AFC South: Chris Rucker

AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

HOUSTON TEXANS

Right tackle: Rashad Butler versus Derek Newton

Right guard: Antoine Caldwell versus Brandon Brooks

The Texans are reshaping the right side of their offensive line after releasing right tackle Eric Winston to save money and watching right guard Mike Brisiel take a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders.

Butler and Caldwell have experience in the system and go into training camp as favorites to win the starting jobs. But it won’t be a giant upset if one of them loses out to the promising kid in position to make a push. The team is high on Newton, who appeared in 14 games as a rookie in 2011, and Brooks, a third-round pick who was listed at 343 pounds when he was drafted and would be the team’s biggest lineman even if he slims down. We won't see Newton and Brooks as starters, but we could see one of them pull an upset.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Cornerback: Kevin Thomas versus all comers at left cornerback

The secondary is the Colts’ biggest issue, and depth beyond starting right cornerback Jerraud Powers is very questionable at corner. Thomas lined up as the second starter during spring and summer work. But the team did a lot to give itself other options for that slot as well as nickel and dime.

The Colts traded for Cassius Vaughn, claimed Korey Lindsey off waivers and signed free agent Justin King, previously of St. Louis. Those three, plus holdovers Chris Rucker, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King will look to earn roles during training camp. The team could continue to seek help at corner, too.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Cornerback: Rashean Mathis versus Aaron Ross

While Derek Cox will man right cornerback, veterans Mathis and Ross will compete for the starting job on the left side.

Mathis is a true pro who’s been a good leader for the Jaguars for nine seasons. He’s made great progress in a comeback from a shredded knee suffered in November. Ross was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams with the New York Giants and also offers leadership. The guy who doesn’t get the starting job still will be an important player on defense, lining up in the slot in the nickel package.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck versus Jake Locker

It’s experience versus potential in what will be one of the most-watched training camp battles in the NFL. Don’t believe Hasselbeck can’t lose the job. Coach Mike Munchak wouldn’t be setting it up as a competition for show.

To me, the question is whether Locker can be accurate enough to make his mobility too appealing to pass up. If so, he’s got a chance. If not, then Hasselbeck should retain the job. In the long run, it would be far easier to pull Hasselbeck along the way than it would be to take Locker out of the lineup. That could be a factor in what the Titans say will likely boil down to a gut feeling on whom they are better off with under center.
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Colts in 2012.

Dream scenario (8-8): I consider this a pretty optimistic dream, but since we’re dreaming …

This one would require exemplary rookie seasons from quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and at least a few others from the new regime’s first class.

But beyond that, they’ll need several guys from the old regime to play far better in a new system than they did in the old one for which they were better suited.

Donald Brown or Delone Carter will have to run effectively, for example. From a pool of returning cornerbacks, including Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King, they need to find at least a nickel, and that presumes the guy they just traded for, Cassius Vaughn, will be the second starter. (If I am playing against the Colts, with that collection of defensive backs, I’m trying to get them in dime.)

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis prove to be pass-rushing demons as outside linebackers in a 3-4 base set in which they are coming from less predictable spots and forcing quarterbacks into all kind of mistakes. Their play offsets the questions at other spots for the defense and helps set up Luck and the offense with good field position.

Nightmare scenario (2-14): Yes, it’s possible the first year of the Ryan Grigson-Chuck Pagano regime matches the last year of the Bill Polian-Jim Caldwell one.

The Colts will face Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in 2012. But if things go badly, plenty of second- and third-tier quarterbacks will also shred a patchwork secondary that added only safety Tom Zbikowski in free agency and Vaughn in a trade and got no help in the draft.

The defense can prove to have too few quality pieces to run a 3-4 or a 4-3 effectively, and if it’s giving up a lot of points, Luck will be dropping back a lot to try to lead comebacks. If a line of leftovers and castoffs can’t consistently fend off rushers, there will be trouble.

Should Luck get hurt and miss any time, the team will look to Drew Stanton or seventh-round pick Chandler Harnish. Either one is likely to leave fans pining for the halcyon days of Dan Orlovsky.

Also damaging would be the Texans' ability to stay good and improvements from Tennessee and Jacksonville. The Colts got their two wins last season against the Titans and Texans late in the year.

Spots that still need attention

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
10:45
AM ET
The draft is over, the rosters are filled up.

But what areas weren’t sufficiently addressed and where can we expect to see the teams of the AFC South continue to seek help?

Some thoughts.

Houston Texans

Veteran corner Jason Allen left as a free agent. He helped the Texans cover for Kareem Jackson, who played just 55.73 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2011.

Brandon Harris was a second-round pick out of Miami last year, but didn’t show anything. The Texans look to be counting on him to contribute more. They like Brice McCain, but he's a situational guy.

But corner is a spot where the Texans need some additional depth at the very least.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts loaded their roster with offensive players -- eight of 10 draft picks went on that side of the ball.

The defensive picks were on the defensive line.

Which means the Colts still have a ton of work to do in the defensive backfield.

Jerraud Powers is a quality corner and a good leader. But after him, there are no proven corners on the roster. Is the second starter Chris Rucker? Kevin Thomas? Mike Holmes? Brandon King?

That’s not a great group to be choosing from. Look for team to give some undrafted rookies a chance and grab a veteran or two as guys come free during camp cuts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars believe a healthy Eben Britton will help fortify their offensive line and he should.

But they don’t have sufficient depth on the offensive line and should create a situation where there is more real competition.

They re-signed Guy Whimper, who is a swing tackle at best and had some bad stretches last season. They like John Estes as a reserve center, but it would be nice to have someone to compete with him for the right to take over for Brad Meester.

Tennessee Titans

The team has sent major mixed signals about its offensive line.

Tennessee courted all the top centers in free agency but did not land one. And then they didn't draft an offensive lineman. Coach Mike Munchak said it wasn’t a dire need and the team can win with what it has.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports that among the team’s undrafted rookies is William Vlachos. Perhaps the center from Alabama can scramble the mix. But the Titans should still be adding options on the interior.
Regrets? Everybody’s got a few… We asked for some feedback on one thing you’d like to go back and change for each team in the AFC South.

For the Colts, the overwhelming response was regretting not having a solid backup plan for Peyton Manning. But I’ve said time and time again that all but a few teams in the league would trade the Colts run of success and one awful year for what they’ve had. So I don’t place a lot of blame -- developing some young quarterback with Manning yielding no snaps or luring a quality veteran backup who expected he’d never play would have been difficult.

Here’s my biggest second-guess about the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.

Not shoring up the secondary.

Re-signing safety Melvin Bullitt was, I believe, the right thing to do. But he quickly got hurt and the backup plan was insufficient.

The same can be said at cornerback. They let Kelvin Hayden go over money and while Justin Tryon’s been cast as far better than he is, he was better than the other options. He landed in the doghouse and got cut. Jerraud Powers was the lone quality corner and was under too much strain before he got hurt.

Jacfob Lacey was awful, and got benched, though he rebounded well when he found his way back into the lineup.

No one was afraid to throw the direction of safeties Joe Lefeged or David Caldwell or corners like Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas or Chris Rucker.

The Colts got good play from Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the defensive line and from Pat Angerer at middle linebacker. But on the secondary level, no one played to that standard and it was a big part of what killed the Colts in a miserable season.

Whatever system the new Colts run, it’ll be a big part of what they need to fix under new GM Ryan Grigson.

Rapid Reaction: Colts 27, Titans 13

December, 18, 2011
12/18/11
4:06
PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Thoughts on the Colts’ 27-13 win over the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: A happy day in Indy. The 2011 Colts won’t be joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in NFL annals as an 0-16 team. They played tight and efficient defense, rushed the passer well while not allowing big plays, took the ball away three times and ran the ball with some consistency en route to their first win. It was the first NFL win for Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who was also on that Lions team. The result effectively ended the Titans’ playoff hopes. Now 7-7 they’d need a ton of help to earn the last wild-card spot at 9-7.

What I liked -- Colts: Big plays on defense. Maligned cornerback Jacob Lacey took a pass away from Chris Johnson and returned it 32 yards for a score. Pat Angerer killed the Titans when they looked to be getting things going in the fourth quarter, stripping Jared Cook for a fumble which was recovered by Chris Rucker. Angerer also picked off Matt Hasselbeck in the end zone on a deep try for Nate Washington thrown as the quarterback got hit. The Colts got a consistently good push up front and matched it with tight coverage, allowing the Titans few big chunks. Outside of an awkward trip as he backed out from center and handed off, Orlovsky played with composure and decisiveness. The defense probably tackled as well as it has all season -- even on Chris Johnson’s late 35-yard run, Rucker caught him and pulled him down from behind.

What I didn’t like -- Titans: Yes, Matt Hasselbeck was under consistent pressure. But a combination of play calling by offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and decision-making by Hasselbeck was far too conservative. (The deep shot to Washington that was picked was too little, too late.) Tennessee seemed hell-bent on not taking shots that would stretch out the Colts' defense, checking down and throwing short passes that featured Johnson far too often. Why, when so many teams have made so many big plays against Indy this season, were the Titans so willing to settle for short stuff?

Second-guess city: I backed the Titans' decision to start and stick with Hasselbeck into the fourth quarter. It’s easy to second-guess now. But maybe Jake Locker’s mobility would have made a difference and opened things up. A veteran quarterback typically gets the benefit of the doubt, but given Hasselbeck’s poor performance and the result, Mike Munchak will have to expound on his rationale for going the direction he did.

What I wonder: How much will the Colts allow themselves to celebrate and enjoy this one when, as cathartic as it must be, it gets them to 1-13?

What’s next: The Colts have a quick turn and host division-leading Houston on Thursday night. The Texans beat the Colts on opening day. The Titans host Jacksonville on Christmas Eve. The Jaguars beat the Titans on opening day.

McCourty won't be in Titans' secondary

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
12:09
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Greetings from LP Field, where the Titans will try to slow the Saints today minus starting cornerback Jason McCourty.

McCourty’s recovering from a concussion suffered last week in the win over Buffalo.

Alterraun Verner has been part of the nickel package and will start. That’s not a huge drop off. But now undrafted rookie Chris Hawkins from LSU will come in as an outside corner in nickel.

If I’m the Saints I look to test Hawkins early and often.

New Orleans is without defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. Tim Johnson will start in his place.

A note from the three other teams of the AFC South:
The full list from Saints-Titans.

Titans:
Saints:

Roster moves in Indy and Jacksonville

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
7:42
PM ET
We've got roster news in Indianapolis and Jacksonville.

The Colts’ pass defense, miserable as it’s been, is about to get worse.

The team’s top cornerback, Jerraud Powers, and another corner who’s played a lot, Terrence Johnson, were put on injured reserve today after suffering injuries in the loss to New England.

Jacob Lacey, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker figure to be the top three players at the position going forward.

Linebacker Zac Diles, cut by Tampa Bay, was claimed off waivers by Indy.

In Jacksonville, the Jaguars claimed and were awarded receiver Taylor Price from New England. The third-rounder was a bit of a surprising release by the Patriots.

It appears the Jaguars won’t have to clear roster space for Price until tomorrow.

Breaking down Colts as they break down

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
12:05
PM ET
Peyton ManningDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Colts were clearly ill-prepared for life without star quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s ugly in Indianapolis.

At 0-7, the Colts are talking about sticking together, improving and giving themselves a chance to win.

But as they prepare for a trip to Nashville for a Sunday meeting with the Titans at LP Field, they are a severely broken team. Where they would be with Peyton Manning is an interesting hypothetical question, but we’re dealing with realities. And those realities are the sort that will test the franchise’s stitching -- seamwork that might not hold together when this is all over.

Who’s at fault? Everyone’s got a hand in it, but let’s look at the Colts from a couple of angles.

A big cover-up: It’s not a secret that Manning has helped cover up a lot of flaws and allowed the franchise to under-address certain areas.

The Colts during the Manning era have never been much concerned with size, always valuing speed and instincts more. They’ve never worried about stocking special teams with any veteran backups, in part because they spend their money on stars or adding a high-quality return man. They’ve settled for being below average running the ball. And they’ve won despite a general inability to stop the run.

Without their four-time MVP running the offense, all those things are magnified in ways they’ve never been before.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re built to have Manning at the controls, and he’s been there all the time from the very beginning in 1998 until opening day this season.

There are maybe two teams and markets in the league that would not trade for what the Colts have done since 1999. Twelve consecutive playoff seasons followed by one complete dud? Where do I sign up for that?

[+] EnlargeJacob Lacey
Michael Hickey/US PresswirePersonnel decisions by the Colts put cornerback Jacob Lacey, 27, in a prominent role in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Construct questions: That said, regardless of a serious neck surgery to the star quarterback, what exactly was the plan in the secondary? Is an evaluation that leaves Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker as cornerbacks Nos. 2 through 5 good enough? Absolutely not.

The Colts get credit for adding a couple of outside veterans this season -- linebacker Ernie Sims, and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. But the drafting has dropped off.

Set aside the most recent class, as it’s too early to judge.

The Colts drafted 41 players from 2005 through 2010. I count one star, safety Antoine Bethea, and two guys who can become stars, linebacker Pat Angerer and receiver Austin Collie (if he’s working with Manning). Running back Joseph Addai is a good fit who does more than people think. And receiver Pierre Garcon and cornerback Jerraud Powers have been pretty solid starters.

Sure, the Colts drafted higher in the five years before. Still, those classes produced five guys who rank among the best players of their generation at their positions: tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Bob Sanders, and receiver Reggie Wayne. The next tier provided steady starters on the offensive line (Jake Scott, Ryan Diem) and at linebacker (David Thornton).

That list is more than a third of a starting team, a big-time core. As those guys age or disappear, I'm not seeing a core in waiting.

Colts president-turned-vice chairman Bill Polian said recently on his radio show that they needed to have done better recently, particularly at defensive tackle and cornerback.

And there is a domino effect to the problem. Find Tarik Glenn’s ultimate replacement at left tackle in 2007, and you don’t need to use your top pick in 2011 on Anthony Castonzo. Hit on Donald Brown in the first round in 2009, and Delone Carter might not be necessary in the fourth round in 2011.

The Polians: Bill Polian has been pulling back and yielding responsibility to his son, GM Chris Polian. (Chris politely declined to be interviewed for this story.)

We don’t yet have much tape on Chris Polian, so to speak. Bill Polian is a good talent evaluator who has had success in three NFL stops and has done well to build a team with which Manning has won. But Bill Polian also has overseen those recent draft drop-offs.

His strong-willed personality is part of what has made him good at his job, and his big-picture assessment of important league issues is as intelligent as anyone’s. He’s got clout and influence that extend beyond Indianapolis.

Stylistically, he’s a stubborn and demanding boss. There are indications from within that, without the steady stream of personnel hits he provided earlier in his tenure, some inside the building are tiring of the way things are run.

Bill Polian recently talked about how Curtis Painter's play vindicates the team for having faith in him, but failed to mention that faith was so strong that the team signed Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract shortly before the season started and handed him the starting job.

I suspect Bill Polian has the backing of owner Jim Irsay for as long as he wants it. That would ensure safety for Chris Polian, too.

Bill Polian made the Manning-over-Ryan Leaf call in 1998. Because of the way Leaf busted, people forget that was a coin flip at the time, that Leaf was regarded as a big-time prospect just as much as Manning was. Polian called it correctly, built a team that’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, got a new stadium built, and greatly enhanced the value of Irsay’s franchise.

Cryptic messages: Further complicating things is Irsay, who clearly gets a kick out of being the center of NFL attention in the Twitter-verse but has undermined some of his people with it.

He announced the team added Collins while coach Jim Caldwell was conducting his daily news conference. It did Caldwell no favors, as he appeared completely out of the loop.

Most recently, following the 62-7 loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, Irsay provided this gem:
“Titanic collapse, apologies 2 all ColtsNation...problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again”

A day later, he added:
"Just because you perceive problems on the horizon,and you possess solutions..doesn't mean they are avoidable and implementation is instant"

Solutions in progress, but complex in nature. That sounds to me like what would be written in big silver letters on the lobby wall of a consulting company on a TV show. Or a clever, but far-too-long name for a band.

It also sounds like change is going to come.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Coaching questions: While Bill Polian recently said that adding Jim Tressel to the staff as a replay consultant was Caldwell’s idea, it’s a weird-looking move that’s made some of us wonder whether a bigger role awaits the former Ohio State coach.

Caldwell does a nice job managing personalities, looking at things philosophically and staying on message. I believe he’s a good teacher, and his patient, quiet style is generally healthy for a team with a good share of veteran stars.

But he has blind spots, too, and is hardly a strategy master. There are bound to be significant changes at the conclusion of what’s sure to be a dreadful season, and he’ll be at the front of the line.

If he does the best job we can remember at holding a terrible, ineffective team together, is that enough? I’d guess not.

Injuries: This team gets hurt too much. There is a huge element of bad luck to it, of course. But is there something bigger at work as well?

Last season as quality players went down, Manning helped some role players such as tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White emerge. This season, guys such as linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early, and there's been a revolving door on the offensive line because of injuries.

The Colts are constantly testing their depth and shuffling the back end of their roster. There is only so much shuffling a depth chart can handle.

I believe they need to attempt some change that might have a positive effect on their overall health -- whether it be adopting new training philosophies, altering how they evaluate prospects or changing personnel philosophies.

It's easy to ask them to figure out why they tend to suffer so many injuries, and it's hard to find an answer. But some sort of shift is due, even as we know it comes with no guarantee of better health.

When the current approach is failing, it's OK to try something else. It's not admitting some sort of failure; it's merely part of a necessary process of evaluating and revising operations.

Suck for Luck: Given a chance to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, I think the Colts would. Bill Polian can give Chris Polian the guy expected to be the NFL's next great quarterback, and Chris Polian's legacy would be built on a fantastic cornerstone.

But there is no losing on purpose to get in position for Luck. You think Wayne or Mathis is interested in such a master plan?

Said veteran center and team tone-setter Jeff Saturday: “I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote: 'I ain't sucking for anybody.'”

Steady Bethea surrounded by questions

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
2:06
PM ET
Antoine Bethea is surrounded by nobodies.

Jerraud Powers is a good corner who’s going to be a factor for a while, but he’s got a bad hamstring.

Everyone else in the Indianapolis Colts’ secondary is hardly noteworthy.

Yet Bethea is playing as effectively as a free safety in such circumstances can, a true pro who won’t allow his game to be influenced by such circumstances.

Quarterbacks are completing 69.9 percent of their passes against Indianapolis. They have a 104.0 passer rating and a 70 QBR (out of 100), the 31st worst number in the league.

I’m not sure what Indianapolis’ plan for the secondary was this season. When they let cornerback Kelvin Hayden go because he cost too much, one had to believe the Colts felt confident in the alternatives. Then Justin Tryon, who was an effective player last season, fell out of favor and wound up getting cut. The No. 2 corner, Jacob Lacey, is no longer a full-timer in the base defense with Terrence Johnson getting some time in the spot.

The Colts are playing David Caldwell at strong safety in the base defense and Joe Lefeged in the spot in the nickel.

Corner Chris Rucker is also seeing some action.

“As a veteran back there, I see myself as the glue,” Bethea said. “One of my roles is to get everybody lined up and confident. As a safety, that’s my job.”

Bethea said he likes the way the Colts are deploying their other safeties, using Caldwell (“He lays the boom”) against the run and Lefeged (“He plays the ball well”) in passing situations. In time each may be well-rounded enough to be a full-timer, but for right now splitting the job between them is a smart approach.

Bethea is backing his guys, but neither has been great since Melvin Bullitt was lost for the year with a shoulder injury.

Bethea said the young corners need to play technique, show improvement week by week and be sure not to repeat the same mistakes.

The Tryon situation was business, and players can’t spend time questioning a front office decision. Bethea is great at focusing on his stuff and his guys. He said that although 0-5 is a miserable place, no matter where the team goes moving forward we will not see the sort of fissures that often open on struggling teams.

As for being surrounded by unproven guys ...

“You can’t let other people affect how you play,” Bethea said matter-of-factly. “How you play is how you play, how you study is how you study. If my play goes down because there are different players around me, it says guys can’t look up to me. They need to see 41 flying around, playing hard, making plays.”

AFC South Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The secondary, Indianapolis Colts: Safety David Caldwell dropped an end-zone interception that really could have influenced the game early on. The three cornerbacks who were on the field a lot struggled to locate pass-catchers and get them to the ground. Are Terrence Johnson, Jacob Lacey and Chris Rucker good enough to hold up against superior passing teams like New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston and New England coming up later on the schedule? It’s a rhetorical question, and the answer right now is no.

2. Danieal Manning, Houston Texans special-teamer: We’re not knocking Manning the safety here. We’re knocking the guy who blocked a Pittsburgh field goal attempt on the last play before halftime. He circled around and was one of a convoy of Texans following Johnathan Joseph as he scooped up the kick to run it back for a score, and Manning inexplicably shoved kicker Daniel Sepulveda in the back. There was no way the kicker was going to threaten the play, and Houston was very fortunate to survive the lost touchdown. So props to Manning on the block, but he’s got to be smarter from there.

3. Linebackers, Jacksonville Jaguars: The team poured money into the position in the offseason, and Paul Posluszny and Clint Session are good players. But Posluszny dropped a pick and Daryl Smith let Drew Brees guide him out of bounds on an interception return. The backers were repeatedly victimized by running back Darren Sproles, who averaged 10.9 yards a touch, and tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught 10 balls for 132 yards. The Jaguars need more from these guys against players like that.

[+] EnlargePierre Garcon
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesBoth of Pierre Garcon's receptions Monday night went for touchdowns.
RISING

1. Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis receiver: He can be maddening with his drops -- he had one early against the Bucs. But the reason he’s around is that he can change games with one play. He had two of them for the Colts Monday night, grabbing Curtis Painter passes and doing excellent work after the catch. They were the sort of explosive offensive plays Indianapolis has to have if it’s going to be competitive.

2. Tight ends, Tennessee Titans: Among the people the team has talked of needing to help fill the void without Kenny Britt, Jared Cook was a top name. If teams choose to cover him and attempt to tackle him the way the Browns did, look for him to put up monster numbers. Craig Stevens is regarded as more of a blocker, but he did well to catch a touchdown. If Cook, Stevens and Daniel Graham can continue to be counted as good targets for the accurate Matt Hasselbeck, there is a lot of cause for hope. Those guys complementing receivers Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins are looking like a strong group.

3. Antonio Smith, Houston Texans defensive end: He’ll represent the entire defensive front here, which has been very good and which just overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line in Sunday’s win. Ben Roethlisberger can be exceptionally tough to drag down, but Smith and the Texans ganged up on him for five sacks and really hit him with great regularity. The secondary is vastly improved, but life is a lot better back when a quarterback like Roethlisberger has little time to work.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 24, Colts 17

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
12:55
AM ET
Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 24-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Colts are 0-4 for the first time since 1998, and while things have gotten a bit better they are still flailing. They rank with the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings as the NFL’s remaining winless teams.

What I didn’t like: A gruesome leg injury suffered by defensive tackle Eric Foster that left teammates ashen-faced and fearful. Clearly in great pain, he pounded his chest and the roof of the cart as he was taken from the field with his leg in a blow-up brace. The Colts also lost starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and his backup, fellow rookie Ben Ijalana, to injuries. That meant Mike Tepper, signed off the practice squad earlier in the day, was with the starting offense at the conclusion of the game.

What I liked: The inconsistent Pierre Garcon made two giant plays for Curtis Painter, for 87- and 59-yard touchdowns. While he lost a fumble and absorbed four sacks, Painter's 13-for-30, 281-yard effort with the two scores and no picks was a good enough effort to win.

Not assertive enough: With 8:27 left in the third quarter of a 10-10 game, Painter threw an incomplete pass on third down with less than a yard to go near midfield. Then the Colts punted. The Colts have to run there, and if they don't then they have to run on fourth down. For years we’ve talked about how they need to be able to run for a yard. Even with a dinged up offensive line, Delone Carter can’t get a yard?

Ugly numbers: The Colts allowed 466 net yards, left their defense on the field for 39 minutes and let Tampa Bay get away with 14 penalties worth 106 yards.

Still wondering: After watching Terrence Johnson, Jacob Lacey and Chris Rucker work as cornerbacks, I was still left wondering why the Colts decided to release Justin Tryon last week.

What’s next: The Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs, who just got their first win Sunday. The Chiefs could provide Indianapolis’ best chance to win yet.

Justin Tryon's fall in Indy a mystery

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
6:36
PM ET
Last week we got an indication from defensive coordinator Larry Coyer that Justin Tryon may have done something to get into Jim Caldwell’s dog house.

Tryon
Tryon
Even that was an interpretation for those of us trying to figure out why the team was using Jacob Lacey ahead of Tryon.

Now the Colts have shown us how far Tryon’s really fallen in their eyes.

They’ve released him, filling his roster spot with Jermale Hines.

Hines was a fifth-round draft pick, 158th overall, for St. Louis out of Ohio State. He was a strong safety and is likely to be in the mix as the team looks to replace Melvin Bullitt, who was placed on IR earlier today.

The Colts traded with Washington for Tryon on Sept. 4, 2010 for an undisclosed draft choice. He wound up bailing them out in an injury-plagued season, playing in 12 games and starting six. I thought he was a really nice system fit who did some good work.

When the team released Kelvin Hayden, now of the Falcons, I was one of the many who presumed they felt confidence in shedding Hayden’s big salary in part because of Tryon.

If they did, it didn’t last long.

Look for Terrence Johnson to work in the nickel package and be the guy who has a chance to press Lacey. Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker may also get increased opportunity.
We don’t know if the Colts made any sort of inquiries about another safety to pair with Antoine Bethea.

But as two top guys, Quintin Mikell and Eric Weddle, disappeared from the market, Indianapolis locked up its own guy before he started getting more attention from teams still in need.

Melvin Bullitt has struck a new deal with Indianapolis, according to 1070 the Fan, and he returns as a starter instead of a guy capable of taking over for Bob Sanders when he gets hurt. (Sanders was released after the 2010 season and signed with San Diego.)

Bullitt is a smart, steady player who fits the Colts mold. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M in 2007, he made the most of an opportunity. But he was part of the injury parade last season, missing the final 12 games of the regular season with a shoulder injury.

While they likely attempt to trim the hefty salary of cornerback Kelvin Hayden, I think he will remain.

That would give the Colts a starting secondary of Bethea and Bullitt between Hayden and Jerraud Powers, with Justin Tryon and Jacob Laceyas situational cornerbacks. That’s a strong group and might also include sixth-round pick Chris Rucker.

Bullitt is slated to join The Ride with JMV shortly. You can listen here. I will come back into this post to add some highlights from the interview.

UPDATE:

Bullitt said he heard from the Rams, the Cardinals, the Texans and a couple other teams.

Some quotes...

On deserving the deal:

"I feel like I've done enough for this team, the organization to show my worth and to show that I want to be here. There have never been any problems out of me. I am going to go out there and produce and try to help the team win."

On his health:

"I'll be ready for the first preseason game. I'm ready now. I told you before if there were different rules I could have played in January."

On Eric Weddle's five-year, $40 million contract with San Diego, with $19 million guaranteed:

"If that's what they want to do, that's up to them. Congratulations to him. If you look at my stats and Eric Weddle's stats, I haven't started nearly as many games and have the same amount of turnovers and have just as many tackles as him without the amount of starts he's had in the regular season. ...I don't understand how you can pay him more than Antonie [Bethea's] paid or even more than Bob [Sanders] was paid when he was defensive player of the year. But if that's what San Diego believes. Eric Weddle's a good player, he's a great player, actually. But that's just the way it is."

RTC: Will the Jags still lean on MJD?

July, 12, 2011
7/12/11
10:16
AM ET
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Dorin Dickerson's blog debuted Monday and in his first entry he talked about what he'd been doing during the lockout.

Indianapolis Colts

Mike Beacom takes a close look at fourth-rounder Delonte Carter and what the rookie running back can offer the Colts.

Rookie corner Chris Rucker is pleased with the team that drafted him. Rucker: "I feel like this is a good situation for me. It's not too far away from home, and it's a good organization to be a part of because they have great leadership."

Jacksonville Jaguars

Is the Jaguars' offense going to lean less on Maurice Jones-Drew this season? Black & Teal's Andrew Hofheimer isn't buying it.

Tennessee Titans

Receiver Kenny Britt appeared in Hoboken (N.J.) municipal court Tuesday after being arrested last week and charged with fourth-degree obstruction, fourth-degree tampering or fabricating evidence and third-degree resisting arrest with force. The charges were later reduced to disorderly charges offenses.

Running back Stafon Johnson is supporting a new campaign promoting healthier meals and better attendance in Los Angeles schools.
Here are some snippets from Mel Kiper’s summer audit of the AFC South, an Insider file you can find here.

Colts

“With the technique and footwork necessary to do a good job as a blindside pass protector in the NFL, what [Anthony] Castonzo now must do is improve his strength. Villanova's Benjamin Ijalana could have gone far earlier, and was a steal in Round 2. With Castonzo penciled in as their left tackle, Ijalana will be stationed at guard or right tackle. The more pressing need at the present time is at the former…”

“At one point, I thought Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker could be a second- or third-round pick. With the size necessary to match-up with the more physical receivers in the league, he was a nice addition at that point in the draft.”

“Reggie Wayne will be 33 this season, and there isn't an heir on the roster as a No. 1 -- as he was for Marvin Harrison.”

Jaguars

“Blaine Gabbert possesses an impressive arm and good overall athleticism. He's a bright kid and a good leader. But he needs to work on such things as deep-ball accuracy, staying in the pocket and finding the open receiver instead of taking off at the first sign of trouble. I would have had an issue with him being one of the first five picks in the draft; I do not have a problem with him going tenth…”

“While they've done some good work adding young talent on the interior of that defensive line, again they need free agency help on the edges. They absolutely must do something at the safety position as well.”

Texans

“I like [J.J.] Watt; he plays hard, does a great job with hand usage and is very productive. I also like Brooks Reed, a pass-rusher they got in the second round who could have gone higher. He has the kind of initial explosiveness that you look for in a player at the position…”

“I don't think the Texans could have done enough to add talent on the defensive side of the ball, and while they did a great job hitting needs, an interior lineman has to be on the shopping list. Beyond that, while they tried to add safety help in the draft and may have some talent, that's not a position you simply turn over to a rookie if you can help it.”

Titans

“There are no questions surrounding Washington QB Jake Locker's talent or work ethic. But a lot of improvement needs to take place as a pocket passer before I'm going to be sold on him as a long-term answer under center…”

“There's enough talent on this roster where mortgaging the season while a quarterback tries to work out some pretty considerable developmental issues might be a mistake. Beyond that, for whoever plays quarterback, is there enough talent at the wideout position?”

“Last year, we wondered just how many players the opposition would put in the box to stop Chris Johnson. Does that question look any different this year?”

SPONSORED HEADLINES