AFC South: John Busing

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:16
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Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.

RFA tender update

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:03
AM ET
Restricted free-agent tenders have to be done before midnight ET. Here's what's out so far:

Houston

From John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis

Bethea info from Adam Schefter.

Jacksonville

Tennessee

From Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

A look at restricted free agency

February, 19, 2010
2/19/10
11:17
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It’s a whole new offseason world starting March 5, and we have no experience from which to predict what happens in an uncapped year. There are enough restrictions on the players’ side to offset the Wild West so many initially projected.

One area I am really curious to see is restricted free agency. Because there are fewer unrestricted free agents (it takes six years to get there now, not four), will teams be more protective of their RFAs and more aggressive in terms of signing RFAs from outside to offer sheets?

I certainly think a creative front office that can go after the right guys can lure them away or at least get a trade conversation going.

Teams must tender their RFAs by the end of March 4. Here are the levels of tags:

With no CBA by March 5, and we aren’t expecting one, here are the RFAs for each team in the AFC South, according to the NFLPA.

Houston

Indianapolis

Jacksonville

Tennessee

No cap can be so restricting

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
9:16
PM ET
NFC South maven Pat Yasinskas obtained the list that lines up with this report about the 212 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2010, who will instead be only restricted free agents if a new labor deal isn't reached.

Stinks to be these guys who stand to lose a lot of leverage, and in many instances, a lot of money.

Houston

Indianapolis

Jacksonville

Tennessee

Houston Texans

The playoff pulse is beating, says McClain.

Andre Johnson is just the second receiver in history with back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, says John McClain.

Breaking down the win over Miami with Lance Zierlein.

Dominique Barber is heading to IR and John Busing will start against New England, says Battle Red Blog.

Does Gary Kubiak let his foot off the gas with a lead? Battle Red Blog assesses.

Indianapolis Colts

Colts fans are ticked, but Jim Caldwell defends pulling his starters, writes Mike Chappell.

More on Caldwell defending how things were handled, from John Oehser.

A city councilman wants fans who were at Lucas Oil Stadium to get their money back, says Francesca Jarosz. Dude wants his name in the headlines, and I won’t fall for it here. Get back to work on zoning regulations and getting potholes repaired.

The Colts move ahead and prepare for the Bills, says Phil Richards.

A look at the Colts worthy of a Pro Bowl spot from John Oehser.

The quotes from his radio show make it sound like Bill Polian was somewhat defensive. Oehser’s review.

There has always been a disconnect between fans and team, says Phillip B. Wilson.

It’s Jim Irsay who can and should say something here to soothe fans, says Deshawn Zombie.

A look at win streaks and how they don’t correlate to playoff success, from Zombie. Here’s my issue: Momentum isn’t measured only by wins. Are you playing your best heading into the playoffs? Is it not reasonable to want that? The Chargers could lose next week and the Vikings could win, but would you rather be San Diego or Minnesota heading into the postseason?

Stampede Blue: “By acting the way he has acted, and saying the things he has said these last two days, Bill Polian has guaranteed a Super Bowl win for his fans. If he doesn't deliver, fans will indeed demand his (proverbial) head on a silver platter. You don't treat people like children, say "I KNOW BEST!", and then not deliver without there being some kind of accountability. Polian better deliver, or else.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jack Del Rio remains steadfast in the face of criticism resulting from the swoon, says Vito Stellino.

Jeff Lageman fills in for Vic Ketchman and takes fan questions. We wish Vic, a great guy with strong opinions, a speedy recovery. I’ve been told he’s doing well.

Gene Frenette on Ketchman.

Is this 2006 all over again, asks Jonathan Loesche.

Assessing where the Jags stand after facing Indy and New England with Brian Fullford.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans need a reverse from Vince Young, says Jim Wyatt.

Unsurprisingly, Jeff Fisher won’t say what Chuck Cecil said to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the loss to San Diego. But he’s really going to pretend Cecil was talking to the staff and not the officials?

Wyatt would give the ball to Chris Johnson as many times as it takes. So would I.

Nick Harper’s injury could benefit Rod Hood, says Gary Estwick.

The Seahawks are in sad shape, says Gregg Bell.

Reading the coverage: Polians extended

November, 27, 2009
11/27/09
10:29
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Houston Texans

The Texans aren’t getting it done at the start or the finish of games, says Dale Robertson.

John Busing takes over for Eugene Wilson at safety as broken toes end Wilson’s season, says Robertson.

A sprained ankle cost DeMeco Ryans another practice, says Robertson.

The Texans' offense has slowed down.

Richard Justice wants the Texans to win to end the whining.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Irsay has set up a plan for Chris Polian to eventually take over for Bill Polian, says Mike Chappell.

Peyton Manning’s been limited this week with a glute injury but his status for Sunday isn’t in doubt, says Chappell.

Phil Wilson’s matchup page.

John Oehser’s preview of Colts-Texans, in two pieces, here and here.

Dallas Clark blogged for the team site on Thanksgiving.

Matt Ellis is a Colts fan determined to show off his passion for the team, says Phil Richards.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The 49ers are allowing a ton of passing yardage, says Michael C. Wright.

It’s a homecoming game for Maurice Jones-Drew.

Jacksonville is trying to approach things as a business trip, says Vito Stellino.

Julius Williams will be the sixth starting defensive end for Jacksonville this season, says Wright.

Tennessee Titans

David Climer credits Mike Heimerdinger for thinking outside the box.

Justin Gage doesn’t look like he’s close to returning yet, say Jim Wyatt and Gary Estwick.

Comparing Chris Johnson to some great backs in history, from Terry McCormick.

Kurt Warner is always going to be part of Titans’ lore, says McCormick.

A Q&A with Alge Crumpler from Estwick.
 
 Bob Levey/Getty Images
 Bernard Pollard has shored up the strong safety position for the Texans, who haven't had a steady presence at the position during Gary Kubiak's tenure.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Since Gary Kubiak became head coach of the Houston Texans in 2006, he’s deployed seven different starting strong safeties.

A secondary in need of a steady physical presence didn’t get great consistency out of Glenn Earl, Jason Simmons, C.C. Brown, Brandon Harrison, Nick Ferguson, Dominique Barber or John Busing. Injuries prompted some of the changes.

But in Bernard Pollard, whose insertion into the lineup has coincided with improved defensive play, perhaps Kubiak and the Texans finally have found their man.

In October, the Texans were the fifth-best defense in the league based on yardage surrendered, and 10th in scoring defense. The defensive improvements from the first three games to the last five are remarkable, as you can see in this handy chart the team provided.

Houston's defensive improvement, 2009
Category First 3 games Last 5 games Difference
Rush yards/game 205.0* 58.2** -146.8
Pass yards/game 231.7 202.2 -29.5
Total yards/game 436.7* 260.4 -176.3
Points per game 28.7 16.4 -12.3
* Worst in the NFL.
** Best in the NFL.

All these defensive developments are wonderful for a team with the third-ranked passing game and eighth-ranked offense. Defensive consistency is a major boon for any team keyed around a potent and efficient passing attack.

What has Pollard brought?

“I take pride with my tackling, I take pride in being in the right places,” he said. “I watch games around the league and you see guys get interceptions. I wish that could happen with me. But I don’t have time to try to bait quarterbacks, because when you try to bait, things happen. Some guys get away with it.

“I’m not that player. I am a player if you expect me to be wherever on the field, that’s where I am going to be. If that makes the quarterback go to another read, then that’s going to be a coverage sack or he’s going to go somewhere else. But I take pride in tackling, I take pride in coming in with high intensity and trying to get my teammates around me to get pumped up.”

Pollard was initially a 2006 second-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs out of Purdue, selected 54th overall. In 2008, he delivered the hit that ended Tom Brady's season, carrying himself with grace after the accident.

The Chiefs’ new regime made him part of its roster turnover and released him on Sept. 5. But David Gibbs, the Texans' new defensive backs coach, had come to Houston from K.C. He helped facilitate adding Pollard to Houston’s roster.

Pollard has not solved the Texans' troubles by himself. He has been a positive influence in exemplifying the theme that’s so popular around the league: Do your job while trusting that the guy to your right, to your left, in front of you, and behind you will do his. He said he’s seen that trust grow, and with success comes additional confidence.

Now he will try to help slow Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts' offense Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in a game that’s fair to rate as the biggest in the Texans’ history.

A win would put the Texans at 6-3, three games over .500 for the first time ever. A victory will keep them in range of the AFC South-leading Colts, who would be 7-1. A rematch at Reliant Stadium on Nov. 19 looms.

One of Manning’s biggest weapons, tight end Dallas Clark, said the Texans' defense starts up front, but that Pollard’s on his radar.

“Their two ends [Mario Williams and Antonio Smith] and their linebackers, that's the strength of their defense,” Clark said. “The safeties and the corners, a lot of the things they do is because of the pressure and [the ends] getting the quarterbacks to make bad decisions. Still, they're there to make the play, which is what their defense needs. But I think everything they do well starts up front …

“[Pollard] is a big safety. He's a guy who loves to hit and loves to make plays. As a receiver, you have to make sure you know where he is.”

Tackling was a major issue early this season, when, for example, Tennessee Titans halfback Chris Johnson accounted for 284 yards against Houston. Sixty-nine of them came when he lined up wide to the left uncovered. Kerry Collins got the ball to him immediately, and the Texans didn’t even have a chance to miss tackles. It was Barber’s mistake, and he was benched for it with Busing replacing him.

Now concerns over such matters are much smaller.

“He’s done a nice job of coming in and kind of taking up what we are teaching, our concepts, our program,” Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush said of Pollard. “He’s brought a physical presence to us first of all. The kid’s a big [6-foot-1, 224 pounds] and physical football player, he enjoys the contact. He seeks it. He’s the most physical presence in that secondary and all the guys try to emulate what he’s doing.”

“He’s smart, he takes good angles to the ball, he tries to keep himself out of harm’s way as far as angles on running backs and then he brings a load to the party when he hits you.”

That’s a pretty good addition when you sign a guy after the season’s under way and he quickly becomes a player others are looking to follow. Bush was surprised to get such a quality player at such a time.

Pollard appears to be a solution at what has been a questionable spot.

“He’s kind of shored it up for us and let us feel confident about what we want to call. He’ll go out and execute our program,” Bush said.

After being part of two miserable seasons in Kansas City where the Chiefs were 6-26, Pollard said he’s thrilled to be on a 5-3 team that’s got reasonable expectations of a playoff berth.

But he’s not yet sure he’s a long-term answer for a team who’s been searching for a solution at his spot.

“I hope I ended it,” he said. “Nothing’s settled until you actually sign a long-term deal and you know you are in this city for a certain amount of time. So no player gets that gratification until it’s actually done. I am very happy with what I am doing, where I am. And I hope that I prove myself. It’s still a long season and things can happen.

“Do I look for them to happen? No. I’m going to prepare myself to bring my A-game and to get my teammates, and for them to get me, hyped as can be to play football at a high level every Sunday from here on out.”

Final thoughts on Jaguars-Texans

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
10:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


Sunday game conversations shouldn’t spill beyond Tuesday. That’s an AFC South Blog rule.

We apologize we didn’t get to see the bulk of Jaguars-Texans until late Tuesday. But having seen it, we’re compelled to hit just a few points before our deadline:

Texans:
  • Kevin Walter is the sort of deceptive and crafty receiver a lot of teams would love to have, and he’s an integral part of the Texans offense when it’s firing on all cylinders. I detailed a costly pass interference call he drew at the end earlier Tuesday. But I loved a lot of his work through this game, and really took note of the fourth-down call that got him the ball with a toss into the backfield. Bravo for that one Kyle Shanahan.
  • John Busing can be deadly at the line of scrimmage or as a blitzer. But as the strong safety asked to do things in space, he sure looked like a liability. The team will say it was splitting up work, but don’t you think the door had to be opened for Dominique Barber to get back out there, as he was at least some in the second half? (Remember, he’s the guy who left Chris Johnson uncovered a week ago when he split out wide.)
  • Tim Bulman made a phenomenal play in the first quarter on a screen to Maurice Jones-Drew. He read the play, covered ground to close on MJD as he leaked out and batted David Garrard’s pass before it arrived. How often do you see that? We’re hitting the line hard for its failures in pass rush and run defense, but that’s a major flash there.
Jaguars:
  • Mike Sims-Walker can be tantalizing. He’s a good enough player to be a significant piece of what the Jags want to do on offense. Consistency and health are the issues. And when he makes a mistake, he can’t try to cover it up. Jack Del Rio’s late challenge didn’t kill Jacksonville, but his booth guy’s got to do better and Sims-Walkers got to have enough of a sense of his late fumble not to try to sell Del Rio that his knee was down. Better scenario all around: hold on to it and help the Jags avoid what JDR called all the “drama” at the end.
  • Reggie Nelson worked some as the nickel, with Gerald Alexander and Brian Russell as the safeties. While the Texans feel like they are using additional people in the secondary because they have insufficient players, the Jaguars feel like they are still mixing and matching trying to figuring out what their best combinations are. (Especially once Sean Considine was out injured.) One of the things to like about the young Jaguars is that things are fluid for them.
  • I loved what offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter did with Mike Thomas on the end-arounds and on plays that had to be defended as if they were going to be end-arounds. I hope it’s stage one of dressing up – and stretching out – some things that serve as counterbalance to the power running stuff that’s the team’s primary offensive personality. Garrard running with the ball more was a good development as well.

Texans: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
5:39
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


Biggest surprise: Safety John Busing was a playmaker and a big hitter all preseason, and he came in at a position where the Texans added only a late draft pick, Troy Nolan, who’s on IR. Busing played in 27 games with the Bengals over the last three years, but the little-known undrafted player out of Miami (Ohio) has worked primarily as a special teamer and could be a key teams player for the Texans. Underdog receiver Glenn Martinez also stuck.

No-brainers: With Rex Grossman’s performance in the preseason finale, Dan Orlovsky’s shaky, up-and-down performance through camp and Matt Schaub’s capacity for getting dinged, the Texans are well-served to keep three quarterbacks. Grossman certainly ranks as one of their best 53 right now, and could be better suited to be the backup at the start while the team rebuilds Orlovsky.

What's next: They need veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson to sign his franchise tag and join the team, and if it means negotiating incentives that would free him from the possibility of a second tag next year, they should meet him partway on those. Also, while Antonio Smith will kick inside sometimes, the interior defensive line was not good in the preseason. The team has to at least consider whether the right outsider couldn't rank ahead of Frank Okam or DelJuan Robinson, though the team has invested a lot of time and energy in developing them. And how much does Jeff Zgonina, in his 16th year, have left?

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


The Texans are a patient team, and all indications from them have been they like Dan Orlovsky and believe he can develop into a solid system fit as Matt Schaub’s backup.
Grossman

But because their starter has a tendency to miss games -- cheap shots at the root of the problem or not -- their backup spot is extra important.

It’s why they need to keep three quarterbacks. Early on if they’ve got to fill in for Schaub, it sure looks like Rex Grossman (passer rating in a meaningless game in Tampa: 139.8) would be better equipped to play than Orlovsky. Grossman was assertive and confident in what I saw of the Texans preseason finale, his first work after a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason opener.

Orlovsky, who appears clumsy at times, is still clearly sorting things out, breaking old habits and purging himself of the Detroit experience. (Passer rating in Tampa: 52.4.) It’s understandable that he needs more time.

While he gets it, Grossman’s got to be part of the plan, I think.

A few other thoughts on the Texans’ finale, a 27-20 win over the Bucs, as they prepare to make cuts:
  • Receiver Jacoby Jones had a big game and while they tried to light a fire with him by suggesting his roster spot was in jeopardy, I will be surprised if he’s cut.
  • Safety John Busing had an interception and was a playmaker all preseason. I consider safety a huge position of concern and don’t believe the Texans have enough guys better than Busing to let him go.
  • Is the turnover message still not getting through? Houston lost two fumbles and threw a pick against the Bucs. Silver lining: four take-aways.

A look at some long shots

August, 25, 2009
8/25/09
3:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A quick trip around the division to consider some long shots who've looked good. Rosters get cut from 80 to 75 on Sept. 1, then to 53 on Sept. 5.


Houston

Free safety John Busing is a big hitter and a solid special teamer. Does he have enough upside at a questionable position for the Texans to keep him over a veteran like Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison, a fifth-rounder from 2007?

I also heard good things about defensive end Tim Jamison, who's got some likeable rush skills.

Two receivers have created a little bit of a buzz. And it wouldn't be a big surprise if Glenn Martinez or Darnell Jenkins make the team, especially if the Texans find another punt returner and decide they're done with Jacoby Jones.



Indianapolis

Cornerback Jacob Lacey has gotten his hands on a lot of balls and could prompt the Colts to keep him at the back end of their cornerback group. Might he stick ahead of Dante Hughes or prompt them to go heavy at the spot?

Linebacker Ramon Humbler has shown promise and can be a good special teamer.

The last receiver could be one of two relative unknowns. Both Brett McDermott and John Matthews are quiet and go unnoticed until the ball comes their way, then they catch it. Both are more quick than fast and they are roughly the same size at about 6-0, 200.

Chad Simpson and Lance Ball are likely going head to head for the final running back slot, but neither qualifies as a long shot.



Jacksonville

Word is that receiver Nate Hughes has moved beyond long shot and is early assured of a spot. He could rank as high as fourth now, and could make the team at the expense of one of the three draft picks. Or maybe that means Mike Thomas (groin) to IR?

Linebacker Russell Allen was the team's primary target among undrafteds and looks to have a great shot of making the roster.

Longer shots? Michael Desormeaux could oust Marlon McCree as a reserve safety or Pete Ittersagen could overtake Scott Starks as a reserve corner.



Tennessee

A deep roster with a draft class of 11 doesn't leave room for many street free agents or undrafted to emerge. So a late-round draft picks making it could qualify as a bit of an upset.

Cornerback Jason McCourty's been far better than Cary Williams and Dominique Edison looks to rank fourth at wide receiver right now.

With Leroy Harris heading back to a backup role as Kevin Mawae comes off PUP, Fernando Velasco's chance is probably gone.
 
  Bob Levey/Getty Images
  Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans defense have a new attitude.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- React or act?

Give a group of guys who've spent a lot of time doing the former to do the latter and you'll be greeted with glee.

That's the Houston Texans' defense's feelings for first-year coordinator Frank Bush, promoted by Gary Kubiak to replace Richard Smith.

Camp Confidential: AFC South
Titans: Mon., Aug. 3
Jaguars: Sat., Aug. 8
Colts: Sat., Aug. 15
Texans: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index
"His leadership and the way he comes off to the players, it's a different feeling," middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It's a different attitude, a different mentality which carries over to the guys and our attitude. We're a lot more physical team. I don't want to say we were too passive.

"I think we had guys thinking too much, we had so many checks and this and that. It was too much, you're thinking so much to where you can't just line up and go tee off on someone. Now we can just line up and get it, there isn't so much too it. It's simplified to where we don't have all the checks."

The primary word being used for the team's new approach is "aggressive," and that's not a term that characterized them too often with Smith at the controls. The mild mannered Bush has the defense excited and determined not to let the Texans be known exclusively as an offensive team.

While Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels will go a long way towards determining if the Texans can build on consecutive 8-8 seasons and make the playoffs, Mario Williams, Ryans and linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick, bring a good dose of star power to the defense.

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"They are getting tougher and tougher to go against every day," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "They've improved themselves with a bunch of players, they've been rushing the passer better and they are making it tough on us."

To graduate to being a playoff team, the Texans have to reverse some trends. They'll need to play better early so they aren't left to fight so hard to get back to .500. They need to fare better within the division, finding ways to finish off their primary rivals when they have the chance.

They expect the Titans and Colts to be strong again. The Texans will likely have to chase one or both of those teams down.

Anything less than double digit wins and a playoff berth won't be considered a success.

Key questions

1. Can the offense fix turnover and red-zone issues?

The Texans ranked third in total offense last year, but it didn't mean as much as it should have because they were 17th in points per game. The two big themes heading into the 2009 season are cutting turnovers and getting better production once they get inside the 20.

They were minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways last year, third worst in the NFL. They scored touchdowns on just 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions.

"I think if we can make those two adjustments, we can win at least two more games," Shanahan said. "If we can do that I think we will be a playoff team. We were a good offense last year statistically. But that was the first thing I talked about on the first day of OTAs this year, that doesn't mean anything. The top three offenses in the league last year were New Orleans, Denver and us. None of us made the playoffs. Moving the ball does not matter unless you move it across that goal line."

2. Do they have enough in the secondary?

Their top cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has not been with the team because he's upset about getting slapped with a franchise tag, but he will ultimately sign it and play for a guarantee of nearly $10 million.

Jacques Reeves will miss the start of the season with a fractured fibula, which means Fred Bennett will get some time as the second starter. Rookie Glover Quin is currently the nickel and they like his physical play.

But the safeties and the defensive backfield depth are question marks, even if the defensive front gets more of a pa
ss rush and forces the ball out quicker. Can they get steady enough play from Eugene Wilson and second-year man Dominique Barber, the presumptive starters at safety on opening day against the Jets?

 
  Defensive end Mario Williams
  Defensive end Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans' 25 sacks last season.
3. Does Williams have enough pass rush help?

The Texans had just 25 sacks in 2008, fewest in the division. And Williams accounted for 12 of them. Houston made moves intended to get pressure from elsewhere -- first by signing free agent defensive lineman Antonio Smith, then by drafting Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin with their first two picks. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar is a fiery type who preaches pocket penetration and may just be the team's biggest addition.

An effective rush from the front can help take a lot of pressure off the secondary, which ranks as the team's weak link.

Market watch

Ideally, Jacoby Jones would be in line to replace Kevin Walter as the No. 2 receiver in a year if the team doesn't or can't re-sign Walter. But Jones lacks maturity and consistency and his job security could be in jeopardy. The team is looking at kickoff return man Andre Davis, a better receiver, as a punt return possibility. If Davis succeeds there, Jones could be expendable.

Jones can be very good, but he can also put the ball on the ground too much as a punt returner. And Kubiak is not a fan of specialists. He wants football players who can fill multiple roles. That describes Davis, who can cover kicks as well as return them in addition to catching passes. It may not cover Jones much longer.

Newcomer to watch

Smith
Smith wasn't regarded as any sort of premier pass rusher when he hit free agency. But he's a versatile lineman who is very good with his hands. If things go the way the Texans hope, he can be an early down end and a third down tackle, having a positive influence and taking on a leadership role for youngsters Williams, Amobi Okoye and Barwin.

"He's a kid that can move from outside to inside, he's a big man that's a real good athlete," said Bush, who also worked with him in Arizona. "He's a 285-pound guy with good knee bend. He's extremely tough, has no problem playing over a center, guard or tackle. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and he came up through the ranks the hard way, he honed his craft and made himself what he is.

"That whole sense of a guy that came from virtually nothing to what he is right now kind of helps our team. Other guys can see it and aspire to be that way."

Observation deck

Antwaun Molden got hurt in his rookie season when the team wanted to bring him along slowly. He's a physical cornerback who could provide some great insurance or become a real alternative now if he's needed. ... Dan Orlovsky hasn't looked very good, but the team knows it will take him a while to be comfortable in the system and are convinced with coaching he can be a quality No. 2 quarterback for them. Even before a hamstring injury Rex Grossman wasn't going to challenge him for the backup quarterback job. ... Ryan Moats is like Slaton style-wise and Arian Foster is Chris Brown-like. But the undrafted rookie back may have missed his chance with a preseason injury and a too-slow return. Brown's ability to stay healthy will be a big question for the offense. ... While he's a popular fall guy with media and fans, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who's missed camp so far recovering from hernia surgery, generally does what the team asks, taking up blockers. That it's a contract year won't hurt his motivation either. ... Undrafted free agent John Busing hits and plays good special teams, which may give him a shot at a roster spot that has belonged to Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison. ... The team also likes undrafted defensive end Tim Jamison, but will there be room for him? ... Frank Okam is big, quick and smart and he's been a pet project for coaches. When Kubiak complimented his offseason, Okam knew it meant something, "because it's difficult for an Aggie to give a Longhorn a compliment." ... Rookie tight end James Casey can play fullback, line up wide or throw. That's versatility that makes him Houston's Wildcat candidate. ... Want an undrafted possibility on offense? If Jones is out, there could be room for receiver Darnell Jenkins.

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AFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 1/25