AFC South: Jacques McClendon
The offensive line was the Jaguars' top priority in free agency because of the retirement of center Brad Meester and the release of right guard Uche Nwaneri last week. The team obviously wanted an upgrade over Will Rackley, Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon and Drew Nowak.
It's a good move by Jaguars general manager David Caldwell. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Beadles is a tough, durable player who has started 62 of a possible 64 games in the regular season since the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. The Broncos led the NFL in total offense and were 15th in rushing (117.1 yards per game) last season.
UPDATE: Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said Beadles was the team's primary offensive line target.
"He’s very intelligent, he’s very competitive and he’s very smart," Caldwell said. "We did a lot of work on him in Atlanta when he was coming out. He’s had a heck of a career to-date. I think he’s played in every game possible in his four years in Denver. He played in the Pro Bowl in 2012. He’s a guy with a proven track record. He’s still only 27 years old. He’s very passionate about football. I think he checks the box for everything we look for in a player and I think you guys know what that is in this culture.”
Beadles, who will play left guard, is a good fit for the Jaguars because like the Broncos they also use a zone-blocking scheme.
Interior offensive line is the Jaguars' biggest need after quarterback and pass-rusher. The group struggled early in the 2013 season with the transition to a zone-blocking scheme and the Jaguars eventually mixed back in some man-blocking schemes.
The strength of a team's running game comes from the center and two guards and those spots weren't very productive in 2013. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in rushing (78.8 yards per game) and running back Maurice Jones-Drew's 3.4 per-carry average was the worst of his career. Meester was in his 14th season and not playing at the same level as he had in the past several seasons. Nwaneri played through torn cartilage in his knee in 2012 and dealt with the lingering effects from the injury in 2013 and Rackley battled a knee injury throughout the 2013 season.
Who is on the roster: OT Cameron Bradfield, G/C Mike Brewster, OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, OT DeMarcus Love, G Jacques McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, G Drew Nowak, G Uche Nwaneri, OT Austin Pasztor, G Will Rackley, and OT Sam Young.
NFL free agents of interest: C Alex Mack, C Ryan Wendell, C Brian De La Puenta, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, and G Rich Ohrnberger.
Need meter: 9. After quarterback and leo, the interior of the offensive line is the Jaguars’ biggest need. GM David Caldwell has said the team would like to address that in free agency, and it would be a surprise if the Jaguars didn’t sign at least two starters, including a center, within the first few weeks of free agency. It’s unlikely the Jaguars would target the big names that are available, mainly because of cost, but if those players linger on the market and the price drops, the Jaguars would get involved. Even though Joeckel is talented and seemed to thrive in the very limited time he spent at left tackle, there are still questions about him, so the Jaguars might opt to add some experienced depth at tackle. Competition for roster spots on the line will be among the more interesting training camp battles.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the next part in the process comes this week when general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley evaluate, watch and interview prospects at the NFL combine.
Here's a breakdown of what the Jaguars need, in order, on offense and some potential targets:
Quarterback: There's no question this is the Jaguars' top need, although pass-rusher is only slightly behind. Caldwell wants to re-sign Chad Henne before free agency begins next month, but Henne is a bridge player or someone who can mentor a young quarterback and begin the season as the starter if the rookie isn't ready. The Jaguars haven't completely given up on Blaine Gabbert, either, but he's entering the final year of his contract and it would be surprising if he were re-signed after 2014.
Potential targets: Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray.
Interior offensive line: The Jaguars have to find a center to replace the retired Brad Meester and a left guard to upgrade from Will Rackley. The Jaguars will address this area in free agency as well but the team also wants to add some young talent. The Jaguars appear set at both tackles (Luke Joeckel and Austin Pasztor) and right guard Uche Nwaneri has two more years remaining on his contract. He's scheduled to make $4.775 million in each year, though, and could be a cap casualty after 2014. Mike Brewster and Jacques McClendon can play guard and center but neither appears, now anyway, to be the long-term answer. It wouldn't be surprising if the team took an interior offensive lineman in the third round, especially if the Jaguars took a quarterback earlier.
Potential targets: G Gabe Jackson, G David Yankey, G Brandon Thomas, C Marcus Martin, C Weston Richburg, C Russell Bodine.
Potential targets: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Mason, Lache Seastrunk, Dri Archer, Andre Williams.
Receiver: The Jaguars aren't planning on getting anything from Justin Blackmon in 2014 because they don't yet know his status, which is the correct way to approach his situation. Cecil Shorts is entering a contract year but has yet to stay healthy for a full season. Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor, Lamar Thomas, and Stephen Burton are complementary players. The Jaguars need to find a bigger, physical receiver. If they do that in free agency, this area drops to the bottom of the offensive needs list.
Potential targets: Josh Huff, Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams.
Tight end: Marcedes Lewis came on strong at the end of the season and he should be a 50-catch player in Jedd Fisch's offense if he stays healthy. After Lewis, though, there isn't much. Clay Harbor is a flex tight end but he's a free agent and the Jaguars will have to decide if they want to re-sign him. Danny Noble is raw and needs more work. The Jaguars want a bigger tight end who can line up next to Lewis in two-tight-end formations.
Potential targets: Marcel Jensen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Crockett Gilmore, Jake Murphy.
Brad Meester was an ironman throughout his 14-year career with the Jaguars, starting and playing in a franchise-record 209 games. He was a sure a thing as you can have in football, which is why the Jaguars never invested much effort throughout his career to find another center.
There are 19 centers who are scheduled to be free agents this offseason, with the top of the class being Cleveland's Alex Mack. New England's Ryan Wendell and Denver's Dan Koppen are also big names that could be available. It'd be a bit surprising if the Jaguars went the pricey route and signed Mack, who made $3.832 million this season and will likely be asking for $4-plus million a year.
A cheaper alternative -- and one that seems the most likely right now -- would be to look on the roster to see if there's a replacement. The Jaguars have options. They could move Brewster, Rackley or guard Jacques McClendon to center. They also recently signed Matt Stankiewitch, a former Penn State standout who signed as an undrafted free agent with New England last summer, was waived in the final cuts of training camp, and spent the 2013 season out of football.
McClendon played in three games and started two others at guard this season, but he also played one snap at center when Meester moved outside and caught a pass in his final home game.
"Gus and I kind of talked about a little bit of a quick wish list," GM David Caldwell said. "I said obviously we can't fill all of our needs through free agency and through the draft but we can we fill our needs with with people that are here right now and who will anticipate filling that center role, right guard, role, or left guard role, or whatever it might be.
"I think we need to really sit down with our coaches and say, ‘Who can we fill this need with this year?' Let's use our resources, whether it's a draft pick or free agency, to go fill another need that's more of a pressing issue."
The more pressing issues are quarterback, pass-rusher, outside linebacker, and receiver. The Jaguars are unlikely to address the quarterback situation in free agency other than to re-sign Chad Henne.
Finding a center may be something the Jaguars haven't done in a while, but the solution may already be on the roster.
Breakdown of starts: C Brad Meester (16), G Uche Nwaneri (16), T Austin Pasztor (12), T Cameron Bradfield (11), G Will Rackley (11), T Luke Joeckel (5), T Eugene Monroe (4), G Mike Brewster (3), G Jacques McClendon (2).
Recap: The Jaguars finished 31st in rushing (78.8 yards per game) and gave up the second-most sacks in the league (50). All the blame for those poor stats doesn't fall on the offensive line, but a good bit does. Injuries played a large role because several players started the season banged up and three ended up finishing the season on IR.
Only two players who started the season opener were in the starting lineup for the season finale: Meester and Nwaneri.
The group really struggled in the first month adjusting to the new zone-blocking scheme and it wasn't until Monroe was traded that things started to get better. The timing was a bit unusual because Monroe is regarded as one of the better young tackles in the game and Joeckel lasted less than a half at left tackle because of a season-ending ankle injury.
Nwaneri and Rackley were banged up with knee issues early in the season but as they got healthier the middle of the line played better.
The biggest surprise, though, was the play of Pasztor. Bradfield had started 12 games at right tackle in 2012 so he was experienced enough to handle things at left tackle after Joeckel got injured. Pasztor had started just three games at left guard as a rookie in 2012 but he did a solid job at right tackle over the final 12 games of the season. He was promising enough that coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell are willing to give him a further look at that spot to see if he can develop into the team's answer at right tackle.
Rackley missed the final four games because of a concussion. Brewster was supposed to be his replacement but he suffered a fractured ankle as well and that forced McClendon into the lineup.
Looking ahead to 2014
Players under contract: Nwaneri, Joeckel, Rackley, Brewster, McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, C Patrick Lewis, G Drew Nowak, T DeMarcus Love, C Matt Stankiewitch.
The skinny: The top priority is finding a center because Meester retired after 14 seasons. It may be someone already on the roster -- McClendon also can snap -- but it also may be someone the Jaguars sign in free agency (Cleveland's Alex Mack is regarded as the top center that could be a free agent).
Upgrading at left guard and making sure things are settled at right tackle are on the list as well. Pasztor may end up being the starter against but he has to show progress and prove he can handle the quicker rushers.
There are still questions about Joeckel. He looked good in his first game at left tackle (his natural position), but he was only on the field for less than a half before he got injured. He should be healthy in time for OTAs.
The Jaguars are likely going to add several free agents and draft picks in the interior. The run game has to improve and that starts with the center and guards.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When the call came in from the sideline, Jaguars center Brad Meester got nervous.
But not because he was going to get a chance to score a touchdown in his final game at EverBank Field in front of his family.
He was worried he would embarrass himself in front of 60,559 people.
"The thing that ran through my head was, 'Don't drop the ball,'" Meester said following the Jaguars 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans. "I knew I would catch a lot of flak if I got open one time in my life and I dropped the ball. That was the one thing I was focusing on is catching it."
You can understand his uneasiness. Offensive linemen don’t get to catch passes or score touchdowns very often. Tackles sometimes do when they line up as extra tight ends. But centers never do.
Until Sunday, when offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and head coach Gus Bradley decided to give Meester a shot as a way to say “thank you” for being a vital part of the Jaguars franchise for the past 14 seasons. They put the play -- called Pass 5 Weak Screen to Brad -- in the game plan and practiced it all week.
On second-and-8 from the Tennessee 13-yard line late in the first quarter, they called it.
He went about 3 yards down field, turned around, and caught the pass from Chad Henne, just like he had done all week. Every time they practiced the play he caught it. Not a single drop. Even if he had been tackled immediately he would have been a hero to his linemen teammates.
"Have you seen his hands?" Pasztor said. "His fingers are all bent every which way. It is remarkable that he can hold onto the ball."
The rest of the play was an example of why offensive linemen don’t catch passes. Meester ran into the back of right guard Uche Nwaneri, tried to juke a defender, and cut inside instead of outside, where Pasztor was waiting to make a block. Had he done that, he may have scored.
"He’s a lineman. You think he’s going to see that?" Nwaneri said. "He’s just like, ‘RUN! RUN!' That’s how I would have been."
Meester admitted he maybe sort of panicked.
"I couldn't figure out what to do," he said. "Am I going outside? Am I going inside? Is he moving? I stuck there for a while and finally went inside, and there were a couple of guys waiting for me."
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew said he probably would have cut outside.
"Yeah it was [free outside] but his speed and my speed are a little different," he said. "I think he’s running 7s not 4s."
Jones-Drew, though, is partly to blame. At no time this past week did he give Meester any tips on reading blocks. It’s not like that’s something an offensive lineman is supposed to know.
"If you ask Drew [Nowak] he would say he played running back so he’d probably tell you he does know how to read blocks," Pasztor said. "I think the majority of us probably don’t."
Meester eventually was tackled after a 9-yard gain, giving the Jaguars a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Henne hit Marcedes Lewis on the next play for a touchdown.
Meester wasn’t bummed about not getting to score. He said it’s a play he’ll always remember, not only because it was a chance to live out every offensive lineman’s dream but because it was a sign of how the coaching staff and franchise feels about him. He’ll also never forget the crowd after the play, either.
"It also meant a lot when after the catch they started cheering, ‘Meester.’" He said. "That was pretty cool. I never had anything like that happen in my life, except maybe at the house."
Had he scored, though, it would have been pandemonium, Jones-Drew said.
"The whole team was ready to get a penalty so it was kind of good that he didn’t score because I think everyone was going to run on the field if he got in," Jones-Drew said. "The bench probably would have emptied."
The catch, as it no doubt will go down as in Meester’s household, was part of a bigger tribute to the 14-year veteran, who announced earlier this week that this will be his final season. He was the only Jaguars player introduced before the game and the team held an on-field ceremony after the game in which he and his family were presented with four framed No. 63 jerseys.
That was a fitting tribute to a player who owns the franchise record for most games played and started (208) and the two longest streaks of consecutive starts (92 and 89). Meester was grateful for the pregame and postgame honors and for Bradley and Fisch giving him a chance to live every offensive lineman’s dream.
"I didn't break down and cry," Meester said. "I did get emotional. It was an emotional time. It really started to get me when I went out for pregame warm-up. I could hear people yelling at me and I could see some signs out there. That was awesome. I never had a sign for myself and there were several.
"There was even a Fat Head out there, which my kids have outside and are excited about."
Probably more than had their dad scored a touchdown.
Grounded: One of the reasons the Jaguars had been 4-1 since the bye week was their improved rush defense. After giving up 162 yards per game in the first eight games, they had allowed opponents an average of just 71 yards in the next five games. The Bills ran for 198 yards, including 80 by Fred Jackson, 67 by C.J. Spiller and 37 by quarterback EJ Manuel. The Jaguars struggled with all the things they did well in the last five games: staying in their gaps, tackling, communication. “The biggest thing for us was the fundamentals,” defensive end Jason Babin said. “We did it to ourselves; whether it was 10 guys on the field, whether it was missed tackles, whether it was missed alignment, missed assignment, looking back I’m pretty sure when we watch the tape that’s what we’re going to see. That’s I think what makes it most frustrating, is we did it to ourselves.”
Line shuffle: With the news that backup guard Mike Brewster is out for the rest of the season with a fractured left ankle, the Jaguars’ situation on the offensive line is somewhat shaky. Brewster was in the game because starter Will Rackley did not play due to a concussion (it’s unclear how long he will be out). Jacques McClendon replaced Brewster and had an up-and-down day, committing two false starts but doing a solid job in the run game. The Jaguars likely will sign Drew Nowak from the practice squad to replace Brewster, and Nowak could be forced to start Sunday’s game against Tennessee if Rackley can’t play. Nowak has not appeared in a game in his two seasons.
Guy trouble: Winston Guy had an up-and-down day as well, but it was almost expected since he has been playing free safety all season and was forced into duty as the starting strong safety because Johnathan Cyprien (thigh) was inactive. Guy had six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, but he also missed several tackles and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for hitting Bills receiver Marquise Goodwin in the head, a play that’s likely to draw a fine. “He has the ability to make some big plays but in four days of practice [at strong safety] like that we knew that there could be some opportunities that we missed,” coach Gus Bradley said.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills:
What it means: What could have been a gut-it-out victory because of the loss of four starters turned into another loss at EverBank Field in front of 60,085 fans. The Jaguars turned it over four times, including once when Denard Robinson fumbled the ball at the Buffalo 1-yard line, and it bounced out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. The Jaguars had won three games in a row and were coming off their first victory at EverBank Field in more than a year.
Stock watch: It’s harder to be much higher than Jordan Todman, who ran for 109 yards and had 44 yards receiving. The first-year player was making his first start because Maurice Jones-Drew was inactive with a hamstring injury. Todman also had a pair of big plays, a 33-yard run on a drive that ended with a field goal, and a 30-yard catch-and-run to convert a third down and continue a drive that ended with a touchdown. Quarterback Chad Henne did not have one of his better games. He threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, and threw several other passes that were nearly intercepted. He made some plays with his feet and had to deal with heavy pressure, but he wasn’t able to overcome his mistakes.
Banged-up offensive line: The offensive line was hit hard by injuries. Starting left guard Will Rackley was added to the injury report on Saturday with a concussion and did not play. His replacement, Mike Brewster, suffered a left ankle injury in the first half and did not return. Jacques McClendon finished the game at left guard, which left the Jaguars with just one other healthy offensive lineman (Sam Young).
In a rush: One of the things that had keyed the Jaguars’ turnaround in the second half of the season was better rush defense. They went from allowing 162 yards per game in the first eight games to holding the next five opponents under 100 yards. That changed on Sunday, when the Bills battered the Jaguars for 198 yards on the ground. Fred Jackson rushed for 80 yards, C.J. Spiller 67, and quarterback EJ Manuel 37.
What’s next: The Jaguars play their final home game of the season against Tennessee at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
He wasn’t kidding.
The Jaguars were awarded seven players off waivers on Sunday, adding receiver Stephen Burton (Minnesota), defensive back Winston Guy (Seattle), tight end Clay Harbor (Philadelphia), guard Jacques McClendon (Atlanta), linebacker Chris McCoy (Philadelphia), linebacker J.T. Thomas (Chicago) and tight end D.J. Williams (Green Bay).
They aren’t done yet, either. Caldwell said the team will look at the players other teams released on Sunday and there could be some additional signings on Monday.
"We’ll evaluate that pool and from that pool we’ll see if we can upgrade somewhere," Caldwell said. "We will always look for an edge and an advantage of where we can try to get better."
Speed and the ability to play on special teams are the two traits for which Caldwell is looking in available players. Six of the seven players signed have special-teams value.
"It’s something we’ve looked at the whole time," Caldwell said. "We’re always going to look to get better in every phase, not just special teams. It’s offense, defense, [and] it's personnel. Whatever we’re doing we’re going to work to get better. We felt like when we came here in the offseason we wanted to upgrade our team speed. We feel like we didn’t completely do that in the offseason but we feel like we did that today."
To make room for the seven additions, the Jaguars cut defensive back Antwon Blake, tight end Brett Brackett, center Dan Gerberry, defensive tackle Kyle Love, fullback Lonnie Pryor, receiver Jordan Shipley and linebacker Andy Studebaker.
The Jaguars also signed the following players to the practice squad: cornerback Marcus Burley, defensive end Ryan Davis, receiver Jeremy Ebert, guard Drew Nowak, receiver Tobais Palmer, quarterback Matt Scott, and safety Steven Terrell. The Jaguars have one remaining spot to fill on the practice squad.
Here’s a quick look at the seven new players:
Burton: The former 2011 seventh-round draft pick played in 15 games for Minnesota last season and caught seven passes for 73 yards and one touchdown.
Guy: He was a sixth-round pick by Seattle last year and played in three games, including the NFC divisional playoff game against Atlanta.
Harbor: He spent the past three seasons in Philadelphia after the Eagles took him in the fourth round in 2010. He has played in 39 games (18 starts) and has 47 catches for 421 yards and four touchdowns. Also has lined up at receiver.
McClendon: The former 2010 fourth-round pick by Indianapolis has played in only four games.
McCoy: Miami selected him in the fourth round in 2010 and he spent that season on the practice squad with three teams (Miami, Houston and Seattle). He spent the past two seasons with Calgary in the Canadian Football League.
Thomas: Chicago selected him in the sixth round in 2011. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve he played in every game last season for the Bears.
Williams: He spent the past two seasons with Green Bay after the Packers selected him in the fifth round in 2011. He has nine career catches for 70 yards. He also can line up at fullback.
But the revised Colts’ depth chart flips left tackle Anthony Castonzo ahead of Jeff Linkenbach and left guard Joe Reitz ahead of Jacques McClendon.
It may merely be the team rotating guys, but it’s hard not to comment on the Castonzo “move.”
It’s not an easy spot to jump into, especially with Peyton Manning at risk if Castonzo botches blindside blocking. But Manning’s developed an awfully good radar detection system regarding blocking breakdowns, and over the last four years he helped Tony Ugoh (who was bad) and Charlie Johnson (who did the best he could with what he had) avoid catastrophe.
(A blown block Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium against Washington would be putting Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky at risk, not the still-rehabbing Manning.)
Castonzo’s pedigree from Boston College and the draft should be enough to make up for the four games worth of experience for Linkenbach.
The team is confident Castonzo has the makeup to contribute quickly or it wouldn’t have drafted him, because the Colts need the offensive line help now as well as later. The question is how quickly, of course.
The early intent was to ease him in as opposed to subjecting him to baptism by fire.
But I’d go baptism by fire now, particularly with Manning not in any danger. They can always flip Castonzo back if he gets singed.
But if Indianapolis is healthy, it’s awfully risky to be ahead of the curve regarding its demise.
This is a team that lost a ton of talent to injury last season and still won the division at 10-6. It’s added some nice pieces on defense through bargain-basement free-agency. It drafted two offensive tackles who should be pillars, and also selected a short-yardage back.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about a big rebound year, and most teams aren’t even talking rebound when it comes to following a division title.
“I think it’s really the same team,” middle linebacker Gary Brackett said.
The same team is a major threat to win the division and compete for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Should it break through for the third Super Bowl appearance of the Peyton Manning era, a huge prize awaits: The game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium.
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. Manning’s health.
This time it’s a result of neck surgery in May. It’s the second year in a row Manning had a neck procedure after the season. But he and the team have expressed confidence that all he needs is time and rehabilitation. It’s unlikely that a five-year, $90 million contract would have gotten done if the medical staff and management had any doubts.
While the Colts move forward without Manning, his absence also puts them in limbo. No matter how strongly they spin Curtis Painter’s performance, the defense isn’t being pushed in practice the way it would be if Manning was running the other side.
And no matter how precise the routes, how good the blocking or how well-timed the play, the offense will still need to sync it all up with the star quarterback once he returns.
That knee in 2008 limited him early, when the team struggled out of the gate. Coming back from a neck injury, Manning is less likely to have any sort of mechanical issues or physical limitations that affect his passing. That’s one case for expecting a better start after so much missed time.
The timetable for his return is unknown. You know the drill: They say he’s progressing well, that they are optimistic, etc., and no one outside a very tight circle has any real idea when he will re-emerge. He was spotted once throwing with what a witness called “decent velocity.” Hey, encouraging news is encouraging news.
2. Is the secondary deep enough?
Last season, the Colts were stretched virtually everywhere. Aaron Francisco wasn’t on the team for opening day, ranking as the fourth or fifth option at strong safety, and he played a good share of the season as the starter.
Behind free safety Antoine Bethea and re-signed and healthy strong safety Melvin Bullitt, there are unproven options including Al Afalava, Joe Lefeged, Mike Newton, David Caldwell and Chip Vaughn.
And after the top three corners -- Jerraud Powers, Justin Tryon and Jacob Lacey -- there also isn’t proven depth.
“At the safety position, I’m confident that we’re going to get two guys that will emerge there,” Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said. “We see enough signs to know that there is quality in that group.
“I also think there is some quality in the backup corners. Kevin Thomas is one of them. There are some interesting guys, and they’ll play themselves on or off the roster based on the preseason. But based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’d say we’ve got a good group and one or two guys will emerge.”
They will all benefit, of course, from a better pass rush. And if Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are better supplemented by Jerry Hughes and Jamaal Anderson on the edges and Tommie Harris provides a solid nickel push in the middle, they could have one.
3. Will the passing game have enough consistent weapons?
The ability of the 2010 Colts to get production from the likes of tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White was remarkable.
Reggie Wayne is in fantastic shape and working hard, and will be a key target for Manning as always. Dallas Clark is back from a wrist injury. If the Colts are calling plays for those two and Pierre Garcon, Collie and Gonzalez, they can be potent. If the group shrinks, the effort is more exhausting.
Manning averaged 6.92 yards per attempt in 2010. That’s the lowest mark in his career outside of his rookie season (6.5). The Colts need to find more big plays and move the ball with a little less effort to be the kind of team they want to be.
If the Colts get a significant contribution out of Anderson, Harris or linebacker Ernie Sims, it’ll be a win. All three signed cost-effective one-year deals that amount to low-risk, high-reward scenarios. Polian said in a normal year, the market wouldn’t have given the team an opportunity to sign players like these, veterans who are all ideally suited for Indy’s defense. If they get something from two of them, it will make for a home run. Three-for-three amounts to a grand slam. Harris looks very good so far, while Sims is recovering from an appendectomy.
Polian was singing Philip Wheeler’s praises and saying that while the team loves starting strongside linebacker Pat Angerer, it loves Wheeler too. But he failed to hold the job last season and should be able to win and hold a starting job by now. Brody Eldridge gets a mention, too. He had knee surgery after last season, and a setback means he hasn’t seen the practice field yet. They need him to be part of the run game.
- Delone Carter is coming into a perfect situation as a rookie. He’s unlike any of the Colts' other running backs and should get chances in short yardage and goal-line situations. If Javarris James ran for six touchdowns last season, Carter could run for 12 this fall. The Colts can continue to praise Donald Brown, but with Joseph Addai back and Carter in the fold, when does Brown get on the field?
- It was a surprise to find Lacey as the No. 2 cornerback at the start of camp. He was better as a rookie than in his second season. And he can be an effective piece of the secondary. But I’d bet on Tryon passing him before opening day.
- After one long and hot afternoon practice session, two players stuck around to catch machine-thrown balls: Wayne and Bethea. Those are some solid veterans and the kind of guys any team would like to have leading the way.
- Manning didn’t react well to TV crews that saw a recent throwing and running session. My understanding is that the Earth is still spinning, however. I understand being private, but everything and everyone cannot always be controlled. Did I miss the catastrophic outcome?
- The buzz is good on Hughes, and with him and Anderson in the mix, the Colts may pace Freeney and Mathis better. That could make for fresher stars in December and January.
- They won’t talk until after the season, but as of now I’d expect the Colts to try to keep both Wayne and Mathis with new contracts.
- Jacques McClendon or Joe Reitz could be an upgrade over Kyle DeVan at left guard. The big question on the line to me -- presuming Anthony Castonzo takes over left tackle reasonably quickly -- is right guard. Mike Pollak has had sufficient opportunity, and the team can aspire to be better there. Couldn’t they be better with Ben Ijalana there until he’s ready to displace Ryan Diem at right tackle?
- 'Tis the season for Garcon to prove he's a consistently reliable threat. He had too many drops and too many lapses last season. He needs to be more than fast. He spent more time with Manning this offseason, before the neck surgery, than he did last offseason.
- Jacques McClendon is the starting left guard over Joe Reitz, though they’ve practiced in the other order.
- The base offense is three wide, with Austin Collie in what’s technically the H-back spot.
- Tommie Harris is fifth at left defensive tackle, a spot he’ll surely move up from.
- Rookie Drake Nevis is the No. 2 left defensive tackle behind Fili Moala.
- Eric Foster is the No. 2 right defensive tackle behind Antonio Johnson.
- Undrafted rookie Joe Lefeged is backing up Melvin Bullitt at strong safety.
- Al Afalava is backing up Antoine Bethea at free safety.
- Devin Moore is the punt returner.
- Undrafted David Gilreath is the punt returner.
- Joe Reitz, who’s listed as a tackle, continues to work at left guard ahead of Jacques McClendon. He lined up with left tackle Jeff Linkenbach, center Jeff Saturday, right guard Mike Pollak and right tackle Ryan Diem to form the starting O-line.
- Justin Tryon ranks as the third corner right now, but count me among those who think he could wind up second. I watched him encourage and advise undrafted rookie Terrence Johnson during one-on-ones about being patient working against receiver Taj Smith. Good stuff.
- “Saturday,” a fan screamed and the center raised his fist before the rest of the line was delivered. “Thank you for the season.” He should hear that a lot based on his giant role in the CBA negotiations.
- It can't be a fun job to be the guy who holds up a three-ring pack of laminated sheets with the right package or play name on it to the camera before each play. But the coaches need to have some stuff labeled as “Alcatraz” of “Queso” when they review and look for landmarks of the sets.
- With Dwight Freeney out for the morning, the first-unit defensive line was, left to right, Jamaal Anderson, Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson and Robert Mathis.
- Special teams worked on punting out of the back of the end zone and the block team did well to get to one off of Pat McAfee’s foot. Special-teams coach Ray Rychleski didn’t care for close-but-no-cigar on another snap. Well, not even close, apparently. “Don’t go near the guy,"' he barked at one rusher. “You’re not even close. Block it or don’t go near him.” The broader point: Roughing the punter penalties kill.
- Watched some one-on-one pass rush and saw Tommie Harris win snaps against McClendon and Reitz. Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana looked good to me. Drake Nevis and Jerry Hughes didn’t have a great period from what I could tell.
- Linebacker Ernie Sims is out two weeks after an appendectomy, according to Jim Caldwell.
Bill Polian’s spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman for the first time in his 14 drafts running the Colts.
Anthony Castonzo out of Boston College should offer an immediate upgrade in Indianapolis. He’s likely to step in at left tackle and replace Charlie Johnson, protecting Peyton Manning's blind side while hopefully also offering a boost to the run game.
Smart and dependable are words attached to him in virtually every review. Smart is a prerequisite for a Colts offensive linemen and dependable is a necessity with Manning’s health at issue if a Mario Williams gets a free shot at him.
Johnson did admirable work the last few years. But he was part of a patchwork operation that has yet to fully recover from the retirement of Tarik Glenn before the 2006 Super Bowl-winning season. Polian traded up for Tony Ugoh, drafting the Arkansas tackle in the second round in 2007 but cutting him after three middling years when he couldn’t win and hold a lineup spot.
Johnson may be a free agent, but he’s a player the Colts probably like as a guard or a versatile sub if they can retain him.
Ryan Diem, the right tackle, slipped last season and will likely have to fight to keep his spot. Jeff Linkenbach could be the big challenger there, or Castonzo could start out on the right.
Another second-year man, Jacques McClendon, might fight his way into a guard job as the Colts revamp the unit.
And Indianapolis could still draft another lineman in the next two days.
Here are snippets of interest with some of your AFC South blogger sprinkled in.
Organizational structure: GM Rick Smith and Kubiak work well together and they usually seem to be on the same page. They have a deep and veteran scouting staff, but they are not a group that likes to take a lot of chances. They stay true to their draft board and they don't make a lot of 'gut' decisions. While they don't always look overly creative, they also don't make a lot of glaring mistakes. For such a deep and experienced front office, why is the product on the field not improved with better talent?
Horton’s needs: S, CB, OLB, NT, WR RS
My thoughts: With the lack of late-round success, I'd almost wish some decisions had been gut decisions. Kubiak and Wade Phillps have down-played nose tackle as a need. But Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell are nothing close to Jay Ratliff, the smaller nose Phillips had in Dallas.
Offseason observations: This team has been to the playoffs nine seasons in a row, and while they were disappointed in their first-round loss to the New York Jets, they won despite having 18 players on injured reserve. The Colts also had five losses by three points or less and never seemed to get into any kind of groove. They need to improve their offensive line and run game to take some pressure off Peyton Manning.
Horton’s needs: OT, DT, SS, WR, G-C, CB
My thoughts: I expect an offensive tackle, but am not so sure about an interior offensive linemen. They have a lot of guys in the mix there, including second-year man Jacques McClendon, who should make a jump. If Bill Polian sees a receiver worth No. 22, I could totally see him going that way. But who is that guy?
Offensive philosophy: Coordinator Dirk Koetter has adjusted his offense to accommodate what David Garrard does best, which is a short passing game with a quick release and some roll-outs and bootlegs. They will still run the ball a lot with some two tight end sets to set up play action. The offense not only lacks a deep threat, but also a true No. 1 WR.
Horton’s needs: S, DE, CB, QB, WR, OLB
My thoughts: Sixth ranks too low for outside backer and they need a middle linebacker too as they seem unlikely to bring Kirk Morrison back. But these are all legitimate needs and he didn’t even get to interior offensive line. Jacksonville doesn’t have enough picks.
Defensive philosophy: Jerry Gray is the new coordinator and he will likely keep the 4-3 defense intact, although [Mike] Munchak wants to show some multiple fronts to confuse offenses and cover up personnel deficiencies. They want most of their pressure to come from their front four without a lot of blitzes, but they are quick one-gap penetrators and always on the move. On the back end they will play a lot of zones and they really try to be physical. It is an assignment-oriented defense designed to not give up big plays, but they really dropped off in 2010, especially versus the pass.
Horton’s needs: QB, MLB-OLB, DT, G-C, CB, DE
My thoughts: A lot of people want to give the Titans an interior offensive lineman and they may draft one because Leroy Harris could be a free agent. But all indications are Munchak and his offensive line coach, Bruce Matthews, plan to keep the line intact and think the interior will be better.