AFC South: combine takeaways

Combine takeaways: Tennessee Titans

February, 26, 2013
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Tennessee Titans in Indianapolis…

The Titans could be active early in free agency: This is a team that has largely sat back in free agency and let the early market sift out before getting involved. But both coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster said at Lucas Oil Stadium that they expect to be negotiating with at least one free agent during the three-day period where conversations are allowed before free agency opens.

No cuts on the immediate horizon: The Titans have $18.021 million in salary-cap room, so nothing is pressing in terms of salary-cap cuts. But general manager Webster said the team would trim salaries as it makes additions through free agency and the draft. Presumptive translation -- when the Titans get a guard, they can part with either Steve Hutchinson (due a $4.75 million base, he would cost $3 million in dead money cap hit) or guard/center Eugene Amano (due a $3.935 million base, but they’d save only about $1 million by cutting him). The other could be gone post draft.

The draft is deep at the right spots for this team: Before the Titans signed veteran safety George Wilson, Webster talked about how all three of the team’s biggest needs -- guard, safety and defensive end -- are deep in this pool of prospects. I pushed to see if Webster would put the three in order and he ranked guard and safety as the top two. He didn’t talk about the depth at kicker, but said if the Titans lose Rob Bironas as a free agent, Tennessee would consider drafting one. Three seem to be ranked as draftable.

The Titans will remain a team capable of using two-back sets: Quinn Johnson is a free agent to-be. His size -- 6-foot-1, 263-pounds -- fit the mold former offensive coordinator Chris Palmer wanted. We don’t know if he’s the same sort of fit for what Dowell Loggains intends to do while in the job. But Munchak said the Titans will carry a fullback and that Chris Johnson runs better in certain circumstances with one and in other circumstances without one. Loggains and new running back coach Sylvester Croom will talk with CJ about some play-by-play preferences on that.

Tennessee seeks mature additions: Webster says out of the info overload he looks for buzz words that relate to maturity. He wants to be sure the Titans wind up with guys who can handle the combination of free time and big money that they will wind up with after they are drafted. Everyone is coached to say the right things and give the right indications as they talk with scouts, coaches and executives. So there is work to sift out who’s really equipped to handle things and who is not.
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Jacksonville Jaguars in Indianapolis…

A hybrid defensive front will limit opponents’ run options: Coach Gus Bradley says the Jaguars defense will be unpredictable. “What we've seen in the run game, some offenses might say, 'Here's our run game attack for a 4-3 team and here's our run-game attack for a 3-4 team,'” Bradley said. “When they see us do both, the run game shrinks down a little bit and the philosophy behind it defensively is it pares it down and easier for us and the style of runs we'll see.”

The relationship between Bradley and Caldwell is already strong: Caldwell is kind of low key while Bradley is a ball of energy. It seems like a nice yin-and-yang combination. Asked about why he didn’t wait on his friend Greg Roman, the 49ers offensive coordinator, to become available, general manager David Caldwell said “Gus really knocked my doors off.” Said Bradley: “One of the most important things is to develop a relationship with the GM. We spend a lot of time watching tape together and talking through philosophy and what we're looking for in our scheme both offensive and defensively.”

Laurent Robinson has been cleared: The wide receiver who went to Jacksonville for a big free agent contract last year, then played in only seven games because of three concussions. There are no team activities for him to participate in now, but were there any he’d be good to go, Caldwell said. That’s an encouraging development. But do the Jaguars need to worry that one big shot will knock him out? With Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and Robinson, the Jaguars have a nice three-pack of receivers. But they should be at least four deep. Exclusive rights free agent Jordan Shipley could be a key guy.

Trade bait may be the second-rounder, not the first: The Jaguars have the first pick of the second round, 33rd overall. Since there is a day between the first and second round, that pick could be very popular. A team in need of a quarterback could look to vault up to the top of the second day to ensure it gets its guy. “I think there’s going to be a lot of interest,” Caldwell said. “There will be a very good player for us to select, too. We feel very good about having that.”

Derek Cox’s injury history makes things complicated: He is a quality cover corner for the Jaguars, but he heads for free agency with a major record of getting hurt. He’s missed 17 of 48 games the last three years, and it’s hard to pay big dollars to a player who’s missed a third of the team’s games over that stretch. “The most important ability is availability,” Caldwell said. "Regardless of size, speed, athleticism, play-making ability, if they’re not available on game day, then I think it’s difficult to pay them for that.”

Combine takeaways: Indianapolis Colts

February, 26, 2013
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis ...

Ryan Grigson is way more comfortable: A year on the job and a situation with far fewer difficult questions makes a huge difference for a general manager. Last year at the combine, he was sweating and nervous while unable to offer much on the Peyton Manning situation. This time, with a playoff berth in his first season at the helm, he was far more relaxed and joked about the difference in just one year.

Pat McAfee could be tagged: The Colts punter has indicated he’d be fine with being tagged. The number is about $3 million. But the Colts would clearly like to strike a long-term deal. “He’s a major priority in free agency,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Obviously, we’ve reached out and are working to get Pat re-signed. We saw what he did for us last year. He’s a great weapon." New deal or no new deal, expect McAfee to remain the team's punter and kickoff man going forward.

It’s premature to say what the offense will look like: Chuck Pagano is excited about new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. “I’m sure there will be things we’ll look at and look to implement as far as the West Coast concepts go, a few more check-downs, underneath routes, run after catch,” Pagano said. Andrew Luck's completion percentage will certainly go up and while Hamilton will surely continue to look for strikes downfield, this offense is unlikely to put it the way Bruce Arians did.

Indications are the Colts want a veteran lineman: Given a choice between a rookie cornerback or a rookie offensive lineman in the lineup, Grigson said he’d prefer a rookie corner. The logical conclusion, then, is that a team with a ton of cap room that is pledging not to go crazy in free agency will prioritize at least one veteran O-lineman. One report says they'll target Louis Vasquez if the Chargers allow him to reach free agency.

They could have a traditional fullback: Tight end Dwayne Allen did some fullback-style work last season. Hamilton will emphasize the run more than Arians did. But the Colts don’t yet know if they’ll use a tight end when they have a play that calls for a lead blocker or if they’ll have a more traditional fullback. “We’ll do our evaluations here, study everybody that’s here and then, at the end of the day, if there is a traditional fullback type body out there that fits what we’re doing, fits the system and everything else, then we’ll make a move on him,” Pagano said.

Combine takeaways: Houston Texans

February, 26, 2013
A combine rewind on what we heard from the Houston Texans in Indianapolis…

Connor Barwin is a core player: Sure he is, as long as he’s affordable. Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 and there was an offer on the table as the 2012 season kicked off. He passed, and was far less productive after his gamble. General manager Rick Smith can call him core, but to me a core guy is one you can’t survive without, and they certainly should be able to replace him if he finds a free-agent deal that compels him to leave.

They seem content with what they have on the right side of the offensive line: They platooned at both right tackle and right guard in 2012, and it sounds like they’ll be content to allow Brandon Brooks or Ben Jones to slug it out at right guard (or perhaps split time again) and see Derek Newton as the right tackle going forward.

They will keep the option of a franchise tag for Glover Quin as a possibility for as long as possible: The safety tag is about $7 million. It’s a palatable number, but the Texans have only $5.768 million in cap room. If they can’t reach a long-term deal that will produce a lower salary-cap number for 2013, tagging Quin will force the team to restructure a deal or two or cut someone that helps create room.

Brooks Reed could play inside: But that doesn’t mean the Texans are planning to move him. Gary Kubiak made it sound like they want more of a contingency plan if they have the sort of issues inside like they did last season. Move Reed inside and you create a hole outside, especially if Barwin leaves.

They’re still a young team, experiencing what they need to in order to make a jump: Yada, yada. This was quite a bit of spin, but what else can Smith say at this point when evaluating where the team stands? “We’re going to continue to add players, which is what this weekend is all about,” he said. “But I see a group of men that have gotten the experience that’s necessary to go make a real run at it and I think that’s where we are right now.”

A young quarterback is always a possibility: Said Kubiak, "In this business, you better be looking for young quarterbacks you think have a chance to be a 10-, 12-year guy. This year will be no different." T.J. Yates isn’t a sure thing. But the Texans only carried two quarterbacks in 2013, so the team would have to find someone it prefers to Yates in order to draft a QB. I don’t think they spend a premium pick on the position.