AFC South: Marcus Stroud
The Pro Football Writers of America voted the Texans the best public relations staff in the NFL, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Chuck Pagano believes Donald Brown is an every-down running back, writes Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. At this stage I think this can be one of three things: 1) Pagano really sees Brown as a lead guy; 2) Pagano thinks Brown needs a boost; 3) Pagano is super optimistic about virtually everything at this stage. I think Brown has a chance to be a consistent back in a new scheme with new coaches.
Young journalists had a chance to quiz Pagano and Pacers coach Frank Vogel, says Zak Keefer of the Star.
The Jaguars’ stalemate with kicker Josh Scobee continues, but general manager Gene Smith says the team’s offer is fair. Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union shares details.
Marcus Stroud signed a one-day contract to retire as a Jaguar, says Ganguli.
Smith discusses Blaine Gabbert’s improvement and the philosophy of keeping two or three quarterbacks, from Tania Ganguli.
What would have to happen for the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl, from Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.
Ross Tucker is on Maurice Jones-Drew’s side. Hat tip to Dunlevy.
A ticket update from Big Cat Country.
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is thrilled with where Kendall Wright is, even as Wright is sitting out minicamp with a banged up shoulder, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Fullback Collin Mooney is dealing with a broken hand, says Wyatt.
AP reported details of the league’s pitch for reducing rookie salaries.
For context, here’s a look at the money the Jacksonville Jaguars have paid first-round picks since 2000 -- $111,380,562 in guaranteed money before playing an NFL snap, an average of $10,125,506 per player.
Nelson, Jones, Williams and Soward were outright busts and Harvey could be off the roster by opening day. The Jaguars have suffered and will suffer depth-chart consequences for those picks. But they also shelled out nearly $26 million to those five guys.
Personnel failures are one thing, the financial penalty is something else and the only element involved in all of this that would object to a system change is members of the rookie pool who aren’t actually very good.
Five-year deals for first-rounders negotiated in this context, with less total money, seems sensible. Nothing would change for draft picks outside of the first round.
The change could help fix what’s broken in the draft.
As Eagles president Joe Banner told AP:
"The whole concept of the draft and ordering of the picks is to maintain competitive balance in the league. Now teams get top picks who have become so expensive and there's the risk you can miss, and it makes the ability to trade in and out of those spots almost impossible. It can become a disadvantage to be in one of the top spots."
But agent Ben Dogra makes a good counterargument.
"Five years and reduced pay is basically restricting players," said Dogra, whose clients include Patrick Willis and Sam Bradford. "Roughly 68 percent of the NFL is comprised of players with five years or less of NFL experience.
"Even players from essentially picks 11 to 32 in the first round are good financial deals for the teams. If a player becomes a starter or an integral part of the team under the current system, the NFL teams have the player under a rookie deal that is favorable to the team."
The league’s done well to get this issue out front. It’s time to tinker with it, get it right and count it as one element of the deal that's done.
Paul Kuharsky: I would think they‘d expect there will be some form of free agency at some point.
So it’ll be an interesting flip -- for years if you didn’t get something in free agency, you’d say, “Well, we address it in the draft.” Now you’ll say, “If we didn’t get it in the draft, we can get it in free agency.”
The wrench this time is a team may not have worked real hard to retain its own guys in February because it didn’t want to give out bonuses heading toward a lockout.
But in a league where more and more of the quality programs are draft builders, it almost seems to make more sense with the draft first, particularly if those salaries are in line to wind up more manageable.
I think bad, panicky teams will panic and force need in the draft, while better non-panicky teams won’t, and will get even better.
Cory from Denver writes: If there is a lockout and the NFL season is lost, what happens to Indianapolis hosting the Super Bowl? Do they host the following year or lose out completely? Thanks.
Paul Kuharsky: Can’t take away New Orleans’ Super Bowl in 2013 or NY/NJ’s in 2014. Presumably Indy would go to the back of the line and get the game played in 2015.
But the season won’t be lost. Players won’t be able to hold out that long.
Jim in Greenville, S.C., writes: With the draft so full of DTs in the first 2 rounds, could you see the Titans going to a 3-4 by taking someone like Marcell Dareus in the first and Drake Nevis (LSU) in the second or is it far more complicated than that? I'd love to see Jason Jones on the outside of a 3-4. Would he fit there? Would he stay healthier in that rather than the current circumstance?
Paul Kuharsky: It’s amazing how many people like to suggest the Titans should go to a 3-4. Even if they intend to go bigger at defensive end and part with Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, all free agents, they still have some of their best players on the defensive line -- Jones, Derrick Morgan, William Hayes. Their three linebackers last year were unproductive, and Stephen Tulloch is a free agent to be. So you want a team with two starting linebackers who were unproductive, Gerald McRath and Will Witherspoon, to change to a defense that calls for more linebackers? I’m not following the logic no matter who they can draft. It’s a two-year transition minimum, and they’ve got personnel that can be effective in a better 4-3.
Jeff in Nashville writes: Are we going to get a follow-up article to your "Cocky Mallett..." article that details how impressively he threw the ball today? His on field performance has garnered rave reviews across the board and one person even said it was the best QB performance at the combine in the last 10 years. When should we expect that article?
Paul Kuharsky: So defensive. Are you related to him or just a passionate Arkansas fan? Apparently you stopped paying attention right after you read the entry you didn’t like.
Here’s a piece I did less than 24 hours later on how the interviews can be over-interpreted. Did you also miss this one highlighting Mallett’s workout?
Also you do know that he SHOULD dominate a workout with no defenders or decision-making involved, right?
Chris in Phoenix writes: What are the odds that the Colts look into the recently released Tommie Harris since both Antonio Johnson and Dan Muir are currently FA's as well? I would also like to know your thoughts on the impact he would have with his unique speed at the defensive tackle position playing alongside Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think the Colts are in a panic over the contract status of Daniel Muir or Antonio Johnson. I could see the Colts drafting a guy to be a front-liner with Fili Moala.
I would have been very surprised to see the Colts active cutting players before free agency.
Logan in Duluth, Minn., writes: In regards to the NFL schedule length, I was wondering why they have to have either 16 or 18 games. Would it not possible to drop two preseason games and add one regular season game? Is it because of playoff tie breakers?
Paul Kuharsky: An odd number of games is sloppy. Then some teams have an extra home game, others have one fewer. How does that affect competitive balance as teams vie for the same division crown or playoff berth?
And they would never drop two preseason to add one regular season. They have to have the same number of total gates or more, otherwise they are giving up money and they won’t be doing that.
Titansfan from Dover, Del., writes: What is the situation with Chris Johnson's contract?
Paul Kuharsky: He’s under contract. They can’t talk about an extension until July, presuming a new CBA is in place by then. A player/team can’t renegotiate the same deal twice inside a year.
Jesse in Muncie, Ind., writes: I am trying to find the complete draft order, but I can only get the first round. Are all seven rounds not yet determined? If that's the case, when will they be set?
Paul Kuharsky: Three rounds are set. Compensatory selections are announced in late March, and they start at the end of the third round and are tacked on to the end of every round after that. That’s why there isn’t a seven-round order yet.
Brent H. at Columbia, Tenn., writes: With the Broncos turning to Kyle Orton as the starter to open camp, could the Titans target Tim Tebow as a possible trade candidate as the QB of the future? He may not have the skills to be the answer immediately, but will be as ready as any rookie QB that we draft, and possesses great intangibles and leadership that the Titans have lacked from their QB position in the past (see Vince Young).
Paul Kuharsky: The Broncos have no idea who will start. John Fox and his staff have not been on the field with those guys. It doesn’t matter what they say right now.
If the Titans scouts weren’t high on Tebow a year ago, why are the high on him now?
They don’t need a quarterback with physical gifts OR with intangibles. They need one with both. Who cares if Tebow can lead if he can’t throw?
Jwill25 from Columbia, S.C., writes: Now that it seems like the Raiders will not be able to sign Nnamdi Asomugha, would it make since for the Colts to cut Kelvin Hayden? Hayden is scheduled to make a little over $9 million next season and for $4-5 million more we can get a top-notch cornerback in his prime that can hold up a hold season. Not to mention the numbers he produces turnover-wise is worth that much alone. I really believe he could do for us what Charles Woodson does for Green Bay. What are your thoughts?
Paul Kuharsky: That’s not what Hayden is scheduled to make, it’s what he’ll count against the cap. He’s scheduled to make $6.015 million. Asomugha will cost a lot more than that.
And Jim Irsay has publicly said they won’t chase Asomugha. So that basically ends that.
Jonathan in Nashville writes: Chris Johnson Trade!?!?I happened to catch the tail-end of a conversation on XM Radio this morning that the Titans were going to "Shop" CJ around for a QB trade, is this true and if so why would they give up their best offensive player?
Paul Kuharsky: Not true. If it was true, why would the team be talking about it?
A top three running back is not worth a top 10 or 15 quarterback. Who’s trading a good quarterback for a good running back, when the rushing champ was undrafted and the good quarterbacks are almost all high picks?
Drew from Richmond, Va., writes: Any info on this DeMario Pressley? I mean from what I can put together he is essentially a second year player when it comes to playing time who has not proven that he is a playmaker much less a starter. The Colts already have six men listed at defensive tackle. Can we expect a few guys getting cut off that list, and how did this guy grab attention when there are bigger names on the market at that position? I agree that the Colts need to strengthen the run defense and start with the middle of the line but is this guy close to an answer?
Paul Kuharsky: I wouldn’t get excited about Houston’s toss-offs. Maybe he’s a serviceable, back-of-the-rotation guy.
Claiming a guy off waivers is a much cheaper and lower-risk option than signing Shaun Rogers or Tommie Harris or Marcus Stroud. They never said Pressley is a big answer. Such an addition means they think he’s worth bringing in and working with. He could easily be cut two weeks after coaches get to know him. Having him means nothing about their willingness to draft or look at a free agent later.
That said, don’t get caught up in big names. Did you know a lot about Antoine Bethea before they brought him in? Robert Mathis? Jerraud Powers?
Joe in Murfreesburo, Tenn., writes: Mel Kiper Jr. has the Titans taking a DE at #8 in the draft. I don't know if Mel remembers, but the Titans are fine at defensive end. They don't need to re-sign Jason Babin. In fact, they might be better off avoiding a big deal if it turns out he was just a one-year wonder. Derrick Morgan will be back, and he will be ready to go with Dave Ball OR Babin on the other side. Either way, they have much bigger needs than to draft another defensive end, when they will basically have a first-round rookie in Morgan next year. Talk some sense into the man Paul, we need a QB.
Paul Kuharsky: Of course they need a quarterback. But if they don’t like an option they have at No. 8, they’d be dumb to force it.
Babin, Ball and Ford are all en route to unrestricted free agency, they are all undersized and they all faded down the stretch. There is great defensive end talent high in this draft and the Titans have indicated they’d like to have more well-rounded, sturdy guys at the spot.
I’d have no problem with the Titans taking an end to go with Morgan and Hayes. A sustained pass rush that can defend the runs makes everyone better -- including a second-round quarterback.
Jarell from Atlanta by way of Gary, Ind., writes: I read a piece you linked the other day about the Colts free agents. I was shocked to realize how many of our guys are going to be up for free agency, who do you think we keep, specifically between Joseph Addai and Melvin Bullitt? I think Charlie Johnson is a talent, though not the best option at tackle, but the only option we have right now. And what about the tackles... Antonio Johnson came on last season at the end, and can be the reason why the rush defense fell behind while he was out in the playoffs. And Daniel Muir has become a staple in our community...what do you think?
Paul Kuharsky: Well first, I think being a staple in the community doesn’t mean much if you’re a middling player looking for a contract.
I don’t see them choosing between Addai and Bullitt and don’t know why you do.
Think they’d like to have Addai, Bullitt, Johnson, Johnson, Muir and Clint Session all back. They generally work hard to keep their own. I don’t think Addai, either Johnson or Muir draw a lot of interest from other teams. They are all tailored to the Colts, a team that works hard to keep core, valuable guys they drafted or brought in as rookies.
A quality O-line pickup could mean Charlie Johnson is moved to guard or sixth man. A quality defensive tackle in the draft or free agency could mean the end of Antonio Johnson or Muir.
Bullitt may be the toughest to retain because there is a lot of safety need around the league. The Texans and Jaguars would both be wise to chase him.
We’re Colts and Titans heavy, so I tweeted a request for Texans and Jaguars questions and did a rapid fire Twitter session. (I’m @ESPN_AFCSouth.)
@JoeDowntownVS2 so have the texans still decided safety dosent matters even after last year?
PK: Should have looked at available guys. But they still have draft and real free agency. If they don't act then, they're nuts.
@TheMizellGroup being that Garrard never seems to close out the season we know have consecutive seasons in the "L" are we drafting a QB
PK: Absolutely they'll look hard at a developmental QB.
@DustyGmoe With the signings yesterday from #Texans, can you tell where they will go in the first two rounds?
PK: Defense, defense, defense. OLB, FS, SS, CB and despite what they say, DT.
@baron_von_brad any other team make a play for Hawk?
PK: Don't think there was time and he may not have been interested knowing they were working on a new deal.
@HoustonDiehards is gerald sebsabaugh's history w/ Wade going to land him in Houston once free agency happens? Or are we counting on Nolan?
PK: Nolan in the mix. I hope they do better than Sensabaugh.
@tntitansfan10 how much long will Garrard be Jags QB?
PK: Five or six games if they aren't good ones.
@JasonEmbry With Texans' defensive changes, what does future hold for Okoye? And should Texans upgrade No. 2 WR?
PK: Will get a chance to play 3-4 end for Wade. I'd like to see another option at No. 2, though they invested in Walter.
@Hodari11 Does Rahean Mathis have any trade value?Trade now instead of getting nothing when he leavesWants alot more than he is worth
PK: It's not baseball, where you trade a vet for prospects before he's done. They need Mathis, too young in secondary without him.
@AnnaMegan Is getting a new deal for Vonta Leach a must for Texans?
PK: He was very good last year and I wouldn't mess with the formula. But FBs are generally replaceable.
@eggsngrits Not a #Texans fan, but I have to ask: Why would Arian Foster report to camp for a one-year $480k tender offer?
PK: Because he's under contract to do so. I think they'll try to reward him, but they get a financial reward for grabbing him.
@sumpteravada if we had had the social network we hve now n the 80s...wud Marino/Montana/Moon/Elway been held under the microscope?
PK: Their lives would have been different for sure.
Hate the contents of this mailbag? Change the next one by writing me here, via Twitter @ESPN_AFCSouth or via Facebook at Paul Kuharsky ESPN.
To rebuild into that, General Manager Gene Smith has spent three prime picks in his first two drafts on defensive tackles. And Terrance Knighton, loving known as Pot Roast, and Tyson Alualu, are starting to give this group an identity. (Rookie D'Anthony Smith landed on IR in camp.)
They could turn into a combo that can match what John Henderson and Marcus Stroud once were.
“I don’t see many backs getting a whole lot of open holes up the middle,” David Garrard said. “They do a great job of plugging things up. They are two big guys, so it is really hard to move them and then they have a high motor too. For as big as they are and the motor they have, they make it tough for anybody to run right up the middle on them.”
Titans fullback Ahmard Hall said if the Jaguars aim is to send Chris Johnson to the edge, they’ll be happy to go there. Tennessee is looking for big things from Johnson, who had 26 carries for 111 yards in Tennessee’s 30-3 blowout win at Jacksonville on Monday Night Football back on Oct. 18, but got a big chunk of that with a late 35-yard touchdown.
Tennessee right guard Jake Scott played against the Henderson-Stroud duo.
“It’s a little difference, I think,” Scott said. “Knighton is a pretty big, stout guy but [Alualu] is a little more athletic than Stroud or Henderson, the kid’s got some quickness to him and I think he’s probably going to develop into a pretty good player.
“In the past that’s what they’ve built their defense around – being able to take away the inside run with just two guys. I think that’s what they are trying to get back to. If they can do that it takes a lot of pressure of the rest of the defense.”
Jeff Fisher said the Titans liked both players when they were coming out of college -- Knighton out of Temple in 2009 and Alualu out of Cal last spring.
While coach Jack Del Rio is pleased with their progress, he’s wary as he should be of premature comparisons to his old tandem.
“Like when we got here in ’03, those guys didn’t have that type of recognition, nor did they have that type of reputation,” he said. “I think you earn that. I would just say our two young tackles, they’re young and they’re both talented, but they’ve got a ways to go before you can talk about them like that, in my opinion. You’ve got to earn that on the field and Stroud and Henderson put together a number of years together being disruptive.”
“Then we kind of knew what we had, but a lot of work went into them developing and us being able to utilize them and so right now I’d say there is promise and we like both of our tackles, but they’ve got a ways to go before you put them in the same sentence as that.”
If he stays fit and dedicated Henderson can still play the run, though I am not sure how much of a pass-rushing force he will be anymore. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told AFC West blogger Bill Williamson he likes the move.
The Jaguars have five new defensive linemen who figure to get significant playing time -- in veteran Aaron Kampman and the first four picks of their draft: Alualu, D'Anthony Smith, Larry Hart and Austen Lane.
Rather than installing new guys around Henderson, they decided to move on with new personnel and a new position coach, Joe Cullen. They are intent on improving a pass rush that produced one of the all-time worst sacks seasons in history with just 12 14.
Hopefully for Gene Smith and Jack Del Rio, the 2010 defense builds an identity, as the team has lacked one on that side of the ball since Henderson and Marcus Stroud ranked among the toughest DT pairings in the league.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJoe Cullen is back in the NFL, bringing energy and high-decibel levels as a member of the defensive coaching staff.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The volume’s been turned up to 11 over at the defensive line area of the Jaguars’ practice.
Joe Cullen prowls and hollers, prods and hoorays as he pushes a revamped group that’s expected to revitalize Jacksonville’s defense.
Last year’s 14 sacks were the fifth-worst total in the league since it started keeping sack stats in 1982. Enter Cullen, a once successful coach in Detroit who made national headlines for passing through a drive-through naked, a stunt that ultimately landed him out of the league.
Now he’s been given a second chance as well as the first four picks of the Jaguars’ draft and a veteran rusher in free-agent addition Aaron Kampman.
The Jaguars didn’t do much behind that line. Veteran linebacker Kirk Morrison, acquired in a trade with Oakland, is the only real notable addition. A better pass rush, they say repeatedly, will do much to cure other ills like those at safety.
As Cullen had each lineman weave through four tackling dummies at minicamp practices that wrap up Monday, clubbing and ripping each one before turning left and flattening a fake quarterback, he left little unsaid.
“It’s time to get double-digit sacks around here Harv,” he bellowed to end Derrick Harvey, the team’s top draft pick in 2008. “Not four sacks. That’s what you were brought here to do: Rush.”
He urged “tempo, tempo” and his assistant, Ben Albert reminded the troops: “We’ve got to reclaim the line of scrimmage.”
“I think this is a great group they’ve given me to work with,” Cullen said. “…It all starts up front. Basically the organization and the team is depending on us to lead the team, to lead the troops.”
Two veteran linemen, newcomer Kampman and Reggie Hayward who came here in 2005, both love Cullen so far.
“I love his passion,” said Kampman, the former Green Bay star. “The position is so much about relentlessness, tenacity and obviously those are some of his strong characteristics as a coach. He knows a lot about rushing the quarterback. He’s learned from a lot of great guys in his career and one thing I’ve learned is you always look at the pedigree.”
Those influences include Chicago defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Indianapolis defensive line coach John Teerlinck.
Said Hayward: “[Cullen’s] whole motto is to work hard, to go after it. He’s an intense little guy from upper New York or Jersey or somewhere. He says ‘tonic’ and not ‘soda’ and he’s a little fireball. That’s what you need, man. I think he’s perfect for what we’ve got going on.”
“The identity of the D-line is going to be hard work. We may not be as big as John Henderson or Marcus Stroud. But most of the time making plays is just effort. Do you give up? Or do you continue to work?”
The Jaguars hired Cullen in January with the blessing of commissioner Roger Goodell.
The quick recap of his fall: Cullen drove through a suburban Detroit Wendy’s naked in 2006 -- a scene later revisited through a Jon Kitna Halloween costume. Cullen was arrested for that and separately for a DUI, incidents that led to a suspension for one game by the team, another game by the league and a fine of $20,000 for conduct detrimental to the league.
The two cases resulted in fines and 10 days of community service as well as a judge's order to attend outpatient treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
“Motivated guys are great, right?” asked head coach Jack Del Rio. “Players or coaches, that’s what you want… I know Joe’s very hungry for an opportunity, when he’s been in the league and the line’s he’s worked with he’s done a nice job with and I think he’s very thankful for a second shot.”
“All I know is that there isn’t a single one of us that’s perfect, I know I’m not,” Kampman said. “This profession obviously puts you in a fishbowl and the great thing is that I know he’s addressed it with the group and is moving forward. Each and every one of us needs to be about redemption.”
Cullen started off our chat with an emphasis on how grateful he is to owner Wayne Weaver, GM Gene Smith and Del Rio for the second chance.
In three seasons in the same post in Detroit, he had pretty good line play on pretty bad teams. In 2007 the Lions jumped from 24th to ninth in the NFL in sacks, and the defensive line accounted for 28.5, seventh-most in the league.
But he was exiled in 2009 when the Lions started over with a new coaching staff. He spent the year as an assistant at Idaho State.
He and his 2010 draft class will get a lot of attention this year. His rookie pupils include tackle Tyson Alualu, the 10th overall pick from Cal, third-round tackle D’Anthony Smith and fifth-round ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane.
“They’re very talented, they’re very gifted,” Hayward said. “This is the time for someone to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot at stake here. Now do you want to mess it up by being a goof off or do something special?’”
Cullen isn’t so much worried about quantity as quality in the sack department. He said he craves “impact sacks,” the kind that come with strips or turn field position at a crucial spot in a game.
The defensive line won’t be judged on sacks and can affect games in many more ways, Smith said.
“I think it’s about making the quarterback move,” Smith said. “You’d like to get him down a lot. But you make him move, most quarterbacks who can’t set their feet to throw, cannot throw the ball accurately. So you get opportunities for more pass break-ups, for interceptions and you certainly get opportunities to get off the field with an incompletion.”
Cullen’s hardly set modest goals, especially considering it’s a team with one very big star in running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
“We’re going to be the face of the organization and really be the group that creates a relentless attitude about getting to where we want to be,” he said. “So we’ve got to not just be good, we’ve got to be great in everything we do.”
Henderson was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2002 and went to the Pro Bowl twice. Paired with Marcus Stroud in the middle of the defensive line, he helped give the team a strong-up-the middle, physical identity.
But he has worn down and not been nearly up to his earlier standard in the last two seasons, and was called out by coach Jack Del Rio for sitting out minicamp sessions last year with a shoulder injury.
The Jaguars used their top two picks in the draft for interior defensive lineman -- Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith -- and are set to move on with those two, Terrance Knighton and Atiyyah Ellison as their defensive tackles.
Jacksonville tried to move Henderson during the draft, but clearly had no takers -- more evidence of how little value veteran players had during the three-day draft.
Schefter also reports that the Jaguars have withdrawn their RFA tender offer to linebacker Clint Ingram, who becomes unrestricted. A trade for Kirk Morrison Saturday gives the Jaguars an upgrade, and they will now play with Morrison in the middle, flanked by Daryl Smith and Justin Durant.
That makes for three first- and second-round picks the Jaguars have dumped in recent days. Along with Henderson and Ingram, they traded Quentin Groves to Oakland for a fifth-round pick.
The team now has just six of 15 first- and second-round draft picks from its seven drafts from 2000 through 2006 on the roster:
Andre Johnson denies he will want out if the Texans don’t make the playoffs, says John McClain.
Steve Slaton will start Monday night, says McClain.
Eric Winston vows to protect teammates, say McClain and Dale Robertson.
The Ravens offer an unusual challenge for the Colts, says Mike Chappell.
It’s a home game for Matt Stover, writes Chappell.
Gijon Robinson didn’t travel to Baltimore, says John Oehser.
Ravens QB guru Cam Cameron has ties to Terre Haute, says Tom James.
Marcus Stroud won’t play against his old team.
Key matchup: Eugene Monroe vs. Aaron Schobel.
Justin Durant is doubtful for the Buffalo game, says Michael C. Wright.
Terry O’Brien chimes in on several Jaguars issues.
Richard Collier shares his story, says Charlie Patton.
Nick Harper will concentrate on not getting too hyped as he returns to the lineup, says Gary Estwick.
LenDale White wants to start, but is happy for the wins, says Estwick.
Cortland Finnegan and Keith Bulluck drew big fines for actions against Buffalo, writes Jim Wyatt.
The option package is a nice changeup, says Terry McCormick.
John McClain says Titans-Texans is turning into a serious rivalry. I heard a lot of people asking about that in Tennessee’s locker room Thursday and I think it’s being overplayed, quite frankly.
Houston is catching the Titans at the wrong time, says David Barron.
Jacoby Jones is coming along slowly and Glenn Martinez could work as the punt returner for the Texans, says Dale Robertson.
Because the Titans are talking about revenge, it must be a rivalry, says Alan Burge. Maybe for Houston. The Ravens and Colts rank well ahead of Houston on the Titans’ list of top rivals.
My column on Robert Mathis.
Phillip B. Wilson looks at what the Colts are missing.
When he was starting out, Jim Caldwell worked for Gale Sayers, says Phil Richards.
A familiar report on Anthony Gonzalez: He’s close to a return, says Mike Chappell.
John Oehser pokes around the Web and gives us several links here and here.
Pierre Garcon was back at practice, said Oehser.
Tony Dungy will lead an NFL player advisory forum.
Eighteen things to watch for in Colts-Ravens, from Deshawn Zombie.
Ravens coaches are plotting how to play without Terrell Suggs, says Mike Preston.
Maurice Jones-Drew sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, says Pete Prisco.
A look at the Bills' shift to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, from Michael C. Wright.
Justin Durant suffered a concussion, says Vito Stellino.
A Q&A with Marcus Stroud, from Wright.
Thoughts on headgear, from Vic Ketchman.
Was the NFL in Jacksonville a case of mutually assured destruction? Jonathan Loesche wonders.
The Titans feel like they owe the Texans, says Jim Wyatt.
Nick Harper will regain his starting job, says Gary Estwick.
Vince Young is ready for a trip home to Houston, writes Wyatt.
Chris Johnson wants 200 yards in Houston and backed off his cars-for-yards promise, blogs Wyatt.
Keith Bulluck fans rivalry flames, says Terry McCormick.
The situation: Third-and-10 from the Buffalo 13-yard line with 12:20 left in the fourth quarter and the score tied, 17-17.
The Titans line up with Nate Washington and Bo Scaife to the left, Kenny Britt and Lavelle Hawkins to the right and Chris Johnson to the left of Vince Young, who’s in shotgun.
Buffalo matches up with its nickel package with Ellis Lankster, Reggie Corner, George Wilson, Drayton Florence and Bryan Scott on the field.
They rush with just their four down linemen.
What I saw unfold after the snap: Johnson heads left and cuts toward the end zone with Scott picking him up.
Jake Scott and Kevin Mawae double team Marcus Stroud and hold him up.
Eugene Amano single blocks John McCargo, who uses a spin move and winds up tugging Amano’s facemask.
Michael Roos pushes Aaron Schobel wide and David Stewart does the same with Chris Kelsay. But the two defensive ends begin to squeeze the back end of the pocket, and Young senses it early and sees room.
Young peers downfield as he scoots up in the pocket, but passes on throwing to Britt, who’s crossed from the right to the middle and is open but only two yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Paul Posluszny charges up the middle, but quickly loses any advantage in tracking Young as the quarterback slides to his right, gets to full speed and turns the corner to go up the right sideline for the pylon. He starts to lunge and reach for the pylon with the ball at about the 3-yard line with the defender on his left and diving for his legs. Field judge Keith Washington immediately signals that Young didn’t make it into the end zone marking him just short.
Young gets up and signals touchdown. Jeff Fisher challenges, but only because he was calling a timeout anyway to adjust personnel. Referee John Parry upholds the call.
Result: First-and-goal from 1. Johnson scored three plays later, bouncing off a hit behind the line of scrimmage by Scott and Posluszny and heading into the end zone standing from there and Tennessee moves to a 24-17 lead.
Ultimate outcome: The Titans pour it on from there, turning a close game into a 41-17 blowout for their third win in a row.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|The Jaguars know they want to give the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew and run the ball often. Beyond that, however, Jacksonville is still searching for an identity. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars always intend to be physical.
Beyond that, coach Jack Del Rio isn't looking to shoehorn his team into a predetermined personality.
"What it was when we got here with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson was the Twin Towers," he said. "And that got talked up quite a bit, and now that's changing. Marcus is not here. That's kind of not been what we are. What we are gets described by other people. What I want us to be is a team that works at it, shows tremendous commitment, focus, unselfishness and then we see how people want to label it.
"I'm not concerned with putting a label on it now and then living up to it."
Still, the Jaguars must answer the most basic NFL questions, the ones that provide the fallback plan when things are difficult: Who are we? And what do we do?
They will be a run-centered team, keyed around trying to build big drives with good line play from a group that's healthy and has reinforcements and looks to spring feature back Maurice Jones-Drew. They will be a linebacker-centered team, looking for three athletes to start showing up as big playmakers.
Beyond that, a 5-11 team from 2008 that has a new general manager in Gene Smith and 32 new players on the roster is still feeling things out, and could be for a while.
That search isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's ultimately fruitful.
"The team identity right now, I really can't answer that question," said Greg Jones, the fullback who's expected to get carries behind Jones-Drew. "I think if you ask me a month from now, a week into the season, I probably can. I think we are still trying to find ourselves, we are still trying to get this train going. We still are working towards it, working hard. We're rejuvenated, and excited about a fresh start. New logo, new uniforms, new GM -- we're just trying to have a fresh start and a great year."
Del Rio's positive disposition comes from the roster turnover. Gone are the team's primary character issues and high-paid players who didn't live up to their contracts. Smith's worked with his coach to retool with high-character guys who have good football smarts, who will buy in and fight through tough times.
In a division where the other three teams won at a .688 clip in 2007, the Jaguars aren't expecting Tennessee, Indianapolis or Houston to come back to them. Ultimately, they will have to track those teams down.
"This team has been flipped upside-down," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Everybody is searching themselves for who they are, who they want to be and what they want to accomplish in this league. As a whole, our identity is yet to be made, yet to be found.
"Which is, I think, a scary thing but in a good way. Because nobody really knows what we're capable of. I think we've got something special here that is up and coming, and for a lot of people that's bad news. It's good news for us."
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Can David Garrard prove this season he is the team's franchise quarterback?|
1. Is David Garrard the guy?
Two years into his tenure as the starter, the question is unresolved. In 2007, he was 9-3 as a starter with a 102.2 passer rating. Last year, behind a broken line and with shaky weapons, he was 5-11 with an 81.7 rating.
The Jaguars don't want him to try to carry the team, just to orchestrate things. He talks of getting the ball into his playmakers' hands. But at crucial moments, can he make the right decisions and throw the ball to the right spots?
If he can't, the franchise will be looking for a quarterback in 2010 and Tim Tebow's name will ring out in Jacksonville from just 115 miles away in Gainesville.
2. Where's the pass rush coming from?
The Jaguars traded up for Derrick Harvey at No. 8 in 2007 and drafted Quentin Groves in the second round. They are trying to spark Henderson back to form while sifting through the options for the rest of the defense tackles. Collectively, they must generate a consistent pass rush that alleviates pressure on the secondary and allows linebackers the team keeps praising to start making plays regularly.
Maybe there is a surprise contributor or two. Undrafted rookie Julius Williams out of UConn drew early raves.
3. How will J
ones-Drew do as the No. 1 guy?
In letting Fred Taylor go, Jacksonville was opening more possibilities for MJD. The Jaguars will work hard to get the most out of Jones-Drew, but they also must be conscious of monitoring his workload to maximize the chances of getting the same November and December production as they get in September and October.
That means Jones or rookie Rashard Jennings or another back must prove a viable second option who can take a share of the running back touches on a weekly basis.
The company line is that third-year free safety Reggie Nelson is entrenched as a starter and set to be a key cog in the defensive scheme. But there was a big drop from his first season to his second.
There is a growing buzz among some close to the team and scouts that Nelson isn't the player the team hoped he would be and could even slip out of the starting 11 if he underperforms once the season is under way. Gerald Alexander arrived recently in a trade from Detroit and could make a push for the job if Nelson doesn't recover and find better footing. Still, it's hard to imagine he doesn't get a third season to prove himself.
Newcomer to watch
The Jaguars gave the Patriots a 2010 second-rounder to take cornerback Derek Cox out of William & Mary in the third round. With no clear starter opposite Rashean Mathis on the outside in the secondary, Cox has an early opportunity to stake a claim.
He was carrying himself with confidence early in camp and already working to break a habit he brought from college: a tendency to refocus on the quarterback too soon, giving a receiver a chance to break away.
Kicker Josh Scobee was hitting the ball great in the first week of camp, a good sign for a team likely to win close when it wins. ... Of the three rookie receivers, seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood has been the most impressive. Meanwhile, fifth-rounder Jarret Dillard has struggled with drops. ... Tackle Tony Pashos reacted just the way a team that drafted two tackles and brought in a free agent (Tra Thomas) would want him to. He lost weight, re-committed and looks quite good. ... Defensive tackle Rob Meier will give great effort, but the team realizes it overextended him last season and will limit him to 20-25 plays a game. ... Left guard Vince Manuwai didn't have a full load early in camp but will be ready to go in the opener. The loss of the line's best run-blocker to a torn ACL in last year's opener began the team's downfall. ... Justin Durant has moved to middle linebacker and it's time for him. Between him, and the outside backers, Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith, a defensive leader must emerge and set a tone. ... While they know they can shift him to safety if they need to, the Jaguars are working Brian Williams at cornerback and nickel and expecting him to be in one of those spots or provide depth there. ... Receiver Mike Walker worked in the weight room on his legs and is confident he can keep them healthy. Now the question is whether he gave up any of his shiftiness by bulking up below the waist. ... Marcedes Lewis is best on routes where he can track the ball the whole way instead of having to find it. If he can catch more consistently, he can do some things after the reception. And yards after the catch may be key for this team considering deep balls aren't Garrard's specialty.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars think John Henderson can return to the form he showed in back in 2006. Whether he can or can't, defensive tackle may be the Jaguars biggest question mark.
I'm sure they hate when we harp on ancient history. But when the Jaguars had Henderson and Marcus Stroud side by side, teams knew they were in for a physical battle. The duo provided the identity not just of the defense, but of the team.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|The Jaguars are looking to tackle John Henderson to anchor the defensive line.|
Can they get it back?
If they do it'll be because Henderson rebounds and a collection of lesser known players combine to be productive around him. Last year Rob Meier was the second starter, but the team has since concluded less is more with him in terms of snaps.
I talked with defensive line coach Ted Monachino and asked him to share an assessment of the interior guys beyond Henderson:
Derek Landri: "His dominant traits are his effort and his quickness. When you tie those things together, he can change plays to help your defense win games. Some of the things that he needs to continue to work on and improve on are just lining up across from a guy and whopping him physically in the run game. But we did enough with Derek that he can still be an effective run player. I think his chances are excellent to be a big player in what we do."
Meier: "What we'd like to do with Rob is get him enough snaps so that he can be effective for every one of them. Rob has a tendency to go in there and spend himself in a hurry. If we try to get 50 snaps out of a guy who plays best when he only plays 30, then that's our fault. We don't ever have to worry about Rob not playing the best he can play when he puts his hand down. Does he have some liabilities? Sure he does. There are things he can get better at. He's similar to Derek. He's got a bigger body and a bigger frame than Derek does, but he's still more of an edgy, penetrating, disrupting defensive tackle. We think he's got plenty of gas left in the tank to contribute. I think the number is 25 to 30 plays."
Atiyyah Ellison: "He's got to be in the right system to perform well. Being in an attacking front that involves some movement and allows for some flexibility in his charges, I think, makes a difference with him. If he had to line up head up and two-gap somebody, which is what they were doing with him in San Francisco, he did a great job at giving great effort to do that, but I think he's more suited to do what we do here. He has been a very pleasant surprise. We didn't have low expectations, but for him to come in and put in the body of work he's put in, that's a very pleasant surprise. Very strong and explosive, a real thick body, but has some legitimate quickness and athletic ability as a pass rusher." [More on Ellison sometime soon.]
Terrance Knighton: "He's a young guy that needs to do some things physically to get himself into position where he can play as hard as he can for as long as possible. We need to get him into a manageable area when it comes to body weight. [He's listed at 325.] I'm talking about what is the best weight that he plays at? We've got to figure that out, we've got to figure out can he play a 60-snap game at the weight he's at? Right now we're seeing great things out of him as far as being able to physically whip blockers, his ability to get off and make some athletic plays in the run game and he's also got a little bit of sneaky pass rush ability."
Will any of those guys be Stroud in his prime? That would be a big surprise. Is there enough there to piece together effective play? The Jaguars sure believe so.
Said GM Gene Smith: "We may have some unknown guys or some unproven guys in that group, but there are some talented guys and it's a very competitive group right now. So, it's going to be interesting to see the cream rise to the top. There is still an evaluation period that needs to take place. We think we've got strength in numbers. We'd like for a couple guys to emerge, guys that take three and four hands to block."
Keeping track of the developments here may be as significant as any in camp.
At the end of a week with three OTA sessions Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio met with the local media. The Jaguars were kind enough to share a transcript, and defensive tackle Derek Landri was a big topic of conversation.
Landri was listed at 282 pounds last year and the team still has him at that number on its Web site's roster. But Del Rio said Landri has bulked up and put himself in position to contend for more time.
"You can't tell for sure in the trenches until you get the pads on, but Derek's done a real nice job of adding some weight, some good weight, and we're going to see how that translates into play," Del Rio said. "I think it'll give him an opportunity to be in the mix for more of an every-down role as opposed to kind of a specialist. I know that's what he really has in his heart; it's what he'd like to see. He's working at it. He's been a great kind of a change of pace guy for us and he's shown up big in some big games and he played well in the playoff game against Pittsburgh a couple years ago. So he's had some moments where he's really made an impact. I think in order to give himself a chance to be an every-down player, he needs to add a little bit of weight and he's working at that.
"I talked to him about (adding) five pounds a year if he could do that. Coaching Ray Lewis in Baltimore, when he came into the league he was 225 (pounds). He added five pounds a year and then all of a sudden you see the guy he is now; he's about 255 pounds. I think if you heap on too much weight all at once it's hard to move, but he's been able to add I think about 15 good solid pounds and we'll see how that translates into play when we get into pads and into camp. But he's the right kind of guy the way he approaches things; very determined, very passionate about football and I don't ever doubt that a guy that has that kind of determination will find a way. I think somehow he's going to find a way to play in this league and play for a long time."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Williamson
We examine each AFC South team's "weak spot" based on its 2008 performance. In this post, we explore the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive tackle position.
But picking Boston College DT BJ Raji instead might have yielded a more immediate return on their investment. This became apparent after Arizona's Eben Britton also fell into Jacksonville's lap in the draft's second round, as there obviously were far fewer defensive tackles of top pedigree compared to offensive linemen. That is obviously an argument that is easy to make now and surely the Jaguars could not have predicted that Britton would have been available so late in the process. But in 2008 Jacksonville's defense was not as stout as it has been, especially after the Jags shipped Marcus Stroud to the Buffalo Bills.
As a result, their defensive tackle position appears to be a liability.
One of the true calling cards of the successful Jaguars' teams in recent memory was their massive defensive tackle tandem in Stroud and John Henderson. They were two first- round selections with rare size, movement skills and sheer power. Every offense that faces the Jaguars had to specifically account for Jacksonville's monsters in the middle of the defense. Few teams in recent memory have had a pair as formidable.
A lot went wrong with the Jaguars last season and I will not contend that defensive tackle was a bigger weakness in 2008 than the decimated Jacksonville offensive line, but the loss of Stroud was certainly felt in a big way. No longer were offenses afraid to attack the middle of this defense. Passing lanes were easier to discover. Offensive linemen got to the Jaguars' linebackers with more ease. Getting off the field was more difficult for Jacksonville's defense. Opposing offenses didn't have to face as many third-and-long situations. Adding Raji next to Henderson, whose play fell off as he was the center of attention, surely would help alleviate those concerns.
Now the Jaguars are left with Henderson, 30, and Rob Meier, 31, as the likely other starter. Meier has never proven to be anything more than an average starter. He's more suited to be a rotational player at this stage of his career. Derek Landri is much younger and has an excellent motor, but is quite undersized for the position on a full time basis. This doesn't add up to a good situation, especially when/if injuries occur.
Also, there has been some speculation that the Jaguars will employ more 3-4 looks this season. Presently, there isn't a suitable candidate to man the nose tackle spot unless third-round pick Terrance Knighton makes an immediate impact and shows the ability to occupy anchor against consistent double teams, which is asking a lot for a player as raw as Knighton. Raji would have been that nose tackle for their odd front.
It certainly isn't a knock on Monroe, who could become a great player. He's also surely will help an ailing offensive line along with being the cleaner prospect than Raji in terms of potential character concerns. But Raji would have filled the more immediate need and the Jaguars are quite weak at what was once a tremendous area of strength.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Team needs: Receiver, defensive tackle, offensive tackle, defensive back
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|It's unlikely that Boston College defensive lineman B.J. Raji will still be on the board at No 8, but if he is, expect the Jaguars to jump.|
Plan B: The Jaguars have lots of holes and if they can't address one directly with No. 8, the way Smith has talked of building through the draft, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't want to bump back to gather extra picks. Maybe the Jaguars are really interested in USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. But they struggled to sign Harvey last season. It would surely be harder to strike a deal with a top 10 quarterback who they don't expect to start this year. Perhaps they want someone else who's interested to come up and get Sanchez here. The Jaguars traded into this pick last year, so teams will have a good sense of what it would take to make a deal.
Scouts Inc. take: "After signing Tra Thomas, the Jaguars are now able to draft a project offensive tackle later in the draft as opposed to reaching in the first round for Andre Smith or Michael Oher. But, the Jaguars are not deficient in terms of glaring needs and wide receiver ranks right at the very top of that list. Michael Crabtree would be the ideal selection and in my opinion, as getting the best player in the draft at number eight would be a complete steal. Still, chances are that Crabtree doesn't make it that far. Is Jeremy Maclin worth that pick for Jacksonville? He certainly could be considering the position he plays and his big play ability, but overall, he isn't polished enough to come in an immediately be a go-to option. Two defensive players to keep an eye on are B.J. Raji, who is also unlikely to still be available but would be a tremendous get for the Jags, and Malcolm Jenkins, who could be exactly what Jacksonville needs to sure up their ailing and thin secondary. Mark Sanchez has been mentioned here, but I just don't see that happening." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Jack Del Rio's desires will certainly be heard, but Smith made it clear when he took the post that he's got the final say on both draft picks and the roster.
On the Clock: Oakland Raiders, April 10.