AFC South: Chester Pitts

When Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub heard someone on his line was called for holding during Saturday night's game, he asked quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell who the culprit was.

"Duane," Schaub recalls Dorrell replying.

"No way! I don't believe that," Schaub said.

[+] EnlargeDuane Brown
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTexans left tackle Duane Brown has so honed his blocking technique that, in five NFL seasons, he has been penalized for holding only twice.
Holding on 76 is a rare call these days. In 76 regular-season games, left tackle Duane Brown has had only two holding penalties.

That wasn't the case in college. Technique wasn't exactly No. 76's strong point entering the NFL.

And without solid technique, it's difficult, even impossible, to mount an NFL career that so far includes only two holding penalties. Avoiding holds means being sound enough not to have to resort to a hold. It was something Brown learned along the way.

"I really didn’t become that good of a technician at the left-tackle position until just a couple of years ago," Brown said. "Hand placement and footwork is something I struggled with my first couple of years in the league. Over time, it’s just something I worked at. You try to latch onto guys, but you have to get them off at some point in time and you have to move your feet just to stay in front of them."

He credited offensive-line coach John Benton for part of that development and named former Texans linemen Chester Pitts, Ephraim Salaam and Eric Winston as players who helped teach him.

Brown was surprised, too, to be called for holding during Saturday's preseason game.

"I was a little shocked the way that the play was developed," he said. "I kind of baited the inside move and he took it and I thought I let him go and apparently they thought I held him a little longer than I should have. You never like to get flagged, and I really take pride in that. Better now than the regular season, I guess."

AFC South links: Reviewing Colts camp

May, 14, 2012
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Houston Texans

Former Texans left guard Chester Pitts is working to become a certified financial planner in order to help current NFL players deal with their sudden fortunes, the Houston Chronicle's Dale Robertson reports.

Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Star's Phillip B. Wilson and Zak Keefer break down the many questions that remain after the Colts held their first rookie camp.

If Colts quarterback Andrew Luck wants to travel across the country, he'll have to do it without owner Jim Irsay's private jet.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton could be cleared for full workouts soon, and his recovery has been nothing short of miraculous, according to a report in Big Cat Country.

Tennessee Titans

Plenty of NFL hopefuls flip-flop their positions with the hopes of landing on a team. But for highly touted defensive end Taylor Thompson, a switch to tight end caught the attention of many NFL scouts, writes John Glennon of the Tennessean.

Meet Titans rookie Mike Martin. "He plays the saxophone. He shows dogs. He’s an Eagle Scout. He produced a video series chronicling his senior season at Michigan," reports The Tennessean's David Climer.

RTC: Peyton Manning is No. 5

July, 21, 2010
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Reading the coverage:

Houston Texans

Houston Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones had some fightin' words for the Dallas Cowboys.

With all due respect to the other professional franchises, the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice says the Texans are No. 1 in Houston hearts.

Indianapolis Colts

Free-agent guard Chester Pitts worked out with the Indianapolis Colts Tuesday, a source told NFL.com's Jason La Canfora.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was voted the fifth most popular athlete in a Harris interactive poll -- three spots ahead of Tom Brady.

Colts punter Pat McAfee has made the most of his time off.

Preseason power rankings are starting to roll in ... and WEEI.com has the Colts ranked second.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars signed third-round draft pick D’Anthony Smith to a four-year deal.

Jaguars senior sales manager Thomas Patterson has resigned following a July 18 arrest. This is not good timing for Jaguars' ticket sales, writes Gene Frenette.

ESPN.com's Len Pasquerelli calls Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen an undrafted gem.

In Yahoo! Sports' preseason NFL rankings of teams for purely fantasy reasons, the Jaguars clock in at No. 23.

Tennessee Titans

With a revised deal in hand, will Chris Johnson chase the NFL’s top single-season record?

The Titans want to see "another level" from tight end Bo Scaife this season.

Vincent Fuller gives Tennessee experience at nickel corner.
HOUSTON -- Four years and $12 million isn’t a monumental NFL deal. But when a team that’s struggled on the interior line gives that contract to its one significant veteran addition, you'd assume he’d be plugged right into the lineup.

Smith
Smith
It’s not been so for Wade Smith, the center/guard the Houston Texans brought in as a free agent from Kansas City.

The Texans sold him on opportunity and he bought the pitch. Now as the Texans near the end of their organized team activities, he’s been getting about half his snaps with the first team, playing at both guard spots and center, he said. Smith, left guard Kasey Studdard, center Chris Myers and right guard Antoine Caldwell and guard Mike Brisiel appear to be in a five-way battle for three spots.

“Wade is super athletic, the guy can really move around,” right tackle Eric Winston said. “You can really understand why [offensive coordinator Rick] Dennison and [Gary] Kubiak really like him. He’s not super big, but I think he plays with good leverage. I think he really hits a lot bigger than he is and moves people well enough where he can be a force in all sort of different runs.”

Smith is not at all disappointed to not be running exclusively with the first team at this point, as he was never told he’d be installed as a starter right away.

“It just depends on what day it is,” he said of whether he is with the ones or twos. “From what I’ve been told it’s three spots that are open, nobody is set in stone and everybody is competing to try to get a job. … They told me before I signed that they are not going to give me anything, that I could come in and have a legit chance to win a spot. They don’t give anybody anything, you’ve got to work for what you get in life, so I was all for it.”

I like Smith’s attitude about the openings, and I like the fact that the Texans don’t feel they need to establish a starting interior in June. The group needs to work as one, so a determination will have to come by about halfway through camp for the ultimate five to work together enough to be in sync for the start of the season.

I would think they’d like Smith to win a spot based on their investment in him, though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has said Smith would be a great insurance guy as a sixth lineman.

When Brisiel and Chester Pitts, a free agent they won’t bring back, went down for the year early last season, the Texans weren’t left with great depth. Myers played with a bad ankle for much of the year.

I think the worst thing that can happen is an offensive line gets riddled with injuries during the season,” Winston said. “I think the best thing that can happen the next year is that your offensive line got injury-riddled the year before.

“Because now we’ve got so much competition, we’ve got so many backups who’ve started so many games. I think our experience is going to help us.”
Vince Manuwai, Wade Smith, Tony UgohGetty ImagesVeteran offensive linemen Vince Manuwai, Wade Smith and Tony Ugoh are expected to take on different roles or positions this season.
Be it running up the middle or stifling pass-rushers coming that way, the AFC South’s looking for change on interior offensive lines heading toward the 2010 season.

The Tennessee Titans, who blocked for just the sixth 2,000-yard rusher in league history, have made an alteration. The Indianapolis Colts, the defending AFC champs who allowed a league-low 13 sacks, are auditioning interior candidates. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars both identified the interior line as an area in need of improvement, too.

Yet of 32 draft picks by the four teams, just two were used on offensive linemen -- a fourth-rounder by the Colts for guard Jacques McClendon and a sixth-rounder by the Texans for guard Shelley Smith. And only three veteran additions seem like they can influence the mixes -- Justin Smiley in Jacksonville, Wade Smith in Houston and Andy Alleman in Indianapolis.

Said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “Didn't anyone in this division address the interior offensive line during the draft with any pick of substance? That seems odd.”

So here’s a team-by-team look at what’s going on inside, with some thoughts from Williamson:

Jacksonville

The Jaguars appear willing to have true competitions to hash things out.

Last year’s interior trio of left guard Vince Manuwai, center Brad Meester and right guard Uche Nwaneri is back. But the team is willing to shuffle, and at least two others are in play now as well -- Smiley, a guard acquired recently from Miami in a trade for an undisclosed draft pick believed to be a conditional seventh, and Kynan Forney, a backup guard last year.

At minicamp the weekend following the draft, Jags head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive line coach Andy Heck had flipped Manuwai to the right side, figuring he and right tackle Eben Britton are the team’s best run-blockers. With the aid of tight end Marcedes Lewis and fullback Greg Jones, the Jaguars could send Maurice Jones-Drew that direction and dare people to stop it.

But at organized team activities (OTAs) this week, Manuwai wasn’t working with the starters and Del Rio was talking about how the torn ACL the guard suffered back in the season opener of 2008 was still a factor for him.

“I think he’s still a little bothered by that but at some point you’ve got to get beyond that and go and he knows that,” Del Rio said. “I think Vinny still has a ways to go. I think Vinny’s working at it. He’s got his weight down. He’s trying but he needs to play better. I think he knows that. He’s working hard it and trying …

“We clearly [come] out of last year saying, ‘Look, we’ve got to have better play with our line, period,’ and our two young tackles [Eugene Monroe and Britton] we know are going to grow and get better but our interior line needs to pick it up as well. And they are working at it and they are challenging and competing and we expect them to play at a much higher level for us.”

I honestly think it’s wide open, but I’d be very surprised if Manuwai, who can be a very effective run-blocker, isn’t in the starting lineup for the opener against Denver.

Williamson says: “Adding Smiley could pay dividends, as this offensive line (especially on the interior) really was a problem area last year. Their protection up the gut was really poor. While I have some real doubts any more about Meester, I do like Manuwai quite a bit and expect more from him this year.”

Houston

The Texans' run troubles were in large part because of their backs. But they lost guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel early and it’s a tough order for any team to replace 40 percent of its line and keep plugging. Steve Slaton had a miserable year as he tried to deal with a neck injury, couldn’t hold onto the ball and wound up on injured reserve.

Pitts is a free agent who won’t be back and Brisiel has been working as a backup so far in OTAs. The team’s lined up with Kasey Studdard at left guard, Chris Myers and at center and Antoine Caldwell at right guard. But Smith’s been rotated in some early at center.

With offensive line guru Alex Gibbs gone, the team will still be using his principles. But the three remaining coaches who oversee the position -- John Benton, Frank Pollack and Bruce Matthews -- may have fresher eyes and a willingness to shuffle. And odds are it's second-round pick Ben Tate getting many of the carries behind that line.

We should see some real competition for all three slots. I’ve repeatedly hear good things about Myers. And because Caldwell was a third-rounder, I expect the team would probably like to see him stake a claim.

Gary Kubiak said Studdard and Caldwell have earned the right to say they are starters “right now.”

“We are as competitive in there as we’ve ever been as a team,” Kubiak said. “It’s going to be hard to hold a job, and it’s going to be very competitive to get one. So that makes the team better.”

Williamson says: “I thought Myers played real well and he is an excellent fit in this system. Their interior offensive line is loaded with no-name guys, but overall they are well coached and effective enough. Still, an upgrade at one of the starting guard spots would have been a real nice addition. … Smith is an ideal sixth guy, but not a liability as a starter.”

Indianapolis

The Colts paid him a bonus, but still cut Ryan Lilja who seemed pretty effective to me at left guard last season. Team officials have worked hard to deflect the idea the Colts made the move because they want to be bigger on the line. But it’s a sensible time for a change with Pete Metzelaars taking over for Howard Mudd as line coach and the team looking to be more effective in clutch third-and-short situations and the like.

Tony Ugoh, who lost out at left tackle, has worked at left guard in recent offseason practice sessions. Jeff Saturday is entrenched as Peyton Manning's guy at center. Kyle DeVan is the incumbent right guard, who came out of nowhere last season.

Presuming no other tackles are shifted inside and that left tackle remains Charlie Johnson's job, Ugoh and DeVan face their competition from Alleman, McClendon and 2008 second-rounder Mike Pollak.

Bill Polian has talked about throwing everybody out there and seeing what happens. With a new position coach, the fight for roles may not start with any true favorites. While they have to continue to favor pass blocking above all else, I do think it’s in their best interest to be a bit more determined to be able to call for and execute runs in key situations with more success.

Williamson says: “Saturday is obviously the leader and his symbiotic relationship with Peyton carries a ton of weight. He is smart and very technically sound. I do think his game is falling off ever so slightly though. I was shocked that they let Lilja go and thought he was far and away their best guard. Now, they really need to count on youngsters and those youngsters still have a lot to prove.”

Tennessee

[+] EnlargeEugene Amano
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesEugene Amano will be taking over at center for Kevin Mawae.
The Titans had the least concern here as they considered their roster, but with Kevin Mawae getting older and Leroy Harris on the bench and ready to play, they decided to go with youth and size. So last year’s left guard, Eugene Amano, is replacing Mawae at center, with Harris taking over at left guard.

Tennessee loses leadership and experience in the equation, but gains significant strength. Harris is very much an interior guy, but he’s athletic and smart enough that he played effectively at right tackle in a win at San Francisco last season.

A Hall of Famer as a player, line coach Mike Munchak knows when a guy is ready, and he’s fully endorsed this plan or the Titans wouldn’t be going with it. Whether Chris Johnson or someone like LeGarrette Blount is running up the middle, I think they’ll find a bit more daylight. And Vince Young should feel less inside rush closing in on him.

Williamson says: “You have to wonder how much Mawae will be missed. It isn't that he played great -- and clearly he isn't what he once was -- but just from the standpoint of making the calls and especially from a leadership perspective. So, this interior line is in transition. Right guard Jake Scott probably hasn't quite lived up to what Tennessee was expecting to get from him when they signed him in free agency, but he is a quality starting guard. I think Harris has a good amount of ability and could surprise with more playing time.”

Lacey, Studdard earn extra cash

March, 23, 2010
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Just two players in the AFC South rate among the top 25 in the league’s performance-based pay program.

Both got the playing time that led to the financial rewards because of injuries to starters ahead of them.

Indianapolis rookie corner Jacob Lacey was 20th, earning an additional $263,563, while Houston guard Kasey Studdard was 25th with $247,983.

Lacey played a lot because of injuries to Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. Studdard got in to the lineup when Chester Pitts went down early.

Some explanation from the league on how the performance based pay works:
“The program created a fund that was used as a supplemental form of player compensation based on a comparison of playing time to salary…

“Performance-Based Pay is computed by using a 'player index.' To produce the index, a player’s regular-season playtime [total plays on offense, defense and special teams] is divided by his adjusted regular-season compensation [full season salary, prorated portion of signing bonus, earned incentives]. Each player’s index is then compared to those of the other players on his team to determine the amount of his pay.”

The league also put out a list of the top-25 earners over the lifespan of the program -- from 2002 through 2009.

C.C. Brown, the safety who played for Houston and the Giants, was fifth, Colts safety Antoine Bethea seventh and Houston tight end Owen Daniels 23rd.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Take the rest of the day off.

Houston Texans

The timing for drafting a running back could be tricky, says John McClain.

Chester Pitts will visit Detroit and San Francisco, reports Mark Berman.

Brian Cushing writes about his MMA training.

Indianapolis Colts

Ryan Lilja has circled back to the Chiefs.

A look at Indy’s linebackers, from John Oehser.

Tim Jennings signed with the Chicago Bears, says Oehser.

Jacksonville Jaguars

A look at some options at No. 10 for the Jaguars, from Jonathan Loesche. (Whose quote was it? He never says, does he?)

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee visitor Sean Jones signed in Tampa Bay.

All is quiet with Jason Babin and Kevin Mawae, says Bryan Mullen.
Options on the interior offensive line rated as a big need for the Texans heading into the offseason, and they landed one Wednesday with Wade Smith, the free agent from Kansas City.

Smith
Smith
Smith agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal, according to a source, that has $6.25 million in guarantees.

A big part of Houston’s offensive troubles last year were related to the interior line, where starting guard Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel went down early with season-ending injuries. Kasey Studdard and Chris White were less than stellar as fill-ins.

Pitts is unrestricted and unlikely to return, and now Smith will jostle with the rest of that group and last year's offensive line pick, Antoine Caldwell, who backed up center Chris White, for a role. I’d expect they expect Smith's an upgrade who will start. And while they could take another interior lineman in the draft, it shouldn't be a spot they prioritize ahead of cornerback, free safety or running back.

Here’s Scouts Inc.’s review of Smith, which makes him sound very much like a guy that fits what the Texans like to do up front:
Smith had been pretty much a career backup up until he started seven games in 2008. He is athletic with good short-area quickness, agility, balance and body control. His most glaring weakness is his inability to stop powerful bull rushers on the inside. He understands angles and can react to movement and adjust to counter moves. He is more of a finesse blocker than a road-grader. He gives the Chiefs solid depth in that he can back up multiple positions.
Houston Texans

Leigh Bodden and Wade Smith arrived in Houston and had dinner with Gary Kubiak and some assistants, says John McClain.

“If Houston wants me, they can get me,” Leigh Bodden told Mark Berman.

Original Texan Chester Pitts would like to stick around, says McClain.

Richard Justice gets riled up.

The draft is the way to go at running back, says Clark Judge.

@StephStradley is pushing Texans fans to tweet @Leigh Bodden and encourage him to sign with Houston.

Indianapolis Colts

Brian Burke parses Bill Polian on statistical analysis.

Free agency Colts-style is prudent, not press-worthy, says John Oehser.

Dennis Dillon ranks Antoine Bethea as one of the top restricted free agents available.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Old friend Brad Meester helped sell Aaron Kampman on Jacksonville, where the free-agent acquisition said he aims to be known as tough and smart, writes Michael C. Wright.

The Jaguars are banking on Aaron Kampman not being another Bryce Paup, says Gene Frenette.

Pete Prisco is wary of aging pass-rushers.

Kassim Osgood’s deal is for three years and $6.675 million, with $2.975 million guaranteed. The total package could reach close to $11 million with incentives, says Wright.

Tennessee Titans

We looked at Jason Babin earlier.

Assessing the running backs with Tom Gower.
Steve SlatonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Slaton is eager to bounce back from a subpar sophomore season, and he's not averse to sharing carries if it helps the team.
The sign on the road Steve Slaton is traveling is a common one in the NFL for a guy coming off a poor season:

Uncertainty ahead.

In a 15-minute chat with him this morning, I sensed he’s got a handle on that, and is fine with it. He’s ready to prove himself again, plug into the Texans' offense in whatever way he’s asked to and wipe the tarnish off his name that came with a shaky sophomore season.

Something his coach, Gary Kubiak, told him after an outstanding 1,282-yard rookie season in 2008 proved prophetic.

“You come out of a rookie year where you gain 1,100-1,200 yards you think, ‘Damn, this is a pretty easy deal,'" Kubiak said. “I teased with him before the season and said 'The next 1,200 you gain will probably be the toughest of your career. It’s not that easy.’”

Slaton’s still got 763 yards to go to get there after a poor 2009, when he gained only 3.3 yards per carry and fumbled seven times before a neck injury ended his season after 11 games.

By the time he went on injured reserve, he said he had a numb right arm from the top of his shoulder to his thumb, all day every day for two months. A pinched nerve led to a C-5 cervical fusion in mid-January.

He felt the difference as soon as he woke up and doctors told him it went as smoothly as possible and rate his recovery, tabbed to take four to six months, as very good. He said he will be ready for training camp, holding the ball high and tight.

He’s been rehabbing since surgery and can now run and lift weights as long as he limits the stress on his neck.

“Everybody wants to come in their second year and never have that slump, and not have an excuse for something you think you can help,” he said. “It was uncharacteristic of myself to fumble that much. I won’t say it was the only thing, but I think it was a big part.”

A revamped run game is the team’s offensive objective this offseason. The Texans were a bad rushing team no matter who carried the ball, Kubiak emphasized. That was on the running backs, the line, the scheme and the coaches.

Guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel were lost for the season early on, and with Kasey Studdard and Chris White in their place, the interior line was a weakness.

“We regressed in there, not by lack of effort, just by young players having to play,” Kubiak said.

As the Texans seek to boost the run game and give a great pass game featuring Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson better balance, Slaton should be part of a new backfield combination.

If the price falls on a veteran free agent such as Chester Taylor or Thomas Jones, maybe one of them could be getting carries. If they don’t see a value there, the Texans will attack the spot in the draft.

After failing with Ahman Green and Chris Brown, the popular thinking and the team’s tenor suggest the Texans will address other areas in free agency and look for the running back in the draft.

“That has been a young man’s position in this business for a while,” Kubiak said.

So the expectation is that Slaton is the team’s quick back and the Texans will attempt to bring in a bigger guy who can be effective in short yardage and goal-line situations.

“I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the smallest guy,” said Slaton, who was listed as 5-foot-9, 215 at season’s end. “This league spits out running backs, they don’t last too long. So to have somebody to help in certain situations is good. I want to be the guy when the game is on the line, you give me the ball.

“… As a running back, you’re always stingy but you’ve got to be smart. If it helps the team, if I can’t get it done and somebody else can get it done, then I’ll gladly let that person come in and handle that job. But my thing is I want to be that go-to guy, I’ve always been that, that’s what I pride myself on.”

While he’s encouraged by his recovery, ESPN’s resident physical therapist Stephania Bell put up a caution flag. (See sidebar.)

“He will need to work diligently to strengthen the stabilizing muscles around his neck (very deep muscles) as well as all the muscles in the upper back that help support the neck,” she said of going forward with the neck issue. “While he can very well be cleared to return -- and he can indeed go on to have success and not have another major incident -- there is inherently more risk, simply because of what he has been through.”

Kubiak doesn’t sound like he wants to distribute carries by preset formula, just the flexibility to use two different quality options in situations in which they excel. Offensive line/run game guru Alex Gibbs is no longer on the coaching staff, but Kubiak said the team has invested a lot of time in his zone blocking scheme and will stick with it, adding a few things.

One-cut-and-go backs are usually the guys who fit it well, though Kubiak said he’d be fine with two cuts.

Slaton is good with 20 carries in a game, Kubiak said, and actually runs better in the second half than he does at the start.

“But I think like anybody else in this league if you put the whole load on him, you can wear him down pretty damn quick, so we need a complement to him,” he said. “… Obviously there is a place in this league for that guy, there is no doubt. He can make big plays. And then there is a place for a guy who can take a little bit more of a pounding and be a short-yardage and red zone guy. I think there is a place for those two guys in the league.

“The bottom line is we’ve just got to get another good player to go with him.”

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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Houston Texans

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.

Indianapolis Colts

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.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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.

Tennessee Titans

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.
A broad division by division list of blogs out there, some of which I have never heard of and may have to check out.

A good receivers/tight ends free agency preview from Vinnie Iyer.

Houston Texans

John McClain chats at noon.

Anticipating free agency with Alan Burge.

Chester Pitts has been rehabbing his right knee for months and will become unrestricted Friday.

Amobi Okoye is preparing for a trip to Nigeria.

Indianapolis Colts

Bill Polian thinks quality skill players will be available late in the first round, says John Oehser. Some other quality stuff in here including a link and excerpt of Don Banks on an encounter with Peyton Manning.

Rob Prince has been hired as assistant offensive line coach, reports Rivals.

Stampede Blue looks at Prince’s background.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars signed Montavious Stanley to a one-year deal before he could become a restricted free agent.

Gene Frenette looks at Tim Tebow perceptions and realities.

“The supply of pass-rush types isn’t nearly as deep as the supply of players who are strong at the point of attack. A player who is skilled at both is special,” says Vic Ketchman.

Some plans for fixing the Jaguars pass rush from Zoltan Paksa.

Tennessee Titans

A check-in on Tony Brown talks, from Terry McCormick.

A review of the Titans at linebacker from Music City Miracles.

Mailbag: LenDale White's value

February, 20, 2010
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Shaun in Nashville writes: Paul, People are saying that there is going to be much more trading in the off-season than usual. With that in mind, do you think LenDale White for Antonio Cromartie makes sense for both sides?

Paul Kuharsky: Here is why not: Brent Schrotenboer reports Cromartie’s got financial issues pertaining to child support.

Also Kevin Acee says Cromartie’s not particular good or willing to contribute to run defense and has a casual attitude.

The Titans were majorly wary of Travis Henry when his child support issues came up, and they ask their corners to be physical.

My colleague Bill Williamson suggested a third-rounder would be fair for Cromartie, so Cromartie for White might actually be a doable swap, barring the aforementioned issues.


Jim in Memphis writes: Paul, I enjoy your articles, comments, etc. What are the possible places LenDale White could land in a trade? Realistically, what can we expect to get for him?

Paul Kuharsky: I would think a second would be high. My guess would be a fourth. Seattle with the connection to Pete Carroll would be one possibility, I’d guess. I like the idea of him in Houston with Steve Slaton. But I don’t know what either of those teams think of him.

In the AFC South he’s a compelling guy in that he’s got a good résumé, he’s restricted, his team appears ready to move on and he’d certainly like to get out. That’s why I think he will be one of the most interesting stories to watch.


David in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Would the Jaguars draft another WR in the first round after spending two first-round picks on WR's this decade and another on a TE? The Jags need talent at most positions but I have to think that the DL and pass rush have to be at the top of their list.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, you go best player available, but if he isn’t at a position where you feel it’s wise to spend your pick, you back out. So if they see Bryant as the best player there but don’t want to go receiver, they trade down.

He’d certainly help them, but I’d agree it’s not a priority spot. And they really need to address those priority spots -- pass-rushers first and foremost.


Susan Solnick in Nashville writes: Do the Colts, given the same Super Bowl results they had, now reflect that a PERFECT season would have been sweeter than the fat GOOSE EGG they hauled home from Miami?

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think it makes a difference to them. They are miserable from losing the Super Bowl. A perfect season wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Didn’t seem like much solace to the Patriots a few years ago.


Allen in Houston writes: Hey PK. So now Owen Daniels has said he might skip training camp all together. So now you have another player coming off an injury like Dunta Robinson last year, and they are going to want a big contract. For Owen Daniels this is his third ACL tear he has had. If you’re the Texans, do you franchise him and deal with all the same stuff Dunta put us through last year, or do you pay the guy?

Paul Kuharsky: Like some other emailers, you’re confusing UFAs and RFAs. Unrestricted free agents can be tagged until the 25th. Daniels is a restricted free agent. Restricteds don’t get franchised, they get a tender offer. See details of that here.

If the Texans are willing to match any offer sheet Daniels gets, they are at no risk of losing him for 2010. He can hold out to make a play for a long term-deal, but has no alternative for getting on the field. I’d sign him long-term if I could. I’d take him for the season without camp if I had to under the tender.

I don’t think they can franchise Robinson, who will be unrestricted, again. Odds are someone gives him big dollars and he’s gone.


Daniel W. in Berea, Ky., writes: Indy is a solid team that will make it to the playoffs maybe even the Super Bowl next year. Both the Texans and Titans are iffy but should be pretty good. The Jags have sucked it up as of late. Do you think it is coaching, GM, or just general lack of star players? Or maybe because Florida already has three NFL teams and should share one with another state, say, Kentucky?

Paul Kuharsky: You’re kidding about three teams in the state, right? Why would that have a bearing on anything?

Coaching hasn’t been great, old GM was bad, team overestimated David Garrard in a big way, division is tough. That’s a tough recipe. New GM Gene Smith has them on an improved course.


Dustin in Stanford, Calif., writes: Hey Paul, Do you have any sense of the confidence level the Titans might have in Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton? It is clear the Nick Harper is a gone and something needs to be done opposite Cortland Finnegan and I was wondering if one of those two might be it. Also, Jason's brother Devin is getting a lot of draft buzz. Is there a huge difference in Jason and Devin's skill set?

Paul Kuharsky: If the Titans go into the season expecting Mouton or McCourty to be the guy opposite Finnegan, they are showing way too much faith in them. They need to bring someone in to be the starter opposite Finnegan. Not up to speed on Devin McCourty at this point. Mel Kiper has him 16th in his most recent book.


Scott in Ottawa, Canada, writes: Paul, Iunderstand that the Titans usually put a value on a player and are loathe to pay more than that. The Titans must have a value in mind for guys like Keith Bulluck and Kyle Vanden Bosch. So my question is why don't they contact these guys before they hit free agency and see if they can make a deal at whatever value they think they are worth? Unless they see no value in KB or KVB, I don't see what harm it would do to reach out to these guys and at least have preliminary discussions about a new contract. Do you?

Paul Kuharsky: Because they decide, a) they are moving on and don’t care to have them back, or b) telling them what they think they’re worth would be insulting and just make the exit worse, or c) their agent has made it clear what he thinks they are worth and it’s not in the same ballpark.

While I don’t think it’ll apply here, I also think this is an important point: I’m not obligated to tell you what I think you're worth if I think it could potentially help me in negotiations down the road if you don’t get what you want elsewhere.

What player approaching free agency where he expects at least one new team to come forward and express love is going to be excited about his old team telling him frankly how it values him and go jump into negotiations?


James Williams in Old Hickory, Tenn., writes: If you could control what the Titans do with their 1st round pick, would you A.) Select a DE to go along with Jacob Ford and William Hayes. B.) Draft a CB to slot along with Cortland Finnegan. C.) Take an OLB to replace Keith Bulluck. D.) Try to trade down to replace the second rounder lost last season?

Paul Kuharsky: I appreciate the kind words. Please keep clicking.

I’d wait to see a) what happens in free agency and b) who’s there at my pick.

From my vantage point, they should hunt a free-agent linebacker and look to draft corner and defensive end. In February I can’t go a lot further than that.


Aaron in West Point, N.Y., writes: I'd like to start off by saying that I thoroughly enjoy your blog, and as an exiled Texan rely on it for scintillating Texans talk. In your esteemed opinion, do you think that the team's running woes last season were more indicative of a problem with the interior line or a lack of a stud back? Given the imminent free agency of Chester Pitts and more important needs on the defensive side of the ball, what do you think the Texans will/can do to fix it for next year via the draft and free agency?

Paul Kuharsky: Nice of you to say, thanks.

It was definitely a combination problem with the blocking and the backs. Pitts may be done. On offense, they need interior line help and a back to go with Slaton. Defense: Free safety, defensive line and a corner if Robinson leaves. They can address all of that in some through free agency and the draft.


Mike in St. Augustine, Fla., writes: What do you think of the Jags LB corps? We were told locally that it was one of the strengths of our team at the beginning of last year, but now it sounds like no one in that unit is a lock to stay other than unheralded Daryl Smith.

Paul Kuharsky: I think it’s a bit overrated. I see flashes, but for all I have heard for the last two years they don’t consistently live up to the billing. Part of it is the group in front of it and behind it have not been sufficient, so the backers have been asked to do too much.


Eric Cox from parts unknown writes: Paul, What free agents (UFA or RFA) do you perceive getting away from Indy? I am concerned about the safeties and DTs because they seemed to play such a huge part this year. I am certain they will get Gary Brackett taken care of, but I think Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt are just as important, especially Bethea. That said, people are saying how important Antonio Johnson was. That's a little harder to tell on TV, but he and Daniel Muir certainly made the run D look much better.

Paul Kuharsky: I think the significant restricted free agents -- Bethea, Bullitt, Marlin Jackson, Charlie Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Muir -- will be tendered in a way that teams can’t afford to come after them or that the Colts would be likely to match an offer sheet. If they didn’t match, they’d be getting a pick or picks, and picks for Polian are a pretty good way to fill holes that departures could create. I feel like the 2010 Colts will look a lot like the 2009 version.

Johnson laments Houston run game

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
4:12
PM ET
The Texans’ inability to run the ball has been an issue all season and Andre Johnson told KILT in Houston he thinks that has been the largest hurdle for the year’s team.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that is affecting us that we’re not running the ball like we did last year. I think that’s at times when were struggling, a lot of times we have to be one dimensional.”

The one dimensional Texans lost starting guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel along the way and haven’t gotten better in their second year under Alex Gibbs zone blocking scheme. A large part of that has been that Steve Slaton and Chris Brown haven’t performed up to expectations.

No matter the labor landscape, it’s hard to imagine running back won’t be a primary issue in free agency and/or the draft.

Here’s a link to Johnson’s whole interview.

Midseason Report: Texans

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:03
PM ET
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Running back Steve Slaton's sophomore season has not fulfilled the promise shown in his rookie year.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 19. This week: 13.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The Texas, at 5-3, were two games over .500 at the midpoint of the season for the first time in their history. But Sunday’s penalty-riddled loss at Indianapolis knocked them back a bit. Still, they are in position to post a mark better than 8-8 for the first time and could earn a spot in the AFC’s playoff field.

While they need better offensive balance, Matt Schaub’s been outstanding leading the NFL’s third-ranked passing offense. And after a shaky start, the defense has improved. Narrow losses to division foes Jacksonville and Indianapolis could be ones the Texans are left to regret the most.

Disappointments: Running back Steve Slaton was electric as a rookie and seemed to be a solution to run-game woes. But he’s regressed with a rushing average of 3.1 yards a carry and major fumbles that got him benched early in a game in Buffalo and still have him playing a reduced role.

Chris Brown, who was supposed to fill the role of the big complementary running back, proved he’s not the right man to get the ball when the team needs a tough yard. That wasn’t his strength when he was with the Titans, either.

Surprises: Since Gary Kubiak became coach in 2006, the Texans have rolled through starting strong safeties and always seemed unsettled at the spot with unreliable positioning and unsure tackling. But Kansas City castaway Bernard Pollard, with an endorsement from Houston’s new defensive back coach David Gibbs, was signed. His insertion into the lineup has coincided with a real defensive renaissance.

Rookie strongside linebacker Brian Cushing has been a solid player from the start, helping upgrade the front and combining with DeMeco Ryans to be a formidable linebacking duo.

Outlook: Injuries have hurt, with starting guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel and standout tight end Owen Daniels all lost for the season. Even without them, the Texans have enough firepower to be a factor in the AFC wild card race. But after the sloppy showing in Indianapolis, where the Texans still could have forced overtime but for a missed 42-yard field goal by Kris Brown at the end, there is still a sense from the outside that there is something missing.

If they can figure out what it is and add it, the Texans finally might fulfill their expectations.

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