AFC South: Mike Walker
e place, says Mike Chappell. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer says communication is the key, writes John Oehser. Oehser takes a question about the potential for Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to line up in the same backfield. Phillip B. Wilson looks at the Colts' preseason numbers. Deshawn Zombie says people shouldn't forget just how good a coach Tony Dungy was. One big difference with Coyer so far is movement on defense, says Stampedeblue.com. Jacksonville Jaguars The Jaguars' two free-agent additions make return trips to Philly to play against their old team, says Michael C. Wright. Mike Walker is now Mike Walker-Sims, writes Wright. Tennessee Titans Jean-Jacque Taylor says there is no shame for Vince Young in being a college legend who failed as a pro. The Titans are waiting on MRI results on Nate Washington's hamstring after he got hurt during practice, says Jim Wyatt. While Jeff Fisher downplayed it, Titans players feel pretty sure Chris Davis' DUI factored into him being cut, reports Jim Wyatt. Alternate versions of the Davis and Washington stories from Terry McCormick. Jevon Kearse and LenDale White suffered practice injuries, too, says The Tennessean. Chris Johnson offers assurances that he'll run fine when it counts, says Wyatt.
Think you have better questions or conversation starters than these? Show us. Hit the mailbag here.
Josh in NY writes: This is a continuation of our debate from the chat! Knighton/Ellison/Landri are all definitely serviceable next to Big John, and Rob Meier has proven to be a guy who can come off the bench and put pressure on the QB over the course of his career. Brian Williams is certainly serviceable at corner, he was the same corner we had in 2007, and we now have Cox in the mix for added depth. Nelson is a legitimate concern at safety, as he seems to not have the mental makeup for the position. Holt alone makes this team's receivers better than the combo of Matt Jones and Reggie Williams, you aren't honestly calling those two a legitimate tandem, are you?
Paul Kuharsky: I agree with your assessment here for the most part.
My point is, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, Mike Walker, the young receivers, Atiyyah Ellison -- they are all unproven. For the Jags to make a big jump, they need all those guys to produce. What are the odds a half dozen unproven players all produce consistently for the first time at the same time?
Torry Holt should be a great addition, but beyond him what have any of the wideouts done?
Wouldn't you agree that personnel-wise, they rank fourth in the division?
Franklin in Houston writes: I can't understand how you classify Nick Harper as underrated. I view him as a declining CB that is able to stay on the field using smarts as opposed to physical tools. I think he's aptly rated. What frustrates many Titans' fans is games like last year's playoff loss where he got blazed by Derrick Mason. Roughly same size and age, but Mason blew by him for huge gains leading to a TD and setting up the FG. He is arguably my biggest concern on defense. Your thoughts?
Paul Kuharsky: I think corners are going to get balls completed on them, especially when they play opposite Cortland Finnegan, and somehow the expectations for Harper have gotten crazy. People think it's a disaster when a 15-yard pass goes to his side. I think he does pretty much exactly what they ask, and is also a real factor against the run. He's the best second corner the Titans have had since Denard Walker and because Titans fans are looking for a weak spot or have to punch a hole in someone, he seems to me to be over-targeted for criticism.
Kevin Fitzpatrick in Pittsburgh writes: I just read the chat and you say don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions cause teams haven't even played a regular season game, Yet you say the jaguar LB's have regressed. If you base that off the practices you've seen then why is that any different then when someone asks you if the 4th rounder from Indy is better then Britt?
Paul Kuharsky: To clarify, I think they regressed last year. I didn't see the linebackers making a lot of plays, and in conversations with Clint Ingram and Justin Durant they pretty much agreed about their performances in 2008.
Making judgments on draft picks two games into the preseason -- beyond Player A looks good and Player B is lost -- is ridiculous. Though two or three preseason games we're going to declare Austin Collie better than Kenny Britt? They weren't drafted for the same jobs, for starters, so it's not exactly apples to apples.
Rob Bradley writes via Facebook: If you can afford it and love the Jags and the NFL, buy tickets. If you can't afford it or don't care, don't buy tickets. Don't worry about what the media says, and don't worry about making silly excuses for the city.
Paul Kuharsky: I agree.
Aaron Hurley from parts unknown writes: What is going on with the Patrick Ramsey-Vince Young competition? Ramsey has played very little in preseason games - and hasn't done anything notable in the time that he has had - and I haven't read any suggestions that he is standing out in practice. Will Ramsey get to start a preseason game, or at least get time with the first stringers? And will the Titans carry 3 QBs this year? Thanks.
Paul Kuharsky: Young's second game helped his cause, his third game, not so much. Ramsey won't start a game, but he will play some with the twos. I suspect they keep three, calling VY the backup but probably having more faith in Ramsey if Kerry Collins goes down. There is a long time to go still to sort things out, however.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was billed as a scrimmage. A somewhat clumsy scoring system was in place, but it wasn't well translated by the scorekeeper who was controlling the JumbroTron.
It's hard to declare a winner in a glorified practice anyway, which is what unfolded at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in front of 14,112 fans who took advantage of a free night.
Some highlights, lowlights and developments from the AFC South Blog's final training camp night with the Jags:
- Line judge Tom Symonette talked with offensive tackle Jordan Black after one series about how he was coming close to drawing a holding call near the end of an early period, saying he could tell Black was doing it more as he got tired.
- At the end of a 2:00 drill period, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, David Garrard pitched to Maurice Jones-Drew who probably would have been taken down by a defender if things were live. MJD threw a wobbler to the right side of the end zone, and Mike Walker made a great play to go up and take it away from Reggie Nelson.
- Rookie receiver Jarett Dillard went up to pull in a 25-tard gain to convert a third-and-11 from Garrard. It's the sort of catch Dillard's failed to make on a consistent basis in the last several days.
- Defensive back Brian Williams put a shoulder down and crushed Todd Peterson after a mid-range reception. It was called incomplete, but the replay on the stadium scoreboard suggested he'd gathered the ball and taken a step. I asked Symonette about it and he said we'd "have to take it to replay." It was the sort of hit a lot of coaches wouldn't have been happy with in this setting, but that the Jaguars seem not to mind while working to instill their physical mentality.
- Garrard looked for Troy Williamson in the back middle of the end zone from maybe 20 yards out and was picked by rookie corner Derek Cox. Garrard said he'd like to have the throw back, but it was a situation where if the team had game planned it probably would have looked to a different route.
- Kicker Josh Scobee was impressive again, nailing all five field goal attempts from 35 to 52 yards all with quite a bit of room to spare. I was wondering if he's at a point where he should start dialing it down a little, a 27-year old maybe saving a little to help his chances as a 37-year old. Or is it good that he makes plenty of long kicks with eight or 10 yards to spare? There was a practice pause right after the field goal period, and since Jack Del Rio walked by right as I was thinking it, I asked him. He kind of shook his head and laughed, but then told me about how things have really clicked in mentally for Scobee.
- Walker was hurt somewhere along the way, but Del Rio said afterward that a lower leg X-ray was negative and the team was optimistic it wouldn't be a big cause for concern.
- Backup quarterback Todd Bouman threw a nice TD to tight end Greg Estandia over Gerald Alexander in the back left corner of the end zone. Not long later, Bauman was picked off by Scott Starks, who wrestled a pass away from Tiquan Underwood.
- Tyron Brackenridge pulled in a pick of third string quarterback Paul Smith, who's not looked good while I've been here. The throw was a bit behind Clarence Denmark and defensive back Kennard Cox jostled him as it was arriving. It would have gone for a pick-six if officials didn't whistle a stop to the return.
- In the final period, the offense got the ball at its own 35-yard line with 58 seconds on the clock. They got across the 50 in two plays, but the drive died as Garrard threw a terrible ball that Kennard Cox picked easily in front of Williamson. Wasn't much of a finish to the night.
- Two-minute drill receiving totals provided by the team: Underwood 2-26, 1 TD, Dillard 1-25, Alvin Pearman 1-1, Estandia 1-11, Rashard Jennings 1-15, Zach Miller 2-28.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|The Jaguars know they want to give the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew and run the ball often. Beyond that, however, Jacksonville is still searching for an identity. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars always intend to be physical.
Beyond that, coach Jack Del Rio isn't looking to shoehorn his team into a predetermined personality.
"What it was when we got here with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson was the Twin Towers," he said. "And that got talked up quite a bit, and now that's changing. Marcus is not here. That's kind of not been what we are. What we are gets described by other people. What I want us to be is a team that works at it, shows tremendous commitment, focus, unselfishness and then we see how people want to label it.
"I'm not concerned with putting a label on it now and then living up to it."
Still, the Jaguars must answer the most basic NFL questions, the ones that provide the fallback plan when things are difficult: Who are we? And what do we do?
They will be a run-centered team, keyed around trying to build big drives with good line play from a group that's healthy and has reinforcements and looks to spring feature back Maurice Jones-Drew. They will be a linebacker-centered team, looking for three athletes to start showing up as big playmakers.
Beyond that, a 5-11 team from 2008 that has a new general manager in Gene Smith and 32 new players on the roster is still feeling things out, and could be for a while.
That search isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's ultimately fruitful.
"The team identity right now, I really can't answer that question," said Greg Jones, the fullback who's expected to get carries behind Jones-Drew. "I think if you ask me a month from now, a week into the season, I probably can. I think we are still trying to find ourselves, we are still trying to get this train going. We still are working towards it, working hard. We're rejuvenated, and excited about a fresh start. New logo, new uniforms, new GM -- we're just trying to have a fresh start and a great year."
Del Rio's positive disposition comes from the roster turnover. Gone are the team's primary character issues and high-paid players who didn't live up to their contracts. Smith's worked with his coach to retool with high-character guys who have good football smarts, who will buy in and fight through tough times.
In a division where the other three teams won at a .688 clip in 2007, the Jaguars aren't expecting Tennessee, Indianapolis or Houston to come back to them. Ultimately, they will have to track those teams down.
"This team has been flipped upside-down," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Everybody is searching themselves for who they are, who they want to be and what they want to accomplish in this league. As a whole, our identity is yet to be made, yet to be found.
"Which is, I think, a scary thing but in a good way. Because nobody really knows what we're capable of. I think we've got something special here that is up and coming, and for a lot of people that's bad news. It's good news for us."
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Can David Garrard prove this season he is the team's franchise quarterback?|
1. Is David Garrard the guy?
Two years into his tenure as the starter, the question is unresolved. In 2007, he was 9-3 as a starter with a 102.2 passer rating. Last year, behind a broken line and with shaky weapons, he was 5-11 with an 81.7 rating.
The Jaguars don't want him to try to carry the team, just to orchestrate things. He talks of getting the ball into his playmakers' hands. But at crucial moments, can he make the right decisions and throw the ball to the right spots?
If he can't, the franchise will be looking for a quarterback in 2010 and Tim Tebow's name will ring out in Jacksonville from just 115 miles away in Gainesville.
2. Where's the pass rush coming from?
The Jaguars traded up for Derrick Harvey at No. 8 in 2007 and drafted Quentin Groves in the second round. They are trying to spark Henderson back to form while sifting through the options for the rest of the defense tackles. Collectively, they must generate a consistent pass rush that alleviates pressure on the secondary and allows linebackers the team keeps praising to start making plays regularly.
Maybe there is a surprise contributor or two. Undrafted rookie Julius Williams out of UConn drew early raves.
3. How will J
ones-Drew do as the No. 1 guy?
In letting Fred Taylor go, Jacksonville was opening more possibilities for MJD. The Jaguars will work hard to get the most out of Jones-Drew, but they also must be conscious of monitoring his workload to maximize the chances of getting the same November and December production as they get in September and October.
That means Jones or rookie Rashard Jennings or another back must prove a viable second option who can take a share of the running back touches on a weekly basis.
The company line is that third-year free safety Reggie Nelson is entrenched as a starter and set to be a key cog in the defensive scheme. But there was a big drop from his first season to his second.
There is a growing buzz among some close to the team and scouts that Nelson isn't the player the team hoped he would be and could even slip out of the starting 11 if he underperforms once the season is under way. Gerald Alexander arrived recently in a trade from Detroit and could make a push for the job if Nelson doesn't recover and find better footing. Still, it's hard to imagine he doesn't get a third season to prove himself.
Newcomer to watch
The Jaguars gave the Patriots a 2010 second-rounder to take cornerback Derek Cox out of William & Mary in the third round. With no clear starter opposite Rashean Mathis on the outside in the secondary, Cox has an early opportunity to stake a claim.
He was carrying himself with confidence early in camp and already working to break a habit he brought from college: a tendency to refocus on the quarterback too soon, giving a receiver a chance to break away.
Kicker Josh Scobee was hitting the ball great in the first week of camp, a good sign for a team likely to win close when it wins. ... Of the three rookie receivers, seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood has been the most impressive. Meanwhile, fifth-rounder Jarret Dillard has struggled with drops. ... Tackle Tony Pashos reacted just the way a team that drafted two tackles and brought in a free agent (Tra Thomas) would want him to. He lost weight, re-committed and looks quite good. ... Defensive tackle Rob Meier will give great effort, but the team realizes it overextended him last season and will limit him to 20-25 plays a game. ... Left guard Vince Manuwai didn't have a full load early in camp but will be ready to go in the opener. The loss of the line's best run-blocker to a torn ACL in last year's opener began the team's downfall. ... Justin Durant has moved to middle linebacker and it's time for him. Between him, and the outside backers, Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith, a defensive leader must emerge and set a tone. ... While they know they can shift him to safety if they need to, the Jaguars are working Brian Williams at cornerback and nickel and expecting him to be in one of those spots or provide depth there. ... Receiver Mike Walker worked in the weight room on his legs and is confident he can keep them healthy. Now the question is whether he gave up any of his shiftiness by bulking up below the waist. ... Marcedes Lewis is best on routes where he can track the ball the whole way instead of having to find it. If he can catch more consistently, he can do some things after the reception. And yards after the catch may be key for this team considering deep balls aren't Garrard's specialty.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Some teams are cracking down on Twitter.
Bob Kravitz has some opinions on the tweeting issue. I think it's absolutely ridiculous to expect reporters not to use Twitter at a practice that's open to the public when the public is allowed to do it.
- Rex Grossman is working hard to revive his reputation and his career, writes Richard Justice.
- Steve Slaton plans to make a bigger impact on offense, which would be no small thing. Jordan Godwin's story.
- Chris Myers should be ready for the opener and the Texans are looking at veteran defensive backs including Mike McKenzie as well as a couple of running backs, says John McClain.
- Brice McCain is getting a big chance to show his stuff, often against Andre Johnson, says Jordan Godwin.
- McClain expects Dunta Robinson will be a white knight coming to the rescue.
- Justice thinks Gary Kubiak will have a hard time not calling plays.
- A confirmed list of Texans on Twitter.
- Lance Zierlein has the Texans and Titans both finishing 9-7 behind Indianapolis.
- The Texans' practices with the Saints will be open to the public. Details from Alan Burge.
- Rookie coach and Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews dusted off his Elvis impersonation, says Justice.
- John Clayton's look at Colts camp.
- Five thoughts from Terre Haute from Pete Prisco.
- Raheem Brock is dealing with the death of his half sister, writes Mike Chappell.
- After Eli Manning's contract extension, Chappell looks into the future for Peyton Manning.
- Ryan Lilja is a feel-good story, says John Oehser.
- Oehser's look at Wednesday practice.
- Oesher reminds us the Colts were actually better offensively in 2007 when Marvin Harrison was out hurt.
- Bob Sanders doesn't want to talk about injuries, writes Tom James.
- Stopping the run seems complicated now, writes Michael C. Wright.
- The Jaguars are finding new ways to get the ball to their playmakers, says Wright.
- Mike Walker has a huge opportunity if he can stay healthy, says Wright.
- Russ Purnell has been in the visiting locker room the Jaguars are using 14 times with other teams.
- A look at the tight ends from Big Cat Country.
- The Titans will honor Steve McNair by wearing his No. 9 on a helmet decal, reports Jim Wyatt.
- David Climer considers LenDale White giving up drinking.
- Kevin Vickerson is lighter and faster, writes Wyatt. I've got a blog entry coming soon on Vickerson.
- The Titans talk about expected upcoming restrictions on Twitter use, from Wyatt.
- Competition for the third running back slot is heated, says Terry McCormick.
- Bud Adams looks back at his 50 years in pro football, from McCormick.
|AP Photo/Phil Coale|
|Troy Williamson might be a long shot to make the Jaguars' final roster.|
The Jaguars ridded themselves of receivers Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Jerry Porter while bringing in Torry Holt and three draft picks. But Williamson's still here.
The speedster can be tantalizing -- he can give the Jags what everyone wants, a blazer on the outside that will stretch a defense.
Yet here he is, heading into his fifth year, and he's not put together any consistent stretches of play. He managed only eight games and five catches in his first year with the Jaguars.
"Soft tissue" issues held him back and coach Jack Del Rio and GM Gene Smith both said they think those are less of an issue going forward.
"He's shown the ability to be a vertical receiver, a down the field threat," Smith said. "He's still a relatively young player in the NFL. When he did get the opportunity on special teams, he's shown the ability to cover kicks. If you're a backup receiver trying to get in the game or compete to make the roster, you've got to be able to do more than one thing.
"I think he's shown he's more than a vertical receiver he's still trying to refine his route running as a short and intermediate guy, and he's got some special-teams value to him and he's embraced that role."
Williamson, the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft by Minnesota, says he's still got his high-end speed. He knows his career clock is now at a point where pateince is thinning and that he's got to prove he has reliable hands.
"That's over for me now, now it's time for work and that's what I feel like I am going to do," he said. "I am a worker. I feel like I will always do that. I feel like this is probably one of the best offseasons I've had since I've been playing football. I feel like I've gotten a lot better. Me and David [Garrard] we've been working out all offseason. We've got a good relationship."
A couple of regular observers of the team don't see the room for Williamson to survive. Tiquan Underwood, the seventh-rounder from Rutgers, is making plays down the field and may be able to fill the same role while providing more upside. Rookie tight end Zach Miller will be split out. Maurice Jones-Drew will line up wide, too. Marcedes Lewis will get chances downfield. There may be no room or snaps for a guy who won't be in the return game mix.
But the company line at this point gives Williamson a chance, and the decision-makers seem to like him.
"I like what he's done so far and we hope he transfers it into the training camp, into the preseason and it enables him to make it a tough decision for us," Smith said. "Do we keep five? Do we keep six? Who are the five? Who are the six?"
Holt and Mike Walker are locks. It will be a surprise if the three draft picks -- Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Underwood -- aren't here on opening day.
Williamson could be left to make the case for keeping six, and six could be a lot on a run-based team.
|Bill Baptist/Getty Images|
|A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.|
Training camp site: Houston, Texas
Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.
Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson
Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.
Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.
Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.
The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.
Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.
Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.
Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.
|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
|Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.|
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.
Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.
The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.
Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.
With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.
Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.
It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.
Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.
The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.
|Jerry Lai/US Presswire|
|The Jaguars will need better production from tight end Marcedes Lewis to succeed.|
Guys who drop passes tend to downplay it. That approach may help them, as it's supposed to be in their nature to expect to catch the next one.
Jaguars right end Marcedes Lewis drops passes. And he's not in denial.
Here are last year's drop numbers from Elias, the league's official statisticians. (Thanks to Pete Newmann at ESPN Stats & Information for getting this for me.)
Lewis dropped more passes than any other tight end in the NFL.
"A lot goes into it," he said following an early June OTA session. "Timing. Being on different pages. Of course I was disappointed. When I drop a ball, it's because I am looking and trying to run first. It's one of those things I've got to focus on. Right now, my focus is catching the ball first, running second. You've got to crawl before you walk. I haven't dropped a ball all camp."
Dirk Koetter was head coach at Arizona State while Lewis played at UCLA. Now the Jaguars offensive coordinator, Koetter said in college Lewis was regarded as a pass catcher and not at all as a blocker. But now Koetter said Lewis rates as one of the league's best blocking tight ends.
That's admirable, but the Jaguars need more.
I believe to get the sort of big plays they have lacked, the Jaguars will need significant yards after the catch because David Garrard isn't the most accurate quarterback with the deep pass. Lewis is a guy that should be able to run after the catch, provided he can make the catch.
Koetter said there are certain throws Lewis gets a better read on than others, and that plays into the drops.
"Overall, total body of work, Marcedes make more one-handed, spectacular catches than anybody we have," Koetter said. "He is better when he's on the move and can see the flight of the ball the whole way, coming out of Dave's hand. I think he needs to continue to work on routes where he has to go down and break in and out and lose sight of Dave and then pick the ball up in the air. I think that's one of the easiest things to correct, that's one thing you can correct."
That is some quality stuff there, and we should all be on the lookout to see if Lewis continues to do better with passes where he's locked in on Garrard for the whole route as opposed to those where he has to find the quarterback and the ball.
Koetter sounds determined to get the 6-foot-6, 275-pound tight end more involved in the passing offense. With only one truly proven receiver on the roster in Torry Holt, Lewis can help relieve pressure on Mike Walker, Troy Williamson and the three draft picks.
"Now, we need to get his involvement in the passing game on par with that blocking," Koetter said. "I don't think Marcedes and Dave [Garrard] have ever really bonded, if that's the right word. It's not that they don't like each other, they are both great guys. But I just don't think they've ever had the right chemistry to play the game through each other's eyes...."
"We're trying to push the envelope by purposely looking for things on the script where Marcedes gets more involved. As players, those two have got to do a better job of not just saying, 'Well I thought he was going to do this' and 'I thought he was going to do that.' This guy can win [matchups], and we've got to be on the same page to get him the ball."
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Dennis Northcutt appears to be the latest veteran on the way out in Jacksonville.|
This suggests that after getting some time with Torry Holt and assessing Mike Walker and the three receivers the team drafted, the Jaguars are perfectly comfortable moving forward without players who accounted for 44 percent of their receptions last year.
Northcutt was the team's best receiver at the end of last season. With Matt Jones (since cut) suspended, Northcutt caught five balls for 127 yards and a touchdown in a win over Green Bay on Dec. 14 and eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in a Dec. 18 loss to Indianapolis.
But a team that's already let Jones go and showed no interest in retaining free agent Reggie Williams is looking to continue housecleaning.
Under first-year GM Gene Smith, they've cut running back Fred Taylor, Jones, defensive end Paul Spicer, cornerback Drayton Florence, receiver Jerry Porter, tight end George Wrighster and backup quarterback Cleo Lemon. The team didn't attempt to re-sign free agents Williams, safety Gerald Sensabaugh and tackle Khalif Barnes. They also traded defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
Moving Northcutt would be yet another step in the housecleaning.
They're clearly ready to get Walker on the field with Holt and allow fourth-rounder Mike Thomas, fifth-rounder Jarett Dillard and seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood to battle it out for the third spot and fill out the depth.
Northcutt, 31, is a savvy player who can still help someone. But revealing they are looking to trade him could prompt an interested team to wait and see if he isn't ultimately released.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Torry Holt is drawing rave reviews from those in the Jacksonville organization.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Defenses may be able to contain Torry Holt better than they used to.
A 160-character limit on a text message, however, cannot box him in.
"We had a little string a couple weeks ago," Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "He sent me a text and I sent him a text back. [Then] it took seven texts for one response to a question I asked him in response to one of his texts. So, he's into it. Torry is all about ball."
Is Holt poised to be a hero or a savior? Probably not. Does the Jaguars' new veteran receiver bring the team its best receiver resume since Jimmy Smith, and bring the potential for production from the position the team has craved for years? Absolutely.
The seven-time Pro Bowler, who was an instrumental piece of "The Greatest Show on Turf," was let go by the rebuilding Rams. But his 64 catches, 796 yards, 12.4-yard average and three touchdowns last season hardly amounted to a bad stat line -- certainly not in Jacksonville. Jones had 65 catches in a season cut short by a suspension; Holt's numbers would have led the Jags in the other three departments.
|Cary Edmondson/US Presswire|
|In 2008, Torry Holt was held to less than 800 receiving yards for the first time since 1999.|
Here are three assessments from those who are now working with him:
Koetter: "A proven entity and a veteran presence. In everything that I've seen, he's the consummate pro. ... Someone said, and I think they were right, 'This guy's got to be the quietest seven-time Pro Bowler that's ever existed.' Just look at the numbers. I think it's eight years over 80 catches and 1,000 yards. We haven't had a guy like that, and that's no knock on anybody, that's just fact. ... We have young guys who can soak up his experience. When you just watch Torry as a route-runner, whether the word is crafty or experienced, Torry knows all the little tricks to get himself open and he's got really good hands on top of that."
GM Gene Smith: "He's come in and given us tremendous veteran presence. He's like a player-coach. He's constantly talking to the other players at his position. He has a strong passion for football and so he's probably not the elite guy he once was in terms of earning his opportunity to go to seven Pro Bowls, but he's certainly got the ability to play at a winning level. We felt like adding him to our group not just as a player but as a person, he'd certainly be an asset. So far, so good."
Quarterback David Garrard: "Just his mind is amazing. Listening to a guy that's been around and been doing the right thing for a long time is a breath of fresh air, really."
And one thought from an outsider whose team will play Holt twice:
Colts president Bill Polian: "I think he's got some good football left and he's a very reliable target for David Garrard. That's a good thing. It helps Garrard."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three observations/thoughts from the Jaguars' OTA session and some interviews Tuesday.
If Henderson isn't going to dedicate himself to returning to form, the Jaguars have real issues. The defensive line is a question mark even with Henderson there and playing hard. Without him, there is certainly no guarantee that the interior guys will be able to keep middle linebacker Justin Durant clean and free to run around and make plays.
2) Like a lot of teams, the Jaguars laid some people off early in the offseason as they dealt with the economic downturn. Not a lot of teams are adding people.
So it's a pretty good sign that GM Gene Smith was given the leeway to add Brian Simmons and Jeff Gooch to his scouting staff. I talked to Smith during practice and he told me he remembered scouting both guys as players and talked about how he's been scouting them as scouts. Smith is excited to be adding to his workforce as the Jaguars look to build. Back in March when I did this piece on Smith, he talked about his construction background and the importance of a foundation for his football team. The scouting department is a foundation, too, and he thinks it just got better.
3) I wrote Monday about David Garrard and was glad to have talked to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. He said Garrard is great at finding the window to hit on seam passes 18-25 yards downfield, but not the best at over-the-top deep stuff.
At this practice, Garrard missed on a bunch of throws deep down the sideline. This is a team that can make life a lot easier by finding some explosive plays. But I don't think they are going to come from throws like those, and I think the Jaguars are likely to be yards-after-the-catch reliant to get such chunks. Maurice Jones-Drew, Torry Holt, Mike Walker and Marcedes Lewis, when he's catching the ball better, can make those kind of plays.
Del Rio talks about Henderson missing Tuesday's practice.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Quarterback David Garrard slimmed down for this season and the Jaguars hope the rest of the offense sees similar improvements.|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Having lost 15-20 pounds, David Garrard gets a constant reminder that his diet worked.
"Button downs, suits, jeans, everything is too big," he said Monday after the Jaguars held an OTA practice.
Garrard held nothing back when he talked of the wardrobe alterations he needs.
"Even my drawers, but I'll just buy new ones of those," said Garrard, sporting about 225 pounds on his 6-foot-1-inch frame. "It's time to get more of my stuff done, because I've had very little to wear."
So, about 30 pieces of clothes are in the back of his black Mercedes Benz S Class, ready for a stop at Garrard's tailor.
Jacksonville's general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio have been doing some tailoring of their own: Their major offseason moves have been intended to reshape the roster and place Garrard in more optimal situations.
Gone are receivers Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones and left tackle Khalif Barnes.
Three new tackles -- veteran Tra Thomas and draft picks Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton -- are here to help protect Garrard and make the running game more effective. Four new receivers -- veteran Torry Holt and draft picks Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood -- were brought into to improve the arsenal.
Since he was elevated to be the team's starting quarterback just before the 2007 season, Garrard's been good (102.2 passer rating in 2007 with 15 more touchdowns than picks) and not-so-good (81.7 passer rating in 2008 with two more touchdowns than picks).
The Jaguars endured an injury-plagued 2008 season. They saw their locker room come apart during a 5-11 campaign that started with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. Garrard's third season as the starting quarterback will go a long way to telling his story, he understands.
Is he a quality, dependable NFL quarterback? Or is the eighth-year veteran a question mark?
"People that doubt Dave just have to look at 2007 film," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "I mean Dave can do it. We've got to help him, we've got to play better around him. He is a good distributor of the ball, he's good at what people want to call being a game-manager. But Dave can win the game for you too. Dave can make all the throws, he's mobile, he can beat you running. We've got to give him some help and he's got to do his part, which he will."
Having watched the roster reshaping and gained endurance and a quicker first step with the slim-down, Garrard's in a happy place.
"I feel real good right now," Garrard said. "I feel like I can sleep at night."
His job going forward is a simple one, he said: Limit turnovers while getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers, starting with running back Maurice Jones-Drew and including Holt, those rookie receivers and the holdovers like receiver Mike Walker and tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Critics point to two weaknesses in Garrard's game. He doesn't always seem thorough in scanning the field ticking through progressions and, while he's accurate short and intermediate, his deep stuff hasn't been great.
Koetter said the deep-ball question depends on how you define deep. While Garrard might not be the best throwing the ball over the top, he's excellent in another down-the-field department.
"What we call seam throws, throwing the ball in a seam somewhere in an 18- to 25-yard box where you've got to fit it between the linebackers and a safety or in a hole between the safety and the corner, Dave throws those as good as anybody out there," Koetter said. "Throw-it-on-a-line-posts, drive it in there, he throws great and those are really harder throws. He just hasn't had very many chances to throw the big air-it-out over the top throw. He could do better throwing those, but we haven't given him very many chances."
Garrard said he needs to trust that his guys will go up and make a play for him and not be reluctant to take shots, and promises he will do both with the new crew. He said he feels confident he'll connect or be returning to the huddle after an incompletion, not heading to the sideline after a turnover.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Every blog entry with OTA practice observations comes with a disclaimer: These practices are about installations and themes. There are no pads and no real contact. These settings favor receivers and don't feature a lot of information about line play. Guys can look like superstars here and be terrible come camp or vice versa.
That said, here's what I saw, thought and heard during the Jaguars session Monday:
Somersaulting: Near the start of practice, defensive players stuttered stepped over five blocking bags on the ground, then rolled into a somersault and looked to grab a loose ball rolled by a coach. "Find the ball, scoop and score," linebacker coach Mark Duffner urged them. Safety Sean Considine's helmet popped off when he hit the ground.
First impression: In one-on-one work in the red zone, my first look at rookie corner Derek Cox was as he intercepted a pass to the back left corner intended for Maurice Dupree. Later, Todd Peterson broke away from Cox along the back line of the end zone under the goal post for an easy TD, Mike Walker dropped a catchable ball against Tyron Brackenridge and Brian Williams break up a pass for Dennis Northcutt. Cox looked pretty smooth.
During that red zone one-on-one period, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker stood under the goal posts and offered a lot of instruction. After a play he'd often talk with the defensive back involved about what unfolded and how it could have or should have been different in very specific terms. A bit later in a defensive walkthrough, Jack Del Rio's was the voice everyone was listening to.
Out of action: John Henderson fell out very early and didn't come back. He was under the shed at one end of the practice field in the shade. Everyone was presuming he fell out because of the heat - recent OTA sessions have been on cool rainy days. But it's sunny and in the high 80s or low 90s Monday. Not a good sign, but we don't have all the info in it yet.
Lineup stuff on defense: Williams was at right corner with the ones, with Considine paired at safety with Reggie Nelson. In nickel, Cox came in and took Williams' spot, while Williams kicked inside. The consensus among observers is that the competition is between Considine and Cox. If coaches feel the D is better off with Considine as a starting safety, then Williams winds up playing corner. If Cox is better, he plays corner and Williams goes to safety.
Justin Durant is playing middle linebacker, but Daryl Smith and Clint Ingram on either side of him. Didn't get a good read on the line, as people were shuffling, Henderson was out, and the O-line was sometime only using three people in team drills with the ends basically kneeling down at the snap. Line play in team periods in these situations often doesn't mean a whole lot.
Lineup stuff on offense: The starting line was, left to right, Tra Thomas, Uche Nwaneri, Brad Meester, Maurice Williams, Tony Pashos and the first two wideouts were Torry Holt and Mike Walker. (Walker gave Holt 81 without any resistance, happily returning to his college number 11 once it wasn't any longer being used by Reggie Williams.)
Wildcat work: Put the Jaguars on the list of teams experimenting with the Wildcat. In the first full team period, the offense broke the huddle and red-shirted David Garrard went wide right as a receiver, with Maurice-Jones Drew behind center in the shotgun, First play: handoff to Northcutt coming on an end around. Second play fake handoff to Troy Williamson and a run up the middle by Jones-Drew. (On defense before the snap, someone yelled, "You know 32 ain't throwing the ball." After the play, Del Rio said. "He got through the hole a little quicker than out quarterback power [run] does.") Third play: the snap went awry. Fourth play, handoff to Montell Owens.
With the second unit, tight end Zach Miller and Owens took snaps.
Update: 5:56 p.m.: I've since spent some time with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who indicated it would be wise to read that period as more about getting the defense ready to defend it than the offense ready to run it. That doesn't mean they won't roll it out, but he urged me to keep in mind I just happened to be here on the day it came around for them.]
Shiny: The new sparkly teal quality to the helmets isn't as bad as I expected. In the sunlight, there is a special kind of shine that bounces off each one. As I sat down to talk with David Garrard, he pulled his out of the locker and we inspected it together. He's a big fan of that sunlight effect and the overall streamlined uniform look. He looked to be in command though the session, but in a 2:00 drill, he missed Tiquan Underwood deep left and Williamson deep right on consecutive passes as the offense failed to score. (More about Garrard specifically in a column to come later Monday.)
Fielding kicks: In kickoff return work, I saw Cox, Underwood, Williamson and Mike Thomas field balls. I am sure Brian Witherspoon was back there as well - I must have managed to miss him.
Different perspective: During a red zone team period, Torry Holt stood off to the side, away from the rest of the team. Later he told me it's just a matter of him getting away from the clutter and being able to better focus on a mental rep. He offered some commentary after a few plays. "You've got to catch that, you aren't going to get more open," he said to tight end Greg Estandia after he broke free from Considine running across the back of the end zone to the right corner. Estandia let Garrard's pass slide off his hands. Later Holt told Thomas, "You're letting them dictate to you."
Plays: Ingram had a pick of fourth-quarterback Paul Smith, as did Considine. Northcutt had a bobbling catch on the left sideline against Thomas Williams, who should have picked it. Russell Allen dropped an interception of a pass intended for Estandia.
Burst: Hard to gauge running backs in this setting, but Rashad Jennings showed a nice burst knifing through the middle on one play. He's a guy that's going to get a lot of attention. Regular observers love what they've seen of the seventh-rounder out of Liberty and said you can't find a nicer or more well-spoken rookie.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Team needs: Receiver, defensive tackle, offensive tackle, defensive back
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|It's unlikely that Boston College defensive lineman B.J. Raji will still be on the board at No 8, but if he is, expect the Jaguars to jump.|
Plan B: The Jaguars have lots of holes and if they can't address one directly with No. 8, the way Smith has talked of building through the draft, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't want to bump back to gather extra picks. Maybe the Jaguars are really interested in USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. But they struggled to sign Harvey last season. It would surely be harder to strike a deal with a top 10 quarterback who they don't expect to start this year. Perhaps they want someone else who's interested to come up and get Sanchez here. The Jaguars traded into this pick last year, so teams will have a good sense of what it would take to make a deal.
Scouts Inc. take: "After signing Tra Thomas, the Jaguars are now able to draft a project offensive tackle later in the draft as opposed to reaching in the first round for Andre Smith or Michael Oher. But, the Jaguars are not deficient in terms of glaring needs and wide receiver ranks right at the very top of that list. Michael Crabtree would be the ideal selection and in my opinion, as getting the best player in the draft at number eight would be a complete steal. Still, chances are that Crabtree doesn't make it that far. Is Jeremy Maclin worth that pick for Jacksonville? He certainly could be considering the position he plays and his big play ability, but overall, he isn't polished enough to come in an immediately be a go-to option. Two defensive players to keep an eye on are B.J. Raji, who is also unlikely to still be available but would be a tremendous get for the Jags, and Malcolm Jenkins, who could be exactly what Jacksonville needs to sure up their ailing and thin secondary. Mark Sanchez has been mentioned here, but I just don't see that happening." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Jack Del Rio's desires will certainly be heard, but Smith made it clear when he took the post that he's got the final say on both draft picks and the roster.
On the Clock: Oakland Raiders, April 10.