AFC South: Dennis Northcutt
1. Reggie Nelson, Jaguars FS: Featured here before, he hurt the Jaguars’ chances at being the team to beat Indianapolis on Thursday with his misplay on Reggie Wayne’s 65-yard touchdown catch that put Indy ahead. Nelson was pretty good as a rookie after he was the 21st pick in 2007. But his second and third years have been a disappointment. Perhaps addressing his spot in the offseason will wind up ranking on the priority list.
2. Texans run game: It’s the blocking, it’s the backs, it’s the play calling, it’s everything. Arian Foster, the newest guy to get a chance, fumbled an early catch and saw minimal time. In the second consecutive game against a bad NFC West team, the Texans could not seize control by running with any consistency. A week after AFC South rival Tennessee averaged 5.3 yards a carry in a thrashing of the Rams, Houston managed a 2.2 average.
3. Titans veteran linebackers: The Titans lost both of their outside linebackers for the season. The durable Keith Bulluck tore the ACL in his left knee and will see a starting streak of 127 games end. David Thornton, who’s been dealing with a shoulder injury, was also shelved and will have surgery.
Rookie Gerald McRath can play. But the other spot and a pairing of inexperienced outside backers McRath and Colin Allred or Stanford Keglar or newly signed veteran Jamie Winborn could be a big issue.
1. Daniel Muir, Colts DT: The position was considered a big weakness in 2008, but the top three interior defensive linemen right now were on the team last year. Second-round draft pick Fili Moala was supposed to add size and impact, but Muir has filled that role.
The 312-pounder is averaging over seven tackles a game in his last six, including 10 at Jacksonville. Offenses are averaging 3.9 yards a carry in that span, an improved number for Indy.
2. Justin Gage, Titans WR: Gage’s big leaping catch in San Francisco in Week 9 ended with a crash that broke bones in his lower back. He missed four games and is now playing as the third receiver. He hardly got wide open for his two touchdown catches against the Dolphins, but when Vince Young put up perfect passes for him, he pulled them both in. If Gage plays like that, and Nate Washington holds on to the ball, those two and impressive rookie Kenny Britt could be the team’s best receiving trio in some time.
3. Gerald Alexander, Jaguars SS: Helping offset Nelson’s poor play is a summer trade acquisition. The Jaguars got Alexander from Detroit in exchange for receiver Dennis Northcutt on June 30. In his past three games, he has an interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He’s looking like a guy who could be part of a long-term answer.
Posted by ESPN.com staff
- HoustonTexans.com ranks the top 5 gutsiest plays in team history.
- John Oehser of examiner.com details how spending wisely has translated into success on the field for the Colts.
- Jaguars.com's Vic Ketchman fielded questions from fans, highlighted by the Dennis Northcutt trade.
- Seventh-round pick Rashad Jennings discussed his trip to the rookie symposium.
Posted by ESPN.com staff
An updated list of the remaining 2009 restricted free agents. The AFC South has 11, including seven from Houston.
This past weekend, Titans fullback Boomer Grigsby went back to his hometown of Canton, Ohio to hold his annual fundraiser to benefit local charities.
Second-year defensive end Marcus Howard expects to make an impact in his sophomore season, writes John Oehser on Colts.com.
Also from Colts.com, Jeffrey Gorman has a video interview with Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster.
The Jags have finalized the deal that sent receiver Dennis Northcutt to the Lions for safety Gerard Alexander.
The Titans have signed two more members of their 2009 draft class: cornerback Ryan Mouton and linebacker Gerald McRath. Here's the updated list of AFC South signees.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
I think Jaguars GM Gene Smith deserves applause on this one.
Earlier this week it came out that Jacksonville was looking to move veteran receiver Dennis Northcutt. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton is reporting that the Jags have made a deal, getting safety Gerald Alexander from Detroit in exchange for Northcutt.
Alexander played five games last year before a neck injury put him on the shelf. But he was a second-round pick out of Boise State just two years ago, started 16 games as a rookie and turns 25 on Sunday. Northcutt is 31.
Northcutt can be a help to the Lions as they look to get Matthew Stafford going. And Alexander adds depth to a position where the Jaguars need it -- Reggie Nelson's play dropped off in his second year and the strong safety spot doesn't have an incumbent.
A healthy Alexander can bring additional competition to the group and seems a reasonable exchange for Northcutt, provided the Jaguars have what they think at receiver with Torry Holt, Mike Walker, Troy Williamson and three draft picks.
According to Clayton, Alexander is due base salaries of $460,000 this season and $550,000 in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Pete Prisco's annual top 50 players starts with 26-50, a segment that includes Reggie Wayne, Michael Roos, Bob Sanders, DeMeco Ryans and Cortland Finnegan.
- The Texans announced an initial slate of camp practices that will be open, and cut quarterback Alex Brink, tackle Doug Dedrick and punter Justin Brantly, writes Megan Manfull.
- Alan Burge considers the roster moves.
- John Oehser chimes in on Peyton Manning's omission from ESPN.com's all-decade team and considers the series' "moments" list, too.
- A breakdown of Ryan Diem from Oehser.
- Maurice Jones-Drew makes an appearance in this Ross Tucker piece about players judging broadcasters.
- The Jags are looking to deal Dennis Northcutt. Here's Michael C. Wright's story on it.
- A little more than a year after a tornado ripped up his hometown, Brad Meester's high school coach, Ed Thomas, was shot and killed, says Wright.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Dennis Northcutt appears to be the latest veteran on the way out in Jacksonville.|
This suggests that after getting some time with Torry Holt and assessing Mike Walker and the three receivers the team drafted, the Jaguars are perfectly comfortable moving forward without players who accounted for 44 percent of their receptions last year.
Northcutt was the team's best receiver at the end of last season. With Matt Jones (since cut) suspended, Northcutt caught five balls for 127 yards and a touchdown in a win over Green Bay on Dec. 14 and eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in a Dec. 18 loss to Indianapolis.
But a team that's already let Jones go and showed no interest in retaining free agent Reggie Williams is looking to continue housecleaning.
Under first-year GM Gene Smith, they've cut running back Fred Taylor, Jones, defensive end Paul Spicer, cornerback Drayton Florence, receiver Jerry Porter, tight end George Wrighster and backup quarterback Cleo Lemon. The team didn't attempt to re-sign free agents Williams, safety Gerald Sensabaugh and tackle Khalif Barnes. They also traded defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
Moving Northcutt would be yet another step in the housecleaning.
They're clearly ready to get Walker on the field with Holt and allow fourth-rounder Mike Thomas, fifth-rounder Jarett Dillard and seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood to battle it out for the third spot and fill out the depth.
Northcutt, 31, is a savvy player who can still help someone. But revealing they are looking to trade him could prompt an interested team to wait and see if he isn't ultimately released.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Torry Holt is drawing rave reviews from those in the Jacksonville organization.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Defenses may be able to contain Torry Holt better than they used to.
A 160-character limit on a text message, however, cannot box him in.
"We had a little string a couple weeks ago," Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "He sent me a text and I sent him a text back. [Then] it took seven texts for one response to a question I asked him in response to one of his texts. So, he's into it. Torry is all about ball."
Is Holt poised to be a hero or a savior? Probably not. Does the Jaguars' new veteran receiver bring the team its best receiver resume since Jimmy Smith, and bring the potential for production from the position the team has craved for years? Absolutely.
The seven-time Pro Bowler, who was an instrumental piece of "The Greatest Show on Turf," was let go by the rebuilding Rams. But his 64 catches, 796 yards, 12.4-yard average and three touchdowns last season hardly amounted to a bad stat line -- certainly not in Jacksonville. Jones had 65 catches in a season cut short by a suspension; Holt's numbers would have led the Jags in the other three departments.
|Cary Edmondson/US Presswire|
|In 2008, Torry Holt was held to less than 800 receiving yards for the first time since 1999.|
Here are three assessments from those who are now working with him:
Koetter: "A proven entity and a veteran presence. In everything that I've seen, he's the consummate pro. ... Someone said, and I think they were right, 'This guy's got to be the quietest seven-time Pro Bowler that's ever existed.' Just look at the numbers. I think it's eight years over 80 catches and 1,000 yards. We haven't had a guy like that, and that's no knock on anybody, that's just fact. ... We have young guys who can soak up his experience. When you just watch Torry as a route-runner, whether the word is crafty or experienced, Torry knows all the little tricks to get himself open and he's got really good hands on top of that."
GM Gene Smith: "He's come in and given us tremendous veteran presence. He's like a player-coach. He's constantly talking to the other players at his position. He has a strong passion for football and so he's probably not the elite guy he once was in terms of earning his opportunity to go to seven Pro Bowls, but he's certainly got the ability to play at a winning level. We felt like adding him to our group not just as a player but as a person, he'd certainly be an asset. So far, so good."
Quarterback David Garrard: "Just his mind is amazing. Listening to a guy that's been around and been doing the right thing for a long time is a breath of fresh air, really."
And one thought from an outsider whose team will play Holt twice:
Colts president Bill Polian: "I think he's got some good football left and he's a very reliable target for David Garrard. That's a good thing. It helps Garrard."
I recently asked Jaguars faithful what starter they would most like to see replaced.
Thanks for all the feedback. Here's a sampling of what you had to say in comments and notes to the mailbag, with some commentary and reaction weaved in:
Ty from parts unknown: Rasheen Mathis...or as i call him toast, that guy gets burned way too much to be considered a premier corner.
Paul Kuharsky: There is a long way between "not a premium corner" and replaced. Let's see him with a more consistent pass rush. I think right now he's a good corner and I think he can be very good.
David in Jacksonville: Jaguars to replace : Brian Williams at corner- he is a better safety than a corner. Any WR- Northcutt is a decent slot receiver but we need playmakers on the outside. Meir as a starter- the DT position needs help. Henderson has been in the league awhile and the Jags do not have any other quality tackles on the roster. Hayward- Let Harvey and Groves play the ends so they can develop. The Jags have a lot of holes to fill and need to have a productive draft.
J. from parts unknown: This hurts to say, but I would want to replace Marcedes Lewis. He frustrated me to no end last year with all the key drops he had in games. I realize that he is a good blocker, but he had butterfingers last year. And, even though this guy doesn't start, I never want to see CB William James on the football field again. Wow, bad.
PK: James was atrocious. He's an unrestricted free agent, and I can't imagine with last year's film he's going to find work.
pokerfitz: Marcedes Lewis, I mean seriously how many passes can one guy drop? He's the braylon Edwards of TE's...
PK: We wait and wait for Lewis to become a consistent weapon. He definitely needs to be more reliable to prompt coaches to give him a bigger role.
Terry in Ponte Vedra: Addressing your upgrade question - I would uprade if possible Pashos, B. Williams (at corner) and D. Northcutt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Team needs: Receiver, defensive tackle, offensive tackle, defensive back
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|It's unlikely that Boston College defensive lineman B.J. Raji will still be on the board at No 8, but if he is, expect the Jaguars to jump.|
Plan B: The Jaguars have lots of holes and if they can't address one directly with No. 8, the way Smith has talked of building through the draft, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't want to bump back to gather extra picks. Maybe the Jaguars are really interested in USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. But they struggled to sign Harvey last season. It would surely be harder to strike a deal with a top 10 quarterback who they don't expect to start this year. Perhaps they want someone else who's interested to come up and get Sanchez here. The Jaguars traded into this pick last year, so teams will have a good sense of what it would take to make a deal.
Scouts Inc. take: "After signing Tra Thomas, the Jaguars are now able to draft a project offensive tackle later in the draft as opposed to reaching in the first round for Andre Smith or Michael Oher. But, the Jaguars are not deficient in terms of glaring needs and wide receiver ranks right at the very top of that list. Michael Crabtree would be the ideal selection and in my opinion, as getting the best player in the draft at number eight would be a complete steal. Still, chances are that Crabtree doesn't make it that far. Is Jeremy Maclin worth that pick for Jacksonville? He certainly could be considering the position he plays and his big play ability, but overall, he isn't polished enough to come in an immediately be a go-to option. Two defensive players to keep an eye on are B.J. Raji, who is also unlikely to still be available but would be a tremendous get for the Jags, and Malcolm Jenkins, who could be exactly what Jacksonville needs to sure up their ailing and thin secondary. Mark Sanchez has been mentioned here, but I just don't see that happening." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Jack Del Rio's desires will certainly be heard, but Smith made it clear when he took the post that he's got the final say on both draft picks and the roster.
On the Clock: Oakland Raiders, April 10.
Could the Jaguars and Titans be about to play their first game of the 2009 season?
We don't yet know what kind of deal Holt's expecting or if there are other teams pursuing him.
But the Jaguars may be in position to make an exception to their new stance about pricey free agents from the outside. They don't want to operate that way any longer, but are so thin at the spot and so in need of a prime weapon for quarterback David Garrard, they might spend more than they initially intended.
But with Reggie Williams a free agent they won't try to re-sign, Matt Jones released after a probation violation and Jerry Porter dumped after one disastrous year, the Jaguars are quite thin at receiver:
Jacksonville needs Holt more than the Titans do.
Tennessee added free agent Nate Washington, who should upgrade the second starting spot opposite Justin Gage held by Justin McCareins last year. Tennessee also has Lavelle Hawkins, a fourth-rounder last year who they believe has upside. That top three is hardly great, but it's better than any three you can pick off the menu of Jacksonville receivers above.
The Jaguars can get a productive leader who most seem to believe still has some good football left in him. If they don't, they may have to defend him twice a year.
The Jaguars are about 20 points worse than the lowest-seeded team in the AFC playoff field.
In a 27-7 loss in Baltimore Sunday, Jacksonville was unable to come close to playing the role of the spoiler and did not influence the final wild-card slot.
Jacksonville went into the second quarter with a 7-3 lead and went into halftime with a 24-7 deficit.
They gave it away four times as their top offensive people failed to protect the ball -- David Garrard threw two interception and Maurice Jones-Drew, who played hurt, lost a fumble, as did the receiver who led the team in catches, Dennis Northcutt.
The Jaguars didn't threaten with any sort of explosive plays, which has been the case for many Baltimore victims and has been the case for Jacksonville too often in a lost year. Garrard connected on two 23-yard throws and finished with a woeful 5.08 yards per pass attempt.
Let the purging and rebuilding begin.
For much of the year there was speculation that this game would be a mirror image of last season's finale. In 2007, the Titans needed to win to get in and the game meant nothing to the Colts, who didn't play their key people long, if at all.
Indy avoided that role reversal by clinching the top wild-card berth on Dec. 18.
So now the game means nothing for either team.
The Colts are a week away from a playoff opener and will rest up. The Titans have a week off coming up and would like to maintain some rhythm, but aren't going to risk much. Tennessee probably wants to win more, because it would mean the first 14-win season in franchise history.
But look deep on the depth charts to find the guys who will determine the outcome. We're talking Jim Sorgi, Pierre Garcon and Najeh Davenport of the Colts against Vince Young, Chris Henry and Paul Williams.
Kudos to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his efforts to ensure the schedule offers better games at the end of the season and fewer meaningless contests involving playoff teams. This one had potential for a while, but unfortunately qualifies as a miss.
The biggest win for either side? No one gets hurt.
The Jaguars have played better the past two weeks, which has many feeling they could be poised to be a spoiler for the Ravens -- who need a win to get the final AFC playoff berth.
Here's why Baltimore can be confident: While the Ravens have lost all five games they've played against playoff teams, they're undefeated against teams who aren't playing in January. And the Jaguars were eliminated weeks ago.
Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew has a knee injury but practiced Friday and is probable. He's topped 100 yards only twice this season, and the Ravens haven't allowed a back to go over 100 in 34 consecutive games. He's more likely to hurt the Ravens as a receiver - he's got 61 receptions for 555 yards.
It was a big development for this game Friday when the Bears placed safety Mike Brown on injured reserve. Replacement Craig Steltz won't be as helpful for Chicago as it tries to slow down the Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson connection.
Johnson's numbers at Reliant Stadium are spectacular: a 134.4 yard average with five games over 100 yards. But don't sleep on Kevin Walter - if the receiver who plays opposite Johnson catches a touchdown pass, he'll break Johnson's franchise record of eight.
The Texans have heard a lot about how they've been good at winning games that don't mean anything. They could score some respect, claim progress and get a big gift basket from the Vikings if they step it up here and do well as a spoiler against the Bears.
Steve Slaton went against fellow rookie running back Chris Johnson twice in matchups with the Titans. Now he's in another matchup against a successful rookie back in the Bears' Matt Forte, who's the lone rookie in the league to lead his team in rushing (1,188 yards), receptions (60) and touchdowns (12).
Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.
Good morning AFC Southies...
A small preview of what's to come Tuesday. I'll step into the four teams' headquarters to share "What I Think They're Thinking" and will take a close look at Pro Bowl results -- who deserved it, who got snubbed, who got in on name alone?
Onto some headlines...
- Consistency begets confidence with the Texans, says Dale Robertson.
- Andre Johnson and Mario Williams should be named to the Pro Bowl today.
- A win Thursday night puts the Colts in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year, writes Mike Chappell.
- The Colts have done well recently with short weeks, says Phil Richards.
- The Colts hope to be healthy in Jacksonville, according to Tom James.
- Pro Bowl results come Tuesday, reminds Phil Richards.
- Dennis Northcutt stepped up with Matt Jones and Jerry Porter out, writes Vito Stellino.
- A Q&A with former Jaguars quarterback coach John Hufnagel.
- Since 2004, the Titans are 3-13 without Albert Haynesworth. They'll be without him and Kyle Vanden Bosch for the final two regular-season games. Jim Wyatt with details.
- More on the Titans playing their last two games without the right side of their defensive line, from Terry McCormick.
- Jeff Fisher says blame for bad offense in Houston should be spread around, writes Gary Estwick.
- Wyatt and Estwick banter about the Titans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Have made it back to Nashville from Houston and will be at Jeff Fisher's news conference to see what the Titans are willing to say about Albert Haynesworth at this point. In the meantime I've been catching up on a lot of reading, and hope it may be of some service to you...
- Houston's win over the Titans ranked as the biggest in the franchise's brief history, writes John McClain.
- Richard Justice says Andre Johnson and the Texans are showing that character counts in team-building.
- Jeff Fisher regretted not taking the wind in the fourth quarter, says McClain.
- A look at the Titans' failed fourth-down attempt at the end, from Meghan Manfull.
- Dale Robertson ponders the irony of Matt Schaub finishing the game and Albert Haynesworth getting hurt.
- Kris Brown got off the hook for a missed 26-yard field goal, from the Chronicle's notebook.
- The Colts became the only team in NFL history to put together seven-game winning streaks in five consecutive seasons, writes Phil Richards.
- Bob Kravitz says Dominic Rhodes is "an exposed nerve ending with legs," an important element in the Colts' blend.
- Detroit's Cover-2 created the possibility of Dallas Clark's prolific day, says Mike Chappell.
- A look at Indy's efforts to contain Calvin Johnson, from Phillip B. Wilson.
- Kravitz's report card.
- Keiwan Ratliff's survived a miserable day fielding punts, writes Chappell.
- A Saturday off helped the Jaguars break a four-game losing streak Sunday, writes Michael C. Wright.
- The Jaguars put together a flawed performance that was just good enough, says Tania Ganguli.
- Gene Frenette says at least the Jaguars could take solace in retrieving a kindred spirit that defined this team in 2007.
- A defensive stop was a big development against Green Bay, says Garry Smits.
- Dennis Northcutt recovered from a big drop to make a big contribution, writes Smits.
- Jack Del Rio says it's not a sure thing Gregg Williams won't be back as defensive coordinator, reports Vito Stellino. (Chris Mortensen has reported otherwise).
- The Titans' loss in Houston means they need to win Sunday to be sure they are the No. 1 seed in the AFC, writes Jim Wyatt.
- Haynesworth could be out until the playoffs with a knee injury, reports Wyatt.
- Joe Biddle thinks the Titans' chances at a long field goal try by Rob Bironas were better than the fourth-down pass play that failed.
- Andre Johnson did a lot of damage to the Titans, says Gary Estwick.
- Matt Schaub proved tough this time, from the Tennessean's notebook.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The Jaguars showed some fight and some life, ending a four-game losing streak with a 20-16 home win over Green Bay.
It was Dennis Northcutt with five catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. There was little reason to expect that considering the team had been searching for plays from receivers all year and he's only made 26 catches for 282 yards for the Jaguars in 11 games.
Signs of life at this stage qualify as a positive development. The Jaguars need more of those considering they now turn around in a hurry and host the Colts on Thursday night.