AFC South: Chris Hope

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Titans have been a patient, methodical free agent team in recent years.

I just ran through their roster and lineups from recent years and came up with Matt Hasselbeck. But the Titans were desperate for a veteran quarterback in 2011 when they signed him quickly to a three-year, $20 million deal. That was the year with condensed free agency because of the lockout.

Before that, receiver Nate Washington was the last “big” free agent the Titans signed early in the process for significant money.

Six years, $27 million with $9 million guaranteed.

But "early" in the process? I’m finding Washington landed his deal on March 2, 2009 and free agency that year started Feb. 27, when the Redskins pounced on Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

So Washington’s deal came four days into free agency, as did a contract for defensive tackle Jovan Haye.

This team has holes, and currently has more than $18 million in salary cap room.

Last year, owner Bud Adams sent them in pursuit of Peyton Manning. Mike Munchak has said more than once that pursuing Manning threw the team off its plan to pursue other people who were gone by the time Manning landed in Denver.

Could the Titans be bigger players than usual early in free agency this year?

Could they be negotiating with at least one free agent-to-be in the three-day negotiating window the league has created before free-agency kicks off March 12?

“I would think we definitely would be,” Munchak said. “The hard part is you do a lot of homework right now, and then some of these guys sign with their teams in the last 48-hours or they get franchised. But I think there are people we are identifying we are interested in that could help us. It’s just a matter of who’s available. And again, the hard part is we could want them real bad, but five other teams may want them also.”

Among names I believe they could look at: Bills guard Andy Levitre, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and Falcons safety William Moore.

The vibe is they want a free agent class like they got in 2006, when safety Chris Hope, linebacker David Thornton and center Kevin Mawae added a strong dose of veteran leadership and did a lot to change the team’s culture.

This is just Ruston Webster’s second year as the team’s general manager. If he gets out there early and is in the mix for quality veterans who don’t qualify as discounts, a lot of Titans followers might feel a lot better about where the team is heading.

If he doesn’t, there will be a lot of lamenting.

They need more than the draft and second-tier free agency can provide.

Gray survives Titans' staff changes

January, 17, 2013
For a good while I’ve said I wasn’t sure defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was safe.

Now I’m pretty sure he is.

The Titans announced their staff changes this evening and Gray isn’t among them.
  • In are: Shawn Jefferson as wide receivers coach, George Henshaw as tight ends coach and Sylvester Croom as running backs coach.
  • Solidified is: Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator
  • Moving are: Dave Ragone to quarterbacks from wide receivers, Nate Kaczor to special teams coach from assistant offensive line and Chet Parlavecchio to linebackers from special teams assistant.
  • Gone as previously reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean are: Frank Bush (linebackers), Alan Lowry (special teams), Jim Skipper (running backs) and John Zernhelt (tight ends).

“Over the last two weeks I have spent my time reviewing our coaching staff and interviewing numerous candidates from the college and pro ranks at a variety of positions in order to improve our coaching staff,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak in a statement. “The goal in every decision I have made has been to do whatever I believe puts us in the best position to win this year. I believe with the new coaches that we have added and some shuffling of the current coaches, we have made our staff better. We were able to add proven coaches and by moving others around, it will change the dynamic in the meeting rooms and on the field. We still have some spots remaining to fill and I am always looking to improve our staff, so it is still a work in progress.”

Notes on a few of the guys involved in the changes:
  • Ragone was one of the big surprises on Munchak’s initial staff. He came with fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer from Hartford of the UFL and deserves a great deal of responsibility for the maturation and production of Nate Washington. Now he’ll shift to the position he played and work with Jake Locker, making room for Jefferson, who’s been with the Lions the past five seasons where Calvin Johnson set a new single-season record for receiving yardage in 2012.
  • Henshaw returns to the Titans coaching staff where he spent nine seasons working with the tight ends from 1997-2005. Jeff Fisher pushed him off the staff over issues not related to the play of the tight ends.
  • Croom has been head coach at Mississippi State and has worked as an offensive coordinator and running back coach in the NFL. He was part of the Jacksonville staff last season coaching backs.
  • The fiery Parlavecchio spent the past two seasons with the Titans as the Assistant Special Teams coach. He coached linebackers at Temple from 1992-93 but after that worked as a high school coach before his Penn State teammates Munchak brought him into the NFL.

The biggest move, however, is one not made with Gray. While Munchak was quick to point out after the season that not all the points scored against the Titans were scored against the defense, the Titans gave up a franchise-record 471 points, most in the NFL.

If Munchak felt Gray did a good enough job to remain defensive coordinator, then Munchak must really feel the Titans had insufficient personnel on that side of the ball. The team needs an infusion of talent there and it can’t come strictly from the draft.

They need a free-agent class like they signed in 2006, when safety Chris Hope and linebacker David Thornton joined Tennessee from successful franchises and brought heavy doses of leadership and production.

Munchak has two years remaining on his contract. Presumably the Titans have to make the playoffs in 2013 for him to get an extension and see that last year.

He now has assembled the coaching crew with which he wants to try to meet that goal.

I suspect he’s going to be left with regret over now taking larger chances on defense.
Reading the coverage ...

Check out camp pictures on Instagram by following pkuharsky. It's a smartphone or iPad app, so I can't link to it. But it looks like you can see them online minus my witty captions here. (This even spills back to last year.)

Houston Texans

Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is coaching Kareem Jackson on the side, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans are easing Andre Johnson back into work after a groin strain, says McClain.

How many different Texans are capable of notching at least seven sacks? McClain considers.

Tania Ganguli, who’s covered the Jaguars the past two seasons, starts covering the Texans for the Chronicle today. She explains her intentions here.

Indianapolis Colts

Defensively, the buzz word is attack. Defensive lineman Cory Redding talked 3-4 hybrid with Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star and local media.

Redding explains how the Colts' defense is like pudding, via Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians thought the defense won the day on Monday, says Philip B. Wilson of the Star.

Andrew Luck has sought advice from Jerraud Powers after the corner has picked him off, writes Wilson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars gave in a lot to get Justin Blackmon signed, says Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

Fred Taylor is spending some time with the Jaguars and trying to figure out what he wants to do next, says Vito Stellino of the T-U.

The Jaguars' offensive inconsistencies start up front, says Frenette.

Inside Day 9 of Jaguars camp with John Oehser of the team’s website.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski on the Jaguars' receivers: "They have to pick up their games. We’re dropping way too many balls, we’re out of position on too many routes on this point in time, and that makes it difficult.” From Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country.

Hear some of Bratkowski’s talk with the media, via Jessica Blaylock.

Tennessee Titans

A scrimmage with the Falcons in Dalton, Ga., did little to help the Titans differentiate Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan found receivers and a rhythm against the Titans' defense, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. Glennon liked the pass rush, particularly from second-team rookie tackle Mike Martin.

As expected, the Titans didn’t get any immediate news from the NFL after Kenny Britt met with commissioner Roger Goodell about discipline, says Wyatt.

The Titans' offense saw a familiar face across the line of scrimmage in Falcons safety Chris Hope, says Wyatt.

Considering the centers with Andrew Strickert of Total Titans.

AFC South links: Kampman eyes return

April, 3, 2012
Houston Texans

A pair of free-agent signings last offseason paid off in a big way for Houston's defense in 2011.

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck is scheduled to have a private workout in front of Colts officials on Tuesday.

Craig Kelley of continues the position-by-position breakdown with a look at the specialists.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars defensive end Aaron Kampman is trying to prove his critics wrong once again.

Gene Frenette of The Florida Times-Union: "Despite enduring a ton of criticism, including fans who lamented the Jaguars not acquiring Tim Tebow recently in a trade to compete for the starting job, [Blaine] Gabbert has conditioned himself to leave the past in the rearview mirror. He refuses to get drawn in to negativity."

Tennessee Titans

Linebacker Tim Shaw isn't a fan of last season's rule change that moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35.

Free agent Chris Hope is still waiting for some team to come calling for his services.
Jim Wyatt indicates in a report in today’s Tennessean that the Titans and Jordan Babineaux could be ready to strike a deal as soon as March 13 rolls around.

Babineaux’s previous deal makes it so the Titans can’t sign him before free agency opens.

Wyatt says Babineaux made $860,000 last season and counted $575,000 against the cap. (A CBA rule softens the cap hit of long-time veterans making the minimum.)

Tennessee has big holes coming at safety. Michael Griffin and Chris Hope are heading for unrestricted free agency along with Babineaux, who also played for Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray in Seattle.

Safety is regarded as a thin position around the league, so the Titans won’t be alone in having need.

Which means someone else could be interested in Babineaux.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson talked to Babineaux on Monday. She passed this exchange on.

"I wouldn't want to necessarily leave if Tennessee makes me feel at home," Babineaux said.

When asked how the Titans would make him feel at home, Babineaux replied, "Cha-ching."
Early thoughts on the Titans' players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

The Titans have already re-signed three players who were heading for free agency: tight end Craig Stevens, tackle Mike Otto and receiver Lavelle Hawkins.

Fullback Ahmard Hall -- He’s a great locker room guy, but did not have a great season and the Titans have Quinn Johnson in house.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery -- Couldn’t push his way into action and presuming the team drafts at least one receiver, it should have no interest.

Guard Jake Scott -- Team will say thanks for solid service and look to get younger and better on the interior.

Defensive end Dave Ball -- He’s not the solution, but he’s a quality complementary part who can get into the backfield.

Defensive end William Hayes -- Just hasn’t panned out. The team needs at least one new end and there won’t be room for him any longer.

Defensive lineman Jason Jones -- Was not as good at end in the new defense as he was at tackle in the old one. He can still be a very good player.

Linebacker Barrett Ruud -- Didn’t play well before he was hurt, then got displaced by rookie Colin McCarthy.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan -- I don’t think the Titans want him at anything near what he’ll be able to command.

Safety Jordan Babineaux -- Played well enough that safety-starved Tennessee should want him back.

Safety Michael Griffin -- Does the best when everything around him is going well. But the price he’ll want gets paid to a leader, not a follower.

Safety Chris Hope -- Made a difference on the field and in the locker room for a long time, but his time is now past.

Other UFAs:

Mailbag: The things on your minds

February, 11, 2012
Carl from Iowa writes: I still don't understand why Miami still seems to be a favorite to land Peyton. Why would he choose to play against Tom Brady twice, Rex twice, and at least one hellishly cold game in Buffalo every season? The AFC East already has two legitimate teams, and I think if he chooses Miami he's headed straight for irrelevance (as much as Peyton could be irrelevant).

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t know that Miami will be the favorite for Peyton Manning if he’s free.

I guess New England is a sure thing to be good, but you really think Manning is fearing Rex Ryan? Or anyone?

If I am him, I’m not putting a lot of weight into what division I’m playing in. It’s not about the other guys, it’s about you and your guys.

And things change so dramatically year to year, what’s to say he goes to a “softer” division, say to Arizona in the NFC West, only to see the Seahawks emerge as a big breakout team to go along with the 49ers next season? There are surprises every year -- good teams getting bad and vice versa.

Marty from Jacksonville writes: You say you like Gene Smith but then you go on to say "it would take quite an effort to be worse" for the Jaguars in 2012. Are you saying you like Gene Smith personally but you think he's incompetent?

Paul Kuharsky: That’s quite a leap you made there. That’s not what I am saying at all.

I like him and he’s found some very good players. The defensive additions last season were excellent.

His quarterback of choice played too soon and was horrible. It doesn’t mean Blaine Gabbert is going to be horrible for life.

Good people who are good at their jobs are part of bad seasons all the time. It doesn’t make them incompetent.

Matt from Miami Fla., writes: "Independent of that, I’ve fished around to see if I should allow the idea of Tennessee pursuing Manning to breathe or do my part to snuff it out. And all indications have been that wise reporting would be to do the latter." Why don't you just report on what's happening regardless of what you consider wise? If it's happening and affecting people on your beat, report it. You won't go wrong that way.

Paul Kuharsky: I wasn't saying what move would be wise, I was saying what would be wise to report. My desire there was to be transparent. I’d gotten indications they weren't interested in Manning that I was not ready to report. Then general manager Ruston Webster said what he said, and that changed the environment and made what I had appropriate to share as a supplement to his public comments.

Jason Peters from Los Angeles writes: If we, the Titans, need a new potential free agent to lust over, it should be Mario Williams. In his prime and within the division? That's a rare opportunity. Plus we have plenty of cash to spend.”

Paul Kuharsky: Don’t get carried away with the “plenty of cash” concept. Between $30-35 million available, but a good share of that money has to fund Cortland Finnegan or a replacement, two starting safeties (Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, and Jordan Babineaux are gone or need to be re-signed), a starting guard (Jake Scott’s gone) and a defensive linemen (either Jason Jones or his replacement). If that lineman is Williams, that’s a big chunk of that money.

Yes, they can afford him. But Williams will be overpaid. And the Titans don’t generally say, “We’re willing to overpay in order to get Player X.” They generally go find Player Y instead.

Aaron M from Houston writes: Paul, first off love your blog man always have an interesting way of looking at things. My comment is has to deal with the recent celebration of Justin Tuck at the Super Bowl, where he does the Namaste bow after a sack. And as anyone that has a TV knows Arian Foster has done this almost every week since he has been in the league. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with something like this but the fact that he went on the Fallon show and coined it as "Tucking" had me at a loss for words. Just wanted to see what your thoughts were and if someone should call him out for his sticky fingers. Have at it.

Paul Kuharsky: I think it would be pretty hard to claim a copyright on the move, which happens all over the place all the time. Tuck, not Foster, is the one who got to do it on the big stage, so he gets to claim it/ name it/ whatever. But who’s going to jump on board and call bowing like that "Tucking" when it’s been called bowing forever?

Brutus from Houston: I know everyone is clamoring for the Texans to take a receiver with their first pick, but is it conceivable that they could take another cornerback or outside linebacker with that pick due to the depth at the receiver position?

Paul Kuharsky: We have to see who goes (and comes) in free agency before we know their top needs. Sure they could take another corner, though I’d hope Brandon Harris will be ready to be more of a contributor. If Mario Williams is gone, they certainly need a better third option to take some snaps off the plate of Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed and provide depth at outside linebacker.

I also don’t think the Texans think themselves as receiver-needy as many outsiders do. But they should add at least one weapon.
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Owner Bob McNair is relishing the time as his team prepares to face Cincinnati in a playoff game, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

A win would do a lot for the Texans’ national profile, says Steve Campbell of the Chronicle.

Patience has paid off for Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith and they deserve to take a bow, writes Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle.

Kubiak wants his team playing with a lot of emotion, says McClain.

Wade Phillips has made things simple and effective for the thriving Texans defense, says McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Irsay will have interviewed seven general manager candidates by the end of Monday according to his Twitter account, says this Star report. He revealed a dark horse: Jim Popp, general manager of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union pieces together the latest in the Jaguars’ coaching search as the team interviewed Brian Schottenheimer of the Jets and Rob Chudzinski of the Panthers.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Hope is heading for free agency, but the safety says he’s going to help some team in 2012, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

The Rams have received permission to talk to Ruston Webster and Lake Dawson about their open GM job, says Wyatt.

Munchak fires Titans' DB coaches

January, 4, 2012
Mike Munchak said on Monday the first element of his offseason would be evaluating his coaching staff.

It didn’t take long for him to make his first changes.

The Titans have let secondary coach Marcus Robertson and assistant secondary coach Curtis Fuller go.

“I want to thank Marcus and Curtis for their time here,” Munchak said in a statement released by the team. "After meeting with the coordinators over the last couple of days, we decided to make this move today. Letting Marcus go was not an easy thing. He spent so many great years with this organization as a player, front office employee and a coach. I respect both men, but I wanted to move in a different direction for both of these spots. The interview process might take some time, but we will find the right fits for the secondary room moving forward.”

Robertson played 10 seasons for the Oilers and Titans and he spent a total of 21 seasons with the organization as a player, executive and coach.

I thought he was retained by Munchak from Jeff Fisher’s staff on part because defensive coordinator Jerry Gray worked as secondary coach for part of Robertson’s playing career.

Tennessee’s pass defense ranked 14th in the NFL this season and suffered from a lack of a consistent pass rush. Safeties Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux and cornerback Cortland Finnegan all have expiring contacts.

Titans regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 12
Preseason Power Ranking: 23

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Don McPeak/US PresswireThe Titans became a passing team this season behind the solid play of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Biggest surprise: The 9-7 record. The team was expected to suffer from the lockout and resulting lack of offseason work, but it came together and outperformed expectations given a new coach, new staff and new quarterbacks. Matt Hasselbeck had the best passing season in franchise history by anyone not named Warren Moon despite losing WR Kenny Britt early to a torn-up knee and not getting consistent production from running back Chris Johnson. Coach Mike Munchak set a tone and showed himself to be a straight-forward, well-measured coach who won the respect of his players. With a big contribution from their rookie class, the Titans started off well under a new regime.

Biggest disappointment: Johnson secured a big new contract after he billed himself as a playmaker, not just a running back. But he and the run game were so ineffective that the Titans became a passing team even with Britt on IR. Over half of Johnson's yards came in four wins over bad teams. And although the team consistently defended him, it was completely fair to question his effort. He often went down too easily, he didn’t make a guy miss when he wound up one-on-one and he didn’t work hard enough at his responsibilities without the ball in his hands. The team is hopeful it can get him back on track with an offseason in which he’s expected to be in Nashville far more often.

Biggest need: Defensive pieces. Rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who was not part of the plan at the start of the season, was probably the best defensive player on the team at season’s end. That indicts a lot of other guys. The Titans have to rush the passer better to be more consistent on defense and they need more than Derrick Morgan, Jason Jones (who should go back to tackle), Dave Ball and William Hayes. Three safeties are heading toward free agency, so the Titans have a lot to sort through there, too.

Team MVP: Hasselbeck is the easiest choice. He played better than many of us expected and brought just the sort of leadership the Titans needed. But I’ll go with receiver Nate Washington, who became the No. 1 receiver with Britt’s injury and delivered a 1,000-yard season even with a bad ankle for the last part of the season. Washington thrived with the new coaching and new quarterbacks. His maturation serves as a symbol of what the Titans need from a lot of other guys at a lot of other spots.

Sorting out the secondary: Safeties Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux and cornerback Cortland Finnegan all have expiring contracts. Finnegan probably draws an offer in free agency beyond what the Titans would give him. The team cannot make a long-term commitment with big money to the inconsistent Griffin. Hope is likely done. Babineaux played well and would be nice to retain. That’s a lot to decide on just in the secondary, but I’d expect a big infusion of new guys to work with young corners Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner.

Insiders on deep throwers, corners

November, 17, 2011
Two Insider pieces today are worth a mention here.

Peter Keating breaks down the NFL’s best and worst deep-ball throwers. Curtis Painter is fourth-worst (QBR of 39.7 out of 100 on balls thrown over 20 yards) and Blaine Gabbert is ninth-worst (76.3).
“…(M)ost quarterbacks in the NFL are very effective at throwing deep. QBR tends to go up on long throws for reasons that are precisely the opposite of why it goes down in the red zone: When you're deep in your own territory, you have the most chance to gain expected points by amassing a big chunk of yardage with one bomb and less to lose if you happen to turn the ball over. Indeed, this year, starting quarterbacks have an average QBR of 57.3 on throws of 10 yards or fewer but 80.4 on throws of more than 20 yards. And half the quarterbacks in the league have a QBR of 92.2 or higher on deep throws, including guys who aren't otherwise lighting up the scoreboard, such as Matt Cassel, Joe Flacco and Tarvaris Jackson.

“All of which means teams can win with a quarterback who isn't one of the very best in the league at throwing deep, but they will get killed if they don't have one who is at least adequate at throwing deep. The worst quarterbacks on deep throws this year include Mark Sanchez (QBR on passes of more than 20 yards: a hideous 6.8), (John) Beck, Painter, Sam Bradford and Gabbert, all of whom are hamstringing their teams and allowing defenses to focus on run-stuffing.”

No matter the comparison to the rest of the league, the Colts and Jaguars simply have to work too hard to get into the end zone. Both need to find more big plays to make things easier, and neither has shown any reason for us to expect those plays to arrive.

In this piece, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. Ranks Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner fifth on his list of five up-and-coming cornerbacks.
"Verner spent much of the second half of last season on my Rookie Watch, as he came on very strong despite not being a particularly high draft choice. He isn't physically overwhelming and lacks the real ‘wow factor’ of a guy like (Patrick) Peterson, but Verner is effective. He is feisty, aggressive and further along with his fundamentals than most corners his age. There are not a lot of big names on the Titans' defense, but Tennessee does feature three very good cornerbacks in Verner, (Jason) McCourty (listed below) and Cortland Finnegan, who has really rebounded strong this season after a subpar 2010."

Two of Williamson’s three honorable mentions were from the AFC South: Jacksonville’s Derek Cox and Tennessee’s Jason McCourty.

A lot of people ask about the Titans chasing an additional corner for 2012. If they re-sign Finnegan, they’ve got three quality guys and a promising kid in Tommie Campbell. I think they’ll have bigger concerns at safety (where contracts are up for Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux), at receiver, on the defensive line and at guard.

Wrap-up: Titans 30, Panthers 3

November, 13, 2011
Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans’ 30-3 win against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: The Titans got back over .500, improving to 5-4 with a trouncing of the Panthers. Tennessee looked a lot more like the team that raised expectations in big performances against the Ravens and Browns this season. The Titans will have a chance to pull within a game and a tiebreaker of the Texans in the AFC South next week.

What I liked, offense: Chris Johnson had his biggest effort of the season, with 27 carries for 130 rushing yards and a touchdown to go with four catches for 44 yards. Matt Hasselbeck found connections with Damian Williams, who looked like a dependable, dangerous threat in the passing game with five catches for 107 yards including a 43-yard touchdown.

What I liked, defense: A team that’s struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback found five sacks of Cam Newton to go with a Chris Hope interception. The Titans didn’t allow a pass play longer than 19 yards.

What I didn’t like: The Titans were just 3-for-13 on third down, a rate that won’t cut it against a higher-caliber team going forward. Nine penalties for 92 yards are too many for too much.

What’s next: The Titans head for Atlanta for a second consecutive game against an NFC South foe. If they can improve to 6-4, they’ll be only a game and a head-to-head loss off the pace of idle Houston in the division.
PITTSBURGH -- The Titans just learned just how the Steelers’ rejiggered lineup will look this afternoon.

Offensive line injuries mean Doug Legursky will flip from right guard to left and Ramon Foster will play right guard.

Injuries on defense mean Ziggy Hood will start at end for Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke will start at nose tackle for Casey Hampton, Lawrence Timmons will move from inside linebacker to outside linebacker on the right side and Larry Foote will step into Timmons' usual slot.

The Steelers kept their third quarterback, Dennis Dixon, active with Ben Roethlisberger dealing with a foot sprain. Running back Rashard Mendenhall has a hamstring injury but remains in the starting lineup. He’s expected to be limited with Isaac Redman taking most of the load.

The entire lists of inactives:

Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Ben Tate is day to day with a groin injury. Derrick Ward (ankle) could be back, but if both are out the Texans are fine with Chris Ogbonnaya serving as the second back behind Arian Foster, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

My take: The offensive line and high-quality run blocking the Texans are getting right now ease any concerns I’d have about Ogbonnaya getting significant action. He’d be fine.

Indianapolis Colts

This was Curtis Painter's first chance to play with an entire week to prepare and work with the first-teamers and, honestly, he wasn't bad. Certainly, it should be said, he was better than Kerry Collins in any of his three starts, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

My take: Yes, he was better. Yes he is the best option going forward. While it was an encouraging performance, he’s still capable of really bad, game-killing moments.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are in trouble and need the sort of lift only a win over the Bengals Sunday at EverBank Field could bring them, says Gene Frenette of the Times-Union.

My take: What else is Jack Del Rio going to say but that the team goals are the same as they were from the start? It’s still possible, but few division-winners endure four-game losing streaks so they can’t drop this one.

Tennessee Titans

Jordan Babineaux has been a great investment for the Titans and he’s in the starting lineup against with Chris Hope out with a broken arm, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

My take: It was crucial for the Titans to get themselves a quality third safety considering the downturn in Hope’s play. They found a good one, and if he continues to play well, it will be an uncomfortable situation when Hope’s healthy in four or six weeks and ready to return.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Had a minute to talk with Mike Munchak about something many of you have been asking me: What’s his stance on a starter losing him job to injury, particularly as it pertains to Chris Hope?

Munchak said in the short term, he doesn't think it should be possible for a player to lose his job because of an injury. But, in a scenario where a guy misses an extended streak, things can change. If Hope missed six or seven weeks and Jordan Babineaux was playing well in his place and the Titans were faring well, things could be different. They could stand pat. They could ease Hope back in a little at a time.

It's not going to be an issue in Hope's case.

His bad shoulder meant he was very limited in practice on Thursday. It seems likely he will miss his second consecutive game Sunday, when the Titans host the Broncos.

But he could be in line to return Oct. 2 at Cleveland. Even if Hope wasn’t back until the game at Pittsburgh a week later, Munchak’s answer told me the veteran safety will be reinstalled into the lineup.

That doesn’t mean Babineaux won’t be able to challenge him or won’t get another chance to play.