AFC South: Jamie Harper

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jackie Battle had a 19-yard catch-and-run for the Tennessee Titans in their preseason opener against Washington. It converted a third-and-16.

That play created more buzz than anything Jalen Parmele did, though Parmele had four more touches. Parmele was coming off a bit of a knee issue, so he didn’t play any special teams. Battle played five special-teams snaps.

From what I’ve seen, both are better running backs than Darius Reynaud, who could still make the team as a return specialist. The winner of Parmele vs. Battle for the No. 3 job, however, won’t get carries if Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene are healthy, and so will need to stand out on special teams.

[+] EnlargeJackie Battle
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJackie Battle (above) is up against Jalen Parmele for a place in the Titans' backfield and, more important, a key role on special teams.
“They are both similar in the fact that they are both extremely hard workers and bring a nice size body type; they are not small scat backs,” said Nate Kaczor, the Titans' special-teams coach. “Any time you have a third back that has a linebacker-type body, they could play the role of a linebacker [on teams] if you ever got down in depth at linebacker.”

Battle is 6-foot-2, 240 pounds. Parmele is 5-11, 225.

Battle has more momentum, having played with the starters in a couple special teams phases. In all, he worked on two punts, two punt returns and a kickoff return.

“I think I have to perform on offense, but I think most of it is determined by how I do on special teams,” Battle said.

Parmele has plenty of time to gain momentum of his own. He played for Titans running back coach Sylvester Croom in Jacksonville last season, which was a big reason why Tennessee grabbed him in favor of Jamie Harper. Parmele expects to work on all special-teams units except field goal and field-goal block.

“We have a lot of veteran running backs, which is good, we all have game experience,” Parmele said. “It makes it that much better.”

Kaczor needs to get them their work on teams early if he wants to guarantee he’s got them.

“You might have planned on playing them, but if the offense is kind of riding one of them, you can’t,” he said. “If they’re running the ball, they need to be out there running the ball."

I asked ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, to compare and contrast the two backs as candidates for the No. 3 spot.

“Parmele is a do-it-all guy that can run, catch, block and help out quite a bit on special teams,” Williamson said. “Battle is a big banger who isn't real agile but can run after he gets going. Battle offers little in passing game or on special teams. For that battle, give me Parmele, but Battle is more like Greene, if Greene were to go down.”

RTC: Colts talking run offense

August, 1, 2013
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

DeAndre Hopkins is emulating Andre Johnson to the point where he’s beating the veteran to the hot tub for a morning soak, says Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle.

Joe Mays hopes fans forgive him for last year’s hit on Matt Schaub, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

Rookie right tackle Brennan Williams needed to have fluid drained from his recently scoped knee, says Robertson.

Hopkins was well covered by Jonathan Joseph on two one-on-one red zone snaps but the rookie receiver still managed to win both, says Lance Zierlein of Z Report.

Indianapolis Colts

Among five Wednesday observations from Chappell, John Chapman’s penetration from nose tackle.

Greg Toler was on the sideline at the end of practice with a concussion, according to The Associated Press.

Owner Jim Irsay and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton are both talking about the importance of running the ball, which kind of makes Andrew Mishler of Stampede Blue wary.

Ryan Lilja signed with Denver, where he’s reuniting with Peyton Manning, says the AP. The two had great success as teammates with the Colts.

Coby Fleener is generating buzz, says Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are preaching that “it’s all about the ball” as the defense searches for takeaways, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Luke Joeckel’s avoided looking like a rookie in the early days of Jaguars training camp, says Hays Carlyon of the Times-Union.

Denard Robinson was out to practice to catch passes 20 minutes early, says O’Halloran’s in the T-U’s daily camp report.

Blaine Gabbert said he’ll be all the way back in practice today with his sprained right ankle "unless something magical pops up," says AP’s Mark Long.

Gus Bradley said eight or nine reps in a row for the defense might have been too much, from Wednesday’s “Inside the Jaguars” episode from Jaguars.com.

Geno Hayes is looking at his first year with the Jaguars as a reinvention, says John Oehser of the team's website.

Tennessee Titans

With running backs reliant on instincts, how much do running back coaches influence what their guys do? John Glennon of The Tennessean considers the question.

Kenny Britt tied something new this offseason and mostly stayed out of New Jersey, says Glennon.

Ryan Fitzpatrick swallowed his pride a little to sign for a backup job with the Titans, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Former Titans running back Jamie Harper is asking for support after an arrest, says Wyatt.

Colin McCarthy was back working as the starting middle linebacker on Wednesday, says Glennon.

David Stewart’s had a picture of him and Bernard Pollard ready to fight each other in a Titans-Chiefs game from 2009, for some time. The Titans right tackle asked the team’s new strong safety to sign it, says Teresa Walker of the AP.

AFC South links: Using Denard Robinson

May, 10, 2013
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Houston Texans

The team signed sixth-round draft pick Chris Jones, a nose tackle out of Bowling Green, reports the Houston Chronicle's Tania Ganguli.

J.J. Watt took to Twitter last night to dispel Internet rumors that he had been in a car accident and broken both of his legs.

Evan Silva of Rotoworld.com ranked his top 150 players for fantasy, and Arian Foster was surprising left out of the top six.

Indianapolis Colts

The team has six of its seven rookie draft choices under contract heading into this weekend's minicamp, reports the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell. The lone exception is first-round pick Bjoern Werner.

Chappell takes a closer look at third-round pick Hugh Thornton, who had to deal with the murder of his mother and sister when he was growing up.

Brad Wells of Stampede Blue isn't a fan of the trade that sent A.Q. Shipley to the Ravens for a 2014 conditional draft choice.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Are the Jaguars the most stable NFL franchise in Florida? (subscription required)

In his mailbag, John Oehser details how he expects the Jaguars will use fifth-round pick Denard Robinson.

Tennessee Titans

A video report from Baptist Sports Park as rookies report for minicamp.

The Titans' secondary may employ a pressing, more aggressive style this season, writes The Tennessean's John Glennon. “Overall this year as a defense, we’ll have a little bit more of an aggressive mentality,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “I think part of that for us as cornerbacks will be getting up at the line of scrimmage and pressing, getting our hands on the wide receivers."

The team shook things up at the running back position, waiving Jamie Harper and signing free agent Jalen Parmele.
Another player from the AFC South has switched teams in the division.

The Titans have signed former Jaguars running back Jalen Parmele, who took eight carries 45 yards in a game against Tennessee last season.

He takes the place of Jamie Harper, who was released to make room on the roster.

John Glennon of The Tennessean reported the moves.

Parmele should be a better special-teams contributor than Harper. He will have the same position coach he did last year. Sylvester Croom also jumped from the Jaguars to the Titans and surely feels Parmele is an upgrade over Harper.

The Jaguars suffered a slew of running back injuries last year. Parmele played in 11 games before a sports hernia forced him to have season-ending surgery.

The new Titans back is 5-foot-11, 225 pounds -- roughly the same as Harper was listed (5-11, 233) though I suspect he was heavier.

The Jaguars brought in Justin Forsett to be their second back and drafted Denard Robinson as another backfield option. So they weren't interested in Parmele.

The Titans will now have a backfield group of Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene and Parmele.

Reassessing the Titans' needs

April, 2, 2013
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We need to reserve judgment on just how well the Titans did with their free-agent haul. Several of their key additions -- like tight end Delanie Walker and defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill -- are expected to graduate into bigger roles with their new team.

The Titans project they can handle that and excel with it. We’ll have to wait and see.

What I like most about what they’ve done is this: A team with a ton of needs as the 2013 NFL year began has far fewer now.

That creates a certain draft freedom. While there are still things they need, they need them far less desperately. If a guy they really want in the draft goes off the board a couple picks before they are up, it will be less tragic.

[+] EnlargeBernard Pollard
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans signed safety Bernard Pollard, hoping the former Raven can add fire and veteran leadership.
A review of what they needed as free agency opened, and some thoughts on what they need now.

Safety: Like it or not they are locked into Michael Griffin. So what they needed was a serious upgrade with regard to an in-the-box presence at the position who will allow Griffin to play as a center fielding free safety. Enter George Wilson and Bernard Pollard. They are veterans who are better than the options the Titans had in 2012, plus they bring leadership -- Wilson of a quieter variety, Pollard with a loud swagger. If they draft a kid to develop behind this group, that’d be fine, but it’s not a pressing need.

Guard: Andy Levitre was the best option on the market. Rob Turner and Chris Spencer are far better options than interior guys like Kevin Matthews or Deuce Lutui, who wound up playing last year. Ideally the Titans find a young stud to play right guard long term. But if the can’t get, or decide to pass on, Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper or Larry Warford they could still be OK.

Defensive end: Internally, it’s not been rated the need it was externally. They did add super-sized Ropati Pitoitua, but he doesn’t appear to be a guy who will spur the pass rush. I think they feel good about Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, and will use Akeem Ayers more as a rusher. But I’d still rank an end that can boost the pass rush as a need.

Running back: They needed a short-yardage guy to serve in a complementary role with Chris Johnson, and found a guy they liked in Shonn Greene. Darius Reynaud is back, though he’s primarily a returner. A mid- or late-round back would make sense to increase their options if Johnson’s money is an issue next year and/or to compete with Jamie Harper for a role.

Defensive tackle: They showed no interest in bringing back Sen'Derrick Marks and found the size they wanted in Hill. With Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin, that’s a nice three-pack. Karl Klug is a question mark. This is a spot where they can definitely continue to add, even if they have high hopes for Klug and DaJohn Harris.

Cornerback: The one name that surfaced as a guy they courted was Keenan Lewis, the Steeler-turned-Saint. Depth at this position is shaky. Coty Sensabaugh did OK as a rookie nickel back. But ideally the Titans would get Alterraun Verner into the slot, even if he’s starting outside in the base defense. They need a better candidate that Tommie Campbell to play outside as the second or third guy. This could now rate as one of the top needs.

Tight end: Following the breakdown in talks with Jared Cook, the team decided against using the franchise tag on him. Walker is more equipped to shift around from the backfield to the line to the slot, and the Titans want to get back to using a guy like that. No remaining need with Craig Stevens, a solid blocker, and Taylor Thompson, a second-year project, in place.

Linebacker: Depth is the issue here, especially in the middle where Colin McCarthy gets hurt. Moise Fokou might help, and ideally the main addition would be a veteran upgrade over outgoing free agent Will Witherspoon. If Ayers moves forward to rush some as a defensive end, they’ll need a quality outside guy who can cover. A need, still, for sure.

Receiver -- I wasn’t thinking it was a spot they needed to address before the draft, but they looked at a lot of guys and signed Kevin Walter. He’s a reliable route runner who can work underneath and do well against zones for quarterback Jake Locker. But Walter isn’t explosive. I expect they’d like to add a draft pick who’s a smart, quality route runner with a little more ability for yards after the catch.

Cast in a lesser role, maybe Shonn Greene will be a more impressive running back.

Hill
Cast in a bigger role, perhaps Sammie Lee Hill will be a more impactful defensive lineman.

The Tennessee Titans boosted their free agent haul to four, adding Greene and Hill to guard Andy Levitre and tight end Delanie Walker.

Greene was a plodding back for the Jets, and while he topped 1,000 yards two years in a row for an anemic offense, he was not a very good lead back. He was very good, as John Glennon of The Tennessean notes, in short-yardage situations -- when the Jets faced second or third down and less than 3 yards to go, Greene got first downs on 23 of 26 attempts in 2012.

In Tennessee, that’s what the Titans will ask him to do: Convert short-yardage situations, and help the Titans control the clock in a 4-minute drill.

While I believe they could have found someone to fill that specialty role for less than $10 million over three years, perhaps it's a good thing they didn't wait for the draft considering their failure at the position in recent years. Outside of Chris Johnson in in 2008, they've bombed with fourth-rounder Jamie Harper, 2009 fifth-rounder Javon Ringer and 2007 second-rounder Chris Henry.

If just one of those guys was able to function in a capable complementary role, the Titans wouldn’t have had running back on their list of needs. They are probably better off getting a guy who’s shown he can convert in short-yardage. It's the yearly average of $3.33 million for a No. 2 running that concerns me. Let's see what he's guaranteed.

Hill should be an early-down run stopper who can penetrate some. At 6-foot-4, 329-pounds, he’s a bigger body than anyone the Titans have. He should be what the Titans hoped Shaun Smith was going to be when they brought him in a few years back.

The investment in a guy who’s been working behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in Detroit seems reasonable: Three years, $11.4 million, including $4 million guaranteed according to Adam Schefter.

He’ll take over the starting job vacated by Sen'Derrick Marks, an unrestricted free agent whose name we have not heard connected to any suitors yet.

The Titans are expected to introduce all four of their additions at a news conference at 6 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. CT, and I’ll share some details from there.

Friday is D-Day for CJ

February, 7, 2013
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Chris JohnsonAP Photo/Joe HowellThe Titans' Chris Johnson finished with 1,243 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season.
If the Titans want out from under Chris Johnson and his $10 million base salary for 2013, they have to release him by the end of Friday.

Of that salary, $9 million locks in as a guarantee if he’s on the roster past the fifth day of the waiver period, which began Monday.

A report by The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt before the season ended said the team had no plans to cut Johnson. Since then, coach Mike Munchak has been making moves that indicate if he’s going to go down in his third year at the helm, he’s going to go down his way. That left me wondering if things might have changed.

Then Wyatt wrote this morning that Johnson was feeling good after a recent half-hour chat with Munchak.

“I am more excited about this year than any other year after talking to coach,” Johnson said today. “I feel better about some of the things we’re going to do, and I want to be a part of it. I feel like coach Munchak wants to put the team back to some winning ways and get things going in the right direction. I feel good about it.”

The most likely scenario is that the Titans look to add a big back and return to the shared-workload system they ran with Johnson and LenDale White in 2008.

But a case could have been made for moving on from Johnson, and I think there was a time Munchak would probably have liked to do so.

They can afford that salary. Ultimately, it should be framed as more of a philosophical debate than a financial one.

The Munchak-Johnson conversation indicates the decision has been made.

But it's worth considering what needed to be considered:

Home run threat: Johnson can break off huge runs, and that’s where his big value comes from. He has six career touchdowns of 80 yards or more. No other player in league history has more than three. That’s incredible, and those runs do a lot for a team. Still, if the rest of his runs are attempts to find that home run and don’t put the Titans in an advantageous down and distance, is that a sufficient trade-off? I tend to say no.

Now if Johnson is changing it up with a more physical guy who can convert third-and-2 more regularly and do more to ensure the Titans aren’t in second-and-12, that changes. Johnson is largely a boom-or-bust guy. Five years of featuring a boom-or-bust back has produced just one playoff team -- not that it’s the lone factor.

Consider that the team’s primary back in its prime years since the move to Tennessee was Eddie George, and the frequent lament was that he couldn’t break away for a big play. Now the lament with Johnson is that he isn’t productive enough down to down. See how a team can wind up in a no-win situation?

You’re rarely going to get the best of both worlds, and you don’t need a guy who can give you both to win.

So given a choice between a home run threat who’s going to strikeout more often or the style they had with George where, in his prime, he was pretty good at getting a couple yards, what do they prefer?

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireIf the Titans keep Chris Johnson, they might ask him to share carries with backup Javon Ringer or another back who isn't on the roster yet.
Replacement possibilities: Javon Ringer is coming off a knee injury, hasn’t proved himself and is a pending free agent. Jamie Harper has shown little. If the Titans moved away from CJ, the guy who would take his carries isn’t on the roster.

It’s easy to say it’s easy to find a back, that the Titans should just go get the next Arian Foster (undrafted), Alfred Morris (sixth-rounder) or Vick Ballard (fifth-rounder).

But you’d have to have an awful lot of faith in your ability to find that guy. The Titans are a team full of holes. Cutting Johnson would have created another big one, and they don’t exactly have the record of hole-filling that suggests it wouldn’t be an issue.

The scheme: Johnson did run for 2,000 yards in Mike Heimerdinger’s scheme that featured zone-running principles. Under Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator, the Titans will be more intent on returning to a similar philosophy.

It’s not the best fit for Johnson, at least not as the singular, primary ball carrier. Johnson looks to be creative in searching for room. Zone schemes call for a guy to make a cut and go, not consider and reconsider the path.

“CJ would be decent in that scheme but far from ideal,” said ESPN's Matt Williamson. “You need to be decisive and, when you see it, really hit it. And generally, that fits a bigger back. CJ can certainly hit it at times when he sees it and can take it the distance, but he is far from an Alfred Morris type that consistently churns out yardage, albeit in smaller chunks, run after run.”

If the Titans put Johnson in a timeshare, how will he react to it? My guess is not well. Will that disrupt the locker room and create a headache for coaches and management? Will it lead him to mope? It sure could.

The contract: When he was holding out in 2011, I said they needed to sign him. Most fans did, too. For a long time, the conversation was about a lack of playmakers. Well, they finally had one, and while he wasn’t at what ranks as a premium position anymore, he was the best they'd had in terms of big plays in a long time.

He got four more years worth $53.5 million with $30 million guaranteed tacked onto the two years he had remaining on his rookie deal.

There is a misperception that the Titans don’t spend. They sure spent with Johnson, and now they take heat for it. In hindsight, it wasn’t a good deal. But it hasn’t destroyed them. Keep him as is and they are fine financially, with enough room to get the other parts they need.

While he has said money didn’t change him, Johnson has been a lot more tentative since he signed that deal than he was while he was trying to position himself for that new contract.

The expectations: As Johnson campaigned for a new contract in 2011, he sold himself as not just a back but a playmaker who transcended the position. That was good for selling himself. Predicting 2,000-yard seasons consistently gets him headlines.

But what he does when he says those things is set the bar unreasonably high. He didn’t say, “I’m a playmaker, not just a running back, so long as my line is playing great or so long as I have consistency with a running backs coach.” When it circles back after the fact to those sorts of issues, they come across as excuses.

He doesn’t seem real invested. Last week as a guest on Nashville's The Midday 180 from radio row at the Super Bowl, he said there would be no bad blood if the Titans let him go. Some heard that and almost felt like he was wishing to be released. What would have come across better was, “I want to be back. I’m worth it, and I can be a big part of a big turnaround.”

For the $10 million that’s coming, it’s hardly unreasonable to want to hear that.

So do we have a verdict?

“I assume he is untradeable, but I think I would let him go,” Williamson said. “That is just so much to pay a guy that isn’t perfect for what you do at the position. Use that money on a safety or interior OL and draft a bigger RB.”

Said former Colts president and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian: “CJ cannot carry the load by himself simply because of size. … Rather than focus on system, I would focus on Javon Ringer’s health. If he can take some load off CJ as he has in the past, they become far more efficient. If his injury prevents that, then they must find an adequate replacement for Ringer.”

I’m torn about what they should have done. But I tend to think it wouldn't have been wise to create another hole. Cut him and watch him land in Detroit or somewhere else, and when he makes big plays, you’re going to take grief -- and maybe feel some, too.

I’d plan to find a guy to pair him with.

But I’m glad it wasn't my decision, or money.

RTC: Sacks still an issue for Jaguars

November, 25, 2012
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Is the Texans' defense the one that smothered the Bears in Chicago, or the one that gave up a ton of passing yards in wins over Jacksonville and at Detroit? John McClain of the Houston Chronicle explores the question.

To which I say: They are 10-1 and in great shape, but as I wrote from the Lions’ game, they’ve got to fix things on defense to get where they want to go.

“Their exhilaration trumps their exhaustion and their euphoria offers a counterbalance to another wave of injuries, although learning Friday they’ve lost outside linebacker Brooks Reed for at least three to four weeks to a groin injury was sobering news,” says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Bruce Arians sees an easy fix to Andrew Luck’s interceptions. “Arians sees technical errors largely leading to the interceptions. It's been bad footwork, delivering the ball with faulty mechanics, throwing while sliding in the pocket to avoid pressure,” writes Mike Chappell.

To which I say: Playing against lesser defensive schemes that don’t have Bill Belichick pulling the strings will also help.

Arians believes the Bills will play a do-or-die game, so the Colts have to be ready to match it, says Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“Entering Sunday’s game against Tennessee, the Jaguars’ 12 sacks are 31st in the NFL, ahead of only Oakland (11),” says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: An inability to get the quarterback down is a longstanding problem for this team, and its inability to fix it should cost some people their jobs.

Paul Posluszny talks about film study, then looks at some with Jeff Lageman at Jaguars.com. (Video.)

Tennessee Titans

Titans nickelback Coty Sensabaugh will line up against Justin Blackmon some in a big matchup in Titans-Jaguars, says Jim Wyatt in his game preview.

Tennessee’s defense has been better early in games the past couple weeks after giving up too much too soon in the first half of the year, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Titans promoted Darren Evans from the practice squad as insurance for Jamie Harper, who’s been slowed by an ankle injury all week, says Wyatt.

Mailbag: Everyone is heard

November, 17, 2012
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Shawn from Honolulu writes: We know several teams in the league (especially my Jaguars) will most likely be seeking new general managers after the season. Supposing the Jaguars do clean house, can you provide three GM candidates and three head coach candidates who you believe could make a difference in Jacksonville?

Paul Kuharsky: I hear good things about two potential first-time GMs -- George Paton from Minnesota and Omar Khan from Pittsburgh. I won’t delve into coaches, as I think they need to hire a GM and let him make the hire. But I’d certainly be curious about Chip Kelly -- he would adapt to an NFL situation, not try to shoehorn his current Oregon offense into a pro setting if he wasn’t equipped to do so. Odds are he can get a more attractive NFL job if he wants one.




LX from Chuco, TX writes: When asked if Whitney Mercilus should be started you said (in the latest chat):"You want to sit Brooks Reed or Connor Barwin? Seriously?" If Barwin and Reed have solidified the position, why draft Mercilus?...why use a high pick on him? Did Hou never intend to pay Barwin; and lose a big defensive name for the second consecutive year? Is this a season-long audition to find Barwin a new team? Yes, the salary cap is tricky and maybe they just need insurance, but why so early and why at such a high draft pick? Was Hou anticipating the #1 draft pick to "Kareem-Jackson" for three years before finally losing his Bambi legs and becoming an OK starter????

Paul Kuharsky: For the same reason they drafted Reed when they already had Barwin and Mario Williams. There is no rule against using a high pick on a good player at a position of strength that’s an important position in your scheme (and in the league). It’s how it becomes a position of strength. You are allowed to have good players as depth and role players. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons the team broke through in 2011.

Yes, if Barwin leaves, they are covered. But they didn’t determine back in April when they drafted Mercilus they wouldn’t re-sign Barwin. They were negotiating with Barwin in the preseason and were unable to strike a deal.

Ideally, Mercilus continues to get some playing time so Barwin and Reed don’t have to overextend the way they did in 2011 after Williams went down.

Should Barwin move on, they’ve got his replacement. But they’d probably wind up drafting yet another OLB. Pass rush dictates everything, and OLB in a 3-4 is a position where wise teams have good numbers.

Also, Jackson is better than OK now.




Chris Walker from Jacksonville writes: Paul, it's been great to get an in-depth take from a non-local guy, if only to convince myself that the local guys aren't overreacting (or echoing talking points from the organization). The content is great and getting better, too. For the longest time, I didn't bother with the RTC posts, but your "to which I say" portions changed that completely. My question is: if we get a new GM, will the house-cleaning extend to all the scouts? Should it?

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks for the kind words.

If the Jaguars get a new GM, he would expect to hire an entire scouting staff. He’d interview some current guys, I would expect, but holdover would be minimal, I suspect. I think a new executive needs to be surrounding himself with his own people.




Drew from Fort Bragg, NC writes: I've been a fan of the Colts since I was 7 years old, and with that I've become a fan of you and your AFC South blog. I saw the season that brought Peyton Manning to our team. Of course I missed a great portion of last season because I was deployed overseas, defending our freedoms and what-not, but was overjoyed when we drafted Luck and cleaned house at Indy. I'm having great enjoyment watching this new team breathe life into what I thought was a stagnant franchise. There is a new dawn in Indy... I couldn't really think of any Luck-based analogies that weren't hackneyed. The thing is that I don't want you to screw that up. My argument is that Bruce Arians is a great coach and one definitely worthy of being a head coach. Colts fans acknowledge this ... but you don't have to. You can sweep this under the rug, and not mention it as you have. There are going to be several head coaching positions available at the end of the season and we really don't need them looking to snag our OC away from us. If they look, they look, and Bruce has done a fantastic job. I'm just saying, you know, as a veteran of a foreign war, you might just do us a solid and calm down those coach talks from your end. You know, for the veterans. The veterans who support the Colts. Like me. I'm a veteran. I support the Colts. I don't want to see BA leave. I would never try to make an emotional appeal to jeopardize your journalistic integrity, but yeah. Seriously. Shhhh.

Paul Kuharsky: We so appreciate your service on our behalfs. Thanks.

Arians is no secret around the league. He’s doing a fantasic job filling in for Chuck Pagano.

Here are two things that might put you and Colts’ fans at ease, however.

While lots of teams will be looking for coaches who can oversee the development of young, new quarterbacks, they are generally looking for young guys. Arians is 60, so he might fall outside the area where most owners will be looking. Also, he’d done great work in Pittsburgh as Ben Roethlisberger’s coordinator and potential head coaching jobs didn’t arrive for him.

Should he leave, it would hurt Luck for sure. But Luck’s head coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh, left for the 49ers before Luck’s senior year, and Luck managed to survive and advance with an altered staff.




Jonathan from Kempner, TX writes: First, let me thank you for your informative writings. I read your blog daily and eagerly await another post. I was hoping you could clear up a "rules" question I have concerning the hit on Jay Cutler by Tim Dobbins. I thought that once a QB became a runner, all hits were fair game. Just as if he were a running back. If Cutler had crossed the line of scrimmage causing an illegal forward pass, then why was the hit illegal? Wouldn't he become a runner at that point? Thanks for your time, ignore the haters, and keep doing what you’re doing.

Paul Kuharsky: I have gotten several versions of this question and should have done better answering it in the blog before now.

My understanding is, if Cutler is still in the throwing motion and has not clearly passed the line of scrimmage and become a runner, he’s still afforded the protections of a quarterback. That’s certainly the way it was interpreted in this situation.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.




Brian S. from Clarksville, TN writes: In reading your evaluation of the Titans during the bye week you say CJ still needs to prove himself in order to be on the team next season, using his bonus due in March as justification of why the organization would release him. My thing is, even if he only ends up like 10th or so statistically, who exactly would the titans replace CJ with? I don't think Jamie Harper or Darius Reynaud are going to make the pro-bowl as full time starters. Draft a RB hoping to find the next CJ or Muscle Hampster? It seems like too much of a risk to let CJ go, who I think has proven he still has the speed and quickness when he spots a hole to be a legit threat. I'd much rather see the titans "overpay" for CJ than to risk turning the RB position to unproven guys. Unless you're telling me the titans are on the brink of Salary Cap jail, there's no reason to "save" CJ's bonus money on some lame principle that his stats don't "justify" the money. In my opinion he may not be in the top 3, but he's still most likely going to be better than anyone else they could get. Of course if they renegotiate the bonus then kudos for them, but unless he goes out and starts committing felonies, cutting CJ shouldn't even be a thought.

Paul Kuharsky: They won’t make the decision based on what else they have or don’t have, they’ll make it based on if they think he’s worth it. The CBA will require them to spend, so I can see them saying, ‘We need to spend anyway and he was good.” But if they decide that’s too pricey, they will have plenty of time to find a back/ combination of backs who can carry the load.

One issue is: He clearly let up after he got big money the first time. Do you guarantee him more and not worry about seeing that happen a second time?




Trip from Jacksonville writes: Did Shad Khan change the primary Jags color from Teal to Black so that the fans are more appropriately dressed for their home game funerals on Sunday?

Paul Kuharsky: Home games certainly have that feel now, don’t they?

Fraying Titans overmatched by Bears

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
9:06
PM ET
Mike MunchakAP Photo/Wade PayneMike Munchak and the Titans have a lot of work to do after Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches warned players all week about how Charles Tillman strips the ball, offering specifics of his techniques.

Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?

Not anything good.

Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears on Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans prepared a game plan for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.

It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.

“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...

“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”

Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.

But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal-formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?

“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”

Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.

“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”

He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.

“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”

The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.

“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesChicago's Charles Tillman made an impact right from the start of Sunday's game.
The log for the first 15 minutes:
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”

Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.

“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.

I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special-teams coach, Alan Lowry.

The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.

“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”

“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”

Where do they go from here?

A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple of teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.

Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.

What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?

Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.

That didn’t happen.

After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.

Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.

video
HOUSTON -- Kendall Wright and Damian Williams will see increased time as targets for Jake Locker today as the Titans visit the Texans.

Kenny Britt is out with an ankle injury, putting a dent into Tennessee’s pass game, which will likely have to play well in order for the Titans to pull an upset.

The Texans remain healthy, and the only inactive of note is receiver Lestar Jean. His absence means DeVier Posey could get some chances, especially if they are ahead big.

The complete list of inactives:

Titans
Texans

The long-awaited return of the mailbag

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
10:09
AM ET
Stanley from Texas writes: I do know that Chris Johnson's running has been tumultuous through the first 3 weeks (except last week, which I think was severely skewed by his final three rushing attempts) but do you think because of the respect (from coaches and defenses, not columnists and reporters) that teams have for CJ, that this may be the reason for our continued success with things such as pass blocking and passing yards. If Jake Locker is continuously getting one-on-ones in the passing game and hardly getting sacked could some of this be attributed to the defense keying on CJ and not having an extra guy to send or double in the secondary?

Paul Kuharsky: Teams are not stacking the box to stop Johnson. They don’t need to. A player isn’t leaving coverage to help with the run.

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips just said the Titans are a passing team, which is what they are and is stating the obvious.

People can talk about how dangerous CJ is over and over. But the way you show how you respect a running back is the defensive attention you give him. I’d say he’s lost significant respect from the people who matter the most when we look at their actions rather than their words.




Chad Edwards from Nashville, Tenn., writes: How long do you think it will be before a "real" ref stinks up a call like the one Monday night? You don't have to look very far in the past to find several iffy calls and no-calls made by guys we know by name. I contend that 1) The replacement refs weren't as bad as all the complaining players and coaches claim and 2) The players and coaches made this situation worse by pushing the boundaries of what's allowed more than usual and, basically, not acting very professionally. As bad as the black eye the lockout gave the NFL, I feel the players should be just as accountable in all of this.

Paul Kuharsky: They were bad. No need to debate the degree of it at this point.

The regulars will blow a call and people will complain and sensible observers will say they are the best at what they do and it could be worse and we’ve seen for ourselves.

If the rules are only enforced to a certain degree, it’s unreasonable to ask players to police themselves. In fact, it runs against their competitive natures.




Jim in Greenville, S.C., writes: Paul, Enjoy listening to you and the chiefs on 104.5 which I listen to in South Carolina on my iPhone. Impressive! I have to call you out. Last year, I wrote in that I'd take a sign-and-trade for Chris Johnson for two first-round draft picks which you balked at. You'll have to admit, I was right. My reasoning at the time was he wasn't a leader like a Keith Bulluck or Steve McNair. Running backs are largely less important than their O-lines and he didn't push to get extra yardage. As always, I enjoy the blog.

Paul Kuharsky: I’m guessing what I balked at was the sign-and-trade concept and the idea that Tennessee could have gotten two ones for him.

Two ones is part of the package for a No. 1 pick in the draft when he’s a QB, not for a running back with a big contract.

But if I balked at it and not at those things, my apologies. Your crystal ball in a completely unpredictable league is remarkable.




Leon Truss Balderas III from Houston writes: I really hope the Texans have a shot this year, but do you think with regular refs back high-flying AFC passing offenses, like the Patriots and Ravens, even the Steelers and Broncos, will be more successful because they will be getting the pass-interference calls that they were not getting, or worse the cornerbacks don’t play with a little bit of aggressiveness that makes them good?

Paul Kuharsky: Let’s not overrate what happened. The Patriots haven’t been losing because they were getting fewer pass-interference calls.




Brad from Houston writes: I am a huge Texans fan and am very excited about the team. But I must say two things: First, there's no way they should be ranked #1 right now on the Power Rankings. They have the talent, depth, and system to succeed and can go all the way if they stay healthy (I say CAN, not will). However, Atlanta has had a more impressive start and should be #1, especially given the uncertainty on the right side of the Houston OL.

Paul Kuharsky: I think Atlanta is a notch better right now. (I picked them before the season to win the Super Bowl.) But the Texans are awfully good.




Rick from Houston writes: ESPN's stats have the Texans giving up 42 points this season and ranking them 3rd in points allowed, however, the special teams have given up 7 points and the offense 2 points on a safety which, if my math is correct, means the Texan's D has given up only 33 points, the fewest allowed by any team so far.

Paul Kuharsky: Points given up are points given up. Given up by the team, for the purposes of stat keeping, are given up by the defense. There is no special place to put points scored against the offense or special teams.




Bobby from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: As bad as Chris Johnson has been running the ball for the Titans, there is at least one bright spot: he doesn't fumble too much. Looking at his stats from last year, he only had 3 fumbles out of 319 touches (runs and passes). even though he isn't gaining yards, at least he doesn't give the ball away. We don't know what we would get from a constant dose of Javon Ringer or Jamie Harper, so it's a small silver lining in Johnson's game for now.

Paul Kuharsky: So we presume the alternatives would have ball-security issues and we presume they wouldn’t run more effectively than CJ?

Johnson’s lack of production is growing tiresome. It’s time to see, at least on occasion, what the alternatives can do.




Cameron Wharton from Georgetown, Texas, writes: Can we talk about the impact of the loss of Ahmard Hall for the Titans?

Paul Kuharsky: Sure we can.

Hall was a nice leader for them for sure, and had a ton of respect. But his play had dropped off. They ran poorly last year with him on the team. They are running poorly without him this year.

Quinn Johnson subbed for him for the first four games last season and there was no giant difference. So I have no real beef with the decision to have Quinn Johnson in that role now. And Quinn Johnson is bigger, which is the type of fullback Chris Palmer likes.


Tennessee Titans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
9:42
PM ET
Click here for the complete list of Tennessee Titans' roster moves.
Most significant move: Al Afalava didn’t stick with the Colts when they were thinned out in the secondary, but he’s the Titans' fourth safety at the start. Another former member of the Indianapolis secondary, Aaron Francisco, had done some great special teams work and I thought he would win that job. Afalava may be sturdier, which could have helped his case. With end Dave Ball (concussion) and Leger Douzable (shoulder) put on IR, there was room for an additional tackle. But the Titans cut Zach Clayton in favor of DaJohn Harris on the inside rather than keeping both.

Onward and upward: Running back and returner Darius Reynaud was a big story in camp, and may have been destined to stick even before return man Marc Mariani suffered a terrible broken leg. The running back can do nice work in the screen game and should be a pretty good returner. On defense, Pannel Egboh, has floated around the practice squad circuit. Now he gets the big payoff and should get some work as the third end who takes some snaps on clear run downs while giving Derrick Morgan or Kamerion Wimbley a rest.

What’s next: The Titans third corner, Tommie Campbell, is in his second season. And beyond him cornerback depth is very inexperienced, with rookie Coty Sensabaugh and Ryan Mouton (who missed his second season hurt). A veteran corner could be a quality addition. The team is heavy at running back with Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, Jamie Harper and Reynaud plus fullback Quinn Johnson. I’m skeptical of the need for a fullback who’s not an ace special teamer, and Quinn Johnson is not one.

RTC: Jags not trading Jones-Drew

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
8:13
AM ET
Reading the coverage …

The Titans can challenge the Texans in the AFC South, says Dennis Dillon of SI.com in his AFC South preview.

The AFC South is all over the camp review and lists of Pete Prisco from CBS Sports. Among those mentioned: Colin McCarthy, Tyson Alualu, Glover Quin and T.Y. Hilton.

Houston Texans

Shannon Eastin will be part of the officiating crew for the Texans-Vikings game tonight, says Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle.

Bob McNair won’t be rapping like Jerry Jones, say Robertson and John McClain of the Chronicle.

Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean are showing growth, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

The cuts loom as the hardest part for Colts, who know they are dashing dreams, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Did the Colts give up too much in the trade for Vontae Davis? Chappell takes questions.

Five things to watch for tonight in the Colts-Bengals game.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have no plans to trade Maurice Jones-Drew, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

Jones-Drew just keeps losing ground in his holdout, says Gene Frenette of the T-U. “So if the Jaguars aren’t going to extend his contract, which still has two years remaining, and not going to put him on the trade market, what possible reason outside of stubbornness does Jones-Drew have to continue the holdout?”

Shad Khan promised the Jaguars are going to surprise a lot of people as they move forward, says David Bauerlein of the T-U.

Tennessee Titans

A handful of roster spots remain up for grabs as the Titans head into their preseason finale, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Previewing the Titans-Saints game with John Glennon of The Tennessean.

After a TD and a front flip, Wyatt asks what Jamie Harper will do for an encore?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nearly every team has a preseason underdog emerge.

With the Titans, it’s Darius Reynaud. As a return man and running back playing after starters were out, he did impressive work in the Titans' first two preseason games.

This has generated four big questions:

  • Could the Titans keep four running backs?
  • Could the Titans create room for Reynaud by using No. 3 back Jamie Harper as a fullback once in a while, and not keep a fullback?
  • Could he beat out Javon Ringer, the incumbent No. 2 running back?
  • Could he unseat Marc Mariani as the team’s return man?
[+] EnlargeDarius Reynaud
Douglas Jones/US PRESSWIREHas Darius Reynaud has played well enough to force himself onto the Titans' roster?
I doubt Reynaud unseats Ringer, though I’d have no issue with it. Titans coaches and brass seem to love Ringer.

I doubt they'll abandon fullback, though it’s such a narrow, situational role I’d have no complaint about leaning on a two-tight end package more often.

I doubt he takes Mariani’s job, though I wouldn’t argue against that either, as I think Mariani is a bit overrated. (Mike Munchak said this week that Reynaud has made it a legit competition.)

The four-running back scenario may be most likely, but to keep a fourth back that player will have to be able to contribute on special teams as a non-returner.

We’ll get a taste of whether Reynaud can do that Thursday night, when the Titans host the Cardinals at LP Field.

Special teams coach Alan Lowry said he will use Reynaud on the kickoff coverage and punt coverage teams against Arizona as the Titans get their first sampling of what Reynaud can do in that capacity.

“My sense is he can do whatever he wants,” Lowry said. “He’s a good football player. He’s got speed and strength. I hope we have enough plays; I don’t know.”

Reynaud was with the Vikings and Giants previously.

“Reynaud is interesting and I am not quite sure why he has never stuck anywhere,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “He is kind of like a Percy Harvin Lite. He’s real good with the ball in his hands, a running back/receiver tweener type who also can be an effective returner.”

Reynaud is not worried about all these scenarios. He still has a good, positive attitude and knows he can play, and he’s just glad he's created them.

“My job is to make their job as hard as possible,” he said of the Titans' decision-makers.

He worked in the sort of jobs he’ll have tonight on special teams when he was with the Giants. As for the return man debate, Lowry said he thought a race between Mariani and Reynaud would be close and Reynaud agreed, though of course he said he’d win.

Who would Williamson start as his return man if these were his two choices?

“I would say that is a pretty good competition,” Williamson said. “Reynaud runs lower and with more power. He might be shiftier laterally too. But Mariani has really good vision, is quick to get upfield and probably is the faster of the two. Edge to Mariani, who is also more reliable.”

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