jones in a potentially nice battle of second-year players.

6. Titans wide receivers -- Nate Washington got himself in the doghouse with his work late last year, and he’s pricey. But it would be hard for the team to part with him yet as the Titans are an injury away from potential depth issues. If second-round pick Justin Hunter takes off early, he could start ahead of Washington at Z opposite Kenny Britt at X. Kendall Wright is the primary slot guy. Also in the mix for snaps: Damian Williams, Kevin Walter and maybe even Michael Preston.

5. Colts offensive line -- Anthony Castonzo is the left tackle, Gosder Cherilus is the right tackle. The three spots in between them and the depth will see a lot of competition. Donald Thomas should win a guard spot and I’d think third-rounder Hugh Thornton could as well. They will battle with incumbent left guard Joe Reitz and incumbent right guard Mike McGlynn. Fourth-rounder Khalid Holmes could push Samson Satele out of the center spot.

4. Colts inside linebackers -- If Jerrell Freeman is as good as he was last season, he’s certain to start. A healthy Pat Angerer should make a strong bid to retake his old job, but the competition could be really good with Kavell Conner trying to stay in the lineup and newcomer Kelvin Sheppard in the mix as well.

3. Texans linebackers -- Rookies Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams have a chance to win the strongside linebacking spot, which would mean Brooks Reed moves inside. Or Reed could stay on the strongside setting up Darryl Sharpton vs. Tim Dobbins to slug it out for the Mike spot inside next to Brian Cushing. This will be a good one to monitor for sure. The injury histories of Sharpton and Dobbins could be at play. Can they both stay on the field for their reps to compete?

2. Colts nose tackle -- What a revamp the Colts have put together here. The guys who can play inside were limited last year. Now there are plenty: His knee healed, Josh Chapman is the favorite at nose tackle right now. Also available are Aubrayo Franklin, rookie Montori Hughes, Brandon McKinney (once healthy) and versatile veteran Ricky Jean Francois, who can play inside or out.

1. Jaguars cornerbacks -- This gets the top slot because there is the most uncertainty. I don’t have much faith in Alan Ball based on what he did with his chances in Houston last year. Mike Harris has one year of experience, playing some as the team’s nickel. Dwayne Gratz should be a starter. There is room for seventh-rounders Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray to carve out roles. [UPDATE: Apologies for initially forgetting Marcus Trufant, the recent veteran addition. If he's competing for much more than nickelback, the team's got even bigger secondary issues than feared.]

RTC: Titans look to Canada

May, 14, 2013
5/14/13
11:10
AM ET
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans


Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger moonlights as a rapper, says John Brannen of the Houston Chronicle.

The war of words over an engagement ring that Mario Williams wants back has escalated, says David Barron of the Chronicle.

Despite the rave reviews they offered about him during his rookie camp audition, the Texans didn’t offer Collin Klein a contract, says Tania Ganguli.

Indianapolis Colts

Las Vegas thinks the Colts are going to take a step back, says the Indy Star.

At least publicly, Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton don’t appear to be on the same page about Andrew Luck running some read-option, says Brad Wells of Stampede Blue.

To which I say: I’ll believe they intend to use any when I see it. I think Hamilton’s getting it out there so defenses put it on their lists of things they have to consider when preparing for Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars found iPads in their lockers Monday when they started OTAs, writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. It’s the way the league is moving, and the team will be able to get information like film and notes about practice to players more quickly.

“(Jimmy) Smith is one of the top three players in team history, but there was plenty of legitimate suspicion that he spent his last NFL years in denial about his addictions. His post-football life certainly confirms that. What (Justin) Blackmon needs to see is a mug shot of Smith, with a stern reminder that that can be him in 10 years if he's not careful.” Gene Frenette’s column from the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have two Canadians -- offensive tackle Matt Sewell and defensive tackle Stefan Charles -- on their roster fighting for a chance, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

A familiar face is back in Nashville, and Antonio Johnson is now part of the Titans’ roster makeover, says Wyatt.
Antonio Johnson gave the Indianapolis Colts almost five solid years of service.

Originally a fifth-round pick by the Titans out of Mississippi State in 2007, Bill Polian reluctantly signed him off Tennessee’s practice squad when the Colts were thinned out to a ridiculous degree by injuries to the interior defensive line in 2008.

Polian rarely signed guys off other team’s practice squads. Though, it’s a perfectly legal way of adding a player, Polian felt it qualified as “poaching.”

Johnson played in 67 games with 46 starts for Indianapolis. Though, he’s much more a 4-3 defensive tackle than a 3-4 nose tackle, he played the nose for the Colts last year in the first season of the transition to the three-man line under Chuck Pagano.

He got to free agency this year and the Colts weren’t interested in re-signing him as they’ve got Josh Chapman and Brandon McKinney set to return from injuries. Chapman’s been playing the nose so far in offseason work, which McKinney is set to be ready for camp. The Colts also added veteran run stopper Aubrayo Franklin and draft pick Montori Hughes.

They will be much better manned with 3-4 personnel in Pagano’s second season.

So Johnson has come full circle, signing to re-join the Titans who continue to add people and create competition. Sammie Hill and Jurrell Casey are certain to be on the team. I can't imagine Mike Martin not sticking. The defensive tackles beyond them will be in a dogfight for roster spots and roles.

That group now includes Karl Klug, DaJohn Harris, Zach Clayton and Johnson.

The Titans finished 2012 with five defensive tackles on their roster.

Like offensive line and receiver, defensive tackle is going to be a very interesting position to watch shake out.
A review of the best member of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts who’s still unsigned:

Austin Collie, wide receiver

But for concussion issue, Collie could be a high-quality slot guy serving as a regular and reliable target for a quarterback.

Four years after he was drafted in the fourth-round out of BYU, he might be finished as an NFL player despite an expressed desire to continue to play.

"I'm playing,'' he told the Indianapolis Star after the season. "Right now, it would take a doctor to tell me, 'You can't play anymore.'"

Collie missed 22 of 64 games in his time in Indianapolis dealing with multiple concussions and then a serious knee injury. Minus the health concerns, he’d certainly have a team right now. The Colts likely would have tried to keep him.

Now, however, even receiver-needy teams are surely wary.

Sign Collie and see him take one bad hit, you could see him suffer another concussion. You’d be putting his long-term health at further risk and have a hole punched in your receiver depth chart at the same time.

It’s a sad story. But I would be be surprised to see him resurface.

Others still unsigned include: Offensive tackle Winston Justice, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, and running back Mewelde Moore.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Links to stories on all the Texans draft picks from during their college careers, compiled by Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.

Projecting the initial 53-man roster of the 2013 Houston Texans, with Starr.

A closer look at third-round offensive tackle Brennan Williams, from Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

It’s a time for using pencil, not pen, when writing up the Indianapolis Colts’ roster, says Mike Chappell.

Fifth-round nose tackle Montori Hughes is a calculated risk for Ryan Grigson, says Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

What to expect from Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes, from Nate Dunlevy of Colts Authority.

Jacksonville Jaguars

All the disingenuous expressions of remorse (subscription required) can't mask what Justin Blackmon really is right now, says Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

Gus Bradley was very careful not to tip off the Jaguars’ interest in Florida safety Josh Evans, the team’s sixth-round pick, says Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country.

One issue for Denard Robinson is how his bulk is distributed, says Crow.

Tennessee Titans

Presuming his knee is well and he avoids further injury, Justin Hunter will be the best wide receiver the Titans have had since landing in Tennessee, predicts David Climer of The Tennessean.

Undrafted running back Dontel Watkins, who played at Utah State and Bowling Green, grew up in Nashville and expects to make the Titans, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

A 2007 fifth-round pick of the Titans, Antonio Johnson wound up playing for the Colts. Now a free agent, he was back in Nashville to visit his old team, says Wyatt.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider