AFC South: Brian Williams

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

As Peyton Manning looks at what the Jacksonville Jaguars did in the preseason, he knows the biggest thing the Colts need to prepare for while considering an opponent with a new coordinator is being able to adjust.

“Preseason you study it and prepare, but you’ve got some guys in the preseason who aren’t even on their team,” Manning said in his Wednesday conversation with Indianapolis reporters. “No. 29, Brian Williams, was in there every preseason game, so you’re studying him, and he gets released the other day. That’s why you take preseason with a grain of salt. You study what you see, but you have to be prepared for some different things that might happen once the regular season gets here.”

The typical advantages of opening against a familiar opponent are diluted some by a change at defensive coordinator. Mel Tucker has replaced Gregg Williams for the Jaguars.

At least when the Colts are getting ready to face AFC South rivals Tennessee and Houston, they’ll have some regular-season film that shows what the new coordinators there are doing. Jacksonville Sunday will be much more of an unknown.

“So when you see you’re playing Jacksonville in the opener, sure, you have their preseason to study, but you realize they are going to have some things that they did not show in the preseason,” Manning said. “They are going to have some things they work on every day in practice and their minicamps and OTAs that they probably did not reveal in the preseason. So, in a lot of cases there is some unfamiliarity there.

“Even though they have the same players it is a new scheme. They have a new defensive coordinator and it’s some different looks you’re seeing on film. It’s a little bit of preparing for what you see on film, but also preparing for the unexpected and being prepared to adjust to that during the course of the game.”

Certainly Manning has great experience in leading an offense and making those sorts of modifications as a game plays out.

He’s politically correct when he says it, of course, but reasonable too when he talks about expecting what we get out of so many NFL games -- a tight game decided late, by a handful of plays.

“You have to expect crazy things to happen in this opening game,” Manning said. “We just hope to make the plays that sway the game our way. Most games are going to come down to four or five plays, and we hope those plays can go our way.”

In Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio said much the same thing as his team prepares to face the Colts with a new defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer.

“I think one thing we all know is that coming out of preseason you’re going to have some unscouted looks,” he said. “We just need to play our game and be ready to adjust to anything that we may get. I think you get that across the league. There’s potential for unscouted looks early in the season, and that’s just something you have to respond to.”

Posted by ESPN's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
  • The Colts' success is usually built on a hot start and a roll as the hunted team, writes Phil Richards.
  • Jim Caldwell is a meticulous note taker, says Phil Richards.
  • Bob Kravitz has the Colts going 12-4 and not losing a division game.
  • Five things the Colts must do to regain control of the division, from John Oehser.
  • Oehser’s roster analysis.
  • The Colts signed safety Aaron Francisco, claimed linebacker Glenn Cody and cut safety Matt Giordano, says Mike Chappell. I'm sad to see Giordano go so soon after he helped me out with this.
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
  • LenDale White doesn’t regret stomping and would stomp again, he said in a discussion of the Terrible Towel controversy of 2008. Jim Wyatt and Terry McCormick both wrote it. Warped logic from White that he can buy whatever house he’s in. Unless he got a bonus I don’t know about, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t afford Heinz Field.
  • Chris Hope doesn’t know what to expect in his first trip back to Pittsburgh, says Gary Estwick.
  • Quinton Ganther’s injury was significant, says Wyatt.

Jaguars: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Biggest surprise: The Jaguars continue to be willing to part ways with veterans who disappoint. While their depth is questionable at cornerback, they cut Brian Williams, who’s played corner, safety and nickel for them. Tyron Brackenridge, an offseason waiver claim from the Jets, joins Scott Starks and Brian Witherspoon as the depth with rookie Derek Cox likely to start opposite Rashean Mathis. Two undrafted players made it -- defensive end Julius Williams and linebacker Russell Allen, while expensive veteran offensive lineman Tony Pashos did not.

No-brainers: Nate Hughes was productive all through camp and in his preseason action and on a team that drafted three receivers and brought in Torry Holt, he still had to make it. He stayed and could start, while the third of the drafted wideouts, Tiquan Underwood, was cut. Ernest Wilford, brought back recently when he was let go in Miami, made the team as a tight end ahead of Richard Angulo, who was seen by some as “just a guy.”

What's next: Backup quarterback was going to be one big concern, but the team dealt an undisclosed draft pick to Tampa Bay for Josh McCown. Todd Bouman will likely be gone once McCown passes his physical. With fullback Greg Jones likely to be the top alternative for carries to Maurice Jones-Drew and rookie Rashad Jennings the only other running back on the roster after Alvin Pearman and Chauncey Washington were cut, the team is thin at the spot. Expect a practice squader, or two, at least.

Jags' cuts

September, 5, 2009

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

The Jaguars cuts, just announced by the team:

Tight end Richard Angulo

Safety Marlon McCree

Running back Alvin Pearman

Offensive lineman Tony Pashos

Linebacker Tim Shaw

Running back Chauncey Washington

Punter Steve Weatherford

Defensive back Brian Williams

Linebacker Thomas Williams

Long snapper Joe Zelenka

Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood

Quarterback Todd Boeckman

Fullback Brock Bolen

Safety Michael Desormeaux

Cornerback Pete Ittersagen

Defensive end Jeremy Navarre

Center Cecil Newton

Wide receiver Todd Peterson

Guard Cameron Stephenson

Running back Josh Vaughan

Linebacker Johnny Williams

The team also placed defensive tackle Rob Meier (shoulder) on injured reserve.

Three and Out: Jaguars

September, 1, 2009

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Three quick hits on the Jacksonville Jaguars:

1. The team has tried to put David Garrard in the best situation possible. That meant rebuilding the offensive line even as two guys returned from injuries (Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams), adding free-agent left tackle Tra Thomas and tackles with the first two picks in the draft (Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton). The Jaguars also revamped the receiving corps, bringing in Torry Holt and three draft picks. Still, so far in preseason work, the offensive line has allowed far too many hits on Garrard.

2. The Jaguars traded a 2010 second-round pick in order to draft Derek Cox in the third round. He's been banged up and has not played in a preseason game yet, but he was impressive early. Brian Williams has not had a great preseason as the second corner, so once Cox is ready he could overtake Williams and bump him to the nickel job. Will Cox, who will play Thursday against Washington, and new strong safety Sean Considine be enough to make a big difference in the secondary? Can free safety Reggie Nelson rebound from a bad second year and become the guy the team envisioned when it drafted him in the first round?

3. With an emphasis on character, new general manager Gene Smith has revamped the roster. Thirty-six players currently with the team weren't part of things last year, and guys they felt like didn't help chemistry are gone. This group is expected to be better in terms of sticking together, being accountable and staying on message no matter how things are going. Jack Del Rio won't have a chance to ease his team into things. In the first month of action the Jaguars face all three of their AFC rivals, and Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston are all rated as playoff-caliber teams.
Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was billed as a scrimmage. A somewhat clumsy scoring system was in place, but it wasn't well translated by the scorekeeper who was controlling the JumbroTron.

It's hard to declare a winner in a glorified practice anyway, which is what unfolded at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in front of 14,112 fans who took advantage of a free night.

Some highlights, lowlights and developments from the AFC South Blog's final training camp night with the Jags:

  • Line judge Tom Symonette talked with offensive tackle Jordan Black after one series about how he was coming close to drawing a holding call near the end of an early period, saying he could tell Black was doing it more as he got tired.
  • At the end of a 2:00 drill period, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, David Garrard pitched to Maurice Jones-Drew who probably would have been taken down by a defender if things were live. MJD threw a wobbler to the right side of the end zone, and Mike Walker made a great play to go up and take it away from Reggie Nelson.
  • Rookie receiver Jarett Dillard went up to pull in a 25-tard gain to convert a third-and-11 from Garrard. It's the sort of catch Dillard's failed to make on a consistent basis in the last several days.
  • Defensive back Brian Williams put a shoulder down and crushed Todd Peterson after a mid-range reception. It was called incomplete, but the replay on the stadium scoreboard suggested he'd gathered the ball and taken a step. I asked Symonette about it and he said we'd "have to take it to replay." It was the sort of hit a lot of coaches wouldn't have been happy with in this setting, but that the Jaguars seem not to mind while working to instill their physical mentality.
  • Garrard looked for Troy Williamson in the back middle of the end zone from maybe 20 yards out and was picked by rookie corner Derek Cox. Garrard said he'd like to have the throw back, but it was a situation where if the team had game planned it probably would have looked to a different route.
  • Kicker Josh Scobee was impressive again, nailing all five field goal attempts from 35 to 52 yards all with quite a bit of room to spare. I was wondering if he's at a point where he should start dialing it down a little, a 27-year old maybe saving a little to help his chances as a 37-year old. Or is it good that he makes plenty of long kicks with eight or 10 yards to spare? There was a practice pause right after the field goal period, and since Jack Del Rio walked by right as I was thinking it, I asked him. He kind of shook his head and laughed, but then told me about how things have really clicked in mentally for Scobee.
  • Walker was hurt somewhere along the way, but Del Rio said afterward that a lower leg X-ray was negative and the team was optimistic it wouldn't be a big cause for concern.
  • Backup quarterback Todd Bouman threw a nice TD to tight end Greg Estandia over Gerald Alexander in the back left corner of the end zone. Not long later, Bauman was picked off by Scott Starks, who wrestled a pass away from Tiquan Underwood.
  • Tyron Brackenridge pulled in a pick of third string quarterback Paul Smith, who's not looked good while I've been here. The throw was a bit behind Clarence Denmark and defensive back Kennard Cox jostled him as it was arriving. It would have gone for a pick-six if officials didn't whistle a stop to the return.
  • In the final period, the offense got the ball at its own 35-yard line with 58 seconds on the clock. They got across the 50 in two plays, but the drive died as Garrard threw a terrible ball that Kennard Cox picked easily in front of Williamson. Wasn't much of a finish to the night.
  • Two-minute drill receiving totals provided by the team: Underwood 2-26, 1 TD, Dillard 1-25, Alvin Pearman 1-1, Estandia 1-11, Rashard Jennings 1-15, Zach Miller 2-28.
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  The Jaguars know they want to give the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew and run the ball often. Beyond that, however, Jacksonville is still searching for an identity.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars always intend to be physical.

Beyond that, coach Jack Del Rio isn't looking to shoehorn his team into a predetermined personality.

"What it was when we got here with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson was the Twin Towers," he said. "And that got talked up quite a bit, and now that's changing. Marcus is not here. That's kind of not been what we are. What we are gets described by other people. What I want us to be is a team that works at it, shows tremendous commitment, focus, unselfishness and then we see how people want to label it.

Camp Confidential: AFC South
Titans: Mon., Aug. 3
Jaguars: Sat., Aug. 8
Colts: Sat., Aug. 15
Texans: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index

"I'm not concerned with putting a label on it now and then living up to it."

Still, the Jaguars must answer the most basic NFL questions, the ones that provide the fallback plan when things are difficult: Who are we? And what do we do?

They will be a run-centered team, keyed around trying to build big drives with good line play from a group that's healthy and has reinforcements and looks to spring feature back Maurice Jones-Drew. They will be a linebacker-centered team, looking for three athletes to start showing up as big playmakers.

Beyond that, a 5-11 team from 2008 that has a new general manager in Gene Smith and 32 new players on the roster is still feeling things out, and could be for a while.

That search isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's ultimately fruitful.

"The team identity right now, I really can't answer that question," said Greg Jones, the fullback who's expected to get carries behind Jones-Drew. "I think if you ask me a month from now, a week into the season, I probably can. I think we are still trying to find ourselves, we are still trying to get this train going. We still are working towards it, working hard. We're rejuvenated, and excited about a fresh start. New logo, new uniforms, new GM -- we're just trying to have a fresh start and a great year."

Del Rio's positive disposition comes from the roster turnover. Gone are the team's primary character issues and high-paid players who didn't live up to their contracts. Smith's worked with his coach to retool with high-character guys who have good football smarts, who will buy in and fight through tough times.

In a division where the other three teams won at a .688 clip in 2007, the Jaguars aren't expecting Tennessee, Indianapolis or Houston to come back to them. Ultimately, they will have to track those teams down.

"This team has been flipped upside-down," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Everybody is searching themselves for who they are, who they want to be and what they want to accomplish in this league. As a whole, our identity is yet to be made, yet to be found.

"Which is, I think, a scary thing but in a good way. Because nobody really knows what we're capable of. I think we've got something special here that is up and coming, and for a lot of people that's bad news. It's good news for us."

Key questions

  Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
  Can David Garrard prove this season he is the team's franchise quarterback?

1. Is David Garrard the guy?

Two years into his tenure as the starter, the question is unresolved. In 2007, he was 9-3 as a starter with a 102.2 passer rating. Last year, behind a broken line and with shaky weapons, he was 5-11 with an 81.7 rating.

The Jaguars don't want him to try to carry the team, just to orchestrate things. He talks of getting the ball into his playmakers' hands. But at crucial moments, can he make the right decisions and throw the ball to the right spots?

If he can't, the franchise will be looking for a quarterback in 2010 and Tim Tebow's name will ring out in Jacksonville from just 115 miles away in Gainesville.

2. Where's the pass rush coming from?

The Jaguars traded up for Derrick Harvey at No. 8 in 2007 and drafted Quentin Groves in the second round. They are trying to spark Henderson back to form while sifting through the options for the rest of the defense tackles. Collectively, they must generate a consistent pass rush that alleviates pressure on the secondary and allows linebackers the team keeps praising to start making plays regularly.

Maybe there is a surprise contributor or two. Undrafted rookie Julius Williams out of UConn drew early raves.

3. How will J
ones-Drew do as the No. 1 guy?

In letting Fred Taylor go, Jacksonville was opening more possibilities for MJD. The Jaguars will work hard to get the most out of Jones-Drew, but they also must be conscious of monitoring his workload to maximize the chances of getting the same November and December production as they get in September and October.

That means Jones or rookie Rashard Jennings or another back must prove a viable second option who can take a share of the running back touches on a weekly basis.


Market watch

The company line is that third-year free safety Reggie Nelson is entrenched as a starter and set to be a key cog in the defensive scheme. But there was a big drop from his first season to his second.

There is a growing buzz among some close to the team and scouts that Nelson isn't the player the team hoped he would be and could even slip out of the starting 11 if he underperforms once the season is under way. Gerald Alexander arrived recently in a trade from Detroit and could make a push for the job if Nelson doesn't recover and find better footing. Still, it's hard to imagine he doesn't get a third season to prove himself.

Newcomer to watch

The Jaguars gave the Patriots a 2010 second-rounder to take cornerback Derek Cox out of William & Mary in the third round. With no clear starter opposite Rashean Mathis on the outside in the secondary, Cox has an early opportunity to stake a claim.

He was carrying himself with confidence early in camp and already working to break a habit he brought from college: a tendency to refocus on the quarterback too soon, giving a receiver a chance to break away.

Observation deck

Kicker Josh Scobee was hitting the ball great in the first week of camp, a good sign for a team likely to win close when it wins. ... Of the three rookie receivers, seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood has been the most impressive. Meanwhile, fifth-rounder Jarret Dillard has  struggled with drops. ... Tackle Tony Pashos reacted just the way a team that drafted two tackles and brought in a free agent (Tra Thomas) would want him to. He lost weight, re-committed and looks quite good. ... Defensive tackle Rob Meier will give great effort, but the team realizes it overextended him last season and will limit him to 20-25 plays a game. ... Left guard Vince Manuwai didn't have a full load early in camp but will be ready to go in the opener. The loss of the line's best run-blocker to a torn ACL in last year's opener began the team's downfall. ... Justin Durant has moved to middle linebacker and it's time for him. Between him, and the outside backers, Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith, a defensive leader must emerge and set a tone. ... While they know they can shift him to safety if they need to, the Jaguars are working Brian Williams at cornerback and nickel and expecting him to be in one of those spots or provide depth there. ... Receiver Mike Walker worked in the weight room on his legs and is confident he can keep them healthy. Now the question is whether he gave up any of his shiftiness by bulking up below the waist. ... Marcedes Lewis is best on routes where he can track the ball the whole way instead of having to find it. If he can catch more consistently, he can do some things after the reception. And yards after the catch may be key for this team considering deep balls aren't Garrard's specialty.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some quick first impressions from the last piece of the Jaguars' morning practice and some conversations that followed:

  • Marlon McCree worked with the first-team defense as the second safety with Reggie Nelson. Brian Williams was at right corner. But insiders said it still boils down to Sean Considine at that safety spot -- he's on the PUP list with a left calf issue that should soon be resolved -- or Derek Cox at the second corner. So it'll probably be Cox at corner with Williams at safety or Williams at corner with Considine at safety. [Another take says it's not so simple, that Nelson could be in trouble, that the Williams-as-a-safety experiement is over and that he'll be a well-paid nickel supplementing Mathis and Cox.]
  • Marcedes Lewis ran up the middle and made a nice play on a David Garrard pass, snatching it despite good coverage from Gerald Alexander, who actually got a piece of the ball. Later Lewis said he's been working on reaching out of frame to get balls instead of waiting for them to get to him.
  • Atiyyah Ellison was at defensive tackle alongside John Henderson with the ones.
  • Tiquan Underwood, who could wind up being this team's best deep threat based on the buzz, sneaked behind everyone and ran wide open up the right side and Garrard did well to get a bomb to him for an easy, long touchdown.
  • Among those who hung around after practice: right tackle Tony Pashos, who worked with an assistant strength coach who pulled on a giant rubber band that provided resistance as the big tackle backed out of his stance.

Thanks to the quick hospitality of the PR staff, I've already chatted with several guys. I'm in Jacksonville through Saturday night's scrimmage and am looking forward to getting more in depth.

I'll provide periodic live thoughts and observations from practices via Twitter (@espn_afcsouth) which also ties to my Facebook: Paul Kuharsky Espn.

AFC South training camp preview

July, 23, 2009
Posted by's Paul Kuharsky
  Bill Baptist/Getty Images
  A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.

Houston Texans

Training camp site: Houston, Texas

Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson

The safety position remains an issue, with Nick Ferguson and Eugene Wilson in line to start now. But the team will allow for the possibility of Dominique Barber to nudge his way into the lineup.

Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.

Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.

Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.

Division Camp Previews
Tuesday: NFC North | AFC North
Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
Friday: NFC West | AFC West

Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates
With new coaches overseeing the defensive line and the defensive backs, there is a real chance for new messages and approaches to have a  bearing on players and units.

The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.

Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.

Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.

Indianapolis Colts

Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.

  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.
Campfires: Targets for Peyton Manning are crucial, of course, and that's why there is such a large focus on the three-way fight for the No. 3 receiver spot. Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall will draw a lot of attention as that's sorted out. Garcon seemed to be getting a lot of positive reviews in OTAs and min
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.

Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.

The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.

Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.

With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.

Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.

It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.

Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.

The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

I'm heading from Jacksonville to Nashville this afternoon. I'll make a quick turnaround and be en route to Indy Thursday for the Colts' minicamp on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday's chat has been moved up from our usual 3 p.m. ET slot to 11 a.m.

Some Jaguars stuff you can look forward to in the upcoming weeks:

And more.

Hope to check in again after I land in Music City. Hope you're having a lovely afternoon.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Every blog entry with OTA practice observations comes with a disclaimer: These practices are about installations and themes. There are no pads and no real contact. These settings favor receivers and don't feature a lot of information about line play. Guys can look like superstars here and be terrible come camp or vice versa.

That said, here's what I saw, thought and heard during the Jaguars session Monday:

Somersaulting: Near the start of practice, defensive players stuttered stepped over five blocking bags on the ground, then rolled into a somersault and looked to grab a loose ball rolled by a coach. "Find the ball, scoop and score," linebacker coach Mark Duffner urged them. Safety Sean Considine's helmet popped off when he hit the ground.

First impression: In one-on-one work in the red zone, my first look at rookie corner Derek Cox was as he intercepted a pass to the back left corner intended for Maurice Dupree. Later, Todd Peterson broke away from Cox along the back line of the end zone under the goal post for an easy TD, Mike Walker dropped a catchable ball against Tyron Brackenridge and Brian Williams break up a pass for Dennis Northcutt. Cox looked pretty smooth.

During that red zone one-on-one period, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker stood under the goal posts and offered a lot of instruction. After a play he'd often talk with the defensive back involved about what unfolded and how it could have or should have been different in very specific terms. A bit later in a defensive walkthrough, Jack Del Rio's was the voice everyone was listening to.

Out of action: John Henderson fell out very early and didn't come back. He was under the shed at one end of the practice field in the shade. Everyone was presuming he fell out because of the heat - recent OTA sessions have been on cool rainy days. But it's sunny and in the high 80s or low 90s Monday. Not a good sign, but we don't have all the info in it yet.

Lineup stuff on defense: Williams was at right corner with the ones, with Considine paired at safety with Reggie Nelson. In nickel, Cox came in and took Williams' spot, while Williams kicked inside. The consensus among observers is that the competition is between Considine and Cox. If coaches feel the D is better off with Considine as a starting safety, then Williams winds up playing corner. If Cox is better, he plays corner and Williams goes to safety.

Justin Durant is playing middle linebacker, but Daryl Smith and Clint Ingram on either side of him. Didn't get a good read on the line, as people were shuffling, Henderson was out, and the O-line was sometime only using three people in team drills with the ends basically kneeling down at the snap. Line play in team periods in these situations often doesn't mean a whole lot.

Lineup stuff on offense: The starting line was, left to right, Tra Thomas, Uche Nwaneri, Brad Meester, Maurice Williams, Tony Pashos and the first two wideouts were Torry Holt and Mike Walker. (Walker gave Holt 81 without any resistance, happily returning to his college number 11 once it wasn't any longer being used by Reggie Williams.)

Wildcat work: Put the Jaguars on the list of teams experimenting with the Wildcat. In the first full team period, the offense broke the huddle and red-shirted David Garrard went wide right as a receiver, with Maurice-Jones Drew behind center in the shotgun, First play: handoff to Northcutt coming on an end around. Second play fake handoff to Troy Williamson and a run up the middle by Jones-Drew. (On defense before the snap, someone yelled, "You know 32 ain't throwing the ball." After the play, Del Rio said. "He got through the hole a little quicker than out quarterback power [run] does.") Third play: the snap went awry. Fourth play, handoff to Montell Owens.

With the second unit, tight end Zach Miller and Owens took snaps.

Update: 5:56 p.m.: I've since spent some time with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who indicated it would be wise to read that period as more about getting the defense ready to defend it than the offense ready to run it. That doesn't mean they won't roll it out, but he urged me to keep in mind I just happened to be here on the day it came around for them.]

Shiny: The new sparkly teal quality to the helmets isn't as bad as I expected. In the sunlight, there is a special kind of shine that bounces off each one. As I sat down to talk with David Garrard, he pulled his out of the locker and we inspected it together. He's a big fan of that sunlight effect and the overall streamlined uniform look. He looked to be in command though the session, but in a 2:00 drill, he missed Tiquan Underwood deep left and Williamson deep right on consecutive passes as the offense failed to score. (More about Garrard specifically in a column to come later Monday.)

Fielding kicks: In kickoff return work, I saw Cox, Underwood, Williamson and Mike Thomas field balls. I am sure Brian Witherspoon was back there as well - I must have managed to miss him.

Different perspective: During a red zone team period, Torry Holt stood off to the side, away from the rest of the team. Later he told me it's just a matter of him getting away from the clutter and being able to better focus on a mental rep. He offered some commentary after a few plays. "You've got to catch that, you aren't going to get more open," he said to tight end Greg Estandia after he broke free from Considine running across the back of the end zone to the right corner. Estandia let Garrard's pass slide off his hands. Later Holt told Thomas, "You're letting them dictate to you."

Plays: Ingram had a pick of fourth-quarterback Paul Smith, as did Considine. Northcutt had a bobbling catch on the left sideline against Thomas Williams, who should have picked it. Russell Allen dropped an interception of a pass intended for Estandia.

Burst: Hard to gauge running backs in this setting, but Rashad Jennings showed a nice burst knifing through the middle on one play. He's a guy that's going to get a lot of attention. Regular observers love what they've seen of the seventh-rounder out of Liberty and said you can't find a nicer or more well-spoken rookie.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Happy Memorial Day weekend. I hope you have great weather, burgers cooked just right and beverages that are as cold as can be.

Onto the mail...

justin in Austin writes: liked the articles about the texans d and the quotes from frank bush. i think the situation at safety was a lot like backup RB this off season. I think kubiak and rick smith wanted to get a safety if it was in the cards, but it wasnt. its easy to say they should have done this or that, but the fact is if there isnt anyone out there who is better than what you got there's nothing you can do except maybe overpay for a FA or reach on a draft pick and i dont think the texans situation at RB or safety was bad enough to justify either.

Paul Kuharsky: I like your thinking. But I do think Wilson may turn out to be a weak spot and that safety is going to be a need going forward.

David in Jacksonville writes: I can't participate on the chat today so I am sending my question now. The Jags have made strides to upgrade the offense but the defense still has me concerned. As far back as the end of the 2007 the Jags defense was starting to slip. The running game and the play action passing game was allowing the Jags to play with the lead but they struggled in many of the games down the stretch. Do they have enough with the improvement of Harvey and Groves ( hopefully), the defensive tackles ( Knighton has to be a contributor) and the secondary. Derek Cox must also develop into a solid player. The pass rush was non existent last year but even when the QB threw on timing the receivers were wide open consistently last year. Thanks Paul.

Paul Kuharsky: I think it's reasonable to expect the two young DEs to get a lot better. To me, defensive tackle is the big question. I just wrote a bit about what Jack Del Rio had to say about that spot:

The second corner, or second safety depending on where they play Brian Williams, is a concern too.

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AFC South draft analysis

April, 26, 2009

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

The best players on the board and clear team needs lined up for three of the four teams as the AFC South made first-round selections in the NFL draft. Jacksonville needed an offensive line anchor and found Eugene Monroe, Houston wanted a big, athletic linebacker and found Brian Cushing, and Tennessee needed a playmaking receiver and grabbed Kenny Britt.

AFC South Draft Picks
• Houston Texans
• Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
• Tennessee Titans

Indianapolis will say that adding UConn running back Donald Brown didn't have a lot to do with Joseph Addai, but clearly the Colts thought him too good to pass up and will now look for Addai to be part of a young one-two punch out of the backfield.

If the Colts can pick up a couple tough yards on the ground in crucial situations, it can make things a lot easier for Peyton Manning. And Brown should help make sure that Indy's play-action is an effective weapon that keeps defenses off balance.

Best move

The Titans broke an 11-year streak of avoiding first-round wide receivers and added Britt from Rutgers at No. 30. No, he's not a guarantee. But a team that went 13-3 a year ago was in position to take a swing and did. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Britt is roughly the same size as Justin Gage but he's faster, younger and brings much more upside, particularly as a red zone target.

  Charles LeClaire/Getty Images
  Wide receiver Kenny Britt has the potential to dictate change in opposing defenses.

More significantly, Britt is said to have a bit of the give-me-the-ball attitude. That can be trouble when a prima donna gets too much amplitude, but that shouldn't be the situation in Nashville. I've long maintained that the placid group personality of the receivers in Tennessee's locker room is an element of the production problem and that one semi-demanding guy -- provided he backs up the tone with solid play -- could add some juice while also being kept in check by the overall dynamic.

Britt and Jeff Fisher said the attitude is more about Britt's determination to go get the ball when it's in the air, not in any sort of out-of-the-team framework desire for passes to be thrown his direction.

The Titans said they are looking to get him on the field right away. Saying it and doing it are two different things when it comes to a lot of rookies on Fisher teams. But if Britt pans out, he can help the Titans find more big plays and find more space for their running game and he's the one player added to the division that could dictate a change in a defense.

Riskiest move

Jaguars general manager Gene Smith and his staff believe what they saw on film of William & Mary cornerback Derek Cox and said the team valued him as a second-round pick. The Jaguars traded next year's second to New England in order to draft Cox in the third. He'll have to be a very good player to justify the move, considering analysts' horror over him being taken so early. If he's what the team expects, perhaps he will lock in opposite Rashean Mathis and allow Brian Williams to be a full-time safety with Reggie Nelson. If he doesn't pan out, Smith will have to answer questions about his own vision as well as Cox's skills.

Most surprising move

Tight end wasn't regarded as a major need for the Texans, who have a great one in Owen Daniels. But they took a pair with back-to-back picks in the fourth and fifth rounds. Anthony Hill of NC State is said by some to qualify as an extra offensive lineman when he's on the field, which has to sound good to running back Steve Slaton. Local favorite James Casey is a versatile player who can throw and may provide some wrinkles in the offense.

File it away

The Colts spent their sixth-round pick on Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter, the first player they've drafted at the spot since Jim Sorgi in the sixth round in 2004. The Colts are unlikely to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster as long as Manning is healthy. If he's taking every snap, why take up two additional roster spots? So will Painter be fighting Sorgi for the backup job? I've speculated that it's too early to start thinking about Manning's heir, but if the Colts didn't see qualities in Painter that make the strong-armed Boilermaker a long-term possibility, they wouldn't have spent the pick on him.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

I recently asked Jaguars faithful what starter they would most like to see replaced.

You spread it around, but right tackle Tony Pashos and defensive tackle Rob Meier probably got the most mention.

Thanks for all the feedback. Here's a sampling of what you had to say in comments and notes to the mailbag, with some commentary and reaction weaved in:


Ty from parts unknown: Rasheen Mathis...or as i call him toast, that guy gets burned way too much to be considered a premier corner.

Paul Kuharsky: There is a long way between "not a premium corner" and replaced. Let's see him with a more consistent pass rush. I think right now he's a good corner and I think he can be very good.

David in Jacksonville: Jaguars to replace : Brian Williams at corner- he is a better safety than a corner. Any WR- Northcutt is a decent slot receiver but we need playmakers on the outside. Meir as a starter- the DT position needs help. Henderson has been in the league awhile and the Jags do not have any other quality tackles on the roster. Hayward- Let Harvey and Groves play the ends so they can develop. The Jags have a lot of holes to fill and need to have a productive draft.

J. from parts unknown: This hurts to say, but I would want to replace Marcedes Lewis. He frustrated me to no end last year with all the key drops he had in games. I realize that he is a good blocker, but he had butterfingers last year. And, even though this guy doesn't start, I never want to see CB William James on the football field again. Wow, bad.

PK: James was atrocious. He's an unrestricted free agent, and I can't imagine with last year's film he's going to find work.

pokerfitz: Marcedes Lewis, I mean seriously how many passes can one guy drop? He's the braylon Edwards of TE's...

PK: We wait and wait for Lewis to become a consistent weapon. He definitely needs to be more reliable to prompt coaches to give him a bigger role.

Terry in Ponte Vedra: Addressing your upgrade question - I would uprade if possible Pashos, B. Williams (at corner) and D. Northcutt.

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Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Often times mock drafters or fans (or mock drafter fans) who aren't fully aware of a team's depth chart will connect the easiest dots.

The Titans, for example, lost Albert Haynesworth, therefore a lot of people presume they automatically need a replacement defensive tackle and put them down for one at No. 30.

  Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
  Just because the Titans lost Albert Haynesworth through free agency doesn't mean they are dead-set on a replacement in the first round.

Except that the Titans drafted Jason Jones in the second round last year and he was impressive as a rookie, with five sacks in 13 games. They signed free agent Jovan Haye, a favorite of defensive line coach Jim Washburn. They like starter Tony Brown very much, and they like Kevin Vickerson as their biggest body -- enough so that he got a contract extension during the 2008 season.

The Titans may well be in best-player-available mode and if Evander Hood is there at their spot and they see him as a great value they could take him.

But it's hardly a foregone conclusion.

Similarly, I believe it's a mistake to cross left tackle off the list of potential picks for Jacksonville just because they signed free agent Tra Thomas. They still need a long-term solution, and if the best tackle at No. 8 is a better value to them than what's left at receiver, defensive tackle or cornerback -- or if they aren't taking a quarterback or trading the pick to someone who wants one -- they may well take a potential offensive line anchor.

The Scouts Inc. needs board looks pretty good to me, so I'd keep an eye on that. It gets adjusted based on any new developments.

Meanwhile, here's an up-to-date rundown of the primary needs, in my view, for the teams of the AFC South:


Defensive tackle: Amobi Okoye needs some help inside to be the player the Texans envisioned, and an effective tackle who demands attention will help the continued push to upgrade the line and produce more consistent pass pressure.

Defensive back: There is evidence that Jacques Reeves wasn't as bad as portrayed last year as the corner opposite Dunta Robinson once Robinson returned from injury. But competition for the second and third spots would be good to add with Reeves and Fred Bennett. And none of the top three safeties are overwhelming -- Eugene Wilson at free and Dominique Barber at strong are the starters, with Nick Ferguson as depth. The Texans should add the best overall defensive back they can find, maybe a couple.

Outside linebacker: The Texans can use a bigger, more rugged outside 'backer who can rush the quarterback and drop into coverage.

Running back: Steve Slaton was a godsend in the third round last year. Now the Texans need to find a bigger guy to take some of the carries and serve as a heavier changeup.


Defensive tackle: The Colts lost the big bodies in the middle of their line, space-eating run-stuffers Quinn Pitcock and Ed Johnson, right at the start of last season and they need to spend to get quality replacements.

Receiver: Anthony Gonzalez can become a full-time guy with Marvin Harrison gone, and he or Reggie Wayne can kick into the slot in the often featured three-wide sets. Still, a third quality wideout is a necessity, and it won't be a surprise if Bill Polian uses No. 27 to address the position.

Outside linebackers: This group needs to be replenished as two guys who've seen significant time in the last two seasons, Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler, appear out of the picture. But the Colts restock their linebackers often through the draft and with undrafted rookies.

Running back: Was Joseph Addai banged up and suffering behind an injured line, or is he not going to be able to carry the load? The Colts like Mike Hart, who's coming off a bad injury. But they haven't re-signed Dominic Rhodes and need more.


Receiver: A perpetual need. They are down Reggie Williams, a free agent they have no interest in, and Matt Jones, who was cut after a new round of trouble. To get a true read on David Garrard, he needs real weapons on the outside.

Defensive tackle: GM Gene Smith has talked a lot about building from the inside-out and the Jaguars thrived when John Henderson and Marcus Stroud gave th
em an identity. Their plans to replace Stroud after a trade failed, and they need a better partner for Henderson that will help toughen them and could be a good influence on him.

Cornerback: Brian Williams can play opposite Rashean Mathis or he can play safety. Free-agent safety addition Sean Considine is an X factor here. But even if he's in the lineup and the Jaguars have their two starting corners, they need nickel candidates and depth badly.

Left tackle: As mentioned above, the addition of Thomas does not mean the Jaguars are done addressing this spot. Garrard needs not only better weapons but better protection and the offense is built around running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who needs consistent long-term blocking.


Receiver: They hope for big things from free-agent addition Nate Washington, but considering how long they've lacked a dynamic weapon outside, they can't have enough candidates for the role. A legitimate big-play threat can help create things for Chris Johnson, the running back who's the centerpiece of the offense.

Cornerback: Beyond starters Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper and nickel Vincent Fuller, the Titans have only unproven Cary Williams. The expectation is the Titans will draft a corner who would be in line to replace Harper in 2010 and they need the depth now after losing Eric King and Chris Carr in free agency.

Outside linebacker: Stalwart Keith Bulluck is heading into a contract year and should the Titans have trouble holding on to him or decide not to, they could use an heir in place and it's unclear if Stanford Keglar can be that guy. Better depth and a player who could be a big special-teamer will be nice to have in 2009.

Offensive tackle: Daniel Loper was a versatile swing guy who backed up both Michael Roos and David Stewart and could move inside to play guard. He went to Detroit as a free agent. Maybe Mike Otto is the new third tackle, but a versatile lineman is a need for depth.