AFC South: Jacob Tamme

Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

Some Colts fans have been in touch, confused about the awarding of compensatory draft picks. The Colts were awarded one pick, the final pick of the draft (No. 254).

But in the league's formula that figures out who gets what in terms of the extra draft selections, Indianapolis didn't actually "earn" a pick. Compensatory picks add the equivalent of one round worth of selections to the draft. When there aren't enough awarded by the formula, the league adds picks for the near misses until it gets to 32.

One thing many people forget is that many of the biggest losses for the Colts were released. Only players who reach free agency with expiring contracts count here. So Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett and Curtis Painter were all let go and didn't factor in at all.

According to the NFL, these are the players who did factor into the equation for compensatory draft picks for Indianapolis.

Players lost: Jamaal Anderson (Cincinnati), Pierre Garcon (Washington), Dan Orlovsky (Tampa Bay), Jeff Saturday (Green Bay), Jacob Tamme (Denver), Philip Wheeler (Oakland).

Players signed: Guard Mike McGlynn, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney, defensive end Cory Redding, center Samson Satele, quarterback Drew Stanton and safety Tom Zbikowski.

Stanton counted despite the fact that the Colts traded for him, because he was signed by the Jets as a free agent in 2012 before that deal. A player with such circumstances is part of the formula.

Garcon was the lone giant contract on either side of that ledger, and apparently the Colts did enough to offset that signing with what they brought in.

Here's the league's language explaining the process.
Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks.

The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four. The 32 compensatory choices announced today will supplement the 222 choices in the seven rounds of the 2013 NFL draft (April 25-27), which will kick off in prime time for the fourth consecutive year.

The first round will be held on Thursday, April 25 and begin at 8 p.m. ET. The second and third rounds are set for Friday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by rounds 4-7 on Saturday, April 27 at Noon ET.

This year, the compensatory picks will be positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.

Two clubs this year (Indianapolis and the New York Giants) will each receive a compensatory pick even though they did not suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents last year. Under the formula, the compensatory free agents lost by these clubs were ranked higher than the ones they signed (by a specified point differential based upon salary and performance).

RTC: A spin around the AFC South

April, 20, 2012
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Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Are Luke Kuechly and Dont’a Hightower just what the Texans need at linebacker, asks John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

“Elite tight ends are hard to find but worth the search,” says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. Minus Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, the Colts need to restock the position.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Holding an indoor practice in limited space re-raised the question about the Jaguars' need for a practice bubble, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

Cory Chavous’ seven-round Titans mock draft for The Tennessean starts off with cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
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» AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major personnel losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got -- starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold on to players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?

Saturday, Diem, Pollak move on from Colts

March, 23, 2012
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We didn’t expect any of them to return to the Colts, but official departures are still of note.

Three former Indianapolis offensive linemen are moving on.

ESPN reports Jeff Saturday has a deal with Green Bay. Ryan Diem is retiring. Mike Pollak has signed with Carolina. It didn't appear the Colts had any interest in re-signing any of them. Saturday and Diem were instrumental pieces to the team's success during the Peyton Manning era.

The Colts are in an offensive line transition. They’re going bigger, and they are going newer.

Too many people presumed Saturday would automatically wind up with Manning in Denver.

So far, Denver's notable addition from the AFC South wasn’t one of Manning’s former Colts tight ends -- Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme -- but Houston free agent Joel Dreessen.

The Titans suffer two shots here, as they were courting both Saturday (with center a big need) and Dreessen (with tight end not nearly as big an issue.)
At least as Peyton Manning shopped around, he was pretty much invisible.

Today, Indianapolis Colts fans had to see him hold up an orange jersey with his name and the No. 18 on it, then stand in front of a blue banner decorated with Denver Broncos and Sports Authority logos while talking about a comfort level and gut feeling that steered him to his new team.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/US PresswirePeyton Manning, who signed a five-year deal Tuesday, says Denver is the best fit for him.
Ouch.

For Tennessee Titans fans still reeling from Manning picking the Broncos instead, don’t read between the lines. He praised Denver for being committed to winning. He can compliment his new team without it being an insult to the runners-up, the Titans and 49ers.

He did not say those franchises are not committed to winning.

“In the end I felt the Broncos were just a great fit,” he said. “... I’ve always believed it’s up to me and the people around me to make this the right decision. You know, it’ll be speculated on and debated for months to come whether it was the right decision or not. I’m going to go out and try to make it the right decision.”

Make that years to come.

A couple other things of note from our perspective at AFC South headquarters:

On standing in front of a logo that’s not a horseshoe: “It’s certainly very different,” he said. “There is no question about it. This will take some time for me to get comfortable with. This is all new to me. You’re talking about a guy that was one team for 14 years. ...

“The Indianapolis Colts are the only team that I’ve ever known. I told John [Elway] and coach [John] Fox that I am going to need their help to help me sort of get through this transition. ...

“I think the sooner that I get started going to work, going to life weights, getting into my new locker, putting on some Denver Broncos gear, getting going, that’s all going to make this process easier for me.”

On the timing: Manning was apologetic for having any negative impact on things with the two teams he didn’t select.

“The process, it took some time,” he said. “It’s the only way I knew to do it. I hated that it took time, that other teams maybe got put in tough positions. I hate that about it. But it’s the only way I knew to do the process, to find out what makes the most sense. I’m glad all that part’s over with. I can get down to football now. ...”

“I’m sorry that it took long. I didn’t know what the baseline was. The baseline for me was to feel good about a decision and then go out and make it the right decision.”

On his powers: He’ll offer opinions when asked. But he stressed he’s not in Denver to coordinate the offense or make personnel decisions.

Yes, he’ll be influential. But being a franchise quarterback is a full-time job. It’s silly, really, that so many people need to be reminded.

Center Jeff Saturday has a visit scheduled with the Broncos. Speculation is rampant that tight end Dallas Clark, tight end Jacob Tamme, running back Joseph Addai and/or former offensive coordinator Tom Moore in some role could follow Manning to Denver.

“There is never a teammate that I’ve had that I didn’t want to play with for the rest of my life, I’ve always said that,” Manning said. “Guys who played in Indianapolis, it was hard to see them retire or move on. ...I know there are some players out there that the Broncos are looking at.

“When asked about those players I told them exactly how I felt about the great teammates that I’ve had. But once again when it comes to personnel, that’s just not my department. They’re going to do whatever it takes to get the best players here to help us win games and that’s all I want.”

On his sales pitch: He didn’t put on a hard sell to the three teams he wound up choosing from.

He offered up his medical records since 1998 and he threw about 60 balls for teams, asking them if they needed to see anything else.

He said he told teams what still felt awkward or shaky. And after providing all that info, he asked them if they still were interested. He said he was pleased and encouraged that they were.

What I'd do if I ran the Colts

March, 1, 2012
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The money isn’t mine. I’m not certain about what you can afford and what the market will pay when free agency opens on March 13. I’m not positive about your plans and schemes.

But I’ve got a good sense of your team. We've looked at the free-agent list.

And here’s what I’d try to do with your major issues:

1) Tell Peyton Manning thanks for everything. Say we had every intention of you playing out your career with the Colts, but the chances of all these elements aligning -- his health questions, a new GM and coach, the top pick and Andrew Luck’s availability -- make it impossible. Maximize your graciousness.

2) Assessing what will be available in the draft, or a relatively inexpensive free agent or two you’d like to grab, then franchise either defensive end Robert Mathis or receiver Reggie Wayne accordingly. Both will have great chances to move on in free agency, and you can’t afford to move forward without them, either. You can make a case either way -- Mathis would be a great piece in a transformation to a 3-4; Wayne would reliably be in place to convert third downs for a young quarterback.

3) Convince defensive end Dwight Freeney to sign an extension. You have to drive down his $19 million-plus cap hit and his $14 million-plus base salary for 2012. But cutting him would be awfully painful, especially if Mathis is getting to free agency. If Freeney has to go because of cost, then Mathis has to be tagged and Wayne is likely lost.

4) Look for cost savings with these players: Tight end Dallas Clark ($7.32 million cap hit, $4.53 million base), middle linebacker Gary Brackett ($7.4 million cap hit, $5 million base), running back Joseph Addai ($4.3 million cap hit, $2.9 million base), and safety Melvin Bullitt ($3.7 million cap hit, $2.4 million base). Brackett and Bullitt are now injury prone and I don't know if you can count on them. But just cutting them won’t necessarily save money as accelerated bonus cost could produce a cost approaching their scheduled cap numbers. Same with Addai, who may not fit with a new run philosophy.

5) Let receiver Pierre Garcon walk. The guy is a blazer who will make a good amount of big plays, but he’s not guaranteed reliable in big moments. The sort of drops and gaffes he’s capable of can really mess with a team trying to build confidence and he'll be overpaid by the market.

6) Try to get Jeff Saturday to sign up for one more year. He’d be a great influence on Luck and a young team and could help get a group of young linemen ready to protect the new centerpiece and to block for a newly emphasized run game.

7) Re-sign reserve quarterback Dan Orlovsky, tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Anthony Gonzalez cheaply if you can. Orlovsky can spot start if need be and it’ll be difficult to find a quality backup who wants to come to be No. 2 to Luck. Tamme has quality hands. Gonzalez was highly rated not too long ago and a doghouse visit under the last regime will make him affordable. It’s worth trying to keep them around at reasonable cost and they are unlikely to draw significant offers elsewhere.

8) Let three other free agents walk: linebacker Philip Wheeler, guard Mike Pollack and tackle Ryan Diem.
Early thoughts on some key Colts scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13.

Thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive right and restricted free agents.

QB Kerry Collins – He may not have filed paperwork, but he’s retired.

QB Dan Orlovsky – Showed enough to be on a roster in the league as a third quarterback in a crowded situation or a backup somewhere with a sure-fire starter.

WR Pierre Garcon – He’s inconsistent, but this team needs a speed receiver for Andrew Luck and it’s better to keep the one they’ve been developing than going searching.

WR Anthony Gonzalez – Was completely in the doghouse at the end and could not get on the field. Probably needs to sign for a season, in Indy or elsewhere, and prove he can be healthy and contribute.

WR Reggie Wayne – Has said he’d stay and be honored to be part of a rebuild, but they’d have to be fair. Other teams will court him and somebody will pay him better than the Colts would if they pursued him, I suspect.

TE Jacob Tamme – Was quite a good receiving option for Peyton Manning in 2010, but how much of that was Manning? I think Tamme is a valuable piece they should want back and can certainly afford.

OT Ryan Diem – Did well to serve as a veteran example for a young line and was flexible, playing some guard. But his time is going to be up.

OG Mike Pollak – Has played a lot and not gotten a lot better. They got new tackles last year; it’s time for a new guard or two.

OC Jeff Saturday – If Manning is gone, it would make sense to turn the page with Saturday, too. Reportedly the Colts and at least one other team would like him in their front offices.

DE Robert Mathis – Will be a commodity, for sure. Never mind his age. He can help you rush the passer for the next three years. Colts should want to keep him, but will they pay what he costs?

LB Philip Wheeler – If the Colts are getting bigger on defense, they’ll probably move on here. He’s consistently failed to get in or stay in the lineup for extended stretches in a defense for which he’s better suited.

Other UFAs:

Tamme, Sims starting for Colts

December, 18, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Hasselbeck will start at quarterback for the Titans as we expected, as he’s worked through the calf strain that knocked him out of last week’s loss to New Orleans.

But with Hasselbeck and Jake Locker (chest) dinged up, third quarterback Rusty Smith is active for the first time all season.

The Colts have two lineup changes.

Jacob Tamme starts at tight end in place of Dallas Clark.

Ernie Sims starts at strongside linebacker in place of Philip Wheeler.

Earlier, this post said Mike Pollak would start at left guard in place of Joe Reitz. But the Colts announced about 20 minutes before kickoff that was an error and that Reitz will start.

Titans:
Colts:

Wrap-up: Ravens 24, Colts 10

December, 11, 2011
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Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: The Colts forge on toward 0-16 with their 13th loss of the season, never really threatening the Ravens. A week after Dan Orlovsky provided some encouragement in his work bringing the Colts back from a large deficit in New England, he was terrible. He threw 20 incomplete passes, connecting on 17 for 136 yards, while taking four sacks and throwing an interception. He hit Jacob Tamme for a touchdown on the last play of the game, fumbled three times (though Indy recovered them all), hit on nothing longer than 13 yards and posted a 53.4 passer rating. The Colts have made it through their toughest stretch of schedule and could face rookie quarterbacks in their next three games.

What I didn’t like: How many tackles did the Colts miss on Ray Rice alone? A lot. Also, how does a team get beat by a throw back across the middle like the one Joe Flacco found Dennis Pitta on for a 7-yard touchdown?

A bit of credit: The Colts went for it on fourth down four times and they converted three times. It makes sense when there is nothing to lose. It’s also made necessary when you go two-for-14 on third down.

Illustrating ugliness: The Colts had 12 first downs to the Ravens’ 24. The Colts averaged 2.9 yards per pass play. The Colts held the ball for only 23 minutes and 52 seconds. Seven of the Colts’ 11 possessions were four plays or fewer.

What’s next: The Colts host the Titans on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Tennessee won the first matchup 27-10 on Oct. 30 in Nashville.

Wrap-up: Jaguars 17, Colts 3

November, 13, 2011
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Thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Colts remain winless, dropping to 0-10 after failing to find the end zone against the Jaguars. Jacksonville, meanwhile, climbed to 3-6 with the win, showing the gap between third and fourth place in the AFC South.

What I liked, Jaguars: The defense continued to show it can be the core of this team, with five sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Jeremy Mincey accounted for 2.5 of the sacks. On offense, Maurice Jones-Drew made sure he helped control the game with 114 rushing yards and a score on 25 carries. Jacksonville won time of possession 35:21 to 24:39.

What I didn’t like, Colts: We’ve heard about how Curtis Painter is getting better in practice, but his play got him pulled in favor of Dan Orlovsky in the fourth quarter for the second week in a row. Three sacks, two picks and a fumbled snap he managed to recover didn’t amount to pieces of an effort that was close to good enough to win with.

Good enough: There aren’t too many games rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert will win with his stat line. But against the Colts, 14-of-21 for 118 yards with a touchdown pass, an interception and two sacks was enough.

Emerging, again: Tight end Jacob Tamme shined in 2010 after Dallas Clark was hurt. With Clark and Brody Eldridge out with injuries, Tamme was central for the Colts again and pulled in a game-high six catches for 75 yards, including the game’s long play of 29 yards.

Red zone revealing: The Jaguars were two-for-three in the red zone, finding the two touchdowns that were the difference. The Colts failed to find the end zone in two trips inside the 10.

What’s next: The Jaguars travel to Cleveland with a chance to put together a two-game winning streak. The Colts have a week off before hosting Carolina.
It’s not quite last season in volume, yet. But the Colts are continuing to get banged up.

They could be without their top two tight ends, Dallas Clark and Brody Eldridge, on Sunday against Jacksonville.

Clark suffered a left leg injury and Eldridge suffered a hand injury in the Colts’ loss to Atlanta in Indianapolis on Sunday.

“In both cases, I think, both guys have sustained some pretty significant injuries,” Jim Caldwell said in his meeting with the team’s press corps. “But we’ll have a report on that when we get the final findings.”

He went on to clarify what he meant by serious: “What I mean by that is more than a week or so. We’ll see what happens here in the next few days.”

Jacob Tamme, who did fine work for Peyton Manning last year after Clark was lost, is in line for more action. The Colts would have to make a move to add another tight end.

They have two on the practice squad: Mike McNeill and Dedrick Epps. They liked McNeill so much coming out of camp that he made their initial roster.

Breaking down Colts as they break down

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
12:05
PM ET
Peyton ManningDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Colts were clearly ill-prepared for life without star quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s ugly in Indianapolis.

At 0-7, the Colts are talking about sticking together, improving and giving themselves a chance to win.

But as they prepare for a trip to Nashville for a Sunday meeting with the Titans at LP Field, they are a severely broken team. Where they would be with Peyton Manning is an interesting hypothetical question, but we’re dealing with realities. And those realities are the sort that will test the franchise’s stitching -- seamwork that might not hold together when this is all over.

Who’s at fault? Everyone’s got a hand in it, but let’s look at the Colts from a couple of angles.

A big cover-up: It’s not a secret that Manning has helped cover up a lot of flaws and allowed the franchise to under-address certain areas.

The Colts during the Manning era have never been much concerned with size, always valuing speed and instincts more. They’ve never worried about stocking special teams with any veteran backups, in part because they spend their money on stars or adding a high-quality return man. They’ve settled for being below average running the ball. And they’ve won despite a general inability to stop the run.

Without their four-time MVP running the offense, all those things are magnified in ways they’ve never been before.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re built to have Manning at the controls, and he’s been there all the time from the very beginning in 1998 until opening day this season.

There are maybe two teams and markets in the league that would not trade for what the Colts have done since 1999. Twelve consecutive playoff seasons followed by one complete dud? Where do I sign up for that?

[+] EnlargeJacob Lacey
Michael Hickey/US PresswirePersonnel decisions by the Colts put cornerback Jacob Lacey, 27, in a prominent role in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Construct questions: That said, regardless of a serious neck surgery to the star quarterback, what exactly was the plan in the secondary? Is an evaluation that leaves Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker as cornerbacks Nos. 2 through 5 good enough? Absolutely not.

The Colts get credit for adding a couple of outside veterans this season -- linebacker Ernie Sims, and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. But the drafting has dropped off.

Set aside the most recent class, as it’s too early to judge.

The Colts drafted 41 players from 2005 through 2010. I count one star, safety Antoine Bethea, and two guys who can become stars, linebacker Pat Angerer and receiver Austin Collie (if he’s working with Manning). Running back Joseph Addai is a good fit who does more than people think. And receiver Pierre Garcon and cornerback Jerraud Powers have been pretty solid starters.

Sure, the Colts drafted higher in the five years before. Still, those classes produced five guys who rank among the best players of their generation at their positions: tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Bob Sanders, and receiver Reggie Wayne. The next tier provided steady starters on the offensive line (Jake Scott, Ryan Diem) and at linebacker (David Thornton).

That list is more than a third of a starting team, a big-time core. As those guys age or disappear, I'm not seeing a core in waiting.

Colts president-turned-vice chairman Bill Polian said recently on his radio show that they needed to have done better recently, particularly at defensive tackle and cornerback.

And there is a domino effect to the problem. Find Tarik Glenn’s ultimate replacement at left tackle in 2007, and you don’t need to use your top pick in 2011 on Anthony Castonzo. Hit on Donald Brown in the first round in 2009, and Delone Carter might not be necessary in the fourth round in 2011.

The Polians: Bill Polian has been pulling back and yielding responsibility to his son, GM Chris Polian. (Chris politely declined to be interviewed for this story.)

We don’t yet have much tape on Chris Polian, so to speak. Bill Polian is a good talent evaluator who has had success in three NFL stops and has done well to build a team with which Manning has won. But Bill Polian also has overseen those recent draft drop-offs.

His strong-willed personality is part of what has made him good at his job, and his big-picture assessment of important league issues is as intelligent as anyone’s. He’s got clout and influence that extend beyond Indianapolis.

Stylistically, he’s a stubborn and demanding boss. There are indications from within that, without the steady stream of personnel hits he provided earlier in his tenure, some inside the building are tiring of the way things are run.

Bill Polian recently talked about how Curtis Painter's play vindicates the team for having faith in him, but failed to mention that faith was so strong that the team signed Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract shortly before the season started and handed him the starting job.

I suspect Bill Polian has the backing of owner Jim Irsay for as long as he wants it. That would ensure safety for Chris Polian, too.

Bill Polian made the Manning-over-Ryan Leaf call in 1998. Because of the way Leaf busted, people forget that was a coin flip at the time, that Leaf was regarded as a big-time prospect just as much as Manning was. Polian called it correctly, built a team that’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, got a new stadium built, and greatly enhanced the value of Irsay’s franchise.

Cryptic messages: Further complicating things is Irsay, who clearly gets a kick out of being the center of NFL attention in the Twitter-verse but has undermined some of his people with it.

He announced the team added Collins while coach Jim Caldwell was conducting his daily news conference. It did Caldwell no favors, as he appeared completely out of the loop.

Most recently, following the 62-7 loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, Irsay provided this gem:
“Titanic collapse, apologies 2 all ColtsNation...problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again”

A day later, he added:
"Just because you perceive problems on the horizon,and you possess solutions..doesn't mean they are avoidable and implementation is instant"

Solutions in progress, but complex in nature. That sounds to me like what would be written in big silver letters on the lobby wall of a consulting company on a TV show. Or a clever, but far-too-long name for a band.

It also sounds like change is going to come.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Coaching questions: While Bill Polian recently said that adding Jim Tressel to the staff as a replay consultant was Caldwell’s idea, it’s a weird-looking move that’s made some of us wonder whether a bigger role awaits the former Ohio State coach.

Caldwell does a nice job managing personalities, looking at things philosophically and staying on message. I believe he’s a good teacher, and his patient, quiet style is generally healthy for a team with a good share of veteran stars.

But he has blind spots, too, and is hardly a strategy master. There are bound to be significant changes at the conclusion of what’s sure to be a dreadful season, and he’ll be at the front of the line.

If he does the best job we can remember at holding a terrible, ineffective team together, is that enough? I’d guess not.

Injuries: This team gets hurt too much. There is a huge element of bad luck to it, of course. But is there something bigger at work as well?

Last season as quality players went down, Manning helped some role players such as tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White emerge. This season, guys such as linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early, and there's been a revolving door on the offensive line because of injuries.

The Colts are constantly testing their depth and shuffling the back end of their roster. There is only so much shuffling a depth chart can handle.

I believe they need to attempt some change that might have a positive effect on their overall health -- whether it be adopting new training philosophies, altering how they evaluate prospects or changing personnel philosophies.

It's easy to ask them to figure out why they tend to suffer so many injuries, and it's hard to find an answer. But some sort of shift is due, even as we know it comes with no guarantee of better health.

When the current approach is failing, it's OK to try something else. It's not admitting some sort of failure; it's merely part of a necessary process of evaluating and revising operations.

Suck for Luck: Given a chance to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, I think the Colts would. Bill Polian can give Chris Polian the guy expected to be the NFL's next great quarterback, and Chris Polian's legacy would be built on a fantastic cornerstone.

But there is no losing on purpose to get in position for Luck. You think Wayne or Mathis is interested in such a master plan?

Said veteran center and team tone-setter Jeff Saturday: “I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote: 'I ain't sucking for anybody.'”
HOUSTON -- The Colts don’t like the perception that they are a one-man team on good days with Peyton Manning. They don’t like the perception that they are a one-man team on a bad day with Kerry Collins.

[+] EnlargeKerry Collins
AP Photo/David J. PhillipColts quarterback Kerry Collins completed 16 of 31 passes for 197 yards against the Texans.
In his debut with Indianapolis, Collins connected on 16 of 31 passes for 197 yards, with three sacks, two lost fumbles and a touchdown throw in a 34-7 loss.

“It’s hard to really say if Peyton [Manning] was out there and was completely healthy what level we would have played at,” Owner Jim Irsay said. “Obviously it would have made a difference. With Kerry, he’s a guy where you hope he can get better and that we can get better and sturdy up some things. It’s not a cliché, you always look worse than it really is and you’ve never as good as you think it is.”

While Irsay said Collins is the Colts' guy right now, he passed on a chance to declare that Collins is the quarterback the team intends to ride unless or until Manning is in position to return. Even so, I do not expect they will be shopping for a new veteran after one game.

Collins held the ball too long and he got called for an intentional grounding when a throw-away on the move didn’t reach the line of scrimmage. He was too often harassed by a defensive front that was eager to show off in its first meaningful game under coordinator Wade Phillips.

In the first quarter he fumbled while being sacked and dropped a snap, giving Houston two red-zone possessions that turned into touchdowns. He also he dislocated the pointer finger on his left, nonthrowing hand, and had it popped back in during the game.

"I know that [center-to-quarterback] exchange was my fault,” he said. “I need to ride in there a little bit better with Jeff [Saturday]. They are good up front with getting pressure on the quarterback and I have to take better care of the ball."

On the rare snaps when he had a nice pocket and time, he did deliver some throws.

But he wasn’t worthy of a Reggie Wayne review that “he did well” because he hung in there and took control of things.

“We didn’t get into any flow,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. “The moments that we did you could tell that we could move the ball.”

The Colts are likely to emphasize the play-calling and huddle success as they look for silver linings. They should also highlight the need for protection during the week as they prepare to host the Cleveland Browns.

“It’s not just 18 not being here,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “It’s a lot of things… As a quarterback, from a fan perspective, he probably will take a lot of criticism.

"In the locker room as his teammates, we understand the situation. Kerry’s been here two weeks. We’re not making any excuses or anything like that. Nobody is going to sit here and finger-point.”

Colts: What they play before they play

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
12:20
PM ET
You see them in headphones, walking into the stadium, heading from the locker room to the field, as they stretch and run and get ready for kickoff.

Before the iPods are turned off and put away, what’s the last song the Titans listen to in order to get in the right frame of mind?

Build a playlist based on this if you dare:

Tight end Jacob Tamme: Black Eyed Peas, “I Got a Feeling”

“It’s got a nice little beat. And the lyrics, ‘Tonight’s gonna be a good night,’ there is nothing wrong with that type of thinking before you hit the field.”

Linebacker Kavell Connor: Pastor Troy, “Vice Versa”

“It just gets me into a zone where I focus, where I am ready to go to battle, ready to go to war.”

Cornerback Jerraud Powers: Explosions in the Sky

“It sort of calms me down, helps me focus. But I’ve got the new Jay-Z and Kayne West, I’m pretty sure I will be bumping that too."

Kicker Adam Vinatieri: Incubus, "The Warmth"

"Great, great pregame song. Best all-time pregame song. Listen to the lyrics. The lyrics are fantastic. It starts off slow, there is a little bit of an upbeat to it. But the lyrics are where it's at. It gives you chills."

Cornerback Kevin Thomas: DMX, “Where My Dogs at”

“It just gets you in the mindset of getting rowdy, getting hyped and pretty much playing at full speed, reckless.”

Linebacker Gary Brackett: Marvin Sapp, “Never Would Have Made It”

“It’s an inspirational song. It’s an affirmation of why I am here.”

Running back Joseph Addai: Bob Marley, “No Woman, No Cry”

“I need to be able to relax to play. Dealing with Peyton [Manning], you’ve got to be able to relax. I need to calm my nerves, be ready for Peyton.”

Safety Antoine Bethea: 2Pac, “Dear Mama”

“It just gives me focus and let’s me know why I am out there. If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be here. It’s just something that really mellow me down, doesn’t get me too hyped too early.”

Running back Delone Carter: Young Jeezy, “Handle my Business”

Offensive lineman Ben Ijalana: Lupe Fiasco, “Kick, Push”

“At my position, the calmer I find myself, the better I play.”

And the outliers who don't have one song or don't have a music routine:

Center Jeff Saturday: “I don’t really listen to music pregame. It used to be me, [Charlie Johnson] and Ryan Diem would listen to ‘Cult of Personality’ by Living Color. Chuck’s gone. He was the guy who played it. We’ll see who rises to the forefront with the music. I’ve been at this a long time, I don’t really need a lot of external motivators. I pretty much show up ready to get it done.”

Defensive end Dwight Freeney: “Every year is different, I find a different one. I’m a guy who doesn’t have one particular song. I kind of go out and shuffle through it. This song got me going today.”

Receiver Reggie Wayne: “My last song is just really hearing the crowd roar. I don’t really have a song to get me going. I like to hear that 12th man screaming, that’s when I know it’s time for battle.”

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo: “To tell you the truth, I don’t listen to any music on game day. I just close my eyes and picture things I just prefer silence. I just kind of go into my own brain and start to picture myself doing things properly.”

Quarterback Kerry Collins: He dabbles in writing country music songs and has friends in the business in Nashville, but said he doesn't listen to music as part of his pregame routine.

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