AFC South: Marcus McNeill

In re-drafting the 2006 draft, Mel Kiper’s looking at the promise of guys going forward and their worth and he’s not really factoring in team needs.

Here’s what he did for the AFC South.

1) Houston Texans -- Haloti Ngata, DT Oregon

Kiper: “He's played in 94 of 96 possible regular season games, plays a premium position, is a Pro Bowl shoo-in and would dominate in any system. Safe to say the guy Ray Lewis pushed for to free up the Baltimore linebackers has worked out just fine, and the future holds plenty more.” Previous draft spot: No. 12

Kuharsky: If we are living in a fantasy land where we simply add the new pick, subtract the old pick and head into 2012, then wow. Defensive tackle is the only “weak” spot in the Texans' front seven. Add Ngata and this group would be off the charts.

3) Tennessee Titans, Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, UCLA

Kiper: “Coming off a year in which he was close to unstoppable even within an offense that was far too easy to stop, Jones Drew has over 1,700 yards more than any other running back in this draft class after six years. Given his body type, he could be good for another five years, which puts him in elite territory historically.” Previous draft spot: No. 60

Kuharsky: The Titans were quarterback desperate but Kiper's not looking at that as much as Jones-Drew would be a perfect power-running game for Jeff Fisher or Mike Munchak. If we’re ignoring need and heavily weighing what’s to come, wouldn’t Jay Cutler be better? (He lasts until the Raiders at No. 7.)

28) Jacksonville Jaguars, Marcus McNeill, OT, Auburn

Kiper: “Really hope that McNeill can come back in 2012 fully healthy. At his best, he's a big-time talent at left tackle, and his play early in his career made that clear. He drops some here because it's hard to project if he'll be at that level again.” Previous draft spot: No. 50

Kuharsky: With McNeill and Eugene Monroe as tackles, the Jaguars could kick Eben Britton inside or concentrate on building up an interior that could protect Blaine Gabbert in addition to blocking for Jones-Drew.

30) Indianapolis Colts, Danieal Manning, S, Abilene Christian

Kiper: “This is a player who cracks the first round because I still think his best is yet to come. Manning has been a solid return man, but his play in the secondary has been underrated, and he had a solid year for the Texans.” Previous draft spot: No. 42

Kuharsky: It’s funny, their own find at safety, Antoine Bethea, is gone three picks earlier in this scenario. Manning would be a nice fit going forward paired with Bethea, as rebuilding/replenishing the secondary is a big key for the revamping Colts.

Beyond Jones-Drew and Danieal Manning, eight other players currently in the AFC South made Kiper’s redrafted first round:

5) Mario Williams (DE, NC State) to the Green Bay Packers

16) DeMeco Ryans (LB, Arizona) to the Miami Dolphins

18) Johnathan Joseph (CB, South Carolina) to the Dallas Cowboys

24) Eric Winston (OT, Miami) to the Cincinnati Bengals

25) Marcedes Lewis (TE, UCLA) Pittsburgh Steelers

26) Owen Daniels (TE, Wisconsin) to the Buffalo Bills

27) Antoine Bethea (CB, Howard) to the Carolina Panthers

32) Cortland Finnegan (CB, Sanford) to the New York Giants
Regular visitors know I am not big on being able to assess line play in great detail. Our left tackle power rankings probably rely on word of mouth and reputation as much as any position we’ve ranked.

As you will hear me say in the video connected to Pat Yasinskas’ post revealing and explaining our overall rankings, I don’t believe there is a consensus best guy. While Joe Thomas is a great player, a couple national folks spent time with him, fell in love, and pumped him as the best guy.

A lot of other media, in need of a best guy, jumped on board. Thomas is a very good player, but he’s not a consensus best left tackle in the league among players, scouts and coaches. If readers think he should be, it’s largely because writers have set it up that way.

So you can get the overall rankings through the above link. Here’s my ballot, one of eight that factored into things.
  1. Jake Long
  2. Michael Roos
  3. Joe Thomas
  4. Jordan Gross
  5. Ryan Clady
  6. Marcus McNeill
  7. Donald Penn
  8. D'Brickashaw Ferguson
  9. Andrew Whitworth
  10. Jason Peters

Why didn't Colts do more on O-line?

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
11:28
AM ET
The mailbag is filling up with notes from panicked Colts fans.

The gist of their questions: Isn’t it time for the Colts to make a move to get one of the disgruntled offensive linemen out there: Marcus McNeill or Logan Mankins?

Sure, if the Colts found them a system fit, adding either would give a big boost to the offensive line.

But it’s uncharacteristic for the Colts to go outside looking for help. Those guys would be costly, and making a move would amount to a concession that Indy underestimated its offensive line issues.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Johnson
Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon SMIColts tackle Charlie Johnson, shown here last season working against Mario Williams, might be better off moving inside and playing guard.
That’s the confusing part of this.

Bill Polian was quick to say the offensive line was a primary issue in the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans.

But the Colts did little to fix it. Left guard Ryan Lilja was released. Two street free agents, Adam Terry and Andy Alleman, didn’t stick. Only one of eight draft picks was spent on an offensive lineman, and Jacques McClendon was not active in Houston.

The Colts couldn’t do major free-agent shopping because the CBA limited the top teams’ ability to do so.

Still, with the head honcho saying it was a concern, it sure seems like the Colts could have done more on the line to ensure better protection and better run blocking.

On a bad foot, Charlie Johnson put forth a courageous effort against Mario Williams. But Johnson’s not cast as a left tackle by a lot of personnel folks. If Indy had a franchise left tackle, Johnson would likely be better as a guard. Polian missed on Tony Ugoh in 2007. The guy they hoped to be the heir to Tarik Glenn was waived/injured and is now on IR.

Putting Peyton Manning at risk is a dangerous game. He was face down on the turf, an official checking on him after one hit. He bounced up. But will he always? He absorbed two sacks, eight additional hits and stuff that didn't register in the stat book.

The guys the Colts do have will play better. Manning can continue to get the ball out quickly and make pressure less of an issue. Joseph Addai can make the most of what’s there. Not every team has a Williams-like threat to mess things up.

In Sunday's loss, the Colts didn’t choose to go with two tight ends very often, leaving Johnson mostly on his own. Put tight end Brody Eldridge in to help the way I imagined and you’re taking one target out of the arsenal. Maybe the Colts do that more if they find it necessary. The choice at Reliant Stadium was to throw it more quickly with more options running routes.

I don’t expect Polian to be making calls about McNeill or Mankins Monday.

Polian talked before camp about throwing all the linemen in a pot and seeing who came out as the best group. Injuries to Jeff Saturday, Johnson and others made that system more difficult and there was no time to build continuity with the five who started against the Texans.

Still, today, I can understand why Colts’ faithful are wondering today why there wasn’t more in that pot.

Reading the coverage: Tulloch preparing

April, 5, 2010
4/05/10
9:38
AM ET
Houston Texans

With the NFL draft less than three weeks away, HoustonTexans.com has added to its collection of video draft vignettes.

Battle Red Blog pens a letter to general manager Rick Smith.

Indianapolis Colts

Stampede Blue looks at how the Donovan McNabb trade impacts draft strategy for teams all across the NFL.

John Oehser examines the Colts' possible interest in Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have come up short of their goal regarding season-ticket renewals.

Why is Jack Del Rio on the hot seat? It's all in the numbers.

Tennessee Titans

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, still unsigned, continues to train in hopes of landing a long-term deal.

Former South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul joins the list of prospects who have visited the Titans.
 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Duane Brown has improved his play at left tackle in recent years, along with the image of the Texans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- While left tackle Duane Brown worked against Mario Williams during OTAs in the spring and summer, Chester Pitts took notice.

"He blocked Mario, who is, if not the best, top three at that position, fairly well," said Pitts, the team's left guard. "He used the scheme to help him stop a really good player.”

But that was not the only thing about Brown's work that was attention-grabbing. In 2008, when Brown was a rookie, he leaned on Pitts to make the calls and he jumped out for a rest on every third series, when Ephraim Salaam jumped in as a reliever.

Emerging Stars
A series examining a potential breakout player in each division.
Tues.: AFC West | NFC West
Wed
.: AFC North | NFC North
Thurs
.: AFC South | NFC South
Fri
.: AFC East | NFC East
Last year, Brown had felt compelled to thank Pitts after every game for all that help sorting through what he was supposed to do.

"He gets out there now and before I can get it out, he's said the call, boom, we're ready to go," Pitts said. "We're getting to where we don't have to make every call, we are grunting with each other, saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' or 'Go, go, go.' It's real simple, quick and short and we are on the same page. Things like that are really, really important on an offensive line, it's a group position."

The Texans' 76 sacks allowed in their debut season in 2002 left an indelible mark on a lot of people and 43 in 2004, 68 in 2005 and 43 in 2006 didn't do a lot to erase the stigma. But the number was down to 22 in 2007. And last year Houston's quarterbacks were taken down 32 times, just below the league average.

"They are starting to respect us more as a line," Brown said. "I didn't know too much about the history of the offensive line here before I got here, but once I did a lot of people told me that that was a big problem. I guess last year we did pretty good as a unit and you have to give us some kind of credit since we were the No. 3 offense in the league."

As the Texans are poised to shed several labels they've earned in their seven years of existence and make a run at a playoff spot, Brown's expected to emerge as a franchise left tackle who can help it happen, covering the blind side for Matt Schaub and helping punch holes for Steve Slaton. That's why Brown is our choice as the AFC South's Emerging Star for 2009.

"For a guy going into his second year, he's very advanced and he has a great opportunity to be a dominant player, no question," said Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, a new offensive assistant coach for the Texans. "He's a big, strong, powerful, agile good athlete who's smart. Just learning and getting the reps, that's going to be his deal. He has a good attitude about it too."

Said Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in two games against Houston in 2008: "I think Duane is a good athlete, a young guy who definitely as a lot of upside and potential. He's definitely one of the better tackles in our conference and our division. He has a lot of room to grow. One thing he definitely has going for himself is his effort and his ability to catch on quickly. ...

"Now with the pieces that they have and with some guys coming back with a couple years experience together, I think they should be a force to be reckoned with."

What suggests Brown is primed for a big jump?

Well, the conditioning issues that were partially responsible for him getting rotated out are gone, as is Salaam.

Brown played his final two seasons at Virginia Tech in the 305- to 312-pound range and he was 315 at the NFL scouting combine. But from his pro day to the start of his first training camp, he didn't focus on fitness the way he should have. He indulged in chicken parm and pizza. He wound up playing much of the season around 325.

Since then, he gave up the fried foods in favor of a diet heavy on tuna fish, big salads, vegetables and fruits. Brown played in regular offseason basketball games with teammates including J
acoby Jones
, Vonta Leach and Frank Okam at the Meyerland Plaza 24 Hour Fitness. Those efforts got him back in that more desirable weight range.

Film study has extended beyond Freeney and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, rushers he faces twice a season in the AFC South, to Matt Light, Jordan Gross and Chris Samuels, successful tackles he feels he can emulate.

Across the Texans' line, right tackle Eric Winston makes it sound like Brown burns a lot of calories with enthusiasm alone.

"Duane is super intense," Winston said. "Everything he does, he's almost hyper about it and that's a good thing. When you're in this kind of business, you do the same things over and over and over again and that's the key, trying to perfect it without it getting boring. He's got that intensity about him where he can keep that up

"He doesn't get bored because he's trying so hard every time, and that's a good trait to have."

Brown also realizes how fortunate he is to have found such a perfect fit. The league is littered with players who can't find their niche, who don't fit their team's schemes. In the zone-blocking run scheme the Texans brought in Alex Gibbs to install and operate, the team asks its linemen to run. Athleticism and mobility are the most desirable traits. The Texans don't covet guys like Baltimore's 6-foot-9, 350-pound Jared Gaither or San Diego's Marcus McNeill (6-7, 336).

"That's what our whole scheme is about, is us running," Brown said. "My main responsibility is pass protection, protecting the blind side of course, and on the backside of our run plays, trying to get that cut back crease. Me having the athleticism I have, I'm able to do both of those jobs."

"I feel like I've become a much better player and I expect a lot from myself. God willing, I stay healthy, I feel like I should be here for a while."
Scott Boehm/Getty Imagese



Duane Brown has improved his play at left tackle in recent years, along with the image of the Texans.


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- While left tackle Duane Brown worked against Mario Williams during OTAs in the spring and summer, Chester Pitts took notice.

"He blocked Mario, who is, if not the best, top three at that position, fairly well," said Pitts, the team's left guard. “He used the scheme to help him stop a really good player.”

But that was not the only thing about Brown's work that was attention-grabbing. In 2008, when Brown was a rookie, he leaned on Pitts to make the calls and he jumped out for a rest on every third series, when Ephraim Salaam jumped in as a reliever.











Emerging Stars


A series examining a potential breakout player in each division.
Tues.: AFC West | NFC West
Wed.: AFC North | NFC North
Thurs.: AFC South | NFC South
Fri.: AFC East | NFC East











Last year, Brown had felt compelled to thank Pitts after every game for all that help sorting through what he was supposed to do.

"He gets out there now and before I can get it out, he's said the call, boom, we're ready to go," Pitts said. "We're getting to where we don't have to make every call, we are grunting with each other, saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' or 'Go, go, go.' It's real simple, quick and short and we are on the same page. Things like that are really, really important on an offensive line, it's a group position."

The Texans' 76 sacks allowed in their debut season in 2002 left an indelible mark on a lot of people and 43 in 2004, 2005 and 2006 didn't do a lot to erase the stigma. But last season, Houston's quarterbacks were taken down 32 times, just below the league average.

"They are starting to respect us more as a line," Brown said. "I didn't know too much about the history of the offensive line here before I got here, but once I did a lot of people told me that that was a big problem. I guess last year we did pretty
good as a unit and you have to give us some kind of credit since we were the No. 3 offense in the league."

As the Texans are poised to shed several labels they've earned in their seven years of existence and make a run at a playoff spot, Brown's expected to emerge as a franchise left tackle who can help it happen, covering the blind side for Matt Schaub and helping punch holes for Steve Slaton. That's why Brown is our choice as the AFC South's Emerging Star for 2009.

"For a guy going into his second year, he's very advanced and he has a great opportunity to be a dominant player, no question," said Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, a new offensive assistant coach for the Texans. "He's a big, strong, powerful, agile good athlete who's smart. Just learning and getting the reps, that's going to be his deal. He has a good attitude about it too."

Said Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in two games against Houston in 2008: "I think Duane is a good athlete, a young guy who definitely as a lot of upside and potential. He's definitely one of the better tackles in our conference and our division. He has a lot of room to grow. One thing he definitely has going for himself is his effort and his ability to catch on quickly.

"Now with the pieces that they have and with some guys coming back with a couple years experience together, I think they should be a force to be reckoned with."

What suggests Brown is primed for a big jump?

Well, the conditioning issues that were partially responsible for him getting rotated out are gone, as is Salaam.

Brown played his final two seasons at Virginia Tech in the 305- to 312-pound range and he was 315 at the NFL scouting combine. But from his pro day to the start of his first training camp, he didn't focus on fitness the way he should have. He indulged in chicken parm and pizza. He wound up playing much of the season around 325.

Since then, he gave up the fried foods in favor of a diet heavy on tuna fish, big salads, vegetables and fruits. Brown played in regular offseason basketball games with teammates including Jacoby Jones, Vonta Leach and Frank Okam at the Meyerland Plaza 24 Hour Fitness. Those efforts got him back in that more desirable weight range.

Film study has extended beyond Freeney and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, rushers he faces twice a season in the AFC South, to Matt Light, Jordan Gross and Chris Samuels, successful tackles he feels he can emulate.

Across the Texans' line, right tackle Eric Winston makes it sound like Brown burns a lot of calories with enthusiasm alone.

"Duane is super intense," Winston said. "Everything he does, he's almost hyper about it and that's a good thing. When you're in this kind of business, you do the same things over and over and over again and that's the key, trying to perfect it without it getting boring. He's got that intensity about him where he can keep that up

“He doesn't get bored because he's trying so hard every time, and that's a good trait to have."

Brown also realizes how fortunate he is to have found such a perfect fit. The league is littered with players who can't find their niche, who don't fit their team's schemes. In the zone-blocking run scheme the Texans brought in Alex Gibbs to install and operate, the team asks its linemen to run. Athleticism and mobility are the most desirable traits. The Texans don't covet guys like Baltimore's 6-foot-9, 350-pound Jared Gaither or San Diego's Marcus McNeill (6-7 336).

"That's what our whole scheme is about, is us running," Brown said. "My main responsibility is pass protection, protecting the blind side of course, and on the backside of our run plays, trying to get that cut back crease. Me having the athleticism I have, I'm able to do both of those jobs."

"I feel like I've become a much better player and I expect a lot from myself. God willing I stay healthy, I feel like I should be here for a while."

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