AFC South: Mike Ditka

Tony from Greensburg, Ind., writes: I loved the interview with Polian. I thought you asked some very good questions that many fans wanted answers to. But I would have liked to have seen some tough questions about Bob Sanders. I know he is a major concern with many fans. The guy has missed more games than he has played. What is the strategy to keeping him on the active roster? He is taking up valuable roster space. What are your thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t see how the roster spot is hurting them right now. They have to deactivate eight guys a game. As long as they don’t have a ninth injured guy who can’t play, they can deactivate Sanders each week and miss nothing. If they feel that’s a fair trade-off for missing a body during the practice week, well, they can judge that far better than we can, no? With Donald Brown and Mike Hart hurt, they still had the roster flexibility to add a player they need -- they just brought in running back Javarris James.

I understand people are angry at Sanders for getting hurt repeatedly and at Polian for not cutting him. I don’t understand what there was to grill Polian about on the topic or why you’d prefer a rash decision that would leave them with no chance of having someone like Sanders late in the season or in the playoffs, which remains a possibility now.


Ted in San Francisco, Calif., writes: Texans worked out Aaron Schobel, which makes me conclude he would have been willing to come out of retirement. Texans later signed Mark Anderson, showing they had need at DE. Anderson has such a worse track record than Schobel that I think it's fair to conclude that the Texans balked at paying Schobel. He may have been overweight, but they should hire him for what he can do in January. The Chronicle media are shy of this angle. Am I wrong in calling out the Texans for not spending?

Paul Kuharsky: We don’t know what happened and what didn’t happen. I can’t recall anything that’s made me think the Texans are cheap. Bob McNair is first class. If Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith told him “this guy can be the difference for us,” I think they would have signed him. I don’t believe they felt that way.

I wish he decided he wanted to keep playing when it ended in Buffalo and that they signed him then. But you can’t foresee the injury to Connor Barwin and I can, philosophically, understand not wanting to stunt his development.


Cody Russell in Hendersonville, Tenn., writes: So the 2010 Best of Nashville Readers poll came out, and they polled for best Titan player. Here are the rankings 1. Chris Johnson; 2. Vince Young; 3. Cortland Finnegan. I was curious to know how you would have voted?

Paul Kuharsky: I’d say Johnson No. 1, Finnegan No. 2 and third would be between Michael Griffin and Jason Jones. Michael Roos would round out my five.


Stephen in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Who's blocking is usually more critical to the success of the running game: the tight end or the fullback?

Paul Kuharsky: Well it depends on what personnel you are deploying and the design of the plays. An inside play, it’s probably the fullback; outside it can be the tight end.

It’s not an easy A or B answer to me.


Jerome in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Do you happen to have Ditka's address? I'd like to mail him a pic of the pretty full stadium on Sunday versus Colts. Instructions included: [Not appropriate for print.] If you haven't heard, Ditka made an either A) Misinformed comment or B) Horribly delivered and unoriginal joke. "There will be only 25,000 fans" (paraphrasing)

Paul Kuharsky: I heard, live. I know people in North Florida are upset with him. I don’t have a pipeline. I did what I could by writing this.


Matt Barron in Indianapolis writes: Paul, longtime reader, first time writer. As a Colts fan and an avid reader of all things AFC South, I've always enjoyed the fact you have a vote in ESPN's Power Rankings. My question this week is your comment listed with the Colts. A drop for them was both expected and deserved. But I was a little surprised you chose to mention the red zone turnovers in particular. Granted, losing the ball in that situation is something you never want to happen and isn't really the best way to win football games, but personally I think given the current climate the Colts' offense is doing great… On the other side of the coin is the defense, and to me that's where the real problems of that game were. The energy they used to show seemed non-existent, no pressure on Garrard, no pressure on receivers, no pressure on Maurice Jones-Drew. That seems like a far more alarming issue than a couple unlucky turnovers, especially with the mounting injuries.

Paul Kuharsky: Good to hear from you.

Seems unreasonable to hit me on one sentence. I could write about absolutely anything there. Odds that I write a line about the one thing you think I should have written about are pretty slim, don’t you think?

Certainly the defense is the big issue right now. But don’t turn it over those two times and they would have bailed the defense out. And I didn’t find them unlucky -- Gerald Alexander delivered a giant hit to Brody Eldridge and Reggie Wayne seemed to be a little greedy stretching for extra when he fumbled.


Jordy in Boston writes: What's the ratio of "Your rankings are spot on. I agree with your opinions." to "You're a moron who should be fired and are totally biased against my team." emails you get weekly? I'm guessing 0:837,892.

Paul Kuharsky: That’s about right.
Reading the coverage:

Houston Texans

The offensive line is coming off its best game and heading into its biggest test, says John McClain.

Richard Justice can’t find anything to complain about with the Texans.

The Texans are excited to get Brian Cushing back, says McClain.

Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones could both be game-time decisions this week, says McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

The humbled Colts can bounce back, says Mike Chappell.

Jim Caldwell stands by his controversial timeout call, says Phillip B. Wilson.

Bob Kravitz says it’s December that matters. (Video.)

A breakdown of two back-breaking plays, from Nate Dunlevy.

Pierre Garcon will be back Sunday, according to WISH-TV.

Once again, missed opportunities, poor play-calling and game decisions, a lack of adjustments, and playing vanilla football, leads to a Colts loss, says Brett Mock.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jack Del Rio’s day-after talk was a dose of reality, says Vito Stellino.

Derrick Harvey is losing snaps to Jeremy Mincey, says Tania Ganguli.

Another high pick is sinking and this time its Harvey, says Mark Long.

Del Rio’s Monday press conference.

A Jacksonville man is in serious condition after a fall at EverBank Stadium, says Dana Treen.

Credit Dirk Koetter and the staff for their work in the win over Indy, says Vic Ketchman.

Chet Fussman’s angry with Mike Ditka. We hit on this Monday.

David Garrard’s rebound featured his biggest asset, says Alfie Crow.

Tennessee Titans

Josh McDaniels says Jeff Fisher condones dirty play, writes John Glennon.

Derrick Morgan is lost for the year with a torn ACL, says Jim Wyatt.

Chuck Cecil was fined $40,000, says Wyatt.

Tennessee is jumping the gun too often, says Glennon.

The Titans have to turn Vince Young loose, says Joe Biddle.

Tennessee’s defensive line has survived injuries, says David Boclair.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

  • A Richard Justice tweet from about 10:30 a.m. CT: "Texans appear to have suffered first significant injury of camp this morning when C Chris Myers was helped off the field with a leg injury." I've seen nothing further. (He's @richardjustice.)
  • Jerome Solomon looks at the story of long shot cornerback Mark Parsons.
  • Andre Johnson can get even better, says Jordan Godwin.
  • With Chester Pitts recovering from a shoulder issue, Kasey Studdard is getting a chance to show he can play with the starters, writes John McClain.
  • Clifton Dawson and Aubrey Bell were cut, says Alan Burge.
  • McClain on Glover Quin.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Jack Del Rio has a survivor mentality, says Gene Frenette.
  • The Times-Union's camp observation deck is open.
  • John Henderson intends to re-emerge, says Vito Stellino. "I remember it was fun," Henderson said. "We were out there running and jumping and dancing and doing all that great stuff. That's what it was about. I really want to get back to it." Good first steps: hearing him say the right things and reporting at the weight the team wanted.
  • The development of the core players will tell the Jaguars' story according to Del Rio, writes Michael C. Wright.
  • Vic Ketchman sees Mike Ditka in Tim Tebow.

Tennessee Titans

 
  Getty Images
  Joe Montana, Danny Abramowicz and Walter Payton were pretty good buys.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A rookie receiver on a rookie franchise in 1967, Danny Abramowicz was halfway through the preseason when coach Tom Fears sent The Turk for him.

Defiantly, Abramowicz went to the meeting but violated the protocol.

The contract he got as a 17th-round pick out of Xavier was worth $17,000 and when he joined the team he had sought out Fears.

 
  Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images
  Wide receiver Jerry Rice provided pretty good value for being picked 16th in the 1985 draft.

"When I reported to training camp, I said 'Coach, I know you don't even know who I am, but all I am asking for is a fair chance,'" Abramowicz remembered in a recent phone chat from his home in Steubenville, Ohio. "He said O.K. In those days we played six exhibition games. Three games into the exhibition season I was on special teams and never got to play a down at receiver.

"The Turk knocked on my door and said, 'bring the playbook' and I did not bring the playbook. I went downstairs into coach Fears' office and I said, 'Coach, you didn't give me a chance, I'm not leaving.' He said, 'You're serious, aren't you?' And I said, 'I'm as serious as a heart attack.' So he said, 'OK, go back to your room, I'm going to give you a chance.' I walked out the door and wiped my brow and said, 'Wow, that worked.'"

Abramowicz played receiver in the next game and played well, becoming a staff favorite. In the regular season, an injury to a starter got him his next big chance, and he wound up his first season with 50 catches for 721 yards and six touchdowns. Two years later he was a first-team All-Pro.

"He caught everything he ever touched," said Eddie Khayat, the defensive line coach for those Saints. "He had great hands, he could go deep, he was so tough. And I don't think I've ever been with a coaching staff that pulled so hard for a guy to make the team, because he was all-out all the time and tough on special teams."

We break from the form for this blog entry, which includes no significant AFC South hook.

Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Research and Mark Francescutti of ESPN Stats & Information worked through a formula and came up with our list of the 50 All-Time Best Buys in the draft and we jumped at a chance to write about it.

Receiver Jerry Rice of the 49ers, the 16th player selected overall in the 1985 draft, tops the list. His teammate quarterback Joe Montana, the 82nd player selected overall selected in 1979, ranks second.

Only three players represent the AFC South division: Peyton Manning, one of just five overall No. 1 picks on the list; running back Marshall Faulk, who started out as a Colts' first-rounder; and Billy (White Shoes) Johnson of the Houston Oilers.

The Formula
Here is a complete listing of the point system used in the calculations:

MVP: 15 pts for each award

AP All-Pro: 15 pts (a one-time value for appearing on a 1st or 2nd team)

1st Team All-Pro: 5 pts for each year

SB Wins: 5 pts for each win

SB loss: 2.5 pts for each loss

Rookie of the Year: 3 points

Pick Value: Takes the average slot at which the first player at each position is chosen and subtracts it from the pick where each individual player was selected. This value is then divided by 10. For example, the first quarterback comes off the board on average at pick 10.6, therefore Peyton Manning's "pick value" is (1-10.6)/10.

-- Ryan McCrystal, ESPN Research

And the best stories are of guys like No. 33 Cleveland defensive back Ben Davis (439th in 1967), No. 30 Dallas defensive tackle Larry Cole (drafted 428th overall in 1968), and No. 25 Abramowicz.

Told he ranks ahead of Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Joe Greene, O.J. Simpson, Deion Sanders and Terry Bradshaw, Abramowicz wondered about the criteria, which factors in draft position and is explained fully with the in the box to the right.

"That must be a stacked deck, how did I get in there?" Abramowicz said. "That's awesome. I think the world of all those guys, they were great players."

Five Cowboys are on the list. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt was Dallas' long-time chief personnel man and easily recalled the stories of four All-Time Best Buys (he left the Cowboys before they drafted Emmitt Smith, No. 9 on this list), including No. 14, guard Herb Scott, drafted 330th out of Virginia Union in 1975.

Brandt said Scott had a bad body coming out of college -- not unlike Alabama's Andre Smith right now -- but film showed he never got beat in games. According to Brandt, scout Dick Mansperger deserved the credit for finding Scott. At that time, Mansperger focused exclusively on traditionally black universities.

The guard ranked 50th on the Cowboys' board, they drafted him 280 spots later and he was a two-time first team All Pro who played in three Super Bowls and won one. How's that for value?

"Coach [Tom] Landry called me in during training camp and he said, 'I want to trade John Niland,'" Brandt said, referring to the guard who'd been to six Pro Bowls. "I started laughing. He said, 'Herb Scott is an unbelievable football player. If we can trade Niland now coming off a Pro Bowl year...' Well, we traded him and that enabled us to get [receiver] Tony Hill, who was a very good player for us.
"

Abramowicz went on to coach for Mike Ditka in Chicago and New Orleans. Now, he's part of "Crossing the Goal", a program that airs on the Catholic Network EWTN, and he's written a book, "Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint." Married for 43 years, he's got three kids and four grandchildren.

During his best year in 1969, the Saints called on him as a fill-in punt returner, even though he'd not done it since he played at St. Peter's grade school. He fair caught the first one as he was instructed, then got brave and decided he could return the next one. He wound up hit "like a truck over a rooster," his front teeth smashed in, the start of dental issues that the 63-year old said has included 14 root canals.

But he was a quick learner when it came to NFL survival. Stitched up and sent out for a third punt in that game, he made the prudent play.

"Before the ball got through the cheeks of the center's rear end," he said, "I had both hands up in the air."

Draft Pick Value Rankings
Player Pos. School Team Rd. Overall Yr. SB
W-L
Score
1. Jerry Rice WR Miss. Valley St. San Francisco 1 16 1985 3-1 88.07
2. Joe Montana QB Notre Dame San Francisco 3 82 1979 4-0 87.14
3. Brett Favre QB Southern Miss. Atlanta 2 33 1991 1-1 84.74
4. Peyton Manning QB Tennessee Indianapolis 1 1 1998 1-0 84.04
5. Lawrence Taylor LB North Carolina N.Y. Giants 1 2 1981 2-0 82.30
6. Jack Lambert LB Kent State Pittsburgh 2 46 1974 4-0 76.70
7. Terrell Davis RB Georgia Denver 6 196 1995 2-0 73.90
8. Tom Brady QB Michigan New England 6 199 2000 3-1 71.34
9. Emmitt Smith RB Florida Dallas 1 17 1990 3-0 69.00
10. L.C. Greenwood DE Arkansas AM&N Pittsburgh 10 238 1969 4-0 68.19
11. Shannon Sharpe WR Savannah State Denver 7 192 1990 3-0 68.17
12. Mike Webster C Wisconsin Pittsburgh 5 125 1974 4-0 68.13
13. Karl Mecklenburg LB Minnesota Denver 12 310 1983 0-3 67.60
14. Jack Ham LB Penn State Pittsburgh 2 34 1971 4-0 67.50
15. Brian Sipe QB San Diego State Cleveland 13 330 1972 0-0 66.94
16. Alan Page DT Notre Dame Minnesota 1 15 1967 0-4 65.34
17. Mark Moseley K Steph. F. Austin Philadelphia 14 346 1970 1-1 65.20
18. Herb Scott G Virginia Union Dallas 13 330 1975 1-2 65.14
19. Anthony Munoz OT Southern Cal Cincinnati 1 3 1980 0-2 64.57
20. Ronnie Lott DB Southern Cal San Francisco 1 8 1981 4-0 64.54
21. Rayfield Wright DT Fort Valley St Dallas 7 182 1967 2-3 64.54
22. Bruce Smith DE Virginia Tech Buffalo 1 1 1985 0-4 64.49
23. Barry Sanders RB Oklahoma State Detroit 1 3 1989 0-0 62.60
24. Rocky Bleier RB Notre Dame Pittsburgh 16 417 1968 4-0 61.00
25. Dan Abramowicz WR Xavier New Orleans 17 420 1967 0-0 60.97
26. Larry Brown RB Kansas State Washington 8 191 1969 0-1 60.90
27. Rod Martin LB Southern Cal Oakland 12 317 1977 2-0 60.80
28. Mike Wagner DB Western Illinois Pittsburgh 11 268 1971 4-0 60.54
29. Walter Payton RB Jackson State Chicago 1 4 1975 1-0 59.70
30. Larry Cole DT Hawaii Dallas 16 428 1968 2-3 59.57
31. Randy White DT Maryland Dallas 1 2 1975 1-2 59.04
32. Charles Haley DE James Madison San Francisco 4 96 1986 5-0 58.99
33. Ben Davis RB Defiance Cleveland 17 439 1967 0-0 58.20
34. Mike Singletary LB Baylor Chicago 2 38 1981 1-0 57.90
35. Ted Hendricks LB Miami, Fla. Baltimore Colts 2 33 1969 4-0 57.40
36. Joe Greene DT North Texas St. Pittsburgh 1 4 1969 4-0 57.24
37. Larry Brooks DT Virginia State L.A. Rams 14 355 1972 0-1 56.84
38. Robert Holmes RB Southern Kansas City 14 375 1968 1-0 56.80
39. Billy Johnson WR Widener Houston Oilers 15 365 1974 0-0 55.47
40. Marshall Faulk RB San Diego State Indianapolis 1 2 1994 1-1 55.00
41. Rod Woodson DB Purdue Pittsburgh 1 10 1987 1-2 54.74
42. Zach Thomas LB Texas Tech Miami 5 154 1996 0-0 54.50
43. O.J. Simpson RB Southern Cal Buffalo 1 1 1969 0-0 54.40
44. Ron Yary OT Southern Cal Minnesota 1 1 1968 0-4 54.37
45. Deion Sanders DB Florida State Atlanta 1 5 1989 2-0 54.24
46. Terry Bradshaw QB Louisiana Tech Pittsburgh 1 1 1970 4-0 54.04
47. Dwight Clark WR Clemson San Francisco 10 249 1979 2-0 53.87
48. Cliff Branch WR Colorado Oakland 4 98 1972 3-0 53.77
49. Thurman Thomas RB Oklahoma State Buffalo 2 40 1988 0-4 53.30
50. Rodney Harrison DB Western Illinois San Diego 5 145 1994 2-2 53.24
MVPs: Manning and Favre won three. Montana won two. Taylor, T. Davis, Brady, E. Smith, Page, Moseley, B. Sanders, Sipe, Gannon, L. Brown, Faulk, Payton, Simpson, Bradshaw and T. Thomas won one.

All-Pro teams: All except Bleier and Cole were named first- or second-team All-Pro.

Rookie of the Year: Taylor, Lambert, E. Smith, B. Sanders, Faulk and Greene earned ROY honors.

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