AFC South: Lee Evans

Joe Flacco, JJ WattUS Presswire, AP ImagesHow Baltimore's Joe Flacco, left, fares against Houston's explosive J.J. Watt could be key Sunday.


The last time we saw the Texans and Ravens square off, we were watching a divisional-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Terrell Suggs had six tackles and a pass defended as the Ravens' rush linebacker. Houston featured third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, and his three interceptions -- paired with multiple special-teams gaffes by Texans returner Jacoby Jones -- were big factors in a 20-13 Baltimore victory.

The Texans returned home to rave reviews for their first playoff season but also couldn’t help wonder what might have been if they'd had injured starting quarterback Matt Schaub and played a cleaner game. Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game in New England, where it lost to the Patriots, but a near-catch for a touchdown by Lee Evans could have won it with 27 seconds left and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff could have forced overtime.

This rematch doesn’t carry the same stakes but could have big implications. The winner will have the AFC’s best record at 6-1.

AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky will be watching closely.

HENSLEY: I think it's easy to say this is a battle of the two best teams in the AFC. Not really going out on a limb here because the Ravens and Texans are the only teams with winning records in this mediocre conference. I know there are going to be nine games after this one, but this is shaping up to be the Ravens' most important game of the regular season.

The result of this game could become a tiebreaker for home-field advantage or a first-round bye at the end of the season. The Ravens, who have won a league-best 14 consecutive games at home, don't want to go on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens' mindset is that they won't have to come back to Houston this year if they win there Sunday. What's the mindset of the Texans after what happened in Houston last Sunday night?

KUHARSKY: Because the Texans are so young, they've played a lot of "biggest games in franchise history." This is certainly the newest one to top the list. Their critics look at the 5-1 record and see wins over mostly softies and a pasting by the Packers on Sunday night. A victory over the Ravens validates everything they've done and regains a firm hold on Best in the AFC. A loss would create some serious concerns. They do have the cushion of playing in a terrible division they simply can't lose. But Baltimore has been an obstacle and ended the Texans' last season in the playoffs. If they meet again with such high stakes, they don't want to be traveling.

It might be a good time to draw the Ravens, too, right? I know Ray Lewis wasn't what he has been, but their first game without a leader like that and without an underrated, great corner like Lardarius Webb may make them a bit more susceptible, no?

HENSLEY: This is the most vulnerable I've seen the Ravens' defense in 13 seasons. Lewis wasn't playing like the Lewis from 10 years ago, but he was still an above-average linebacker in this league. The Ravens have given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, and losing Lewis only makes that run defense shakier. Dannell Ellerbe, who has made seven starts since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, will take Lewis' spot.

Though the Ravens will miss Lewis' leadership, the bigger loss is Webb. He was emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. His nine interceptions since the start of the 2011 season was tied for the league lead. So, the Ravens have taken shots to both their run and pass defenses this week. How do you see the Texans attacking the Ravens' defense Sunday?

KUHARSKY: Although they might not run first chronologically Sunday, the Texans are a run-first team. Everything they do offensively is keyed on the one-cut-and-go running of Arian Foster, who did great work running for 132 yards in that playoff game on Jan. 15. They send him left most often now, because Duane Brown and Wade Smith are steadier blockers than the guys on the right side, where they have two new starters who aren't even full time.

Spinning off that run game, we'll see play-action heavy with bootlegs and rollouts. It's always remarkable to see Owen Daniels out in space awaiting a Matt Schaub pass. Andre Johnson is certainly dangerous too, though they've not been able to feed him the ball as much as usual. He hates the talk that he's getting older and slowing down, but he hasn't looked like the same player so far this season. Two weeks ago, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie really smothered Johnson. I figured Webb would be a guy who could do similar work. If AJ sees someone like Cary Williams instead, it could be a different story.

Speaking of Schaub, let's turn to quarterbacks. He has been quite efficient this year, doing what Houston needs and not getting caught up at all in his numbers. I came into the season not sold on Joe Flacco and thinking the Ravens didn't have the right guy under center to become an offensive team. But he has done some very good work in the games I've seen and started to change my opinion. Even minus Brian Cushing, the Texans' front throws a lot at a quarterback. Green Bay might have exposed some coverage deficiencies. How's Flacco at assessing such things on the fly and taking advantage?

HENSLEY: Flacco's biggest improvement this season has been his ability to audible at the line. The Ravens are using the no-huddle more than any other time in Flacco's five seasons. It's not to the point of being Peyton Manning, but Flacco is constantly changing the play at the line. Flacco, who ran the no-huddle during his college days, is comfortable with this. He has wanted to have more control of the offense and he's now getting it.

A lot of credit goes to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who is familiar with this style from his days with the Colts. Flacco makes his mistakes when he gets pressured. His pocket awareness has improved and he can scramble for yards. But Flacco will rush and make poor throws when a defender is in his face. Left tackle Michael Oher (four sacks) and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele (three sacks) have struggled at times keeping rushers away from Flacco. Is there any chance the Ravens slow down J.J. Watt and Houston's pass rush?

KUHARSKY: It sure seems like the key to the game for me. Watt is going to get his at some point, and it's not just sacks. Watch how he'll stop rushing when he knows he's not getting there and time his jump to bat down, or even pick off, a pass.

And although the numbers of the other guys aren't in his stratosphere, Brooks Reed, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin are very effective rushers who will have a bearing on Flacco's pocket comfort. Force some mistakes with that rush, and I like Houston's chances. Get stonewalled and fall victim to the ball coming out super-fast, and I feel differently.

One note about the quicker Ravens offense: With Cushing out, Brice McCain, the nickelback, will have a bigger role in covering players such as Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta on routes. If the Ravens run hurry-up or no-huddle, they can potentially trap the Texans in base if they want McCain off the field. I am eager to see whether they try that. The Texans are obviously are familiar with Jim Caldwell's no-huddling.

How about special teams? Tell me how Jacoby Jones is now reliably explosive? The Texans have some serious special-teams issues.

HENSLEY: Jacoby Jones has been one of the bigger surprises this season for Baltimore. The Ravens were looking to upgrade the return game this offseason and failed to sign Eddie Royal or Ted Ginn in free agency. That's why they jumped on Jones when he was cut by the Texans. He has been average as a punt returner (9 yards per return), but he really keyed the win over the Cowboys on Sunday. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which tied an NFL record, was the big play in that game.

The only reason the Ravens turned to Jones on kickoffs was because rookie Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff the week before. If you think about it, it's kind of funny that Jones got his chance to be explosive because another player couldn't hold onto the ball, especially after Jones' problems fielding kicks in the past. But that really hasn't surfaced so far with the Ravens.

Baltimore's coverage teams are both ranked in the top half of the league, which is a big improvement from last year. In 2012, the Ravens allowed three touchdowns on returns. Another improvement is at kicker. Rookie Justin Tucker has made 12 of 13 field goals this season and has hit both attempts beyond 50 yards. If this game is close, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in Tucker to make a pressure kick. So, what are the issues with the Texans' special teams?

KUHARSKY: Well, Trindon Holliday was absolutely electric as their returner in the preseason. But it didn’t carry over and they gave up on him. You saw Holliday playing for the Broncos on Monday night. Keshawn Martin is the man now. The team averages only 9.8 yards a punt return and 18.5 yards a kick return.

Their average start after a kickoff is the league’s worst -- the 17.7-yard line. Their coverage isn’t that bad -- it’s 31st in the league instead of 32nd. Opponents start at the 26.9-yard line.

Donnie Jones is a middle-of-the-pack punter in net average. Shayne Graham has been good on field goals, hitting 11 of 12, but is tied for 24th in touchbacks playing at home in what amounts to a domed stadium.

It’s gambler’s logic that the Texans are due to break through against the Ravens. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If they don’t and Jacoby Jones has something to do with it, it’ll hurt a little bit extra.

It’s certainly no stretch to predict we’ll see these teams facing off again in the playoffs. In what round and where is the question, and Sunday’s winner will lead the race to be in position to host.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Defensive tackle Shaun Cody has a disc issue in his back that will take a few days for the Texans to figure out, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Running back depth makes for good competition behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate, says McClain.

Gary Kubiak said Andre Johnson will be back in action for the Texans’ second preseason game, writes McClain.

The Texans got great pressure in Carolina without blitzing, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

“Andrew Luck summarily dispensed with rookie jitters and the St. Louis Rams on Sunday,” says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Offensive lineman Joe Reitz very nearly had a touchdown catch that a lot of TV viewers missed, says Phillip B Wilson of the Star.

Jerry Hughes had a big showing with two sacks. And injury news on Pat Angerer may not be good, says Wilson.

It was striking just how relaxed Luck was in his debut, says Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

The Rams are terrible, but Luck’s skills were undeniable, says Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars cut aging receiver Lee Evans and promoted Justin Blackmon into the starting lineup, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

Blaine Gabbert was not as good as some of us thought, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report. “I saw no improvement in his ability to handle pressure. With Gabbert, the issue is his inaccuracy and his struggles with the rush, and both were on full display in his limited action.”

Tennessee Titans

The day after the loss in Seattle, coach Mike Munchak reviewed the quarterback play and talked about the timetable for a choice between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Locker may have nudged ahead, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Munchak said Chris Johnson’s five carries weren’t enough to judge him on, writes Glennon.

“Johnson was tentative on his runs and indifferent in his pass routes. That's the same kind of frustrating performance he regularly turned in last season,” says Nate Dunlevy.
Some notes on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first unofficial depth chart, released in advance of their preseason opener against the Giants on Friday night at EverBank Field. Take note, it’s common for seniority to determine close spots on paper at this stage.

Mailbag: On my silly conclusions

August, 4, 2012
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Dustin from Houston writes: With Connor Barwin, Duane Brown and Matt Schaub going into contract years, how big of a chance is it that the Texans cant resign all three? I don't know the Texans cap numbers or a ballpark estimate of the market value for those players, but if they weren't able to resign all three, which one do you believe is most likely to be left out? Personally, I feel that Barwin would be the most expendable if Mercilus turns out to be a good pass rusher, BUT you know how the saying goes, "you can never have too many pass rushers.”

Paul Kuharsky: You can always find a way to keep top guys like those. What I’d like to see happen is that they strike a long-term deal with Brown or Barwin before the season starts. That would ease the pressure for after the season. I think it’d be best if that could be Barwin. Brown is very good, but that he’s in a system that helps make offensive linemen good might make him less appealing for other teams who don’t run a similar zone-blocking scheme. So if he got to free agency there could be less competition for him.

I think they’ll keep Schaub, and that this season’s performance will go a long way toward setting his price.


Steve in New Orleans writes: If you think Blaine Gabbert gives the Jaguars a better chance of winning than Chad Henne, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn and San Francisco that I would like to sell you.

Paul Kuharsky: How many practices have you watched, if I may ask?


Rick in Jacksonville writes: What is your deal with your crush on Gabbert and your hatred for Henne. The idea that Henne has been worse at training camp than Gabbert is laughable. How much are the Jaguars paying you to talk crap about Henne? I am supposed to believe that a guy who has a career 60 percent career accuracy rating and who has thrown over 3,000 yards in a season and someone who has carried a team to seven wins on his back is worse than Gabbert? You sir are a moron. How about stop bashing Henne for no reason and tell the truth for once.

Paul Kuharsky: I said: “Chad Henne has been average at best. Gabbert bashers can find ammunition, but at this point they can’t argue that the backup quarterback would give the Jaguars a better chance to win.” I also said: “Quarterback Blaine Gabbert didn’t look like a guy who’s made the big jump out of an offseason many of us expected.”

Look, you can decide Gabbert has no chance after 14 games. And I can tell you a young QB that a team makes a big investment in gets more time than that. A lot more time. His ceiling is higher than Henne’s. Henne didn’t make any real “Wow” plays that I saw. I don’t see any Henne bashing there. And what there, in my interpretations of what I saw, amounts to a lie?


Chad via Twitter asks: Do you think Andrew Luck is currently more pro-ready than Gabbert and Jake Locker?

Paul Kuharsky: From what I am hearing, I’d say yes. Certainly more ready than Gabbert. But I’d like to see Luck a bit for myself before making that assessment on Luck as a rookie as opposed to Locker in his second year. Feel confident I'll say yes on Luck there, too.


Yellek from parts unknown writes: It’s only preseason and I am sick on how you come across anti Titan... which I guess you need to do living in Nashville, and covering the team since Oiler days. I am sure I am wrong... but I am sure you and I can have a good banter for the up coming year..... I have followed the team since 1978, so do not dismiss me as a homer. Especially since I grew up and CT and live in CA.

Paul Kuharsky: Finally someone that is able to sort through it all, see my true feelings and understand that living in Nashville means I have to be anti-Titans. Sarcasm#. In an email like that, it’s nice to actually cite examples. Here’s what I do: I watch things, I ask questions and I make assessments. It’s pretty simple.


Jamie Zaleski asks via Twitter: Was Keith Bulluck best Titans defensive player ever? Can Titans D replicate the 2002 defense in young players coming up big?

Paul Kuharsky: Titans/Oilers, no. Elvin Bethea is in the Hall of Fame. Titans, as in since 1999? He could be. Jevon Kearse at his peak was a better/more impactful player. But for productivity over a long period of time, no one fared better than Bulluck once the franchise was settled in Nashville.

The defense now is expecting a lot of young guys to all get good/ stay good together at once. I wish there was a little more veteran leadership/ star power


Nicholas Ortiz from New York, NY writes: There's a lot of talk in Jacksonville right now about whether Mike Thomas will make the roster, and how much his contract will factor into that determination. It appears he still has $6M left in guaranteed money and $15M total on his contract remaining to be paid. Do you have any opinion on the matter? It seems to me that his contract doesn't weigh in his favor, because while paying $6M to someone not on your roster is a bad thing, paying $15M to someone who doesn't belong on your roster would be far worse.

Paul Kuharsky; I think if they just put him in the slot and tell him that’s his narrow role -- which I think they are basically doing now -- he has a chance to break out of this funk and still be a productive player. He can also return punts, which has value. Given what they’ve spent on him and the remaining guarantee, I can’t imagine they cut him.

Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts are roster locks. Thomas would be on the next tier, with a couple guys out of Brian Robiskie, Lee Evans, Taylor Price, Kevin Elliott and the rest of the undrafteds.

That said, if receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and the rest of the staff decide Thomas is not one of the best five or six, they won't be forced to keep him because of the contract.
Chris from Upper Carolina writes: With the Tennessean now prompting us to pay to view, can you not post anymore links to them?

Paul Kuharsky: I’m not sure how that better serves my readers. At least you get the gist of a story from the headlines I offer. A certain amount of clicks per month are free, so access may be different for different people. You are free to go subscribe. Or you can simply ignore it.

My approach is to link to the primary stuff on four teams. And with two dedicated beat guys and a columnist, The Tennessean remains the primary news outlet on the team. If I ignored the outlet, there would be days where there is nothing to point you to at all.
The Jaguars opened training camp today. Here are four primary storylines we will be monitoring.

Blaine Gabbert’s development: He has new coaches, a new scheme, new weapons and a full offseason of work behind him. I think he has a good mindset about needing to prove himself, not in conversations with the media, but on the field. Expectations are generally low outside the building -- something that might actually serve him well.

Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout: I don’t see the Jaguars moving on their stance that they won’t renegotiate with two years left on the running back’s current deal. Ultimately they might move some of his remaining salary around so it’s in his pocket sooner. But he’ll need to shift his thinking too, realizing they can live without him and that he can’t afford to sacrifice his status as the face of the franchise and it’s most productive player.

Mularkey’s approach: New coach Mike Mularkey is very much in control. He’s got a clear plan and a staff he will keep on message. Players will see onsistency from the coach and the staff. The messages will be easy to understand and often repeated. It will be on the players to buy in to them and put them in to practice. Early indications are they will do so.

Receiver progress: First-round pick Justin Blackmon is not with the team because he doesn’t have a contract. Following his recent DUI arrest and guilty plea, the team surely is looking to protect itself in case he has future issues. But they need him on the practice field ASAP for him to develop a relationship with Gabbert and so that the passing offense has a full complement that allows everyone to work in the proper roles. Along with Blackmon and position coach Jerry Sullivan, veteran additions Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans have the potential to transform what was a terrible group last season.
Mike Mularkey and his wide receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, have had some time to consider their group and decided in the past couple days that Jarett Dillard is not part of the solution at a spot where the team is looking to upgrade.

That’s two players the Jaguars once thought would be a help at receiver they’ve dumped. Kassim Osgood, a quality special-teamer Gene Smith thought could grow into an effective receiver did not do so after he was signed in 2010 and was cut earlier this offseason.

Now Dillard is gone. He was drafted in the fifth round in Gene Smith’s first draft in 2009 when the Jaguars put a lot into receiver. Mike Thomas was a fourth-round pick, Dillard a fifth-rounder and Tiquan Underwood a seventh.

Only Thomas remains.

No. 5 pick Justin Blackmon should lead the group with free-agent addition Laurent Robinson. Thomas should now be the No. 3, which is the best role for him. They’ll round out the group with Taylor Price, Brian Robiskie, Lee Evans and Cecil Shorts in line for the fourth spot and beyond.

As for Dillard, he dealt with some injuries and never really flashed. A fifth-rounder is hardly a guarantee and has to have done more to stick heading into his fifth season considering he was due about $1.3 million this season.

The Jaguars cut five others in addition to Dillard: quarterback Dan LeFevour, safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, receiver Nelson Rosario, receiver Jarrett Boykin and defensive end Frank Trotter.

They added seven who were part of the recent minicamp on a tryout basis -- quarterback Jordan Palmer, fullback Naufahu Tahi and defensive tackle Odrick Ray, receiver Mike Brown, receiver Chris Forcier, linebacker Donovan Richard and defensive back Jeremiah Brown.

AFC South draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
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NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Despite talk of grabbing the best player available, it’s funny how often needs and picks seem to line up.

Of 31 picks, I count four that don’t technically qualify as addressing needs: Jaguars fifth-round linebacker Brandon Marshall, Titans fifth-round tight end Taylor Thompson, Jaguars sixth-round cornerback Mike Harris and Colts seventh-round quarterback Chandler Harnish.

We saw the Texans replenish at outside linebacker, on the offensive line and at kicker and add to their options at receiver. The Colts loaded up on help for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck -- seven of their other nine picks bring offensive players to Indianapolis . Jacksonville addressed its big needs right out of the chute, then made a couple of odd selections. Tennessee didn’t take two players at the same position.

BEST MOVE

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Al Bello/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon is the premier playmaker the Jaguars' offense sorely needed.
The Jaguars came into the offseason in dire need of upgraded weaponry for Blaine Gabbert. They started last season with wide receiver Jason Hill as a starter, and he was cut before the season ended. Mike Thomas was miscast as a top-of-the-group guy when he should be a No. 3. Cecil Shorts showed he needs a lot of time to develop.

Mike Mularkey hired a solid receiver coach, Jerry Sullivan. He’s a tremendous upgrade from Johnny Cox, who was quickly fired after Jack Del Rio was dismissed during the 2011 season. Free agency brought Laurent Robinson, who should help, and Lee Evans, who’d be gravy if he can revive his career.

The Jaguars successfully sold pundits on the idea they’d be trading down, then only gave up a fourth-rounder to move up from No. 7 to No. 5 to draft Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. He’s a dynamic receiver who can catch balls outside his frame and cause matchup problems.

Outside of Luck, no team in the division got a player who can cure an ill better than Blackmon can fix what ails the Jacksonville offense. Now it’s on Gabbert to show he can effectively get the ball to the new star receiver.

RISKIEST MOVE

The Titans didn’t touch a defensive end until Scott Solomon in the seventh round, and they didn’t add an offensive lineman at all. And pass rush and run blocking were two areas that qualified as weaknesses at the end of last season.

Tennessee hosted Scott Wells, Chris Myers, Jeff Saturday and Dan Koppen and saw all four sign elsewhere. On Saturday, coach Mike Munchak made those meetings sound like information-gathering get-togethers rather than courtships, a stance that’s pretty insulting to veterans who wouldn’t waste time making visits without the possibility of a contract.

The defense of incumbent starters on the interior -- Eugene Amano and Leroy Harris -- has entered a new round now. Munchak said the team felt no “dire need there” and that “we have guys we can win with.” Still, watch for a key undrafted addition or free agent or two.

The Titans added one big piece this offseason to its insufficient pass rush in the form of free-agent end Kamerion Wimbley, who was a cap casualty in Oakland. He may provide a big boost but also probably shouldn’t be on the field for every play. Tennessee’s only attempt to bolster itself on the edges came with the 211th pick, end Scott Solomon from Rice.

The Titans face a pretty good slate of quarterbacks this season. Those passers may have a lot of time to throw.

MOST SURPRISING PICK

We hit it hard Saturday night, but the Jaguars' selection of Bryan Anger in the third round was a baffler. Yes, the team will benefit from a big leg and stands to gain field position.

But Jacksonville overrated special teams’ impact by deciding to draft Anger so early rather than addressing other needs where it could have selected a player with a chance to play.

The Jaguars have a recent history of messing up at the position, and teams that struggle with stability at a spot are prone to overreach in an effort to correct it.

I believe that’s a good piece of what happened here. They could have gotten him or a punter who still would have been a big upgrade later.

The Jaguars found Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox and Will Rackley in the third round in Gene Smith’s previous three drafts. They are all starters who affect games more than a punter can.

They can rationalize this pick. And we can stridently disagree.

FILE IT AWAY

Six receivers came into the division -- Blackmon, Kendall Wright in Tennessee, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill in Indianapolis and DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin in Houston. That’s two first-rounders, two third-rounders, a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder.

The countermeasures?

Just two incoming cornerbacks -- Titans fourth-rounder Coty Sensabaugh and Jaguars sixth-rounder Harris.

Secondary depth could be severely tested by good quarterbacks and receivers, especially when the division faces the NFC North and the high-powered passing offenses of Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.

The Colts have no proven corners beyond Jerraud Powers. The Texans lost Jason Allen, who played a reasonable amount. The Titans need to unearth a new nickelback now that Cortland Finnegan is gone. Only the Jaguars have fortified the spot, adding two-time Super Bowl winner Aaron Ross, presumably getting Cox and Rashean Mathis back healthy and drafting Harris.

The AFC South is a big running back division, but it’s become more equipped to sling it and may not have the people needed to cover offenses with a lot of downfield weapons.

“It tells you that this is a wide-open league, the offensive focus is on scoring points probably more than ever,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. “It’s becoming more of a quarterback-wide receiver league probably every day.”
Justin BlackmonJerry Lai/US PresswireJustin Blackmon had 1,522 receiving yards and 18 TDs for Oklahoma State last season.
Blaine Gabbert finished last year throwing to Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, Chastin West and Cecil Shorts.

General manager Gene Smith was charged with giving a quarterback he traded up for last season better people to aim for.

And Smith has come through, trading up from seventh to fifth and nabbing Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. He’ll join free agent additions Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans, a reclamation project, in trying to transform the Jacksonville passing offense.

Blackmon stands to be the team’s best receiving option since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell.

The Jags gave up No. 7 and No. 101 in the fourth round to Tampa Bay for No. 5 and the right to add Blackmon.

Hard to find any issue at all with that.

If they find a pass-rusher next, this will be a rousing success.

Jaguars' overlooked need: O-line

April, 26, 2012
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A pass-rushing defensive end and a play-making receiver are very clearly at the forefront of what the Jaguars need in order to improve.

But as we’ve talked about quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s rookie struggles, we talked about two big contributing factors -- his lack of playmakers and his insufficient protection.

They added Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans as free agent wideouts and are sure to draft one high. But there should be an offensive lineman coming in the early rounds, too.

Eben Britton’s return from a back issue should help and Will Rackley should be better in his second year. But it would be great if one or both could be challenged at right tackle and left guard, respectively. Neither is a sure thing at this point.

Brad Meester is in his 13th year and the team should have a succession plan at center in place too.

The Jaguars have long looked to be a big, physical team that can wear down an opponent. It makes sense with Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield.

Mike Mularkey held over Jack Del Rio’s line coach, Andy Heck. Heck should have a bit more to work with after the draft.
James from Anderson, Ind., writes: I read the transcript from your chat yesterday. The topic of the Colts trading up into the late first round came up a couple times. You seemed to dismiss that idea outright because the Colts would be foolish to give up a potential No. 1 pick in next year’s first-round, and that is what would be expected from the trading partner. While I agree the Colts shouldn’t trade away the 2013 picks, there is precedent from 2010 of moving up from the early 2nd to late 1st. The Lions gave up the #34, #100, and #214 to get the Viking's #30 and #128, all picks from the 2010 draft… If the Colts absolutely love Coby Fleener or another guy they think can be grabbed at 30 but won’t be there at 34, I don’t think moving back 28 spots in the 4th round and giving up a 7th rounder is too much, especially when they have 10 picks this year. Not saying they should or shouldn’t, just saying it’s not a crazy idea.

Paul Kuharsky: Yes, they could trade up late in the first without involving next year’s first. But there is a strong counter to that to, in that they can’t afford to give up a lot of picks for a mover, because they have a lot of need. I love Fleener and think he’d be great for them. But I’ll bet he disappears somewhere in the 20s, and it would be hard to get up there to get him while sacrificing picks that could be used to address a slew of other needs. So I think they’d have to go up more than four spots, and the price will be more than Detroit paid the Vikings for that four-spot move.


Matt from Greenville, S.C., writes: With the Jaguars recently signing Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans, would they consider taking a receiver with their first round pick, like Michael Floyd? (Or if Justin Blackmon falls to them)

Paul Kuharsky: Absolutely they would have to consider a receiver still. Evans may be done -- he certainly offered nothing to the Ravens a year ago. You can’t count on a contribution there. He’d be gravy. So a team in need of at least two dependable receivers has added Robinson. Not enough. That said, Floyd has a history of alcohol-related incidents that will scare the Jaguars, a big character team. I doubt he’d be their guy.


Ted in San Francisco writes: True or False: Johnathan Joseph is the defender the Texans can least afford to lose to injury

Paul Kuharsky: Probably true. The depth behind him is not so hot and Kareem Jackson as the top starting corner would hardly instill confidence.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle sees the Texans going 11-5 this season, but you’ve got to scroll through a slideshow to see.

Bob McNair promoted two in the front office, including one of his sons, Cal McNair, says McClain.

A look at the defensive linemen in the draft from Sam Khan of the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

“Come next Thursday night, the Colts will have their centerpiece in place. But what happens the following few days, in rounds two through seven, will go a long way toward establishing how quickly the rebuilding process will proceed,” says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

Many players feel like they are starting over with the new coaching staff, says Mike Chappell of the Star. Fili Moala is now a 3-4 end.

Jacksonville Jaguars

D’Anthony Smith is healthy and hopes to contribute as the two defensive tackles ahead of him recover from injury, says Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union. It’s time for him to show something, but we have no idea what he can do yet.

Aaron Ross will get a few days off from training camp to watch his wife compete in the London Olympics, says Vito Stellino of the T-U. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

Lee Evans’ one-year contract includes a $1.05 million base salary, reports Ganguli. But if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, they can avoid that and a roster bonus of nearly $200,000 and get off the hook having paid just his $250,000 guarantee.

Receiver Taylor Price will miss the rest of the offseason with a stress fracture in his left foot, says Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

As expected, Chris Johnson intends to participate in the offseason program which kicks off Monday. He’ll be there Tuesday, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. If Johnson makes 30 of 36 workouts, he won’t sacrifice $250,000.

The McCourty brothers, Jason and Devin, are ready for their Week 1 matchup in the Patriots-Titans game, says Wyatt.

The Titans have raked in SEC players over the years, says Wyatt.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Pass-catching tight ends are at a premium in the draft, says Sam Khan of the Houston Chronicle.

What do the Texans need on offense and who might fit? Lance Zierlein of the fan blog at the Houston Chronicle takes a look.

Indianapolis Colts

Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star trusts Tom Moore’s judgment, and Moore likes Andrew Luck a lot.

David Thornton spent his career as a linebacker with the Indianapolos Colts and Tennessee Titans. He was recently hired by the Colts' new regime as their new player development coordinator. Phillip B. Wilson of the Star looks at Thornton's ability to make frinds and impact people.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars added veteran receiver Lee Evans with a one-year deal, says Tania Ganguli of the Jacksonville Times-Union. A friend in Baltimore told me Evans showed absolutely nothing during his one season with the Ravens. But I like the signing, which I am sure costs very little. If he bounces back, he’ll be a great add, and if he doesn't, well, they shouldn’t have been counting on much.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans and a lot of others believe Jake Locker was the right choice at the right time, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Titans safety Jordan Babineaux and his brother have a film production company that has a movie coming out, says Terry McCormick of the National Football Post.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle doesn’t like the trade of DeMeco Ryans.

The right moves don’t always make a team better right away, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

A survey of executives reveals a large preference for Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III, citing Luck as a safer pick. Jason Cole of Yahoo asked the question.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gene Smith says the Tim Tebow debate helped owner, GM and coach build their relationships, says Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union. Shad Khan said it’s a healthy organization. Will such bonding help Blaine Gabbert and the team’s receivers play better? Will such health equate to wins?

The Jaguars are still in touch with receiver Lee Evans, who remains a possibility, says Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

Kenny Britt’s knee is healing well, he tells Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. The Titans are encouraged, but no one knows when he will be ready to return and when he will be all the way back.
Andre Johnson returned to the Houston Texans' organized team activities and clearly felt badly about causing any sort of stir. I expect his contract issues will be resolved well before the Texans open camp.

Johnson
Johnson
What are the chances he gets a new deal? Veteran agent Ralph Cindrich and cap analyst J.I. Halsell of Football Outsiders chime in:

Cindrich: "It sounds like he’s in the best situation. Houston is flexible. He’s the No. 1 receiver out there with a team and in a city that wants to see things happen. The owner is more malleable as [is] the GM."

Halsell: “Andre Johnson finds himself in the same situation as players like Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard found themselves in in Philly. The Andre Johnson case highlights the importance of one of my favorite contract metrics, guaranteed money/year. In the case of Johnson, he did an extension for six new years with a guarantee of $15M; resulting in a guarantee per year of $2.5M. To put that into context, Buffalo’s Lee Evans' guarantee per year on his four-year extension with a guarantee of $18.25M was $4.56M.

“So Johnson's deal at 15M guaranteed should've been a three- or four-year extension and not a six-year extension. Does this inequity get rectified? I think the Texans will redo him and pay him a market deal. He's clearly one of the top WRs in the league and a consummate pro. He's what you want as a team, so let’s not turn him into a malcontent.”

Breaking down Andre Johnson's first half

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
10:40
AM ET
Andre Johnson's big Sunday -- 11 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns -- in the Texans’ 34-7 win over Seattle was notable for a few reasons.
  • According to ESPN Stats & Information, Johnson moved into a third-place tie on the all-time list of 10-reception, 100-yard games since the 1970 merger: Jerry Rice did it 15 times, Marvin Harrison 14 and Johnson and Tim Brown 13 times.
  • The NFL pointed out that his 10 receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of the Texans’ 34-7 win over Seattle made him the first player to record at least 10 catches, 180 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of a game since Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith on Sept. 10, 2000, against Baltimore.
  • The Texans said Johnson’s 184 first-half receiving yards were the seventh-most in a first half since 1991. He trailed Philadelphia’s Kevin Curtis (205 vs. Detroit, 9/23/07), Buffalo’s Lee Evans (205 vs. Houston, 11/19/06), Smith (194 vs. Baltimore, 9/10/00), St. Louis’s Isaac Bruce (193 vs. Atlanta, 11/2/07), Tennessee’s Drew Bennett (192 vs. Kansas City, 12/13/04) and Atlanta’s Roddy White (185 vs. San Francisco, 10/11/09).

To think, Brandon Marshall had 10 catches more Sunday against the Colts than Johnson had against the Seahawks.

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