AFC South: Cary Williams
Cap status: Pretty tight, with just over $9 million in cushion. But the Texans can gain room with a cut (receiver Kevin Walter is the prime candidate) and have lots of room for restructures with receiver Andre Johnson and/or cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
Strategy: Lay back. They are most concerned with their own guys, and safety Glover Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin head that list. Lose them and they could be shoppers for replacements, but we're talking midlevel to low-level guys, not the high-priced, top-tier guys getting all of the hype as free agency opens. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has an affinity for guys who've played in his system before, so keep an eye on safety Gerald Sensabaugh and, if he's released, defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. They could patch in some guys later, but anything big early would amount to a big surprise.
Cap status: The Colts have just under $40 million of room. They pledge not to behave like it's burning a hole in their pocket.
Strategy: They will look to strike the right deals with some key new people who can fill holes and add production and leadership. It's easy to draw lines that connect Pagano to guys he's coached in Baltimore such as outside linebacker Paul Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams. They are still looking to fill out the roster with people who can play in Pagano's 3-4 front. The scheme requires at least one more cornerback who can play a lot of man-to-man coverage. Maximizing Andrew Luck's chances for success is a priority, and a couple of linemen are necessary to stay on that mission. Another receiver could be a target, too. But Grigson won't force free-agent moves and hopes to have another impact draft that will have a big bearing on how this team fares, too.
Cap status: They've got more than $26 million in cap room, but they also have a couple of empty spots on the depth chart, such as strong safety, right tackle and left guard.
Strategy: All indications are the Jaguars will slow-play free agency. They are unlikely to jump out and sign a guy or two to big contracts, as some bloated free-agent contracts are one of the issues Caldwell inherits. But Tier 2 guys who the team thinks can be pillars of a new program and lead the way for young players will be the core of the franchise moving forward. They have two guys heading into the market in linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Derek Cox. They won't overpay, but losing them will create more holes. And this team is super thin at cornerback already.
Cap status: Over $16 million of room with easily makeable cuts that will save more as the team needs the room and finds guys to add to the roster.
Strategy: More aggressive than usual, in both willingness to spend and number of people they will bring in. This team needs an infusion of talent and leadership. Their top free agents -- tight end Jared Cook and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks -- are expected to leave. Look for one big signing, perhaps Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, and several more with a lower price tag. Positions that could be addressed include guard, defensive tackle, tight end, cornerback and safety. They may be waiting on their pass-rusher until the draft. This is a huge time for Webster and Munchak, who will really be putting their stamp on the roster with guys they need to lift the team to a better level of play if they want to hold on to their jobs.
Not using the franchise tag on Glover Quin would provide some cap help for the Texans, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
As he considers the idea of a not-in-the-closet gay player in the NFL, Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle says locker rooms are far more progressive than they were even 10 years ago.
Five players Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star thinks could be free-agent help for the Colts when the time to shop arrives. (Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston expects the Colts to pursue cornerback Cary Williams.)
The idea that a frustrated Bill Polian once suggested trading Peyton Manning was what got the most attention out of this interview with Jim Irsay. But more interesting to me from Bob Kravitz’s piece was this: “If the Colts had picked third or lower in the (2012) draft, Manning would still be a Colt, and the team would have drafted his heir apparent later in the draft. One guy they loved: Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson.”
Chappell starts position-by-position video looks at the pre-free agency Colts with quarterbacks.
Like the Jaguars, the Chiefs are starting over. But the teams are taking different approaches to addressing quarterback, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.
BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah is more appealing to John Oehser of jaguars.com than Florida State’s Bjoern Werner based on what the team wants to do.
In a second go-round with the Titans as tight ends coach, George Henshaw expects to help boost Jake Locker’s completion percentage by giving him more easy options, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Will Witherspoon is staying busy while seeing what happens next, but the Titans could well go a different direction in seeking a veteran linebacker, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
The Ravens cornerback lost his head when the game was chippy. Touching an official is verboten, and you are supposed to get tossed for it.
Setting that aside. Williams is a quality player who was a solid part of a good effort in the secondary of the champion Ravens.
And he once belonged to Tennessee.
A seventh-round pick out of Washburn by the Titans in 2008, he played in five games in his first two seasons. But he was on the practice squad in 2009 and when the Ravens came calling, the Titans let Baltimore sign him away to their 53-man roster. Had Tennessee offered to promote him to its roster, odds are he would have chosen to stay.
David Climer of The Tennessean highlighted Williams as a difference between the Titans and Ravens. One team judged him expendable, the other saw him as valuable and we see which one just won a title.
Who were the corners on the 2009 Titans? Cortland Finnegan, Nick Harper, Vincent Fuller, Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton were all on the roster that year and Rod Hood also spent time on the team.
Credit the Ravens, for sure, for seeing Williams as a talent.
Surely, though, they needed help with numbers at the position in a way the Titans didn’t at the time. And the Titans were hardly alone. I didn’t see anything in the year plus Williams was in Tennessee that suggested he would qualify as a good get.
Now he’s heading toward free agency, and whether the Ravens make him a bigger offer than the one he turned down before the season or he lands somewhere else, he’s a starting NFL corner for sure.
Had he stayed in Tennessee and developed in a similar fashion, he could have been playing outside opposite McCourty, at least in the nickel package, with Alterraun Verner working in the slot instead of Mouton or Coty Sensabaugh.
The last time we saw the Texans and Ravens square off, we were watching a divisional-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Terrell Suggs had six tackles and a pass defended as the Ravens' rush linebacker. Houston featured third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, and his three interceptions -- paired with multiple special-teams gaffes by Texans returner Jacoby Jones -- were big factors in a 20-13 Baltimore victory.
The Texans returned home to rave reviews for their first playoff season but also couldn’t help wonder what might have been if they'd had injured starting quarterback Matt Schaub and played a cleaner game. Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game in New England, where it lost to the Patriots, but a near-catch for a touchdown by Lee Evans could have won it with 27 seconds left and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff could have forced overtime.
This rematch doesn’t carry the same stakes but could have big implications. The winner will have the AFC’s best record at 6-1.
AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky will be watching closely.
HENSLEY: I think it's easy to say this is a battle of the two best teams in the AFC. Not really going out on a limb here because the Ravens and Texans are the only teams with winning records in this mediocre conference. I know there are going to be nine games after this one, but this is shaping up to be the Ravens' most important game of the regular season.
The result of this game could become a tiebreaker for home-field advantage or a first-round bye at the end of the season. The Ravens, who have won a league-best 14 consecutive games at home, don't want to go on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens' mindset is that they won't have to come back to Houston this year if they win there Sunday. What's the mindset of the Texans after what happened in Houston last Sunday night?
KUHARSKY: Because the Texans are so young, they've played a lot of "biggest games in franchise history." This is certainly the newest one to top the list. Their critics look at the 5-1 record and see wins over mostly softies and a pasting by the Packers on Sunday night. A victory over the Ravens validates everything they've done and regains a firm hold on Best in the AFC. A loss would create some serious concerns. They do have the cushion of playing in a terrible division they simply can't lose. But Baltimore has been an obstacle and ended the Texans' last season in the playoffs. If they meet again with such high stakes, they don't want to be traveling.
It might be a good time to draw the Ravens, too, right? I know Ray Lewis wasn't what he has been, but their first game without a leader like that and without an underrated, great corner like Lardarius Webb may make them a bit more susceptible, no?
HENSLEY: This is the most vulnerable I've seen the Ravens' defense in 13 seasons. Lewis wasn't playing like the Lewis from 10 years ago, but he was still an above-average linebacker in this league. The Ravens have given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, and losing Lewis only makes that run defense shakier. Dannell Ellerbe, who has made seven starts since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, will take Lewis' spot.
Though the Ravens will miss Lewis' leadership, the bigger loss is Webb. He was emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. His nine interceptions since the start of the 2011 season was tied for the league lead. So, the Ravens have taken shots to both their run and pass defenses this week. How do you see the Texans attacking the Ravens' defense Sunday?
KUHARSKY: Although they might not run first chronologically Sunday, the Texans are a run-first team. Everything they do offensively is keyed on the one-cut-and-go running of Arian Foster, who did great work running for 132 yards in that playoff game on Jan. 15. They send him left most often now, because Duane Brown and Wade Smith are steadier blockers than the guys on the right side, where they have two new starters who aren't even full time.
Spinning off that run game, we'll see play-action heavy with bootlegs and rollouts. It's always remarkable to see Owen Daniels out in space awaiting a Matt Schaub pass. Andre Johnson is certainly dangerous too, though they've not been able to feed him the ball as much as usual. He hates the talk that he's getting older and slowing down, but he hasn't looked like the same player so far this season. Two weeks ago, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie really smothered Johnson. I figured Webb would be a guy who could do similar work. If AJ sees someone like Cary Williams instead, it could be a different story.
Speaking of Schaub, let's turn to quarterbacks. He has been quite efficient this year, doing what Houston needs and not getting caught up at all in his numbers. I came into the season not sold on Joe Flacco and thinking the Ravens didn't have the right guy under center to become an offensive team. But he has done some very good work in the games I've seen and started to change my opinion. Even minus Brian Cushing, the Texans' front throws a lot at a quarterback. Green Bay might have exposed some coverage deficiencies. How's Flacco at assessing such things on the fly and taking advantage?
HENSLEY: Flacco's biggest improvement this season has been his ability to audible at the line. The Ravens are using the no-huddle more than any other time in Flacco's five seasons. It's not to the point of being Peyton Manning, but Flacco is constantly changing the play at the line. Flacco, who ran the no-huddle during his college days, is comfortable with this. He has wanted to have more control of the offense and he's now getting it.
A lot of credit goes to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who is familiar with this style from his days with the Colts. Flacco makes his mistakes when he gets pressured. His pocket awareness has improved and he can scramble for yards. But Flacco will rush and make poor throws when a defender is in his face. Left tackle Michael Oher (four sacks) and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele (three sacks) have struggled at times keeping rushers away from Flacco. Is there any chance the Ravens slow down J.J. Watt and Houston's pass rush?
KUHARSKY: It sure seems like the key to the game for me. Watt is going to get his at some point, and it's not just sacks. Watch how he'll stop rushing when he knows he's not getting there and time his jump to bat down, or even pick off, a pass.
And although the numbers of the other guys aren't in his stratosphere, Brooks Reed, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin are very effective rushers who will have a bearing on Flacco's pocket comfort. Force some mistakes with that rush, and I like Houston's chances. Get stonewalled and fall victim to the ball coming out super-fast, and I feel differently.
One note about the quicker Ravens offense: With Cushing out, Brice McCain, the nickelback, will have a bigger role in covering players such as Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta on routes. If the Ravens run hurry-up or no-huddle, they can potentially trap the Texans in base if they want McCain off the field. I am eager to see whether they try that. The Texans are obviously are familiar with Jim Caldwell's no-huddling.
How about special teams? Tell me how Jacoby Jones is now reliably explosive? The Texans have some serious special-teams issues.
HENSLEY: Jacoby Jones has been one of the bigger surprises this season for Baltimore. The Ravens were looking to upgrade the return game this offseason and failed to sign Eddie Royal or Ted Ginn in free agency. That's why they jumped on Jones when he was cut by the Texans. He has been average as a punt returner (9 yards per return), but he really keyed the win over the Cowboys on Sunday. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which tied an NFL record, was the big play in that game.
The only reason the Ravens turned to Jones on kickoffs was because rookie Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff the week before. If you think about it, it's kind of funny that Jones got his chance to be explosive because another player couldn't hold onto the ball, especially after Jones' problems fielding kicks in the past. But that really hasn't surfaced so far with the Ravens.
Baltimore's coverage teams are both ranked in the top half of the league, which is a big improvement from last year. In 2012, the Ravens allowed three touchdowns on returns. Another improvement is at kicker. Rookie Justin Tucker has made 12 of 13 field goals this season and has hit both attempts beyond 50 yards. If this game is close, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in Tucker to make a pressure kick. So, what are the issues with the Texans' special teams?
KUHARSKY: Well, Trindon Holliday was absolutely electric as their returner in the preseason. But it didn’t carry over and they gave up on him. You saw Holliday playing for the Broncos on Monday night. Keshawn Martin is the man now. The team averages only 9.8 yards a punt return and 18.5 yards a kick return.
Their average start after a kickoff is the league’s worst -- the 17.7-yard line. Their coverage isn’t that bad -- it’s 31st in the league instead of 32nd. Opponents start at the 26.9-yard line.
Donnie Jones is a middle-of-the-pack punter in net average. Shayne Graham has been good on field goals, hitting 11 of 12, but is tied for 24th in touchbacks playing at home in what amounts to a domed stadium.
It’s gambler’s logic that the Texans are due to break through against the Ravens. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If they don’t and Jacoby Jones has something to do with it, it’ll hurt a little bit extra.
It’s certainly no stretch to predict we’ll see these teams facing off again in the playoffs. In what round and where is the question, and Sunday’s winner will lead the race to be in position to host.
Call it rookie hazing.
PK: For starters, I’m curious about the Browns' plan to slow down Robert Mathis, I know they’ve got some issues at right tackle.
JH: They haven’t even settled on one guy, they’re going to go with a rotation with Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins. For the chemistry and to get into a rhythm with the offensive line, that’s just not an ideal situation. So I think the best way for them to negate Mathis is through strategy. Colt McCoy is going to take a lot of three-step drops, get rid of the ball very quickly. Because if he holds the ball like he did last week against Cincinnati, he’s going to get hit.
They feel very confident in Joe Thomas on the left side with Dwight Freeney, but the big question is how they stop Mathis. I think they just can’t let Mathis get a shot on McCoy, I think they have to be smart. Because right now that’s the biggest matchup problem they have.
PK: And if the Browns can get ahead, like Houston did last weekend, the biggest way to make both those defensive ends non-factors is to run the ball. So I’m sure Cleveland is hoping for a big day from Peyton Hillis.
How about with the Ravens, I know they’ve got some questions on the secondary and their defense is keyed around their front. Kenny Britt has shown himself to be, perhaps, the Titans’ most dangerous guy. If he gets loose in that secondary and they can protect Matt Hasselbeck, what happens back there?
JH: That’s going to be a big question. The Ravens thought they had a deep secondary coming into the season. Then they lost first-round pick Jimmy Smith to a high ankle sprain, he’s going to be gone for a month. Then you have Chris Carr who hasn’t practiced this week because he aggravated a hamstring injury.
So you have Cary Williams, a former Titan, starting for the Ravens, and Lardarius Webb, who was very inconsistent last year but who’s coming off a good, strong game. I think they’re going to have to do this by committee because Kenny Britt is a talented receiver. I think they’re going to have to use a lot of Ed Reed shading his way.
I don’t think they can honestly go into this game thinking they can put one guy on him and really take Kenny Britt out of this game. Whatever side Kenny Britt goes to, I think that’s where Ed Reed follows.
PK: Britt and Hasselbeck still have some timing issues. That can be just the sort of thing Ed Reed finds an opportunity to pounce on.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Recent history.
The best move the Texans made in the past three seasons was trading a second-round pick in 2007 and 2008 to Atlanta for Matt Schaub, a quarterback who’s the key to their offense and team. With so many teams in need of a quality starter, that trade seems like a steal now. They’ve taken four defensive backs with the 10 picks they’ve made in the fifth round or later, and out of Brandon Harrison, Dominique Barber, Brice McCain and Troy Nolan they’ve not found a guy who has been able to contribute consistently. It’s time to spend a big pick on a free safety or corner who has great ball skills.
Skill positions get attention early, with receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown grabbed with the two first-rounders in the past three years. The hits in the third round and later have become significant players: Clint Session, Pierre Garcon, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie, Pat McAfee. Trouble spot? Look to the five offensive linemen who haven’t really panned out. That’s understandable with Steve Justice (sixth in 2008), Jamey Richard (seventh in 2008) and Jaimie Thomas (seventh in 2009), but Tony Ugoh (second in 2007) and Mike Pollak (second in 2008) have left the team with holes and problems that need to be addressed in April. Out of five picks there has to be at least one starter, probably two.
Two first-round picks out of Florida have not met expectations, but the Jaguars still hope safety Reggie Nelson and defensive end Derrick Harvey can become consistent players. Of 25 picks, only one is established as a playmaker on offense, Mike Sims-Walker (third-rounder in 2007). That’s a big part of the reason the team’s not especially potent on offense beyond Maurice Jones-Drew. The top four from the 2009 draft got significant starting experience as rookies, and the 2010 class will have similar opportunities. While Harvey can be steady, he’s not an explosive pass-rusher, and Quentin Groves has struggled. Even with Aaron Kampman signed, they still need another pass-rusher.
The Titans have fared nicely with pass-rushers from lesser-known schools -- William Hayes of Winston-Salem State is on the brink of big things and Jacob Ford of Central Arkansas is a skilled rusher. Contributions from second-rounders have been minimal -- Chris Henry is already gone, Jason Jones hasn’t stayed healthy or consistent and Sen'Derrick Marks had no impact as a rookie. After hitting a home run with seventh-rounder Cortland Finnegan in 2006, late-round corners Ryan Smith, Cary Williams and, so far, Jason McCourty, haven’t panned out. A quality corner is a need early in this draft.
- Gary Kubiak says playing at Indy is the Texans’ No. 1 challenge but they are all big now, says John McClain.
- The Texans' defense has made significant improvements, writes McClain.
- The Texans are in one of the week’s biggest games, says Pete Prisco.
- McClain’s midseason report card.
- Matt Schaub rates as one of Clifton Brown’s five guys who have lifted their teams by lifting their games.
- A breakdown of a 14-yard gain by Ryan Moats, from Lance Zierlein.
- What’s the story with Steve Slaton? Stephanie Stradley considers.
- Considering Slaton versus Moats, from Mike Kerns.
- Antoine Bethea is playing his best football yet, says Phillip B. Wilson.
- Manning getting some rest last Friday and not playing as well as he has on Sunday against San Francisco is nothing to get worked up about, says John Oehser.
- A breakdown of five drives that sputtered against the 49ers, courtesy of Deshawn Zombie.
- Texans-Colts will be a two-way test, says Matt Snyder.
- Blame the staff, not David Garrard, for the audible issues, blogs Michael C. Wright.
- A Q&A with Terrance Knighton, who likes the nickname “Pot Roast.”
- Denver and Jacksonville as underdogs were the right calls, says Vito Stellino.
- Sometimes progress is being made but it’s difficult to see, says Vic Ketchman.
- Seven games in it feels like last season, says Jonathan Loesche.
- How much longer will Jeff Fisher be Bud Adams’ guy? David Climer examines the relationship.
- The Titans brought back Chris Davis, the receiver and return man, cutting Cary Williams to make room, says Jim Wyatt.
- Kevin Mawae and Albert Haynesworth were named in a poll about the league’s dirtiest players, says Terry McCormick.
- Titans Radio previews the 49ers game.
- The 49ers are banged up.
- Five things Wyatt knows about the Titans, including that Vince Young will have to do more.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans promised changes beyond Vince Young for Kerry Collins.
But Jeff Fisher indicated they’d be minor and they are: Jason Jones is starting at left defensive tackle for Jovan Haye, who’s inactive, and Rod Hood is starting at left cornerback for Jason McCourty.
Who's returning for Tennessee? Not Alvin Pearman, signed after Mark Jones suffered a hamstring injury. Pearman's inactive. Look for some combination of Kevin Kaesviharn and Ryan Mouton on punts -- they are fielding them now in warmups -- and either Michael Griffin or McCourty on kickoffs.
For the Jaguars, Reggie Nelson shifts to corner to start at corner for the injured Rashean Mathis and Brian Russell replaces Nelson at free safety. (Sean Considine was in line to replace Nelson, but is sick and inactive.)
Tra Thomas is starting at left tackle for Eugene Monroe.
The list of inactives:
- Receiver Tiquan Underwood
- CB Brian Witherspoon
- LB Brian Smith
- OL Maurice Williams
- OT Jordan Black
- DT Greg Peterson
- CB Nick Harper
- RB Javon Ringer
- CB Cary Williams
- OT Mike Otto
- TE Craig Stevens
- DE Jevon Kearse
- PR-KR Alvin Pearman
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
We know a lot about the AFC South after five weeks, and each team has at least one big question as Week 6 rolls around. Let’s examine each team, shall we?
|Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Steve Slaton is gaining just 3.2 yards per carry after averaging 4.8 ypc in 2008.|
But these Texans cannot run -- they rank 30th in the league with only 75.4 yards a game. After they struck out in their pursuit of free agent Cedric Benson -- who may have been perfect but certainly found a better situation in Cincinnati -- they failed to find the complementary back to go with Slaton. Their undrafted rookies didn’t earn the job and they turned to veteran Chris Brown. Unfortunately, Brown is completely miscast as a short-yardage specialist and has failed to score from close range when given the chance to tie two games late.
Left guard Chester Pitts was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in Week 2 and right guard Mike Brisiel is finished for the year with a foot injury. Take away 40 percent of a line that relies on continuity and it compounds the problem. With a 3.2-yard average, Slaton is not been nearly as explosive as he was last season when he averaged 4.8 yards a carry.
Maybe they tinker with the scheme based on how they are being defended. But they’re going to have to do their best to work through it, as a personnel change that would solve things doesn’t seem possible.
Cop-out alert: At 5-0 heading into their bye, the Colts aren’t perfect and run-blocking qualifies as a concern. But I am hard-pressed to call it an issue or to find another. I think they are the best team in the AFC.
I thought the waiving of Ed Johnson was going to amount to the team’s first adversity. But once the team said it was a result of performance, I think it became something that won’t linger long. Having the smallest section in this blog entry is a good thing, and the three others would happily trade spots.
The Jaguars have done all sort of tinkering with their defensive front, and they are now regarded as a 3-4 team that converts into a 4-3 on third down and clear-cut pass-rush situations. No matter how the linemen and linebackers are aligning, however, they fail to generate a consistent pass rush.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Derrick Harvey, a 2008 first-round pick, has yet to collect a sack this season.|
They will continue to try to find ways to collapse the pocket and hit the quarterback. But the Jags are downplaying expectations for second-year end-outside linebacker Derrick Harvey as a rusher. They traded up to draft him at No. 8 last season and took Quentin Groves in the second round. The two were supposed to be the next generation of pass-rushers. They’ve combined for no sacks, one fewer than defensive tackle Montavious Stanley, a player who’s been waived four times since 2006.
Guys on the roster can get better and stronger, but this group needs an influx of talent that won’t arrive until free agency and the draft.
The good news on the pass-rush front? Nine of the Jaguars’ remaining 11 opponents don’t have unflappable, high-quality quarterbacks. But those quarterbacks will be excited at the possibility of having their best days against Jacksonville because they could be harassed less against the Jags.
There isn’t a unit on the Titans that isn’t culpable for their 0-5 start. Out of 22 starters, I can only look at one -- middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch -- and conclude he’s doing better work this season than he did a year ago.
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|The Titans need Michael Griffin to step up in the secondary.|
Certainly a less effective, less consistent pass rush is a piece of the poor pass coverage. The defensive line is considered the team’s deepest position, and it’s a group that must play better to help those in coverage survive.
But what the Titans need to happen in the defensive backfield to provide some long-term comfort is for free safety Michael Griffin, who’s regressed, and Finnegan, once he’s healed up, to make leaps in maturity and accountability and show they can be guys to be built around the way Michael Roos and David Stewart are on the offensive line.
The young talent must return to form. We’ve talked about age as an issue, and it’s fair to presume there will be a lot of turnover after this season with or without a new collective bargaining agreement.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
Greetings from Indianapolis, where I will head over to Lucas Oil Stadium shortly to get ready for Seahawks-Colts.
Here's your mandatory morning pregame reading:
- Matt Schaub is compiling quality stats, writes John McClain.
- The Texans and Raiders are more alike than expected, says Dale Robertson.
- Four Texans will do their part for breast cancer awareness, says McClain.
- Anthony Hill is out of the hospital and talked to Mark Berman.
- Seattle will try to match the Colts’ tempo, says Mike Chappell.
- The running game is making strides, writes Phil Richards.
- It’s almost like Tony Dungy never left, says Alex Marvez.
- Former Colts coach Jim Mora’s grandsons lighten the mood regarding his famous “playoffs?” rant, says Phillip B. Wilson.
- The Colts will also wear a splash of pink, writes Chappell.
- Chappell doesn’t expect to see Marcus Howard back with the team during Dwight Freeney’s absence.
- John Oehser takes questions, several about Clint Session and Jordan Senn.
- Gene Frenette looks at Jeff Fisher’s staying power.
- Daryl Smith is low key but gets high marks, says Michael C Wright.
- Spillover from Wright’s interview with Smith landed in his blog.
- David Garrard and the fans lose out from Jack Del Rio’s radio decision, writes Frenette.
- End Julius Williams plays great in practice but hasn’t translated it into games yet, says Wright.
- Keys to the game from iJax.com.
- Shallow thoughts and aimless musings from bigcatcountry.com.
- The Titans cut Patrick Ramsey and elevated cornerback Cary Williams from the practice squad, writes Wyatt.
- Some Titans are concerned by the results of a recent brain disease study, writes Jim Wyatt.
- Wyatt’s breakdown of the Titans’ matchup with the Jaguars.
- Ryan Mouton’s looking for redemption, says Wyatt.
- Eugene Amano is helping with typhoon relief.
- The AP got Steve McNair’s public service announcement urging young people contemplating suicide to live to see better days.
- Long passes are not a priority for Mike Heimerdinger, says Gary Estwick.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
- John Clayton sorts through the AFC South.
- Brian Burke looks at game probabilities for Week 4. AFC South chances to win: Indy 87 percent; Houston 68 percent; Jacksonville 51 percent against Tennessee (49 percent).
- As bad as they’ve been, the Texans have allowed fewer yards each week, writes John McClain.
- Jerome Solomon looks at just how important this one is for Gary Kubiak.
- Third-down defense gets this look over from Dale Robertson.
- Kubiak is talking about making changes on defense. McClain asks which ones you want to see.
- Breaking down the stats so far, with Alan Burge.
- Battleredblog.com questions Kubiak’s clock management. Sure you want to score with as little time left as possible, but it can’t be priority No. 1. You can’t generally control when you punch it in, when you have to be concerned with making sure you punch it in.
- Mike Chappell’s source says Dwight Freeney will miss three weeks and two games.
- Five key early season developments include smooth transitions, the emergence of Pierre Garcon and a return to form for Joseph Addai.
- Chappell takes questions, including one about Philip Wheeler.
- A Q&A with Mo Williams.
- The Jags signed defensive tackle Greg Peterson.
- David Garrard’s wearing a play cheat sheet on his wrist out of superstition, says Michael C. Wright.
- Maurice Jones-Drew on Fox Sports Radio, courtesy of sportsradiointerviews.com.
- Arm strength gains can be made, but they are subtle, says Vic Ketchman.
- Bigcatcountry.com sees the Jaguars, and everybody, heading toward a spread offense.
- Jeff Fisher deserves a delay of game flag for Tuesday’s roster moves, opines David Climer.
- Fisher’s in no trouble, says Peter King in his mailbag.
- The Titans make roster moves, including adding Mark Jones and putting Craig Hentrich on IR, says Gary Estwick.
- Five things Jim Wyatt knows about the Titans.
- Cary Williams was signed to the practice squad.
- The Titans also looked at veteran cornerbacks Rod Hood, Eric Green and Dante Hughes and safeties Kevin Davis and Keith Lewis, says Terry McCormick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Biggest surprise: Chris Henry survives again? It’s hard to think that if they look to add someone in the next couple days it won’t put the running back at risk. But the third-year runner got at least an initial spot as the Titans waived-injured Quinton Ganther, a more valuable and versatile player as the fourth back He suffered a calf injury in the preseason finale. Hardly as big on the list of surprises: the end for veteran linebackers Ryan Fowler, Josh Stamer and Rocky Boiman, leaving the team with very young depth; Patrick Ramsey sticking as a third quarterback; and the survival of cornerback Cary Williams.
No-brainers: The Titans kept nine defensive linemen. The lowest ranking of the bunch is probably second-round pick Sen’Derrick Marks and the Titans certainly intend to give him time to develop. They kept four tight ends, a move never in doubt with Jared Cook in his first year and Craig Stevens in his second. Receiver Paul Williams showed very little in two seasons since the Titans spent a third-rounder on him and it was certainly time to look to someone like rookie Dominique Edison instead.
What's next: Sixth-round draft pick Jason McCourty, looks to have an early chance to be a special teams contributor and should survive ahead of Cary Williams at cornerback if the Titans make a move to upgrade depth. But corner depth and the punt return job remain the two largest concerns.
Head here for a Jaguars-only mailbag.
Jake Large from Singapore writes: Dear PK, As a Colt fan I have some concerns about this season (not a surprise). Rather than ask you about the left tackle (too obvious), I'll ask instead about the receivers. In particular, if Austin Collie is starting in the slot and Gonzalez on the outside along with Wayne, I can't help but think we have one of the slowest WR corps in the league. Will this lack of explosiveness be a major source of weakness for my team this year? It's weird to feel really good about the D but really nervous about the O for the first time in a decade! Jake
Paul Kuharsky: A door prize, please, for a guy who’s traveled furthest to ask his question. Great to hear from you, Jake.
I think that's where some of Garcon's value is, in his speed.
But it's not so much about running away from people as it is about getting open, and we know Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez, and let's include Dallas Clark, can get open. So while it might not be ideal, I don't think it'll be deadly. Now if the run game returns to decent form and people get sucked up by play-action, that can go a long way toward making everyone in the receiving corps seem faster, wouldn't you agree? I don’t know that it’s a big issue, and I’m more convinced after consulting with Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson.
Here’s what Williamson said on the subject:
"I wouldn't say it is a weakness though at all. Collie is probably the slowest of the bunch and yes, I would say that Garcon is the fastest, but he is more of a build-up guy than Wayne and Gonzo, who go 0 to 60 quite abruptly. Don't sleep on Gonzo's flat out speed. He can really run. As can Wayne of course. I wouldn't say that any of these guys has the blow-past-you-speed that Marvin Harrison did in his prime though. Still, not a weakness."
"Also, Dallas Clark is as much WR as he is TE and is amongst the fastest TEs in the league."
Kurt from Vancouver, B.C., writes: I have Chris Johnson as a keeper on my fantasy football team but he's done "nothing" this pre-season to impress. Since you cover them and get to see them more so than I do, is there anything going on to be concerned with or do you think that once Mawae returns and they start game planning for their opponents that things will come together for the running game? I could only keep 2 RBs and opted for Steven Jackson and CJ, but I had to throw Jacobs back. This will really suck if the Titans run the ball as poorly in '09 as they have done so far! Thanks, Kurt
Paul Kuharsky: I think you'd be crazy to make any moves regarding a top-flight player from a team that's going to be good based on anything he did or didn't do in the preseason. I have no doubt, barring major injury, that the Titans will run the ball well over the course of the season. That said, with those three, there are going to be weeks where you'll regret making the choice you did.
Kevin Cunningham from Portland, Ore., writes: Paul-A few weeks ago when we signed Jeff Zgonina I emailed you saying I thought it was an indictment of our poor D-line play, not an camp body due to injuries as the Texans brass said. With today's trade of Travis Johnson, what does this say about the Texans D-Line? Do you read it as an endorsement of Okam, Cody and Robinson? Could TJ have been just the odd man out, and we figured we'd get something for him? Was he that deep in the Kubiak doghouse? What is your take?
Paul Kuharsky: An unimpressive performance by the group again Monday night. I am surprised at the lack of progress under Bill Kollar, though obviously they could come out and be great against the Jets on opening day.
He’s a vet who knows what he’s doing for sure, but I would think they can find a better final piece in cuts than Zgonina, though, no? I think Johnson must have been that deep in the doghouse and that Kollar was not excited about him.
Glenn Gruber from Cumberland, R.I., writes: I realize this is the time of year that all GMs will be scouring the waiver wire. With the lack of depth at CB, do you see the Titans trying to scoop up a veteran like Ron Hood fill the gap and provide stability? Glenn
Paul Kuharsky: Well, Hood’s already been scooped up by Chicago.
Ryan Mouton is in the mix once he’s healthy. The Titans finished with four corners and five safeties last year. If they went that route now, it'd be Cortland Finnegan, Nick Harper, Mouton and TBD with Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Vincent Fuller, Donnie Nickey and a wild card (Tuff Harris, Nick Schommer). I think they could keep Jason McCourty as the TBD corner and then be in the market for a ninth DB expecting an upgrade on DeMarcus Faggins, Cary Williams, Harris or Schommer.
Eric from Denver, Colo., writes: PK! I'd like your take on why teams don't try moving underperforming players to other positions. As a Titans fan, I've watched Chris Henry struggle as an RB. He just isn't instinctive. Why not try him out at LB or SS? Appreciate your thoughts, Eric
Paul Kuharsky: I don't understand why so many people are fascinated with this idea.
If a guy can't be an effective player at the spot he was drafted to play, the spot where he likely played his entire college career, then why should a team think he will play a different position better than guys who've spent their football lives playing that other position? Do you want Chris Henry as a linebacker who’s not close to game-ready or someone like Stanford Keglar or Colin Allred? Give me Keglar or Allred, please.
Byron from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Just reading the chat transcript and you said that the better McRath looks the less chance of Bulluck staying. I was thinking about how much it would cost to keep him. If Nashville were a larger market team then I believe that Keith would get more coverage thus more pro bowls and more recognition as one of the key players on a perennial top defensive squad. My question is, does market size and coverage affect the going price for solid players who enter free agency? Would Keith be looking at a much better payday if he had the exact same career but been in Dallas or Pitt? (I realize that a lot of small market players get paid: AH, Laboy, Odem, and the like, but what would be the difference in them and a larger market player). Thanks
Paul Kuharsky: Does it impact the price for some guys? Yes. Should it? No.
Teams should be putting a value on a guy based on their evaluations of his play, and once the ball is kicked off, the market size of a guy's team has no bearing on how he performs or doesn't perform.
Sean from Arlington, Va., writes: Music tip (based on your other tastes): Mic Harrison and the High Score (based in Knoxville). Mic was formerly of the V-Roys and Superdrag. Good rootsy, rockin alt country. Check out "The Right Side of the Grass" or "Push Me On Home."Best songs:"Hey Driver""Never Gonna Drink Again""He Gets High""Long Time"
Paul Kuharsky: Loved the V-Roys (find “Just Add Ice,”) love Scott Miller (find “Amtrak Crescent.”) Didn't like what I heard of Harrison after the breakup, but I will circle back.
The Titans lost at Cleveland Saturday night, but took a lot of good developments out of their fourth, and most important, preseason game. Some thoughts from the 23-17 loss:
- It's been clear for some time they will wind up carrying four tight ends -- Bo Scaife, Alge Crumpler, Jared Cook and Craig Stevens. Scaife and Cook on the field together caused some difficulties for the Browns. Stevens did some nice things in the second half of this game. So did the versatile Quinton Ganther, who is going to make them keep four running backs too. No way he's not one of their best 53 players.
- Mark Jones could have gotten away with all types of stumbles in his first action as the primary return man candidate. Fumbling one return away was not one of them. A year removed from a very solid year for the since-departed Chris Carr, the return jobs remain a giant question mark. Titans Radio said Jones suffered a stinger later when he was smothered on a kickoff return.
- In relief of Kerry Collins, Vince Young had one great run and threw the ball decisively much of the time he was in the game. But his two bad plays were big. The first was a lost fumble at the goal line just before the half. And the pick-six interception he threw deep in the Titans' own end was the sort of gaffe that does an awful lot to offset the good. It was good that he bounced back to lead a touchdown drive and threw a scoring pass to end it. Patrick Ramsey, who's dealing with sore ribs, didn't play.
- Cornerback Cortland Finnegan worked on the left instead of his usual spot on the right, getting some work in case the Titans need to shuffle or for an occasion when he might draw a particular receiver and have to follow him over there. Corner depth remains an issue -- Cary Williams started in place of Nick Harper, who sat out, and didn't fare particularly well. DeMarcus Faggins did well to force Braylon Edwards out of the end zone before he could get a second foot down during a remarkable one-handed catch.
- Cleveland played starters into the fourth quarter, while the Titans' went only to halftime.
Saturday night in Cleveland the Titans' front-liners will get their biggest load of preseason work. Here are three things I will be looking for:
Some effective running: If the Titans don't run the ball well, I'm not going to sound the alarm. But I'd like to think there will be a little bit of scheming for this game that will allow Chris Johnson to show a glimpse of what he looked like last year. I don't love the idea of him gong through four games (they play five this preseason) with virtually no effective live work before the opener in Pittsburgh.
The return game: Mark Jones was signed to be the answer when Chris Carr left, but hasn't played yet. He could do a lot to secure the job with a solid night. And if he can do something in chances at receiver too, that would be big. I don't believe the Titans are big on the idea of a return specialist who can't contribute elsewhere if needed.
The backup corners: With rookie Ryan Mouton out with a high ankle sprain, the cornerback depth is an even bigger question. Can Demarcus Faggins, Cary Williams or Jason McCourty do much here to help alleviate those concerns? If not, corner should be the primary position the Titans comb over when final cuts go down around the league Sept. 5.