AFC South: DelJuan Robinson
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
Shaun Cody started with Okoye last year, and end Antonio Smith will continue to kick inside for clear-cut pass-rush situations. Third-round pick Earl Mitchell should solidify the rotation while Frank Okam and DelJuan Robinson continue to compete for roles.
But there could be an unexpected guy making a push for one of those roles: undrafted rookie Malcolm Sheppard from Arkansas.
“Probably the young kid who has surprised me the most through OTAs and everything has been this Sheppard kid that we got from Arkansas,” coach Gary Kubiak recently told Houston reporters. “I’m not trying to put pressure on him or anything, but he’s been a very pleasant surprise.
"I think he’s going to make a good push for this football team. He’s played extremely hard, very physical, [a] better athlete than we thought coming out. We thought he was going to get drafted but he didn’t. We were lucky to get him.”
There is room for Sheppard to win a spot and have an impact. He'll need to build upon the positive initial impression.
INDIANAPOLIS -- On a day when the Colts are recovering from a bad week of injury news, the Texans will have both Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson in a game against Indianapolis for the first time. Ever.
No giant surprises on Houston’s inactive list:
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Texans will start Nick Ferguson at free safety and Dominique Barber at strong safety Sunday in their season opener against the Jets.
Eugene Wilson, the starter at free safety, is out with a knee injury suffered as a result of a crackback block thrown by Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in an Aug. 31 preseason game. Favre was fined $10,000 for the block.
Defensive tackle DelJuan Robinson (calf) and receiver Kevin Walter (hamstring) are listed as questionable. Robinson practiced all week; Walter did not and is a game-time decision.
Andre Davis would get the call to start opposite Andre Johnson if Walter is out.
Quarterback Matt Schaub (ankle) practiced all week and is probable and not in question.
The Jets have five players listed as probable, with defensive end Mike Devito rated as questionable.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Biggest surprise: Safety John Busing was a playmaker and a big hitter all preseason, and he came in at a position where the Texans added only a late draft pick, Troy Nolan, who’s on IR. Busing played in 27 games with the Bengals over the last three years, but the little-known undrafted player out of Miami (Ohio) has worked primarily as a special teamer and could be a key teams player for the Texans. Underdog receiver Glenn Martinez also stuck.
No-brainers: With Rex Grossman’s performance in the preseason finale, Dan Orlovsky’s shaky, up-and-down performance through camp and Matt Schaub’s capacity for getting dinged, the Texans are well-served to keep three quarterbacks. Grossman certainly ranks as one of their best 53 right now, and could be better suited to be the backup at the start while the team rebuilds Orlovsky.
What's next: They need veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson to sign his franchise tag and join the team, and if it means negotiating incentives that would free him from the possibility of a second tag next year, they should meet him partway on those. Also, while Antonio Smith will kick inside sometimes, the interior defensive line was not good in the preseason. The team has to at least consider whether the right outsider couldn't rank ahead of Frank Okam or DelJuan Robinson, though the team has invested a lot of time and energy in developing them. And how much does Jeff Zgonina, in his 16th year, have left?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Some thoughts on what the Texans did and failed to do in their 17-10 preseason loss to the Vikings in Houston Monday night:
- Based on their failures against the Saints, we figured run defense would be a big issue to monitor. And boom, Adrian Peterson went 75 yards on the first play from scrimmage. I’m sure some of the linemen could have done better to get off blocks, but weakside linebacker Xavier Adibi went way too far with his initial read, running himself out of the play.
Brett Davis/US Presswire Matt Schaub appeared to have hurt his ankle when he was pushed out of bounds Monday night.
The linemen in front of him couldn’t have reasonably been expected to get to where Peterson went, and the defensive backs behind him weren’t going to chase Peterson down. It was hardly the lone bad moment for Adibi. He got a roughing the passer penalty the announcers objected to but that could have been the kind of hit below the knees the league is frowning on, though it wasn’t a lunge. And later, Adibi and Glover Quin both had Percy Harvin lined up and bounced off him as Harvin ran for more yards. Adibi did finish with five tackles and a pass defensed.
- Did Matt Schaub show something to his team, and his town, by returning to action after suffering a sprained left ankle? Maybe. And he was still taken out of the game earlier than planned. But I’m not sure proving a point is more important than being especially prudent there. He takes too much grief on the toughness issue, but here’s hoping he’ll be able to navigate his way out of bounds on the sideline without problems.
- We had developments on the interior defensive line the day the Texans dealt the injured Travis Johnson to San Diego. Houston started Dan Shaun Cody, who’d been working behind Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle, at the nose tackle spot where Johnson spent much of the last four years. DelJuan Robinson, who’s been working as the starter there, was playing in the fourth quarter. Cody’s hardly the first guy to have his hands full against that offensive line, but was moved with ease on some plays. Guard Anthony Herrera turned him aside on one big Peterson run, if 15 yards qualifies as big for Peterson.
- A replay review of an Andre Johnson catch of a deep ball from Dan Orlovsky on which he stepped out of bounds earlier than officials thought simply cannot take that long to sort out. I’m totally pro-replay, but a pause that long actually gives me pause. It was 46 yards, not 58 and it should have taken very little time to figure it out.
- If Chris Brown is available to make plays like that fourth-and-1 conversion early in the third quarter when he bounced off Pat Williams, Steve Slaton is really going to benefit.
- More reason to dislike Wildcat shenanigans: Brett Favre split out, compelled to throw a crackback block at safety Eugene Wilson that left him with a knee injury. If it proves serious, we’ve got a big story on our hands.
- If Jacoby Jones is really fighting for a job, shouldn't someone else be getting a chance to field a punt?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Texans' trade of Travis Johnson wasn’t exactly an exercise in gaining value. In exchange for the 16th pick in the 2005 draft, Houston gets a conditional pick, either a fifth- or sixth-rounder from San Diego, depending on how Johnson performs.
While I was in Houston recently, Johnson was still out recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia. But the company line was that while Johnson got a lot of grief from the media and fans, he ate up blockers the way the team wanted him to. Maybe it’s reasonable to think now, they were just trying to keep his image as polished as they could knowing they were going to try to get something for him.
Monday night against the Vikings on national TV, the Texans will aim to show they can stop the run much better than they did in their last game, when the Saints ran it right up the middle on them.
With or without Johnson, the Texans need to see more from their interior linemen, starting with third-year man Amobi Okoye. But he plays the spot next to the one Johnson was in, and DelJuan Robinson and Frank Okam have not been especially impressive in that spot so far. Shaun Cody is due to get more of a look. When the team signed him as a free agent, the talk was of his ability to play both inside spots.
The Texans will hope for continued growth from Robinson and Okam and a better showing from Cody. Certainly it’s fair to expect that third down will feature end Antonio Smith kicking inside with rookie Connor Barwin getting on the field to rush the passer.
Johnson finishes his Texans career with 52 appearances, including 38 starts. He had 124 tackles, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble to show for all that time on the field. You’d think a few more big plays would have happened for him just by accident.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Tight end James Casey will work at fullback too, now that Boomer Grigsby is out up to six weeks with a badly sprained ankle, says John McClain.
Frank Okam and DelJuan Robinson are getting the right number of snaps to be effective, say McClain and Anna-Megan Raley.
Rex Grossman could miss more than a month with a hamstring injury and the Texans may bring back Alex Brink.
Matt Schaub's health will key the Texans' season, writes Alex Marvez.
Battledredblog.com assesses Texans' injuries.
Via @RosenhausSports on Twitter, Drew Rosenhaus said Dominique Barber is a first team safety now: "Congrats to Texans safety Dom Barber who was recently promoted to the 1st team. Dom is the proto-type NFL strong safety."
A look at the Colts' lingering issues from Mike Chappell.
It's too early to write off Tony Ugoh, says John Oehser. I agree, and it's not like the team has a ton of alternatives.
Just how explosive is Maurice Jones-Drew?
Five Jaguars to watch Monday night against Miami.
Atiyyah Ellison is emerging on the interior defensive line, writes Michael C. Wright.
Five things to know about the Jaguars, from Pete Prisco.
Five Jags won't play Monday night.
Torry Holt's been working with young receivers in the background, says Prisco.
Bigcatcountry.com predicts the final 53.
Vince Young won't start in Dallas but could play more with the first team, says Jim Wyatt.
Bud Adams is more visible, but Jeff Fisher is in control, says David Climer.
The Titans are about to see some 3-4 defenses, say Jim Wyatt and Gary Estwick.
Ken Amato's an important specialist, says Terry McCormick.
- Jerome Solomon says DelJuan Robinson is perfectly happy wearing No. 66.
- The Texans are looking for a mini-advertiser to buy space on their practice jerseys, reports Megan Manfull.
- Cato June's Super Bowl ring sets him apart in the Texans' locker room, writes Jordan Godwin.
- Another look at June, from Alan Burge.
- Peyton Manning is not on Twitter. The Colts want it known so much, they linked to this Sam Farmer story about fake Twitter accounts that allege to belong to big names in sports.
- "To me, you stick with what they've built here." So said defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, writes Mike Chappell.
- Guard Ryan Lilja is participating in a limited basis in the Colts' OTAs, says Chappell.
- Coming off a broken leg, Gary Brackett said he'll be ready for camp, says Chappell.
- An assessment of the offense as minicamp approaches, from John Oehser.
- Mike Vanderjagt speaks, Oehser finds the story.
- Jack Del Rio blasts John Henderson. I was there Tuesday. Here's Michael C. Wright's account.
- Safety Marlon McCree is set to rejoin the Jags, who are thin at the spot, reports Wright.
- The latest edition of Vic Ketchman's mailbag. I've enjoyed chatting with Vic some at practices the past two days.
- Thoughts on where injured guys stand, from Samuel Lloyd.
|Diamond Images/Getty Images|
|New defensive line coach Bill Kollar vows to get more out of Houston's defensive line this season. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Bill Kollar plans to scream, cajole, irritate and pester.
The Texans' new defensive line coach casts himself not just as a coach, but as a button-pusher. He says his style is similar to that of a friend he once crossed coaching paths with briefly at Purdue -- Jim Washburn.
Washburn has coached the Tennessee Titans defensive line with great success -- and at high volume -- since 1999. As the Texans looked to start reinventing their defense, they lured Kollar from Buffalo.
Kollar pledges to do what he needs to squeeze all he can out of a group that features 2006 No. 1 overall draft pick Mario Williams. The Texans didn't produce enough good play around the Pro Bowl defensive end last season. Houston's linemen, then, can expect constant reminders that they are to run to the ball on all occasions and never take a play off.
Kollar will rotate his people. With the free-agent additions of defensive end Antonio Smith (from the Arizona Cardinals) and tackle Shaun Cody (from the Detroit Lions), he should have better depth than his predecessor, Jethro Franklin, did. The Texans are sure to also draft at least one defensive lineman.
"Obviously we're teachers, but we're also motivators," Kollar said. "If you had a whole group of players that were self motivated, that went nuts, you wouldn't have to worry about it. That would be fine. But I've never had a group like that and I don't know how many guys do or if there is a group like that. So I think everybody now and then can be helped to keep going by a little kick in the rear."
Kollar, a 1974-first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals who played eight seasons as a defensive lineman in the NFL, is still getting to know the Texans. Much of his sense of them still comes more off tape than from his own interaction and experiences.
In a phone chat with the AFC South Blog this week, he was willing to frame each of his linemen, providing his general feelings about each of them -- feelings that can obviously change significantly between now and opening day.
Smith: "A guy who works his butt off, gives you 100 percent all the time. We think he will end up definitely helping us. He's got good technique and knows how to use his hands and stuff. He's not the most agile guy out there that's going to run a 4.5 or something like that. But he really uses his hands well, watching him over the last few years he does a really good job."
Williams: "A heck of a guy, a heck of a player. I've really been impressed with the guy... He works his butt off out there and I think he just wants to keep getting better and better and take the team to the playoffs. And the better your team is, the better accolades your players end up getting.
"People know about the sacks, but he's a hell of a run player too. As long and as strong as he is, he does a heck of a job in both aspects."
|AP/Gene J. Puskar|
|The Texans lured Bill Kollar from the Bills and hope Kollar's motivational style is what the defensive line needs to take the next step.|
Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye: "I know he had that high ankle sprain [last year] and it's tough to play with. We're obviously hoping that's all past him now and with a young guy like that hopefully by the third year they hopefully kick in and become the player that they are going to be. We're hoping that happens this year...
"He's 22 [in June] and you look at it and sort of feel like the first two years in the league were his junior and senior year of college and he's just sort of had a jump on the guys coming out this year because he's already been playing with the big boys instead of still playing in college. Now you're hoping he's able to take it to the next level, stay healthy, that's always a big factor in anybody's career."
Defensive tackle Travis Johnson: "The guy plays hard, he's more of a run-down player, he's sort of trying to anchor down in the middle compared to a pass rusher. What happens when you end up taking a defensive tackle or a defensive end in the first round, you expect production in both the run and the pass. [The Texans selected Johnson in the first round in 2005.]
"The funny thing is, if you go back over years, very seldom do your nose men turn out to be pass rushers. They are the guys in there getting doubled all the time and anchoring down and then usually -- I won't say all the time, but usually - when it becomes third down, you might take another guy, you might take one of your outside guys and move him inside. And those [nose] guys sort of end up getting their break in passing situations. You can look at it quite a few different ways, but that's how I sort of view it and it really happens that way for a lot of guys."
Cody: "He's been unable to do anything so far here. I remember watching him and liking him coming out of USC. He had some injury problems there in Detroit, we're hoping that all those are past him now and we see him as able to play either spot inside which turns out to be a big plus for him, it turns out to give you more playing time and for us it helps depth-wise."
"We see him probably a little more as a solid player in the run game than he is a pass rush guy. Anytime you get a pass rush guy who can get up the field and go, we'd love to have it. When he was in college and so far at Detroit, he's a little more of a run down player than a pass rusher."
End Tim Bulman: "A real hard worker, a real tough kid when you watch him. I've sort of been impressed so far with what I have seen of him... I know he was down at Arizona when Kyle Vanden Bosch was down there and Vanden Bosch didn't have a lot of success down there, I know he was injured, he blew a couple of knees out and stuff. But I think Tim has see
n what Vanden Bosch was able to do on a new team and I am sure he's hoping that's a possibility that it could happen for him."
Defensive tackle Frank Okam: "He's more of an anchor guy, we're hoping he can end up getting in there and plug up the gap and help with short-line pursuit and stuff... A lot of second-year guys that really didn't play that much their first year, sometimes they make a big step. We'll just sort of see how it ends up going with him."
End Stanley McClover, who spent almost all of 2008 on IR with a right knee injury: "He's still probably not at 100 percent. I really saw no film on him, he got hurt in the first game I think. I really don't know much about him at all."
End Jesse Nading: "Played a little bit last year, mainly in passing situations. Showed a little quickness here and there. Maybe a little undersized but has some good mobility, has pretty good feet."
Defensive tackle DelJuan Robinson: "He's a big stop guy, too, in there."
A final thought:
Prevailing wisdom has been that the Texans need an upgrade inside to play the nose next to Okoye. Kollar sounds pleased with the pool he's already got to choose from, and he could and could get another candidate in the draft.
"We've got quite a few on the inside especially at the nose we should end up having some good competition with Johnson, Cody, Okam and Robinson," he said.
But if one of the ends emerges as a good rusher opposite Williams or the Texans add that guy in the draft, it sure sounds like Smith could be the interior answer on passing downs.
"He's definitely a good inside rusher, I mean he's slippery inside, he uses his hands well," Kollar said. "He ended up playing a lot inside last year on first and second down. He just does a good job, he plays with great leverage, he was able to slip through gaps. He can give you some rush from the inside, that's for sure."
Cody may be the team's third defensive tackle or could force his way ahead of Travis Johnson, who started last year at nose tackle beside Amobi Okoye, who was banged up in his second season. Whether he starts or not, the team looks to him to upgrade the rotation, where DelJuan Robinson and Frank Okam are also on the roster. Jeff Zgonina, a 17-year veteran, is a free agent.
At 6-4, 310 Cody is bigger than all the Texans tackle except for Okam (6-5, 320).
The Texans apparently like Cody in part because he can be a versatile inside presence.
Houston got just 25 sacks last season, and 12 of those came from Williams.
Cody played in 16 games with five starts for the Lions last year. He was a second-rounder, 37th overall in the 2005 draft out of USC.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Off to Jacksonville this morning. Look forward to talking with you from there...
- DelJuan Robinson's overcome heart surgery and the death of his brother, writes Jerome Solomon.
- The Texans defense is locking down on third down, says Megan Manfull.
- Houston added cornerback David Pittman and wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, according to Manfull.
- Richard Justice says the Texans are growing up fast.
- Alex Marvez makes a Pro Bowl case for Steve Slaton.
- Tony Dungy can become the first coach to go to the playoffs 10 consecutive years with a win tonight, says Mike Chappell.
- Running backs coach Gene Huey will work his 271st game as the Colts running backs coach tonight, the longest stint as an assistant in franchise history, writes Phil Richards.
- A look at some guys Huey has had ready to step in, from Richards.
- Safety Bob Sanders, tight end Dallas Clark, center Jeff Saturday and punter Hunter Smith were named alternates to the AFC Pro Bowl team.
- Maurice Jones-Drew brings the Jaguars major versatility, says Phillip B. Wilson.
- A look at Mike Pollak's high school career, from Chappell.
- A win tonight means Dungy will rest people against Tennessee next week, says Richards.
- Tonight in prime time the Jaguars can sweep a division rival, snap the Colts' seven-game winning streak and prevent them from clinching a playoff spot, writes Vito Stellino.
- A breakdown of the matchup.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Robinson and Robinson have played a big role in the Texans' recent defensive surge.
Monday, coach Gary Kubiak talked about how much the full return of veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson and the play of second-year tackle DelJuan Robinson have helped key what's going on with the Texans, who have made it back from 0-4 and 3-7 to 7-7.
In the upset of the Titans on Sunday, the interior lineman made four tackles, three of them for a loss. The Texans hit Titans ball carriers for a loss seven times.
DelJuan Robinson was an undrafted free agent in 2007 out of Mississippi. He spent the bulk of his first year on the practice squad, before he was elevated to the roster for the final game. He was an inactive.
Now he's telling reporters in Houston he's staying in No. 66 -- hardly a glamour number for a D-lineman -- so he doesn't forget how he got where he is.
"DelJuan doesn't talk much," coach Gary Kubiak said. "So, evidently you got a lot more out of him than we do. But, no, he's a young kid with a lot of ability. I remember [former Mississippi State head coach] Jackie Sherrill telling me when he came out, 'You give this guy a chance, he's going to make it in your league.' So, that's where I kind of first found out about him."
"But, he's worked extremely hard for [defensive line coach] Jethro [Franklin] and [senior defensive assistant] Frank [Bush]. He's had his spots where he's done some good things, but I think [Sunday] was obviously a big bright spot in his young career so far to step up and play the way he did. He's our defensive player of the game. He played extremely well."
Meanwhile Dunta Robinson has helped boost the confidence of the defense. He started the year on PUP, recovering from a terrible knee and hamstring injury suffered last season. Many thought he might never be as good of a player again, He played in five games in a limited role, but took back the starting right corner job in Cleveland on Nov. 23 and Houston hasn't lost since.
"I think when he went out there it gave us some confidence just as a group that, 'Hey, he's back at his old spot,'" Kubiak said. "Jacques [Reeves] has really grown up as a player and has played extremely well throughout the season and is playing his best football. Amobi [Okoye] makes a big play [Sunday], and like I said, I just think if you look across the board the group has settled down. But you've got to give Dunta a lot of credit. Since he's come back, they've obviously played with a lot more confidence."
Rookie Xavier Adibi will plug in for Greenwood.
Tony Dungy has indicated Hayden likely needs one more week, and Keiwan Ratliff has been working as the second starting corner opposite Tim Jennings. Sanders rested Wednesday, practiced Thursday and then did not work Friday, when a knee injury was added to the report.
Defensive tackle Jason Jones (foot) is out.
Linebacker Keith Bulluck (chest) did not practice all week. He's listed as questionable but will play.
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) and receiver Justin McCareins (concussion) are questionable and probably do not play. Dave Ball would start for Vanden Bosch with Jacob Ford also seeing time. Brandon Jones would start for McCareins with Lavelle Hawkins seeing some action.
Wide receiver Matt Jones (thigh) is questionable after he was limited Thursday and out Friday. Jerry Porter would likely start in his place with Dennis Northcutt and maybe Mike Walker getting additional work.
Fullback Greg Jones (ankle) is questionable after missing Wednesday and Thursday and being limited on Friday. The expectation is he will play. If he doesn't, the Jaguars will play less two-back with excellent special-teamer Montell Owens at fullback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
A look at injuries that could impact Sunday's games.
Reserve linebacker Chaun Thompson (hamstring) will also be a game-time decision.
Right tackle Ryan Diem (ankle) was a full participant in Friday's practice and is probable.
For Pittsburgh, running back Willie Parker (shoulder) won't play, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with Mewelde Moore filling in. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) was a full participant and is probable.
Middle linebacker Mike Peterson could start, but after a week of conflict with Jack Del Rio he might be suspended or could dress as a reserve. If he does not start, Daryl Smith will slide to the middle and Clint Ingram will start in Smith's regular outside spot.
For Detroit, quarterback Dan Orlovsky (hand) is out with Daunte Culpepper set to start. Fullback Jerome Felton (ankle), center Dominic Raiola (hand), string safety Dwight Smith (foot) and tight end Casey Fitzsimmons (ribs) are out.
Linebacker Keith Bulluck (chest) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) are both questionable and will be game-time decisions. Neither of them practiced all week. The guess here is Bulluck plays and KVB does not.
The Houston Texans are big on rotating, and while it's all the rage in the league at running back, I'm pretty sure it acknowledges weakness when you do it at cornerback or defensive tackle or, now, at left tackle.
There have been times this season when the Texans have rolled Fred Bennett, Demarcus Faggins and Jacques Reeves through their two primary cornerback spots. They are trying to get more out of interior defensive lineman Amobi Okoye by spelling his every third series with DelJuan Robinson.
The Texans say they feel like all the guys they are putting on the field qualify as starters, but you know the popular line of thinking: If you're playing more than one it's because you don't have one.
Here's Gary Kubiak with Houston reporters on the Brown-Salaam rotation going forward:
"Well, I foresee us doing the same thing we did [Sunday]. As I told you, we are really monitoring Duane's reps, just watching his reps because he's playing 40, 45 plays of just big-time football and about 15 or 20 that we have to clean up. So what we decided to do was get Ephraim in that rotation, it was every third series. Ephraim needs the work too and I think it helped Duane. Duane played extremely well in the [Detroit] game and Ephraim, I thought, brought something to the group also. It was encouraging. I think we'll continue to do the same thing."
The problem with that rationale, I think, is the assumption that the 15 to 20 plays the team wants cleaned up are the same 15 to 20 plays Brown yields to Salaam.
If he's not conditioned well enough at this stage -- and he should be since it seven weeks into the season -- that's one thing, and this plan might be understandable as a stop gap. Beyond that, I'm not sure what kind of message it sends through the locker room, except that yet another top guy isn't good enough to do the job fulltime.