AFC South: NFL draft 2010

Jeff Fisher didn’t love the line of questioning, but Marc Mariani had given him up.

The seventh-round receiver said it wasn't a Titans' scout or coach who notified him he'd been drafted by Tennessee, but Brandon Fisher, Jeff’s son, who he played with at Montana.

The Titans brought in safety and returner Tuff Harris as an undrafted free agent from Montana in 2008 and he played a bit that season.

Asked if we might see more of an Auburn presence as his daughter matriculates there, Fisher passed on the question.

Mariani will be in the mix along with second-round receiver Damian Williams and fourth-round cornerback Alterraun Verner.

“I’m not going to loan him a car,” Fisher said of his son’s pal, who he said the Titans scouts liked.

One Titans sidenote: GM Mike Reinfeldt said while a lot of good defenders remained available, “the offense got wiped out.” Still, the Titans headed into undrafted free agency seeking a running back and an interior offensive lineman.

Jags exec: Draft was for D-line

April, 24, 2010
The Jaguars never planned on doing much offensively in the draft, according to director of player personnel Terry McDonough. That means they are really counting on a couple of last year’s crop of three receivers to blossom.

“I have the same feeling about this draft as I did about last year’s draft after the draft,” he said. “Obviously our defense we needed to get, up front, a lot more athletic, a lot more explosive. It’s no secret that last year we had 14 sacks, which was a league-low in the NFL, and we’re going to try to correct that. We took two very explosive defensive tackles with our first two picks, and then we followed it up with two defensive ends after that…

“Offensively coming into this draft we were pretty much set, maybe there were one or two positions. But defensively we knew up front on the defensive line we needed to get a lot of people that can really run and can get after the quarterback, so we feel like we did that.”

Jacksonville's drafted running back Deji Karim and kick returner Scotty McGee in the sixth round.
After talking about how he wouldn’t devote a pick to a guy who was primarily a returner, Bill Polian spent pick No. 246 at the end of the seventh round on Indiana corner Ray Fisher.

Surely the Colts expect he can play on defense, but he’s got a kick returner background and will certainly get in the mix there.

“I bring a lot of excitement,” Fisher said. “I know I can bring a lot of excitement to Indianapolis. I’m not saying they don’t have great players, but they haven’t had that big, impact kick returner, and I think I can bring that to the team.”

Texans TE heading to receiver

April, 24, 2010
The Texans have spent four picks on tight ends in the past two drafts.

They got Anthony Hill and James Casey last year, and took two more Sunday -- Garrett Graham in the fourth and Dorin Dickerson in the seventh.

“I’m a versatile H-back,” Dickerson said. “I could line up in different positions. I could line up in the back field and I could line up at tight end. You’ll see me moving around a lot in special teams. Anything the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do. I’m going to try to compete and win.”

He’s going to line up at wide receiver, Gary Kubiak said later.

Three teams draft return help

April, 24, 2010
Picking up on Bill Polian’s comments from Friday night…

He said again Saturday that he wasn’t really in the market for one.

“I think that is a luxury,” Polian told Indianapolis reporters. “If you can find someone who can do both, that’s great. If you can’t, you can still do quite well, it just gives you a little less flexibility roster wise. That’s not a position I’m losing sleep over.”

His three AFC South counterparts aren’t losing sleep over it anymore either, but that’s because they each got a guy who should be able to help his team’s return games.

The Titans took receiver Damian Williams from USC in the third round. The Texans took return specialist Trindon Holliday from LSU in the sixth round. And the Jaguars took return specialist Scott McGee from James Madison in the sixth round.

Polian said he thought he couldn’t do better than Sam Giguere and Jerraud Powers as returners, but he later said he has “some trepidation” about using Powers in that capacity.

The Colts are content with mediocre or bad field position because a Peyton Manning offense can usually make up the extra yards. They can be harder to come by for the rest of the division, thus the attempts to upgrade.
The Indianapolis Colts turned to what a lot of us thought would be a draft priority in the fourth round when they selected Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon with the draft’s 129th pick.

PFW’s draft guy listed McClendon as the 38th best guard and rated him as a guy that has a chance to be in an NFL training camp.

Though Bill Polian’s recent offensive line history is not the best, I’m sure Colts fans will prefer his opinion, and I will come back into this post to share it after I see Polian comment on him.

Mel Kiper lists him as 6-3, 320 pounds. That would make him 30 pounds heavier than Ryan Lilja, last year’s right guard who was released, and at least 15 pounds heavier than any guard on last season’s AFC Champions.

Lilja’s agent said he was told the Colts were looking to go bigger.

UPDATE: 2:51 p.m. ET

Comments from Bill Polian to the Indy media: "He is a converted defensive lineman, so he has a tough, physical disposition, very smart, he can run. He had a nice year this year. He played very well against Alabama. He held his own against [Tampa Bay second-round draft pick Brian] Price from UCLA. We feel like he’s in the mold of the same kind of players that we’ve drafted in the fourth round before that have come in here and performed well on the offensive line..."

"The fact is we think he has a chance to be exactly, he’s got the tools, to be exactly what [former Colts, current Titans guard] Jake Scott was, exactly what [tackle] Ryan Diem was. Those were all players we drafted in that round, who came on and performed very well for us because they are athletic, they’re smart, they can move around, they are tough. It’s a good place for him. We think he can come in and compete for a job.”

Division loads up on defense early

April, 23, 2010
Earl MitchellDerrick Tuskan/Icon SMIArizona's Earl Mitchell was one of nine defensive players taken by AFC South teams.
Priorities are clear in the AFC South: Gear up to slow down Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, prepare to track Chris Johnson and knock heads with Maurice Jones-Drew.

And if a pool of the first 98 college prospects happens to feed that by being defense-heavy, well that’s great.

Through the first three rounds of the NFL draft, the division has spent nine of 11 picks on defense: three defensive tackles, two defensive ends, two cornerbacks and two linebackers.

The lone offensive offenders: Houston second-round running back Ben Tate and Titans third-round receiver Damian Williams, whose first chances will come as a returner.

Overall, 54 players were drafted on defense, 44 on offense.

In the AFC it was 29-25 offense. Take the AFC South numbers out, and the rest of the conference actually drafted more on offense: 23-18

The Colts wanted to address their offensive line. But the defending AFC Champions and Bill Polian always strive to stick to their board, and it directed them to three defenders with their first three picks: end Jerry Hughes, linebacker Pat Angerer and cornerback Kevin Thomas.

“We always have a bias towards defensive players high in the draft because athleticism is so important to us, and in the early rounds what you find is athleticism,” Polian told Indianapolis reporters. “That’s where those guys go … If you like a defensive player and you think he can help your team, you better get him up in the early rounds because they are not going to last. In that sense, there is a bit of a bias.

“We would have taken plenty of offensive players that went off before we picked had they been available to us, but they just weren’t … Obviously, these were players that we are happy to have and wanted on our football team, no question about that. I wouldn’t say we started out specifically saying, ‘We want defense.’ As I say, it tends to fall that way. If you’re at the back part of the early rounds the odds are pretty good that defensive players are what is going to be there.”

In Nashville, GM Mike Reinfeldt and coach Jeff Fisher took end Derrick Morgan in the first round, didn’t have a second-rounder, and followed Williams with linebacker Rennie Curran late in the third.

The defensive leaning seemed like it fit with the draft as a whole, Fisher said.

“It seemed like the case across the board, we knew going in it was going to be a strong defensive draft, one probably better than we can remember,” he said. “It seemed like the defensive players just kept coming off the board. Teams in the division identified needs, are trying to bolster their defense. I know there are needs in the division [on offense] but the appropriate players weren’t there when the pick came, we saw that several times.”

Reinfeldt said the draft is top-heavy on the defensive side, and while he doesn’t expect things to even out over Rounds 4 through 7 Saturday, “it will flow back the other way.”

For the Colts that could mean an offensive lineman or two, and the Titans, Texans and Jaguars may all look for an interior offensive lineman. Tennessee could go with a developmental quarterback and Jacksonville would also love to add a playmaker at wide receiver.

They’ll all feel better making those selections knowing they’ve bolstered things on defense already.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rennie Curran could have a chance reshape the Titans' linebacking corps. That shape wouldn’t be very tall.

But as Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett, also short by NFL linebacker standards, often says, he doesn’t need to see the blockers, they need to see him.

Titans scout Cole Proctor said Curran is a special football player in a short package, who was the sparkplug of the Georgia defense and could be another Sam Mills.

The Titans have some uncertainty at linebacker, where they could have two new guys on the outside.

Stephen Tulloch will man the middle, but Keith Bulluck isn’t expected to be re-signed and a breaking-down David Thornton may not project to make it back into the lineup. Will Witherspoon will get one slot, and Gerald McRath is in line for the other.

Curran likely works as a key special teamer who could eventually work as a fill-in and would provide some insurance if Tulloch reaches free agency in a year.

Jeff Fisher said as a long-strider, Curran makes up for his height and covers a lot of ground. I don’t suspect that will be enough to help him close the gap on McRath, a well-liked fourth-rounder who’s got a one-year head start.
They missed on Ryan Mathews in the first round and they passed on Toby Gerhart when they dealt down in the second round. But with the 62nd pick of the draft the Texans got their running back -- Ben Tate of Auburn.

He’s a one-move, upfield guy who can be productive between the tackles. He should greatly upgrade the team’s short-yardage work, which has been disappointing.

But at 5-11, 220 he’s not the giant many people were thinking Houston would want to go with the speedy (if healthy) Steve Slaton, who’s 5-9, 215.

If Tate is the player the Texans hope he’ll be, the team has few questions on offense. Provided Owen Daniels (recovering from his third torn ACL) and Slaton are healthy, and that a large group of interior offensive linemen produce three starters who can perform better than last year’s injury replacements did, I’d say they’ve got a complete looking offense.

An improved running game should have a very positive effect on the team’s play-action, which really keys what Matt Schaub does.

The Texans traded out of 51st in the second round. They dropped 11 spots and allowing the Minnesota Vikings to select Gerhart while Houston gaining an extra third-rounder, 93rd overall. Then they traded back up with Arizona for 58, which they used on Tate, and giving up their fifth-rounder (150th).

I’d expect their focus to turn back to defense now. A defensive tackle who can rush, a rangy safety and another corner to go with first-rounder Kareem Jackson are pieces they still need.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cross-checking with old friends can be a very valuable thing at draft time.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Morgan
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesDerrick Morgan had a number of coaches vouch for him before the Titans drafted him.
Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn did with first-round pick Derrick Morgan, and Washburn said his phone was buzzing with text messages Thursday night about the two being a perfect marriage.

Joe D’Alessandris was the Chan Gailey assistant who led the recruiting charge to pull Morgan to Georgia Tech over Ohio State, Penn State, Miami and Boston College. He also just happened to have coached with Washburn way back when they were both starting out and Washburn was the defensive coordinator at Livingston College in 1979.

“Joe’s my best friend in coaching,” Washburn said. “… He told me Derrick was the most unusual high school player he’d ever seen, everything he did was just so intense. Joe said this is a great match, me and Derrick being together.”

Giff Smith, who coached defensive line at Georgia Tech, worked as a graduate assistant for Arkansas when Washburn was there. Like D’Alessandris, Smith now works for Gailey with the Buffalo Bills.

And before Livingston and Arkansas, when Washburn and Titans scout Cole Proctor were at Lees McRae College, a high school coach used to visit them to talk football. Paul Johnson’s now the head man for the Yellow Jackets.

“It’s a small world,” Morgan said.

“Everybody texted last night and said, 'This is perfect,’” Washburn said. “Of the five guys -- I’m counting Sergio Kindle, Jerry Hughes, Brandon Graham, Jason Pierre-Paul and Derrick -- this guy had the fastest 10[-yard time] and this guy is the toughest …

“This guy played like we try to have the Titans’ defensive linemen play. He’s got to run to the ball better, but he brings it, now. When he lines up, he means business.”
Tyson AlualuEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe reaction to Jacksonville's selection of Tyson Alualu could change from shock to awe over time.

Set your board. Stick to your board. Build with a foundation first. Trust what you see.

With the first pick of his second draft, Jaguars general manager Gene Smith looks to have stuck to his tenets, outside opinion be damned.

Picking for a team that’s struggled to sell tickets and generate excitement, Smith wasn’t necessarily expected to take anyone flashy.

But Jacksonville wasn’t expected to take Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu either.

And that’s kind of the point here.

Owner Wayne Weaver wasn’t looking for pizzazz when he installed the low-key Smith, a scout who’d been with the team since it started in 1994, as GM last year. He was looking for solid football acumen and a steady hand.

The rushed judgments will say the Jaguars reached for Alualu. When Jacksonville is on the clock, Smith is obligated to factor in how a favored player is valued by the rest of the league. Count me among those who believed they liked C.J. Spiller and Rolando McClain. If, with those two gone, Alualu was the best player on the Jaguars’ board and they stayed true to their months of homework, well despite our inclination to snicker, we have to wait and see just what they got.

“I don’t mind defending players that I feel very strongly about because I understand where you’re coming from, I do,” Smith told Jacksonville reporters. “There will be questions on this guy. He wasn’t certainly in everybody’s mock draft at the top end of the first round but he was certainly on our draft board.

“And again we’re going to allow the body of our work drive our decision-making and with all due respect, I feel very confident that this guy will come in and be what we want to help our team to get to where we want to go.”

Said coach Jack Del Rio when asked about selling Alualu to Jaguars fans: “I think we have to trust our work, and then people have to trust the people doing the work.”

Smith is the son of a construction man, and talks over and over about building a foundation. His first draft featured a first- and second-round one-two punch of offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton.

Jacksonville is now at least four-deep on the interior defensive line. A fading, 31-year old John Henderson may now be available via trade. Last year’s third-round choice Terrance Knighton is a solid run stuffer and journeyman Attiyah Ellison earned a new contract with his showing last year.

Alualu, who is of Samoan decent and grew up in Hawaii, is married with two kids and not far from a degree in ethnic studies from Cal. He said the Titans and the Patriots rated as the two other teams that showed the most interest in him.

He’s never been to Florida. But one day not too far in the future he’ll be in the Sunshine State to sign a deal that includes a signing bonus well beyond what would have come where he was projected -- in the late-first or early-second round.

The two long-time lead dogs in the AFC, New England and Indianapolis, don’t typically draft in line with outside opinion and it’s worked out fine for them.

Don’t get me wrong: Smith doesn’t have the skins on the wall of Bill Belichick or Bill Polian.

But if you want to try to find certain qualities to build around and not fall victim to what one AFC South Blog reader and great debater, Nathan Cherolis, recently called “a common mind set among the decision makers that blinds them in areas.”

So what if it’s Smith and his scouting department that saw this clearly, and it’s all the teams that valued Alualu less that were blinded to an accurate value? Then we won’t be talking about a reach when the fair time frame for evaluating arrives. We’ll be talking about Smith’s courage and praising him for how bold he was.

“I’m not trying to win a popularity contest,” Smith said. “I’m trying to win a Super Bowl and I feel like he’s someone that can help us do that… “He’ll bring a lot of energy. He’s a type of player on the defensive side that inspires others…

“He’s got a lot of the things that you look in a defensive lineman at this level, a guy that can be a force inside. Maybe for a scout it’s probably a little easier to understand because we have a little bit more knowledge of him throughout his career. I certainly embrace the questions and trying to get more knowledge about Tyson because I’m excited to have him, again, a part of this team.”

Everyone’s looking for outside-the-box thinkers, people who don’t fall easily in line with conventional wisdom, who can make the case for something original. But when we see someone who might be trying to set such a course, we are appalled and offended by his straying from the pack.

Remember the horror when the Titans picked Chris Johnson? What about the outcry over Mario Williams?

When I texted a scout about how early he felt 10th overall was for Alualu, his first reply was one word, a reaction much the same as mine: “Wow.” He later said his team expected Alualu to be drafted in Friday’s second round. Another AFC insider said he loved Alualu as a player, but also figured he’d be a Friday guy.

I don’t picture Smith flinching at such reactions or caring much about them.

He’s got a window -- three or four or five years -- to build a small-market team into an efficient one that can contend with mighty Indianapolis, budding Houston and steady Tennessee in the AFC South.

To do so, Smith’s clearly going to stick his neck out.

If it gets chopped off, so be it. But let’s not swing the axe just yet. Please, not yet.

How late will Colts pick come?

April, 22, 2010
Colts fans, how late will you have to wait to see what Indy does at No. 31 Thursday night?

The draft starts at 7:30 p.m. ET. According to the NFL, the first round last year consumed three hours and 23 minutes. In a draft like that, the second-to-last pick would come around 10:45.

Not terrible -- that's what, the third inning of an MLB playoff game?

But if teams squeeze every second out their 10 minutes and we reset the clock several times following a pick changing hands in a trade, we’ve got potential for an especially late night. (Hope I didn’t just jinx us.)

I’ll be up for it. Will you?
A lot of you send me notes asking for dirt on the other bloggers. I remain true to our code: Rip Tim Graham, protect all others.

These guys are very handy when I need someone to have a beer with the night before an NFL event, or if I want to poach an idea for a post.

So I have pilfered this one from NFC South ace Pat Yasinskas.

Here are four guys and one group of guys from the AFC South who should probably be a little nervous about what unfolds in the draft, though I am sure they are all saying bring it on.

Shaun Cody. The Texans need interior push, and they didn’t get enough of it with Cody starting alongside Amobi Okoye. The rush ends, Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin -- need the help. While Smith kicks inside some, the Texans will be looking for an inside presence who can get in the backfield. (And if Okoye isn’t better alongside that guy, the clock on him starts ticking faster and louder.)

David Thornton. I believe the Titans believe he has reached his breaking point. Literally. His body can’t hold up any longer. I expect they will go with Will Witherspoon, Stephen Tulloch and Gerald McRath as their starting trio. Draft a good linebacker who can provide athleticism and Thornton could become more expendable. (No, I don't see them re-signing Keith Bulluck.)

Clint Ingram. Daryl Smith is an up-and-comer and Justin Durant can play. But the Jaguars appear primed to add another linebacker to complete the starting group. I can see them pouncing on Rolando McClain if he’s available at No. 10. Which wouldn’t bode well for Ingram, a restricted free agent who’s not yet signed his tender but is working out with the team.

Charlie Johnson. He’s signed his tender and is going to remain a versatile offensive lineman who has the coaches’ confidence. But the team could well grab a left tackle type who’s a better run-blocker than Johnson early in the draft. That could kick Johnson inside or it could mean he’s back to the top sub.

Texans’ interior offensive linemen. They ended the season with Kasey Studdard at left guard, Chris Myers at center and Chris White at right guard. Mike Brisiel will be back from injury, they’ve signed Wade Smith as a free agent and Antoine Caldwell should be better in his second season. Another interior guy in the draft will set off a full-fledged competition with some incumbents on the roster bubble.

The day ahead

April, 22, 2010
With a long, hurry-up-and-wait sort of day ahead, I thought I’d share a bit of the plan for over here.

I’ll give you an edition of “Reading the Coverage” after I make my run through my RSS feed, and then at lunchtime you’ll see the final installment of my scout survey series, which is think is the most interesting piece of the four.

Of course, I will monitor any developments during the afternoon. If I’ve got sufficient mail that goes beyond “Who will the Texans take at 20,” I may try a pre-draft mailbag.

And when the draft kicks off, I will be part of a "Cover it Live" chat where you can hear from a whole bunch of us as things unfold. (I'll post the link later.) I’ll be in and out of there as blog entries warrant, and one of them will be a column.

It’s a good time to hook up with the blog on Twitter (@ESPN_afcsouth) and Facebook (Paul Kuharsky Espn). Nuggets of interest that might not earn a blog post get a tweet, which also shows up as a status update on Facebook. Without a hookup there, you’re not getting all we have to offer.

Should be fun. Will certainly be long. I look forward to having you along for the ride.

NFL Blog Network mock draft

April, 19, 2010