AFC South: Jared Allen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –- Pass-rushers have moved quickly at the start of NFL free agency.

Greg Hardy (tagged in Carolina) and Michael Bennett (re-signed by Seattle) never made it to market. Lamarr Houston jumped from Oakland to Chicago, and Michael Johnson went from Cincinnati to Tampa Bay.

That’s four of the top five guys on ESPN’s resident GM Bill Polian’s list of ends Insider.

But all four of those guys are coming out of 4-3 situations.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellDeMarcus Ware would be expensive, but could give Tennessee's pass rush a boost.
So is Denver’s Shaun Phillips, though he’s played end in a 3-4 front, too. He’s 32, but had 10 sacks last season.

At the very least the Tennessee Titans will be a hybrid front, and I think they ultimately will want to be predominantly a 3-4.

Washington’s Brian Orakpo is the kind of player the Titans need. The Redskins franchised him.

The list of available linebackers doesn’t include any absolute certainties in terms of sacks.

Polian gave 29 linebackers Insider grades of C or better. Eight have signed or been tagged.

Of the remaining 21, outside linebackers with 3-4 experience coming off productive pass-rushing seasons are rare.

Lamar Woodley had 5 sacks for Pittsburgh, Parys Haralson had 3.5 for New Orleans, Matt Shaughnessy had 3 for Arizona, and Reggie Walker had 3 for San Diego.

Hardly a bumper crop.

That brings us to DeMarcus Ware. The former Dallas Cowboy, released Tuesday, is 31 and is going to cost a great deal. He was a 4-3 end last season and had 6 sacks. But in 2012 he was a 3-4 outside backer and 11.5.

The scouting report from Polian and the guys who helped build his free agent board:
Ware is an excellent veteran pass-rusher who brings a combination of length, first-step quickness, explosiveness and the flexibility to bend the edge. He can hold up as an edge-setter against the run and has the versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4. A very good athlete with questions only stemming from durability and age (31). Will generate significant interest from teams all over the league.

Ware turns 32 on July 31.

Julius Peppers, a 4-3 end, just came free, too, and he’s 34. Jared Allen has played his whole career in a 4-3 and is 31.

Tuesday we discussed how the Titans didn’t appear to be afraid of age in free agency.

I’m not sure if that will apply to a costly, aging pass-rusher.

Maybe the Titans jump out and spend big on Ware. Maybe they add a Woodley or a versatile Shaughnessy and blend them in with Akeem Ayers and maybe Kamerion Wimbley and Zach Brown, if Brown turns out to be an outside rather than inside backer in the new scheme.

Just about every player the Titans could look at for rush help from this free-agent class has a wart -- be it age, production or scheme fit/versatility.

I wonder if the likelihood is already up that the Titans spend their first- or second-round pick on and end or outside linebacker with pass-rush skills they think will translate to the NFL.

And if they’ll concentrate on bigger defensive linemen, inside linebacker and/or offensive tackle in the meantime.

RTC: Eugene Monroe gets noticed

August, 28, 2013
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars offensive tackle Eugene Monroe is one of the NFL's most under-the-radar players.

At least, that's according to CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco, who tabbed Monroe to his 2013 All-Prisco Team. It's a list of players who meet a certain criteria, with one of the most important being players must be 26 years old or younger. Monroe, whom the Jaguars selected with the eighth overall pick in 2009, is 26.

What sets Monroe apart, Prisco writes, is his commitment to nutrition, variety of workouts, and his development into a quality pass protector and good run blocker. He proved that in the Jaguars' game against Minnesota last season when he dominated Jared Allen.

Here are some other pieces of content from around the web in the Jaguars' version of Reading the Coverage:

The Jaguars' official website mic'd up defensive end Jason Babin during last Saturday's game against Philadelphia. Listen to what he had to say here.

The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran writes that receiver Justin Blackmon believes he's going to be able to handle his four-game suspension just fine. Coaches have seen some positive signs from Blackmon, but he has let the team down before.

Kicker Josh Scobee hasn't been as accurate this preseason as he normally is because his timing was off working with three long snappers. Now that the Jaguars have settled on Carson Tinker, he's feeling more comfortable, writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Stellino also writes that the Jaguars still have half the players from last season's 2-14 team heading into the final cuts this weekend.

Adam Stites of BigCatCountry.com provides a season preview, Q&A style.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Playing at Indianapolis: The Houston Texans have never won in Indianapolis. They are 0-10 all time on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. That’s tied for the most road losses against an opponent without a win in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. (The Minnesota Vikings are 0-10 at the Colts, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 0-7 at the Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers.) But the Texans are a good road team this season. Houston is 6-1 away from home, the best road record in the NFL. Its lone road loss came in Week 14 at New England. Houston has won two straight road divisional games and is 4-1 in its past five divisional road games. Working against the Texans: It will be an incredibly emotional day for the Colts. They are locked in as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, while the Texans have home-field advantage and even a first-round bye at stake. But it’s Chuck Pagano’s first game back as coach since completing his treatment for leukemia.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck has struggled recently -- completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes over the past four games.
Especially inaccurate: Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown for an NFL-rookie-record 4,183 yards this season. He ranks seventh in the NFL in passing yards. But he’s been especially inaccurate the past month, often missing his targets high. Luck has completed less than half of his passes in four consecutive games. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Luck and the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez, who did it earlier this season, are the only players in the past 10 seasons to complete less than half their passes in four straight games with at least 20 attempts in each game. Luck and the Colts are 3-1 in those games despite his struggles. Sanchez and the Jets went 1-3. Luck has had more of his passes defended (77) than any other quarterback in the league, 17 of which have been batted at the line of scrimmage. Houston has batted down 27 passes this year, more than any other defense in the past four seasons.

Watt on the verge: Over the past three years, no NFL defender has had a more disruptive season than Houston defensive end J.J. Watt is having. Watt has disrupted a league-high 35.5 drop-backs this season. (A sack, a pick or a pass defended is considered a drop-back disrupted.) Minnesota’s Jared Allen had the second-best season in the category in that time span with just 26 in 2011. Watt is 2.5 sacks from a single-season NFL record and had three against the Colts in Week 15 in Houston. It’s a great matchup for Watt because Luck has had 135 of his drop-backs disrupted, 26 more than the next-closest quarterback.

All-time worst: The Jacksonville Jaguars franchise is about to complete its worst season in history. If the Jaguars lose and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville will draft first. Otherwise, the Jaguars can do no worse than second. They drafted second in 1996 (linebacker Kevin Hardy) and 1995 (left tackle Tony Boselli). Jacksonville has won just twice this season, but one was a 24-19 win over the Titans at EverBank Field on Nov. 25. The Jags have won three of their past four against the Titans. A win would leave them with a 3-3 AFC South record, and the Titans would finish 0-6 in the AFC South.

Big numbers: Titans running back Chris Johnson needs 168 rushing yards in Week 17 to reach 7,000 career rushing yards. He would become the fourth player in NFL history to reach 7,000 career rushing yards in his first five seasons. Johnson enters the game against the Jaguars with the seventh-most rush yards by a player in his first five seasons, trailing only Eric Dickerson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell, Walter Payton and Eddie George.

RG3, Luck, Wilson: Debating rookie QBs

November, 15, 2012
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Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell WilsonUS PresswireHow does the QB class of 2012 stack up against 1983 and 2004?
Several Seattle Seahawks fans sent me a link to Kerry Byrne's piece promoting Russell Wilson as the NFL's best rookie quarterback this season.

"The biggest story in football is that a charismatic but undersized 5-foot-11, 205-pound, third-round draft pick who makes chump change by NFL standards is in the midst of perhaps the greatest streak of rookie performances in NFL history," Byrne writes.

In addition to promoting Wilson, the piece cites one sentence from AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky as evidence ESPN and others are slighting the Seattle rookie by crediting the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck for stellar play despite a mediocre NFL passer rating.

This was my favorite part of the piece -- a chance to rile up Paul, who never shies away from a good scrum. But instead of baiting Paul into an argument, the subject generated a discussion we wanted to share. Paul and I looped in NFC East blogger Dan Graziano, who covers Robert Griffin III, to broaden the discussion.

Here we go.

SANDO: Wilson has gotten less attention as he's played better, it seems to me. There was quite a bit of buzz around him heading into the season simply because people following along from afar expected Matt Flynn to win the job. The idea that a head coach would willingly go with a 5-foot-10 rookie third-round draft choice over a $19 million free agent made waves. Wilson didn't play all that well early in the season, however. Part of that was because Pete Carroll pulled back the reins on the offense in an attempt to bring along Wilson slowly. That wasn't really anticipated given how effusive Carroll had been in his praise for Wilson's readiness to perform right now, not just in the future. Meanwhile, RG3 was sensational out of the gates. The Wilson buzz went away. I think that's going to change as Seattle continues to make a playoff push and Wilson continues to become a bigger part of the reason why.

KUHARSKY: Critics who want to say Luck is over-hyped are, in my opinion, off their rocker. You look at his completion percentage, you look at his passer rating. I'll watch him play. He's remarkable for a rookie. Heck, he's remarkable for a third-year guy. He's got characteristics of both Peyton Manning (anticipation, smarts, understanding) and Ben Roethlisberger (ability to extend plays or to stand in and make throws while getting hit) as well as enough speed to be a constant threat to pull it down and run for a first down. I understand RG3 is more explosive. But I'm a pocket passer guy. And if I am choosing a young pocket passer to build a team around, I have no question about who it would be right now. It would be Luck. His team isn't very good, and he's got it positioned as a front-runner for a playoff berth. Don't just look at his stats, look at his play. He's worthy of all the talk/ hype/ praise/ applause/ etc.

GRAZIANO: Nobody got attention like Griffin got it in September, when he was being talked about as an MVP candidate and not just Rookie of the Year. In truth, he's been dazzling, and has handled every situation, in-game and off-field, as well as you could ask a rookie to handle it. But if the bloom is coming off, it's understandable. The Redskins have lost three games in a row, and Griffin's two most recent games are the only ones this year in which his completion percentage has been under 60. I think the problem is more about the group around him than it is about the league figuring him out. The Redskins' offense simply may have reached the limit of what it can do in this particular season, given the injuries to top passing-game playmakers Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis. The plan for Griffin is not to run college-style option stuff his whole career, but at this point the Redskins' offense is reaching a point from which it can't evolve much further until it has its top receiving threats back. In the meantime, Griffin is stuck throwing to secondary receivers who drop too many passes, or scrambling so much that it puts his health at risk. We may have seen the best of Griffin for 2012, but things are likely to get better in 2013 and beyond once they improve the team around him.

KUHARSKY: They are all great stories. And heck, Ryan Tannehill and even Brandon Weeden have done some good things, too. If we're not entering an era of quick impact quarterbacking from newcomers, then a lot of teams with high draft picks in the near future are going to be disappointed. I know Cold, Hard, Football Facts took me apart for my praise of Luck. But nowhere in that have I suggested anyone else unworthy of his fair share of respect. Luck's in a unique situation. The Colts were horrific last year, it's a new regime that cut a bunch of people and is eating a lot of dead money. It's a thin roster. It found a purpose in rallying to win for Chuck Pagano after his leukemia diagnosis, and while the Seahawks are a maybe and the Redskins are a no, the Colts are very much a probably for the playoffs. I'm far more interested in that than nitpicking completion percentage for a guy who hardly ever throws a checkdown pass.

GRAZIANO: That's the thing, Paul. Are we analyzing what these guys are right now, as compared to the top QBs in the league? Or are we talking about what they've shown in terms of what they can be? All of these rookies have obvious areas in which they can improve, but at least in the case of the guys who were picked 1 and 2 in the draft, I think we're talking about rare talents with incredibly high ceilings. Whether Griffin has been asked/required to throw downfield as much this year as he'd eventually like to seems immaterial to me, especially with the Redskins not yet ready to contend. He's shown presence in the huddle. He's shown an ability to lead a game-winning drive. He's made good decisions. Much of what he's accomplished is tied to his remarkable all-around athleticism and speed, sure, but he hasn't relied exclusively on that the way, say, a young Michael Vick or Jeff George might have. Griffin's shown a desire and an ability to treat the quarterback position as a craft to be honed, and a willingness to work on the minuscule detail aspects of it. That speaks to where he's headed as much as anything he's done on the field does.

SANDO: I'm with Paul in looking beyond passer rating with Luck in particular. He ranks among the NFL leaders in attempted passes. He's carrying that offense. The Colts are also asking him to make more difficult throws. His passes travel 10.3 yards past the line of scrimmage on average. That leads the league and it's not even close. We're not talking about a team dinking and dunking to protect its rookie passer. Luck is doing so much more than that. I think this is a perfect test case for our Total QBR metric. It's got Luck trailing only Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan when it comes to doing the things quarterbacks must do to help their teams win. Those five rushing touchdowns he has aren't showing up in the passer rating stat, to cite just one example. It's why I've listed Luck in the last couple MVP Watch items. The Seahawks did not ask Wilson to do nearly as much early in the season. They've asked him to do more in recent weeks and Wilson has responded. He's improving quickly and ranks among the NFL's top seven in QBR and top five in passer rating since Week 6. Wilson has a real chance to finish this season as the best rookie quarterback in the league.

KUHARSKY: And there we have the crux of the question, I believe -- what would make him the best? Passer rating? QBR? Team success? I love Wilson and his story. I hope he opens doors for others who don't look the part. But Luck looks the part and fits it too, and I'm not downgrading him for it. For what's left of this season, of the rookie quarterbacks, he's the one I'd take, without question. For what's left of their careers, he's the one I'd take, without question. And my picking him is all about what he has, not about anything the other guys don't. And he should be the choice. He was the top pick for a reason.

GRAZIANO: I think you're right, Paul. I spoke with Mike Shanahan last week, and as much as he raves about his guy, he still insists he'd have been thrilled with Luck and that the whole point this year was to get one of the first two picks because you were looking at two transcendent talents. Stats? RG3 is ninth in passer rating, 10th in QBR, sixth in Pro Football Focus' rankings (eighth as a passer and second, behind only Luck, as a running QB). There's not a rating system that doesn't love him, and again, he's done this without the wide receiver they signed to be his top target and big-play guy. If Griffin has to "draft" Luck his whole career and be a close No. 2, I imagine he could do worse. But it appears he's got the stuff he needs to keep it a good debate for years to come. And while it may be a matter of taste, when this year ends, you're going to be able to make the case for Griffin as the top rookie quarterback.

SANDO: Most never expected Wilson to be part of this discussion. Even the Seahawks weren't sure how much his lack of height would limit him. Wilson has demonstrated an ability to find and create throwing lanes. Jared Allen alluded to this before his Minnesota Vikings watched Wilson toss three first-half touchdown passes against them. If the height isn't going to be a negative, then Wilson can absolutely become an elite quarterback. He has the arm and the professional baseball pedigree to prove it. He has big hands, not just for his size, but overall (10 1/4 inches, fourth-biggest at the 2012 combine and bigger than Luck's or Griffin's hands). His work ethic led Carroll to joke about how Wilson decided to take some time off -- maybe three hours, he said -- during the bye week. The results have certainly been positive on the field. From everything I've seen, Wilson will be part of this conversation in the future.

RTC: Freeney on track to come back

October, 4, 2012
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Matt Schaub knows the Texans offense, has a feel for his line and his receivers and is off to the best start of his career, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Gary Kubiak needs to slow his roll with Arian Foster’s workload, says Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle blogs.

To which I say: It’s still a relatively small sample size. When there's a game in which the Texans are forced to pass a lot and do a good job working in Ben Tate, Foster’s pace will be back in a more reasonable range.

Indianapolis Colts

We’ll find out what the Colts are made of after seeing how they deal with the heartache connected to Chuck Pagano’s illness, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

To which I say: Yes, we will learn a lot about these guys. But responding well to a tough situation won’t close a talent gap in a lot of games.

Packers center Jeff Saturday is looking forward to being back in Indianapolis, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. Saturday said he’ll have to figure out where the visitor’s locker room is.

For the first time since he suffered a high ankle sprain early in the opener against Chicago, Dwight Freeney went through a full practice, says Phil Richards of the Star.

To which I say: Bruce Arians said the Colts need their five-star players to play big, and Freeney is certainly one of those guys. He’ll have to affect Aaron Rodgers for the Colts to have a chance to pull an upset of the Packers.

Jacksonville Jaguars

With Laurent Robinson not expected to play, Mike Thomas could find himself in a position to do more, again, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: I didn’t see anything in camp and I haven’t heard anything since that says Thomas is a guy you want to be relying on again. But he’s another default to insufficient depth on this roster.

It doesn’t sound like Derek Cox is expecting to be shifted to play exclusively on Chicago’s Brandon Marshall Sunday against the Bears, says Gene Frenette of the T-U.

To which I say: If a team’s got a singular receiver, the Jaguars need to adjust their scheme to get their singular cornerback on him.

Tennessee Titans

Back in the lineup because of Jake Locker’s shoulder injury, Matt Hasselbeck said he will be looking to emphasize a crisp tempo, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

To which I say: That tempo will need to include getting the ball out fast in the face of Jared Allen’s rush.

It looks as if middle linebacker Colin McCarthy will return from three weeks missed with a high ankle sprain, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

To which I say: McCarthy can add a real jolt to the Titans defense, which suffered for lack of a quality backup middle linebacker.

 

Final Word: AFC South

September, 14, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Castonzo
AP Photo/Tom GannamThe Colts' Anthony Castonzo has a rather tough assignment on Sunday -- contain the Vikings' Jared Allen.
Line makeup: We came into the week thinking Colts newcomer Trai Essex could take over for Winston Justice at right tackle, but Justice seems to have bounced back from the concussion he suffered Sunday in Chicago. He’s practicing and it’s left guard Joe Reitz who remains a question. Seth Olsen is not a quality replacement, and Essex is versatile enough to play either guard or tackle spot. Perhaps he replaces Olsen rather than Justice? The No. 1 question on the offensive line will be how left tackle Anthony Castonzo can do against end Jared Allen, who was largely held in check last week by Jacksonville’s Eugene Monroe.

Line makeup, II: The Jaguars are banged up in a big way on the offensive line. Starting right tackle Cameron Bradfield and starting left guard Eben Britton could both miss the game with ankle injuries, which would mean Guy Whimper or waiver claim Troy Kropog at right tackle and undrafted rookie Mike Brewster at left guard. That’s hardly an ideal scenario against the Texans’ swarming front. It looks like a big mismatch. But often what looks like a big mismatch in a divisional game during the preparation week doesn’t turn out to be the major issue.

Struggling in Cali: The Titans have lost eight in a row against the Chargers, dating all the way to 1993. San Diego’s 3-4 front has given Tennessee problems in recent years, and first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram, an outside linebacker, is a part of packages that will be another complicated thing for Jake Locker to sort through. The quarterback will be playing with a banged-up left (non-throwing) shoulder. But he will be throwing against a banged-up secondary too, so if he can get protection he may be able to find plays downfield with Kenny Britt back in the lineup.

Playing stout: The Colts allowed 3.5 yards a carry in their season-opening loss to the Bears. That wasn’t as bad as some of us anticipated it could be. But Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson will be a different level of challenge. He found the end zone twice in his first game back with a reconstructed knee in the Vikings' win over Jacksonville. The Colts remains susceptible to the run and are going to get tested. If and when they can get the Vikings into tough passing downs, will Dwight Freeney be available to chase Christian Ponder? If his ankle injury holds him out, the Colts are then deficient in that area as well, which would be bad news.

Improvement: Good teams respond to week-to-week problems. Texans coach Gary Kubiak wasn’t pleased with the way his team ran the ball and the way it performed on special teams, even though it posted a 20-point win over Miami in the opener. His players should respond to points of emphasis and show improvement in those areas. Jacksonville’s big point of emphasis has been better tackling, and it will need to wrap up the likes of Arian Foster and Andre Johnson to have a chance in this game. Outside linebacker Daryl Smith would be a boon, but he looks unlikely to make it back from a groin/abdomen injury. If corner Derek Cox is back from his hamstring problem, coverage should be a strong suit.

RTC: Former Titans worked with Britt

September, 8, 2012
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Arian Foster and Brooks Reed are now game-time decisions, but Gary Kubiak is optimistic they’ll play against Miami, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

How should the Dolphins attack the Texans? Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Reports asks and answers.

The Texans are out to ruin the head coaching debut of Miami's Joe Philbin, says the AP.

Indianapolis Colts

In a Q&A with Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star, Dwight Freeney says he thinks about the contract year 35 percent of the time.

An educated guess from Mike Chappell of the Star who considers the receiver's past: Austin Collie won’t play.

Three keys to a Colts win against the Bears from Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Eugene Monroe has been preparing for the quick first step and relentlessness of Jared Allen, the Vikings defensive end, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

It’s a big moment for Kyle Bosworth, who will fill in for the injured Daryl Smith at Minnesota, says O’Halloran.

How should the Vikings attack the Jaguars? Dunlevy explores.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have to find a way to stop Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, tight ends who combined for more catches and yards last season than any pair in league history, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Neil O’Donnell, Derrick Mason and Nick Harper helped keep Kenny Britt busy during his week suspended, says Wyatt. “He needed to go play football with some people who played football,” O’Donnell said. “We just coordinated it all.”
 

One member of the Jaguars can do an awful lot to help Blaine Gabbert be good in the Jaguars' opener in Minnesota: Left tackle Eugene Monroe.

RTC: Eric Winston finds new home

March, 18, 2012
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Right tackle Eric Winston, recently cut by Houston, signed with Kansas City, while free-agent cornerback Jason Allen signed with Cincinnati, says John McClain. Allen was a good security blanket for Kareem Jackson, and I suspect the Texans will need another.

Indianapolis Colts

The additions of Winston Justice and Mike McGlynn can help rebuild an offensive line that the Colts want bigger but must have better, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. These are just the kind of moves a team without a lot of money need to make. Both are low risk, high reward.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars are a lot alike. But they have taken drastically different approaches to free agency this time around, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. It will take some time to see which approach was better.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans worked out Peyton Manning in Knoxville on Saturday. Now they await his decision as well as a visit from free-agent defensive end Mark Anderson, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Football fans in Tennessee have waited on a Manning decision before, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

The Titans are not pursuing Jeff Saturday at this time.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

J.J. Watt should compete with Antonio Smith for a starting spot while they can both play on third down, says John McClain.

Watt is redundant says Jerome Solomon, who would have preferred Nick Fairley. I think Fairley isn’t a 3-4 fit, however.

Watt’s a Howie Long; he’s a bigger Jared Allen says Watt’s high school coach. From Jeffrey Martin.

It’s a safe pick, but Houston Diehards would have preferred Robert Quinn or Cameron Jordan.

Indianapolis Colts

Chris Polian said Anthony Castonzo is in at left tackle at this point, says Mike Chappell. The team hadn’t run through a single scenario where he lasted until No. 22.

Castonzo is just what the Colts need, says Bob Kravitz.

Peyton Manning’s remarks about tanking a concussion baseline test were a joke, says Mike Chappell.

It’s a safe pick and a smart pick and Donald Brown could be the biggest beneficiary, says Nate Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blaine Gabbert is now the face of the franchise’s future, says Vito Stellino.

The Jaguars saw an unexpected opportunity with Gabbert and seized it, says Tania Ganguli.

Gene Smith’s now tied to Gabbert, says Gene Frenette.

Drafting Gabbert puts Jack Del Rio on a hotter seat, says Frenette. I am not so sure. He may be able to say, “Well, I was starting a rookie quarterback.”

Tennessee Titans

In Jake Locker, the Titans see a leader, says Jim Wyatt.

There is no indication that Bud Adams meddled in this one, says David Climer.

The focus will now turn to the defensive line, says John Glennon.

Brad Hopkins reviews the first round.

More details on Locker from Wyatt.

Do I overrate Dwight Freeney?

March, 22, 2011
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Do I overrate Dwight Freeney?

The seven others who cast votes in ESPN.com’s balloting for the pass-rusher Power Rankings think so.

I ranked the Colts defensive end first in what I thought was an impossible ballot in which I found 17 players worthy of spots and where I might have leaned a little less on total sack numbers than some of my colleagues. A rusher can certainly be consistently disruptive and dictate a blocking scheme without always notching big sack numbers.

My rationale for Freeney over the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, who got all the other first-place votes?

Here’s what I told NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, who wrote the main piece on the results.

“I’ve had coaches and scouts I trust tell me, repeatedly, that Freeney is the best pure pass-rusher in the league. They say he’s the guy they’d want if they could have anyone and the most difficult guy to stop because of the way he plots out his game. That’s stuck with me and was a big factor for me as I put together my ballot.”

Crush me for being a homer if you must -- and I’ve obviously seen Freeney way, way more than I have seen Ware, so it’s inevitable I get slanted there -- but I’ll stand by that.

Still, on a different day with Ware highlights running on my computer screen, I could certainly have made things unanimous.

Here’s my entire ballot:
  1. Dwight Freeney
  2. DeMarcus Ware
  3. Tamba Hali
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Clay Matthews
  6. Robert Mathis
  7. Jared Allen
  8. LaMarr Woodley
  9. Justin Tuck
  10. John Abraham

I was miserable about leaving off Julius Peppers, Osi Umenyiora, Trent Cole, James Harrison, Terrell Suggs, Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil.

If I re-voted right now, I could second-guess myself as much as you and do a lot of shuffling.

As for AFC South guys -- I absolutely believe Mathis is worthy of a spot here. He's a terror. I may have scored Williams too high based on all the potential he has and the attention he draws. Others have that and more production.

Peppers was my toughest call. I’m big on constant effort from my pass-rushers and I am not sure he gives it.

I also agree with NFC West blogger Mike Sando that the proliferation of 3-4s complicates things, because we sifted through so many players. This year’s Houston Texans will be the first 3-4 defense I ever cover, and I am sure my judgment of outside 'backers will evolve because of it.

That 4-3 bias didn’t hurt Hali, but I’m sorry if Matthews, Woodley, Harrison, Suggs, Wake and Dumervil suffered for it.

Dissecting an 'ultimate mock'

April, 20, 2010
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We’re late to this, but it’s usually pretty good at stirring up some debate, and since we are stalling until Tuesday night’s schedule release and Thursday night’s draft kickoff…

I present an AFC South-angled look at Mike Silver’s annual ultimate mock draft.

Silver takes the original draft order (undoing trades that took teams out of the first round) and picks one through 32 with everyone in the world available. Five of those players come from the AFC South, tied for the lead with the AFC North.

Peyton Manning goes first overall to St. Louis, Chris Johnson sixth to Seattle, Dwight Freeney 17th to Carolina, Brian Cushing 18th to Pittsburgh and Andre Johnson 20th to Houston -- isn't it nice that he gets to stay where he is?

The AFC South selections: Adrian Peterson to Jacksonville 10th, Jared Allen to Tennessee 16th, Johnson to Houston 20th and the presumed top pick of next year’s draft, Washington quarterback Jake Locker, to Indianapolis 31st.

I think Peterson’s too redundant for the Jaguars who’ve got Maurice Jones-Drew, so I would take Patrick Willis there.

Allen to the Titans makes sense football-wise, though he’s a little wild for them and with Johnson gone they need a dynamic weapon. How about Andre Johnson?

The Texans might have been tempted to risk losing Andre Johnson in the dozen picks after theirs if they could have had Peterson or Nnamdi Asomugha, but both were gone. Troy Polamalu had to be tempting. (Ed Reed as is simply too old and injury prone and could still retire.)

Locker is a clever pick for the Colts, who need to replace Manning ASAP.

Any thoughts?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Jason La Canfora of NFL.com likes the Colts to win the division and is down on the Texans.


Houston Texans

The Texans have not-so-fond memories of Jared Allen's hit on Matt Schaub, writes John McClain.
Shaun Cody will get more work in the last two games, says McClain.
McClain considers position battles that are still ongoing.
A report says cornerback Cletis Gordon has been signed by Houston, says Alan Burge.


Indianapolis Colts

Marlin Jackson is ready for his preseason debut, says Mike Chappell.
Ryan Lilja will miss the game in Detroit, says John Oehser.
Five things to watch when the Colts play defense, from Oehser.
The Colts get a look at Matthew Stafford Saturday, writes Chappell.
Some background on Jim Caldwell via Phillip B. Wilson.


Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags built a big lead in Philly, then couldn't hold it, writes Vito Stellino.
A heady play by Brian Iwuh got the linebacker a touchdown, says Michael C. Wright.
Third down on offense remains a major issue, says Wright.
It's more about revenue than ticket sales, says Vic Ketchman.
A report card from Gene Frenette.
A nice breakdown of the game from Terry O'Brien.
Jacksonville should only contemplate drafting Tim Tebow if they believe he can help them win games, not to sell tickets, opines Frenette.


Tennessee Titans

Saturday at Cleveland could amount to the offense's last real preseason chance to get things moving, write Jim Wyatt and Gary Estwick.
David Climer wonders when it is time to panic about the offense.
An injury update from Wyatt.
Patrick Ramsey is dealing with sore ribs, says Terry McCormick.

The case for paying Haynesworth ASAP

February, 5, 2009
2/05/09
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Tennessee Titans should acknowledge that it's Albert Haynesworth's turn to be the highest-paid defensive player in football and offer him a contract that would make him so. Add five or seven percent to Jared Allen's deal and get it in front of agent Chad Speck ASAP.

By my calculations that means a six-year package valued at about $77 million, or $12.82 million a year.

 
  AP Photo/John Russell
  Some team is going to make Albert Haynesworth the highest-paid defender in the league.

That doesn't mean the defensive tackle, who is set to become a free agent on Feb. 27, will take it. Because come that date, somebody will likely make him the higher paid highest-paid defensive player in football.

But at least the Titans could say they made a good faith effort and stuck to their principles of building from within and rewarding their own and we wouldn't be left questioning why they didn't try when they had the chance.

Count me among those who think the Titans need to retain him.

They should woo Haynesworth now, the way he will be wooed in a couple of weeks. Send his kids some gifts -- I'm thinking a house call from Ringling Bros. Send a limo to pick him up and take him out to dinner at his favorite fine restaurant. Sell him on the benefits of no state income tax, the unfinished business of the 2008 team, and the legacy he can have as a Titan. Make him feel loved -- because besides the money, that's the biggest thing coming with market freedom. Show him how guys like Reggie White and Michael Turner qualify as exceptions by illustrating how many guys who've made big moves in free agency have never been as good. Ask Jevon Kearse to share his Philadelphia story.

This is a plan any team seeking to retain a guy heading for free agency should employ this month. I've never understood why they don't try it.

Once the date comes, there is no chance Haynesworth is coming back. There is no list of coveted free agents who get to the open market and then return to their former team. That only happens if a guy and his representation completely miss the mark on predicting his value, and Haynesworth is going to be valued as a guy that can transform a defense.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Haynesworth
Just spoke with our John Clayton who's reporting there is reason for optimism that the Titans could come to an agreement with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth before the start of free agency on Feb. 27.

Writes Clayton:

Last week, both sides exchanged ideas and the Titans didn't rule out paying Haynesworth's potential $12 million plus a year price considerations. Because he's considered the best impact defensive tackle on the free agent market and could be paid in line with a top defensive end such as Jared Allen. It would be Haynesworth's preference to work out a deal with the Titans, the team that drafted him into the league.

Haynesworth has said all along he'd like to stay and the team has said all along it wants to keep him. Price was going to be the obstacle and still likely is. But that Allen's name came up and that the idea of paying the tackle something in line with the Kansas City defensive end didn't prompt the Titans to scoff is cause for a bit of relief for Titans faithful.

That doesn't guarantee anything gets done, but it's better than the silence that preceded it.

The Titans should move quickly -- the nearer Haynesworth gets to free agency on Feb. 27, the more tempting it will be for him to dip his toe in the pool. At least one team desperate for a splashy acquisition and a difference maker on defense will be willing to throw crazy money at him, and once that offer arrives the Titans will have lost their chance.

If Tennessee has an opportunity to lock him up, it should pounce.

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