AFC South: Mel Tucker

David Caldwell should hire the best guy he can find as the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I’m sure he’s most interested in the ideas of his candidates, in his sense of their ability to teach and instruct, in the quality of the staffs they could hire and in the relationship he can build with them as co-builders.

But let’s say two of the pool were about equal in those regards.

Would it be better if the ultimate winner comes from the offensive or defensive side of the ball? (Or how about special teams, we should say, since Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong is reportedly in the field.)

SportsNation

Which would you prefer the Jaguars' new coach have?

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    68%
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    24%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 906)

I ask this today because the Jaguars are expected to interview Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley Wednesday and have received permission to interview Seattle’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as well.

Here’s Mike Sando of the NFC West blog on why the Philadelphia Eagles like Bradley. And here’s Kevin Seifert of the NFC North blog from back in his days at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Bevell. (He was terrified of dogs, but says nothing about Jaguars.)

The two will compete with Jaguars incumbent defensive coordinator Mel Tucker; two guys the Jaguars liked a year ago in St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden; San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman; and Armstrong.

Roman could rate as a favorite as he has a long-time friendship with Caldwell.

That’s three offensive guys, two defensive guys and one special teams guy.

It’s a quarterback league, and it’s easy to say a guy who can develop a quarterback should get the nod. But a defensive guy can come in more able to stop the league’s quality quarterbacks, so long as he can hire quality coaches to work with his own.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The Houston Chronicle columnists take opposing viewpoints on the Texans’ future. Randy Harvey says they have too many question marks to be a true contender. Jerome Solomon says it’s too soon to write the Texans off.

For all those bashing Matt Schaub, John McClain of the Chronicle points out that Schaub has taken the Texans as far in the playoffs as Warren Moon ever took the Oilers.

Reviewing the highs and lows of the Texans’ season with Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

The Texans were disappointed but hopeful as they cleaned out their lockers, says Sara Eckert of CSN Houston.

Should they stay or should they go? Battle Red Blog looks and the Texans heading towards free agency.

Indianapolis Colts

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is a finalist for the Bears head coaching job, says Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

To which I say: Arians has said he expects his situation to be settled by the end of the week. Chuck Pagano would have giant shoes to fill if Arians gets a head job. But remember, Andrew Luck did just fine at Stanford when Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL and the quarterback had to adjust to different coaching with the Cardinal.

Tight end Dwayne Allen transitioned from college to the NFL as well as any rookie in Colts history, says Craig Kelley of the team’s web site.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Mel Tucker interviewed Monday and Jay Gruden and Brian Schottenheimer are expected to meet with David Caldwell about the Jaguars open head coaching position today, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

“Tony Khan is the Jaguars' VP of football technology & analytics, and his father owns the team,” writes Chet Fussman of the T-U. “Presumably, a failed fourth-down risk, or the release of a player whose production isn't what it seems, will mean answering to the media, and not anybody else.”

John Oehser of Jaguars.com doesn’t think Maurice Jones-Drew will get traded because the value of an aging back coming off an injury won’t merit it.

Tight end coach Bobby Johnson went to Detroit, says O’Halloran.

Charley Casserly talked with Gene Frenette of the T-U about the Jaguars' coaching search.

Tennessee Titans

A look at Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains from John Glennon of The Tennessean. It appears Loggains, promoted to the post with five games left in the 2012 season, will retain the position going forward.

To which I say: Loggains can do a ton to revamp and revise the offense to suit it to Jake Locker and the personnel the Titans have.

Kenny Britt is still wanted for questioning by New Jersey police who believe he knows about a stabbing and a fired gunshot, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. The NFL will look into what's unfolded.

To which I say: Britt needs to step forward and say what he knows. They aren’t going to lose interest in him the more time passes, and all he is doing is drawing increased attention.

RTC: Jared Cook's season is over

December, 11, 2012
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Reading the coverage ...

Follow the AFC South on Instagram at "pkuharsky."

Houston Texans

The painful loss in New England left the Texans with a lot to digest, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

The defense was no match for Tom Brady, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

Five things Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle learned.

“The Houston Texans might still earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and maybe even compile the NFL's best record this season,” says Don Banks of SI.com. “And if so, good for them. But I think Monday night in Gillette Stadium proved that we shouldn't let the window dressing and fluff count for too much when it comes to Gary Kubiak's talented team.”

The Texans' pass defense has been exposed again as fraudulent, says Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports.

The Patriots put the Texans in their place, says Mike Freeman of CBSsports.com.

Indianapolis Colts

Losing 14 games one season and making the playoffs the next season like the Colts are on the verge of doing is a rare accomplishment, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

A hotel valet was arrested after police say he stole Reggie Wayne’s car, says Kristine Guerra of the Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“It’s been a frustrating year for (Mel) Tucker, his defense and the Jaguars. Ranked sixth a year ago, the defense is ranked 31st and was gashed on the ground the last two weeks by the Bills and Jets as the Jaguars fell to 2-11,” writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. “And for the second year in a row, Tucker doesn’t know what the future holds for him at the end of the season”

Guy Whimper is having fun with his chances at tight end, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

Mike Munchak hopes people are patient with Jake Locker and said he can’t worry about his job security right now, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

“On the same day he learned he would miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, tight end Jared Cook was selected Titans Community Man of the Year,” writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.

 
The Jaguars have struggled to find sacks this season, and things were no different Sunday against the Bears.

Even so, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker wasn’t inclined to send extra rushers at Jay Cutler, and with good cause. It didn’t work well when the Jaguars did it.

Per ESPN Stats & Information, the Jaguars sent four or fewer rushers on 29 of Cutler’s 39 pass attempts, and Cutler generally kept his throws short -- 23 of those 29 throws went fewer than 10 yards downfield.

When Jacksonville sent extra pass-rushers after Cutler, he threw seven of his 10 attempts at least 10 yards downfield and connected for both of his passing touchdowns.

The comparison:
  • Against four or fewer rushers: 7.1-yard average throw distance, 6.6 yards per attempt, no plays of 20 yards or more, no touchdowns, one interception.
  • Against five or more rushers: 14.7-yard average throw distance, 10.2 yards per attempt, three plays of 20 yards or more, two touchdowns, no interceptions.

On the other side of the ledger, Blaine Gabbert played far worse against populated coverage after halftime.

He saw extra pressure on just eight snaps in the game.

When he saw four or fewer pass-rushers, here is how he fared:
  • First half -- 8-of-14, 8.1 yards per attempt, no TDs, no interceptions, five first downs.
  • Second half -- 5-of-12, 1.4 yards per attempt, no TDs, two interceptions (both returned for TDs), no first downs.

He was hardly the only member of the Jaguars who let down after intermission, but he’s got to do better than that.

RTC: Texans' Antonio Smith is angry

September, 10, 2012
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Reading the coverage…

Grades for every team from Will Brinson of Eye on Football.

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak has plenty of reasons for concern after the Texans spent seven minutes looking like a superpower and 53 minutes looking like Canada, says Randy Harvey of the Houston Chronicle.

J.J. Watt led the charge against rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

“Man, we didn’t even play that good and won by 20 points,” receiver Andre Johnson said. “It’s crazy.” Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle has more on the Texans not gambling because it wasn’t necessary.

Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith said Miami guard Richie Incognito was “a dirty player being let to play dirty.” Strong words. “Everything that’s illegal that can be done on the football field he does it, but mainly he was hitting people after the play, sliding down on your leg grabbing your ankle and trying to twist to break your ankle and he was doing it right in front of the referees and he was still in the game.” Nick Matthews of the Chronicle shares the story.

Converting some of Jonathan Joseph’s base salary to bonus created the cap room the Texans needed to fit the extension for Matt Schaub, says John McClain of the Chron.

Solomon loves the extension for Schaub. “But by not making some sort of commitment, the Texans risked having one of their most important players thinking the team doesn’t believe in him. I don’t care how professional one is, a perceived lack of love can drive one crazy.”

Owner Bob McNair liked what he saw, Tim Jamison also got an extension and other notes from Dale Robertson of the Chron.

Indianapolis Colts

Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, quoting Bruce Springsteen. Andrew Luck is a fan of the Boss, so it’s appropriate following a tough start against the Bears. “This, though, is going to be a process -- at times, a slow, painful process. For the Colts and for Luck, and for Colts fans who need to maintain a sober sense of perspective about this undertaking. Patience isn't just a virtue, it's a necessity.”

Given their youth and inexperience, the Colts have virtually no margin for error, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

The Colts’ revamped defense actually got off to a good start before crashing, says Phillip B. Wilson.

Reggie Wayne provided major security for Luck, says Wilson.

The Colts weren’t the same after Dwight Freeney hobbled off with an ankle injury, says Wilson.

Luck didn’t have a bad game, says Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports, he has a bad team. “But he's not good enough to turn this collection of chicken crap into chicken salad, so the Colts will not be appearing in the playoffs or even winning half their games. Not with those receivers, that running game, that offensive line. (To say nothing of the defense. Yeesh.)”

That rough debut for Luck is not a cause for concern, says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars made the mistake of thinking the game was over in Minnesota when they pulled ahead with 14 seconds left, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. It’s hard to fathom that the Jaguars found a way to lose this one.

What should have been the greatest moment of Blaine Gabbert’s career dissolved in gut-wrenching fashion, says Gene Frenette of the T-U.

The Jaguars couldn’t ease Maurice Jones-Drew back in after Rashad Jennings got hurt, says Ryan O’Halloran of the T-U.

Mike Mularkey wasn’t second-guessing himself over a couple key decisions that might have changed the game if he went the other way, says Stellino.

Mel Tucker’s defense let the Jaguars down at the most inopportune time, says Frenette.

Frenette’s report card.

“In the end, the Jaguars were just too banged up to come up with the crucial plays they needed to bring home the win,” says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report. “They forced just two sacks and one fumble on the day.”

Tennessee Titans

At least the Titans can start building around Jake Locker now. That’s something, right? David Climer of the Tennessean shares his thoughts. I don’t think Locker was as good as he gets credit for here.

This is not us,” Titans safety Michael Griffin said after the blowout by the Patriots. “They are a good football team. I am not going to take that away — they went to the Super Bowl last year. It’s Tom Brady and the Patriots, what more can you say? But we’re better than this. We’re a better team than what we showed.” Jim Wyatt’s game story from The Tennessean.

It was a brutal start for a defense looking to make dramatic improvements, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Things are getting worse, not better, for Chris Johnson, who had the worst game of his career, says Glennon.

The Titans were frustrated by things not called properly by the replacement officials, say Wyatt and Glennon.

The Titans get two Fs and two Ds from Wyatt in his report card.

Looking at Johnson’s awful day with John Manasso of Fox Tennessee.

This loss was a study in humanity, says David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper.
Reading the coverage…

See my pictures from AFC South camps by following "pkuharsky" on the instagram app.

Houston Texans

Andre Johnson has Hall of Fame credentials but durability questions, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Rookie center Ben Jones wears No. 60 as a tribute to his late father, says Angel Verdejo of the Chronicle.

New quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell could have been part of the circus with the Jets, but he's a good fit with the Texans, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

A great catch can mean a bad throw, and quarterbacks like Andrew Luck often look at the film of such moments with regret, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. If a receiver is diving, his chance at yards after the catch disappears.

Joe Reitz worked at left guard ahead of Jeff Linkenbach, says Chappell.

A rundown of Sunday from Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report saw a more human Luck on Sunday.

Jacksonville Jaguars

An old role is new again for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

The Eagles' tragedy hit Mike Mularkey hard, says Stellino.

Peter King of SI.com saw an emphasis on chain-moving during the Jaguars’ Friday night scrimmage at EverBank Field.

King talked with Blaine Gabbert. (Video.)

Tennessee Titans

Five things to look for as the Titans practice against the Falcons today, from John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Mike Munchak says preseason games with a narrower game plan will be easier for the quarterbacks than early practices where any play could have been called, says Glennon.

Defensive end Dave Ball, who’s got a concussion history, could be dealing with another one, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Right tackle Dave Stewart is unlikely to practice against the Falcons today, says Glennon.

Running through the Titans receivers with Tom Gower of Total Titans.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- We can’t say the Jaguars defense didn’t get enough credit for its fine play in 2011. The big goal is to play a big role in winning games, and Jacksonville only did that five times.

Still, finishing sixth in total defense with the injuries the Jaguars had was an impressive feat.

Six starters missed time, with nine defenders who would have seen regular time in at least situational packages ending the year on injured reserve.

But total defense is about yards, and games are about points.

To me, third-down efficiency and points allowed are bigger indicators of a defense’s performance. Jacksonville was 15th in third-down defense and 11th in points allowed. There is room for improvement in both categories for sure.

The influx of free-agent talent did a lot for his coaching ability last year, but I like high-energy coordinator Mel Tucker. His on-field enthusiasm is contagious.

I like the attitude of much of his roster of players.

And while this team isn’t going to the Super Bowl, I think its defense could be one of the surprise stories in the league.

“We’re just getting the troops ready,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “I think it’s going to be a special group of guys that’s going to roll. We’re six now and we want to get to No. 1. That’s our goal: No. 1 defense in the world.”

Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is a little less concerned with the rankings, but just as optimistic.

“I think we should be a lot better than we were last year, just based on more time together, having most of the same guys and being able to improve on our techniques and a lot of the things we want to do,” he said. “All I know is we should be able to play at a higher level than we did last year.”

It should be a defensive football team.

But I wouldn’t expect any of the primary veteran offensive players to say so, in effect handing over the keys.

“We want it to be both,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “It’s our job on offense to complement the defense and vice versa. Obviously our defense is rolling right now and that’s going to make things better for us.”
Reading the coverage…

A divisional fantasy football preview from Eric Mack at SI.com.

Houston Texans

Matt Schaub’s teammates are convinced he’s the quarterback to lead them to the Super Bowl, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Arian Foster doesn’t think his new vegan diet is worth the attention it’s received, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

Dealing with the Houston heat during camp is part of the Texans’ plan, says McClain.

For the first time in Texans history, the first-round pick isn’t expected to start, says McClain. That’s a great commentary on their depth. Whitney Mercilus will still see the field, and he loves Wade Phillips’ system.

Indianapolis Colts

Chuck Pagano had a chance to visit with Tony Dungy right at the start of camp, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Chandler Harnish is anything but irrelevant in Bluffton, Ind., writes Phil Richards of the Star.

A complete guide to Colts camp at Anderson University, courtesy of Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Antoine Caldwell vs. Brandon Brooks for right guard ranks as a big training camp battle to Chris Burke of SI.com.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Clint Session regrets keeping a concussion a secret, and now he’s paying a big price for it, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. A major cautionary tale coaches around the league should be sharing with their players.

Writes Gene Frenette of the T-U: “[T]he early read on Blaine Gabbert from those who study him most intently is this: there won’t be a lot of similarity in the 2012 version from the one who had an NFL-low quarterback rating of 65.4 as a rookie.

The Maurice Jones-Drew holdout is tough, because there really isn’t room to compromise, says Stellino. Actually, I believe there is. Don’t give him a new contract, just give him the money he’s due in the next two years more quickly.

Because of their offseason work ethic, Paul Posluszny, Dawan Landry, Brad Meester and Greg Jones got special reserved parking spots, writes Tania Ganguli of the T-U.

The defense is already about 90 percent installed according to coordinator Mel Tucker, says John Oehser of jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean looks at the first camp day of Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker.

Minus the injured Kenny Britt and unsigned Kendall Wright, Damian Williams is showing off his positional flexibility, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The idea of the Titans without an injured and/or suspended Britt is a sobering thought, says David Climer of The Tennessean.
Justin Blackmon and Laurent RobinsonGetty Images/AP PhotoJustin Blackmon, left, and Laurent Robinson will learn from one of the most experienced receiver coaches in the game.
Jerry Sullivan spent the position period of the Jaguars’ offseason practices running slow-motion routes. Put your foot in the ground, like this. Drop your hips, like this. Don’t round the corner, like this.

Although free-agent addition Laurent Robinson and No. 5 overall draft pick Justin Blackmon are the most visible guys the Jaguars brought in to fix some serious problems at wide receiver, the guy who is coaching them in a show-don’t-tell style may prove just as significant.

Mike Mularkey had Sullivan atop his wish list for the job, but didn’t even call him. Sullivan, who will turn 68 on July 14, was retired.

“I didn’t reach out to him, he actually reached out to me,” Mularkey said. “I thought he was retired. Gene Smith and I discussed him initially and I said, ‘I think he’s out of the loop.’ Just by chance I was driving home one of those first weekends after I was hired here and there’s a text: 'Hey Mike, I’d like a chance to work with you and Brat [offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski] -- Jerry S.'

“So I called Gene and said, ‘I don’t know if this is the Jerry S. you and I talked about, but I am going to call and find out.' And it was. He had a couple other options, too, and I am glad he chose this one.”

A year earlier, when Mularkey interviewed in Tennessee but lost out to Mike Munchak, Mularkey had texted Sullivan about wanting him if he got the Titans' job. The link was set.

This time, Sullivan was in Atlanta training Brian Quick for the scouting combine. Sullivan sent that text, got invited to interview and after about three hours said it was easy for him to sign up to be part of Mularkey’s staff despite an opportunity in Arizona, where he could have worked with another receiver he’s close with from work during the lockout, Larry Fitzgerald.

The year before, with little job security as he formulated his final staff, Jack Del Rio wound up with an under-qualified receivers coach in 2011.

Things were such a struggle for Johnny Cox that when Del Rio was fired and Mel Tucker took over as interim coach, he fired Cox and shifted quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard to receivers.

During the lockout, Robinson worked with Sullivan in Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeJerry Sullivan
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJerry Sullivan is looking forward to the challenge of developing Jacksonville's receiving corps.
“He kind of helped me get over the hump and get into my breakout year [in Dallas],” Robinson said. “Having the opportunity to learn from him every day is going to be huge for me and the other wide receivers. He’s a great coach, probably the best receiver coach in the NFL. He felt like he could contribute and help turn this thing around.”

Sullivan may be approaching 70, but he carries the energy of a far younger man onto the practice field, where he’s exacting. As he instructs his guys, he leaves little to the imagination, banging home points he’s clearly hit in the meeting room and addressed on the field before.

In May, not having spent long with his new charges, he already seemed to have a feel for who needed pushing and who needed stroking, offering different things to different players.

He’ll be expected to squeeze production out of Robinson and Blackmon. He will also try to rebuild Mike Thomas, who ranked too high a year ago but can be a good third guy. He will attempt to help promising second-year man Cecil Shorts get over what appears to be game-day stage fright. He will aim to develop a gem or two -- perhaps undrafted rookie Mike Brown from Liberty.

“I like the challenge that belies me, I’ll put it that way,” Sullivan said. “I look forward to it. We’ve got a lot of young guys who’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m excited about their attitude and we’ve just got to put one foot in front of the other going up the mountain. Some days you slide a step. Some days you gain two steps. ...

“It’ll be a well-rounded group if everybody gets to where they need to be. We’ve got a ways to go. That’s a common phrase around the league, I know. Nobody wants to put themselves out there. My whole thing is the group needs to improve to be NFL caliber to win games.”

His biggest message in the offseason may have been this: When you run routes against NFL cornerbacks, you’re in control or they are.

“You’re either hearing elevator music, or you’re hearing Guns & Roses,” Sullivan said. “If you’re hearing Guns & Roses, you’re probably not going to be successful. You want to be nice and smooth and calm and in control of how you do it.”

In helping the Jaguars' receivers, Sullivan will be helping quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and that’s the biggest job for everyone connected to this offense.

“They can be more confident in that he knows what they are going to do and how they are going to do it,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s huge. I think he’s a young kid that’s got a nice arm. He’s obviously been maligned, unfairly I think. If we do our job and play at a good NFL level, we’ll help him be better and we’ll help the team be better.

Said Gabbert of Sullivan: “His knowledge of the game is going to help not only the wide receivers, but the quarterbacks, the offense and the entire team.”

Thomas got a lot of attention early in the offseason when he said Sullivan was super-regimented and the group probably needed that.

The new assistant certainly endorsed the signing of Robinson and the drafting of Blackmon.

If they are good, we could be back here saying he’s as important of a new position coach who has landed in the division.

“Jerry’s been everything I thought he’d be with these guys: very detailed, very demanding,” Mularkey said. “Plus, being a former coordinator, I always like to have those kind of guys in the room.

“His drive is still there. There is no way he could sit at home in the living room.”
What I think they are thinking (or should be) in the four headquarters of the teams from the AFC South ...

Houston Texans

There is a big element of the fan base and the city that think we’ve got the division in the bag before training camp even starts. We can’t buy into any of that and need to remember that ever year starts from zero and we need to build into a successful team all over again. That said, we’re confident and there is nothing wrong with that. The mindset is important, and we need to keep each other in check if it starts to slide places it shouldn’t go. During this down time, it would be gigantic if we could open negotiations with left tackle Duane Brown or outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Because if we go into the season with no extension done for Brown, Barwin or quarterback Matt Schaub, we face some serious free-agent issues when the 2012 season ends.

Indianapolis Colts

Maybe we lack some building blocks, but what good does it do for us to say so out loud or spend any real time lamenting it? The predictions from the outside expecting us to be terrible set us up to surprise people. On both side of the ball we will be different than we’ve been, so there is plenty of room for us to surprise. There is only so much you can do in offseason work, and we did the biggest thing: We got players to buy into the new coaching staff, the new systems and the idea of “Building the Monster.” The cornerbacks and the offensive line are our major question marks. We could be tinkering with a lot of areas of the roster through the remainder of the offseason, camp and into the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Outsiders looking in think our offseason has been all about the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew and the DUI for our top pick, Justin Blackmon. While we certainly would have preferred neither of those thing to happen, it’s not as if either one had a direct impact on what we did on the field and in the meeting rooms in our offseason time. We weren’t thinking about contract issues or off-the-field problems when we were learning Mike Mularkey’s methods and offense or refining Mel Tucker’s defense. The progress Blaine Gabbert’s made is very real, and if he can show it on Sundays, we’re poised to surprise a lot of people. It will be a lot of fun to do so considering how we’re perceived.

Tennessee Titans

We spent an offseason dissecting what we did well and what we didn’t do so well last year in the first season of the Mike Munchak regime. And we got to spend the time installing a lot of stuff offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray didn’t even get to show us last year when everything was a post-lockout rush. We may not have added a ton to address our primary issues, but pass-rush coach Keith Millard is going to improve what we do have and Steve Hutchinson will influence the entire offensive line. The quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will energize the entire team and set a healthy tone for training camp. Beyond quarterback, it will be interesting to watch leadership emerge.

Ranking the AFC South defenses

May, 15, 2012
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1. Houston Texans: Wade Phillips did some great things with this defense a year ago. But he’s not the only member of the Texans’ organization who deserves credit for an incredibly improved defense from 2010 to 2011. Houston’s front office was very aggressive in addressing the defensive side of the ball last offseason. Now, Houston has big-time players at each level of its 3-4 defense.

For those who don’t yet know, J.J. Watt immediately established himself as one of the up-and-coming defensive players in this league. Not only is Watt is a fantastic hustle player, but he has ideal size and length for his 3-4 defensive end position to go with well above-average athletic ability. Watt will be a star. Like Watt, Brian Cushing did everything asked of him really well from his inside linebacker spot last season and has established himself as one of the better second-level defenders in the league.

Before last season, the Texans paid a premium to sign him, but simply put, Johnathan Joseph is one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL today. He is the total package and probably the best player on this excellent defense -- which is really saying something. The Texans could use one more cover man to step up, though. Overall, Houston is well-equipped in coverage and of course the pass rush helped a lot in that capacity.

Maybe what the Texans’ defense did best in Phillips’ first year was rushing the quarterback -- even without Mario Williams for much of the season. The Texans did add Whitney Mercilus to further enhance their threat off the edge and Connor Barwin could be knocking on the door of stardom.

Besides the first-round selection of Mercilus, who is in an ideal position to learn the outside linebacker position slowly, the Texans mostly stuck to improving their offense in the draft. However, Houston did land an intriguing prospect to play behind Watt and the underrated Antonio Smith in late fourth-round pick Jared Crick, who is an ideal fit for this defensive scheme. Only the Steelers, 49ers and Raves allowed fewer points than Houston last year. Don’t expect much of a drop-off this year.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: The AFC South has a shot to have two top-five defenses in 2012. Mike Malarkey takes over as the Jaguars’ head coach, but his focus will be getting quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s career straightened out and improving a dismal Jacksonville passing game.

The defense will be in Mel Tucker’s hands. Tucker wants a fast-flowing, physical and aggressive defense that doesn’t blitz a lot and gets most of its pressure from the defensive linemen. The Jaguars found a gem in Jeremy Mincey, who’s excelled in all facets of playing defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. But this defense really lacked a complementary end to Mincey, especially as a pass-rusher. Jacksonville used the No. 38 pick in this year’s draft on Andre Branch, who could help immediately on passing downs but offers little against the run.

One guy who let this defense down last season is Tyson Alualu, who really had a down 2011 season in all regards. Still, only three teams bettered Jacksonville in rushing yards allowed per attempt in 2011. A vastly underrated positional group in the NFL is the Jaguars’ linebacker corps, especially Daryl Smith, who does everything well on the second level. Paul Posluszny isn’t much behind Smith and was a fine addition to Jacksonville’s defense in free agency a year ago. The Jags’ secondary lacks star power but it is pretty solid at each position. The Jaguars were 10th in the league in points allowed last year. They could improve upon that in 2012.

3. Tennessee Titans: There isn’t a lot of star power here, but the Titans are very young on defense and could be poised to improve. Youngsters Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug, Alterraun Verner, Jason McCourty and others are much better players than many casual NFL fans know. Third-round pick Mike Martin should be the perfect complement to the run-stuffing Casey and the lighter pass-rushing Klug in the Titans’ defensive tackle rotation.

The Titans’ pass rush was a huge problem last season, as only Tampa Bay recorded fewer sacks than Tennessee, but it should be much better this year, especially with the addition of Kamerion Wimbley. Former first-round pick Derrick Morgan also should finally be healthy. This is a key season for Morgan -- and the Titans need more from him.

On the second level, the Titans are now very young and active. Colin McCarthy is a tackling machine and should quickly establish himself as a leader of this defense. Tennessee lost Cortland Finnegan to the Rams in free agency, but overall, their coverage people were above average last season -- despite that suspect pass rush. Finnegan had an excellent season, though, and will be difficult to replace.

The Titans look to be improved up front in their ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, but not as strong on the back end in coverage. Only seven teams allowed fewer points than Tennessee during the 2011 season. Maintaining that standard could be difficult, but overall, this is a pretty solid group in just about all areas.

4. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts might have the worst defense in the NFL this season. Their run defense was abysmal last season. Indianapolis has nowhere to go but up in this department and additions such as Cory Redding, Brandon McKinney and Josh Chapman should help shore up the run defense at the line of scrimmage. Still, such a drastic scheme change really leaves Indianapolis in a bind on this side of the ball for 2012.

Although the Colts surely will not be playing with the lead as much as they did when Peyton Manning was behind center, the edge pass-rush presence of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis should still rank among the best in the NFL. Mathis was probably the Colts’ best defensive player last season. He can still get it done. I believe the same is true with Freeney. As good as Freeney and Mathis still are, just the Titans and Buccaneers sacked opposing quarterbacks less than Indianapolis.

Besides Freeney and Mathis, Pat Angerer and especially Antoine Bethea are above-average starters for their respective positions. But outside of these four, the remaining prevalent members of the Colts’ defense are littered with flaws. One player I am very high on is Drake Nevis, but Nevis was drafted to be an upfield disruptive three-technique. The problem here is that if Indianapolis goes with a predominantly 3-4 alignment, Nevis’ great penetrating abilities could be wasted. That is the problem with switching schemes -- players from the former philosophy aren’t well-suited for what the new coaching staff has in mind. This applies to many members of the Colts’ defense, which up until now was a fast-flowing undersized unit built on speed. Now this unit will be building to be much like what Chuck Pagano coached in Baltimore -- and Nevis is one of many examples of the problems with making such a change.

The Colts were not strong at all in coverage last year -- and it doesn’t look as though they will be much improved in 2012. They are particularly weak at cornerback. Indianapolis also had the fewest interceptions in the league last year. Pagano and his defensive staff will be more creative with their looks and pressures, which he hopes will leads to more turnovers created. Getting more Ravens-type of defensive players will be a massive priority for Indianapolis next offseason.

Under pressure: Mike Thomas

April, 10, 2012
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Obviously no one on the Jaguars is under more pressure in 2012 than Blaine Gabbert.

But the quarterback is such an obvious choice, we will set him aside and go a different direction, to one of the people Gabbert or Chad Henne will need to be productive if the Jacksonville offense is going to make a significant jump.

Wide receiver Mike Thomas will have better coaching with Jerry Sullivan and a better supporting cast with Laurent Robinson, Taylor Price and, presumably, a high draft pick in the mix.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has said Thomas can combine attributes of Wes Welker and Steve Smith.

But many Jaguars fans were left wondering about Thomas last season, when he fell off after he got a contract extension in early October. That three-year, $18 million deal included $9 million guaranteed. It eclipsed the three-year deal worth $13.35 million with $5 million guaranteed that Green Bay gave Jordy Nelson.

Thomas finished with 44 catches for 415 yards and a TD, and after the contract he didn’t have a game better than four catches for 36 yards. Nelson was obviously playing for a far better team with an MVP quarterback, but he had 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Word in Jacksonville was that Thomas gave up late in the season, frustrated by a bad receivers coach in Johnny Cox and a struggling rookie quarterback in Gabbert. Cox was fired by interim head coach Mel Tucker and replaced by quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard.

The Jaguars need Thomas to be the player they thought he was when they drafted him and then when they gave him the extension. He needs to be part of the solution for Gabbert, not an addition problem.

Thomas said recently he will benefit from being pushed by Sullivan, and if that helps, great.

But once the Jaguars signed him to a new deal, he graduated to an NFL veteran who shouldn’t necessarily need pushing. He’s a guy who should be motivated by simply living up to his contract and the faith his bosses have showed in him.

Will the additions amount to enough help? It’s too early to say and we don’t know who they will draft. But Thomas shouldn’t be the top option in the receiver group, and with Robinson in the fold Thomas should rank second at best.

Thomas is under pressure to produce.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

When Arian Foster met with Roger Goodell, this picture was part of the result, says Nick Mathews of the Houston Chronicle.

Nick Scurfield of the Texans' web site reviews Houston’s defensive line.

Indianapolis Colts

Comparing teams just before the rebuild: The 2011 Colts have a lot more chips carrying over than the 1997 Colts did, says Nate Dunlevy of Colts Authority.

The Colts will take Andrew Luck in part because they know he can take a hit and they can’t be scared of letting him do so, says Dunlevy, this time at Bleacher Report.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have taken care of their own on defense, and that has coordinator Mel Tucker feeling optimistic, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

David Garrard has landed in a good situation, says Stellino.

John Oehser of the team’s website defends the team’s transparency.

Tennessee Titans

Mike Munchak likes what the Titans have done so far in free agency and says the team isn’t finished yet, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

The way Matt Hasselbeck reacted to the Peyton Manning chase showed class, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Knighton's weight remains an issue

January, 25, 2012
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The requirement for Terrance Knighton to be a top echelon defensive tackle for years to come for the Jacksonville Jaguars is simple: don’t let the weight balloon.

Ayodele
Knighton
Sirius XM NFL Radio spoke with Mel Tucker during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala. and the Jaguars defensive coordinator was blunt.
“I’m not going to tell you anything I haven’t told Terrance. He knows this is put-up-or-shut-up time right now. He knows he can be a dominant player if he keeps his weight under control. Now is the perfect time to get that right.

“He knows that, ‘If I’m going to be the player I need to be and can be and have the respect of my teammates and coaches, there are certain things I have to do on and off the field.’ Weight management is one of those things. That’s a major part of it.”

They don’t call Knighton “Pot Roast” as a joke — it’s not a bald guy being called ”Curly” or a weakling being labeled “Muscles.”

His weight has been a story wince the team spent a third-round pick on him out of Temple in 2009. Working with Tyson Alualu in the middle of the Jaguars line, he can be part of a dominant tandem, helping a strong linebacking corps behind him make a bunch of plays.

An offseason with the team should help the cause. That 2012 is a contract year for Knighton should also be a motivating factor for the 25 year old.

“He’s fully committed,” Tucker said. “We’re fully committed to getting it done. Together, we feel he’s going to have a great season. I’ll be shocked if there’s going to be anything different than that.”

If Alualu’s knee is right and Knighton’s weight is right, the Jaguars are a consistent pass rusher away from ranking with the league’s best defenses.
We’ll wait until next week to start building the All-AFC South Team, and you’ll have a big chance to offer input there.

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

Drum roll please:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colt of the year: Pat Angerer, middle linebacker.

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

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