AFC South: Dominique Barber

Early thoughts on the Texans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

Running back Derrick Ward -- A third-stringer who has good experience and could be important if Arian Foster is lured away with an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Tight end Joel Dreessen -- Though largely underrated from the outside, he’s been a nice contributor and certainly has value for the Texans.

OG Mike Brisiel -- A solid starter they’d surely like to keep in order for their very good offensive line to remain intact.

C Chris Myers -- A very valuable cog in the machine and a great system fit, he may have been the best center in the NFL in 2011.

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson -- He was a non-factor as the team’s fourth receiver and they need to upgrade the spot.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins -- Played well when he got on the field, but may find better opportunity elsewhere.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams -- If the Texans can’t lock him up before March 13, he will become the biggest prize of the free-agent class. It would be a huge accomplishment to find a way to re-sign him.

Cornerback Jason Allen -- He’s been a virtual “co-starter” with Kareem Jackson and has typically outplayed him. But based on this list, he’s not close to a priority.

Kicker Neil Rackers -- Rackers has been a steady guy for the Texans, who surely would like to keep him rather than shopping for a replacement.

Also UFAs:
A couple quick thoughts on the Houston Texans 30-7 win against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park Saturday night ...
  • The big issue is Arian Foster's left hamstring. He left the game in the first quarter after re-injuring it. The team feels good about its depth with Derrick Ward and Ben Tate, but make no mistake -- a major countdown of Foster’s readiness for the Sept. 11 opener against the Colts is now underway. Ward ran for a score and Tate had a 4.7-yard average including a very nice two-cut run on a draw that showed patience and vision. Jeffrey Martin described the Foster scene here.
  • Jacoby Jones had a Matt Schaub pass in the end zone go through his hands early on. Yes, it was on him quickly, had a lot of zip and required him to reach for it. But it’s the sort of catchable pass he misses that drives his critics crazy. It killed a drive that turned into the first of Neil Rackers' three field goals.
  • Troy Nolan took an interception off Colin Kaepernick 73 yards for a touchdown after picking Alex Smith, too. Good news for a backup safety at a position where depth is a question. Kaepernick's was a horrible, telegraphed throw. Houston's defense was good against bad signal-callers, who managed to combine for a 7.6 passer rating. [I initially wrote that Dominique Barber had the pick of Smith. I did not see that play for myself, and the official NFL game book credits Barber. Apologies.]
  • While Houston played starters into the third quarter, the 49ers went to backups far earlier. That’s nice that the Texans can push them around and build confidence and continuity. I understand Jim Harbaugh is sticking to his plans and not allowing an opponent to dictate what he does. But how does such a scenario benefit the home team?
  • Twenty-eight guys earned a mention on the defensive stat sheet. Mario Williams was not one of them.
In general, we expect too much from late-round picks. (And from overall draft batting averages.)

In a recent conversation with former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist, he pointed to an article he once read in Ourlads by Joe Landers. Apologies, I couldn’t find the link.

“Using some common sense and a little investigative research, you'll find that it's rare, at least according to Landers’ study, to find a cornerback or running back or wide receiver that's really going to help you in the last three rounds,” Sundquist said. “And yet you'll find teams constantly take a reach on one of these positions.

“Evidence shows you're more likely to find a defensive tackle, offensive lineman, safety or tight end in the later rounds. Why? Most conventional wisdom says don't draft a safety or tight end high due to escalating rookie salaries and the going market at the position. As for defensive tackles or offensive linemen, it’s probably because of the greater numbers at the position. Both circumstances force down talented players at those positions.”

I went back and combed over the AFC South drafts since 2002, to see how many picks they spent on each side of the ledger Sundquist sets forth and how often the Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans did well with a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round pick at those spots. This is, of course, highly unscientific. Metrics guys can probably shred it. But I thought it worth fiddling with.

Notables are players who played significantly, even if it’s been with another team, or recent picks who appear on track to contribute.

Houston Texans

WRs, RBs. CBs: 9

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 14

Most: Six safeties, four receivers, corners and defensive tackle

Notables: Colts

WRs, RBs. CBs: 7

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 13

Most: 13 offensive linemen

Notables: Jaguars

WRs, RBs. CBs: 12

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 9

Most: Five receivers, four offensive linemen

Notables: Titans

WRs, RBs. CBs: 14

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 16

Most: Seven offensive linemen, six wide receivers

Notables:
Of the notables from the division drafted since 2002, 73 percent (19) have been from the positions Sundquist says teams should concentrate on late while 27 percent (seven) play positions he believes should generally be avoided.

I'd be fine with the Titans not wasting yet another late pick on a receiver and with the Texans using late-rounders on something other than corners and receivers for sure. But it's not like Houston's spending late picks on safeties or the Colts use of such selections on offensive linemen have paid huge dividends either.

I'd love to read your thoughts.
Troy Nolan, Courtney GreeneAP PhotosHouston's Troy Nolan, left, recorded three interceptions in 2010, while Courtney Greene picked off one pass and forced a fumble for Jacksonville.
If Peyton Manning dropped back and looked downfield against the secondaries of the Texans or Jaguars right now, he’d find a safety pool that averages 2.25 years of experience and has an average draft spot of No. 205.

Collectively, Troy Nolan and Dominique Barber of Houston and Don Carey and Courtney Greene of Jacksonville have five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 31 career starts.

They are nice guys with some promise, but it’s hard to tab any one of the four as a star in the making.

As Houston and Jacksonville head toward a draft where the safeties are not highly regarded, it screams the question:

How can teams trying to catch Manning’s Colts playing in an increasingly quarterback-driven league be so poorly stocked as such a critical position?

It’s hard to figure.

At least the Jaguars have taken a big swing, missing badly on No. 21 overall pick Reggie Nelson in 2007, a feeble tackler who tended to take terrible angles. He was traded to Cincinnati before the 2010 season. Jacksonville was also the first team to have Bob Sanders in for a visit after he was cut by the Colts in February, but he ultimately lined up to go to San Diego.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio talked of his desire to add “that guy,” whether he came in the form of Sanders or not.

The Jaguars’ last homegrown safety of influence before Nelson was Gerald Sensabaugh, a fifth-rounder in 2005 whom the team let walk to Dallas as a free agent after the 2008 season and who’s scheduled to be a free agent again.

The team simply asked too much of young guys last season. Carey moved to safety from corner. He had never made calls before, but he was usually responsible for adjusting one half of the pass defense once it lined up, a tall task in games against the likes of Manning and Matt Schaub.

“Even when you crack down on your film study, when you get to a game it’s still very frustrating because they kind of know what you’re going to do in certain situations,” Carey said. “You try hard to hide your coverages; it’s a real chess match.”

Carey said he can’t worry about who’s brought in, he just needs to work to get better. General manager Gene Smith still sees Carey as an “ascending” player. Del Rio said Carey needs “technique clean-up.”

“Will he ascend to the starter we need him to be?” Del Rio asked. “I don’t know that. I think the jury’s still out.”

For a team that wants to build through the draft, Houston has devoted virtually no resources to the safety position. Of the 76 draft selections the Texans have made since they got off the ground in 2002, they've spent eight on safeties, but only one as high as the fourth round.

They relied on veteran castoffs the past few years but released the ineffective Eugene Wilson and made it known the one-dimensional Bernard Pollard will not be re-signed.

One personnel man told me recently that the state of the positions in the league is average, that this draft is thin at the spot, that the options are better at free than strong and that teams may look more than ever to try to convert corners.

Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com thinks these five corners could wind up being NFL safeties: Aaron Williams of Texas (second round), Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson (third), Jalil Brown of Colorado (third or fourth), Chris Culliver of South Carolina (fourth) and Chris Rucker of Michigan State (fourth or fifth).

Many teams are increasingly blurring the lines between the roles and ideally like to have two players who can both run and cover and step up to play the run.

Teams like the Texans and Jaguars would surely be pleased, however, to have one player with a talent on each end of the safety spectrum who could serve as an upgrade and help reduce the stress on the cornerbacks.

Houston may move Glover Quin to free safety, but then it will be playing its best cornerback out of position.

How much could better play from the safeties help a group of young corners that really struggled in 2010?

“I think it’s significant,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “I mean you’re looking at a former safety. So I value the position significantly.”

Both Texans coach Gary Kubiak and the Jaguars’ Smith have said they hope to add a veteran at the position as well as examining the draft options.

“You’d always like to have a veteran at the safety position,” Gene Smith said. “Playing safety is like playing quarterback, and you’d always prefer to have a veteran at quarterback. You don’t always have the luxury of being in that position, but that would be a good area to get a veteran player.”

A guy like San Diego free safety Eric Weddle, who could buy a real secondary ownership stake by signing with Houston or Jacksonville, should be an attractive option if he reaches the market. And he or Indianapolis’ Melvin Bullitt could help one of the incumbent kids or a rookie grow into a role quicker. Signing him could also help weaken the division’s top team.

Their values, when free agency arrives, should be high no matter who’s been drafted.

Even if the Colts re-sign Bullitt, they probably will be looking for safety depth. And while Tennessee maintains faith in free safety Michael Griffin, it should be looking for a player to challenge slipping veteran Chris Hope.

That’s just four teams in need of six players at the position in a draft where ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks Rahim Moore of UCLA may be the only guy in the draft capable of stepping in as an opening-day NFL starter.

“He’s a really good player, great angles, ball skills,” McShay said. “The thing that keeps him from being elite is he’s not fluid in man-to-man coverage. But he has good range and is very instinctive.

“After that there is a big drop-off. Jaiquawn Garrett from Temple is a good player, but not elite. Ahmad Black from Florida is a great athlete, quick, and hits hard for a small guy, but he’s really small. DeAndre McDaniel from Clemson is so overrated.”

Those are hardly two paragraphs that will get Texans and Jaguars fans excited.

They may have an entirely different effect on Manning and the quarterbacks slated to throw against those teams if and when we get kickoffs this fall.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 12, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Jaguars will rely heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew against Houston.
Roll with him: Both the Texans and Jaguars will look to their primary backs -- Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew, respectively -- early. It’s more important for Jacksonville to gain some control over time of possession and to get a lead that will allow for MJD to run often. The Jaguars will be adjusting to playing defense without injured Aaron Kampman. Minus their primary pass-rush threat, the Jaguars likely will allow Matt Schaub more time to throw. Yes, the Texans have the league’s worst pass defense. But Jacksonville’s is 28th and also super-susceptible to big plays. And Houston has more big-play threats.

Old connection: Kerry Collins and Randy Moss have history, even if it’s ancient history. Vince Young was limited Friday, and while he’s technically a game-time decision it appears increasingly likely that Collins will sub for Young (ankle) on Sunday in Miami. No matter who's playing quarterback, how much of an impact can the Titans get from Moss after a week’s work? And will the Dolphins' coverage immediately create space for Chris Johnson in the run game? That’s what the team was expecting by making the move.

Jason Allen beyond special teams: He was a late waiver claim this week, but the Texans' pass defense is struggling. Allen’s likely to have a role on special teams right away in light of the loss of Dominique Barber. Gary Kubiak has completely backed rookie cornerback Kareem Jackson and I don’t anticipate a change. But if David Garrard is getting good protection and throwing well, will the Texans stick with a troubled group or look to change something up, at least in a nickel package?

Slowing Owens: The Colts have gotten better play from Kelvin Hayden recently, but their second corner and nickel corner have been question marks. Deshea Townsend, who’s been filling in as nickel, was cut this week. The Bengals will try to keep Terrell Owens hot, as the Colts continue to recover from injuries in the defensive backfield. Jacob Lacey should be better his second week back. Jerraud Powers said he expects to be back. Justin Tryon is questionable. If it’s Hayden, Powers and Lacey as the top three, Indianapolis should be able to keep things in front of them.

Minus Daniels: The Texans will be without Owen Daniels (hamstring) but that doesn’t mean they cannot be effective throwing to tight ends. Joel Dreessen and James Casey accounted for nine of the team’s 21 catches and 105 of their 267 passing yards last week in a loss to San Diego. Houston should have Schaub keep targeting the duo and look to expand Casey’s role. He’s a guy that can do some damage, and they should see what he can do with increased opportunity.

Adding Allen a good move for Texans

November, 11, 2010
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The AFC South Blog has been critical of the Texans for what we judged as an architectural roster flaw: Not having a capable veteran corner behind their Kiddie Corps at the position.

They made a waiver claim to remedy that today, and were awarded former Dolphin Jason Allen.

Allen
Allen
He could plug in quickly on special teams, where safety Dominique Barber played a big role. Barber suffered a knee injury on Wednesday that required a scope, and has been placed on IR.

Once Allen is up to speed, perhaps he could play a bit with the starting defense. They don’t need to demote Kareem Jackson. But maybe a game or two on the sideline would let the struggling rookie first-round pick recalibrate.

Allen was a first-round pick, 16th overall, in 2006 out of Tennessee. But he’s started only 19 games with five interceptions in five seasons. The Dolphins let him go after claiming Al Harris, who was dropped by Green Bay.

I don’t see Allen as any sort of savior. But at least he’s a guy with experience who might be a serviceable alternative.
Jim Caldwell’s issue may be “solved” by another injury. Gary Kubiak will probably try to use one too.

Two AFC South coaches face semi-sticky situations with starters returning to health while their subs have been upgrades.

For Indianapolis, Austin Collie’s expanded role with Pierre Garcon out has made for great production. If both players were available, I’d say Collie needs to stay on the field as the second starter, moving inside when Garcon comes on in three-wide. But while Garcon looks like he will be back, Collie could be out. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday with a foot injury. If he doesn’t play, Caldwell doesn’t have to decide. Garcon would start with Reggie Wayne, with Blair White the third receiver.

For Houston, it was a blessing that Eugene Wilson’s hamstring kept him out last week. Dominique Barber and Troy Nolan filled in, Nolan pulled in two opportunistic interceptions and Kubiak said he’s earned more time. But Wilson’s practicing this week and the Texans aren’t revealing their plans. Kubiak would be wise to start Nolan, even if it means stretching it and saying Wilson isn’t quite ready to return.

I know most coaches abide by the starters-can’t-lose-their-jobs-to-injury bromide. But Collie’s been better as a starter than Garcon was. And Nolan is an upgrade over Wilson right now.

Getting the better guy on the field more increases the chances to win, thus trumping anything else.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeAaron Kampman
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Kampman has 1.5 sacks in his first season in Jacksonville and could cause the Colts some problems.
Containing Kampman: I believe the Colts loved what they got from offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach in Denver last week. But I am not sure if they are ready to go with an undrafted rookie against crafty and explosive veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman or if they want to get Charlie Johnson (foot) back in the lineup to deal with Kampman. If it’s Johnson, we know they are bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing Johnson more time to heal. If it’s Linkenbach, it says they love him and he’s better than a banged-up Johnson, or has better upside than Johnson, or both.

Deep speed: Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner had a wonderful training camp and preseason, making a ton of plays. The question about him is his deep speed. And so I’d expect the Broncos to work quickly to test his deep speed in his first start in place of Jason McCourty, and to find out how well Verner and the Titans’ scheme can cover for it. The Titans are one corner injury from trouble now. The next guy up, Ryan Mouton, struggled as a rookie in 2009 and watched McCourty and Verner sprint past him in the preseason when the open job was supposed to be a three-way battle.

Survivable: The Texans aren’t getting sufficient pass rush and their defensive backfield isn’t making plays. They shouldn’t be relaxing because Bruce Gradkowski isn’t Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. But you’d think they’d be able to survive their deficiencies a bit better against Oakland than against their three previous opponents. If Troy Nolan can make the most of his work at free safety -- he and Dominique Barber are expected to split time -- he could stake a claim to the fulltime job.

Back or benched? Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox lost the team’s faith after what the coaches lauded as a great rookie season. Surely they can play better pass defense against Manning with Cox involved than without him. Cox picked off Manning to end the Colts’ first drive in the season opener in Indy last year. Jacksonville has the sort of secondary issues that would suggest a quarterback who has been practically perfect so far can carve things up.

Quick out of the gate: The Texans' defense has played OK in the first quarter, and then far worse after that, according to Aaron Schatz and Football Outsiders. To give the defense the best chance, a hot start by the offense would really be big. Get Matt Schaub in a rhythm, get Arian Foster going and get multiple scores on the board and the Raiders will have to chuck it. Given that scenario, Houston could pick off its first pass of the season just by accident.

Texans more than ready for first pick

September, 30, 2010
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The Texans need a turnover.

Through three games the defense has one takeaways, and takeaways can do wonders to offset the sort of passing yardage they are giving up.

The Texans are tied for 27th in the NFL at minus-four in giveaway-takeaway ratio. They’ve recovered one fumble, but are one of just three teams with no interceptions. The others are Buffalo and Baltimore.

“[We’re] very hungry,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “I think we’ve dropped three in three games, and I think as a secondary guy, you want to get your hands on the ball. I think when we’re playing the way we’re playing, you really don’t have an opportunity to get picks like you want to because, what, we’re giving up almost 400 yards passing a game, all they’ve got to do is just back up and throw the ball right down the field.

“You’ve got a one-on-one with a cornerback, you’ve got to hope your free safety gets over the top or your strong safety if we’re in Cover 2, so we’ve got to get better; we really do. We’ve got to get better. We understand what we’ve got to do and we’re ready to do that.”

The free safety at the start will be Dominique Barber instead of the dinged Eugene Wilson. We could see some of second-year man Troy Nolan too.

Wilson’s a problem. I’m not sure Barber is the solution. But the Raiders passing offense could be -- Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell have thrown two picks each.

But Oakland has fast receivers as always, and being overly anxious for a pick could mean trouble over the top. The Texans can’t force it.

Houston will be thinking turnover all game.

“Yeah, we’re all talking about turnovers,” DeMeco Ryans said. “… I think now, guys are more conscious of it during the week, so I feel like it will carry over on Sunday and I feel like we’ll definitely get a couple out.”

RTC: Barber in for Wilson for Texans

September, 30, 2010
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Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Dominique Barber will replace the injured Eugene Wilson (hamstring) at free safety, says John McClain. I’d rather see Troy Nolan.

One week after limiting Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald to one catch, Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha's next assignment will be covering Andre Johnson, says John McClain.

Should the Texans sit Johnson, asks Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

Despite change around him, Peyton Manning gets better, says Mike Chappell.

Linebacker injuries prompted the Colts to bring back Tyjuan Hagler, who could play right away, says Chappell.

Bill Polian adjusted his comments on the 18-game season.

The Colts have to stay low to deal with Maurice Jones-Drew, says John Oehser.

A drive breakdown from Colts-Broncos from Kasey Klipsch.

A deep roster has the Colts ready for their trip to Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jack Del Rio is tight-lipped about Derek Cox, says Tania Ganguli.

It’s a fresh start for Trent Edwards, says Vito Stellino.

David Garrard isn’t worried about Edwards’ arrival.

Kassim Osgood had to leap out a second-floor window late Monday to escape a gun-wielding man who had attacked him and a woman he was visiting, says Dan Scanlan.

This Pete Prisco-Clark Judge debate includes a piece about Del Rio’s job security.

The team’s ticket chart was updated Tuesday. A few to go to avoid a Sunday blackout.

Tennessee Titans

Alterraun Verner is ready to step in for the injured Jason McCourty, says John Glennon.

Vince Young insists he was prepared for the Pittsburgh game, says Jim Wyatt.

Cortland Finnegan and Jason Babin were fined for plays in the Giants game, says Wyatt.

Mike Otto returned to practice action, says Glennon.

Chris Johnson is fine with the workload.

A look at the state of the Titans’ offense, from Darren McFarland.

Evening notes from around division

September, 3, 2010
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Notes from the division on the eve of cut day:

Houston

  • Jeremiah Johnson has a dislocated toe. The Texans worked out Derrick Ward and Justin Fargas and John McClain just tweeted the team is signing Ward.
  • Gary Kubiak said the Texans will start off with two quarterbacks on the roster and that Dan Orlovsky is No. 2. Which means John David Booty is likely heading for the practice squad. The coach also confirmed that Jacques Reeves will be among the team’s cuts.
  • Neil Rackers won the kicker job based on his kickoff abilities.
  • Safety Dominique Barber (@34dombarber) tweeted that he’s made the roster.
Indianapolis

  • Jim Caldwell plans to meet with every player the Colts cut, says Phil Richards. Veterans who could be in jeopardy include Gijon Robinson, Keyunta Dawson and Adam Terry.
Jacksonville

  • I’ve seen not so much as a tidbit.
Tennessee
  • Gerald McRath’s four-game suspension begins Saturday at 5 CT. He’s not allowed on the premises for a month after that.
  • David Thornton will be placed on the physically unable to perform list and the Titans will be able to better evaluate his bad hip after six weeks, according to Jeff Fisher.
  • Fisher said he will not contact cut players until Saturday.

Notes from Texans-Saints practice

August, 18, 2010
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METAIRIE, La. -- The Texans-Saints practice this morning was poorly attended, relatively short and pretty uneventful.
  • New Orleans dropped more passes than you’d expect from a defending Super Bowl champ, which made life easier on rookie corner Kareem Jackson in seven-on-seven work than it should have been.
  • In a team period I saw Jackson break well on a ball aimed for Lance Moore and he made it difficult for the receiver to pull in the 12-yard pass which wound up on the turf.
  • The other most notable pass play I saw exposed an area that I see as a great concern -- depth at free safety. Dominique Barber went for a sideline pick against tight end Tory Humphrey, whiffed and allowed the reception and significant yards after the catch.
  • Trindon Holliday’s had some issues, but looked very comfortable to me fielding punts. His lateral movement and ability to skip and hop into space can be hard to believe. I hope he can earn the role so we can see some of this in a meaningful setting.
  • Joel Dreessen made a great leaping catch of a John David Booty throw in a seam between four defenders, but it probably wasn’t as good as it looked since Chip Vaughn fell down.

I talked with Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Steve Slaton as well as Jacoby Jones for a project you’ll see down the road. They’ll practice again Wednesday afternoon. Stay tuned for more from Metairie.

Scouts Inc.: Safety an issue for Texans

July, 23, 2010
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With questions surrounding Eugene Wilson, what alternatives do the Texans have at free safety?

[+] EnlargeWho will play opposite Eugene Wilson at safety is a bit of a question mark for the Texans.
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesSafety Eugene Wilson is a bit of a question mark for the Texans.
It shocks me that Houston wasn’t more proactive in addressing its free safety situation this offseason. Bernard Pollard was a real find last season and is firmly entrenched on the strong side. But at free safety, the Texans only have Wilson. The eight-year veteran is backed up by Troy Nolan, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. Dominique Barber could potentially play free safety in a pinch, but he is better suited as a backup strong safety. Not only should Houston pray that Wilson meets expectations and plays at a starting-caliber level, but the Texans should hope he stays healthy. Suspect free safety play is no way to overtake Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC South.

So what does Houston have in Wilson? He is a bit of a cornerback/free safety tweener in that he doesn’t have the turn and run skills to play on an island as a corner and isn’t a physical force as a safety. He is better in coverage than as a run-support player, but by no means is he a difference-maker.

The Texans are very young at the cornerback position and Pollard is more adapt near the line of scrimmage than deep in coverage. It would be ideal to have a real leader and playmaker at free safety to lead the back end for Houston. Wilson is adequate, but certainly does not fit this description.

This is a defense that must make more big plays. It is certainly conceivable the pass rush takes another step forward in 2010, which surely would help the members of the secondary get their hands on the football. But looking at the free safety position, I don’t see a lot to get excited about. And, maybe most worrisome, Wilson doesn’t have a very stellar track record in terms of his durability.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Gijon Robinson, Colts tight end: Short yardage rushing has been an issue for the Colts, and while they didn’t spend a lot on the offensive line -- just fourth-rounder on Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon -- they did look to upgrade their blocking tight end.

Fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge out of Oklahoma is a stronger point-of-attack blocker than Robinson and could make a big difference for Joseph Addai or Donald Brown on plays aimed to get around the corner. Robinson's blown block that resulted in a Peyton Manning sack late in a 2008 season playoff loss at San Diego still stings.

Eldridge could prove a big help to incumbent tackles Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem or whoever replaces them, and his ability to help against pass rushers won’t make things any harder on Manning either.

Rising

Eugene Wilson, Texans free safety: The Texans feel better about Wilson, who was on IR with a foot injury for the last six games last year, than I do. Paired with the physical Bernard Pollard, Wilson needs to prove he can be a consistent and rangy free safety, and show better ball skills as he looks to set a tone for a group of young corners.

With nine draft picks, the Texans steered clear of selecting a safety, hitting cornerback in the first and fifth rounds. The Texans apparently are content with what they’ve got to cover the deep middle of the field against the likes of Peyton Manning (twice), Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.

The alternative at this point is Dominique Barber and perhaps Troy Nolan, who missed his rookie year with hand injury.
We’ll get some good stuff Tuesday morning out of Orlando, where AFC South coaches are having breakfast with reporters at the owners meetings. I’ll be monitoring what comes out through some of my colleagues who are there.

The first thing of note I’ve seen was this from Adam Schefter via Twitter:
"Colts coach Jim Caldwell is thinking about playing some four WR sets with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez."

As if three wides and Dallas Clark isn’t enough of a problem.

I automatically started thinking of secondary depth in the division and how it would stack up against that. Nobody in the league has the kind of corner and secondary depth needed to stand up to that personnel grouping with Peyton Manning at the controls.

The Texans and Titans are definitely in the market for a cornerback, and safety is also in play. The Jaguars likely take a defensive back or two as well in the draft.

Teams could obviously use an additional safety in the sort of dime scenarios this could force. Here’s our take on the depth at defensive back for each of the Colts’ division opponents:

Houston
Nickel: Glover Quin, Jacques Reeves, Brice McCain.

Dime candidates: Cornerbacks Fred Bennett, Antwaun Molden; Safeties Dominique Barber, Troy Nolan.

Assessment: Contemplating this secondary against the Colts’ four-wide lineup is scary right now. Throw Clark in as the fifth skill player and I don’t know how Houston holds up. Corner and free safety are big draft needs.

Jacksonville

Nickel: Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Tyron Brackenridge.

Dime candidates: Corners William Middleton, Kennard Cox, Michael Coe; whichever safety isn’t already playing out of Reggie Nelson, Anthony Smith, Sean Considine.

Assessment: Top three are pretty solid, but safety really needs to be sorted out and could have a new piece.

Tennessee

Nickel: Cortland Finnegan, Ryan Mouton, Vincent Fuller.

Dime candidates: Corners Rod Hood and Jason McCourty; safety Donnie Nickey.

Assessment: I am giving the nod as the second starting corner to Mouton right now based on hearing the team is high on him. A draft pick needs to compete for that spot. Overall depth is unproven.

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