AFC South: Bryan Pittman
The Titans tight end said he was embarrassed after the Jaguars won 29-27 in Nashville on Nov. 10 to pick up their first victory. Since then, the Jaguars are 3-2 with victories over Houston (twice) and Cleveland. The Titans are 1-4 with a victory over Oakland.
There seems to be much more stability in Jacksonville, too, because of the uncertain status surrounding Tennessee coach Mike Munchak.
Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down Sunday’s matchup at EverBank Field.
DiRocco: Some Titans players were pretty vocal about being embarrassed due to becoming the first team to lose to the Jaguars. Is that something that still stings, and how have they rebounded from that loss?
Kuharsky: It definitely left a mark. They are only 1-4 since then. It kind of set a bar for how bad they can be and re-established their propensity to lose to teams that are really struggling. The Jaguars are on an upswing since that game, and the Titans are on a downward spiral. If Tennessee losses to the Jaguars again, the Titans will be in line to finish in third place in an awful division, which is well short of their goals and expectations. The Titans are a better team than they were last year. But losing closer isn’t a really big difference in the really big picture.
Let’s turn that around. How has life changed for the Jaguars since that Nov. 10 breakthrough?
DiRocco: I could go into a lot of stats that show how much better the Jaguars are playing, but that's not what's really important. The past six games have been more about the validation of the process, establishing the foundation of the franchise's rebuild, and confidence in the new regime. Coach Gus Bradley never wavered from the plan that he and general manager David Caldwell established. His message stayed the same throughout the eight-game losing streak to start the season: trust in the process, work hard, and focus on improving and not victories, and the victories will eventually come. Because that has happened, the players appear to have completely bought into what Bradley and Caldwell want to do, and there's a confidence in the locker room that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
We talked about Jake Locker the last time these teams met, but that was before he suffered a season-ending injury to his foot. How does that change the Titans' outlook on him and are they in the market for a quarterback in the offseason, too?
Kuharsky: Locker is certain to be on the 2014 Titans. His fourth year isn’t that costly and it’s guaranteed. But they can’t execute a spring option for his fifth year that would line him up for over $13 million. A lot of his fate depends on whether Munchak is back as the head coach. It’s possible they go forward with Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and just-signed Tyler Wilson as their quarterbacks. It’s also possible they’d draft a new guy, and depending on how high of a pick he could land in competition to start. I think it’s less likely they chase a free agent like Jay Cutler if he comes free, but they have to assess all the possibilities. How can they completely commit to Locker based on his injury history?
One side effect of the Jaguars' surge is they aren’t going to be in position to draft the first quarterback taken. What’s your sense of what Bradley and Caldwell want in a quarterback and do you expect one to arrive in the first round?
DiRocco: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said something interesting last week. He said he wants his QB to scramble around, take off running to get yards and take some chances throwing the football. To me, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of Johnny Manziel. I'm not sure how that reconciles with the ideas of his bosses. Bradley comes from Seattle, which has the mobile Russell Wilson. Caldwell comes from Atlanta, which has the considerably less mobile Matt Ryan. My sense is that Bradley and Caldwell probably lean more toward the Wilson end of the spectrum. People think that eliminates Teddy Bridgewater, but that's not the case. He's not a runner but he can run if needed. If he's around, I'd expect them to take him. If not, then I would still expect them to go quarterback. It's their most glaring need.
You mentioned Munchak's job status. What's your take on whether he will be back next season -- and should he be?
Kuharsky: He’s shepherded improvement, but his team lacks an ability to finish. He’s 0-4 in the worst division in football, 1-9 in the past two years. His teams have lost to the previously winless Jags in 2013 and the previously winless Colts in 2011. He’s 4-18 against teams with winning records when the Titans played them and 2-19 against teams that finished the season with a winning record. To me, three years is a sufficient sample size to know what you’ve got and those numbers are the most telling thing on his resume. Keep him and they deal with all the limitations connected to a lame duck coach. I don’t know what Tommy Smith, the head of the new ownership, will do. But the fan base overwhelmingly wants change, if that’s worth anything. People still pay for tickets because they’ve got investments in personal seat licenses they do not want to throw away. But a lot of people are staying home on Sundays now.
Cecil Shorts is done and Maurice Jones-Drew is uncertain. How can the Jaguars threaten on offense without their two best weapons?
DiRocco: They were able to put up 20 points and post their second-highest yardage total of the season, including a season-high 159 rushing, in last Sunday's loss to Buffalo. Running back Jordan Todman stepped up big time and ran for 109 yards (Jones-Drew cracked 100 only once in the first 13 games) and tight end Marcedes Lewis was more involved in the passing game than in previous weeks (four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown). But I'm not sure that is sustainable. Teams will certainly concentrate on stopping Lewis and make quarterback Chad Henne move the ball with three receivers who have a combined 75 career catches. Todman doesn't scare anyone, either. The Jaguars will have to be creative on offense (they've run gadget plays the past three weeks) and capitalize on every opportunity they get.
Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.
Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.
Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.
Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.
Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.
Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.
Donnie Avery gets to play in a game against his favorite player, Andre Johnson, says John McClain.
Bryan Pittman’s return could help Kris Brown, says John McClain.
David Barron looks back at the Shamrock Bowl.
Five key matchups in Rams-Texans from Battle Red Blog.
Gary Kubiak is in critical condition, says Clark Judge as he assesses coaches in trouble.
Individual goals remain for the Colts, says Mike Chappell.
Should they go for 16-0? More from Chappell.
We’ll all find out who plays and how much together, writes Bob Kravitz.
Handicapping the MVP race with Alex Marvez.
Bob Lamey calls games with passion, says Curt Cavin.
Eyes will be on Maurice Jones-Drew, says Phillip B. Wilson.
Considering playoff possibilities in the AFC, with Wilson.
John Oehser’s game preview.
The Jaguars hope Thursday night is the beginning of the end of their ticket woes, says Gene Frenette.
It’s a prime-time challenge for Jacksonville, says Vito Stellino.
Young talent could get Jacksonville some notice, says Pete Prisco.
Greg Jones is going on injured reserve, reports Michael C, Wright.
The Fox affiliate got the simulcast of the NFL Network broadcast by being the highest bidder, says Jeff Elliott.
John Henderson and Mike Sims-Walker are expected to play and Rashean Mathis is doing better, says Wright.
The Jags will enjoy a break after a quick turnaround, writes Wright.
Thursday’s mailbag from Vic Ketchman.
Breaking down the Jaguars offensive line with Jonathan Loesche.
Chris Johnson mic’d up.
Vince Young is likely to play, says Jim Wyatt.
Johnson says Ted Ginn backed out of a race, say Wyatt and Gary Estwick.
Nate Washington on hamstring injuries, from Wyatt.
Who the Titans need to win, from Music City Miracles.
The Texans' defense has a chance to finish big, says Dale Robertson.
Houston re-signed long-snapper Bryan Pittman, says Aaron Wilson. It must mean the team is worried about Joel Dreessen’s shoulder, says Alan Burge.
The defense ranks among the best of the Bill Polian/Peyton Manning era, says Phil Richards.
Pierre Garcon is in position to make a run at 1,000 yards, says Richards.
Among his seven observations of the day, John Oehser considers Gary Brackett as a blitzer.
The Colts and Saints have fattened up on cupcakes, says Pete Prisco.
The Colts can still play better, says Tom James.
Part of the perfect quest could fall on Curtis Painter.
Expect Manning to throw it a lot, says Deshawn Zombie.
Unanswered questions from Demond Sanders.
The Jaguars’ close call in Indianapolis on opening day gave the young guys confidence, says Michael C. Wright.
A generation of young Jaguars fans are very loyal, says Deirdre Conner.
Never doubt Elias, says Vic Ketchman.
Adam Stites isn’t expecting the inconsistency to end soon.
The NFL concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the Redskins with tampering with Albert Haynesworth, says Gary Estwick. I think this took entirely too long.
The Steve McNair story has had a minimal impact on NFL infidelity, says Mike Freeman.
Checking in on Chris Johnson’s pace, from the Shutdown Corner blog.
Among five things Jim Wyatt knows is that tight end Craig Stevens is quietly developing.
A run through of the Titans’ slim playoff chances, from Terry McCormick.
Miami’s pass rush will pose a threat, says Estwick.
A couple visits have come to light:
- Arizona free-agent cornerback Eric Green will visit with the Titans Thursday, according to Jim Wyatt. He'd be the second corner in town in two days after Justin Miller met with the Titans, who need depth at cornerback.
- Houston free-agent long snapper Bryan Pittman will meet with Seattle, according to our NFC West maven Mike Sando. The Texans have indicated they won't bring Pittman back. Clark Harris filled in capably at season's end when Pittman was suspended.
- [Updated 2:50 p.m.] Dallas free-agent linebacker Kevin Burnett is visiting the Texans, reports John McClain. He looks to have appealing versatility and size.
The Houston Texans' unrestricted free agents to be, in rough order of importance or rank:
Cornerback Dunta Robinson -- The defense was a lot better once he got back to form after rehabbing the bad leg injury and he's their best DB.
Free safety Eugene Wilson -- Was starting at the end and doing pretty well. A versatile piece with value.
Strong safety C.C. Brown -- Only played three games before season-ending injury. Good to have in the mix, but they need to upgrade his competition.
Strong safety Nick Ferguson -- Brought in to help with culture and was a good locker room guy.
Cornerback DeMarcus Faggins -- A sentimental favorite in the building as an original Texan, but he shouldn't rank higher than fourth corner.
Defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina -- He's 38 and just finished his 16th season. Probably time for the Texans to get younger in this spot. Could get a one-year deal.
Tight end Mark Bruener -- Made no contribution in his 14th season and is heading toward retirement.
Center Chris White -- Active as a sub about half the time in 2008.
Tackle Scott Jackson -- Missed his entire fourth season with a left foot injury.
Cornerback Jimmy Williams -- Missed entire season with a knee injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Our morning tour of the AFC South. Did we miss something good? Please hit the mailbag.
- The Texans are looking forward to having Matt Schaub back, writes Megan Manfull.
- Steve Slaton won AFC Offensive Player of the Week, says John McClain.
- Bryan Pittman says he's frustrated over a punishment resulting from an innocent mistake, according to Manfull.
- Instead of shifting Freddy Keiaho to the middle and playing Tyjuan Hagler on the weakside, the Colts will replace the injured Gary Brackett with Buster Davis, reports Mike Chappell.
- An Indianapolis woman faces battery charges connected to an alleged assault on Tyjuan Hagler, says Phil Richards.
- Phillip B. Wilson thinks the Colts have soured on Hagler.
- Robert Mathis is getting grief over his touchdown celebration dance, writes Richards.
- Rashean Mathis will be the 10th Jaguars player on IR, reports Vito Stellino.
- Gene Frenette's report card from Monday night includes and F for coaching.
- The Titans have had good success against Jamal Lewis in the past, writes Jessica Bliss.
- Backup QB Vince Young sat out practice because of an infected cuticle on his right thumb, says Jim Wyatt.
- As Chris Johnson approaches 1,000 yards, his position coach compares him to Tony Dorsett, writes Terry McCormick.
- Smash and Dash are featured on new T-shirts, says McCormick.
The NFL's suspension of Houston long-snapper Bryan Pittman was in the works for a long time, so the Texans had a plan in place.
And, let's be honest, Pittman's had some bad moments this season, including Monday night when a botched snap cost the Texans a short field goal just before halftime. (It also resulted in a season-ending knee injury for Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis).
Practice squad tight end Clark Harris has been working in practices to be ready, and is now in line to be the guy for the final four games.
"We've been preparing for that," coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters Wednesday. "Of course, we've had him here previously and then brought him back. He's been preparing as if he was going to be the snapper every week. That's how we've been working with him. So, [we're] way ahead of the game from that standpoint. Naturally, he's a young player and this is a tough environment for him to go do his job, but he's way ahead of the game. It's not like we're starting fresh today."
UPDATE, 6:39 p.m.
A bit from Harris himself:
"I've been doing it for years. I've been doing it since high school. I'm just going to go out there and do what I've been doing. I'm not going to think too much about it. The snapping position is a big mental position. You've just got to know that you can do it and go out there and do what you've been coached and do what you've been programmed to do."
Drayton Florence is about to get another chance to prove he's not a bust.
He got big money from the Jaguars in the offseason and jumped from San Diego -- six years, $36 million, $12 million in bonuses, including a $2.5 million roster bonus next year. He lost his starting job Week 6 in Denver when the team used his groin injury as the reason to shuffle things. Monday night in Houston, he worked as the nickelback.
He will re-emerge as a starter now with Rashean Mathis, the team's top corner and perhaps its top defender, expected to go on IR after suffering a knee injury in Houston. Mathis leads the Jags with four interceptions.
"On the injury front, Rashean Mathis, it looks like in a likelihood he'll be placed on IR," coach Jack Del Rio told Jacksonville reporters Wednesday. "He's got a significant MCL sprain and will need to be immobilized for a few weeks. It won't require any surgery but it's going to need some time to heal properly, and so it's a good likelihood that he'll end up going on IR at some point this week."
The Jaguars don't have great options at nickel.
A three-safety look would bring veteran Pierson Prioleau on the field.
On the bright side, the Bears are hardly known for their downfield threats -- the top pass catcher among their wide receivers is converted return man Devin Hester (34 catches for 442 yards and three TDs).
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Our AFC South chat resumes Thursday at 3:00 p.m. You can join us by going here. Two for one discounts on admission, so bring a friend.
One story that touches more than one team:
Don Banks lists Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as an A-list candidate for a head-coaching job, gives Gary Kubiak a 35 percent chance of losing his job and doesn't mention Jack Del Rio.
- Long-snapper Bryan Pittman is one of six NFL players suspended for using a diuretic, writes Megan Manfull.
- Matt Schaub is ready to resume work as the Texans' starting quarterback, says John McClain.
- Houston now has one of the league's best big-play offenses, says McClain.
- Phillip B. Wilson's matchup page for Bengals-Colts.
- With Gary Brackett hurt, Tyjuan Hagler gets his chance, writes Wilson.
- While ESPN's Steve Young called the Jaguars "disinterested," Jack Del Rio didn't question his team's desire or effort on Monday night, writes Vito Stellino.
- Five questions with David Garrard.
- A Q&A with Derrick Harvey.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Let's see what's been written around the division this morning.
It's chat day -- here's where to go at 3 p.m. ET.
- Zac Diles is out for the season with a broken leg, writes John McClain.
- The Texans signed snapper Clark Harris to be ready in case Bryan Pittman's suspended, reports McClain.
- Jerome Solomon says the election was a moving experience for the Texans.
- N.D. Kalu leaves the Texans with a lot of respect, from McClain.
- Diles did a lot to help prevent big plays, blogs Megan Manfull.
- Minnesota's Jared Allen denies he went after Matt Schaub's knees.
- The Colts are on pace for the fourth-lowest per-game rushing average in the league since 1970, writes Mike Chappell.
- Kelvin Hayden is expected to miss the Steelers game, but Freddy Keiaho and Dante Hughes should be back, according to Phil Richards.
- Clifton Dawson went on IR and the Colts signed Titans practice squad defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, says Chappell.
- Tony Dungy's got ties to the Steelers, writes Tom James.
- Jack Del Rio sent a bunch of messages Wednesday, according to Vito Stellino.
- Gene Frenette's take on Del Rio's shakeup.
- Matt Jones still hasn't heard anything about his suspension appeal, writes Michael C. Wright.
- Miami linebacker Joey Porter rips Matt Jones, says Wright.
- Kerry Collins is one of this season's feel-good stories, according to Pete Prisco.
- Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is making good progress and models himself after Mike Singletary, says Jim Wyatt.
- The Bears are confident in Rex Grossman, writes Gary Estwick.
- A rib injury has Keith Bulluck uncomfortable, according to Wyatt.
- Bulluck and Kyle Vanden Bosch sit out practice, says Terry McCormick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
A modest proposal: Print this page and these links, fold paper in half long ways, insert in back pocket, remove and read in line at your voting location, cheerfully pass time and spread the word about the AFC South Blog as you wait your turn.
- Matt Schaub could be out for four weeks, writes John McClain.
- The Chronicle's report card.
- Long snapper Bryan Pittman made his case to the league over a pending suspension, according to Megan Manfull.
- The Texans sent tape of three Vikings hits on their quarterbacks to the league, says McClain.
- Every loss looks the same, opines Richard Justice.
- A playoff berth is still very much within the Colts' reach, says Mike Chappell.
- Chappell's midseason report card includes an "F" for rushing offense.
- The Colts are giving up lengthy drives, according to Phil Richards.
- Indy can't afford to falter much the rest of the season, says Tom James.
- Jack Del Rio is trying to stay positive, says Vito Stellino.
- Five questions with Reggie Hayward.
- Del Rio shouldn't be under any fire, according to Cole Pepper.
- A perfect team says it can play better, writes Jim Wyatt.
- An 8-0 start hasn't been a Super Bowl guarantee, according to Clark Judge.
- Kyle Vanden Bosch could sit out in Chicago as he continues to wait on a groin injury, says Gary Estwick.
- Wyatt and Estwick have their Tuesday morning back-and-forth.
- Albert Haynesworth was sad to hear about Phil Fulmer at the University of Tennessee, writes Terry McCormick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Let's jog, not sprint, around the division this morning. Or maybe just walk?
Texans deep snapper Bryan Pittman has tested positive for a banned substance that is a violation of the NFL's steroids policy. If he loses his appeal, he could be suspended for four games, reports John McClain.
Eric Winston and Cedric Benson played a lot of football together growing up, writes Dale Robertson.
Jake Scott is enjoying life with his new team and is ready to take on his old team, writes Phillip B. Wilson.
Sorting out the details of Peyton Manning's knee surgeries in Mike Chappell's notebook.
The Jaguars and Browns have both come up short of expectations so far, says Michael C. Wright.
Matt Jones said he's waiting on the result of his appeal of a three-game suspension, according to Jim Nasella.
Ron Jaworski thinks the Titans are doing the exactly right thing at quarterback, writes Gary Estwick.
Rob Bironas needs two more field goals to set a new franchise record for consecutive makes, says Jim Wyatt. Also the drum set sent to Chris Johnson was from Martina McBride.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
What's going on in the AFC South? Here's a late-morning rundown.
- Gary Kubiak's record through 34 games is exactly the same as Jeff Fisher's. Good stuff from John McClain spelling out why calling for Kubiak's firing is silly.
- Defensive coordinator Richard Smith is trying to be creative with Mario Williams, writes Dale Robertson.
- Bryan Pittman's poor long-snapping was one reason Kubiak was a bit reluctant to kick field goals last week, according to Megan Manfull. If it's so bad as to impact what an offense can and can't do, doesn't a change have to be made?
- Sloppiness had Kubiak concerned, writes Michael C. Wright.
- The Texans have good history against Jacksonville, says Brooke Bentley of houstontexans.com.
- Already out with a high sprain of his right ankle, Bob Sanders had knee surgery. Mike Chappell got the word from owner Jim Irsay.
- Tony Dungy was pleased with bye-week work, says John Oehser of colts.com.
- Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was at least part serious when he guaranteed bigger plays from the passing game, writes Vito Stellino.
- Matt Jones is different, says Tania Ganguli.
- Reggie Nelson has a bruised knee. It's a relief it's nothing worse, but still has him day-to-day, according to Kyle G. Nelson.
- Kerry Collins and Gus Frerotte are hardly the only old quarterbacks in place right now ahead of younger guys, according to Jim Wyatt. He counts 14 starters over 30.
- The Titans view of Adrian Peterson, by Gary Estwick.
- Another look at Ryan Fowler's take on his demotion, this one from Estwick.
- Another look at how Kerry Collins can be a resource for Vince Young, this one from Thomas George of NFL.com.