AFC South: Melvin Bullitt

Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Former Texans defensive end Mario Williams is suing to get a pricey engagement ring back, says David Barron of the Houston Chronicle.

Gary Kubiak wants to see Collin Klein’s progress at quarterback, says Ganguli.

Texans first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins told Ganguli the idea of all he has overcome is blown out of proportion, but she’s not so sure he’s right about that.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts' Bjoern Werner is proof that American football isn’t just for Americans anymore, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star. Werner was one of a record 10 foreign-born players drafted.

Is there another Gary Brackett or Melvin Bullitt in the Colts' crop of 10 undrafted rookies? Mike Chappell of the Star looks at the new guys.

The Colts will return to Anderson, Ind. for training camp, writes Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Twenty-nine players from last year’s roster are already gone as part of the Jaguars’ roster reshaping, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

The Jaguars are meeting with veteran free-agent cornerback Marcus Trufant, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.

The Jaguars signed two rookies out of their rookie tryouts. O’Halloran says running back De’Leon Eskridge of San Jose State and defensive end J.J. Griggs of Akron are now on the roster.

Tennessee Titans

Robert Johnson is still recovering from midfoot surgery, but thinks he will be back in action by mid-June, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

A deeper look at third-round linebacker Zaviar Gooden, from Tom Gower of Total Titans.

A deeper look at fourth-rounder Brian Schwenke, from Gower.
Bob Sanders is long gone, and injury-prone Melvin Bullitt is not with the Indianapolis Colts anymore.

Indianapolis has a dire need at strong safety, where the Colts platooned David Caldwell and Joe Lefeged last season after Bullitt was lost early on with a shoulder injury.

Even with Tom Zbikowski added, they need an upgrade next to free safety Antoine Bethea, a strong player against both the pass and the run.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Colts defense was last in the NFL on throws more than10 air yards inside the numbers in three important categories: completion percentage (72.7), yards per attempt (16.1) and attempts per TD (7.9).

Better defense on short passes over the middle is an absolute necessity for the Colts if they are going to be more effective under first-year coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

Safety is thin in the draft, and strong safety is particularly thin. Possible candidates include South Carolina's Antonio Allen (fourth or fifth round projection), Alabama's DeQuan Menzie (fifth), Arkansas State's Kelcie McCray (fifth), LSU's Brandon Taylor (sixth).

Can one of those guys start on opening day? It'll probably take a good combination of scouting projecting and coaching to make it happen.

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major personnel losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got -- starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold on to players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?

Addition and subtraction

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

Houston

Additions: None

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

Indianapolis

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

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

Jacksonville

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

Subtractions: ST-WR Kassim Osgood (cut).

Tennessee

Additions: G Steve Hutchinson (cut, Minnesota).

Subtractions: CB Cortland Finnegan (St. Louis); DL Jason Jones (Seattle).

Video: Clayton on Colts' latest cuts

March, 9, 2012
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At the news conference making Peyton Manning’s release official, Colts owner Jim Irsay indicated more roster moves were pending.

They came down Friday, and the remaining roster is a barren landscape.

Gone are halfback Joseph Addai, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Melvin Bullitt, linebacker Gary Brackett, and quarterback Curtis Painter.

All but Painter are proven players who played important roles in the system the team run under the team’s top executive, Bill Polian, and coaches Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.

Those three powers are gone, and new GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano are starting with a virtual clean slate.

Addai is not the type of back the team will want as it looks to get bigger and more powerful. Clark, Bullitt and Brackett are officially injury-prone and aging.

Some of these moves bring accelerated cap hits, and might cost more than the significant salaries the players were scheduled to make will save.

But in a year, the team should be in much better financial shape -- and be adding instead of subtracting.

The next big question is defensive end Dwight Freeney, who's due $14 million this season and carries a $19 million cap number.

What I'd do if I ran the Colts

March, 1, 2012
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The money isn’t mine. I’m not certain about what you can afford and what the market will pay when free agency opens on March 13. I’m not positive about your plans and schemes.

But I’ve got a good sense of your team. We've looked at the free-agent list.

And here’s what I’d try to do with your major issues:

1) Tell Peyton Manning thanks for everything. Say we had every intention of you playing out your career with the Colts, but the chances of all these elements aligning -- his health questions, a new GM and coach, the top pick and Andrew Luck’s availability -- make it impossible. Maximize your graciousness.

2) Assessing what will be available in the draft, or a relatively inexpensive free agent or two you’d like to grab, then franchise either defensive end Robert Mathis or receiver Reggie Wayne accordingly. Both will have great chances to move on in free agency, and you can’t afford to move forward without them, either. You can make a case either way -- Mathis would be a great piece in a transformation to a 3-4; Wayne would reliably be in place to convert third downs for a young quarterback.

3) Convince defensive end Dwight Freeney to sign an extension. You have to drive down his $19 million-plus cap hit and his $14 million-plus base salary for 2012. But cutting him would be awfully painful, especially if Mathis is getting to free agency. If Freeney has to go because of cost, then Mathis has to be tagged and Wayne is likely lost.

4) Look for cost savings with these players: Tight end Dallas Clark ($7.32 million cap hit, $4.53 million base), middle linebacker Gary Brackett ($7.4 million cap hit, $5 million base), running back Joseph Addai ($4.3 million cap hit, $2.9 million base), and safety Melvin Bullitt ($3.7 million cap hit, $2.4 million base). Brackett and Bullitt are now injury prone and I don't know if you can count on them. But just cutting them won’t necessarily save money as accelerated bonus cost could produce a cost approaching their scheduled cap numbers. Same with Addai, who may not fit with a new run philosophy.

5) Let receiver Pierre Garcon walk. The guy is a blazer who will make a good amount of big plays, but he’s not guaranteed reliable in big moments. The sort of drops and gaffes he’s capable of can really mess with a team trying to build confidence and he'll be overpaid by the market.

6) Try to get Jeff Saturday to sign up for one more year. He’d be a great influence on Luck and a young team and could help get a group of young linemen ready to protect the new centerpiece and to block for a newly emphasized run game.

7) Re-sign reserve quarterback Dan Orlovsky, tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Anthony Gonzalez cheaply if you can. Orlovsky can spot start if need be and it’ll be difficult to find a quality backup who wants to come to be No. 2 to Luck. Tamme has quality hands. Gonzalez was highly rated not too long ago and a doghouse visit under the last regime will make him affordable. It’s worth trying to keep them around at reasonable cost and they are unlikely to draw significant offers elsewhere.

8) Let three other free agents walk: linebacker Philip Wheeler, guard Mike Pollack and tackle Ryan Diem.
Regrets? Everybody’s got a few… We asked for some feedback on one thing you’d like to go back and change for each team in the AFC South.

For the Colts, the overwhelming response was regretting not having a solid backup plan for Peyton Manning. But I’ve said time and time again that all but a few teams in the league would trade the Colts run of success and one awful year for what they’ve had. So I don’t place a lot of blame -- developing some young quarterback with Manning yielding no snaps or luring a quality veteran backup who expected he’d never play would have been difficult.

Here’s my biggest second-guess about the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.

Not shoring up the secondary.

Re-signing safety Melvin Bullitt was, I believe, the right thing to do. But he quickly got hurt and the backup plan was insufficient.

The same can be said at cornerback. They let Kelvin Hayden go over money and while Justin Tryon’s been cast as far better than he is, he was better than the other options. He landed in the doghouse and got cut. Jerraud Powers was the lone quality corner and was under too much strain before he got hurt.

Jacfob Lacey was awful, and got benched, though he rebounded well when he found his way back into the lineup.

No one was afraid to throw the direction of safeties Joe Lefeged or David Caldwell or corners like Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas or Chris Rucker.

The Colts got good play from Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the defensive line and from Pat Angerer at middle linebacker. But on the secondary level, no one played to that standard and it was a big part of what killed the Colts in a miserable season.

Whatever system the new Colts run, it’ll be a big part of what they need to fix under new GM Ryan Grigson.

Breaking down Colts as they break down

October, 27, 2011
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Peyton ManningDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Colts were clearly ill-prepared for life without star quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s ugly in Indianapolis.

At 0-7, the Colts are talking about sticking together, improving and giving themselves a chance to win.

But as they prepare for a trip to Nashville for a Sunday meeting with the Titans at LP Field, they are a severely broken team. Where they would be with Peyton Manning is an interesting hypothetical question, but we’re dealing with realities. And those realities are the sort that will test the franchise’s stitching -- seamwork that might not hold together when this is all over.

Who’s at fault? Everyone’s got a hand in it, but let’s look at the Colts from a couple of angles.

A big cover-up: It’s not a secret that Manning has helped cover up a lot of flaws and allowed the franchise to under-address certain areas.

The Colts during the Manning era have never been much concerned with size, always valuing speed and instincts more. They’ve never worried about stocking special teams with any veteran backups, in part because they spend their money on stars or adding a high-quality return man. They’ve settled for being below average running the ball. And they’ve won despite a general inability to stop the run.

Without their four-time MVP running the offense, all those things are magnified in ways they’ve never been before.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re built to have Manning at the controls, and he’s been there all the time from the very beginning in 1998 until opening day this season.

There are maybe two teams and markets in the league that would not trade for what the Colts have done since 1999. Twelve consecutive playoff seasons followed by one complete dud? Where do I sign up for that?

[+] EnlargeJacob Lacey
Michael Hickey/US PresswirePersonnel decisions by the Colts put cornerback Jacob Lacey, 27, in a prominent role in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Construct questions: That said, regardless of a serious neck surgery to the star quarterback, what exactly was the plan in the secondary? Is an evaluation that leaves Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker as cornerbacks Nos. 2 through 5 good enough? Absolutely not.

The Colts get credit for adding a couple of outside veterans this season -- linebacker Ernie Sims, and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. But the drafting has dropped off.

Set aside the most recent class, as it’s too early to judge.

The Colts drafted 41 players from 2005 through 2010. I count one star, safety Antoine Bethea, and two guys who can become stars, linebacker Pat Angerer and receiver Austin Collie (if he’s working with Manning). Running back Joseph Addai is a good fit who does more than people think. And receiver Pierre Garcon and cornerback Jerraud Powers have been pretty solid starters.

Sure, the Colts drafted higher in the five years before. Still, those classes produced five guys who rank among the best players of their generation at their positions: tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Bob Sanders, and receiver Reggie Wayne. The next tier provided steady starters on the offensive line (Jake Scott, Ryan Diem) and at linebacker (David Thornton).

That list is more than a third of a starting team, a big-time core. As those guys age or disappear, I'm not seeing a core in waiting.

Colts president-turned-vice chairman Bill Polian said recently on his radio show that they needed to have done better recently, particularly at defensive tackle and cornerback.

And there is a domino effect to the problem. Find Tarik Glenn’s ultimate replacement at left tackle in 2007, and you don’t need to use your top pick in 2011 on Anthony Castonzo. Hit on Donald Brown in the first round in 2009, and Delone Carter might not be necessary in the fourth round in 2011.

The Polians: Bill Polian has been pulling back and yielding responsibility to his son, GM Chris Polian. (Chris politely declined to be interviewed for this story.)

We don’t yet have much tape on Chris Polian, so to speak. Bill Polian is a good talent evaluator who has had success in three NFL stops and has done well to build a team with which Manning has won. But Bill Polian also has overseen those recent draft drop-offs.

His strong-willed personality is part of what has made him good at his job, and his big-picture assessment of important league issues is as intelligent as anyone’s. He’s got clout and influence that extend beyond Indianapolis.

Stylistically, he’s a stubborn and demanding boss. There are indications from within that, without the steady stream of personnel hits he provided earlier in his tenure, some inside the building are tiring of the way things are run.

Bill Polian recently talked about how Curtis Painter's play vindicates the team for having faith in him, but failed to mention that faith was so strong that the team signed Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract shortly before the season started and handed him the starting job.

I suspect Bill Polian has the backing of owner Jim Irsay for as long as he wants it. That would ensure safety for Chris Polian, too.

Bill Polian made the Manning-over-Ryan Leaf call in 1998. Because of the way Leaf busted, people forget that was a coin flip at the time, that Leaf was regarded as a big-time prospect just as much as Manning was. Polian called it correctly, built a team that’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, got a new stadium built, and greatly enhanced the value of Irsay’s franchise.

Cryptic messages: Further complicating things is Irsay, who clearly gets a kick out of being the center of NFL attention in the Twitter-verse but has undermined some of his people with it.

He announced the team added Collins while coach Jim Caldwell was conducting his daily news conference. It did Caldwell no favors, as he appeared completely out of the loop.

Most recently, following the 62-7 loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, Irsay provided this gem:
“Titanic collapse, apologies 2 all ColtsNation...problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again”

A day later, he added:
"Just because you perceive problems on the horizon,and you possess solutions..doesn't mean they are avoidable and implementation is instant"

Solutions in progress, but complex in nature. That sounds to me like what would be written in big silver letters on the lobby wall of a consulting company on a TV show. Or a clever, but far-too-long name for a band.

It also sounds like change is going to come.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Coaching questions: While Bill Polian recently said that adding Jim Tressel to the staff as a replay consultant was Caldwell’s idea, it’s a weird-looking move that’s made some of us wonder whether a bigger role awaits the former Ohio State coach.

Caldwell does a nice job managing personalities, looking at things philosophically and staying on message. I believe he’s a good teacher, and his patient, quiet style is generally healthy for a team with a good share of veteran stars.

But he has blind spots, too, and is hardly a strategy master. There are bound to be significant changes at the conclusion of what’s sure to be a dreadful season, and he’ll be at the front of the line.

If he does the best job we can remember at holding a terrible, ineffective team together, is that enough? I’d guess not.

Injuries: This team gets hurt too much. There is a huge element of bad luck to it, of course. But is there something bigger at work as well?

Last season as quality players went down, Manning helped some role players such as tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White emerge. This season, guys such as linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early, and there's been a revolving door on the offensive line because of injuries.

The Colts are constantly testing their depth and shuffling the back end of their roster. There is only so much shuffling a depth chart can handle.

I believe they need to attempt some change that might have a positive effect on their overall health -- whether it be adopting new training philosophies, altering how they evaluate prospects or changing personnel philosophies.

It's easy to ask them to figure out why they tend to suffer so many injuries, and it's hard to find an answer. But some sort of shift is due, even as we know it comes with no guarantee of better health.

When the current approach is failing, it's OK to try something else. It's not admitting some sort of failure; it's merely part of a necessary process of evaluating and revising operations.

Suck for Luck: Given a chance to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, I think the Colts would. Bill Polian can give Chris Polian the guy expected to be the NFL's next great quarterback, and Chris Polian's legacy would be built on a fantastic cornerstone.

But there is no losing on purpose to get in position for Luck. You think Wayne or Mathis is interested in such a master plan?

Said veteran center and team tone-setter Jeff Saturday: “I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote: 'I ain't sucking for anybody.'”

Steady Bethea surrounded by questions

October, 20, 2011
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Antoine Bethea is surrounded by nobodies.

Jerraud Powers is a good corner who’s going to be a factor for a while, but he’s got a bad hamstring.

Everyone else in the Indianapolis Colts’ secondary is hardly noteworthy.

Yet Bethea is playing as effectively as a free safety in such circumstances can, a true pro who won’t allow his game to be influenced by such circumstances.

Quarterbacks are completing 69.9 percent of their passes against Indianapolis. They have a 104.0 passer rating and a 70 QBR (out of 100), the 31st worst number in the league.

I’m not sure what Indianapolis’ plan for the secondary was this season. When they let cornerback Kelvin Hayden go because he cost too much, one had to believe the Colts felt confident in the alternatives. Then Justin Tryon, who was an effective player last season, fell out of favor and wound up getting cut. The No. 2 corner, Jacob Lacey, is no longer a full-timer in the base defense with Terrence Johnson getting some time in the spot.

The Colts are playing David Caldwell at strong safety in the base defense and Joe Lefeged in the spot in the nickel.

Corner Chris Rucker is also seeing some action.

“As a veteran back there, I see myself as the glue,” Bethea said. “One of my roles is to get everybody lined up and confident. As a safety, that’s my job.”

Bethea said he likes the way the Colts are deploying their other safeties, using Caldwell (“He lays the boom”) against the run and Lefeged (“He plays the ball well”) in passing situations. In time each may be well-rounded enough to be a full-timer, but for right now splitting the job between them is a smart approach.

Bethea is backing his guys, but neither has been great since Melvin Bullitt was lost for the year with a shoulder injury.

Bethea said the young corners need to play technique, show improvement week by week and be sure not to repeat the same mistakes.

The Tryon situation was business, and players can’t spend time questioning a front office decision. Bethea is great at focusing on his stuff and his guys. He said that although 0-5 is a miserable place, no matter where the team goes moving forward we will not see the sort of fissures that often open on struggling teams.

As for being surrounded by unproven guys ...

“You can’t let other people affect how you play,” Bethea said matter-of-factly. “How you play is how you play, how you study is how you study. If my play goes down because there are different players around me, it says guys can’t look up to me. They need to see 41 flying around, playing hard, making plays.”
The Indianapolis Colts' defense made a strong showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night without linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt.

Any further strong efforts will also have to come without the two starters, as the team put them both on injured-reserve Wednesday with their shoulder injuries.

One of the roster spots made room for quarterback Dan Orlovsky. The other was used for A.J. Edds, who was signed off the New England Patriots' practice squad. Edds played in the Patriots’ first two games before he was cut and signed to the practice squad.

The Colts are better equipped to deal with the loss of Brackett than Bullitt, even as Bullitt was not off to a good start.

Pat Angerer slid from the strong side to the middle with Brackett out since the opener, and Angerer made 20 tackles from the spot against Pittsburgh Sunday while Philip Wheeler stepped in as the third linebacker.

But David Caldwell, who replaced Bullitt in the starting lineup in Week 3 for his first NFL start, was not as good.

The Colts were depleted at the strong safety spot opposite free safety Antoine Bethea in the center of the defensive backfield last season when Bob Sanders and Bullitt were both lost to injuries. Ultimately they turned to Aaron Francisco, who wasn’t even on the opening day roster.

They released Sanders after the season, and he’s now in San Diego. They re-signed Bullitt, an unrestricted free agent, and now will turn to Caldwell or another player they didn’t draft, rookie Joe Lefeged.

Defensive depth has taken a serious hit just three weeks in. And with Peyton Manning, Brackett and Bullitt all out of action, they’ve got some big dollars out of the lineup.

UPDATE: Ironically, San Diego put Sanders (knee) on IR Wednesday as well.

Reading the coverage: Insomnia edition

September, 21, 2011
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Houston Texans

Houston’s special teams have made great contributions so far, says Jeffrey Martin.

The Texans took a look at six free agents Tuesday, including Vernon Gholston, according to John McClain.

Find a podcast of Gary Kubiak's show here.

Indianapolis Colts

Antoine Bethea noticed the crowd thinned out considerably before the end of the Browns game. Phillip B. Wilson looks at how fans are dealing with a big dip. My tip to fans of Indianapolis: Remember the past nine years of playoff trips.

A Steelers-Colts breakdown from Wilson.

At Grantland, Mark Titus talks about jumping off the Colts’ bandwagon.

In the context of Peyton Manning’s reported European stem cell treatment, Jason Whitlock says we need to understand performance enhancing drugs and try to figure out the best way to use them safely and responsibly.

Some doctors chime in on the stem cell procedure possibilities.

Considering Jamaal Anderson, Melvin Bullitt and Robert Mathis, from Sam Monson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

How top 10 rookie quarterbacks have performed under fire, from Gene Frenette.

The Jaguars added receiver Chastin West, says Tania Ganguli.

Going with Blaine Gabbert should be the easy decision, says Hays Carlyon.

The Jaguars have been here before and know how to bounce back, says John Oehser.

Oehser answers a lot of Gabbert questions.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans boosted their sellout streak to 128 and will be full for the Broncos on Sunday, says Jim Wyatt.

A look at the relationship between Chris Hope and Michael Griffin, from David Boclair.

Five things John Glennon knows about the Titans.

How the Titans shut down the Ravens' pass attack, from Tom Gower.

Wrap-up: Browns 27, Colts 19

September, 18, 2011
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Thoughts on the Colts’ 27-19 loss to the Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Colts are 0-2 and struggling. While things were better with Kerry Collins than in the opener, he couldn’t get the Colts into the end zone until the very end when it was too late. He finished 19-of-38 for 191 yards with a touchdown, a pick, a lost fumble and a 62.5 passer rating.

Disappointing: The Colts took drives into the red zone early in the second quarter and early in the third quarter. In six plays in side the Browns' 20-yard line, they moved the ball a total of four yards before settling for field goals. Meanwhile Cleveland scored touchdowns on its first two forays into the red zone.

Better, but… The Colts ran for 109 yards and a 4.2 yard average and held the Browns to 106 yards and a 3.1 yard average. But Peyton Hillis ran for two scores, one through a weak-effort arm tackle by Melvin Bullitt, and that was a huge difference in the game.

Reason for concern: The Colts pass rush should be able to bother an inexperienced quarterback like Colt McCoy, but he hit on 22-of-32 throws for 211 yards and a TD while he was sacked just once and hit just four times. He produced a passer rating of 97.3.

What’s next: The Colts host the Steelers for Sunday Night Football, and a national TV audience will get to see what they look like without Peyton Manning.
TBDAP Photo/Dave EinselMatt Schaub, left, Andre Johnson and the Texans believe they're a playoff contender this season.
HOUSTON -- They don’t want to act like they’ve been here before.

Because when the Houston Texans were here before, it proved pretty meaningless. Last year’s opening-day win against the Colts at Reliant Stadium didn’t translate to a playoff berth. It turned out to do little for the team in a lost season that finished 6-10.

This time around, they have reason to believe a 34-7 pounding of the Colts and a 1-0 start will be more relevant in the big picture.

Before they were finished talking about it, the team’s reminders about its center of attention has been altered.

Signs at both ends of the locker room and outside the team auditorium that said “One Focus” and featured a Colts’ helmet and the date and time of the opening game were taken down. In their places: New versions with details about the Dolphins.

Some players cautioned fans about running out to buy Super Bowl tickets, but defensive end Antonio Smith said he didn’t want to be an obstacle to anyone’s conviction.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “Everybody knows the best way to get to the playoffs is through your division. If we don’t play good in our division games, we can’t have dreams of the playoffs…

“We need as much belief as we can get. Faith and belief is the only way you’re going to get anywhere. So if our fans believe in us, if they have faith in us, then I think it can’t do anything but help us when you’ve got that much positive vibe. If you believe in us, buy away.”

More good perspective came from Andre Johnson, who let an early pass slip through his hands and turn into an interception, but still caught seven balls for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“No, I’m not afraid about being happy,” he said. “A win is a win. We were in this same situation last year… Our motto now is just trying to go 1-0 every week. That’s the way we approach it. We’re going to enjoy the win tonight, fix the mistakes we made tomorrow, and try to go 1-0 again next week.”

Before we move on to Texans-Dolphins, five observations out of the win against Indianapolis.

1) The defensive front will face better offensive lines and have tougher times. But the group, newly shaped into a 3-4, was dominant. It hit Kerry Collins seven times, sacked him three times, forced three fumbles (one was a dropped snap), recovered two and generally allowed Collins very few comfortable snaps.

“They are as good a front seven as we’ll play this whole year,” Collins said. “We have to do better at diagnosing it, picking it up and getting rid of the ball.”

Smith and Mario Williams were especially active and drew praise from the defense’s architect, coordinator Wade Phillips.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.J. Watt, 99, and the Texans' front seven made life difficult for Kerry Collins and the Colts.
“Obviously it was a good start for us,” an understated but proud Phillips said. “The effort was great, I thought, and our execution was pretty good. You have to be pleased, especially with 34-0 at the half. We felt like we had to come out strong against that team who had adversity with their quarterback.”

Smith said he often had the hard count the Colts tried to employ figured out.

“I don’t know if a veteran quarterback like that really gets rattled,” he said. “But I know he felt our pain. I know every time we hit him we tried to make him feel that.”

2) The defense was very clearly the weak element of the 2010 team.

But there is no holdover in terms of anyone on the team thinking anything but all-for-one-and-one-for-all, according to center Chris Myers.

“When they are getting great plays, the whole offense is on the field before they can even come off the field,” Myers said. “Same thing with the defense. It’s something we’ve been able to preach the whole preseason: We have each other’s backs no matter what. It’s shown this week and we’ll go from here.”

3) A year ago, the opening day win against the Colts was a big breakout game for Arian Foster, who ran for 231 yards. This year, with Foster out with a hamstring injury and Derrick Ward lost during the game to a knee injury, Ben Tate stepped up and produced 116 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

“The line played outstanding today, and the tight ends really did a nice job on the edge and opened up holes,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “We have a good solid group of backs. Derrick really played well and then when Ben was in there, he’s a great guy who can read the one cut, make his move, get down hill and get yards and make a guy miss. We saw that today and it was good to see him play that way.”

4) One game does not a return-game turnaround make, but boy would a year of threatening kick and punt returns be a big addition. Jacoby Jones went 79 yards for a touchdown after Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff 46 yards.

Jones’ value on offense just went up with Kevin Walter’s serious shoulder injury. Can Gary Kubiak continue to put him at risk on special teams when the team is thin at wide receiver?

5) The Texans didn’t appear to think for a second about last year’s slow-starting offense when their second play from scrimmage was the Schaub pass that went through Johnson’s hands and wound up picked off by Melvin Bullitt.

These Texans showed resolve, as the defense stalled Indy with the first of Williams’ two sacks, and the offense marched 73 yards in 13 plays for a field goal to open the scoring.

Colts consensus pick: First

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
11:53
AM ET
Five of us asked to pick the AFC South still have the Colts winning the division.

While Peyton Manning is the big story and his status can change things, once he’s back he will be surrounded by a team that has a lot of key pieces back and healthy. Don't fool yourself. This will be a very talented team.

Here’s my intelligence report on Indianapolis. You can find it along with the predictions, a draft element from Mel Kiper and a look inside the number from ESPN Stats & Information here.

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Colts:

1. Quarterback uncertainty: A lot of people are saying Peyton Manning will start the opener, no matter what. Really? No matter whether doctors advise against it? I don't think so. He's driven, for sure, but he's not putting himself at medical risk. I expect we may not know his status until 90 minutes before the Sept. 11 game in Houston kicks off. In the meantime, late addition Kerry Collins provides an upgrade at backup. He needs better protection and a better run game than Manning's been getting in recent years to have a chance at success.

2. Stopping the run is key: The Colts failed to stop Arian Foster in the opener a year ago. They'll face the same challenge at Reliant Stadium on Sept. 11, followed by Peyton Hillis, Rashard Mendenhall, LeGarrette Blount and Jamaal Charles. Is the front good enough to stop those types of runners? It needs to be, especially if the offense isn't primed to run out to the sort of leads that prompt opponents to stop running it. Additions like Drake Nevis, Jamaal Anderson and Tommie Harris may help the front be better overall.

3. Special teams, with benefits: The new kickoff rule won't make kickoffs obsolete the way many doomsayers are predicting, but it certainly will make them less important. This is a great thing for the Colts, who regularly underachieve on special teams. Pat McAfee will bury a high percentage of kickoffs in the end zone and the team's lack of a consistent return man won't matter as much. When Manning is in place, the offense will happily take the ball at the 20-yard line at the start of most drives in exchange for not suffering as it did on Antonio Cromartie's big return late in the playoff loss to the Jets. McAfee's used that big leg to become adequate at long-range field goals. Once they are out of Adam Vinatieri's range, they could try the punter in desperate situations.

4. Depth a concern: Indianapolis has unproven depth at both safety and corner, and injuries akin to last year's could really leave the Colts exposed. They let Kelvin Hayden go in a salary-cutting move. That leaves them with Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey and Justin Tryon as their top-three corners, with untested Kevin Thomas fourth. They re-signed Melvin Bullitt to play safety alongside Antoine Bethea, but all the options behind them are young and haven't done much. It could be an issue.

5. Short-yardage offense: Joseph Addai can be effective in all situations, but he'd likely benefit and be fresher later in the season if he played fewer snaps. When the Colts are moving the ball, they go no-huddle and trap opponents in personnel packages, unable to substitute. The thing is, they are also unable to substitute. The Colts might do well to pause a bit more often to get rookie Delone Carter on the field to give them their best cracks on third-and-short and near the goal line.

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