AFC South: Brandon Stokley
The Texans signed Greg Jones to replace James Casey as their fullback, plucking a player who’d been a staple for division rival Jacksonville. Jones is much more of a traditional fullback than Casey was. While he’s not the sort of pass-catching threat Casey was, he will be a better lead blocker for Arian Foster. With a one-year contract, he’s unlikely to be a long-term solution, as he will turn 32 in May.
Shane Lechler is the new punter, a free-agent addition replacing Donnie Jones. Lechler is obviously an excellent punter. The one concern is the Texans are not an excellent coverage team. While a linebacking corps that will be restocked in the draft and presumably healthier will help, I’ll be watching to see if Lechler outpunts his coverage, actually creating additional issues rather than helping to resolve them. Houston did hire Bob Ligashesky as an assistant for longtime special teams coach Joe Marciano.
J.J. Watt’s star continues to shine. After visiting troops in the Middle East, he belted home runs at an Astros batting practice and had a baby penguin in Galveston, Texas named after him.
The Colts took a look at former Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, but no deal came together. Considering how general manager Ryan Grigson has worked in free agency, it seems unlikely a deal will come together now. Indianapolis has moved quickly to bring in the guys it wants, so it would seem the Colts decided to pass, or DHB didn’t jump to agree to what they may have offered. I think the team, which has made plenty of moves in free agency, can address wide receiver early in the draft.
The addition of veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck shows the Grigson-Chuck Pagano regime regard the position behind Andrew Luck differently than Bill Polian did when he was dealing with insurance for Peyton Manning late during his tenure in Indianapolis.
The Jaguars didn’t become players in the trade market for quarterback Matt Flynn. Smart move. The next signal caller that lands in Jacksonville needs to be more of a sure thing, and come at a more reasonable price than Flynn. Coach Gus Bradley obviously saw Flynn up close while working for the Seahawks. If he loved him, the Jaguars would have more likely shown some interest. Maybe they love Geno Smith or another quarterback in the draft. But I’ll be fine if they work hard on building the framework around the QB, play this season with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. If neither emerges as a guy they can count on going forward, then it’s priority No. 1 a year from now.
Gabbert's talking excitedly about the competition ahead at quarterback. He didn't like comments from a nameless coach from the previous staff that called him "Blame Gabbert" and suggested the way he carries himself puts blame for his problems on everyone else. It's exactly how you'd expect him to react. But I believe there was some truth to it, and it's something the new staff could have to address.
The Titans took a look at former Jets wide receiver Chaz Schilens as well as former Bronco Brandon Stokley and former Texan Kevin Walter. The team has been eager to add a slot guy to its group, and while Stokley is going to be 37 when this season starts, he is the one guy of these three who could give the Titans something they lack, I believe.
Ropati Pitoitua is the newest member of the Titans defensive line, an area they’ve wanted to beef up. Now Pitoitua, at 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds, joins tackle Sammie Hill (6-4, 329) to provide that size upgrade. Pitoitua was the 10th free-agent addition for Tennessee this offseason. He figures to help shore up the run defense.
I was a bit surprised the Titans signed safety Bernard Pollard, who’s a solid player against the run but also a coverage liability. He’s an outspoken guy with a big attitude and I’d categorize him as more of a Gregg Williams guy than a Mike Munchak guy.
The addition of new special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky could be among the most meaningful moves the Texans make this offseason, writes Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle.
General manager Ryan Grigson recently sat down with the club's season-ticket holders to answer their questions regarding free agency and the squad.
Several NFL sources have identified Jacksonville as the most likely destination for Seattle backup quarterback Matt Flynn, and the Jaguars are among the teams to talk to the Seahawks about a deal, writes Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
John Oehser of the team's website offers a peek at the recent workouts of some top draft prospects, and lists the players several analysts project the Jaguars to take with the No. 2 overall pick next month.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, released by the Titans and signed by the Colts, worries about the impact his change of teams will have on his family, writes Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.
Former Titans quarterback Vince Young continued his quest for an NFL job by throwing at the Texas Longhorns' pro day, writes Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press.
The Titans hosted three more free agents on Tuesday, including veteran slot receivers Brandon Stokley and Kevin Walter, writes Terry McCormick of the Titan Insider. Tennessee also had offensive lineman Chris Spencer in for a visit.
Midseason-form answer about Peyton Manning's health after recent neck surgery:
"He's in good shape. He'll be fine. He's coming along and we anticipate he'll be able to do the things required of him during the offseason (including being ready to throw at OTAs).”
On getting Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzalez back:
"Both guys are progressing nicely. Anthony is doing a lot of things extremely well and the doctors are pleased with what he's able to accomplish at this point. Bob is the same way. He feels great. He's got that enthusiasm, that spark back in his eye. I do think sometimes there's some positives from an injury -- it gave him a chance to rest and heal other parts of his body besides the biceps that was repaired. If those can come back and perform at the same level we anticipate, they're going to be a big plus for us.”
He talked about using some four-wide formations and discussed the team’s status at receiver:
“We're in a situation we haven't been in since (2004) when we had three receivers over 1,000 yards, Brandon Stokley, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. That was a good group. This group is as talented. As much as we throw the ball, we'll find a place. If they're all healthy and ready to go, we'll find a place. I don't think Gonzalez is quite where he'd like to be, but by the time we get rolling he'll be there.''
On recovering from the Super Bowl loss:
“You're always going to look at a game you lose and have a lot of what-ifs. If we play the game the way we know how to play it, I think our chances are pretty good. But the fact of the matter is, that night, they were the better team. If I had to do it all over again, we'd come with the same approach. All we'd do is do it a little bit better.”
On the approach after the Super Bowl loss:
“I talked to someone who was in the same situation we were in that lost the Super Bowl. And he was talking about how tired his team was going into the following season, almost like they had played two seasons back to back. That's one of the reasons why fatigue is something we have to battle. Also mental fatigue as well. We have to get fresh mentally and once we get going we have to shake that off our back. In the Bible, they have an old saying, you shake the dust off your sandals and move forward. That's what we have to do.''
Caldwell said Clyde Chrisensen taking over as offensive coordinator would be a lot like his own step up to take over for Tony Dungy:
"Clyde's been there for eight, nine years, knows the system very well and really influences what we do.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The offensive and defensive lines need some sorting out, but the most intriguing competition for a prominent role with the 2009 Indianapolis Colts might be for the No. 3 wide receiver slot.
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|Pierre Garcon is one candidate for the Colts' No. 3 receiver spot.|
"I've been throwing with them a lot during this offseason," Peyton Manning said. "I try to take them all individually and work with them one-on-one. Sometimes, I think you get out there in a big group session and you throw one route to Pierre and one route to Austin, you get pretty good at a bunch of them instead of trying to master all of the routes. We do these private sessions in the morning. We started it a couple of years ago. I think it really does make a difference. I get really comfortable with the timing on all of them.
"Pierre can really run. He's made big strides since last year. He's made some tough catches so far in the OTAs. Collie is a guy, it's still early, and you're kind of evaluating him and getting a feel for him, but you can tell he knows how to catch the ball. He's caught so many balls in practice. You have Roy Hall who's competing in there, Sam Giguere, who's injured right now, who was making some strides. It's going to be good, healthy competition. I think Taj [Smith] is in there. Competition will be a good thing all the way leading up to the first game of the regular season."
Manning had more to say there about Garcon and Collie than Hall, and the buzz among people who cover the team on a daily basis is that it follows a trend. Generally, players and coaches don't talk about Hall unless specifically asked about him. Maybe we over interpret, but that would seem to suggest he's not at the front of the group.
Garcon catches the ball very well, Hall is the biggest receiver at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. Collie seems to be a crafty player -- he's drawn a lot of comparisons to Brandon Stokley.
"Everybody knows the playbook, you've just got to step out and do something great," Garcon said.
Team president Bill Polian said he's confident one from the group will emerge and be the clear-cut No. 3. He doesn't expect any sort of committee, but he doesn't expect a verdict before the team is well into training camp, either.
Reggie Wayne, who trains in Miami and only has been around for a few days, said he doesn't know much about Collie yet. But Garcon and Hall have been asking him a lot of questions and leaning on him as the team looks to sort out the position beyond Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez in the post-Marvin Harrison era.
"We've got something in store for you, you are going to see," Wayne said. "As a receiving corps, I think we are going to surprise a lot of people."
|Thomas E. Witte/Getty Images|
|The Colts seemingly showed faith in Anthony Gonzalez by not taking a receiver in the first three rounds of last weekend's draft.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Anthony Gonzalez is typecast.
As I considered the possibility of the Indianapolis Colts using the 27th pick in the draft on a receiver, I kept hearing the same thing about Gonzalez: He's a nice slot guy for Peyton Manning; the Colts showed a willingness to draft a player for a narrow role when they took him out of Ohio State with their 2007 first-round pick, 32nd overall.
The Colts, I knew, viewed Gonzalez differently than many others in the league. After all, they have tight end Dallas Clark working out of the slot in a lot of formations and last year they threw a wrinkle at defenses where Wayne lined up in the slot with Gonzalez outside.
"I've never thought of myself as a slot or an outside guy necessarily. I think of myself as a receiver," Gonzalez said in a phone interview this week. "For example, the drills I do, the routes I run, the fundamentals are the same whether you are inside or outside, so they are all geared toward being a complete receiver. Now there are some different challenges as to how a defense plays a guy on the inside and what he's looking at as opposed to when he's outside.
"This is a guess, but I would say if you looked at all my snaps that I've had with the Colts since I've been here, I'd bet that I've had more snaps outside than inside."
Not only did the Colts not use their top pick on another receiver, they didn't address the position until the fourth round, when they took BYU's Austin Collie, a player who's compared by some to the slot receiver Gonzalez was drafted to help replace, Brandon Stokley. The Colts may see him as more, but Mel Kiper Jr. was hardly alone when he wrote that Collie won't be too much of a vertical threat against NFL corners but could be good as a "possession type, underneath receiver."
Wayne and Gonzalez now head a corps that also includes Roy Hall, Pierre Garcon and Collie. With Harrison gone and Jim Caldwell taking over for Tony Dungy as coach, Wayne is No. 1, Gonzalez should be No. 2 and Clark will continue to be a primary target. Forecasting how the others receivers will be deployed is a guessing game.
Coming from some, the "slot guy" label suggests restricted skills. Gonzalez may still be accurately described as crafty, quick and shifty. But those are qualities he can -- and has -- just as easily put to use outside.
His numbers don't look particularly slot-like. Consider that in two years of working mostly in the slot in New England, Wes Welker has averaged 10.5 yards a catch while Gonzalez's average in the same period was 13.2 yards.
One AFC personnel man said he still envisions Gonzalez as best used when shifted inside in three-wide formations. The inexperienced Hall, Garcon and even Collie will have an easier time breaking out on the perimeter, while Gonzalez can be at his best in the middle of the field handling more blitz-related responsibilities.
"I think of Gonzalez as a slot guy, because that's kind of the reason that they took him," he said. "I think they took him to be primarily their slot guy. ... He is a heck of a receiver. He's super quick, he can catch the ball, he can run after the catch, he's a tough kid, he has all those attributes. He can be a No. 2 and he is going to be a No. 2 and I think he's going to be a pretty good one. I think ideally his skills are suited to play in the slot."
|Ron Schwane/US PRESSWIRE|
|As a senior, Anthony Gonzalez was used primarily in the slot at Ohio State.|
As a senior at Ohio State, Gonzalez said he pressed the coaches to give him more work outside, for variety if nothing else. But the reality was the Buckeyes had quality receivers like Ted Ginn Jr. and Brian Robiskie to split out, and the experienced Gonzalez was told he was the most trustworthy at picking up on blitz situations.
As he and his staff studied the 2007 draft class, Colts president Bill Polian saw Gonzalez as an excellent fit.
"This guy's a Colt," Polian said after drafting him. "He's got the horseshoe stamped all over him from the minute that you saw him."
With the Colts there is not much difference between lining up inside or out, according to Gonzalez. Outside he's reading three defenders -- the cornerback, the safety to his side and the closest linebacker. Inside, he looks largely at the same three guys from a different perspective. But based on the protection he knows who's accounted for and who isn't. Most of the time he turns into a hot receiver for Manning when one of those three opponents blitzes, he said, but sometimes it's any of two or three that can prompt him to break off his route to be ready for an extra quick delivery.
Gonzalez has no interest in talking about the strengths and weaknesses of his game -- he's only half joking when he calls them trade secrets. But his offseason work is all designed to address the weaknesses and he said he has great faith in his plan.
Odds are as the post-Harrison Colts get started, Gonzalez is going to be a super-popular pick as a breakout guy.
"I really like the kid," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Very smart. Excellent work ethic. Much faster and quicker out of his breaks than many tend to realize. Soft hands. Should be an ideal guy with Manning, as he will study defenses and work real hard to get open, find the soft spots in zones and present a good target for Manning to hit. Also very competitive with the ball in his hands after the catch.
"He isn't weak, but he also isn't an overpowering physical player by any means. Better when he doesn't have to fight off a jam and might still project best to the slot. However, I expect that to change going forward and I see him as a very productive player going forward. Should have a huge year."
Two years of work with Manning have Gonzalez feeling comfortable, but he referred questions about their chemistry to the quarterback. (Stars of Manning's stature are not readily available and I was unable to attend his round of golf with Tiger Woods Wednesday -- I'll have to check in on that at minicamp in early June.)
|The chemistry Manning and Gonzalez have developed over the past two seasons will be vital as the team enters the post-Marvin Harrison era.|
"Are we at the point that him and Marvin were at their peak? Absolutely not," Gonzalez said. "You're talking about the No. 1 quarterback-receiver tandem in the history of the game. Are we there? No sir. But it's one of those things where there is no substitute for experience, so the more game situations and practice situations we can get into, it'll benefit our chemistry."
Out wide, Gonzalez is not lacking, the personnel man said. It's just that his best qualities serve him best inside.
"Because of his quickness and his ability to change directions, it's a matchup deal and he gets much more favorable matchups when you move him into the slot," the personnel man said. "When you're playing with two receivers, he's with Wayne. When you bring in your third, then ideally you take Gonzalez from outside to inside to have more favorable matchups. Then you bring your third in and let him play outside."
Gonzalez said he doesn't know the team's early plan for how he or the other receivers will be used. Harrison regularly lined up on the right. Without him, the Colts may move people around more to be unpredictable and search for the most favorable matchups.
Gonzalez has no prediction or expectation.
"I don't really know what to expect," he said. "I don't anticipate being handed anything, I will tell you that. I'm going into minicamp and training camp with the idea that I've got a lot to prove and I've got to earn whatever reps, snaps, throws I get."
|Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Williams: the Reggie that worked and the Reggie that didn't. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Colts have an all-time great at quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans do not.
Even so, just over a month before the 2009 draft, it's hard not to try to sort through the different approaches at receiver by the division's three receiver-needy teams.
Harrison was in Indy before Manning, but the Colts have made it a priority to provide weapons for their quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans, meanwhile, are run-based teams that have failed to find the downfield threats that would open things up.
Jacksonville and Tennessee have missed in different ways.
The Jaguars swung and missed three times when they spent first-round picks on receivers -- R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones all busted -- while the Titans spent high picks on other positions while managing to develop only one Pro Bowler, Derrick Mason, out of 17 drafted wideouts.
We're leaving the Texans mostly out of this conversation for two reasons -- they don't have as much of a draft history to examine and receiver doesn't rank as one of their big needs heading into this draft.
But Houston is included in these capsules, in order of the number of receivers drafted since 1997, for context:Tennessee:
Receivers drafted: 17 (Second in NFL)
Average overall pick: 121.1 (15th)
Average round: 4.06
Average draft value pick: 86th
Passing offense since 1997: 17th
Philosophical summation: The Titans haven't spent a first-rounder on a receiver since they passed on Randy Moss for Kevin Dyson in 1998. They've thrown a lot of mid- and late-round picks at the position and hope to make things work with willing blockers in a run-first offense that has not consistently stretched the field on the outside under Jeff Fisher. They won't usually play kids who don't know the entire offense early on and like to talk about how they don't need an All-Pro caliber No. 1 guy to succeed.
Receivers drafted: 11 (Tied for 21st)
Average overall pick: 137.9 (23rd)
Average round: 4.55
Average draft value pick: 62nd
Passing offense since 1997: 14th
Philosophical summation: They've not been afraid to spend first-round picks on receivers and haven't found a star in three stabs with R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Indications are, however, they aren't afraid to swing again. They want a big-time weapon for David Garrard to be the quarterback they envision and may well grab Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin at No. 8 in the first round if one of them is available. Veteran Torry Holt, a free agent, is visiting the team Thursday.
Receivers drafted: 7 (28th in the league)
Average overall pick: 98.4 (First)
Average round: 3.29
Average draft value pick: 60th
First rounders: 2
Passing offense since 1997: First
Philosophical summation: Surrounding Manning with weapons is always a priority. The Colts got an all-time great in 1996 with Marvin Harrison, and rather than thinking they could supplement him with bit players, they spent more resources to surround him -- with Reggie Wayne in round one of the 2001 draft, with free agent Brandon Stokley in 2003 and by drafting Anthony Gonzalez in round one in 2007. They could well grab another at No. 27 in this draft.
Receivers drafted: 6 (32nd)
Average overall pick: 114.2 (Ninth)
Average round: 4.00
Average draft value pick: 39th
First rounders: 1
Passing offense since 2002: 28th
Philosophical summation: They hit a home run with Andre Johnson in the first round in 2003 and have worked to build an offense around an unassuming, hard-working talent. The Texans have done r
easonably well developing Johnson's supporting cast with free agent additions Kevin Walter and Andre Davis and 2006 seventh-rounder David Anderson. With an improved line and run game, if quarterback Matt Schaub stays healthy, Johnson will remain one of the league's most feared weapons.
In the graphic below, Aaron Schatz from footballoutsiders.com suggested I look at the differences in approach at wide receiver by using a "draft value chart." A general average of draft position assumes the difference between each draft spot is the same, while the sort of value chart teams use for trading picks takes into account just how different the value is between a first-rounder and a sixth-rounder.
Two assessments of what this all means:
Schatz of footballoutsiders.com:
"It's a different issue with each team. The Colts have hit on their first-round receivers, the Jaguars have not. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez. Honestly, what else have the Colts had to do to find receivers? Those three play so well that everything else they look for is slot guys and depth.
"On the other hand, the Jags have blown first-rounders on Reggie Williams, R. Jay Soward, and Matt Jones. Williams is sort of a good second guy, Soward sucked, and Jones is a mess who was totally overdrafted."
"I don't think the Titans have spent a first on a receiver since Kevin Dyson. They did a great job of drafting Derrick Mason, and have been stumbling along otherwise with lower picks that didn't work out and free agents. That's different from the Colts, though -- the Colts didn't have a chance to have lower picks not work out because their first-rounders are so good. And the starter before Wayne was drafted was [Jerome] Pathon, who was a second-rounder who had a career that was about equal to what you would expect from a guy taken with an early pick in the second round."
ESPN analyst Herm Edwards former coach of the Jets and Chiefs:
"It depends on what your philosophy is on offense, it has a lot to do with what you are trying to do. Receivers, it's always a tough deal when you draft those guys, especially high. Because the expectations on them are so enormous. It sometimes takes those guys two or three years to really get going into the system.
"If you look at Indy, they've got a system with a quarterback where all they have to do it fit the pieces they want, like the kid Gonzalez they drafted from Ohio State. You look at him now, they used him a lot in the slot, so they kind of brought him along. I think now with Marvin being gone Gonzalez will probably replace Marvin outside. When they moved him to the slot, they really took away Dallas Clark, because Clark is really their slot guy in three wideouts, they put him in the slot a lot. Now they've got a speed guy in Gonzalez, they can move him back outside and now what they'll probably do is look for another guy. They are always a year or two ahead of what they want to do.
"Tennessee, in my opinion, is more of a team that's going to try to run the ball and play physical on defense, do it that way. So their receivers are a little bit different than the guys in Indianapolis. Those guys have got to be able to block. If you look at Tennessee's receivers, they're pretty big. Jacksonville has the same kind of guys. They're more of a play-action team, they're going to try to hit the home runs. Those teams are going to pound you with their running games, try to get eight guys in the box, get one on one outside, and then from there try to hit you with the home run.
"Jacksonville, they've had some guy but none of them have really turned out. But that's a lot of teams, though. They are so hard to figure out. This year in this class is kind of unique. Five or six of the top guys are juniors. That's what makes the class so good... Now you're talking about bringing a young guy in that's going to take a little time to develop.
"The Colts, if they miss on a guy it's almost not on the radar screen, because when you think about it, he ain't going to play anyway, he's not pressed to play right now. It's been the same starters every year. Now they need one."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
INDIANAPOLIS -- They keep their own here, the indispensible ones.
Since 2004 the Indianapolis Colts have spent over $205 million in guaranteed money on Manning, Harrison, Brandon Stokley, Ryan Diem, Wayne, Raheem Brock, Gary Brackett, Adam Vinatieri, Mathis, Freeney, Sanders and Ryan Lilja.
That's a great core that all started out as Colts, except for Vinatieri, and is all still Colts, except for Stokley.
The players Bill Polian chose not to re-sign have hardly haunted Indianapolis -- they probably parted with Edgerrin James at the right time; Rick DeMulling, Jason David, Cato June and Ben Utecht haven't done a lot to help Detroit, New Orleans, Tampa Bay or Cincinnati, respectively. Plenty of NFL insiders regard them and other ex-Colts as system players who were good in the Colts framework, did well to cash in as free agents, and will never play as well as they did in Indianapolis.
The Colts had draft picks or young players ready to step in as replacements in their unique system.
Three others went south to Nashville. David Thornton, Nick Harper and Jake Scott have jumped to the Titans in the last three years. They are now key ingredients for 6-0 Tennessee, the lone undefeated team in the league and the hosts to the Colts Monday night at LP Field.
While other system guys have faded in their second acts, the Titans feel they hit three home runs -- raiding and weakening the team they've been chasing in the AFC South while strengthening their nucleus.
"They are great performers for us and it's definitely a credit to our scouting department," said Titans Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. "Indy is a system-type team, but those guys came in and fit in with what we do really well."
"They've got so much invested in their elite, core guys, they kind of roll the other guys over," said Tennessee GM Mike Reinfeldt, who assumed his post in 2007. "The key is to find in those guys they roll over, which ones are the guys that are really keepers? I think we found three that were."
Thornton is a rangy linebacker who is completely comfortable in coverage and able to rush the passer when asked. Harper was typecast as a Cover 2 corner, but he's shown himself to be capable in man-to-man and has added a lot to the Titans run defense as a willing and reliable tackler. Scott has helped make a brawny line that's allowed only two sacks even more physical.
In 2007, the Colts were ready to let Harper and David move on as they had young risers Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden ready to take over. Harper got a three-year contract for between $9 and 10 million. David was a restricted free agent, but Indy didn't match a four-year, $16.5 million offer sheet.
The Colts haven't missed him the way they have missed Thornton and, because of injuries in the early part of this season, Scott.
Polian said after a Titans-Colts game last season that his team's best linebacker was wearing No. 50 for the other team. Indy might have been able to re-sign him, but accounting issues with the NFL Management Council over signing bonuses for Manning and Harrison under the new CBA in 2006 clogged up Polian's salary cap and the linebacker was gone by the time things were sorted out.
"That's probably the free agent loss that I took hardest," Polian said. "Because I had such high regard for him as a person, as a player and as a leader."
And while the Colts seemingly chose between Lilja and Scott, they certainly could have used Scott to this point, as injuries have thinned their options along the line and Lilja remains on the physically unable to perform list.
He said while a lot of Titans defenses start as zones, they wind up working man-to-man concepts with which he is now completely comfortable. Harper is always quick to note that he was a man corner when he joined the Colts after a year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL.
"Definitely, I am not a product of what the Colts did," he said.
His old teammates will watch him work Sunday, and take note of Thornton and Scott too. They understand why they are where they are, even if they don't like it.
"I'm very happy for all those guys, all good guys, they've done well down there so far," center J
eff Saturday said. "But you knew leaving here, they were the good guys. You knew what you had as players. They showed up here each and every week and performed and played to an outstanding level. They're just doing it for another team.
"They have great leadership qualities, each and every one of them do, and they just took it to the Titans. That's the way the league is now. When teams play you twice a year they can get a good sense of how good you're going to be for them. And I think the Titans made a good move there."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
|M. Shanahan||K. Shanahan|
HOUSTON -- When asked about it this week, Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan downplayed his family ties in tonight's preseason matchup.
It's no big deal when he coaches against his dad's team anymore, certainly not in the preseason.
The Texans handled the Broncos here on Dec. 13 last year, 31-13, though Kyle was only quarterbacks coach then.
But I talked to Denver receiver Brandon Stokley a few weeks ago, and he said Shanahan versus Shanahan will always create a little extra intrigue.
"We played them last year and they took it to us pretty good," he said. "I know coach looks forward to it because his son coaches there and he was with coach Kubiak here for so long in Denver and now you have coach [Alex] Gibbs over there. It's going to be an interesting game, a lot of chess play."
The debut of Gibbs' cut-block heavy run scheme is probably the biggest storyline of the night. I'll tell you how it looks and what players have to say about it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
It's a testament to the stability of the Colts' passing attack that there aren't many former Colts who were involved in the passing game to chase down for insight.
But thanks to the Broncos public relations department, I just had the chance to chat with receiver Brandon Stokley, who played for Indianapolis from 2003-2006.
Here are the highlights of our conversation about how Peyton Manning missing four-to-six weeks, including all or most of training camp, will affect the Colts' rhythm-passing offense.
On how much of the rapport Stokley had with Manning was built in training camps and preseason:
I think that's what it's all built on. Peyton, he's in there all the time and a lot of it is what they do in practice, that's why they are so good in the games. But I think with what they've done for the past seven, eight years with Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne], I don't think they'll miss too much once he comes back because they had so much practice before. It's not like they are bringing in two new receivers. Those guys have worked so much together, I don't think they'll miss a beat once he comes back.
On whether it will be different for a young guy like Anthony Gonzalez:
It'll be tougher on him than Marvin and Reggie but I think Peyton will find a way to get some work done some way or another, whether it be through conversations or watching film.
On what the offense will be like without Manning:
Until he comes back I think you're going to see a whole different offense, scaled back for sure. Peyton, he is that offense, there is no way around it. Peyton runs everything there, without Peyton it's just not even close to being the same offense. So it will be a lot different offense for sure, and it's preseason to, so that's always a little bit different. But if you don't have Peyton back there, you don't have the Colts offense from the past seven, eight years. Not even close.
On Jim Sorgi as a fill-in:
Sorgi is a very capable quarterback. But with what the Colts do, what the Colts ask of Peyton, you can't replace him back there. He is so involved in the offense, with all the checks that they do, he's irreplaceable. He will definitely be missed for the preseason. Without him back there, it's night and day offensively.
On Manning handling missing practices:
He's going to find a way to get work done. In rehab he's going to hit it as hard as anybody does. I have no doubt he'll be ready to go at the beginning of the season and he'll be the Peyton we've seen. I don't think it's going to affect him once the season starts. He's going to miss being out there, I know that.
You're talking about a guy who doesn't like taking a rep off of practice. He doesn't ever like taking a snap off, it doesn't matter who he's going against in practice or what's going on. So I know that's going to be tough on him. But once he comes back, I think the Colts are going to be like they have been the last four or five years.