AFC South: Howard Mudd

Assistant to watch: Colts

July, 18, 2012
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Concluding our look at new assistant coaches in the AFC South who will be especially important in 2012, we turn to Indianapolis.

Harold Goodwin spent the past five years coaching the offensive line in Pittsburgh, so he’s got a close working relationship with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who also came to the Colts after a stint with the Steelers.

Goodwin’s overseeing a revamping of the offensive line, where only left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Joe Reitz are likely to carry over from last year’s line. Three new veterans are expected to complete the line: Center Samson Satele and guard Mike McGlynn were free agent signings and right tackle Winston Justice was acquired from the Eagles in a cheap trade.

The group will be bigger and play a more physical style. Previously, under Howard Mudd and then his protégé, Pete Metzelaars, the Colts liked smaller linemen who moved especially well laterally. But the group had deteriorated, and Peyton Manning’s quick work made it look better than it was.

Can Goodwin help the new group jell and have it provide quality protection for Andrew Luck and some push for a group of unproven running backs?
When Chris Mortensen mentioned in SportsCenter draft preview shows that Mike Munchak had nearly lured Tom Moore to Tennessee as offensive coordinator, I figured the Colts would have let him go if he really wanted to.

It should have set off a bigger alarm bell.

Tuesday when I saw this mention that Moore has been invited to visit with the Jets to talk about red-zone scoring, I realized I’d missed something. It’s the second time he’s been identified as the Colts' "former offensive coordinator" instead of as their current senior assistant.

[+] EnlargeTom Moore
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackTom Moore, who was instrumental in the creation of the Colts offense under Peyton Manning, is no longer with the team.
And what are the odds the Colts let Moore talk about a job with a division rival and let a conference foe approach him to talk strategy?

Zero.

Sure enough, Moore’s name is no longer on the team web site’s coaching roster and I've confirmed in a couple places that he’s no longer with the team. It's a change to the staff that officials have not yet been asked about.

It’s something I certainly should have asked Bill Polian about when I’ve had the chance.

It’s not uncommon for the Colts to make moves with no announcement and allow them to be discovered later -- something that’s taken too long for me to do. Perhaps Moore didn’t want any fanfare with his departure, it would fit with what I know of him. We do not know if it came against his wishes, if it was a mutual deal or if the team wanted him to stay and he chose to walk away.

Moore was instrumental in the creation and perfection of the Colts’ offense run by Peyton Manning. Last year, Clyde Christensen officially took over as offensive coordinator, with Moore reduced to offensive assistant. A reduction was significant, but it's nothing compared to a departure.

Mortensen’s report said Moore ultimately told Munchak he couldn’t make the commitment the Titans deserved.

That makes it sound as if the 72-year old coach no longer wants to live a full-time football life. More power to him if that's the case.

But remember, Howard Mudd made a declaration like that at the end of the 2009 season. And a little more than a year after he retired, he said yes to Andy Reid’s offer to join the Eagles’ staff for 2011.

As of now, at least for 2011, one of the NFL’s great offensive minds has taken a seat.

Mudd, Washburn talk as new Eagles

February, 9, 2011
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Former Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd and former Tennessee Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who built a close friendship working against each other in the AFC South, met the Philadelphia media Wednesday for the first time.

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles public relations staff, here are some highlights.

Mudd on why he ended his one-year retirement:

“Andy [Reid]. I have known Andy for 22 years. He was a young assistant coach for Bob Stull at University of Missouri. He came over [when I was with the Chiefs] and wanted to know about what I did and why I did it and stuff like that. We spent a lot of time that one year there. I went over and spoke at their spring clinic and got to know him. Then he ends up leaving and Marty Mornhinweg was then the offensive line coach. He asked me if I would spend time. [Reid] was in Green Bay and we maintained contact. He’s a really friendly guy and he liked what I did and would always ask me questions as we went through the years. We just maintained contact. When this thing shook down, I was kind of in a state of shock. I went, ‘What?’ He called me and said, ‘Would you consider coming out of retirement?’ He told me this whole story about the interview process with the defensive coordinator. I know Juan [Castillo] very well. He said this isn’t going to work if we make this move if you don’t come.”

Mudd on aiding Washburn as he decided to jump to Philadelphia, which happened before he came into the picture himself:

“I was really involved with Wash when he was making the decision to come here. This other thing shook down a little bit later. I didn’t really consult Wash because I didn’t want to say anything [until it was in place]. It only really took about 12 hours or something like that.”

Mudd on their friendship:

“We worked against one another for 12 years in Indianapolis and Tennessee. Our boys really fought hard against one another. They beat each other up quite a bit. We found this common ground of motorcycle, so we talked about that before every game. We ran a draw play and I would call him up maybe Friday before we played them and asked if they had a good week of practice. He would say 'yes.' I said, ‘Well did you work on the draw? Because if you worked on the draw, we’re not running it.’ We have this professional respect. There is no one who coaches that position better than Jim. The proof is in the people who have failed in other places and have distinguished themselves with their play. [Titans DE Jason] Babin is the last one, but it was Kyle Vanden Bosh [before him]. Those people who are kind of no-name people, but you better tape your ankles if you’re going to play against Washburn.”

Washburn on leaving the Titans:

"It was sort of like home and that was hard. But it was really a no-brainer between the other teams and this place because it’s got a quarterback. It’s about that simple no matter what anybody tells you, it’s got a quarterback. We’ve got two … I like [head coach] Andy Reid. I met him at the Pro Bowl when we coached the Pro Bowl one year and I’ve always liked him. The first time I ever saw him -- in my first Division I game coaching, he was playing left offensive tackle for BYU and I was at New Mexico. I’ll let him tell you how that went in that game.”

Washburn on his opportunity in Philadelphia:

"I haven’t got too much time left, I’m 61 years old. I’ve got my best coaching ahead of me, I feel like I’m just where I want to be. When [offensive line coach] Howard Mudd retired -- he is one of my best friends -- what a terrible thing that was. All that knowledge he has, I wish I could just take a chip out of his brain and put it mine. And it’s just so cool that he’s here. I’m okay, he’s really good and that’s the truth.”

Washburn on his friendship with Mudd:

“We worked against the Colts one camp. He came down and we worked against him. We started talking, he’s such a good guy and we started talking about motorcycles. We both like motorcycles, so he said let’s ride in the offseason and we did. We became friends and he’s sort of a different dude and I’m like a way different dude. We just have a good time and he’s just a good person.”

RTC: Colts growing on Twitter

February, 3, 2011
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Running through draft needswith Alan Burge.

Breaking down special teamswith Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

Howard Mudd came out of retirement and joined the Eagles’ staff. I wrote about it here. John Oehser has an entry here.

Bob Kravitz needs planning assistance.

The Colts have expanded their Twitter presence.

Who’s had the best quarterbacked playoff games? Luis DeLoureiro has Peyton Manning with the best.

Considering quarterback Hall of Fame candidacies, Nate Dunlevy.

What’s Edgerrin James’ Hall candidacy look like?

Brett Mock likes the look of the Colts' receivers going forward.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Fred Taylor shares his thoughtsabout Vic Ketchman at jaguars.com.

Ketchman would like to interview Vince Lombardi and be Art Rooney, not Dan as I originally wrote.

Tennessee Titans

The coaching search widenedto include Mike Mularkey and Perry Fewell, say Jim Wyatt and John Glennon.

Earl Campbell likes the ideaof Mike Munchak as Titans coach, says Wyatt.

David Diehl likes Fewell, says Wyatt.

Reviewing the running backs with August West.
Howard Mudd’s retirement lasted a season.

A year ago, on the Tuesday before Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida last year he did his best to sound like he would not be a coach who couldn’t stay retired.
“I’ve watched other coaches, players. I’d like to walk away when I feel like I’ve got something left and still not have given everything I’ve got and they usher you out the door and say, ‘it’s about time you did something else.’ Maybe I beat them just by a year or two. Are there more things that I’d like to do? Sure.

“My wife [Shirley] and I talked. We’ve had a really good run, football’s been good to both of us. We can walk away from it knowing it’s been a good life. In Seattle we have all the grandchildren. I got good advice, someone said 'don’t do anything specific and let it come to me.'”

The Eagles announced today what’s coming now for Mudd is a term as their offensive line coach.

I’m certain a big part of the lure was Jim Washburn. Tennessee’s long-time defensive line coach who recently jumped to the Eagles, Washburn became dear friends with Mudd as their lines squared off twice a year. He raved about him in this piece about Mudd’s final game.

And you can find video of their African motorcycle adventure here.
The Colts could have some big players back in the mix for Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Mike Chappell reports that Colts president Bill Polian said on his radio show that linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, as well as running back Mike Hart, could be back.

Others, including Joseph Addai and Bob Sanders, are likely further off.

But as Chappell points out, while Hart and Addai could provide a boost to the run game, none of the injury returnees is going to help the offensive line, which has been insufficient as a run-blocking group and increasingly leaky in pass protection. (Sacks remain low, but pressure is up.)

“I think oftentimes, you guys are driven by what you see on TV," said coach Jim Caldwell at a news conference Monday. "They can highlight a certain couple of areas, and you think that was the way the entire game went. I think they can sort of prejudice your opinion a little bit.

"What we do is we take a look at it. We think we have the right people in there, but we are always trying to jostle it around, trying to make adjustments, trying to make certain that not only do we have the right people, but also are we doing the right things with the folks that we have in there? That’s up for critique, and we challenge ourselves in those areas and we try to find a way to improve. That’s the important thing.”

Polian identified the offensive line as a position of concern after last season, really singling out the effort in the Super Bowl. They were comments several players bristled at. (Greg Easterbrook hit on some of this here in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column.)

Longtime line coach Howard Mudd was known for molding players who were not high draft picks or top free agents into effective contributors. He retired and passed the torch to Pete Metzelaars, a transition that seemed smooth.

But in a move that was a stunner then and is baffling now, Polian let right guard Ryan Lilja go. Lilja has received good reviews for his play in Kansas City, while the Colts have played two ineffective right guards.

Mike Pollak was benched in favor of undrafted rookie tackle Jeff Linkenbach three games ago.

Left guard’s hardly been solid either, with Jamey Richard getting displaced by Kyle DeVan.

There should be more options.

After Lilja was released, the Colts brought in a couple low-level free agents in Andy Alleman and Adam Terry. Neither stuck. Fourth-round rookie Jacques McClendon has been inactive or worked on special teams.

Polian and the Colts identified a problem, but they really didn’t do anything to fix it, unless we count the Tony Ugoh resolution and release as addition by subtraction.

In the past five drafts, the Colts have taken eight offensive linemen, five in the fifth round or later.

Charlie Johnson is a scrappy left tackle who’s been better than many expected but still might be ideal as a third, swing tackle. Ugoh, Michael Toudouze and Steve Justice are gone. Pollak has been benched. McClendon is a reserve as are seventh-rounders Jaimie Thomas and Richard.

However this season plays out, the offensive line must be the primary concern in the offseason.

It’s time to hit on value picks -- plural. Quality guys and the team’s draft slots may not line up. The Colts may need to maneuver to change that.

It’s critical to Peyton Manning’s chances for another Super Bowl in his remaining years.

RTC: Antoine Caldwell confident

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Antoine Caldwell’s confidence is a carry-over from late last season, says Jordan Godwin.

The Texans know their defensive fortunes are tied to stopping the run, writes John McClain.

A sore hip is slowing Mario Williams. McClain’s notebook.

McClain looks at the big camp competitions.

Indianapolis Colts

Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis both reported on time, says Mike Chappell.

The Colts will start out healthy for a change, says Chappell.

Howard Mudd is helping out the Saints, writes Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Zach Miller, who knows adversity, finally has a green light, says Vito Stellino.

The Oklahoma Drill was a hit, writes Tania Ganguli.

Reggie Nelson made a memorable play that could mean something, says Tania Ganguli.

The Jags say they have a deal with Tyson Alualu, but his agent isn’t sure, says Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

Derrick Morgan is signed, but sitting hurt, says John Glennon.

Chris Johnson’s sizing up his new running backs coach, Craig Johnson, say Jim Wyatt and Glennon.

AFC South training camp preview

July, 29, 2010
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We see teams go first-to-worst or worst-to-first all the time in the NFL -- except in the AFC South, where the Colts have won the division crown in six of eight chances since realignment and have won 12 games or more seven years running.

Indianapolis’ successes, and its four-time MVP quarterback, make it hard to predict a dramatic, upside-down season in the division.

The question is more about who can close the gap on Manning and the Colts; how the Texans, Titans and Jaguars stack up; and if one of them can find a door into the playoffs as a wild card.

The Texans and Jaguars begin their push with camp practices Friday. The Titans open Saturday, and the Colts are on the field Monday.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Kevin Terrell/Getty ImagesMario Williams has 35 sacks the past three seasons.
Houston Texans: How does the defense better defend the pass?

Veteran corner Dunta Robinson is gone, first-round pick Kareem Jackson is in as the team’s top corner. Is a secondary of Jackson and Glover Quin at corner, Eugene Wilson at free safety and Bernard Pollard at strong safety enough to slow down opposing offenses? Not without two other major developments.

The defensive front must apply more consistent and effective pass pressure. A monster season from Mario Williams, a big second year from Connor Barwin and more toughness from Amobi Okoye could do the trick. Okoye in particular needs a big camp or he could lose reps to rookie Earl Mitchell. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and a better run game could help a great deal, too -- if Houston is able to put up big points, some opponents won’t be able to take advantage of that secondary enough to keep up.

Indianapolis Colts: How do the receivers shake out?

If Anthony Gonzalez is healthy and back to form, the Colts could be stacked at receiver. Provided Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie can build on what they did with Gonzalez out for all but the first game last season, the Colts should be four-deep at receiver with those three behind Reggie Wayne. With Wayne leading the way and tight end Dallas Clark also coming off a 100-reception season, Peyton Manning could have his best group of pass-catchers ever.

I think if everyone is healthy, everyone will get chances. Perhaps certain games and certain matchups will call for certain guys to be used more. But I can’t see Gonzalez, Garcon or Collie with a significantly minimized role unless one of them plays his way to the bench or is injured.

Tyson Alualu
AP Photo/John RaouxTyson Alualu was the first of four defensive linemen the Jaguars drafted in 2010.
Jacksonville Jaguars: How will the defensive line rotation develop?

New line coach Joe Cullen will want his best guys on the field the most, but he’s also going to have to get them some rest so they can play fresh. Presuming Aaron Kampman and Derrick Harvey start at end and Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu start at tackle, who will be the guys behind them that ensure minimal drop-off?

Rookie ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane and rookie tackle D'Anthony Smith will all have opportunities as the Jaguars try to get to the quarterback a lot more often a year after collecting just 14 sacks. If the rush is better, watch the linebackers and secondary become better, too.

Tennessee Titans: Have the Titans cured their return game woes?

Things were so bad a year ago that when the Titans found guys who could fair catch punts while backing inside the 10-yard line it was considered a moral victory. Coach Jeff Fisher considers himself a return expert because of his own experience as a player. To his credit, he confessed he botched it last year by being overly reliant on unproven rookies. The solution? The Titans hope it’s unproven rookie Damian Williams, a third-round receiver out of USC.

If he’s muffing punts and kicks in camp, we should also see rookie Marc Mariani fielding punts, and we could see Kenny Britt back to fetching kickoffs. Merely being able to avoid mistakes shouldn’t be good enough. The Titans should expect to make plays in the return games.

HOTTEST SEATS

Colts: Offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars: He’s got the confidence and full backing of president Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell. But replacing legendary coach Howard Mudd is a large charge. And it’s widely held that the group he’s working with isn’t composed of great run-blockers and benefits a great deal in the passing game from Manning’s propensity for getting the ball out quickly. During summer workouts, players said that Metzelaars had already tinkered with some technique and re-energized the group.

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
AP Photo/Wade PayneA Pro Bowler in 2008, Michael Griffin had a subpar season in 2009.
Jaguars: David Garrard. Jacksonville’s quarterback is 32 years old, and while his term as a starter began relatively late, he’s at a point where a lot of people give him the underwhelming description of “he is what he is.” If things unfold according to how a play is drawn up, he can be good. But things rarely unfold like that. He can be too inaccurate and doesn’t execute in the clutch often enough. Good season or not, the Jaguars are expected to look to draft a first-round quarterback in 2011.

Texans: Kareem Jackson. You hate to be overly reliant on a rookie, but the Texans have put themselves in that spot. First-rounder Jackson has to be able to cover tightly and find the ball if Houston stands a chance to so much as split with the Colts while Manning is dropping back and looking into the Texans’ secondary. They could have eased the pressure on their new No. 1 corner with an option beyond Eugene Wilson at free safety, but failed to address the position at all.

Titans: Michael Griffin. Tennessee is counting on a lot of young guys who are taking on bigger roles to be productive. But even if they are all good, it may not matter if Griffin, a Pro Bowl safety in his second season, plays as poorly as he did in his third. Distracted by off-the-field personal issues, he bit on play-action, took terrible angles and missed tackles he has to make while the Titans' pass defense fell apart. That won’t work with two games against Manning, two against Matt Schaub and matchups against Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Donovan McNabb.

[+] EnlargeBrody Eldridge
WD/Icon SMIThe Colts are hoping fifth-round pick Brody Eldridge can make a difference in the running game.
SECRET WEAPON

Colts TE Brody Eldridge. The Colts did not make a major addition to their offensive line mix after Bill Polian called the group out for its Super Bowl performance. The stretch play, once a staple of their run game, has largely disappeared without edge blockers who can lead it effectively. But fifth-round pick Eldridge can be a big influence in this department. Expect him to displace Gijon Robinson. And watch him work effectively as a pass-catcher as well.

INTERIOR DESIGNS

All four AFC South teams could look different on the interior offensive line on opening day. The Colts are looking at busted left tackle Tony Ugoh as a guard. The Jaguars brought in Justin Smiley, could be finished with aging Brad Meester and haven’t been wild about Vince Manuwai’s play since he returned from a 2008 knee injury. The Texans added veteran Wade Smith and would like second-year man Antoine Caldwell to seize a spot. Those three lines need sorting out.

The Titans, who had a 2,000-yard rusher and gave up only 15 sacks, have also made changes, shifting left guard Eugene Amano to center to replace Kevin Mawae, an unsigned free agent, while inserting Leroy Harris in Amano’s old spot.

It’s possible all four teams run better up the middle and shield their signal-callers from the inside rush better than they did a year ago.

» NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Is this the year the Colts, who've won at least 12 games seven years running, finally make a dip in the standings?

The Colts' sustained regular-season success is unparalleled. They have a great talent evaluator at the top of the organization in Bill Polian. They have a four-time MVP quarterback in Peyton Manning. They have an all-time great pass-rusher in Dwight Freeney. They have a core of veterans who simply know how to win, and an expectation level everyone buys into.

[+] EnlargeJeff Saturday
Larry French/Getty ImagesJeff Saturday leads an offensive line that has many questions heading into next season.
But, critics and devil’s advocates say, at some point things are bound to start to come apart.

The offensive line, keyed by aging center Jeff Saturday, has some questions and lost long-time coach Howard Mudd, who retired. Veteran offensive coordinator Tom Moore has a reduced role and Clyde Christensen, whose stint as coordinator in Tampa Bay was disastrous, has moved up into the role.

Young players like receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey will play key roles. What if they suffer slumps instead of jumps?

Freeney is getting older and the team suffers when he’s hurt. And although the team has good alternatives in place, safety Bob Sanders has not proved he can hold together for a long stretch. If they or another key guy goes down, won’t there be a time when the next man up proves unable to sustain the level of play?

Special teams regularly have failed to help the cause. While the team is optimistic things will improve, sometimes it feels like there is an acceptance that there just won’t be a big contribution. Adam Vinatieri doesn’t have the leg he used to and is coming off a year in which he fought injuries.

Jim Caldwell did some outstanding work in his initial season as an NFL head coach, but stumbled with some key decisions in the Super Bowl.

Like every team in the league, the Colts have issues. Scenarios like these could arise and make things awfully difficult for them.

And yes, at some point later in Manning’s career, it will become harder for them to win their standard 12 games.

But that time hasn’t arrived yet.

The Colts still are the safe bet to win the AFC South. With Sanders, receiver Anthony Gonzalez and draftees like defensive end Jerry Hughes and tight end Brody Eldridge primed to help, they stand to be better than they were in 2009.

So I’ve asked the big question, and now I’m answering it: No.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Minicamps and OTAs produce free positive publicity. Everyone is happy. No one’s lost a game.

Writers warn readers about reading too much into anything, and some players who shine at this time of year annually disappear come training camp and end up among the football unemployed.

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian hates getting caught up in things with minimal meaning.

So ask about two young offensive linemen trying to get back into the lineup, Tony Ugoh and Mike Pollack, and he offers only this:

“Thus far OK,” Polian said. “We’re not playing now. There is a tendency in the parallel universe to want to judge everybody. The first thing I tell the coaches is, ‘Don’t make any judgments until after the first two weeks of training camp, it’s not fair to the players.’ So thus far, they’ve had good offseasons. But that’s all they are. We’ll see.”

The line could be just one man different than last season’s, with guard Ryan Lilja gone, or there could be a bigger shakeup. Long-time position coach Howard Mudd retired and Pete Metzelaars has taken over.

I wondered if guys like Ugoh, who’s moved from tackle to guard and is getting first look at left guard, and Pollak, who had fallen out of favor, could benefit from a clean slate with Metzelaars, new coordinator Clyde Christensen and new assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince.

Polian downplayed that idea, but veteran center Jeff Saturday thinks there is something to it.

“Everybody gets a clean slate every year,” Polian said. “Every year is a new year, each team writes its own story… The past means nothing. Everybody starts with a clean slate and, you hope, good health."

Said Saturday: “We’ve had a lot of changes in our offensive staff, and those [two] guys are getting new life. They have an opportunity to take advantage of it. Both those guys were high draft picks for us. Obviously from the team’s perspective, they want them on the field. When you draft guys that’s what you want to happen.”

Polian talks about throwing the whole group into a pot and sorting through it during training camp. Even with Mudd gone, the team president looks for the same process to unfold.

“Our history here has been that every year we throw 14 or 15 offensive linemen into the pot and Howard has taken out his ladle and worked around for the five weeks of camp and out of it comes an offensive line that’s in the top three or four in the league in giving up sacks and that plays exceptionally well,” Polian said. “I don’t doubt that will be the case this time around even though Howard is retired.

“Who that will be I have no idea at this point.”
Vince Manuwai, Wade Smith, Tony UgohGetty ImagesVeteran offensive linemen Vince Manuwai, Wade Smith and Tony Ugoh are expected to take on different roles or positions this season.
Be it running up the middle or stifling pass-rushers coming that way, the AFC South’s looking for change on interior offensive lines heading toward the 2010 season.

The Tennessee Titans, who blocked for just the sixth 2,000-yard rusher in league history, have made an alteration. The Indianapolis Colts, the defending AFC champs who allowed a league-low 13 sacks, are auditioning interior candidates. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars both identified the interior line as an area in need of improvement, too.

Yet of 32 draft picks by the four teams, just two were used on offensive linemen -- a fourth-rounder by the Colts for guard Jacques McClendon and a sixth-rounder by the Texans for guard Shelley Smith. And only three veteran additions seem like they can influence the mixes -- Justin Smiley in Jacksonville, Wade Smith in Houston and Andy Alleman in Indianapolis.

Said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “Didn't anyone in this division address the interior offensive line during the draft with any pick of substance? That seems odd.”

So here’s a team-by-team look at what’s going on inside, with some thoughts from Williamson:

Jacksonville

The Jaguars appear willing to have true competitions to hash things out.

Last year’s interior trio of left guard Vince Manuwai, center Brad Meester and right guard Uche Nwaneri is back. But the team is willing to shuffle, and at least two others are in play now as well -- Smiley, a guard acquired recently from Miami in a trade for an undisclosed draft pick believed to be a conditional seventh, and Kynan Forney, a backup guard last year.

At minicamp the weekend following the draft, Jags head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive line coach Andy Heck had flipped Manuwai to the right side, figuring he and right tackle Eben Britton are the team’s best run-blockers. With the aid of tight end Marcedes Lewis and fullback Greg Jones, the Jaguars could send Maurice Jones-Drew that direction and dare people to stop it.

But at organized team activities (OTAs) this week, Manuwai wasn’t working with the starters and Del Rio was talking about how the torn ACL the guard suffered back in the season opener of 2008 was still a factor for him.

“I think he’s still a little bothered by that but at some point you’ve got to get beyond that and go and he knows that,” Del Rio said. “I think Vinny still has a ways to go. I think Vinny’s working at it. He’s got his weight down. He’s trying but he needs to play better. I think he knows that. He’s working hard it and trying …

“We clearly [come] out of last year saying, ‘Look, we’ve got to have better play with our line, period,’ and our two young tackles [Eugene Monroe and Britton] we know are going to grow and get better but our interior line needs to pick it up as well. And they are working at it and they are challenging and competing and we expect them to play at a much higher level for us.”

I honestly think it’s wide open, but I’d be very surprised if Manuwai, who can be a very effective run-blocker, isn’t in the starting lineup for the opener against Denver.

Williamson says: “Adding Smiley could pay dividends, as this offensive line (especially on the interior) really was a problem area last year. Their protection up the gut was really poor. While I have some real doubts any more about Meester, I do like Manuwai quite a bit and expect more from him this year.”

Houston

The Texans' run troubles were in large part because of their backs. But they lost guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel early and it’s a tough order for any team to replace 40 percent of its line and keep plugging. Steve Slaton had a miserable year as he tried to deal with a neck injury, couldn’t hold onto the ball and wound up on injured reserve.

Pitts is a free agent who won’t be back and Brisiel has been working as a backup so far in OTAs. The team’s lined up with Kasey Studdard at left guard, Chris Myers and at center and Antoine Caldwell at right guard. But Smith’s been rotated in some early at center.

With offensive line guru Alex Gibbs gone, the team will still be using his principles. But the three remaining coaches who oversee the position -- John Benton, Frank Pollack and Bruce Matthews -- may have fresher eyes and a willingness to shuffle. And odds are it's second-round pick Ben Tate getting many of the carries behind that line.

We should see some real competition for all three slots. I’ve repeatedly hear good things about Myers. And because Caldwell was a third-rounder, I expect the team would probably like to see him stake a claim.

Gary Kubiak said Studdard and Caldwell have earned the right to say they are starters “right now.”

“We are as competitive in there as we’ve ever been as a team,” Kubiak said. “It’s going to be hard to hold a job, and it’s going to be very competitive to get one. So that makes the team better.”

Williamson says: “I thought Myers played real well and he is an excellent fit in this system. Their interior offensive line is loaded with no-name guys, but overall they are well coached and effective enough. Still, an upgrade at one of the starting guard spots would have been a real nice addition. … Smith is an ideal sixth guy, but not a liability as a starter.”

Indianapolis

The Colts paid him a bonus, but still cut Ryan Lilja who seemed pretty effective to me at left guard last season. Team officials have worked hard to deflect the idea the Colts made the move because they want to be bigger on the line. But it’s a sensible time for a change with Pete Metzelaars taking over for Howard Mudd as line coach and the team looking to be more effective in clutch third-and-short situations and the like.

Tony Ugoh, who lost out at left tackle, has worked at left guard in recent offseason practice sessions. Jeff Saturday is entrenched as Peyton Manning's guy at center. Kyle DeVan is the incumbent right guard, who came out of nowhere last season.

Presuming no other tackles are shifted inside and that left tackle remains Charlie Johnson's job, Ugoh and DeVan face their competition from Alleman, McClendon and 2008 second-rounder Mike Pollak.

Bill Polian has talked about throwing everybody out there and seeing what happens. With a new position coach, the fight for roles may not start with any true favorites. While they have to continue to favor pass blocking above all else, I do think it’s in their best interest to be a bit more determined to be able to call for and execute runs in key situations with more success.

Williamson says: “Saturday is obviously the leader and his symbiotic relationship with Peyton carries a ton of weight. He is smart and very technically sound. I do think his game is falling off ever so slightly though. I was shocked that they let Lilja go and thought he was far and away their best guard. Now, they really need to count on youngsters and those youngsters still have a lot to prove.”

Tennessee

[+] EnlargeEugene Amano
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesEugene Amano will be taking over at center for Kevin Mawae.
The Titans had the least concern here as they considered their roster, but with Kevin Mawae getting older and Leroy Harris on the bench and ready to play, they decided to go with youth and size. So last year’s left guard, Eugene Amano, is replacing Mawae at center, with Harris taking over at left guard.

Tennessee loses leadership and experience in the equation, but gains significant strength. Harris is very much an interior guy, but he’s athletic and smart enough that he played effectively at right tackle in a win at San Francisco last season.

A Hall of Famer as a player, line coach Mike Munchak knows when a guy is ready, and he’s fully endorsed this plan or the Titans wouldn’t be going with it. Whether Chris Johnson or someone like LeGarrette Blount is running up the middle, I think they’ll find a bit more daylight. And Vince Young should feel less inside rush closing in on him.

Williamson says: “You have to wonder how much Mawae will be missed. It isn't that he played great -- and clearly he isn't what he once was -- but just from the standpoint of making the calls and especially from a leadership perspective. So, this interior line is in transition. Right guard Jake Scott probably hasn't quite lived up to what Tennessee was expecting to get from him when they signed him in free agency, but he is a quality starting guard. I think Harris has a good amount of ability and could surprise with more playing time.”

A quick game of catch-up

May, 17, 2010
5/17/10
9:12
AM ET
I longed to remain in the Bristol area, spending time on the ESPN campus, collecting business cards of bosses and colleagues while brainstorming. But I have returned home.

We thank you for your patience, and hope it won’t be long before the payoff from some of the things I was involved in appears right here.

We’ll restart here by catching up on the significant developments around the division.

Houston

In many ways it’s unfortunate that Brian Cushing is branded going forward in a way that many who tested positive for a banned substance before him were not. It’s a result of The Associated Press’ decision to revote on his defensive rookie of the year award and the approach he and his advisers took to addressing it and defending him.

Too, I think there is a cumulative affect from the sins of those before him and more of an inclination to compare an NFL incident to baseball that have both increased the degree to which he’s suffered image-wise.

That may not be fair, but it's part of the risk that comes with a positive test. Yes, HcG can be naturally produced. Cushing's argument that's the case with him seems filled with holes. Some fans/media on the periphery have gone a bit overboard with an intense defense of him.

Indianapolis

Former Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd is part of this Mike Sando piece about the potential for assistant coaches to unionize.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for anyone who’s going to wind up “suffering” as a result of the likely lockout next spring. But assistant coaches are the exception, as they’ll just kind of be left in limbo and never known when owners could lay down new and difficult rules for them.

My tendency is to say if you’re a good assistant who can impact a position group, there will always be a place for him and good job security. But the uncertain labor situation is probably as stressful for this group as anyone.

Jacksonville

Wayne Weaver’s nephew, Mackey Weaver, is now a high-ranking team executive who’s ability to sell the Jaguars could have a big bearing on their future.
Because the Jaguars have 15,000 season-ticket accounts, Macky Weaver is asking each season-ticket holder to find one more friend to buy a season ticket.

"If every one of our season-ticket holders found one person, whether it's a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, and got them to buy one ticket, we'd be sold out,'' he said.

Hey, enthusiasm and new ideas are what the Jaguars need in their front office and overall approach to ticket sales. But if I’m a happy season-ticket holder watching the Jaguars, wouldn’t I have already made such inquiries?

And while I understand the attempt to create a ripple effect starting with their most devoted fans, isn’t there an element of passing the buck on to your best customers in this plan?

Tennessee

The Titans weren’t in the market for an additional vice president, and hiring one always means selling Bud Adams on the value of an additional salary.

Ruston Webster’s entrée as vice president of player personnel, then, is no small development. He was a candidate for the GM job when Mike Reinfeldt was hired in 2007 and has a strong connection to Reinfeldt through the Seattle Seahawks.

Reinfeldt said it was a job he simply hasn’t had an opportunity to fill until this point and he wanted time to see how things worked before filling the post, so perhaps Adams signed off on the idea a good while ago.

Webster’s addition shows that Reinfeldt’s got good pull in Houston and gives the GM an additional, experienced sounding board. The Titans were long too thin in the scouting department, and Reinfeldt’s been able to beef it up some. More isn’t always better, but it could be a big help here.
» NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

What will the Colts’ offensive line look like in 2010?

Straight answer: We don’t know and only can speculate. There will be a new left guard, as Ryan Lilja was let go. Beyond that…

[+] EnlargeColts
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesThe Colts will be missing at least one member of their 2009 offensive line.
The team has added three players: sixth-year tackle Adam Terry, fourth-year guard Andy Alleman and fourth-round draft pick Jacques McClendon. They also added three undrafted tackles (one who was on the practice squads in Cincinnati, San Diego and Philadelphia last season) and an undrafted guard.

Team president Bill Polian recently said the intent is to toss all 15 offensive linemen on the roster into the OTA, minicamp and training camp mix and see what shakes out. That leaves a lot of room for a lot of scenarios including a tackle like Charlie Johnson kicking inside.

It’s my feeling that of the four remaining incumbents, only center Jeff Saturday is a lock to return in the spot he was in last season. But I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if all four -- Johnson at left tackle, Saturday at center, Kyle DeVan at right guard, Ryan Diem at right tackle -- were in place on opening day in Houston, with only Lilja’s replacement a newcomer. The group, after all, was good enough to get the Colts to a second Super Bowl in four years.

Pass protection is going to remain priority one with Peyton Manning taking the snaps, but more effective run blocking in some crucial scenarios is a factor that can help the Colts.

They need to lock in a left tackle and go from there. Charlie Johnson could remain in the spot, though some think he’s best as the sixth man who can fill in for a few games here and there at tackle or guard. Tony Ugoh needs to make his claim to the job now, and could get a clean slate with Pete Metzelaars taking over for longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

A scout from another team told me recently that he thought Polian wanted to see Ugoh developed at the spot while the decisive Mudd had determined Ugoh couldn’t be effective enough for the Colts last year. We’ll likely never know if that’s the case, thought the results of the competitions could give us some degree of information.

Whoever the tackles are, they and the run game should get a boost from Brody Eldridge. He's the big blocking tight end the Colts drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma. He’s not going to hurt the Colts while getting in the way of an extra pass rusher either.
In honor of Tim Graham’s idea to honor Cinco de Mayo with five random thoughts, here are five random thoughts on the AFC South:

1) I wonder how much Pete Metzelaars will carry over Howard Mudd’s thinking about offensive linemen, and how much he will stray from it. Mudd was way down on Tony Ugoh, who may get a whole new second chance after Mudd’s retirement. Metzelaars replaces a legendary assistant, but is going to have leeway to put his stamp on things. Four of five incumbent starters are back, but I feel like only one is absolutely assured of being in the same spot: center Jeff Saturday.

2) There are a lot of great Twitter guys in the AFC South rookie classes, but I think the Texans’ Ben Tate (@BenTateRB) is the early leader for his combination of quality and quantity. He’s shown confidence and a lot of respect at the same time in what I’ve read, reaching out to several NFL guys to introduce himself or connect. If he’s the productive running back the team expects, adding his personality to that is going to make him very popular in Houston very quickly.

[+] EnlargeTrindon Holliday
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Texans are hoping that pint-sized speedster Trindon Holliday can spark their return game.
3) The ability of the Texans, Titans and Jaguars to close the gap on the Colts could come from new special-teams sparks. I’m anxious to see Trindon Holliday, Damian Williams and Scotty McGee at work. The Colts downplayed their own attempts to address the return spots, by Ray Fisher may be an answer. How those four stack up comparatively could have a correlation to the standings.

4) Titans sixth-round quarterback Rusty Smith could create a lot of buzz in training camp. He’s the fourth guy now, but will wind up third unless he implodes. I saw him in a very limited window at a small, all-rookie practice. But between that and what the Titans have said about him, I expect people who love a drop back, pocket passer with a big arm (I admit I do) are going to fall in love with him. And if or when Vince Young struggles, a faction will emerge that prematurely asks about Smith’s potential to get on the field.

5) Pot Roast’s backside is a concern. Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton had an impressive rookie year and can really stop the run. He’s hard to move, but also has to be able to move. And his backside was huge at Jaguars’ minicamp last weekend. He’s listed at 325. I think they’d like him to be 325. I feel certain he’s well above 325.
After the Colts announced the alterations to their coaching staff Friday evening, Chris Mortensen reported that the changes at the top of the offensive staff aren’t just title alterations.

Tom Moore, the longtime offensive coordinator, is now senior offensive assistant while Clyde Christensen assumes the big title and job. And according to Mortensen, it’s Christensen who will now be in Peyton Manning's ear. Moore has held that role for all of Manning’s time in Indianapolis.

Manning had neck surgery not long ago and hasn’t surfaced yet this offseason to make any public comments.

I’m curious to know how in the loop he was on these alterations, as he vented last year about poor communication when Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who retired after the Super Bowl, temporarily retired in order to secure some benefits.

The team also made official the promotion of Pete Metzelaars to offensive line coach to replace Mudd, and announced the additions of wide receivers coach Ron Turner and assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince. Jim Bob Cooter went from staff assistant to offensive assistant.

The announcement came via e-mail at 7:45 Friday night, a time when teams or businesses typically put out news they want to get minimal exposure.

I don’t understand the thinking there. What would be so terrible if coaches you’ve promoted or hired actually got a little attention out of it?

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