AFC South: Bill Kollar
The usual suspects -- Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster -- led the Texans to another comeback win, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Shayne Graham maximized his chance at redemption, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.
Justin Forsett’s 81-yard touchdown run was one for the rule books, says McClain.
J.J. Watt and defensive line coach Bill Kollar had a heated exchange on the Texans bench, and it sparked a giant game from Watt, says Ganguli.
Ten things Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle learned from the Texans on Thanksgiving Day.
Ndamukong Suh lived up to his reputation with a kick at Matt Schaub, says Steven Braid for the Chronicle.
A meet and tweet with the Colts, as Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star sorts through who says what on Twitter.
Colts first-year players are focused on breaking through the rookie wall, says Mike Chappell of the Star.
If Chad Henne plays well in the remainder of the season, he could line himself up as the starter for 2013 and do a lot to stabilize the Jaguars, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.
It appears Maurice Jones-Drew will miss at least two more games, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.
Jake Locker is increasingly vocal in the locker room and has shown a lot of other signs of growth, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Chris Johnson says he’s not worrying about 2013, when the Titans may be wary of his contract which calls for $9 million to lock in as guaranteed, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
“And now, for their encore performance, the Texans need to crush the Jacksonville Jaguars like a June bug under a bulldozer,” writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, looking ahead to Jaguars-Texans.
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar (blood clot) plans to be back with the team Wednesday, says McClain.
Injured Texans starters could be back for the Jaguars game, says Nick Scurfield of the team’s website. There should be no reason to rush tight end Owen Daniels, defensive tackle Shaun Cody or reserve running back Ben Tate.
The penalties against Jay Cutler and Tim Dobbins didn’t come out in a fair way, but should, says George Breather of The Fifth Down.
Chuck Pagano’s illness has provided the Colts with a purpose, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
To which I say: The idea of a purpose for a young team is a big deal. And Pagano’s situation has provided this team with something big to fight for over the long haul, bonding a group in a rare way.
Cornerback Darius Butler is a starter now and Jerraud Powers is on IR, says Phil Richards of the Star. Nose tackle Josh Chapman’s time to contribute has come, too.
If there is a good time to play the Texans this season, Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union thinks this might be it. “It would seem difficult for the Texans to come close to duplicating the emotion they displayed against the Bears, especially because they beat the Jaguars 27-7 in Jacksonville in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score sounded.”
Defensive end George Selvie has gotten more and more playing time, says Ryan O’Halloran of the T-U.
The Jaguars signed another Greg Jones, says O’Halloran.
Can Cecil Shorts reach 1,000 receiving yards, asks Luke Sims of Black and Teal.
The Titans know it would take a lot, but still see a possibility of a playoff berth, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
To which I say: That’s what they have to say and believe. I know things can change quickly, but I look at the AFC standings and have trouble seeing anything different than the Colts and the second-place team in the AFC North as wild cards.
As they self-scout, the Titans will pay particular attention to Kenny Britt, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. They want to see if he can be utilized better.
Football Outsiders expects a drop off. They predict the Texans will be 15th in their defensive ratings.
The Texans begin to show us how they’ll be Sunday against Miami, and they will be at full strength.
They are good to go now, but may be kicking some rust off this week in preparations.
Watt was injured early and didn’t suit up for any of the four games. The Texans will monitor how much he plays.
“Well, I don’t want to say a play count, but there’s no reason for him to go out there and play 70 plays,” coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters Wednesday. “I think we know that. That’s on me and Wade [Phillips] and [defensive line coach] Bill [Kollar] to make sure. But watching practice, he’s been excellent. I watched one-on-ones today, he was excellent. He looks like J.J. I know he’s going to be battling us to take every play but I think it’s smart of us to make sure that we bring him along the right way.”
Cody and Cushing won’t necessarily have the same limitations. Cody missed three preseason games, Cushing two.
“Well they’re a little different; they did play some in the preseason, so I would say they’re a little further ahead from that standpoint,” Kubiak said. “We’re going to rotate Shaun anyway. Earl [Mitchell] has had a great preseason. Mister [Alexander] has had a great preseason; he’ll have to spell Cush some. I think we’re going to play a lot of people, regardless.
“This is the week where every team goes past a point they haven’t been to yet, as far as how many plays you play and the first team and that type of thing. We’re going to rotate players. We’re going to keep fresh guys on the field. We’ve got confidence in all of them.”
Said Watt: “It feels good. It feels good to have the defense at full strength, have the guys you’re familiar with, the guys you’re used to. We all know each other so well it’s fun and the defense really jells well.”
The expectation is that a defense that regularly swarmed quarterbacks last year will have a big day against rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
He’s certainly not expecting a team that’s regressing to the mean defensively.
“They don’t have as many exotic pressures and zone blitzes as you will see from other teams, but they’re really good at what they do,” Tannehill said in a conference call. “They believe [in] what they do and they’re crisp at it.
“So, it’s not a situation where they have so much in that they’re not good at it, or you’re going to catch them at something that they're not really comfortable with and do a whole lot. So they really trust, like I said earlier, in their players and they believe in their one-on-one matchups.”
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, he’s being touted by virtually everyone as the most influential coordinator/assistant coach in the league.
As the Houston Texans defensive coordinator, Phillips has guided a team that was 30th in defense last season to a 29-spot gain. Through nine games, the revamped Texans defense is first in the league.
“It’s head coach of the defense, that’s the way that I’ve always looked at it. I’ve had autonomy most of the time, as far as head coaches letting me run it. The head coach has control and I am a good soldier on whatever he wants done … It never has mattered either way, really. I’m coaching and that’s what I love to do. I’m around the players, I’m hopefully helping them get better. That’s what I’ve always tried to do whether I am head coach or coordinator.”
And Phillips certainly isn’t reading the clips that are naming him assistant of the year at the halfway point. He's deflecting attention and credit.
“It still comes down to them, it’s what kind of players you have,” Phillip said. “Part of it is utilizing the talents that you have, the guys who can play inside linebacker, putting them in the right place and give them opportunities to make plays, playing different techniques with different guys. That’s the coaching part of it. The X's and O's are important, the calls are important and all of that stuff.
“But it comes down to the players. I’ve been lucky to be with a lot of good players over the years and that makes me look good.”
Phillips also praised the work of line coach Bill Kollar, linebacker coach Reggie Herring and defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.
Kollar was the lone position coach holdover from the defensive staff Gary Kubiak had last season with Frank Bush as coordinator.
Herring and Joseph were connected to Phillips and hired on his recommendation. And Phillips had major input into player acquisition as the Texans added veteran defensive backs Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning and drafted heavily on defense, starting with end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brooks Reed.
Those coaches and players have been key elements to the Texans' rise to defensive prominence.
Stay tuned for more out of my conversation with Phillips.
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar discusses how the 3-4 works for his group, from Nick Scurfield.
The city of Anderson looks at the lockout and fears it could lose training camp, says Will Higgins.
Once again: Wayne Weaver has no interest in LA., writes Vito Stellino.
Aaron Kampman, Brad Meester and Russell Allen have all made eye-opening trips to Third World countries, says Stellino.
The Titans are well aware of the pitfalls of Twitter, says John Glennon.
Look for Bill Kollar’s whiteboard talk from the Texans' website.
Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are optimistic about the lockout ending, says Phil Richards.
Freeney and Bill Polian talk about weathering the lockout. (Video)
Blaine Gabbert joined the Jaguars for a workout, writes Vito Stellino. David Garrard pledged he’s going to make it extremely hard for Gabbert to get the starting job.
Motivation won’t be a problem for the Jaguars, says Gene Frenette.
A slideshow from the Jaguars’ practice.
Jim Wyatt’s piece on Chris Johnson’s appearance for the players’ practice.
His teammates are high on Jake Locker, say John Glennon and Wyatt.
The Titans stuck with basics, says John Glennon.
A slideshow from the Titans’ practice.
As I worked my way around the training camps of the AFC South, I tried to remember to take some pictures. So periodically, I’d juggle the notebook, pen, recorder, water bottle and fire off a few shots. I fared better in Jacksonville than I did in Anderson, Ind., or Metairie, La., at least in part because the Jaguars allow reporters to get closer to the action than the Colts or Saints do.
Attempted "actions shots" are usually a blur, so I attempted more scene setters that I hope may give you a little feel for places and people. Trust me, I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’m in the running for a job that would have me threatening Walter Iooss or shooting covers for ESPN The Magazine.
So here are glimpses of a big star chilling after practice, assistant coaches and autograph seekers at work and the glamorous life of being chauffeured to practice in 100-degree heat.
Hope you like the change up. Don’t worry, I won’t be seeing any practices after the Titans wrap camp Thursday, so you’ll be spared much more than an occasional shot -- at least until next year’s camp photo blog.
They are obviously determined to rush better, and he can certainly rush the passer.
But with Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin they’ve got three ends they like, so where would Schobel fit? Would adding him force Smith, a costly free-agent addition a year ago, inside or off the field too often? Would adding him help stunt the growth of Barwin, a 2009 second-rounder, by taking some snaps from him?
You can never have enough of a pass rush. Schobel’s from near Houston and has said the Texans are the team he’d most like to link up with. He’s connected to defensive line coach Bill Kollar. I can’t argue with the move if they make it.
But I’d prefer if he was a free safety.
UPDATE, 2:03 p.m.:
According a team transcript Kollar said this about Smith Wednesday afternoon:
“Antonio, just like last year, when he moves inside and we move him inside, you really start to see him produce and make more plays. He was more effective for us last year when we moved him inside and obviously, we’ll be doing the same thing this year a bunch. He keeps getting better all the time at defensive end but he really played more inside when he was in Arizona and that’s where he feels more comfortable. He’s been doing a good job so far.”
I don’t know if Smith’s every going to be a fulltime tackle, but if he’s at his best there, a Williams-Schobel-Barwin trio at end could sure be promising against Peyton Manning.
Bill Kollar, Texans defensive line coach
“The guy that I remember the most was is from when I played down in Tampa, which wasn’t that early. But he was Abe Gibron. He knew how to push hard and pull off and all that sort of stuff. I think he probably helped me out the most.
“To a certain extent, drills that we did that really ended up helping me and the other guys I was with back then, we do those here. We try to keep them just to defensive line play. The agility work, the bag work, the sleds, we do it to end up getting them better at specific techniques and stuff.
“He was probably the biggest influence on me. He did a lot to get the best out of me, there is no doubt about it. Not all players are the same, sometimes you’re on guys, they don’t like it, they go into a shell and stuff and other guys you better believe they need it, see it as a challenge or whatever.
“Abe used to always seem to know how to get the most out of us. We were good friends and ended up doing quite a few things together before he passed away.”
Now, Houston Texans defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, still just 23, will no longer get snaps based on potential. His team needs production and penetration from its defensive tackles, and if he can’t provide it, coaches can turn to a new alternative.
So Okoye, who figured to be a high-ranking defensive building block with Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, will head into Texans' camp trying to cling to his role.
“He’s got to find another level and I think he understands that,” general manager Rick Smith said. “He’s got to find another level of production, he’s got to find another level of intensity, and I think he gets that. We’re expecting to see that.”
Okoye was listed at 315 pounds last season and played at around 300. He is currently 283. Is lighter the way to go? If he gives up any ability to hold the point of attack, we may well be asking if it was a smart trade-off for a bit more quickness, but he’s hoping to hold up better at a lighter weight and being quicker than his blocker.
He’s got a bulging disc in his back and lingering issues with his knees, an ankle and a shoulder. Work to his core muscles shaved some pounds and may help with those injury issues. The weight loss continued, he said, with some light running on the side with his little sister, 10-year old Chinwe, who he didn’t think had enough physical activity in her life.
“Internally I feel stronger,” he said. “You can have the looks, but your muscles may not be what it looks like on the outside.”
He had 5.5 sacks as a rookie, but only 2.5 since. That drop-off doesn’t look good, but Okoye isn’t sure it’s reflective of his play.
“Anyone you watch film with will say they’ve seen improvement from Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3,” he said. “Play-wise, it’s been good. Statistically the last two years, I’ve only had one and one-and-a-half sacks.”
He came into the league with fanfare over his youth and background, and expectations aren’t normal, he said.
“I’m not expected as a defensive tackle, I’m expected as Amobi Okoye,” he said. “I finally see the difference.”
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar, who’s entering his second season, agrees that Okoye is better, but says he hasn’t improved enough.
And toughness is the major theme.
“I watched all the games from the year before  and the guys here said he needed to be a more physical player,” Kollar said. “We kept on him: ‘Hey, man you’ve got to hit, when that ball carrier is going down you’ve got to go down and get him, you’ve got to finish plays more.’ It was a big thing. He definitely did a better job, but he can do more…
“Don’t come over and stand by the guy, you’ve got to finish it off… If you don’t like getting in there and scrapping and grinding, you can’t play in this league. We’ve got to make sure when the pads are on that’s what he’s doing.”
One of the Texans' big questions is their third-down pass-rush package. Antonio Smith will continue to kick inside from end to tackle, with Connor Barwin now a lock to replace him opposite Williams. That leaves one inside spot.
And if Okoye can’t earn it, third-rounder Earl Mitchell might.
“One of those two guys will be the other guy inside,” Kollar said.
First-rounders typically get the benefit of the doubt for a good while. So I was a bit surprised that Okoye, Kollar and Smith all agreed Okoye is not certain to fit in that crucial group. Kollar isn’t even talking like Okoye is even assured of a place in the base defense.
Okoye said he doesn’t view Mitchell as a challenge but as a teammate -- one who is, incidentally, only about three months younger.
“We’re going to help each other out, I want him on the field too,” Okoye said. “I love the city, I love the team. I just want both of us to work to improve this team.
“I have inner selfishness, and I think every player should have that…. With that, I would definitely be upset with myself if I am not out there. I’m definitely going to make sure I get to be an every down player.”
The Texans' investment in pass-rush help -- Bill Kollar, Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin -- hasn’t paid off yet, says Dale Robertson.
Brian Cushing was defensive player of the month, says John McClain. I think he’s making quite a case for defensive rookie of the year.
Steve Slaton leads this Pete Prisco piece on sophomore slumps.
Key matchups for the game against the Jags from Battle Red Blog.
Is a perfect season really a big deal when the goal is the Super Bowl? Phil Richards examines the question.
A look at the five games ahead.
Phillip B. Wilson’s thorough matchup page.
The Colts are ready for Chris Johnson.
Robert Mathis was recognized for a big November, says Mike Chappell.
Old-timers are getting it done, says Wilson.
Johnson rates as the biggest concern for the Colts, says John Oehser.
A look at how the defense has gotten better, from Deshawn Zombie.
Derek Landri is gone and James Wyche was promoted off the practice squad, says Vito Stellino.
The Jaguars' receivers have a different attitude, says Stellino.
The Texans have found a lot of ways to lose, says Michael C. Wright.
Repositioning the umpire would be good, but how would he call holding, asks Vic Ketchman.
The rise and fall of Landri, from Big Cat Country.
Chris Johnson is gunning for Eric Dickerson’s rushing record, writes Jim Wyatt.
The Titans' defense has gotten better as Chuck Cecil settled into his job, writes David Climer.
Mike Heimerdinger is what’s happened to Vince Young, says Clark Judge.
Kenny Britt’s given the Titans a lift, says Gary Estwick.
In case you missed it, my gigantic column on Young from Thursday.
Is LenDale White back in good graces?
The Titans aren’t thinking playoffs, says Terry McCormick.
Michael Griffin intends to play with pain, says Wyatt.
A piece of Tuesday mail that warrants its own entry:
Barrett writes: If you're looking for interesting things to talk about I thought Connor Barwin might be an interesting topic.
With the Texans losing Owen Daniels for the season and James Casey for 2 weeks, depth is a concern at the TE position.
Well, the Texans have a hybrid TE / DE on their roster in Barwin.
Converting a player at this stage might cause a setback but then again, he could become a diverse option much like Mike Vrabel or James Casey who is kind of a WR/TE/FB hybrid. He and Barwin share several similar traits.
What do you think?
Paul Kuharsky: This is a very interesting thought, Barrett.
I can’t imagine we’d see any major use of Barwin and I am usually quick to dismiss any kind of position change talk. Matt Schaub’s probably never thrown a pass to Barwin.
But the guy didn’t dabble as a tight end at Cincinnati, he was a tight end for his first three seasons. So while defensive line coach Bill Kollar has worked with him extensively since the Texans drafted him in the second round, he could still have more tight end in him than defensive end.
If I am the Texans, I’d seriously consider the prepping him for possible work in a limited package or two. At the very least, if something happens to Joel Dreessen or Anthony Hill you’d have an additional option Sunday in Indianapolis and can keep the Colts a bit more honest.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn't think it's a good idea:
"He played TE at U of Cincinnati before his senior year and amazingly, they had him play TE at the Senior Bowl-which was a major mistake. I watched him at the Senior Bowl as a TE (knowing that he would be a DE in the NFL) and thought that he was a very good long athlete but wasn't much of a blocker and had very average hands and route running skills. I can't see him going to O right now. He needs a lot of work to learn DE and that is what they invested a high pick in him for, so I feel it would be unwise to slow that progress. But, in time, after he gets acclimated to the league, I could see him doing a Mike Vrabel-like role at the goal line possibly."
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:
|Jason Miller/US Presswire|
|It is important for Titans quarterback Vince Young to start the game well.|
The 49ers will have a shock factor: They will have worked all week on stuff they are sure is going to work, and Peyton Manning will undo a piece of it with some sort of ridiculous completion. As that unfolds, a team unfamiliar with playing the Colts is likely to start wondering just what it has gotten itself into. If the 49ers fall behind, watch Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis attack Alex Smith. Things could get ugly. Smith used to drop the ball a lot. Mathis and Freeney do a great job of knocking it free.
The flags will be flapping in Buffalo: Wind is always an issue at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Houston’s win at Green Bay last year was a benchmark moment. Now comes another weather challenge on the road in a game that could really boost the Texans into the pool of AFC teams considered playoff contenders. Can the Texans find the recipe where they show a commitment to the run but still find big chunks of yardage with their precision passing? It could be a good week for a bigger pass rush -- defensive line coach Bill Kollar joined the Texans from the Bills and likely has some special insight they can put to use.
A contest of corner depth: Vincent Fuller returns for the Titans who probably get Cortland Finnegan back too, but they will be without Nick Harper. That means Jason McCourty is likely in the mix. The Jaguars are without Rashean Mathis (finger) which probably means Tyron Brackenridge or Scott Starks is in the lineup. Which substitute corner can hold up the best? Can coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Heimerdinger dial up stuff for David Garrard and Young, respectively, to take advantage?
Sanders vs. Gore: Pound Frank Gore and try to build from there. That’s the one game plan you’d think the 49ers will try to stick with. The Colts seem more susceptible up the middle than around the edges, but Bob Sanders is likely to be sharper in his second game back from a knee injury. Look for a couple top notch collisions between a back averaging 5.3 yards a carry and a safety looking to re-establish himself as a bruising run defender.
Head here for a Jaguars-only mailbag.
Jake Large from Singapore writes: Dear PK, As a Colt fan I have some concerns about this season (not a surprise). Rather than ask you about the left tackle (too obvious), I'll ask instead about the receivers. In particular, if Austin Collie is starting in the slot and Gonzalez on the outside along with Wayne, I can't help but think we have one of the slowest WR corps in the league. Will this lack of explosiveness be a major source of weakness for my team this year? It's weird to feel really good about the D but really nervous about the O for the first time in a decade! Jake
Paul Kuharsky: A door prize, please, for a guy who’s traveled furthest to ask his question. Great to hear from you, Jake.
I think that's where some of Garcon's value is, in his speed.
But it's not so much about running away from people as it is about getting open, and we know Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez, and let's include Dallas Clark, can get open. So while it might not be ideal, I don't think it'll be deadly. Now if the run game returns to decent form and people get sucked up by play-action, that can go a long way toward making everyone in the receiving corps seem faster, wouldn't you agree? I don’t know that it’s a big issue, and I’m more convinced after consulting with Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson.
Here’s what Williamson said on the subject:
"I wouldn't say it is a weakness though at all. Collie is probably the slowest of the bunch and yes, I would say that Garcon is the fastest, but he is more of a build-up guy than Wayne and Gonzo, who go 0 to 60 quite abruptly. Don't sleep on Gonzo's flat out speed. He can really run. As can Wayne of course. I wouldn't say that any of these guys has the blow-past-you-speed that Marvin Harrison did in his prime though. Still, not a weakness."
"Also, Dallas Clark is as much WR as he is TE and is amongst the fastest TEs in the league."
Kurt from Vancouver, B.C., writes: I have Chris Johnson as a keeper on my fantasy football team but he's done "nothing" this pre-season to impress. Since you cover them and get to see them more so than I do, is there anything going on to be concerned with or do you think that once Mawae returns and they start game planning for their opponents that things will come together for the running game? I could only keep 2 RBs and opted for Steven Jackson and CJ, but I had to throw Jacobs back. This will really suck if the Titans run the ball as poorly in '09 as they have done so far! Thanks, Kurt
Paul Kuharsky: I think you'd be crazy to make any moves regarding a top-flight player from a team that's going to be good based on anything he did or didn't do in the preseason. I have no doubt, barring major injury, that the Titans will run the ball well over the course of the season. That said, with those three, there are going to be weeks where you'll regret making the choice you did.
Kevin Cunningham from Portland, Ore., writes: Paul-A few weeks ago when we signed Jeff Zgonina I emailed you saying I thought it was an indictment of our poor D-line play, not an camp body due to injuries as the Texans brass said. With today's trade of Travis Johnson, what does this say about the Texans D-Line? Do you read it as an endorsement of Okam, Cody and Robinson? Could TJ have been just the odd man out, and we figured we'd get something for him? Was he that deep in the Kubiak doghouse? What is your take?
Paul Kuharsky: An unimpressive performance by the group again Monday night. I am surprised at the lack of progress under Bill Kollar, though obviously they could come out and be great against the Jets on opening day.
He’s a vet who knows what he’s doing for sure, but I would think they can find a better final piece in cuts than Zgonina, though, no? I think Johnson must have been that deep in the doghouse and that Kollar was not excited about him.
Glenn Gruber from Cumberland, R.I., writes: I realize this is the time of year that all GMs will be scouring the waiver wire. With the lack of depth at CB, do you see the Titans trying to scoop up a veteran like Ron Hood fill the gap and provide stability? Glenn
Paul Kuharsky: Well, Hood’s already been scooped up by Chicago.
Ryan Mouton is in the mix once he’s healthy. The Titans finished with four corners and five safeties last year. If they went that route now, it'd be Cortland Finnegan, Nick Harper, Mouton and TBD with Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Vincent Fuller, Donnie Nickey and a wild card (Tuff Harris, Nick Schommer). I think they could keep Jason McCourty as the TBD corner and then be in the market for a ninth DB expecting an upgrade on DeMarcus Faggins, Cary Williams, Harris or Schommer.
Eric from Denver, Colo., writes: PK! I'd like your take on why teams don't try moving underperforming players to other positions. As a Titans fan, I've watched Chris Henry struggle as an RB. He just isn't instinctive. Why not try him out at LB or SS? Appreciate your thoughts, Eric
Paul Kuharsky: I don't understand why so many people are fascinated with this idea.
If a guy can't be an effective player at the spot he was drafted to play, the spot where he likely played his entire college career, then why should a team think he will play a different position better than guys who've spent their football lives playing that other position? Do you want Chris Henry as a linebacker who’s not close to game-ready or someone like Stanford Keglar or Colin Allred? Give me Keglar or Allred, please.
Byron from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Just reading the chat transcript and you said that the better McRath looks the less chance of Bulluck staying. I was thinking about how much it would cost to keep him. If Nashville were a larger market team then I believe that Keith would get more coverage thus more pro bowls and more recognition as one of the key players on a perennial top defensive squad. My question is, does market size and coverage affect the going price for solid players who enter free agency? Would Keith be looking at a much better payday if he had the exact same career but been in Dallas or Pitt? (I realize that a lot of small market players get paid: AH, Laboy, Odem, and the like, but what would be the difference in them and a larger market player). Thanks
Paul Kuharsky: Does it impact the price for some guys? Yes. Should it? No.
Teams should be putting a value on a guy based on their evaluations of his play, and once the ball is kicked off, the market size of a guy's team has no bearing on how he performs or doesn't perform.
Sean from Arlington, Va., writes: Music tip (based on your other tastes): Mic Harrison and the High Score (based in Knoxville). Mic was formerly of the V-Roys and Superdrag. Good rootsy, rockin alt country. Check out "The Right Side of the Grass" or "Push Me On Home."Best songs:"Hey Driver""Never Gonna Drink Again""He Gets High""Long Time"
Paul Kuharsky: Loved the V-Roys (find “Just Add Ice,”) love Scott Miller (find “Amtrak Crescent.”) Didn't like what I heard of Harrison after the breakup, but I will circle back.
|Bob Levey/Getty Images|
|Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans defense have a new attitude.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- React or act?
Give a group of guys who've spent a lot of time doing the former to do the latter and you'll be greeted with glee.
That's the Houston Texans' defense's feelings for first-year coordinator Frank Bush, promoted by Gary Kubiak to replace Richard Smith.
"I think we had guys thinking too much, we had so many checks and this and that. It was too much, you're thinking so much to where you can't just line up and go tee off on someone. Now we can just line up and get it, there isn't so much too it. It's simplified to where we don't have all the checks."
The primary word being used for the team's new approach is "aggressive," and that's not a term that characterized them too often with Smith at the controls. The mild mannered Bush has the defense excited and determined not to let the Texans be known exclusively as an offensive team.
While Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels will go a long way towards determining if the Texans can build on consecutive 8-8 seasons and make the playoffs, Mario Williams, Ryans and linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick, bring a good dose of star power to the defense.
To graduate to being a playoff team, the Texans have to reverse some trends. They'll need to play better early so they aren't left to fight so hard to get back to .500. They need to fare better within the division, finding ways to finish off their primary rivals when they have the chance.
They expect the Titans and Colts to be strong again. The Texans will likely have to chase one or both of those teams down.
Anything less than double digit wins and a playoff berth won't be considered a success.
1. Can the offense fix turnover and red-zone issues?
The Texans ranked third in total offense last year, but it didn't mean as much as it should have because they were 17th in points per game. The two big themes heading into the 2009 season are cutting turnovers and getting better production once they get inside the 20.
They were minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways last year, third worst in the NFL. They scored touchdowns on just 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions.
"I think if we can make those two adjustments, we can win at least two more games," Shanahan said. "If we can do that I think we will be a playoff team. We were a good offense last year statistically. But that was the first thing I talked about on the first day of OTAs this year, that doesn't mean anything. The top three offenses in the league last year were New Orleans, Denver and us. None of us made the playoffs. Moving the ball does not matter unless you move it across that goal line."
2. Do they have enough in the secondary?
Their top cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has not been with the team because he's upset about getting slapped with a franchise tag, but he will ultimately sign it and play for a guarantee of nearly $10 million.
Jacques Reeves will miss the start of the season with a fractured fibula, which means Fred Bennett will get some time as the second starter. Rookie Glover Quin is currently the nickel and they like his physical play.
But the safeties and the defensive backfield depth are question marks, even if the defensive front gets more of a pa
ss rush and forces the ball out quicker. Can they get steady enough play from Eugene Wilson and second-year man Dominique Barber, the presumptive starters at safety on opening day against the Jets?
|Defensive end Mario Williams|
|Defensive end Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans' 25 sacks last season.|
The Texans had just 25 sacks in 2008, fewest in the division. And Williams accounted for 12 of them. Houston made moves intended to get pressure from elsewhere -- first by signing free agent defensive lineman Antonio Smith, then by drafting Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin with their first two picks. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar is a fiery type who preaches pocket penetration and may just be the team's biggest addition.
An effective rush from the front can help take a lot of pressure off the secondary, which ranks as the team's weak link.
Ideally, Jacoby Jones would be in line to replace Kevin Walter as the No. 2 receiver in a year if the team doesn't or can't re-sign Walter. But Jones lacks maturity and consistency and his job security could be in jeopardy. The team is looking at kickoff return man Andre Davis, a better receiver, as a punt return possibility. If Davis succeeds there, Jones could be expendable.
Jones can be very good, but he can also put the ball on the ground too much as a punt returner. And Kubiak is not a fan of specialists. He wants football players who can fill multiple roles. That describes Davis, who can cover kicks as well as return them in addition to catching passes. It may not cover Jones much longer.
Newcomer to watch
"He's a kid that can move from outside to inside, he's a big man that's a real good athlete," said Bush, who also worked with him in Arizona. "He's a 285-pound guy with good knee bend. He's extremely tough, has no problem playing over a center, guard or tackle. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and he came up through the ranks the hard way, he honed his craft and made himself what he is.
"That whole sense of a guy that came from virtually nothing to what he is right now kind of helps our team. Other guys can see it and aspire to be that way."
Antwaun Molden got hurt in his rookie season when the team wanted to bring him along slowly. He's a physical cornerback who could provide some great insurance or become a real alternative now if he's needed. ... Dan Orlovsky hasn't looked very good, but the team knows it will take him a while to be comfortable in the system and are convinced with coaching he can be a quality No. 2 quarterback for them. Even before a hamstring injury Rex Grossman wasn't going to challenge him for the backup quarterback job. ... Ryan Moats is like Slaton style-wise and Arian Foster is Chris Brown-like. But the undrafted rookie back may have missed his chance with a preseason injury and a too-slow return. Brown's ability to stay healthy will be a big question for the offense. ... While he's a popular fall guy with media and fans, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who's missed camp so far recovering from hernia surgery, generally does what the team asks, taking up blockers. That it's a contract year won't hurt his motivation either. ... Undrafted free agent John Busing hits and plays good special teams, which may give him a shot at a roster spot that has belonged to Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison. ... The team also likes undrafted defensive end Tim Jamison, but will there be room for him? ... Frank Okam is big, quick and smart and he's been a pet project for coaches. When Kubiak complimented his offseason, Okam knew it meant something, "because it's difficult for an Aggie to give a Longhorn a compliment." ... Rookie tight end James Casey can play fullback, line up wide or throw. That's versatility that makes him Houston's Wildcat candidate. ... Want an undrafted possibility on offense? If Jones is out, there could be room for receiver Darnell Jenkins.