AFC South: Julian Stanford

We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine linebackers.

Williamson’s AFC South linebacker rankings:
1) Texans (Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, Tim Dobbins, Darryl Sharpton, Sam Montgomery, Trevardo Williams)
2) Colts (Robert Mathis, Jerrell Freeman, Bjoern Werner, Erik Walden, Pat Angerer, Kelvin Sheppard, Kavell Conner)
3) Titans (Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, Colin McCarthy, Moise Fokou, Zaviar Gooden)
4) Jaguars (Paul Posluszny, Russell Allen, Geno Hayes, Julian Stanford, Brandon Marshall)

Everybody’s got uncertainty somewhere in their group.

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South linebacking units is:

  •  
    63%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,250)

Your overall assessment, please:

“Ranking the linebackers in this division was pretty clear to me. Maybe it helped the Texans and Colts that they feature four starting linebackers -- and really, guys like Robert Mathis are equal parts defensive end and linebacker to me, but he is an outside linebacker for this exercise. I would say Cushing is the best linebacker in the division and Houston's outside linebackers should be improved from a year ago. But even though I ranked them first, there are many linebacking corps around the NFL that I take over Houston's. – among them San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina, Dallas and Arizona.”

Based on what you know about what the Texans have and the guys in question, do you put Sharpton or Dobbins beside Cushing inside or move Reed inside to put Montgomery or Williams outside?

“Houston doesn't play a typical 3-4 scheme. They are more like a 5-2. I have serious doubts if Reed can transition inside in either scheme and I think that move is an indictment upon Houston just not being happy with his edge pass rush. Montgomery seems much more like a traditional 4-3 end, but Williams seems like an ideal fit for the Texans at outside linebacker, and he is who I am most excited about opposite Mercilus.”

How much of a believer are you in Walden and Werner? Any signs of a slowdown for Mathis?

“I thought Indy WAY overpaid for Walden and it was amongst the worst UFA signings of the season. I see him as a third outside linebacker in a 3-4 and ultimately, that is what he should be if Werner lives up to the hype. I do like Werner though in this scheme as the heavier OLB (think Jarret Johnson when he was there and Courtney Upshaw now in Baltimore), which frees Mathis to be more of the edge pass-rusher. I don't expect Mathis to slow down, but of course, that day could be coming soon and it might be wise to use Walden more on early downs and keep Mathis fresh for passing situations.”

Could Fokou beat out a healthy McCarthy? If McCarthy gets hurt again, how much of a drop off would there be if Fokou ends up a two-down MLB?

“I am not a huge McCarthy fan, so I would say the drop off would be minimal."

How do Ayers and Brown rank as a pair of young OLBs in a 4-3?

“I do like the overall upside of Ayers/Brown/Gooden. Gooden and Brown are very similar run-and-hit guys with extreme speed, while Ayers is more of a 3-4 outside linebacker type, which is useful when varying their fronts as well as bringing an edge blitz presence.”

How much could Posluszny suffer if the guys outside him, likely Allen and Hayes, aren't particularly good?

“There is quite a bit on Paul's plate at middle linebacker for the Jags. Not only are his outside linebackers average on a good day -- although Allen flashed some playmaking skills -- but the DTs in front of him are not great at keeping him clean. Maybe the new defensive tackles will help in that regard, as Poz is just an average take-on linebacker. His strengths are that he takes few false steps, is quick to read and is decisive”

As for me…

I need to see Hayes and Allen in the new Jaguars scheme, but heading into the season I have questions about their ability to get off of blockers to make plays consistently. That could mean Posluszny has to run around and get in on every tackle, and they can’t ask too much of him.

Before McCarthy in 2011, the Titans traditionally had a two-down middle linebacker, the exception being Randall Godfrey. As soon as the Titans go to nickel, McCarthy or Fokou should leave the field and the two backers should come out of Brown, Gooden and Ayers. Bernard Pollard will drop down from strong safety and function as a linebacker at times. If McCarthy wins the job, this work reduction may help him stay healthy.

Dobbins and Sharpton both have issues staying healthy. That could be a big factor in how the Texans starting linebacker group shakes out. They have a lot of options after adding Montgomery and Williams, and options are the next best thing to a lineup already set as camp starts.

Run defense was priority one for the Colts as they revamped their defense, and Walden may help a lot there. But Werner needs to be able to have an impact early for the Colts to have a chance to rush sufficiently, otherwise offenses will be able to focus on Mathis in a way they rarely could when Dwight Freeney was also on the field with him. (Yes, I know Freeney missed games and Mathis still had success.)
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The five biggest questions that are still unsettled as the Texans head into their summer hiatus, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

These Texans have a better Super Bowl chance than last year’s version, says Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Willie Jefferson could follow a path blazed by Bryan Braman, says Ganguli.

Guard Brandon Brooks and defensive end Jared Crick are in position to be breakout players in 2013, says Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle blogs.

July 17 is a key date for Brian Cushing, who expects to get a green light from his doctor regarding his surgically repaired ACL, says Nick Scurfield of the team’s website.

Indianapolis Colts

His high school coach rates Colts’ first-round pick Bjoern Werner as "a force of nature," writes Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Will the Colts be better in 2013? They could be better but not have as good a record, says Bob Kravitz of the year after Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia gave them something to rally around. “I want to see us make the transition away from me and toward our players,’’ Pagano said. “ChuckStrong still exists because I have this unique platform now where I can help raise money and awareness, and I’ve been doing that and I’m going to continue to do that. But I’m not the story anymore. Even last year, I didn’t want to be the story. The story is the players on this team. That’s the way it should be."

The inside linebackers are a great value, says Kyle Rodriguez of Colts Authority.

An early stab at the Colts’ 53-man roster from Brad Wells of Stampede Blue.

Darius Heyward-Bey arrived in Indianapolis with a catch rate of 14.6 on balls thrown 20 yards or more downfield, says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

An early attempt to shape the 53-man roster of the Jaguars, from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. He sees the team carrying only two quarterbacks.

Former Jaguars defensive end Austen Lane was claimed off waivers by Kansas City, says O’Halloran.

Some Jaguars fans enjoyed a Father’s Day brunch at EverBank Field, says Roger Bull of the Florida Times-Union.

The offseason is over, but the Jaguars are hardly finished revising their roster, says O’Halloran. GM David Caldwell said: “I expect some more movement. I don’t know where and at what position, but everybody will have ample opportunities to claim one of those positions.”

Not having most of their draft picks signed yet is not a big deal at all for the Jaguars, says John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

A getting-to-know-you video with Denard Robinson from the team’s website.

Julian Stanford may push Geno Hayes for a starting outside linebacker spot, says Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country.

Tennessee Titans

Receiver Nate Washington is in great shape and is ready to fight for his role among a bunch of high draft picks, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Mike Munchak is doing some hands-on work with the offensive line again, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

New special teams coach Nate Kaczor is injecting life into his units, says Marc Torrence of The Tennessean.

Kicker Rob Bironas is aiming for better accuracy in 2013, says Tyler Whetstone of The Tennessean.

Single game tickets go on sale July 12, says The Tennessean.

Steelers tight end Heath Miller may not be healthy enough to play on opening day against the Titans and Music City Miracles reflects on what his absence could mean.

Blogger Blitz: A Twitter question

November, 13, 2012
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Paul Kuharsky answers a question about newcomers who've surpassed expectations and others who've disappointed around the AFC South in this week's Blogger Blitz.
We hit the Tennessee Titans inactives in the previous post. Here are some thoughts on some inactives from the other three teams in the division:
  • Donnie Avery gets the start for Indianapolis with Austin Collie out. Rookie T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) is also a speedster who isn’t playing. The Colts brought in Avery, a reclamation project, as a guy they thought would help them stretch the field. They’ll need him to show he can today.
  • With Colts left guard Joe Reitz out, we’ve already said: Seth Olsen is a major drop-off and could be a major issue.
  • While Arian Foster (knee) is active, he could see his role trimmed a bit since the Texans are completely comfortable handing the ball to Ben Tate and Justin Forsett.
  • DeVier Posey didn’t make the opening day cut. So the Texans are comfortable with four receivers in Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean. They could use returner Trindon Holliday in a pinch. Holliday's presence could keep Posey from dressing for a while.
  • Undrafted rookie Ben Jones can play center or guard, so he’s the interior backup for the Texans. Brandon Brooks, who was competing for right guard during camp, is inactive.
  • Jaguars undrafted rookie receiver Kevin Elliott is playing and veteran Brian Robiskie is not. I hope Elliott gets some chances.
  • With Daryl Smith out, Kyle Bosworth will start for the Jaguars and undrafted rookie Julian Stanford looks to be the fourth linebacker.

RTC: Can you out-pick a coin?

September, 4, 2012
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Reading the coverage ...

Can you fare better than a coin flip picking games against the spread? Prove it in a weekly pool with me and other AFC South blog readers. Create an entry and join us here. The NFL's first game is Wednesday night, so you have to be in before then. Please don’t delay.

Houston Texans

“[As] the Texans prepare for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins at Reliant Stadium, Matt Schaub is under pressure to make 2012 better than last season when the Texans finished 10-6, won the AFC South for the first time and defeated Cincinnati in the wild-card round before losing at Baltimore,” writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Receiver Austin Collie has been cleared from the concussion he suffered Aug. 19 at Pittsburgh and is expected to play Sunday in Chicago, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Shaping the roster in a never-ending job for general manager Ryan Grigson, says Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Mike Mularkey intends to use Maurice Jones-Drew as the third-down back Sunday against Minnesota, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. The feature back takes the bulk of the carries, but there is a role for the second guy who comes in, too.

Four undrafted rookies -- receiver Kevin Elliott, linebacker Julian Stanford, interior offensive lineman Mike Brewster and safety Antwon Blake -- made the Jaguars’ final roster, says Ryan O’Halloran of the T-U.

Tennessee Titans

Cornerback Jason McCourty, whose twin brother plays for the Patriots, jokes about the 2009 59-0 loss at New England: “No memories. We totally erased that from our mind.” Jim Wyatt’s story from The Tennessean.

The Titans are unfazed by the replacement officials, says John Glennon of The Tennessean,

“Regardless of whatever psychic connections do or do not exist between those who shared prenatal proximity, it is certain that Jason and Devin McCourty will experience different emotions Sunday when the Titans host the Patriots in the 2012 opener for both teams,” writes David Boclair of The City Paper.

Jacksonville Jaguars cut-down analysis

September, 1, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Jacksonville Jaguars' roster moves.

Most significant move: The team kept six wide receivers as it looks to make dramatic strides in the passing game with quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Laurent Robinson was the big free-agent acquisition and Justin Blackmon was the high draft pick. Brian Robiskie is a reclamation guy and Mike Thomas is a survivor who needs to regain form from early in his career. Cecil Shorts seemed to have stage fright a year ago when he got chances. Kevin Elliott is an undrafted rookie free agent who often shined and is deserving of a spot and some playing time. Only Thomas and Shorts are holdovers from a year ago.

Onward and upward: Several underdogs fill in some roster cracks, including three who caught my eye early in training camp -- Elliott, undrafted rookie linebacker Julian Stanford and running back Jalen Parmele. Parmele is one of four running backs the team kept with Maurice Jones-Drew holding out, along with Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens and Keith Toston. They’ve also got fullback Greg Jones. Other underdogs still standing are undrafted rookie safety Antwon Blake and defensive end George Selvie, who’s already spent time with three different teams, including the Jags once before.

What’s next: Guard Will Rackley was placed on injured reserve. He suffered a high ankle sprain early in camp and, according to AP’s Mark Long, reinjured the ankle. Eben Britton, who the team projected as the right tackle all offseason and at the start of the preseason, is now the left guard. Cameron Bradfield, undrafted a year ago, is now the right tackle and the backup left tackle. Middling veteran Guy Whimper is the backup right tackle, while undrafted rookie Mike Brewster and Josh Beekman, formerly of the Bears, are the interior backups. It sure looks like the team would benefit from adding someone with more of a resume.

Previewing the preseason finales

August, 30, 2012
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Houston Texans

One big question: Can Trindon Holliday play mistake-free and complete a preseason resume good enough to force the team to keep him as a return specialist?

Gary Kubiak’s strategy: Play as few starters for as little as possible. Get out of Dodge, even if Dodge is Reliant Stadium.

The local take: While Kubiak would prefer to keep three quarterbacks, will questions at other positions allow for it? John McClain of the Houston Chronicle discusses it.

Indianapolis Colts

One big question: Can the offensive line provide better pass protection for Andrew Luck and bigger holes for the running backs?

Chuck Pagano’s strategy: After a poor showing last week, he’d really like to see his top people show the Colts can run and stop the run. He still has things he needs to gauge about his young team.

The local take: The Colts could keep four running backs and three safeties on their initial 53-man roster, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star in his projection.

Jacksonville Jaguars

One big question: Can Blaine Gabbert, the second-year quarterback who’s had a quality preseason, finish strong and keep the vibe upbeat as the Jaguars head toward their opener?

Mike Mularkey’s strategy: He’d like one long drive for the offense, but could send the starters out more than once if they don’t sustain much early. The starting defense will be on the field a couple times.

The local take: Five rookies on the bubble who can help themselves, from Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. Linebacker Julian Stanford and receiver Kevin Elliott were two of the best undrafted rookies I saw during my camp tour.

Tennessee Titans

One big question: Can Jake Locker show at least a little more progress, and continue to build his confidence and the team’s confidence in him?

Mike Munchak’s strategy: While the Saints will sit plenty of people, the Titans are still looking for some work for their primary people who are healthy.

The local take: Running back/returner Darius Reynaud, defensive tackle Zach Clayton, receiver Michael Preston and tight end Brandon Barden are among the players who know they can help themselves with one last good impression, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Two relative unknowns caught my eye at Jaguars camp on Tuesday: running back Jalen Parmele and linebacker Julian Stanford.

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