AFC South: Brooks Reed

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' bye week following this week's game against the Eagles will come at a time when a lot of players need some rest.

Clowney
Seven players did not practice Wednesday, including Jadeveon Clowney, who coach Bill O'Brien said came out of Sunday's game a little bit sore. It was Clowney's first game back since having knee surgery Sept. 8. Running back Arian Foster, whose workload has significantly decreased in the past few weeks, also got the day off. I'm expecting him to get a lot of Wednesdays off as the season progresses.

Here's the rest of Wednesday's injury report for both the Texans and the Eagles.

Texans

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), ILB Brian Cushing (knee), RB Arian Foster (knee), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), CB Johnathan Joseph (knee), OLB Brooks Reed (groin), ILB Jeff Tarpinian (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

RB Alfred Blue (ankle), CB Darryl Morris (ankle), OLB John Simon (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION

DE Tim Jamison (groin), OLB Whitney Mercilus (shoulder), CB Jumal Rolle (wrist)

Eagles

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

S Nate Allen (hamstring), CB Brandon Boykin (hamstring)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

WR Brad Smith (groin)

FULL PARTICIPATION

G Todd Herremans (biceps), C Jason Kelce (hernia), LB Mychal Kendricks (calf), WR Jeff Maehl (foot), LB DeMeco Ryans (groin), RB Darren Sproles (knee), CB Jaylen Watkins (wrist)
HOUSTON -- In his first game back since tearing his meniscus, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was kept on a pitch count.

Clowney
Clowney played 32 snaps, or 52 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

What Texans coach Bill O'Brien saw in those 32 snaps was a player who gave a lot of effort, who had what O'Brien called a "decent" game and who is still working on improving his conditioning to get back into football shape.

"He got off on the ball well," O'Brien said. "He had good explosion off the ball. He had good assignments, he was good on his assignments. I think it’s going to be a work in progress as far as him getting back into shape. There’s a difference between running around the track on field one out there and having to play in a football game, so he’ll continue to work on that after practice, in the mornings, trying to get his conditioning level back to where it needs to be."

O'Brien said Clowney's snaps should increase, but he's not yet at the point where he'll play 80 snaps in a game.

There was a lot of linebacker talk Monday because of Clowney's return and inside linebacker Brian Cushing missing Sunday's game in Tennessee. A few notes from Monday:
  • O'Brien was pleased with the play of his inside linebackers in Cushing's absence. In particular, his absence increased the playing time of Akeem Dent and Mike Mohamed. "I thought those guys stepped up and played well," O'Brien said. "I think Akeem Dent played a good football game. Mike Mohamed played a good football game. Tug (Justin Tuggle) played a good football game. Mohamed was the one who tracked down that one punt return and then Dent made a few plays on the kickoff."
  • Whitney Mercilus had more snaps than any other linebacker with 46. That accounted for 75 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. As outside linebackers alone went, Clowney had 32 and Brooks Reed had only 20. Reed is dealing with a groin injury he suffered during the Texans' Thursday night game against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • O'Brien's thoughts on the OLB rotation: "I think you do it by package. We have four or five different defensive packages, a couple of base defense packages, a couple of nickel packages, a dime package, so that way you can kind of plug them in and understand how they’re going to be used throughout the game. ... The thing that’s been good about the linebacker play is when guys have been injured that the next guys have stepped up and played pretty decent. So hopefully that continues."
  • Cushing said he thought he could have played Sunday. Later in his interview he said the training staff thought it was best for him to rest. "I want to play and it hurts every time I don’t," he said. "But you get a little bit older and you have to be a little bit more patient, you have to be a little bit smarter about how you approach the game and what level you’re playing the level at. You want to be as close to 100 percent as you can." He added that the last time he's been 100 percent was probably before he started playing in the NFL.

Turnovers going Texans' way again

September, 14, 2014
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- No moments were more indicative of the renewed attitude of the Houston Texans' defense than what followed a deep pass from Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to receiver James Jones.

Jones initially picked up 26 yards with the catch, then safety Kendrick Lewis knocked the ball from his hands. Jones picked the ball back up off the ground and kept running, this time meeting cornerback Johnathan Joseph near the end zone. The ball was knocked out of Jones' grasp again. D.J. Swearinger picked it up that time and the Texans had the ball back at their own 3-yard line.

Swearinger
Joseph was initially defending Jones then got back up and chased him down to the goal line. Swearinger was ready to pounce on the opportunity.

"Everyone’s excited to play," inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Not giving up on plays. Even when they get a big play, we’re chasing after balls, getting it out."

Shortly after halftime, Swearinger returned the favor for Joseph, knocking the ball from tight end Mychal Rivera for Joseph to recover. Joseph returned that recovery 49 yards, hoping to get a score there, too.

Already this season, the Texans have forced six turnovers, more than half of what they had in all of the 2013 season. They notched two interceptions (by Kareem Jackson and Brooks Reed) and two forced fumbles to add to Week 1's two forced fumbles.

"Games in the NFL, they come down to third-down conversions, they come down to red-area percentage and then obviously, probably most importantly, they come down to turnovers," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "So if you're the team that doesn't turn it over and the other team does turn it over, then you've got a heck of a shot to win and our team is doing a pretty good job of that right now."

It's a dramatic difference from last season when turnovers were a massive issue for the Texans on both sides of the ball. Houston's minus-20 turnover margin in 2013 was the worst in the NFL. Their offensive struggles there were well documented, and happened in part due to the quarterback who was shipped to Oakland after the season. Their defensive turnover struggles meant only 11 forced turnovers in 16 games.

Their goal on Sunday against the Raiders was to give up no more than seven points. Swearinger lamented that they didn't, but the Raiders' extra touchdown was a meaningless garbage-time touchdown.

They met one goal, though, one that mattered even more.

"We can’t be the defense we want to be if we don’t force turnovers," Swearinger said. "So we have to."
J.J. Watt's Wisconsin Badgers are headed to the Final Four for the first time since 2000 and they did it with a thrilling win over No. 1-seed Arizona, where outside linebacker Brooks Reed went to school.

And Reed's paying for it now.


Watt hasn't shied away from ribbing those whose alma maters have fallen victim to their march to Jerry World.

When Wisconsin annihilated Baylor, Watt tweeted at noted Baylor fan John McClain of the Houston Chronicle:

One more week closer to the draft, and the news of the week was that Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced his staff of 16 new assistants, plus the retention of special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky.

That announcement led to more questions, and we'll start there.

What Texans players play for now

December, 17, 2013
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The Houston Texans can't make the 2013 NFL playoffs and they can't save their head coach's job. And after last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it's less likely they can help their defensive coordinator move from interim head coach to regular head coach, despite his winning record as a head coach.

I asked several players Sunday evening: What do you play for now?

WR Andre Johnson, 11th season: "I'm just trying to win. Trying to end this streak. That's pretty much it. I only play the game for one reason and that's to win and hopefully one day win the Super Bowl. So other than that, I don't really set any personal goals or anything like that."

RB Ben Tate, 4th season: "I'm playing to get a W. I play because I love the game, I love doing this."

TE Ryan Griffin, 1st season: "Anytime you play, it's on film. So at this point we're playing for pride right now. You've got to put the right stuff on film. Everybody sees that, everybody in the NFL. It doesn't matter what your record is it is each play. So that's what we're playing for."

CB Johnathan Joseph, 8th season: "My pride. That's what I play for each and every week. My pride overrides everything else because I just want to go out there and play good, winning football from the beginning of the whistle to the end of the whistle. So I think it's about pride. Going out there and putting winning football on tape."

LG Wade Smith, 11th season: "I play for the fact that I love playing football. I want to win. I know if I play well, it's contributing to helping us get a win. If the offensive line plays well, then it's contributing to us getting a win. And we just go from there."

RT Derek Newton, 3rd season: "For my team. Myself. We're trying to get Ws each week."

OLB Brooks Reed, 3rd season: "Play for? Pride. Self respect."

ILB Darryl Sharpton, 4th season: "I play for my teammates. I play for my coaches. I play for Bryan Braman, Joe Mays, all the guys in the linebacker room. Reggie Herring, all my coaches. I mean, that's what you play for. It's your job. It's an unbelievable opportunity that people would kill for no matter what situation. I don't take it for granted. I've been through a lot of ups and downs and having this opportunity to play professional football in a great city like Houston, I'm going to take full advantage of my opportunity and give it my all."

Double Coverage: Texans at Chargers

September, 6, 2013
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JJ Watt and Philip RiversGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt and the Texans could make it hard on Philip Rivers if San Diego's offensive line does not hold up.
In the second half of the opening Monday night doubleheader, Houston is traveling to San Diego to put an end to NFL Week 1. The Chargers are in rebuild mode, while the Texans are looking to take the next step this season and become true Super Bowl contenders. While the Chargers’ fan base should be revved up for this prime-time contest, getting J.J. Watt blocked could be a very futile effort for San Diego’s offensive line. ESPN.com’s Matt Williamson and Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli bring you their Double Coverage preview.

Tania Ganguli: How has the atmosphere in the organization changed with GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy taking over?


Matt Williamson: A change in San Diego was certainly needed. The environment had become stale and the once wide-open window under former coach Norv Turner and a roster stocked with great players has closed. A rebuild is needed, and a new general manager and head coach are what is needed to potentially get this team back where it once was -- or maybe beyond. Has the right side of the Texans’ once-great offensive line been fixed?

Ganguli: It's certainly on its way. The Texans are rightfully very high on right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Derek Newton is healthy. They didn't mind rotation in those spots last year, but stability will definitely help.

Can McCoy turn Philip Rivers (back?) into an elite quarterback?

Williamson: I feel as though we have seen the best of Rivers’ impressive career, unfortunately. That being said, the scheme change, which stresses getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands quicker, could be an advantageous move to boost Rivers. He does have a quick release and makes quick reads, making him a good fit for what McCoy is looking to accomplish.

What is the status of Arian Foster, and might Ben Tate have an expanded role for the season and to open the year?

Ganguli: Tate will have an expanded role, especially early in the year. The Texans won't ride Arian Foster too much given he missed all of the preseason, training camp and most of organized team activities (OTAs). He was working, but they're intent on being smart with his return to make sure they have him at full strength late in the season.

What are the biggest problems with the Chargers' offensive line?

Williamson: Once again, the scheme switch to a short passing game should help the protection of this line -- a line that is better-equipped to run block than protect. Still, the true problem with this line is they simply lack good players up front. They added a few free agents, but no one that is even a league-average starter, and they used their first-round pick on D.J. Fluker to play right tackle. However, I have my doubts that Fluker is quick or light enough on his feet for edge protection. Instead, I think Fluker could be a Pro Bowler at guard.

What impact does first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins have on the Texans' offense?

Ganguli: It's difficult for rookie receivers to put up big numbers, but Hopkins will have a major impact on the Texans' offense. He'll take pressure off Andre Johnson, on whom the Texans were overdependent last season in their passing game. He is very skilled on contested catches and will help Houston's red zone efficiency.

What impact does Dwight Freeney have in San Diego?

Williamson: Can he still be productive at 33? Of course it would be ideal to have Melvin Ingram in the fold as well as Freeney, who could be the perfect mentor, but Freeney has looked quite spry through the preseason and should have plenty left in the tank. The concern for me is that San Diego will be forced to play the 33-year-old too many snaps, which could lead to less effective play late in games and especially late in the season.

How big a boost to this team -- tacitly and emotionally -- is it to get Brian Cushing back on the field?

Ganguli: Cushing makes a difference in both ways. He creates mismatches in the pass rush that free up the outside linebackers. His presence in the middle makes things easier on the Texans' defensive backs, too. Emotionally, Cushing provides an edge for the Texans' defense. His maniacal intensity is contagious and the Texans feed off it.

How will Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews impact each other?

Williamson: While Mathews is a decent pass-catcher, Woodhead is an exceptional all-around contributor in the passing game. Their roles should be very distinctive, with Mathews -- who has looked excellent this preseason -- as the early-down workhorse (if he can hold up) and Woodhead being the specialty movement player that is equal parts running back and slot receiver.

Watt is a rare interior pass-rusher, but does Houston have enough pressure coming from their 3-4 outside linebackers?

Ganguli: That remains to be seen. It's definitely been a focus for the Texans' outside linebacker group. Whitney Mercilus, now in his second year, has taken over as a starter opposite Brooks Reed after the departure of Connor Barwin. Mercilus set a franchise record for rookies with six sacks last season, but he missed most of training camp and the preseason. Reed is healthier than he was at the end of last season when he returned from a groin injury. He had an offseason surgery to repair it fully.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 14, 2013
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HOUSTON -- At 12-4 last season, the Houston Texans had the best record in the young franchise's history, won their second consecutive AFC South championship, became the first professional football team in Houston to win a home playoff game in consecutive years and finished the regular season as one of only two teams to be ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense.

Doesn't sound like a failed season, does it? But as the franchise has grown and checked off accomplishments, failure has begun to mean anything other than a Super Bowl win.

“We weren’t the last team standing last year, so ultimately we all failed,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “We all didn’t accomplish our goals.”

This year's Texans are more businesslike. Most of this year's team was around for the slide at the end of last season, which coincided with a linebacking corps that took one hit after another even after taking its biggest hit in early October, when it lost Brian Cushing. They shook their heads at three losses in the last four games of the season. The offense mustered only 12 points per game in those three losses -- less than half its season average.

“Everybody was so excited and couldn’t wait for the next season to come around,” receiver Andre Johnson said. “As you can see, we came out of the gate smoking, but at the end we just didn’t finish it the right way. At times, maybe we could have been feeling ourselves or something. I think, I’ve told people this before, I think the game in New England, our last playoff game, it just showed you what kind of team you have to be in order to accomplish that ultimate goal. That was definitely a humbling experience, and we’ll be looking forward to the challenge again.”

Now they return with Cushing back and an additional offensive weapon in first-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins -- the receiver with the massive, red-gloved hands. They should have more stability on the offensive line and more depth at safety with the additions of a future Hall of Famer (Ed Reed) and a college enforcer (D.J. Swearinger). They have healthy cornerbacks and the reigning defensive player of the year in J.J. Watt, who is sure he can play better than his unreal 2012 season.

They return with an edge they didn't have last year.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Hopkins' impact: It is impossible not to be impressed by Hopkins' skill and athleticism, owed in part to his unusually large hands. Particularly adept at scoring in the red zone while he was at Clemson, Hopkins is expected to help the Texans, who didn't struggle scoring in the red zone last season but did struggle at scoring touchdowns in the red zone relative to the best offenses in the NFL. Hopkins provides a dimension the Texans didn't have in 2012 -- a second receiver defenses should fear, taking some attention from Johnson. The rookie is at his best on contested catches and spends his practices learning from cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Hopkins struggled early in organized team activities, but as training camp has progressed, he has grown more comfortable with just about everything. If he plays in regular-season games like he has in camp, the Texans' offense will improve significantly.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
AP Photo/Pat SullivanWhen linebacker Brian Cushing went down for the season in Week 5, the loss was felt across the Texans' defense.
2. Cushing's return: When Cushing was lost to a torn ACL in Week 5 against the New York Jets, a line of Texans greeted the fallen inside linebacker at the door to the locker room, shaking his hand and offering condolences. Losing Cushing hurt the Texans' safeties and outside linebackers as much as it changed their inside linebacker rotation. The pass rush suffered too.

“When Cush rushes, which we try to rush him a lot from the inside, if they have to pick up a back on him they are in trouble,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “We got a big advantage, so they try and pick him up with a lineman. Well, if they do that then the outside guys get a chance to get a back or a better matchup.”

Cushing's return brings back a maniacal, focused intensity that intimidates opponents.

“Brian Cushing is back,” outside linebacker Brooks Reed said. “He's going to bring the attitude back.”

3. When will Reed be healthy? Reed signed with the Texans amid great fanfare. The owner sent his team plane to Atlanta to collect the future Hall of Famer, and the team's official Twitter provided updates along the way. Reed met with coaches, underwent a lengthy physical and then left Houston for a family engagement before returning to sign a three-year deal worth $5 million a year. About a month later, Reed had arthroscopic hip surgery to repair a torn labrum that he thinks he suffered during the Ravens' AFC Championship Game win.

This week, Reed was out of town rehabilitating with a specialist after having spent training camp in Houston working with Texans trainers.

“No, absolutely not,” coach Gary Kubiak said when asked if that meant Reed had a setback. “It’s just something that we’ve made our progress here for a couple of weeks. [Head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan] has been in contact with this guy. He’s worked with us before, so we wanted him to go see him for a couple of days and basically make sure we’re doing the right things. We’re going to do that for a couple of days each week.”

So far there hasn't been any clarity on when Reed will be available to the Texans or whether he will be able to play in the season opener.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/Andy KingRookie DeAndre Hopkins gives Houston a scoring threat in the red zone and a second receiver whom opposing defense should fear.
The Texans have the best defensive player in the NFL in Watt, who in 2012 had, according to his well-traveled defensive coordinator, the best season any defensive lineman has ever had. This was a good team last year that needed some cracks filled. Injuries had a lot to do with the Texans' defensive holes at the end of the season, and those injuries aren't an issue for Houston anymore. Watt also will be healthier this year. Offensively, the Texans have Johnson coming off a career year in receiving yards, running back Arian Foster and a quarterback who will benefit from a more stable offensive line and an extra receiving weapon.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about Schaub, but I expect him to be a lot better this season with the changing personnel around him.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The abundance of linebacker injuries last season hurt the defense and special teams. The Texans still are vulnerable there. A rash of linebacker injuries in training camp has caused players to miss some time. Though none of these injuries were significant, a collection of linebacker injuries that keep players out for even two or three games at a time could be damaging.

Reed's health also could be troubling. Swearinger isn't ready yet, and safety Shiloh Keo has started in Reed's place during camp. Keo has improved since last season and has had a good camp, but he would be a downgrade from departed safety Glover Quin.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Earl Mitchell had about the loudest debut as the Texans' starting nose tackle as one could have. Sure, it was a preseason game, but in 10 snaps Friday against Minnesota, Mitchell had four tackles, three of them for loss, including one sack. He also had one quarterback hit. Mitchell is quick on his feet, powerful and has a new confidence this season. The Houston native says that comes from knowing he entered this season as the starter -- a position well earned.
  • Foster remains on the physically unable to perform list. He initially landed on the list with a calf injury, but that has healed. Now, the Texans are being cautious because of a back injury. I wrote it before and will again: There's no sense in pushing Foster too much right now, especially given the load he takes on during the season.
  • With one full NFL season accrued, receiver Keshawn Martin has made a dramatic improvement on both offense and special teams. It has caught the eye of teammates. Last season, Lestar Jean joined Martin on the active roster. Jean is an incredibly hard worker, but he finds himself back on the bubble two years removed from being an undrafted rookie.
  • The Texans' third-string running back battle took an interesting turn Friday in Minnesota when Cierre Wood, who progressed more slowly at first, seemed to have a better night than fellow undrafted rookie Dennis Johnson. It's far too early to determine a winner in that battle, but those two are ahead, with veteran pickup Deji Karim threatening from a special-teams standpoint.
  • There were times last season when starting cornerback Joseph didn't feel like himself. He had two sports hernias that he didn't even properly identify until after playing in the Pro Bowl. Joseph had surgeries to repair both, and feels healthier than he did all last season. That is great news for the Texans, who pair him opposite the constantly improving Kareem Jackson.
  • It's unclear exactly how long left guard Wade Smith will be out after having his knee scoped Tuesday morning. What's certain, however, is that Smith's absence will give the Texans a chance to test the versatility of sixth-round draft pick David Quessenberry, who started out the offseason playing mostly tackle. Quessenberry made news during the summer because his truck was stolen, then recovered in East Texas with police saying it was being used for human trafficking. More relevant to our purpose is that Quessenberry has been really impressive in camp and willing to learn. Kubiak said he expects both Ben Jones and Quessenberry to see time there with Smith out.
When Bob McNair bemoaned the Texans linebacking depth on Jan. 13, it came across as silly.

Houston used 11 different linebackers last year.

Brian Cushing, Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Daryl Sharpton, Barrett Ruud and Mister Alexander all played inside last year and Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus, Bryan Braman and Jesse Nading saw time outside.

No team, 3-4 or not, is going to field quality players when it turns to its ninth, 10th or 11th player at the position.

Yet after the season ended, McNair offered this:

“As we develop more depth, when those things happen it’ll hurt us less and less. In this particular case, we got hit at one position with a lot of injuries. It made it very difficult. We’ll work on adding more depth and playing better.”

If they need 11 linebackers, they will struggle again.

But, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, they’ve added an additional veteran who can help, signing Joe Mays, the former Denver Bronco. He buried Matt Schaub on Sept. 23, 2012 during a 31-25 Texans’ win in Denver last year, a hit that drew a $50,000 fine.

The Texans lost Barwin in free agency and Ruud, James, Alexander and Nading are also gone.

They’ve now added third-rounder Sam Montgomery and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams as well as Mays, a sixth-round pick by Philadelphia in 2008. The Eagles swapped him to Denver in 2010 in exchange for running back J.J. Arrington.

As long as Cushing can stay on the field a year after he tore an ACL, the Texans should be fine if they are assured of Sharpton, Dobbins or Mays as a second inside guy. Sharpton is on the NFI list. He and Dobbins don’t have good records of staying healthy.

Mays has played in only 47 of a possible 80 games over five seasons. He was suspended for one game last season then missed the final nine games of the regular season with a broken leg and ankle.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The highly respected Andre Johnson seeks the ultimate team goal, not more personal ones, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Arian Foster isn’t going to rush to return from his lingering calf strain, says McClain and Tania Ganguli.

To which I say: And he shouldn’t. But it’s hard to forget in June he said the only reason it was attention-worthy was because it was a slow news cycle and the press needed headlines. If it was such a little a deal as he maintained then, he’d be practicing now, right?

Two injured candidates for the right tackle job, Derek Newton and rookie Brennan Williams, have worked their way back from knee injuries, says Dave Zangaro of CSH Houston.

The Texans' Week 3 game against Baltimore will come against a team missing tight end Dennis Pitta, who suffered a serious hip injury Saturday, says CSN Houston.

In these nuggets from Drew Dougherty of the team’s website: Johnathan Joseph’s new workout routine, video of Foster talking about his movie role, Brooks Reed on J.J. Watt practicing his motivational speeches, and receivers catching tennis balls.

Indianapolis Colts

With his traditional opening day arrival theatrics, Reggie Wayne got to Anderson, Ind. by helicopter, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

The newest member of the Colts, rugby player Daniel Adongo, started off by learning some basics -- like Practice details from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union tell us of a far better day for Chad Henne than Blaine Gabbert.

To which I say: Fans who watched it and are reading about it should be upset that Gabbert was struggling just to take snaps. Even if it's just one afternoon, he should be past such things.

Was Gabbert’s bad practice a big deal, asks O’Halloran.

Gus Bradley said how Gabbert bounces back can be the biggest thing to come from Saturday, says John Oehser of the Jaguars website.

Low expectations of the Jaguars offense gives first-year coordinator Jedd Fisch an opportunity to formulate a creative offense, says Gene Frenette.

Marcedes Lewis wants to forget about the past two years, says Mark Long of AP.

First-year guard Drew Nowak tweeted that his car got hit on the way to the team hotel, but that he’s fine, say O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

Two newcomers from Super Bowl teams -- Bernard Pollard and Delanie Walker -- see great expectations with their new team, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Details of Saturday’s practice fight, from John Glennon of The Tennessean, who also touches on Brian Schwenke’s hamstring, Coty Sensabaugh's surge, and the return of navy blue jerseys for a couple games. Here’s a picture that gives you a sense of the fight -- from a fan who took it during a period of practice when media was not allowed to take pictures or shoot video.

Pollard says part of what the Titans' defense has to do is get a kid receiver like Justin Hunter ready for action. (With video from Wyatt.)

If cornerback Tommie Campbell pans out, he could be like Seattle's Richard Sherman, says Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.

The coordinators talked of early standouts, on the other side of the ball, says Glennon.

The Titans' offense is streamlined under Dowell Loggains, says Teresa Walker of AP.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

When healthy, the Texans have veteran experience virtually everywhere -- except at kicker. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on Randy Bullock.

The Chronicle’s fan guide to training camp.

Why the Texans desperately need Daryl Sharpton to stay healthy all season, says Battle Red Blog.

Deepi Sidhu of the team’s website checks in with Brooks Reed.

Indianapolis Colts

Chuck Pagano discussed his disappointment over three players who found trouble in the offseason, from Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach Gus Bradley doesn’t like to hear people say “I got it,” writes Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.

The Jaguars claimed safety Ray Polk, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by Seattle, says Carlyon.

What John Oehser of the team’s website learned from some pre-camp media sessions with the Jaguars. Of note extended recovery time after practices is a big part of the camp schedule.

Tennessee Titans

As camp for a pivotal season for Jake Locker opens, Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean looks at what’s ahead for the quarterback.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan plans to play lighter this season, say Wyatt and John Glennon.

Everyone talks about the concerns about Locker, but offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has even less experience, says Music City Miracles.
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine linebackers.

Williamson’s AFC South linebacker rankings:
1) Texans (Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, Tim Dobbins, Darryl Sharpton, Sam Montgomery, Trevardo Williams)
2) Colts (Robert Mathis, Jerrell Freeman, Bjoern Werner, Erik Walden, Pat Angerer, Kelvin Sheppard, Kavell Conner)
3) Titans (Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, Colin McCarthy, Moise Fokou, Zaviar Gooden)
4) Jaguars (Paul Posluszny, Russell Allen, Geno Hayes, Julian Stanford, Brandon Marshall)

Everybody’s got uncertainty somewhere in their group.

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South linebacking units is:

  •  
    63%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,250)

Your overall assessment, please:

“Ranking the linebackers in this division was pretty clear to me. Maybe it helped the Texans and Colts that they feature four starting linebackers -- and really, guys like Robert Mathis are equal parts defensive end and linebacker to me, but he is an outside linebacker for this exercise. I would say Cushing is the best linebacker in the division and Houston's outside linebackers should be improved from a year ago. But even though I ranked them first, there are many linebacking corps around the NFL that I take over Houston's. – among them San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina, Dallas and Arizona.”

Based on what you know about what the Texans have and the guys in question, do you put Sharpton or Dobbins beside Cushing inside or move Reed inside to put Montgomery or Williams outside?

“Houston doesn't play a typical 3-4 scheme. They are more like a 5-2. I have serious doubts if Reed can transition inside in either scheme and I think that move is an indictment upon Houston just not being happy with his edge pass rush. Montgomery seems much more like a traditional 4-3 end, but Williams seems like an ideal fit for the Texans at outside linebacker, and he is who I am most excited about opposite Mercilus.”

How much of a believer are you in Walden and Werner? Any signs of a slowdown for Mathis?

“I thought Indy WAY overpaid for Walden and it was amongst the worst UFA signings of the season. I see him as a third outside linebacker in a 3-4 and ultimately, that is what he should be if Werner lives up to the hype. I do like Werner though in this scheme as the heavier OLB (think Jarret Johnson when he was there and Courtney Upshaw now in Baltimore), which frees Mathis to be more of the edge pass-rusher. I don't expect Mathis to slow down, but of course, that day could be coming soon and it might be wise to use Walden more on early downs and keep Mathis fresh for passing situations.”

Could Fokou beat out a healthy McCarthy? If McCarthy gets hurt again, how much of a drop off would there be if Fokou ends up a two-down MLB?

“I am not a huge McCarthy fan, so I would say the drop off would be minimal."

How do Ayers and Brown rank as a pair of young OLBs in a 4-3?

“I do like the overall upside of Ayers/Brown/Gooden. Gooden and Brown are very similar run-and-hit guys with extreme speed, while Ayers is more of a 3-4 outside linebacker type, which is useful when varying their fronts as well as bringing an edge blitz presence.”

How much could Posluszny suffer if the guys outside him, likely Allen and Hayes, aren't particularly good?

“There is quite a bit on Paul's plate at middle linebacker for the Jags. Not only are his outside linebackers average on a good day -- although Allen flashed some playmaking skills -- but the DTs in front of him are not great at keeping him clean. Maybe the new defensive tackles will help in that regard, as Poz is just an average take-on linebacker. His strengths are that he takes few false steps, is quick to read and is decisive”

As for me…

I need to see Hayes and Allen in the new Jaguars scheme, but heading into the season I have questions about their ability to get off of blockers to make plays consistently. That could mean Posluszny has to run around and get in on every tackle, and they can’t ask too much of him.

Before McCarthy in 2011, the Titans traditionally had a two-down middle linebacker, the exception being Randall Godfrey. As soon as the Titans go to nickel, McCarthy or Fokou should leave the field and the two backers should come out of Brown, Gooden and Ayers. Bernard Pollard will drop down from strong safety and function as a linebacker at times. If McCarthy wins the job, this work reduction may help him stay healthy.

Dobbins and Sharpton both have issues staying healthy. That could be a big factor in how the Texans starting linebacker group shakes out. They have a lot of options after adding Montgomery and Williams, and options are the next best thing to a lineup already set as camp starts.

Run defense was priority one for the Colts as they revamped their defense, and Walden may help a lot there. But Werner needs to be able to have an impact early for the Colts to have a chance to rush sufficiently, otherwise offenses will be able to focus on Mathis in a way they rarely could when Dwight Freeney was also on the field with him. (Yes, I know Freeney missed games and Mathis still had success.)
In early March, I outlined a five-category plan for offseason moves for each team in the AFC South.

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

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

First up are the Texans. Here is the original post.

What I got right:

Finances: "Cut wide receiver Kevin Walter, saving $2.5 million in cap space."

Walter is now with the Titans.

Turnover: "Allow outside linebacker Connor Barwin to leave as a free agent if he gets a good deal. Although it would be nice to keep him, the team is equipped to move on without him and should be able to draft a player who can be the third guy at the position behind Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus."

Barwin jumped to Philadelphia. They drafted two outside linebackers in Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams.

"Be done with nose tackle Shaun Cody."

Cody is unsigned.

Draft: "Swing big for a wide receiver who can line up opposite (Andre) Johnson and pose a matchup threat. Perhaps Cal’s Keenan Allen or Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins fits the bill."

Hopkins was the team’s first pick.

"Use other early picks on inside linebacker, safety depth and corner/nickel depth."

Safety D.J. Swearinger arrived in the second round, and the team went with outside linebackers, not inside ones, with Montgomery and Williams. No corners, however.

What I got wrong:

Finances: "Restructure the deal of wide receiver Andre Johnson, reducing his base salary from $10.5 million to $940,000 (giving him the rest now as a bonus), resulting in a salary cap savings of $7.17 million. Restructure the deal of cornerback Johnathan Joseph, reducing his base salary from $7.5 million to $940,000 (giving him the rest now as a bonus), resulting in a salary cap savings of $4.373 million. Extend defensive end Antonio Smith, reducing his 2013 base salary of $6 million and his cap charge of $9.5 million significantly."

The team hasn’t restructured or extended anyone yet.

Continuity: "Re-sign safety Glover Quin. The Texans didn’t use the franchise tag on him but would face a tough hole to fill if they let him depart. He’s carved out a good role on this defense, and it would be mutually beneficial for him to stay. In addition to extending Smith and saving money, invest in inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who counts $4.643 against the cap in the final year of his initial deal and is due $3.143 million in base salary."

Quin went to Detroit as a free agent, but the Texans brought in again all-time great Ed Reed to take his place.

Additions: "Sign a free agent defensive tackle like Roy Miller from Tampa Bay. He’s a good run stopper who could replace Cody and be better in tandem with Earl Mitchell in Wade Phillips' 3-4 front, which allows for a smaller nose. Mike DeVito (New York Jets) could also work and wouldn’t have to transition to 3-4 thinking."

Miller wound up in Jacksonville. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is amused at how regularly many of us suggest the team needs a new nose. They are happy with Mitchell as the starter and will look to sixth-rounder Chris Jones as the backup.

AFC South links: Brooks Reed at inside LB?

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
10:15
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Houston Texans

Brooks Reed lined up at inside linebacker as the Texans started OTAs, writes Nick Scurfield of the team's website. For now, the Texans are giving him as many reps as possible at the new position while they look at Bryan Braman and rookies Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams in Reed’s usual outside linebacker position on the strong side.

Quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson missed OTAs because of injuries in 2012, but are off to healthy starts in 2013, writes Scurfield.

After listening to 20-minute presentations today from the three competing cities -- Houston, San Francisco and South Florida -- NFL owners will vote on Super Bowl L and Super Bowl LI. South Florida and San Francisco are competing for the coveted Super Bowl 50 in 2016. The city that doesn’t win that vote competes with Houston for Super Bowl 51 in 2017.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are enjoying the benefits of having franchise quarterback Andrew Luck signed to a team-friendly rookie contract, writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Bob Lamey, the voice of the Colts, catches up with GM Ryan Grigson to recap the rookie mini-camp and preview OTAs this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Defensive lineman Kyle Love, claimed off waivers last week, talked to the media following his first workout with his new team. Love was released by New England after a routine blood test and follow-up exam revealed he had Type 2 diabetes. “That’s how they run their business up there; veteran guys who have been there for years and put in a lot of work get treated like rookies,” Love said of the Patriots.

Continuing his rehab from December surgery for a Lisfranc injury, running back Maurice Jones-Drew will spend the next two weeks training in Miami, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

Senior writer John Oehser of the team's website takes a look at four issues facing the Jaguars after the first week of OTAs.

Tennessee Titans

John Glennon of the Tennessean analyzes the Titans' schedule, including an opponent-by-opponent breakdown.

AFC South links: Tebow the 'great debate'

May, 20, 2013
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Houston Texans

Texans linebacker Brooks Reed revealed on Sunday he had surgery on his groin in late January, but says he is "100 percent" and ready for OTAs.

Five things to watch at Texans OTAs, from Nick Scurfield of the team website.

Indianapolis Colts

Former Colts standout Dwight Freeney has signed with the San Diego Chargers.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars' decision not to sign Tim Tebow continues to be the "Great Debate," writes Vito Stellino.

Veteran linebacker Geno Hayes is thankful for a chance to play.

Tennessee Titans

Titans linebacker Moise Fokou has been charged for a DUI from February.

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