AFC South: Kassim Osgood

Addition and subtraction

March, 18, 2012
3/18/12
1:29
PM ET
A free-agency roundup for the AFC South so far. We're not including a team's own free agents that it has re-signed:

Houston

Additions: None

Subtractions: OLB Mario Williams (Buffalo); RT Eric Winston (cut, Kansas City); CB Jason Allen (Cincinnati); G Mike Brisiel (Oakland); QB Matt Leinart (cut); Lawrence Vickers (Dallas).

Indianapolis

Additions: DL Cory Redding (Baltimore); RT Winston Justice (trade, Philadelphia); S Tom Zbikowski (Baltimore); C Mike McGlynn (Cincinnati).

Subtractions: WR Pierre Garcon (Washington); WR Anthony Gonzalez (New England); QB Dan Orlovsky (Tampa Bay); QB Peyton Manning (cut); LB Gary Brackett (cut); S Melvin Bullitt (cut), TE Dallas Clark (cut).

Jacksonville

Additions: WR Laurent Robinson (Dallas); QB Chad Henne (Miami).

Subtractions: ST-WR Kassim Osgood (cut).

Tennessee

Additions: G Steve Hutchinson (cut, Minnesota).

Subtractions: CB Cortland Finnegan (St. Louis); DL Jason Jones (Seattle).
Johnathan JosephAP Photo/Stephen MortonSigning cornerback Johnathan Joseph proved to pay off for the Houston defense.
Monday we presented the All AFC-South offense. Today we move to defense and special teams.

I felt like there was a worthy candidate at every spot, and beyond wrestling with choosing between Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis for a defensive end spot, I didn’t have any gigantic struggles.

To accommodate the personnel of the 3-4 Texans along with the 4-3 Colts, Texans and Titans, we created a 12-man defense with four linemen and four linebackers. It seemed like a fair approach to me that stops short of bastardizing the team.

DEs: Houston rookie J.J. Watt was a giant presence from the start, serving as a key piece of the team’s revamped front. He was easily the division’s rookie of the year. Mathis gets the nod over Freeney but it could have gone either way. They both had fewer chances because teams threw less against them, but remained quite effective.

DTs: Antonio Smith of the Texans played end in base and tackle in nickel and his versatility was really highlighted in the 3-4 system. Casey was not at a similar level, but the Titans rookie was a stout and reliable run-stopper.

OLBs: The Jaguars were stacked at linebacker thanks to their free-agent shopping. On an upgraded defense, Daryl Smith really got to show himself a fine player. In Houston, Connor Barwin blossomed into an 11.5-sack guy who was constantly around the quarterback.

ILBs: Brian Cushing was a terror for the Texans, proving an excellent fit as an inside backer for Wade Phillips. At his best, he was something to behold. The same can be said for Jacksonville’s Paul Posluszny. He gave the Jaguars everything they were looking for in terms of production and leadership as a free-agent acquisition.

CBs: Houston’s Johnathan Joseph was the AFC South MVP in my eyes. The Texans hit a home run by adding Joseph, a settling force in the secondary who played sticky coverage all season. Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan didn’t produce on the same level, but his willingness and ability to shift inside and play a physical brand of nickel was a positive factor for the Titans' defense.

S: The Texans' move of Glover Quin from nickel corner to strong safety worked out beautifully and they are trend-setters in terms of having guys with corner skills playing in the middle of the field. He was steady and productive. Dwight Lowery showed good smarts and awareness for the Jaguars at a spot that was a huge hole the previous season. Signing him will be a priority.

K: Rob Bironas of the Titans missed just three field goals all season. While Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee missed only two, he tried fewer. And Bironas had a division-high 44 touchbacks

P: The Colts' Pat McAfee gets the edge over the Titans' Brett Kern in a very close race. Punting out of trouble was more important more often for Indianapolis, and McAfee’s net average was hurt by less than stellar coverage but shouldn’t offset his slightly bigger leg.

PR, KR: There was no outstanding work done in these spots for anyone in the division, so we pretty much go chalk. Tennessee punt returner Marc Mariani led in punt return average and Jacksonville kick returner Deji Karim led the division in kick return average.

ST: Kassim Osgood of the Jaguars continued to be a top guy in coverage work.
We’ll wait until next week to start building the All-AFC South Team, and you’ll have a big chance to offer input there.

This week we’ll pass out hardware for individual awards.

Drum roll please:

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Joseph
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJohnathan Joseph, new to the Texans in 2011, helped revitalize Houston's secondary.
Player of the year: Johnathan Joseph, Texans cornerback. Runner up: Brian Cushing, Texans inside linebacker.

Joseph, Cushing and Antonio Smith were the players I sorted through here, and you can make a case for any of them. While the Texans were a better defense at every level, it was the secondary that had the biggest room for improvement. Joseph’s ability to match up with a team’s best receiver eased the pressure on everyone else in the secondary and helped transform a miserable pass defense into an excellent one. In the Texans’ playoff loss in Baltimore he blanketed Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, rendering him a non-factor.

Offensive player of the year: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars running back. Runner up: Arian Foster, Texans running back.

It’s hard to fathom that Jones-Drew was the NFL rushing champ considering that defenses could regularly key on him without fear of any real threat from the passing offense, which ranked dead last in the NFL. He showed no signs of wearing down and averaged 100 yards a game. It felt like a waste on a five-win team. Foster missed some action early with hamstring issues or he would have likely challenged Jones-Drew in rushing yards. He’s a tremendous combination of power and speed and does excellent work as a pass catcher.

Rookie of the year: J.J. Watt, Texans defensive end. Runner up: Brooks Reed, Texans outside linebacker.

Watt was installed as a starter the moment the Texans drafted him and was an impactful player from his first snap. A relentless player, he was a force against the run and the pass and played beautifully in concert with the rest of the defensive front. His ability to get his hands on balls at the line of scrimmage turned into a monumental interception return for a touchdown in the playoff win over Cincinnati. Reed filled in very well after Mario Williams was lost for the season and may actually help the team decide Williams is expendable.

Best assistant coach: Wade Phillips, Texans defensive coordinator. Runner up, Mel Tucker, Jaguars defensive coordinator.

Phillips was a factor in the personnel decisions that brought Joseph, Danieal Manning, Watt and Reed into the fold for Houston. In his first year as defensive coordinator, he injected a huge dose of confidence into the Texans defenders and wisely drew up schemes that featured guys’ strengths and marked their weaknesses. The sort of turnaround the defense made in one year is practically unheard of. In Jacksonville, Tucker was given a huge boost with new personnel, but as he took over play-calling from Jack Del Rio, he excelled.

Best position coach: Dave Ragone, Titans receivers coach. Runner up, Vance Joseph, Texans secondary coach.

Ragone had no experience working with receivers coming into this job, but did fantastic work. He deserves a great deal of credit for the vast improvement and maturation of Nate Washington and the emergence of Damian Williams as a threat and Lavelle Hawkins as a guy who did some good things with the ball in his hands. In his first season with the Texans, Joseph helped some guys regain confidence while overseeing a successful move of Glover Quin from corner to strong safety.

Executive of the year: Rick Smith, Texans general manager.

He had lots of help, but completely nailed free agency, signing Joseph and Manning rather than Nnamdi Asomugha. And the top of the draft was fantastic, with Watt and Reed. As Houston suffered injuries at running back, receiver, linebacker and even punter, the Texans showed good depth and an ability to fill in holes with quality outsiders.

Best unit: Texans offensive line. Runner up: Texans linebackers.

Led by center Chris Myers, who may be the division’s most unsung player, Houston’s offensive line blocked consistently well for the run game and protected three different quarterbacks well. Left tackle Duane Brown and right tackle Eric Winston both earned mentions on various All-Pro teams. Antoine Caldwell filled in nicely when Mike Brisiel missed time at right guard. The Texans linebackers, even without Mario Williams, did spectacular, work stuffing the run and swarming quarterbacks all season long.

Worst unit: Jaguars receivers. Runner up: Colts cornerbacks.

Mike Thomas might be a No. 2 receiver and can certainly be a good No. 3, though his play in 2011 dropped off after he got a contract extension. But Jason Hill, who started as the No. 2 guy, wound up getting cut and guys like Jarett Dillard, rookie Cecil Shorts, Chastin West and Kassim Osgood did little to show they were NFL-caliber guys. Blaine Gabbert suffered the consequences. The Colts were insufficiently stocked at corner, though Jacob Lacey bounced back well late in the season after he was benched.

Most improved: Nate Washington, Titans receiver. Runner up: Connor Barwin, Texans outside linebacker.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Timothy T. Ludwig/US PresswireFollowing a big contract signing prior to the season, Titans RB Chris Johnson failed to play up to the high expectations.
Washington’s maturation was remarkable. An excitable guy really calmed down and settled in working under offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and Ragone and with Matt Hasselbeck. Washington figured to be better with those guys while working as the No. 2 behind Kenny Britt, but Britt was lost for the season early on and Washington wound up with a 1,000-yard season and seven touchdowns. I give him the nod because I didn’t believe he had untapped upside. That was not the case with Barwin, who the Texans have expected to be a pass-rushing force since they drafted him in 2009.

Most disappointing: Chris Johnson, Titans running back. Runner up: Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars tight end.

I don’t care what sort of defenses are offered up for Johnson. He simply did not run as hard after coming out of a holdout with a giant new contract. There were other issues, but too often he appeared to lack fire and desire. In the rare instances he wound up in a one-on-one situation he was hardly the threat he’s been in the past. If he doesn’t bounce back in 2012, the contract will turn out to be disastrous. Lewis was supposed to be transformed by his MMA training during the lockout. If it impacted him, it made him worse. Expecting another 10 touchdowns was unreasonable. Producing none was unacceptable.

Best position revamp: TIE, Jaguars safeties and Texans safeties.

Both teams were terrible at the position a year ago and despite a draft class that was incredibly thin, reshaped the spot with great results. The Texans shifted Quin from cornerback and he was very solid alongside free-agent addition Manning. The Jaguars signed Dawan Landry from Baltimore and traded for Dwight Lowery, shifting a guy who’d played mostly corner to play with Landry. Applause to both teams for fine work addressing a trouble position.

Surprise of the year: T.J. Yates, Texans quarterback.

The finish in the playoff loss to Baltimore was a big disappointment. But Yates took over a good team when Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart went down in quick succession and played beyond what could reasonably be expected from a fifth-round rookie quarterback.

Colt of the year: Pat Angerer, middle linebacker.

As Indianapolis was not mentioned here at all, we create this category for the Colts. Angerer showed himself to be a quality starter who has to be in the lineup going forward. That may mean the end of Gary Brackett, the veteran middle linebacker who was hurt in Week 1 and missed the season. Angerer is a rangy, instinctive player who’s sure to impress new general manager Ryan Grigson.

Wrap-up: Falcons 41, Jaguars 14

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
11:52
PM ET

Thoughts on the Jaguars’ 41-14 loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome:

What it means:The Jaguars fell to 4-10 as they were completely handled in Atlanta. Sunday they’d broken through with a 41-14 home win over the Buccaneers. Four days later they lost by the same score to a team that looks to be heading into the NFC playoff field. In receivers Roddy White (10 catches, 135 yards, two touchdowns) and Julio Jones (five, 85, one) the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan have just the sort of weapons the Jaguars need but lack. Shahid Khan, just approved by NFL owners to purchase the Jaguars and take over Jan. 4, was in attendance and saw in person just how far off his new team is.

What I didn’t like: The Jaguars plan and play-calling looked to have no confidence in Blaine Gabbert and he showed why. Five sacks were partly on him and partly on his pass protection. But the pocket presence that’s been an issue all season wasn’t any better, and he lost two fumbles while throwing a pick (on a ball bobbled by Marcedes Lewis) and a touchdown (to Chastin West well after the game was out of reach).

Knocked out: Right tackle Guy Whimper struggled again, this time with defensive end John Abraham. Abraham knocked Whimper from the game with a knee sprain when he sacked Gabbert and forced a fumble that defensive tackle Corey Peters recovered and returned 13 yards for a third-quarter touchdown that made it 34-0. Abraham finished with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. I don't know why the Jags wouldn't try Cameron Bradfield the rest of the season even if Whimper is healthy.

What I want to know: How Maurice Jones-Drew can gain yards when a defense has no fear of getting beat by the pass. He carried 17 times for 112 yards.

Something on special teams: For the second game in a row, special teams provided something big. Kassim Osgood blocked a punt that Zach Potter recovered and returned for a 46-yard touchdown that ensured Jacksonville wouldn’t be shutout. It was one of a handful of good moments on an ugly night.

What’s next: The Jaguars have a long break before they return to action with a trip to Nashville for a rematch with the Titans. Jacksonville beat the Titans 16-14 at EverBank Field on opening day.

AFC South Stock Watch

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
1:02
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Matt Turk, Jacksonville Jaguars punter: The Jaguars pride themselves on having a good special-teams unit. They were without one of their premier special-teamers, Kassim Osgood, in Carolina; another standout, Montell Owens, probably will be on the injury report this week. The thinking was they’d help Turk look good. But through three games he has a 33.4-yard net punt average and has given up touchbacks on four of his 10 punts. Coach Jack Del Rio said it hasn't been good enough, and if it doesn’t get better, the Jaguars could ponder an alternative.

2. Red zone offense, Houston Texans: That killer instinct I’ve written about repeatedly always comes into question when the Texans settle for field goals. They moved the ball great in New Orleans but stalled when they got close, and then called on Neil Rackers too often. The good news is, no team has been inside the 20 more than Houston (16 trips). But five touchdowns for a .313 percentage in the red zone puts them 30th in the NFL. With their offense, that’s just not sufficient. (It could be worse, though. The Jaguars are dead last in red zone efficiency. They’ve been in the red zone a grand total of one time, when they kicked a field goal.)

3. Quarterback accuracy, Indianapolis Colts: Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter combined to hit on just 18 of 40 passes in the Colts’ loss to Pittsburgh. Each missed open guys at crucial moments. The stat sheet says Reggie Wayne was targeted 13 times, which is as it should be. But he caught only three passes for 24 yards, which is something we can really second-guess. Painter missed a wide open Pierre Garcon on a play that could have changed the game. We’re not going to get anything close to Peyton Manning out of these guys. But whoever is under center needs to get the ball in the hands of Wayne, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and Garcon.

RISING

[+] EnlargePat Angerer
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireLinebacker Pat Angerer (51) racked up 21 tackles against the Steelers.
1. Pat Angerer, Indianapolis Colts linebacker: In a game in which the Colts' defense really woke up and made things work, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis led the line and harassed Ben Roethlisberger. Angerer keyed the second level. Game statisticians credited him with 21 tackles, twice as many as anyone else in the game. And he added one on special teams for good measure. He was constantly around the ball, and he wasn’t collecting “cheap” tackles by jumping in late or from behind.

2. James Casey, Houston Texans fullback: It’s still early to rate the tight end-turned-fullback as a run-blocker. But getting him on the field gives the Texans another high-quality pass-catcher. The Saints struggled to cover him, leaving him alone on a 62-yard reception. And his diving 26-yard touchdown catch was just beautiful. Casey finished with five catches for 126 yards, just two fewer than the best receiver in the NFL, Andre Johnson. Casey is a matchup issue for everyone the Texans will face. Treat him like a fullback and opponents may suffer for it when he motions out and runs routes like a receiver.

3. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle: He can rush the passer better, but the rookie is a big piece of a defense that currently holds the No. 1 ranking in the NFL. He was one of the guys who stopped Willis McGahee in a fourth-quarter goal-line stand against Denver. As a run-stopper, he’s an influential guy who has potential to get even better as he gets more comfortable and confident.
Reading the coverage ...

Join our Pigskin Pick'em pool and see if you can beat a coin flip picking games.

Houston Texans

Clearly unsatisfied with their depth, the Texans signed receiver Bryant Johnson, says John McClain.

Richard Justice looks at what Wade Phillips had to say.

Adam Clanton talked to a whole bunch of Texans about sports movies. (Video.)

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will ease Peyton Manning back in to practice, says Mike Chappell.

Jeff Saturday said Manning did most of his work in the positional segment of practice.

A season preview from Evan Reller.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew is ready to burst in his preseason debut, says Tania Ganguli.

Jeremy Mincey’s concussion came from a practice collision with Uche Nwaneri, says Vito Stellino.

Kassim Osgood is looking for ways to entertain himself during kickoffs, says Ganguli.

What are the Jaguars accomplishing by continuing to start David Garrard, asks Adam Stites.

Tennessee Titans

Jovan Haye fell victim to a trio of draft picks in Karl Klug, Jurrell Casey and Zach Clayton, says Jim Wyatt.

Kevin Curtis has another chance with the Titans, says John Glennon.

Mike Munchak’s ascension to head coach of the Titans provides the opportunity for a reassessment of offensive linemen and their mental acumen, says David Boclair.

Sunday reads: Quality team previews

August, 21, 2011
8/21/11
12:11
PM ET
Andy Benoit’s thorough Fifth Down previews are always a good read, so I thought I’d pass them along and get you started with an with an interesting chunk of each.

Houston Texans

“By constantly changing up [Andre] Johnson’s route tendencies and where he aligns in various formations, the Texans prevent a defense from finding a comfort zone and rhythm in its coverages. Defenses that get brazen and try to defend the 223-pound receiver straight up get burned (Johnson has great wheels and is too strong for most cornerbacks to even think about jamming). Defenses that commit the proper safety help leave themselves vulnerable to other mismatches -- usually involving a linebacker on Owen Daniels.

“Now more than a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery, Daniels will most likely re-establish himself as the smoothest tight end in all the land. He has remarkably soft hands and a natural feel for turning upfield. While Daniels battled the knee in ’09 and a hamstring in ’10, the Texans discovered a second practical receiving tight end in Joel Dreessen. He is used as a blocker, too, and compensates for mediocre power with fantastic technique.

“It’s a surprisingly typical receiving corps outside of Johnson.”

The full preview.

Indianapolis Colts

“Starting outside receiver Pierre Garcon is one of the physically strongest catch-and-run weapons in the N.F.L. The Colts will need a breakout season from Garcon, a fourth-year pro, because, with the exception of center Jeff Saturday, none of their older veterans have shown as stark a decline as Reggie Wayne. This may sound preposterous considering Wayne is coming off a 111-catch, 1,355-yard season. But in an offense as proficient as this, the numbers will always be there (especially when your quarterback attempts 679 passes). What’s more important is how those numbers are obtained. Are they coming against double teams and coverages tilted his direction over the top? Or are they against a lot of soft zones, where a receiver can get by on timing and precision? This is not a rhetorical question -- there’s an answer: zones. Wayne can still feast on zones. But in a private moment with all walls down, the Colts’ brass would probably tell you that Wayne is no longer explosive enough to consistently separate against quality man coverage. (Which may be why he has not received the long-term contract he desires.)”

The full preview.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“We know the Jaguars don’t believe they can be great with [David] Garrard. They’re right. His arm strength is ordinary at best and he’s not a sharp progression passer. Scrambling ability aside, he can only play within the basic confines of an offense, which means just about any big play the Jags strive for has to be deliberately manufactured by [Dirk] Koetter. That’s a caretaking quarterback to a T.

"Exacerbating the passing game’s mediocrity is an underwhelming stash of resources at wide receiver. Jason Hill runs well and can go over the middle, but there’s a reason he has caught only 51 passes in his five-year career. Mike Thomas can admiringly be described as a compressed version of Hines Ward, but stocky 5’8” receivers with good track speed but only decent football speed don’t become stars, no matter how excellent their blocking might be.

The fight for the No. 3 receiving job is uninspiring. In one corner is the oft-injured third-year pro [Jarett] Dillard. In the other is Cecil Shorts, a fourth-round rookie from Division III Mount Union. Possibly in the mix is Kassim Osgood, whose business card has always had ‘special teamer’ written in bigger font than ‘wide receiver.’”

The full preview.

Tennessee Titans

[Chris] Johnson’s life will be much, much easier now that Matt Hasselbeck is under center. Though the soon-to-be-36-year-old is struggling to learn a new system for the first time in his 13-year career, he’s still sure to be a marked upgrade over Vince Young. Young’s decision-making ineptitude and subpar pocket passing allowed defenses to crowd eight and even nine defenders in the box. Unless Jake Locker -- who, as a fairly inaccurate, run-first quarterback at Washington, is essentially another version of Young only with (Tennessee hopes) thicker skin and more maturity -- gets on the field, defenses will have to at least hesitate before dialing in completely on Johnson.”

The full preview.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars aren’t looking for parades or pinwheels as congratulations. But in the two years since Gene Smith took over as general manager, they’ve basically gutted the roster. And while setting about a major rebuilding project, they remained competitive with a 7-9 season and an 8-8 campaign.

After another draft and an active free-agency period, they now feel the rebuild is complete.

“There is an expectation level in this league to win, and I think having some horses makes us all smile in this building,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think we went out and acquired some guys for the second and third level of our defense where we talked about needing some help. ... It’s going to help us be a whole lot better.

“The pressure, the demands, that’s part of what we do, and I love that part of it. It becomes a little more enjoyable when you know you’re getting closer to being on equal footing."

Del Rio’s not buying that the Colts are slipping, and he’s not waiting for them to. The in-house expectation is that this team is capable of competing for the AFC South crown no matter what any other team in the division has going for it.

Bolstered by four upgrades among the top 12 players on defense, Jacksonville is a team that should be much improved. The Jaguars won’t be a popular pick, but they could be a surprise, emergent team.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert and David Garrard
Phil Sears/US PresswireThe Jaguars say they will develop Blaine Gabbert (left) slowly and have David Garrard take the snaps as the team's starter.
1. Will there be a quarterback controversy? The team stands firmly with David Garrard and intends to bring first-round pick Blaine Gabbert along slowly. But Gabbert has looked great early, while Garrard tends to be inconsistent. There are bound to be times during the season when there is some pressure to make a change from inside team headquarters, not just from media and fans.

“If we ever get to the point where we think Blaine is better than Dave, that’s good for the Jaguars,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Because I think Dave is good enough to win with; I think we can win our division with Dave Garrard at quarterback. If Blaine is better than Dave, shoot, that’s good for us.”

Del Rio and Koetter could have a complicated job managing how and when to play Gabbert if they feel he’s forcing his way into the lineup.

“I’ve got a healthy appreciation for the desire out there to make it a story,” Del Rio said. “For us, we’re about maximizing our opportunities as a football team, playing the guys who give us the best chance to win games and working on the preparation. ...

“Through the course of competition and exposure and based on health, those factors kind of take care of themselves. I don’t think we have to get ahead of the story. I think we can just let it play out, and at least we are doing so from a position of strength. There is no reason to make it dysfunctional, make it unhealthy. What purpose does that serve? It’s not going to help us win more games.”

It sounds good, but it can get complicated. Garrard’s the guy right now, and the team and the quarterback need to do a better job of making sure he gets hit far less so he can make consistently good decisions with the ball.

Factor tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller and running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings into the mix with the receivers, and the Jaguars have sufficient weapons to complement a run-based offense. Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts could be a better three-pack of receivers than many people think.

2. How much better can the revamped defense be? If this defense doesn’t improve from 32nd against the pass, 28th overall and 27th in points allowed, Del Rio will lose his job.

The team shelled out $37 million guaranteed to three prime free agents: linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session and safety Dawan Landry. The Jags also added nickelback Drew Coleman.

That group, plus rookie defensive backs Chris Prosinski and Rod Issac, should vastly improve the defensive production and depth.

Smith wanted to build foundations early and spent his first two drafts working on the lines. Defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton should take up all kinds of blockers and create space for the two new linebackers and the underrated Daryl Smith to make a lot of impact plays.

“Jacksonville’s interior D-line really stood out,” Posluszny said about his research as a free agent. “They’ve got two studs in the middle that are very active, get to the ball a lot and certainly are going to take up a lot of blockers.”

Safety play last season was horrific, and Landry will be a significant upgrade even though he didn’t bring Ed Reed with him from Baltimore.

“I’m not looking for any grace period to assemble this defense,” Del Rio said. "Guys we’re assembling and counting on for the most part are veterans. ... We’re going to expect to play coming out of the gate as a winning football team, and defensively we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

3. Can they play well late in the season? December is a debacle for this team.

In the past three seasons in games played in December and beyond, the Jaguars are 4-11. They need to learn to finish games and seasons better. What can change it?

“I think in Week 13 or something, we had a better record than the Packers did last year,” Daryl Smith said. “They got hot, and who would have thought they would go on to win? That could be us. Why not? We have to try to stay off of that roller coaster, try to be consistent, just get better each week. Steady, steady, steady, then come late November or December, get hot.”

“I’ve been in the playoffs twice since I’ve been here and that’s been the formula. … We can’t feel like we arrived when we have a good game or played well and won a couple games.”

Del Rio says that with a more talented roster, he has to guide it to better work in the last quarter of the season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeAusten Lane
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireJacksonville could look to Austen Lane to help solidify their defensive line.
Beat writers and fans call Austen Lane “The Bringer of Pain.” It’s funny. But he looks like a guy who will make it hard for the team to look anywhere else for its second starting defensive end. He can be a ball of fury, and that will fit right in with the tone and tempo of the rest of the defensive front.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Right tackle Eben Britton came in with a reputation as a nasty player, and the team missed him last season when he was lost with a shoulder injury. I’ve picked him as a breakout-caliber guy this season. But word is he has not been great so far. Perhaps he’s still being cautious and easing his way back, but he needs to take things up a big notch soon.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Two years ago, people were writing off center Brad Meester. But defenses were taking advantage of weak guard play to get to him. He rebounded well last season and is a guy whom coaches love as a reliable offensive line leader.
  • Knighton’s weight always will be an issue. The defensive tackle is a great player and superlikable guy. The team cannot hold his fork for him. The more he can control it, the more impact and money he will make.
  • Prosinski could well be in the opening day lineup as the free safety. He worked with the first team early in camp and might be up to a pairing with Landry in the middle of the secondary. Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox need to play better at corner, but the Jaguars will improve from the safety upgrades and from the presence of veteran nickelback Drew Coleman.
  • Looking for an underdog to root for? How about undrafted free agent Marc Schiechl? He set a Football Championship Subdivision record for sacks at the Colorado School of Mines.
  • Scotty McGee isn’t working with defensive backs regularly anymore. Can he stick as strictly a punt-return specialist? He caught 185 punts on one day of camp. And the team should move away from using Thomas in the role, although McGee is hardly the only alternative.
  • I like Miller, and the team raves about his potential. But he’s been inconsistent early in camp with too many drops. He’s got great hands, so it seems to be a focus issue.
  • Larry Hart may be in the doghouse for coming back from the lockout overweight. At defensive end, he currently ranks behind Aaron Kampman, Lane, Jeremy Mincey and Aaron Morgan.
  • Fourth-round receiver Cecil Shorts was great in camp early, and I bet the undrafted crop of wideouts has at least one NFL-caliber guy. Keep your eyes on Armon Binns, Jamar Newsome and Dontrelle Inman.
  • Third-year receiver Jarett Dillard is running well after a couple of injuries cost him the bulk of his first two seasons.
  • Watch how much better punter Matt Turk gets now that he will be a beneficiary of the Jaguars’ topflight cover guys, Montell Owens and Kassim Osgood.
  • The Jaguars may be content to use Jones-Drew, coming off a knee operation, very minimally in camp and preseason games.
  • Veteran Jason Spitz has not been on the field yet, but I think the team would like for third-round pick Will Rackley to win the open left guard spot.
Jaguars special teams ace Kassim Osgood apparently doesn’t get that Roger Goodell works for the owners. Or how to spell his name.

But beyond that the Twitter rant he’s on right now is first rate.

In case you’re not (horror of horror) on Twitter or aren’t following Osgood (@kassimosgood81), here’s a replay of the 10 tweets so far, edited only to remove expletives.
  • Roger Goddell is the reason why TRUST is a huge issue in the NFL today. He's on the side of the owners and doesn't care about The players
  • I wish Tagliabue never left. Since Goddell has been here, we've heard more about him than the players
  • Goddell loves to be the center of attention and when asked by players in person to explain the whole lockout issue he ducked all questions
  • I play for the teammates and the fans! Not the organization or the coaches, or the league itself. Fans make out league what it is
  • NFL network is worthless without the fans. ESPN...garbage if fans don't care! Us arguing over money is pointless if the fans stop caring
  • Greedy ass owners want more money! Mad cuz rookie salaries are out of control! No one told you to pay a BUST All that money
  • And now they try to make the players look like the bad guys! We were fine the way [expletive] was! And now ALL OF A SUDDEN [expletive] ain't working???
  • Greed is the downfall of every empire! Way to kill a good thing!!! I'm over this [expletive]! Let's get back to the heart of the game!#ballout
  • If I'm lying, I'm flying! And if you're a player in the league or a lifelong fan and you don't agree with me, then you're misinformed
  • We didnt ask for this crap! No player complained about any revenue sharing. We were happy. Now they pin it on us! Get outta here Goddell!
The Indianapolis Colts could do cartwheels if the competition committee’s suggestions on revised kickoffs are actually implemented by the league.

Move the kickoff up five yards to the 35? Great. Bring a touchback out to the 25? Fantastic.

Kickoff man Pat McAfee could put a good share of kickoffs in the end zone, and the kick cover unit would happily take a 25-yard start for the opposition instead of risking a big play against it.

If the other kicker can get it to the goal line, the Colts can find guys to take knees and not get tackled inside the 20, providing better field position for Peyton Manning.

After a kickoff, the Colts starting field position of the 22.7-yard line was the NFL’s worst last season. Defending kickoffs they put the opposition at the 26.5, 15th in the league.

But we all remember how the Jets crushed them with a 47-yard kickoff return by Antonio Cromartiethat helped set up a winning field goal at the end of a first-round playoff game in January. (A failed kick return play doomed them in the Super Bowl the season before, though these changes won’t help them do better recovering a surprise onsides kick.)

Philosophically, the Colts just don’t put a lot into special teams. They don’t carry a lot of veteran backups, the core of most franchise’s special teams, because their roster is constructed to be top-heavy with star salaries and kid-reliant at the bottom of the 53. Those kids play a lot of special teams, so there isn't a lot of experience and there is a lot of turnover.

Last year, with a ton of injuries, the Colts’ special teams’ roster wound up filled by a lot of guys who won’t be in the league on opening day this fall, presuming we have one.

Anything that minimizes the influence on special teams will be good for Indianapolis. It will also help the Colts against Tennessee, which has a Pro Bowl return man in Marc Mariani, and Jacksonville, which has two guys who've been to the Pro Bowl as special teamers in Kassim Osgood and Montell Owens. (Corrected from how I identified them earlier. Apologies.)

The three teams in pursuit of the Colts could see an avenue where they saw advantages narrow to an alley.

The purpose of the alterations would be to minimize some of the most dangerous collisions in the sports. The side-effects are something Indianapolis has to welcome.
Williams/GarrardAP Photo/Phil CoaleMario Williams and David Garrard are two of the 53 players under contract in the AFC South slated to make more than $1 million this season.
After being struck recently with how the NFL's labor rift has been cast as billionaires vs. millionaires, I thought I’d look at some players' salaries.

Totaling-up career earnings is quite difficult, and bonus money can be hard to nail down and sort through.

We can still get an interesting snapshot by looking at scheduled 2011 base salaries. I suspect many readers will be surprised that the vast majority of players will earn less than $1 million this fall.

Here, according to the NFLPA, are the players from each AFC South team currently scheduled to make a base salary of $1 million or more in 2011. Keep in mind guys in line for some form of free agency are not part of things here.

Fifty-three of 216 players under contract are slated to make $1 million or more. That’s 24.5 percent of the division.

Houston Texans
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 13

Total players under contract for 2011: 49

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 26.5

Indianapolis Colts
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 11

Total players under contract for 2011: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 19.3

Jacksonville Jaguars
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 13

Total players under contract for 2011: 51

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 25.5

Tennessee Titans
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 16

Total players under contract for 2011: 59

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.1

*Young will be cut or traded, the Titans have announced.
With the season over for the AFC South, I thought I’d collect all the decisive moments we highlighted on Tuesdays.

You were giant contributors to this weekly award with your responses to my weekly post seeking input. I appreciate that.

So I'm going to ask for your feedback on this once more -- let's sort through the 17 moments recapped below and debate the merits of the one you think outranks the rest.

Make your case in the comments here or in a note to my mailbag. I will sort through what you have to say and revisit this to award the AFC South Decisive Moment of 2010.

If it's a positive play, think how much that trophy or plaque may mean to the winner? And you'll have influenced the selection. So powerful.

Here's a quick refresher course. Feel free to click through them all to assist in your recollection.

Week 1-- Houston running back Arian Foster's fourth-and-1 conversion in the Texans’ win over the Colts.

Week 2 -- Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson's 34-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-10 late in regulation during the Texans' overtime win at Washington.

Week 3-- Titans safety Michael Griffin's downing of a New York Giants’ punt at the goal line that set up the Titans for a quick nine points.

Week 4 -- The pass interference penalty against Titans safety Chris Hope that gave Denver 49 yards and set the Broncos up for a winning touchdown.

Week 5 -- Titans return man Marc Mariani's 74-yard kickoff return that set up Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown last in Dallas.

Week 6 -- Johnson’s 11-yard touchdown catch with 28 seconds left that gave the Texans a win over Kansas City.

Week 7-- Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones and cornerback Alterraun Verner combining on a forced fumble and recovery deep in Titans territory to help keep the Titans in range of the Eagles.

Week 8 -- Jacksonville linebacker Justin Durant's big goal-line stop that capped a goal line stand against the Cowboys and preserved the Jaguars’ lead.

Week 9 -- Michael Vick of the Eagles keyed two plays that converted a second-and-26 for Philadelphia in its win over Indianapolis.

Week 10 -- Jaguars safety Sean Considine's hit and forced fumble on Houston tight end Joel Dreessen that was recovered by Durant and allowed for the Hail Mary pass that won the game for Jacksonville.

Week 11-- The Jaguars defense made a big stand and forced a three-and-out by Cleveland late in Jacksonville’s win over the Browns.

Week 12-- Kassim Osgood's offensive pass interference penalty on a short throw to Mike Thomas that did a lot to stall the Jaguars against the Giants.

Week 13 -- Reggie Wayne's drop in overtime that forced a Colts’ punt and gave the ball to the Cowboys, blowing a chance to move to the winning points.

Week 14 -- Osgood’s forced fumble and Montell Owens' recovery that set up the Jaguars for a go-ahead touchdown against Oakland.

Week 15 -- The Titans two fourth-down conversions and a fourth-down stop of the Texans in a Tennessee win over Houston.

Week 16-- Jacksonville return man Deji Karim's mishandling of the overtime kickoff against Washington left the Jaguars pinned deep and helped lead to a David Garrard interception that lost the game.

Week 17 -- Indianapolis receiver Blair White's 20-yard catch of a Peyton Manning pass that helped the Colts take advantage of a late Titans’ turnover and kick a game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Contrary to the saying, special teams are not one-third of the game.

In the first Jaguars-Colts game, Indy ran 66 offensive plays, Jacksonville ran 57. There were six punts, eight PATs and zero field goal attempts. By my math, special teams were 10.2 percent of that game.

Special teams are important, for sure. They just aren’t as important as offense or defense unless you’re terrible at them (see San Diego earlier this season) or fantastic at them (see Devin Hester at the peak of his powers.)

Still, special teams make for an interesting topic on these two teams.

The Colts don’t have the resources or philosophy to pay them much heed, though Pat McAfee is a fine punter/kickoff man and Adam Vinatieri has been a super reliable field goal kicker though he’s not a threat on real long attempts. On coverage and returns, the Colts do only enough to get by and lost a great special-teamer when Melvin Bullitt got hurt. New Orleans’ successful onside kick to open the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV absolutely changed the game but didn't prompt major changes.

Indy’s average drive starts at its 21.9-yard line, the worst field position in the NFL. The Colts’ opponents start at the 25.4-yard line.

The Jaguars have dedicated a lot to special teams. They have a stud cover guy in Montell Owens and gave him a counterpart by adding Kassim Osgood as a free agent. Deji Karim is a quality kickoff return man (who missed the first meeting) and Mike Thomas is a nice punt returner. Josh Scobee’s got a history of clutch kicks against the Colts, topped by the 59-yard field goal that beat Indy as time expired at EverBank Field on Oct. 3.

Jacksonville’s average drive starts at its 27.4-yard line, which rates 13th in the NFL. The Jaguars’ opponents start at the 24.1.

If there is a special-teams play in this game that is a big factor in determining who wins, it’s more likely to come from Jacksonville. Unless I just jinxed the Jags.

AFC South Week 14 decisive moment

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Jacksonville was down three in the third quarter Sunday, when special teams made a play that helped turn things in the Jaguars’ favor against the Raiders.

Oakland's Jacoby Ford fielded Josh Scobee's kickoff and made it 8 yards before Kassim Osgood popped the ball free and Montell Owens recovered it at the Oakland 22-yard line. It gave the Jaguars a 2-1 advantage in turnovers.

After that takeaway, the offense needed only five plays to punch it into the end zone with a 10-yard pass from David Garrard to Mike Sims-Walker.

Jacksonville never trailed again, though the Raiders did manage to pull even at 31-31. But another giant special-teams play -- Deji Karim's 65-yard kickoff return -- set up Maurice Jones-Drew’s 30-yard, game-winning touchdown run.

The Jaguars pride themselves on special-teams play, so much so that Osgood was one of two significant free-agent additions during the offseason. They got him for plays like the forced fumble, and in a key win that kept the team atop the division, he produced in concert with the incumbent special-teams ace, Owens.

AFC South Week 12 decisive moment

November, 30, 2010
11/30/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Jaguars looked to be in good shape with a 20-17 lead over the Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium and 7:20 left in the game. They took possession at their own 26-yard line.

David Garrard hit Mike Thomas with a quick screen, he scooted 23 yards to the 49 and the Jaguars were on the move. But an offensive pass interference call against Kassim Osgood undid the play.

Osgood was in the slot on the same side as Thomas and initiated contact with defensive back Antrel Rolle, who was on him in press coverage. Officials ruled Osgood was blocking Rolle before Thomas caught the pass.

Jack Del Rio objected.

"I need clarification because either I misunderstand the rule or the official did, but one of us was wrong," Del Rio said, per Vito Stellino. "Maybe it's me. I'm going to go back and check the rulebook, but the guy was pressed, we were engaged at the line, he maintained his block. In our opinion, that should not have been a call."

But in re-watching the play, I think the officials got it right. Getting off the jam and blocking are not the same thing. Osgood failed to differentiate the two and it looked like he blocked from the start to me.

If Osgood could have delivered a shove to get off the jam and bought a second before turning into a blocker, the play may have still unfolded in the same way.

Instead, the Jaguars faced a first-and-20 from their 16, quickly stalled and punted the ball back to New York. The Giants then drove for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

SPONSORED HEADLINES