AFC South: Jethro Franklin

 
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  New defensive line coach Bill Kollar vows to get more out of Houston's defensive line this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Bill Kollar plans to scream, cajole, irritate and pester.

The Texans' new defensive line coach casts himself not just as a coach, but as a button-pusher. He says his style is similar to that of a friend he once crossed coaching paths with briefly at Purdue -- Jim Washburn.

Washburn has coached the Tennessee Titans defensive line with great success -- and at high volume -- since 1999. As the Texans looked to start reinventing their defense, they lured Kollar from Buffalo.

Kollar pledges to do what he needs to squeeze all he can out of a group that features 2006 No. 1 overall draft pick Mario Williams. The Texans didn't produce enough good play around the Pro Bowl defensive end last season. Houston's linemen, then, can expect constant reminders that they are to run to the ball on all occasions and never take a play off.

Kollar will rotate his people. With the free-agent additions of defensive end Antonio Smith (from the Arizona Cardinals) and tackle Shaun Cody (from the Detroit Lions), he should have better depth than his predecessor, Jethro Franklin, did. The Texans are sure to also draft at least one defensive lineman.

"Obviously we're teachers, but we're also motivators," Kollar said. "If you had a whole group of players that were self motivated, that went nuts, you wouldn't have to worry about it. That would be fine. But I've never had a group like that and I don't know how many guys do or if there is a group like that. So I think everybody now and then can be helped to keep going by a little kick in the rear."

Kollar, a 1974-first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals who played eight seasons as a defensive lineman in the NFL, is still getting to know the Texans. Much of his sense of them still comes more off tape than from his own interaction and experiences.

In a phone chat with the AFC South Blog this week, he was willing to frame each of his linemen, providing his general feelings about each of them -- feelings that can obviously change significantly between now and opening day.

Smith: "A guy who works his butt off, gives you 100 percent all the time. We think he will end up definitely helping us. He's got good technique and knows how to use his hands and stuff. He's not the most agile guy out there that's going to run a 4.5 or something like that. But he really uses his hands well, watching him over the last few years he does a really good job."

Williams: "A heck of a guy, a heck of a player. I've really been impressed with the guy... He works his butt off out there and I think he just wants to keep getting better and better and take the team to the playoffs. And the better your team is, the better accolades your players end up getting.

"People know about the sacks, but he's a hell of a run player too. As long and as strong as he is, he does a heck of a job in both aspects."

 
  AP/Gene J. Puskar
  The Texans lured Bill Kollar from the Bills and hope Kollar's motivational style is what the defensive line needs to take the next step.

Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye: "I know he had that high ankle sprain [last year] and it's tough to play with. We're obviously hoping that's all past him now and with a young guy like that hopefully by the third year they hopefully kick in and become the player that they are going to be. We're hoping that happens this year...

"He's 22 [in June] and you look at it and sort of feel like the first two years in the league were his junior and senior year of college and he's just sort of had a jump on the guys coming out this year because he's already been playing with the big boys instead of still playing in college. Now you're hoping he's able to take it to the next level, stay healthy, that's always a big factor in anybody's career."

Defensive tackle Travis Johnson: "The guy plays hard, he's more of a run-down player, he's sort of trying to anchor down in the middle compared to a pass rusher. What happens when you end up taking a defensive tackle or a defensive end in the first round, you expect production in both the run and the pass. [The Texans selected Johnson in the first round in 2005.]

"The funny thing is, if you go back over years, very seldom do your nose men turn out to be pass rushers. They are the guys in there getting doubled all the time and anchoring down and then usually -- I won't say all the time, but usually - when it becomes third down, you might take another guy, you might take one of your outside guys and move him inside. And those [nose] guys sort of end up getting their break in passing situations. You can look at it quite a few different ways, but that's how I sort of view it and it really happens that way for a lot of guys."

Cody: "He's been unable to do anything so far here. I remember watching him and liking him coming out of USC. He had some injury problems there in Detroit, we're hoping that all those are past him now and we see him as able to play either spot inside which turns out to be a big plus for him, it turns out to give you more playing time and for us it helps depth-wise."

"We see him probably a little more as a solid player in the run game than he is a pass rush guy. Anytime you get a pass rush guy who can get up the field and go, we'd love to have it. When he was in college and so far at Detroit, he's a little more of a run down player than a pass rusher."

End Tim Bulman: "A real hard worker, a real tough kid when you watch him. I've sort of been impressed so far with what I have seen of him... I know he was down at Arizona when Kyle Vanden Bosch was down there and Vanden Bosch didn't have a lot of success down there, I know he was injured, he blew a couple of knees out and stuff. But I think Tim has see
n what Vanden Bosch was able to do on a new team and I am sure he's hoping that's a possibility that it could happen for him."

Defensive tackle Frank Okam: "He's more of an anchor guy, we're hoping he can end up getting in there and plug up the gap and help with short-line pursuit and stuff... A lot of second-year guys that really didn't play that much their first year, sometimes they make a big step. We'll just sort of see how it ends up going with him."

End Stanley McClover, who spent almost all of 2008 on IR with a right knee injury: "He's still probably not at 100 percent. I really saw no film on him, he got hurt in the first game I think. I really don't know much about him at all."

End Jesse Nading: "Played a little bit last year, mainly in passing situations. Showed a little quickness here and there. Maybe a little undersized but has some good mobility, has pretty good feet."

Defensive tackle DelJuan Robinson: "He's a big stop guy, too, in there."

A final thought:

Prevailing wisdom has been that the Texans need an upgrade inside to play the nose next to Okoye. Kollar sounds pleased with the pool he's already got to choose from, and he could and could get another candidate in the draft.

"We've got quite a few on the inside especially at the nose we should end up having some good competition with Johnson, Cody, Okam and Robinson," he said.

But if one of the ends emerges as a good rusher opposite Williams or the Texans add that guy in the draft, it sure sounds like Smith could be the interior answer on passing downs.

"He's definitely a good inside rusher, I mean he's slippery inside, he uses his hands well," Kollar said. "He ended up playing a lot inside last year on first and second down. He just does a good job, he plays with great leverage, he was able to slip through gaps. He can give you some rush from the inside, that's for sure."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The theory says there are just six degrees of separation between each of us and anyone else on the planet, that in only six steps we can be connected through common acquaintances.

It's only natural in a league of 32 teams that had about 556 assistant coaches in 2008 that the degree of separation among them, if there is one at all, is usually one.

 
  Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
  Gary Kubiak's defensive staff in Houston will have a new look heading into next season.

Let us consider that as we attempt to prejudge the promotions and additions Gary Kubiak has made to his staff in Houston. Frank Bush, promoted to defensive coordinator, and David Gibbs, hired as defensive backs coach, each have extensive experience with the Denver Broncos on their resumes.

In a recent, scathing column in the Houston Chronicle, Richard Justice made fun of the franchise for its propensity to lean on people Kubiak and GM Rick Smith know from their previous NFL lives in Denver.

Justice wrote that Smith might not have trusted two staff members who were let go after the Texans' season ended -- strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley and head trainer Kevin Bastin -- "because neither worked for the Denver Broncos, had enough friends with the Denver Broncos or changed planes in Denver."

The strength and conditioning coach job is still open. But Kubiak's staff is otherwise complete and now includes eight assistants with Denver ties and 11 without them. (Relevant aside: Of the four coaches Kubiak let go, defensive coordinator Richard Smith was connected to the Broncos while defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and Riley were not.)

Now, of the team's four most powerful assistants by authority and title -- assistant head coach/offense Alex Gibbs and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Bush and new assistant head coach/defensive line coach Bill Kollar -- only Kollar has no Broncos connection.

That certainly leads some to say, "Hey, coach Kubiak, there's a whole, big football world out there that extends beyond Denver, especially considering that your mentor and the head man out there, Mike Shanahan -- also your offensive coordinator's dad -- was just fired."

Kubiak isn't concerned with perception outside team headquarters, but he was willing to outline how he looks at people he considers hiring or shifting upward.

"This is important and I've been doing it long enough to have coached with a lot of football coaches," he said. "And having some familiarity with how a guy coaches, how a guy teaches, him knowing what you expect and what you stand for, that's is important to me. I can't speak for everyone else out there. At the same time, when you're interviewing coaches that you haven't worked with or you don't know personally, I start pulling from guys I do know that may have worked with them, guys who know their work habits, know what type of person they are.

"In this business, coaches bounce around and we all kind of know each other one way or another."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Gary Kubiak didn't go far to find his new defensive coordinator. Frank Bush was already on his staff as senior defensive assistant.

Kubiak will talk about Bush shortly, and I'll come back in this post to add some highlights from the press conference.

Bush replaces Richard Smith, who was let go after the season along with defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, just hired for the same post in Chicago, and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.

Here are details about Bush from the team's announcement:

Bush has coached every position group on the defensive side of the ball during his career. In addition to his two years working with the defensive line for the Texans, he coached the linebackers for the Houston Oilers from 1992-94 and for the Denver Broncos from 1995-99 before assuming the role of nickel/secondary coach for the Broncos in 2000. Bush was the assistant head coach/linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals from 2004-05. He also spent three seasons as the special teams coordinator in Denver from 2001-03.

Bush got his start with the Houston Oilers working as a college scout from 1987-92 following a two-year playing career for the team. He was selected by the Oilers in the fifth round in 1985 as a linebacker from North Carolina State and was named to the all-rookie team after making 99 tackles, three sacks and recovering three fumbles. He suffered a career-ending injury in 1986 which led to his career in the front office and on the sidelines.

UPDATE [7:18]: Some snippets from Bush's press conference...

On how is the style of defense going to be different from what the Texans have been playing:

"Well, you know what's going to happen, we're going to just start to make sure we've got all of these kids running around and doing things on the same page. We're going to be aggressive. We'll be attacking, but more than anything, we're going to be a team that communicates. All of our guys are going to be on the same page; everybody is doing the exact same job at the exact same time and you'll see more passion in our play. You'll see guys that fly around and try to get turnovers."

On why has the defense finished ranked in the 20s the last three years:

"There are several, several factors involved in that. To pinpoint one particular thing, it would be hard to do just standing here, but we haven't kind of held our end of the deal as of late. Offensively, those guys are moving in a forward direction, and I'm here to just try to get the defense to move at the same pace as the offense is moving. Our guys are clearly ready to take off and go in that direction and that's up to me to kind of motivate them and get them going in that direction."

On what the identity will be with him as the defensive coordinator:

"When you speak about identity, that's developed; that's developed over time. It's going to take us a little while to get going, to get our feet on the grass outside and get going, but what you will see early, early and often, is a group that's attacking, a group that's aggressive, they're passionate. You'll see guys flying around and you'll see guys having a good time playing the game of football."

On what he will do to force more turnovers:

"Well, I think the first thing you do is you simplify so you get faster. That's one of the things we're going to focus on. We're going to simplify so our guys can play faster. The faster we play, the more times we get big hits. The more big hits we get and the more big hits we get, the more times that ball will come out. And that's what we're going to try to do. We want guys to attack. And I keep using that word but that's what we want. We want guys to attack and be violent and create turnovers that way."

On his lack of experience calling defenses:

"You know, I haven't' called a defense per se. But you know, I spent three years on the sideline as a special teams coach and called every situation. I was the assistant head coach in Arizona and helped call that defense back then. So, this is going to be new. This is going to be me with the ownership squarely on me. But at the same time, I feel like over the years I've prepared myself for this opportunity."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Texans cut two more from their staff Tuesday when they announced they will not renew the contracts of head athletic trainer Kevin Bastin and strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley.

Riley is the only strength and conditioning coach the Texans have had, joining the franchise early in 2001. Before that he had served in the same post for the Washington Redskins for 19 years.

Bastin also spent eight years with Houston after working for the Redskins.

It's unclear what coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith feel they were missing with Riley and Bastin or what changes they will want to see in replacements.

"We want to thank Kevin and Dan for their dedicated years of service to the Texans and wish them both the best in their future endeavors," Smith said in a statement.

The team now has five staff positions to fill. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin were let go on Dec. 30.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters he will take his time revising his defensive staff after letting defensive coordinator Richard Smith, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin go.

Senior defensive assistant Frank Bush will be among those interviewed for the coordinator post.

Kubiak was complimentary of all three coaches. He said he wanted to give them an opportunity to find what's next as soon as possible and added that while the defense made strides late this season, there has not been enough progress in his three seasons.

Highlights from the press conference courtesy of the Texans' PR department:

On what is he looking for in a replacement:

Gary Kubiak: I'm going to take my time. With this league, this gets pretty crazy here over the course of the next few weeks. So, I think it's important that we just settle down right now and get some of these guys some time here next week. I'll begin to put together and list of candidates. Frank Bush will be one of the guys interviewed for the job and we'll get our group together, but we'll take our time getting that done and probably start our interview process not next week but the following week.

On if the replacements have to have a 4-3 background:

GK: Well, obviously we've got a lot of work put in in that area and would like to stay there, but at the same time, I think we're just going to do what's best for this team, find the best football coach and we'll do that.

On if he will replace defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and secondary coach Jon Hoke even though senior defensive assistant Frank Bush and assistant defensive backs coach Ray Rhodes are still on the staff:

GK: Well, I think we have see what's going to happen. Ray will definitely be here. He will help me in some way, shape or form after we decide on who is going to be our next coordinator. Ray will either be helping me, helping the DBs, helping assisting the coordinator; however we go about doing it. We'll decide his role once that decision is made. As I said, Frank will interview for the job. I think a great deal of Frank and his knowledge and his passion for this game. So, he's going to be a part of our staff and then (linebackers coach) Johnny Holland will also be a part of our future also.

On how he would expect a new defensive coordinator to come in and get some new, premier players in free agency:

GK: Well, obviously we have to get better. We're always looking to get better. I think we have some pieces in place that give us a chance to be successful. I think we've got more than two or three pieces. I think we've got some fine young players. It's up to us to find a way to get them better. But naturally, (general manager) Rick (Smith) and I have to give this coordinator, whoever that ends up being, the best chance to be successful. That's what's difficult to me today. I told Richard the same thing. I said, 'Richard, I hurt because I didn't do a good enough job of giving you the people or putting you in the position to be successful.' So, that starts with me. But we have to do a better job with this guy and surrounding him with the right people and do a better job with the people we have.

On if he prefers someone who is an experienced play-caller as a defensive coordinator:

GK: That doesn't concern me. I'm sure that I will end up talking to guys that have been coordinators in this league for a great length of time. I'm sure I will interview some guys who have not been coordinators that I think have a chance to be excellent coordinators. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about finding the best fit for our football team and the guys that we have here.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Texans just announced that three defensive coaches have been dismissed: Coordinator Richard Smith, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.

Smith was under fire for most of the season, though, his unit played better late in the season when the Texans played less conservatively.

Coach Gary Kubiak once wanted Frank Bush, a senior defensive assistant for the Texans, to be his coordinator. But there will be a great pool to choose from as several former head coaches are available or believed to be on their way to being available.

Rod Marinelli, Eric Mangini, Mike Nolan, Romeo Crennel are already out of work and Gregg Williams worked under a one-year deal as coordinator in Jacksonville. Jim Haslett and Herm Edwards could also become part of the available coordinator pool.

Kubiak is scheduled to talk to the Houston press at 2:30 p.m. and we'll check back once we see what he says.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
 AP Photo/David J. Phillip
 Ahman Green (30) runs during a training camp workout Saturday.

HOUSTON -- I watched the Texans practice in pads this morning with the intention of answering the most popular question I've fielded from Houston fans: How do the running backs and the running game look?

I'll go chronologically through my notes, and hope to offer some tidbits that qualify as answers.

During positional work, D-line coach Jethro Franklin told his charges that Sunday they started well and finished poorly. If they are going to be inconsistent, he pleaded, he wants that pattern reversed and prefers a big finish.

• Alex Gibbs, the assistant head coach who's basically the run game coordinator, and John Benton, the offensive line coach, finished one period working exclusively with guards and centers -- eight guys in all. That's a 1:4 coach-to-player ratio, an impressive number for a practice in July. It has to help the learning curve.

Gibbs isn't as loud as the last time I watched him work, during Atlanta practices in Nashville a few years ago. But the intensity is the same. He offered small reviews on every little thing to multiple guys after each snap, at a breakneck pace.

• In a team period, a 9-on-7 period and a red-zone team period, I did my best to keep track of the touches of the four running backs who worked. Chris Brown was out with back issues.

Rookie Steve Slaton had 10, Ahman Green (the starter) and Chris Taylor had seven and Darius Walker had six. There seemed to be an effort to keep them all involved, a good mix of inside and outside stuff and a decent number of pass-catching chances. While some of Slaton's came at the end of each period with second- or third-teamers, I felt like they all got some chances with the ones on offense.

Two bad moments of note for Walker: On a play-action, check-down in a team period, he seemed very timid as he collected a short pass in the middle of the field. While he may have been expecting a lick, he lost a chance at additional yards as no one arrived immediately. On one bad play in 9-on-7, Walker got folded in half by safety C.C. Brown.

Chester Pitts told me Sunday the Texans are doing a better job of using the whole field in the run game, and I could see that is the case. It looks like everyone involved in the run game is making progress with the new zone-blocking scheme, though obviously the offensive line isn't cut-blocking teammates. I'll have another entry further addressing some of that soon.

Matt Schaub was 4-for-5 in his first run through in 7-on-7 passing, hitting Owen Daniels on a nice midrange ball but overthrowing Green up the right side when the back had a half-step on linebacker Morlon Greenwood. Sage Rosenfels was 1-for-3 with a drop and a throw-away. Later in a team period, what I thought was Schaub's deepest throw of the day didn't make it to Andre Johnson as rookie cornerback Antwaun Molden stayed with him up the left side and broke it up. Offense was heavy on short stuff passing-wise. Based on it being my second padded practice, I can't tell you if that's a trend or was just the way the morning unfolded.

• I felt like Daniels did the most damage receiving-wise, pulling in a handful of midrange passes. He was a big part of last year's offense. He should be a bigger part of this year's. More to come on him. If you don't like to spend high fantasy picks on Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, get a read on where Daniels is being drafted and take him a round earlier. [Disclaimer you'll see often: I never win my league.]

• Johnson didn't have a lot of balls come his way, but when they did, you can see how smooth he is. He just carries himself, runs and moves like a top-flight receiver.

• Play of the practice: linebacker Zac Diles made an excellent leaping grab in front of Daniels inside the 5-yard line near the boundary in red-zone work. A very pretty interception. I didn't write down who threw it, but as it was the fifth play of a period that lasted about 20, I suspect it was Schaub.

When the entire team was gone, DeMeco Ryans and Rosenfels were still around doing interviews. (Thanks to both.) Molden and fellow corner Derrick Roberson were the last two players on the field working, catching balls shot out of a Jugs machine.

I hope that provides some insight. I can't always look for everything you ask about, but when I have the opportunity to watch a session start to finish, I will certainly try to concentrate on the most frequently asked questions or some that are especially unique.

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