AFC South: John Chick

RTC: Wayne dreads post-loss flights

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
9:16
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Houston Texans

The 6-1 Texans would like to emulate the 1999 St. Louis Rams, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. This is a thorough look at all the recent 6-1 teams in the league and how things wound up for them.

Addressing the major questions facing the Texans at their bye, and grading the team so far, with McClain. On the potential for the defense to spark a Super Bowl run, he says: “What they need more than anything over the last nine games is for outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed to get more sacks. They’ve combined for 3 1/2 -- or one-half fewer than defensive end Antonio Smith.”

Indianapolis Colts

For Reggie Wayne, every flight home is a long flight when it comes after a loss. Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star writes of the Colts’ desire for their first road win. In the franchise’s 25 playoff appearances, only one has come with a losing record on the road.

As a Houston Oilers rookie, Mike Munchak once roomed with quarterback Oliver Luck. Now Munchak is coaching the Titans against the Colts, who are quarterbacked by Oliver’s son, Andrew, writes Chappell.

To which I say: Oliver Luck will be at the game, and Andrew said he expects his dad to feel some Oilers nostalgia.

Jacksonville Jaguars

When it comes to history, the Packers and the Jaguars are pretty much opposites, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. A comparison of two small-market franchises, one old, one still pretty new.

The Jaguars promoted quarterback John Parker Wilson as extra insurance for the injured Blaine Gabbert and activated defensive end John Chick from the PUP list.

To which I say: They wouldn’t have activated Chick unless they intended to get him some work, and it would be a tremendous development if he could give the pass rush a bit of a jolt.

Tennessee Titans

Luck and Matt Hasselbeck rate as even for Jim Wyatt in the Tennessean’s thorough preview of Colts-Titans.

The Titans are cautioning that the explosive Kenny Britt we’ve seen in the past may not reappear until 2013 as he makes it all the way back from his knee issues, says Wyatt. “He’s playing well and each day he gets better,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “Each day he works on something. But is he the Kenny Britt that we had the first three weeks (in 2011)? Not in my opinion.”
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Houston Texans

Shayne Graham knows he’s got to earn the kicking job every week whether or not he’s the line kicker on the roster. There are some quality alternatives out there, including Neil Rackers, the Texans' former kicker who left for a free agent deal but got cut in Washington.

The canny Texans are built around character, says Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.”It's about identifying good people, giving people space to be themselves, and being imminently willing to reward your own as you develop a young core.”

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts gave up a lot to get a player with some baggage, but Vonta Davis is a risk worth taking, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. I agree entirely. He gives them a chance to be a lot better on defense, especially if the other top corner, Jerraud Powers, can stay healthy.

Keeping Andrew Luck upright is priority one for the Colts, and it’s not something they’ve proven to be good enough at yet, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Unsurprisingly, Rashad Jennings is officially in line to start the Jaguars’ season-opener against Minnesota, says Vito Stellino. If Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t show up today, it’ll be the 34th day of his holdout.

Four Jaguars went to IR and linebacker Clint Session and defensive end John Chick went on PUP as the Jaguars got their roster to 75, says Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

Packages mean that Jordan Babineaux and Robert Johnson will both get starts at safety according to defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, says John Glennon. I hate anything that puts Michael Griffin at strong safety and asks him to come into the box, and when they signed him to a big contract that’s not what anyone should have been envisioning. He needs to be a centerfielder.

Leroy Harris is still rounding into form after a couple offseason surgeries, says Glennon.

Andre Johnson did not practice on Monday, says John McClain.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you care to think the Jaguars are a mess and going to be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, they’re fine with that.

As they worked through the early days of Mike Mularkey’s first training camp, they repeated the new coach’s mantras (like, “we just want to get a little bit better every day”), fell in line with his policies (like potential $10,000 fines for answering media inquiries about injuries) and gave team-first answers to questions about the absence of their two biggest names -- Maurice Jones-Drew (holding out for a new contract) and Justin Blackmon (unable to strike a rookie deal).

Sure, they don’t have much choice but to buy in, but there is an undertone that suggests they have a secret to spring on the league in a couple of weeks.

Every team at this stage of camp thinks it can be good. In Jacksonville, a significant improvement from 5-11 is certainly possible, no matter what the popular storylines are. Honest.

Theirs is a defense loaded with quality, front-line talent. Beyond middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, most of it remains largely unknown. But if you don’t know linebacker Daryl Smith or cornerback Derek Cox or defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, that’s not the Jaguars' concern.

“If anyone feels we are not in a proper place or we have problems, that’s OK,” Posluszny said. “We feel like inside these walls we’re doing everything that we can to be a very successful team.

“Mularkey’s done a great job for us. He’s a former player who’s been through it. To me, that all means a ton, because he knows exactly what we are going through and what it takes to be successful.”

While the offense is being revamped, and Mularkey and his assistants are trying to reformat quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a horrific rookie season, the defensive system and bulk of the staff have been in place for a while now.

Gabbert has nice moments, but his overall inconsistency at practice halts any proclamations that he made a significant offseason jump.

No matter how much players and coaches talk about his gains in leadership, no matter how much faith the organization has in him, no matter how patient they are, it comes down to making throws under pressure.

The early snapshot says the defense can be really good, but that a limited offense could be the obstacle to the surprise the Jaguars would so like to produce. There is a lot of time to work on what’s been installed, to find what works and to run it better than it’s been run so far.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Phil Sears/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert finished his first season with 12 TD passes, 11 interceptions and a 50.8 completion percentage.
1. Is Gabbert good enough? He folded under pressure too often last season, but the rush wasn’t all he was facing. The team drafted him 10th overall intending for him to sit and learn for a season, but that plan didn’t pan out and Gabbert was hurried into the starting role for 14 games during which he had poor pass protection and very limited receivers.

There were big distractions off the field, too: Jack Del Rio got fired and the team was sold.

Mularkey was hired in large part because he’s developed quarterbacks, and he, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson have to get steadier play from Gabbert and get his arrow pointing up. His good moments look very nice, but there are still too many bad ones that leave you shaking your head. A kneel-down would seem less disheartening in many of those instances.

It’s a slow process, installing a new offense and rebuilding a quarterback’s confidence. Exactly how slow is the question we need answered.

Mentions of mechanical or technical adjustments by his coaches have been well-received, and he acts on them quickly. That’s great, but when the rush turns live and the pocket starts collapsing, will he have open people he can stand in and find? We simply can’t know yet.

2. The missing pieces. Jones-Drew is demanding a new contract. The Jaguars have said they won’t give him one with two years left on the old one. Boom -- a stalemate. I can’t see the team altering its stance unless he holds out into the season and it struggles horribly without him. He’s got an ego that will make it hard for him to return without any contract alteration, so this could drag on.

Blackmon is a rangy target who can go get the ball, and missing early camp is helping no one. He got a DUI after being drafted fifth overall, and the team wants insurance against any further troubles. Blackmon's unwilling to give the Jaguars what they are looking for, though.

So we’re seeing second-year man Cecil Shorts work in the Z spot where Blackmon will eventually be, with veteran addition Laurent Robinson at the X. Rashad Jennings is the lead back without Jones-Drew in camp, and is a bigger guy who also ranks as a power runner. I liked what I saw and heard from him.

3. Will there be enough of a pass rush? The Jaguars had 31 sacks last season, and to reach their potential on defense they need more in 2012. More consistent pressure and more sacks will come with improved coordination from the defensive linemen.

Their line coach, Joe Cullen, said they just missed on a bunch of chances last season, and another season together and the work they are doing now will result in better communication. The Jags face Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton in addition to two games against Matt Schaub and two against hotshot rookie Andrew Luck this season, and they won't win many of those without consistent pressure.

The relentless Jeremy Mincey promises the production will increase. Andre Branch was drafted in the second round to help, and looks like a quality player. Depth off the edge remains a concern. Austen Lane suffered yet another injury while I watched practices, during which John Chick walked the width of a practice field dragging heavy weight as he rehabilitated his knee.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeMike Mularkey
AP Photo/John RaouxNew head coach Mike Mularkey and his staff have made a positive impression on the players.
Mularkey and his staff. There is planning and logic to everything going on here, and the new staff has genuine concern for players on and off the field. Players are being told what the plan is and the right way to execute it. They felt that was lacking with the previous regime, and welcome it.

Position coaches like Olson, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and one of the key holdovers, linebackers coach Mark Duffner, are true teachers, and they have guys under them who want to learn. That leadership and teaching faltered in many areas at the end of Del Rio’s tenure. It’s present in full force now. If guys follow and doing so produces results, it’ll snowball.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

A lot more is in place for Gabbert, and everyone has a stake in his performance: the GM who traded up to draft him needs him to succeed; the new coach who was hired to polish him needs him to succeed; the high-priced free-agent receiver and first-round draft pick receiver need him to succeed; the talented defense needs him to succeed.

Gabbert’s saying the right things and working hard, and you can see improvement on some drop backs. But there are still enough dud plays sprinkled into practices to make you wonder if he can succeed. The team wants him to avoid turning the ball over -- staying away from the worst-case scenarios -- and it's a smart goal, but will it make Gabbert too cautious?

Can you ask him to be careful and function as a game-manager type when the best attribute he has is a big arm that can get the ball into tight windows? It might turn out to be complicated.

Also, there is not great roster depth. I have particular concerns about the offensive line, defensive end and safety if someone goes down.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The team appears to be high on undrafted rookie linebacker Julian Stanford out of Wagner. With Clint Session’s future in doubt because of post-concussion issues, Russell Allen is likely to start opposite Daryl Smith outside. Stanford could make the team as a special-teamer who can provide depth. Brandon Marshall, a fifth-round pick, also has what looks to be an NFL-ready linebacker frame.
  • Mike Thomas needs Blackmon signed, in camp and taking the bulk of the snaps at one of the two outside receiver spots. I’m convinced that to get his head right, Thomas needs to be given the slot role and allowed to focus on it exclusively. His snaps were cut down during my visit, with Shorts working at the front of the line in Blackmon’s Z spot. The slot is what Thomas is best suited for, and his performance has slipped when he’s been expected to do more. He had a lot of drops early in camp, and Mularkey agrees with the potential for less to be more with Thomas.
  • Josh Scobee has the leg to get a lot of touchbacks and Bryan Anger has the leg to force a lot of fair catches. The Jaguars obviously still have to work on covering kicks and punts, but how often will they actually be covering kicks and punts? If the offense can produce some first downs, we should see more scoring, and more scoring will mean more kickoffs from Scobee and less work for Anger.
  • The depth at tight end is interesting after No. 1 Marcedes Lewis. Colin Cloherty got a lot of work as the No. 2 early on, and Zach Miller is another move guy who’s very intriguing, though Miller is rarely healthy. Zach Potter is giant, but hasn’t earned a lot of time, and undrafted rookie Matt Veldman is also extra large.
  • Posluszny is the centerpiece of this defense. He covers a ton of ground and makes big hits. He’s a model for doing things the right way, which is a major point of emphasis for Mularkey and his staff. Posluszny was a solid signing last season, and continues to deliver just what the team hoped for. That helps offset the fact Session, who also came to Jacksonville for a big contract in 2011, might not be on the field any time soon, or ever again.
  • The cornerbacks look good. Cox is really solid, and Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis will be effective as the Nos. 2 and 3. The depth grew with last season's injury onslaught, and William Middleton and Kevin Rutland can play, too.
  • Branch, the rookie pass-rusher, came into the league facing questions from many teams about his ability to stand up against the run. The Jaguars have no such concern at this point. He’s got to be an effective part of a four-man group at end with Mincey, Lane and Chick. Branch certainly looks the part, but so did former Jaguars bust Derrick Harvey, so we can’t put much on the early eyeball test.
  • Along with Stanford, running back Jalen Parmele caught my eye. He’s spent time with Miami and Baltimore.

Considering one guy per AFC South defense who can make more noise than people might expect.
Aaron Kampman’s no longer a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But if some of his teammates picked up on his professionalism, his influence will linger.

And Twitter gives us a couple indications that will be the case.


Some thoughts on Kampman on the day the Jaguars released him.
  • As Mark Long of AP points out, giving up on Kampman at this stage surely indicated the team’s feeling good about second-round pick Andre Branch, and Austen Lane, who’s was on IR last year after six games. You can also include John Chick here. Those three should be the guys beyond Jeremy Mincey to take the defensive end snaps.
  • The first time I spoke with Kampman, when he was recovering from the first of two ACL tears, he spoke of the recovery in a way I’ve never heard another player talk of it. He said he found the experience “purifying,” an outlook that’s struck me as healthy and always stuck with me.
  • He certainly will go on the negative side of Gene Smith’s GM ledger. But I don’t like to hold big injury guys at positions of need against teams who go for it. The Jaguars needed a pass- rusher, they needed leadership, and they made a move to get it. They got unlucky. (The Titans did that at receiver twice, memorably, with Yancey Thigpen and David Givens.)

I hope Kampman gets healthy and gets one more look somewhere. But if he doesn’t, I hope he’s satisfied with what he did as a player.
ESPN Stats & Information can now delve into playtime percentages, a great feature we will use often.

My initial reaction to the available info was merely to ask for the numbers on some key situational guys and some stars from each of our teams. Keep in mind some are influenced by time missed because of injuries.

Here’s the percentage of their team's snaps on offense or defense they’ve played.

Houston Texans: CB Kareem Jackson 74.4, CB Jason Allen 52.8, WR Kevin Walter 66.8, WR Jacoby Jones 71.5, DT Shaun Cody 35.9, DT Earl Mitchell 25.6.

Indianapolis Colts: TE Dallas Clark 86.9, TE Brody Eldridge 41.3, WR Austin Collie 59.2, CB Jacob Lacey 75.3, DE Dwight Freeney 63.1, DE Robert Mathis 64.3, DE Jamaal Anderson, 38.3, DE Tyler Brayton 45.6, S David Caldwell 44.1, S Joe Lefeged 38.1.

Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Clint Session 42.3, FB Greg Jones 40.3, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, 71.9, CB Drew Coleman 53.0, DE John Chick 25.3.

Tennessee Titans: DE Derrick Morgan 57.7, LB Will Witherspoon 83.8, DT Karl Klug 50.7, DT Jurrell Casey 56.1, TE Craig Stevens 33.6. TE Jared Cook 62.1, RB Chris Johnson 70.7.

Show me more of these four

October, 19, 2011
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Four guys I’d like to see more of starting this weekend:

Houston -- The Texans keep calling Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen both starters in their cornerback group. If you really think that way, then how does Allen disappear in Baltimore and how do you end up saying afterward you had hoped he’d play more? Are you unable to monitor who’s playing how much in the course of a game? Jackson is still not good. I’d like to see more of the alternative.

Indianapolis -- Running back Donald Brown came into the season close to being labeled a bust. While the 2009 first-round draft pick can still be overly hesitant, overall he has done a good job this season. He’s averaging 5.6 yards a carry, but has only taken 13 handoffs. I understand it’s a small sample size. Why not see what a bigger sample size looks like? I like Delone Carter a lot, but he’s more a short-yardage guy.

Jacksonville -- Defensive end John Chick has pass-rush skills. It was apparent last year when the Colts brought him in from the CFL. He spent time on their practice squad but didn’t make the final cut this season. The Jaguars picked him up and he’s showed an ability to get in the backfield when he gets on the field. With Austen Lane now out for the year, the door is open for Chick, and I expect to see production from the pass-rusher.

Tennessee -- I am not a proponent of taking carries away from Chris Johnson. The Titans need to keep giving it to him while figuring out what’s wrong with the run game. But I do believe offensive coordinator Chris Palmer ought to find a way to get rookie running back Jamie Harper some touches somewhere along the way. How? I’m not quite sure. But there has to be a way where they don’t disrupt what they are trying to get going with Johnson.

Indianapolis Colts cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Check here for a complete list of the Indianapolis Colts' roster moves.

Surprise moves: Tommie Harris seemed to play well enough to stick, but the former first-round defensive tackle apparently wanted to be treated like the team’s top defensive linemen and the team didn’t like the attitude. Defensive end John Chick had solid games but couldn’t get past Jerry Hughes. Undrafted rookie tight end Mike McNeill made it, as did four others who were not April selections: running backs Darren Evans and Chad Spann, linebacker Adrian Moten and safety Joe Lefeged.

No-brainers: Veteran additions on defense made good impressions in the preseason and are sticking around -- ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton and linebacker Ernie Sims. Anthony Gonzalez may be injury prone, but none of the other options at receiver is a better player.

What’s next: They’ve got only four defensive tackles in Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster and Drake Nevis. It could be a spot where they look to add or upgrade on Foster. Offensive linemen Mike Pollak and Jamey Richard will have to prove they deserved to stick ahead of Kyle DeVan.
A running list of Saturday cuts around the AFC South so far, per reports from people in the know…

Houston
Indianapolis
Jacksonville
Tennessee
Roster and practice-squad news so far Sunday:

Houston Texans

Were awarded linebakcer David Nixon from the Oakland Raiders and cornerback Jamar Wall from the Dallas Cowboys of waivers. Released linebacker Danny Clark.

Indianapolis Colts

Signed quarterback Tom Brandstater, defensive end John Chick, receiver Brandon James, defensive back Mike Newton and receiver Blair White to the practice squad.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Were awarded defensive tackle Landon Cohen off waivers from the Detroit Lions. Released offensive lineman Paul McQuistan.

Signed offensive tackle Daniel Baldridge, tight end Mike Caussin, receiver John Matthews, and defensive tackle Kommonyan Quaye to the practice squad.

Tennessee Titans

Were awarded linebacker Tim Shaw from the Chicago Bears and linebacker Patrick Bailey from the Pittsburgh Steelers off waivers. Released linebackers Stanford Keglar and running back LeGarrette Blount.

Signed defensive lineman Hall Davis, receiver Dominique Edison, cornerback Pete Ittersagen, center Kevin Matthews, safety Myron Rolle and linebacker Patrick Trahan to the practice squad.

Indianapolis Colts cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of Indianapolis’ roster moves.


Biggest surprises: Undrafted running back/returner Devin Moore, undrafted offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach and undrafted cornerback Brandon King all won roster spots. Defensive tackle Mitch King, who also ranked as a long shot when camp started, survived. So did Gijon Robinson, the primary blocking tight end in recent years who figures to lose snaps to rookie Brody Eldridge. John Chick, a CFL star, lost out to Keyunta Dawson in his bid to be the fourth defensive end.

No-brainers: Two out of three of the return candidates were going, and those turned out to be Brandon James and seventh-rounder Ray Fisher.

What’s next: The team traded an undisclosed pick to Washington for defensive back Justin Tryon, so it appears more settled with cornerback depth. Despite fan desires for a change from Curtis Painter, I’d expect he’s locked in as the backup quarterback to Peyton Manning. The team is currently 10 deep on the offensive and defensive lines, but there doesn’t seem to be a spot screaming out for help at the expense of a lineman right now.
As the Indianapolis Colts’ first-round pick, Jerry Hughes will draw the focus. A third edge pass rusher to go with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis is something Bill Polian’s been searching for.

[+] EnlargeChick
Harry How/Getty ImagesJohn Chick won the 2009 CFL most outstanding defensive player award with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders.
But during my recent visit to Colts camp, Polian stressed that rushers take some time to develop. Perhaps lowering expectations can help Hughes as he adjusts to the NFL.

And Indy’s got an alternative who fits their mold, looks pretty rugged and has been tested at the pro level already: former CFLer John Chick.

“He’s far, far ahead experience-wise of Jerry Hughes,” Polian said. “Dwight Freeney didn’t play for eight weeks in his rookie year. Bruce Smith took two years to really become a factor.

Polian likes to point out that anytime the Colts have had Freeney and Mathis healthy together through the playoffs, the team’s won the Super Bowl. Of course by “anytime,” he means “the only time” -- 2006.

“It’s obviously a critical position in our defense, so we have been searching for guys, plural, who can come in and spell them and back them up and be ready over the course of 19 or 20 games to be ready to rush at a high level. When we got and opportunity to get Chick we jumped at that. When we got the opportunity to get Hughes, we jumped at that. Hopefully it’ll pay off.”

Chick, 27, went to Utah State and was an undrafted free agent with Houston in 2006 but didn’t stick, then played for the Saskatchewan RoughRiders from 2007-09.

Chick said he feels like a fit with the Colts and is optimistic about his chances.

“The defense we ran up there was pretty crazy too, an untraditional attack but it seemed to work,” he said. “What I had been doing helped prepare me for what I am doing now quite a bit. They told me they need another end who can help rush the passer. It sounded exciting especially with a team the caliber of the Colts.

“It’s been very welcoming. They want the best guys to play. Their secret to success really isn’t that big a secret, they do things right… It’s not about who you are, what size you are or anything like that. It’s about how you can contribute. From what I saw they want to play their best players.”
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans and Steve Slaton are working on a cure for his fumble issue, says Jerome Solomon.

Gary Kubiak didn’t like the Texans’ last practice before they left for New Orleans, say John McClain and Jordan Godwin.

Last year’s fights don’t leave the Texans looking for more as they pair up with New Orleans, says McClain.

David Anderson has a flashback.

Jacoby Jones will be playing back in his hometown, says Anna Megan-Raley.

Ben Tate is out for the season.

Indianapolis Colts

John Chick is looking forward to a game back in Canada, says Mike Chappell. More to come on Chick from me shortly.

The final night practice of training camp drew a big crowd, say Chappell.

The Colts play out of the country for the first time since 2005 when they kickoff in Toronto Thursday, says Chappell.

Chappell takes a lot of questions about Curtis Painter.

Painter’s not inspiring much confidence, says Don Banks.

Austin Collie and Fili Moala both look better, says John Oehser.

An AFC down-cycle will help the Colts again, says Nate Dunlevy. I agree and have said the Colts’ fate may have a lot to do with just how much the rest of the conference has done to close the gap on Indy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Marcedes Lewis may have been the star of camp, says Vito Stellino.

Zach Miller is frustrated after re-aggravating a mid-foot sprain and the Jags continue to look for linebacker depth, says Tania Ganguli.

A ticket update from Ganguli and Stellino. The Jags need to sell 3,000 more per game to avoid blackouts. That still sounds like a lot to me.

It’s make or break for David Garrard, says Jason Cole.

The offensive line will be the key, says Luke Sims.

Wayne Weaver is making sure preseason games aren’t blacked out, says Vic Ketchman.

Tennessee Titans

Jason McCourty holds an edge in the cornerback competition, says John Glennon.

The Titans waived Stafon Johnson and expect him to spend the year on injured reserve, say Jim Wyatt and Glennon.

Johnson remains upbeat, says Terry McCormick.

Glennon’s practice report.

Rusty Smith doesn’t lack confidence, says David Climer.

The Titans got some experience with Samkon Gado, says David Boclair.

The receiver competition is heating up, says Phil Brame.

Kerry Collins vs. Chris Simms isn’t even close, says Drexel Perry.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 1

ANDERSON, Ind. -- They could have made a bid at an undefeated regular season and their hopes for a Super Bowl win were snuffed out by an onside kick and an untimely pick.

So it should concern the rest of the AFC South that the 2010 Indianapolis Colts appear to be better than last year’s version.

They get two high-quality players, who were injured for most of last year, back in safety Bob Sanders and receiver Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts added a third edge rusher and a blocking tight end in the draft.

“Coach [Jim] Caldwell wants us to be a consistent team and not one that plays really well one week and not one that goes into a slump the next couple of games and then comes back,” Peyton Manning said. “I think we have been pretty consistent. Our offseason work, our execution and our attention to detail in training camp make a difference.

“But what has happened in the past doesn’t guarantee you anything for this 2010 season. We have some new players, new coaches and it is up to us to go out and form the identity of his team and to go out and try to win games this season.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBob Sanders
AP Photo/Darron CummingsBob Sanders doesn't plan on changing his style to avoid injuries. "It's a physical game," he said. "I make tackles."
1. Can Sanders stay on the field? The thing that makes him so good is the same thing that makes him so injury prone. He throws himself around like a torpedo, and suffers the consequences. He’s upbeat and happy right now to be spending his time on the field and with coaches and teammates instead of in the training room with medical staff.

“I don’t think you can put yourself in less danger on the field,” Sanders said when I asked if there was any way he could be less reckless to try to preserve himself. “We’re football players so we’re going to be physical. It’s a physical game. I make tackles. You just never know what’s going to happen. You just have to play your best, hope for the best, I pray and put it in God’s hands and just try to do my job.”

When he’s out there, he’ll be more creative than when we last saw him playing consistently. Second-year defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is much more willing to blitz than Ron Meeks was.

As good as Melvin Bullitt's been as Sanders’ replacement, Sanders is a game-altering presence when he’s out there. Sanders is making plays in camp. If he’s out there, the Colts’ defense could be fantastic.

2. Will offensive line changes amount to an upgrade? Left guard Ryan Lilja was let go, so at least one spot will be filled by someone new. Tony Ugoh looked like the early choice, but he’s been pulled back to tackle to work for the injured Charlie Johnson, so Jamey Richard is in play. Richard might shift to center while Jeff Saturday recovers from a knee scope, which could open the door for rookie Jacques McClendon, if he’s healthy, or someone like Jaimie Thomas.

The talent pool now includes McClendon and tackle Adam Terry, but there was no overhaul. Pass protection combined with Manning’s ability to get the ball out quick meant few sacks, but the team needs to run better for balance. Short-yardage bugaboos have been a factor in season-ending losses the past two years.

New offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars has a chance to make minor alterations that could have a bearing, and a quality-blocking tight end like Brody Eldridge could even help revive the once bread-and-butter stretch play.

[+] EnlargeJerraud Powers
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireSecond-year cornerback Jerraud Powers had 66 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception during his rookie season.
3. Will secondary depth hold up? Bill Polian purged the roster of some injury-prone corners, then saw third-round pick Kevin Thomas go down shortly after the draft with a serious knee injury. Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey should be a fine top three, but if one gets hurt, Deshea Townsend or Marcus McCauley, who were available recently, could be the next option.

If the Colts have to go that deep down the depth chart, their pass rush will be even more vital. But how many teams would love for the fourth cornerback to be a primary issue heading into a season?

BIGGEST SURPRISE

It’s hard to find them with a very low-key team that drafts and grooms the bulk of its players. Polian’s harped on short-yardage failures, but then the team didn’t add a sure fire starter to the line with Andy Alleman (already gone), Terry and McClendon.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Before the Colts could start to sort things out, injuries dictated they move offensive linemen around. Saturday is out 2-6 weeks after a knee scope, and Johnson and McClendon are sidelined. It would have been nice to see Metzelaars have a full deck for a long stretch in order to best hold competitions and compare and contrast players. The sooner they resolve the lineup and start to build cohesion, the better. Now it’s probably going to be later than would be ideal.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeLarry Coyer
    AP Photo/Darron CummingsExpect more surprises out of Larry Coyer's defense this season.
    In Year 2 of Coyer’s tenure as defensive coordinator, I expect the Colts will be more exotic with an occasional surprise look or package -- perhaps most often utilizing their depth at safety where Sanders, Antoine Bethea and Bullitt make for three starting-caliber players.
  • While the defensive line shows fantastic speed and strength, Mitch King looked the least smooth during the drill in which linemen weave through blocking dummies, turn a corner and try to strip a quarterback. For those excited about him, an adjusted timetable might be advisable.
  • As the punter and kickoff man, Pat McAfee is electric. But teams in the market for a kickoff specialist might want to keep an eye on Garrett Lindholm, who looks like he can regularly put the ball in the end zone.
  • Powers carries himself exceptionally well. During a break in one practice, as most guys went to the cool-down tent or took themselves out of football mentality for a minute, he picked the brain of Reggie Wayne. Powers already has become a media favorite, too.
  • Manning could make good money if his only job was to put on clinics about how to best loft red-zone passes to the pylons in the back corners of the end zones.
  • Joseph Addai knows what he’s doing on every play, and Donald Brown is smart enough to follow his lead, though Brown doesn’t shine in pass protection one-on-ones versus linebackers. The Colts will be just fine if the line can block for the runners, and maybe even if it can’t. Brown’s had more than a year to get pass protections down. If that keeps him off the field any this year, it’s no one’s fault but his.
  • Better didn’t mean great for the interior defensive line in 2009. Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson continue to improve, and Fili Moala will make for a third 300-pounder in there. He appears to be comfortable and ready to contribute.
  • The Colts haven’t emphasized the return game and, at times, it’s felt almost like they de-emphasized it. But undrafted rookie Brandon James is a miniature speedster who is in position to win at least the punt-return job. He could give Manning and the offense a short field once in a while.
  • John Chick, who joined the Colts from the Canadian Football League, could win the fourth defensive end spot if he shows a good learning curve and durability.
Reading the coverage:

Michael Lombardi adds up rushing attempts and pass completions for an interesting chart in here.

Houston Texans

Alan Burge asks if you’d rather have Kareem Jackson or Leigh Bodden.

Indianapolis Colts

I look at John Chick for “On The Radar” last week. Here’s Phillip B. Wilson with more on the former CFL star.

Running down some of what Football Outsiders says about the Colts offense with Nate Dunlevy.

Jamie Dukes follows the consensus and ranks Peyton Manning the league’s top quarterback.

Brandon Scott previews Colts camp. There’s a Manning interview from his quarterback camp attached.

Rookie safety David Caldwell talked with Coltzilla.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Will this bumper sticker campaign help the Jaguars in Jacksonville?

A closer look at undrafted defensive lineman Aaron Morgan from Adam Stites.

Hunter Ansley thinks the Jaguars could be a surprise team.

Tennessee Titans

It’s not been the best Titans’ offseason, but don’t jump to say it’s the worst says David Boclair.

Kevin Matthews has special ties to the Titans, writes Phil Brame.

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