AFC South: Greg Williams
Who is one potential breakout player for each AFC South team in 2013?
Houston Texans: Receiver DeVier Posey would be the guy, but he is recovering from a serious Achilles injury suffered in the playoff loss in New England. It’s a veteran roster with known commodities at most spots. Brandon Brooks played some in the final six games of the season. The second-year right guard has shed some weight and will be in far better position to unseat fellow 2012 draft pick Ben Jones for the starting job.
Indianapolis Colts: In Oakland, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey endured frequent coaching, coordinator and quarterback changes. The hope is some stability will help the him settle in and become more regularly productive in Pep Hamilton’s offense with Andrew Luck as his quarterback. Perhaps in a new setting, Heyward-Bey's speed will translate better into game speed, and he can grow into a target better able to make catches outside his frame.
Jacksonville Jaguars: We’ll have to see just how much the Jaguars add at cornerback in the draft, but second-year man Mike Harris is in prime position to establish himself as a primary contributor. He currently rates as the No. 1 corner on the team where Alan Ball is second. However, Harris is 5-foot-10, 188 pounds, and new coach Gus Bradley is coming from Seattle, where his defensive system put a premium on big corners.
Tennessee Titans: Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers certainly made his share of plays in his second season. Near the end he was used more and more as a pass-rusher, and I believe the Titans are considering him as one of their three top rushers -- thus the team’s lack of urgency in adding another defensive end. New senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams is more rush-focused than coordinator Jerry Gray, a former defensive back. That could help Ayers take another big step.
Ex-secretary of state James Baker will head Houston’s bid for Super Bowl LI, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Ryan Grigson said it’s humbling to join the list of men voted NFL executive of the year, says Phil Richards.
To which I say: He narrowly beat John Elway. Elway’s biggest move was being John Elway, and having the résumé that made him the most appealing guy for Peyton Manning to work with. Sometimes I really wonder about people asked to vote for awards, in this case coaches and executives.
Has Jim Caldwell turned Joe Flacco into an elite quarterback? Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun considers the question.
A Florida man pleaded guilty in a fraud case involving Dwight Freeney, says the Associated Press.
Gus Bradley added three assistants to his staff, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “Todd Wash, Bradley’s defensive line coach the last two years in Seattle and a fellow alum of North Dakota State, was let out of his contract by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to join the Jaguars in the same capacity.” Also hired were Luke Butkus as assistant offensive line coach and Tony Sorrentino as offensive quality control coach.
The Ravens and Niners have blueprints the Jaguars would be wise to follow, says O’Halloran.
Titans safety Michael Griffin and former Titans defensive lineman John Thornton like the idea of Gregg Williams joining the coaching staff, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Matt Hasselbeck is picking the 49ers, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Gregg Williams: I know Williams from early in his career, when he worked his way up to the defensive coordinator spot with the Titans.
As I tracked him after he left Tennessee, I thought he changed. Of course a coach who gets a head job, as he did in Buffalo, is going to continue to evolve. But in his time with the Bills and then back as a coordinator with the Redskins, Jaguars and Saints, his ego seemed to balloon. The recent audio tape gave us specific evidence of the sorts of things he instructed to do as part of the bounty program he ran in New Orleans. It illustrates what can happen to a good coach when he gets unchecked power and goes a long time without any interference.
The great disappointment to me is that not one player stood up to Williams or took a complaint up the ladder about the way he was talking, at least until the whistle-blower emerged. Or maybe someone did before then and was rebuffed, but I would think we’d be hearing from him now. If a guy listening to that Saturday night sermon couldn't or wouldn't object to specific talk of testing an opponent coming off a concussion or going after a player’s ACL, that culture is the big concern to me here. That’s the sort of thing Roger Goodell is surely looking to change with the significant punishments for those involved.
Exhibition games: I am a preseason hater, but the division’s schedule offers two games that will bring significant storylines.
Indianapolis is at Washington in Week 3, which will give us a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the draft. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III should be starting for the Colts and Redskins, respectively. And the third week of the preseason is typically the most meaningful game where starters play beyond intermission.
It will be the AFC South preseason game I am most interested in.
Tennessee travels to Seattle in Week 1, which is a ridiculous trip to ask a team to make in the preseason. Such things are supposed to be minimized now. But Matt Hasselbeck playing against his old team and Jake Locker returning to the region where he’s from and played in college make for some intrigue.
Our first mock: I gave the Colts Luck, the Jaguars defensive end Melvin Ingram, the Titans defensive end Nick Perry and the Texans receiver Rueben Randle.
I think all four teams would be reasonably happy with a first round that panned out like that. But I offer the standard disclaimer: Beyond the first pick, it’s all guesswork.
This week or next week, or likely both, he will pull film from Jan. 16, 1999. He played his first game against a Greg Williams-coached defense that day, and the Titans left the RCA Dome with a 19-16 upset of the Colts en route to their lone Super Bowl appearance.
Manning and the Colts have only lost to Williams one other time.
Here’s a look at Manning against Williams so far:
“[Williams’] scheme is very complex, but his players make it work,” Manning told Indiana reporters this week. “[Darren] Sharper is kind of the quarterback of the defense back there. [Jonathan] Vilma kind of gets the linebackers straight. They have excellent pass rushers. They’re really solid across the board. It gives you plenty to think about.
“It is, I think, in some ways a benefit to have two weeks to prepare. You have a lot of film to watch. One thing about playing the Jets last week was we had just played them. In a sense we had already had some time to prepare for them. To get ready for a team like the Saints that shows you multiple looks, the extra time to prepare is a benefit.”
The Colts figured out the Jets’ defense in relatively short order, and things went downhill fast for New York from there. The Saints would be wise to have multiple alternatives at the ready. When Manning figured out Plan A, switch to B and so on. It’s one way to slow him down. It’s another to have the personnel and the mindset to execute multiple things.
We linked earlier this week to a radio interview with Williams talking about Manning. Virtually every defensive coordinator preparing for Manning says the same things. Very few can make it happen.
And Deshawn Zombie visited these numbers earlier in the week and didn’t draw any conclusions in Williams’ favor.
Last week I posed this question: What one philosophical tendency, trend, tenet or practice would you like to see the Jaguars change, and why?
As opposed to some previous questions you've encountered here, I wasn't looking to reach any sort of consensus, just to stir some debate. Based on your responses, I think we got that.
So here's the best of what you had to say with some of my thoughts interspersed. Thanks for all the quality responses.
Steve in Jacksonville: The Jaguars need to have a tough competitive camp. For the past two years, Jack has been a little soft on the players. The team paid the price losing in both instances to the Titans. Two years ago, they managed to bounce back and get a little hot at the end of the season. I'd rather see blood, sweat, and tears to get everyone battle ready!
Paul Kuharsky: I really think Jack Del Rio is reassessing everything based on last year's failures. While his camp philosophy has been to keep it somewhat light, I wouldn't be surprised if he turns it up as he looks to help his team re-establish its physical identity.
Keith in Jacksonville: Simple: Get Greg Jones back in good health so he can go back to the caliber football he played at Florida State....you only need type his name into youtube to see what I'm talking about. Much love to Mojo and a bittersweet good riddens to the Gator, but now let's give the football to the big double 3 and get the Jags run game back to what it used to be.
Paul Kuharsky: I don't know that Jones at his best is going to fix what ails the Jaguars or qualifies as a change in philosophy, but I appreciate your enthusiasm.
Tom in Jacksonville: Magic Wand comment: I would like to see the Jaguars solve the "Houston problem". Even in the years when Jacksonville fields a good team and the Texans do not, they either split or get swept. It just seems the Texans have their number.
Paul Kuharsky: There is no philosophical tenet that's led to Jacksonville's struggles with Houston, I don't think. Nevertheless, this is a big issue they need to figure out. The Jaguars are 6-8 all-time against Houston, have swept the season series only once (2005), have been swept twice and have split four times including last season. The Colts and Titans, meanwhile, have records of 13-1 and 11-3, respectively, against the Texans.
The problem from a Jacksonville angle is this: The Texans are moving from division pushover territory to Serious Threatland.
Will in Jacksonville: That's easy. The Jags need to change there Scouting Department. Both Pro and College. Lets look at the evidence, R J Soward, Reggie Williams, Byron Leftwich, etc... Bryce Paup, Hugh Douglas, Jerry Porter, etc... Every team misses but can you think of a team that misses more outside of Detroit than Jacksonville?
Paul Kuharsky: First-round failures and free-agent busts have been issues, of course. The Jaguars have sworn off big free-agent shopping, so that side of things should be less of an issue.
And new GM Gene Smith is now calling the shots, which should provide some hope that the draft strategy and analysis changes in ways that will improve the hit rate at the top. But we'll have to wait and see.
JvilleJag2 in Jacksonville: Well since we're talking about the Jaguars and Jack Del Rio is head coach of the Jags I'll say I wish he would hold onto his assistant coaches. I don't think any other head coach since Del Rio's been hired has fired more assistants. I understand some positions are going to underachieve but that doesn't mean the coach has to be canned. I think it's a blemish on Del Rio's record and has damaged the chances the Jaguars organization could have to hire first rate coaches. I also believe Del Rio has let his attitude cloud his judgment on coaches that he's given the pink slip to.Nelson in Jacksonville: If I could change a tenet of the jaguars, It'd be the over all coaching staff. There are too many head coaches on one team, It won't be as bad this season with Greg Williams gone, but seeing as how last year Jack Del Rio, Mike Shula, and Greg Williams, all of which are head coaches(Greg Williams' goal is trying to be a head coach), so no true decisions are the whim of Jack Del Rio, he has so many other people to look to before he's able to make an executive decision. I only wish he could do whatever he want with his team.
Paul Kuharsky: Staff stability is definitely an issue. The idea that Del Rio can't make a decision because of who his assistants are, however, is a misguided one. Who do you think hired those assistants? He did.
There is a perception that he relies on his inner circle, which includes running backs coach Kennedy Pola and assistant head coach/tight ends Mike Tice, disproportionately. If the Jaguars don't look like they're on the upswing this year, Del Rio's job security could fall into question. Because of that I think he will be more hands-on with the defense and with new coordinator Mel Tucker.
Brian in Jacksonville: Jags tenet...tough one Paul. Considering the lack of talent across the board there are many tenets I'd like to see changed but after application we might find the change didn't offer any real improvement. Not be run first? You need receivers. Blitz more? You need a better front 4 and faster LBs, along with DBs you can trust. I love that Jack gambles on 4th down. I guess I'd like to see Garrard get the TE more involved. I know Lewis had his drops last year but in watching the games (I attended all home games and 1 away), ML is open a vast majority of the time and David simply isn't getting him the ball. If you take a TE in the first round you'd better make him more integral. I would imagine, however, that faster receivers who run better routes would open the field some. Still, the opportunity is there.
Paul Kuharsky: I too have struggled to understand why they haven't found ways to use Marcedes Lewis more consistently and more effectively.
Charles in Jax: With regards to your Jags magic wand question: I wish the Jags could change the size of their stadium. Jags fans and the team get a bad rap for not supporting the team and having its share of blackouts (none in 2008 though), but people tend to forget its the league's smallest market in population terms (giving GB Milwaukee) yet it has one of the largest stadiums. It was built this way to accomodate the annual FL/GA game, Gator Bowl, and the one time Super Bowl, but its way too big for the market. Shrink it by 10,000 seats and you'd have year-round sellouts and perhaps a waiting list.
Paul Kuharsky: I wrote about this in my early days on this job.
Jacksonville did a good job supporting the Jaguars in 2008 despite a disappointing season. Anyone who gives the
team and city grief for having to cover some seats to downsize probably isn't aware that Jacksonville Municipal Stadium still seats 5,664 more than Soldier Field.
Have marketing, sales and support always been what you'd hope? No. But should we really expect an expansion team in a small city to average better crowds than a team with the history and population of Chicago?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Jacksonville at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET
In the wake of Richard Collier's shooting, the Jaguars probably will be in an all-or-nothing state. Are they drained from hospital visits and sleepless nights wondering whether their teammate would survive the night? Or do they rally on his behalf, calling on a reserve to help provide some good news for him and the city? I think we'll have a feeling for which way the Jags will go in the first five minutes of the game.
Never mind the players for a moment. Many of us are expecting another low-scoring, defensive battle like last year's 13-10 Tennessee win at Jacksonville on opening day. But it could amount to a coming-out party for two offensive coaches. Dirk Koetter, the Jags' second-year offensive coordinator, now has a better handle on what he's got and a better comfort level calling an NFL game. The Titans' Mike Heimerdinger is back for a second term in the same post. Neither coordinator was showing much in the preseason. Now we'll see some of the plays they rate as their favorites. That should make a big difference, shouldn't it?
While it's a huge game, it seems to me the Titans are the team that can better handle losing it. Jeff Fisher's teams have a history of starting slowly, and have often managed to dig out of it. The Titans couldn't get anything going offensively with their first team in the preseason, so it won't be a surprise if they don't move the ball effectively. Jacksonville, meanwhile, is a popular pick to catch or pass Indianapolis. They seemed to be gradually ramping up in the preseason. How will they handle a loss after a month of listening to all the big expectations? Maybe better than I imagine. They did, after all, lose their opener to Tennessee last season in Jacksonville and recovered just fine.
It has been a football lifetime since Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator for the Oilers/Titans, so it's hard to imagine such a thing would carry over. But it's still worth a mention: While his defenses beat some very good quarterbacks, they also tended to go after young and unproven guys and see it backfire. Remember Ryan Leaf? With Young's questionable decision-making and ability to dodge a rusher, is it better to send extra people at him or to complicate coverages and await mistakes? Six of his 30 regular season interceptions have landed in the arms of Jaguars defenders.
Houston at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET
Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes averaged a ridiculous 18.1 yards per catch last year. For the Texans to cap that, they need to find a consistent pass rush and they need cornerback Fred Bennett to prove he can stick with Holmes. I'd also expect the Steelers to get a third wide receiver on the field in order to put Houston in nickel to get chances to test DeMarcus Faggins.
Against a 3-4, Houston's offensive line probably will need to cut more linebackers as part of Alex Gibbs' zone-blocking scheme. It's one thing to take down bigger linemen, another to get to the second level and deal with more athletic players.
Indications to this point are that the Texans may feel the need to pass to set up the run instead of vice versa. Either way, we find out if a couple of skill position players such as Steve Slaton and Kevin Walter can be factors or get cancelled out once the games begin to count.
The Texans won in Pittsburgh in 2002 despite gaining only 47 yards of total offense. The Texans forced five turnovers, returning three for touchdowns.
Chicago at Indianapolis, 8:15 p.m. ET
The Peyton Manning questions are twofold: How does he do on a left knee that kept him out of the entire preseason after he had an infected bursa sac removed from it July 14? And how does he do without his center, Jeff Saturday? Will Saturday's replacement, probably Jamey Richard, work to adjust things at the line of scrimmage the way Saturday did? Will another lineman? Will Manning take on even more responsibility?
Look for Manning to get rid of the ball even faster than usual with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai looking to break a tackle and get yards after the catch. The Colts aren't going to ask Manning to stand in very long with three new offensive linemen working against a defensive front that includes Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Harris will surely work to make it a long night for Richard.
Lucas Oil Stadium makes its regular-season debut on national television Sunday night. Will the crowd be able to influence a game the way it did at the RCA Dome? It's a much more difficult task with all the additional square footage under the roof, be it open or closed.
Kick coverage is always a Colts issue. Will they kick to Devin Hester as they did to open the Super Bowl two years ago? Can Courtney Roby (kicks) and Keiwan Ratliff (punts) help the offense out with some field position on returns?
Spotlight issues, obviously: Manning's knee, Dwight Freeney's foot, Bob Sanders' shoulder.