AFC South: Paul Spicer


While NFL fans look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the upcoming draft and think quarterback, signal-caller isn’t actually the long-standing issue the team might have the easiest time solving with the No. 2 pick.

Sure, the Jaguars need a quarterback. But this draft doesn’t include anything near the sure-thing types that headlined last year’s draft, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the top two picks.

Some analysts read a lot into the attention the team has paid West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. I suspect it was a matter of doing its due diligence.

If I’m the Jaguars, I wait a year and hope that in 2014 there is more of a sure thing quarterback to chase, and that I’ve put together a better team for him to join.

And to be a better team, they need to address their pass rush.

The Jaguars have not had a player record double-digit sacks since 2006. That’s right, Jacksonville has played a half-dozen seasons without a player getting 10 sacks. In fact, since Bobby McCray notched 10 sacks in 2006, the highest total anyone’s had is eight, by Jeremy Mincey in 2011.

Jaguars sack leaders since 2006:
Enter Dion Jordan of Oregon. In the above video, Todd McShay tabs Jordan as the best edge pass-rusher in the draft. He’s got a great combination of size and athleticism and seems like the kind of guy who can help transform a defensive front.

Sports Science worked with Jordan and found he’s got 3.8 percent body fat, spins faster than Dwight Freeney and has the potential of DeMarcus Ware. This video will get you excited about the guy.

I’m guessing the odds of regretting passing on a player like Jordan for a quarterback are higher than the odds of regretting passing on Smith for a pass-rusher.

There are other spots in the mix, of course, like offensive tackle.

But a little over two weeks before the draft, the guy who has me most intrigued when I think of the Jaguars and the No. 2 spot is Jordan.

RTC: Caldwell reaction edition

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
8:16
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

As the Houston Chronicle starts a lengthy series evaluating the Texans, John McClain looks at the work of Rick Smith and the front office and the challenges ahead.

End-of-season grades and awards from McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Caldwell’s exit means the Colts will be moving on from Peyton Manning in the analysis of Bob Kravitz on the Indianapolis Star. “(Jim) Irsay and (Ryan) Grigson keep talking about ‘rebuilding’ and how this is a ‘new era.’ ‘Rebuilding’ and ‘new era’ sound a lot more like (Andrew) Luck than Manning to me."

Players were saddened but not shocked by the Caldwell news, says Phil Richards of the Star.

“The fate of his assistants, many of whom remain under contract and currently are scattered on vacation, remains uncertain,” says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Phillip B. Wilson of the Star thinks Grigson is “going after a strong-minded individual, perhaps someone who is different in personality than what we have been accustomed to for more than a decade” with Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.

A lengthy list of available and/or qualified guys, from Wilson.

“The revelation that Grigson has not even spoken to (Peyton) Manning was jarring,” writes Nate Dunlevy of Colts Authority. “The fact is that if the Colts thought it was likely that Manning would be healthy next year, they would be handling things very differently. Irsay's claims about being committed to Manning 'if he's healthy' are true. But the Colts clearly don't believe he's healthy.”

Moving on from Manning is inevitable now, says Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com.

For the rebuilding Colts, change was the only choice, says Don Banks of SI.com.

It was the right move, says Clark Judge of CBSSports.com.

Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson talk replacement candidates at CBSSports.com.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars will interview Ron Zook about an assistant job, says Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union. Two former Jaguars players, Marlon McCree and Paul Spicer, have joined the team as entry-level assistants.

Vito Stellino of the Times-Union offers a rundown of a rally where Shahid Khan and Mike Mularkey spoke.

Tennessee Titans

Character played a role in Mike Munchak’s hiring of Brett Maxie as defensive backs coach, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Jeff Fisher is the right coach for the Rams right now, but he coaches under a glass ceiling, says David Climer of The Tennessean.
Answer quickly and be honest:
A week after Spicer signed a one-day contract to retire as a Jaguar, Darius did the same.

If it’s important to them and the team and the town, so be it, I suppose.

But why is it important to them? The team gave them both a free publicity day, because they were both well out of our consciousness. I guess there is that.

Spicer wants to coach, so it helped his name get out there. He played his last year in Jacksonville in 2008. He played nine of his 10 years for the Jaguars. Few remember he started in Detroit. Fewer remember he was cut by the Saints in 2009 before the season started, but latched back on with them in January of 2010 and was on their Super Bowl roster.

Darius is hosting a “Next Level Training Football Skills Clinic” in Jacksonville on Saturday, and his grand retirement gets it some publicity. He logged all of three games for the 2007 Miami Dolphins before his career ended. Three of his 118 regular-season games, the rest of which were played with Jacksonville. That 2.5 percent of his career somehow necessitates an official return and retirement?

I don’t imagine these ceremonial contracts take but five seconds, because if they do the team’s front office is wasting time. I understand the franchise is looking to build memories and tradition and show how guys fondly remember their primes with the team. They were both very good players, important players.

But the ceremony is unneeded. No one who cares about the Jaguars thinks of Spicer as anything but a Jaguar. Not one who cares about the Jaguars thinks of Darius as anything but a Jaguar.

Or have I completely missed out on the Saints and Dolphins, respectively, trying to claim them?
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Arian Foster needed a knee scope from a lingering injury, says John McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

Bill Polian says there is progress with Peyton Manning, writes Mike Marot.

The Colts draft-first strategy could become the norm for everyone this season, says Mike Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars put the franchise tag on Marcedes Lewis, says Tania Ganguli.

Paul Spicer got to retire as a Jaguar and is looking to coach, says Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

Defensive tackle ranks as a Titans priority, says John Glennon.

Mike Munchak has deferred to his coordinators in some staff choices, says Jim Wyatt.

Biggest cap hits and dead money

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Here's some interesting info on cap hits and dead money from Football Outsiders. You have to be an Insider to see the whole report. But I got top secret clearance to share a bit.

The Texans' biggest cap number belongs to Matt Schaub ($10.25 million, 8 percent of their cap) and the most dead money is tied up in Anthony Weaver ($5.4 million, 4.2 percent).

My thoughts: Having Schaub in that slot is fine, and he's a guy that has to produce for them to succeed. Dead money is an interesting way to judge a team's failures, and Weaver's is a big number when you consider they've also made two sizable investments in their efforts to replace him -- signing free agent Antonio Smith and drafting Connor Barwin.

The Colts' biggest cap number belongs to Peyton Manning ($21.2+ million, 16.5 percent of the cap) and the most dead money is tied up in Marvin Harrison ($6.4 million, 5 percent of the cap).

My thoughts: No surprise with Manning, thought it's hard not to wonder what the Colts might be able to do if they could shrink that number. The Harrison decision was the tough kind where a team chooses to move on, parting ways with a guy who helped get it to new heights but had tailed off. Getting him off the books will pay off starting next year.

The Jaguars' biggest cap number belongs to David Garrard ($9 million, 6.6 percent of the cap) and the most dead money is a three-way tie between Jerry Porter, Drayton Florence and Paul Spicer ($2.5 million each, 1.8 percent of the cap each, 5.4 percent total.)

My thoughts: This is a big prove-it year for Garrard -- he either establishes himself as the guy or the Jaguars are forced to tacitly concede the big contract was a mistake and begin to look for a quarterback. The Porter and Florence hits show the damage bad signings can do, and the Spicer hit is a warning about loyalty to older guys.

The Titans' biggest cap his is Keith Bulluck ($9.1+ million, 6.8 percent of the cap) and the most dead money is tied up in Antonio Johnson ($86,726, 0.1 percent of cap).

My thoughts: Bulluck is in a contract year, but his agent has said he's been fairly paid on this contract and he's right. The dead money figure for Johnson, now with the Colts, is ridiculously low -- accounting for the 84th biggest total on the team right now. (The roster will ultimately only include 53 players.) In previous years, though, this franchise had huge numbers in the dead money column. This is great evidence of lessons learned.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Jaguars are looking to trade receiver Dennis Northcutt.

 
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.

 
  Courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Icon SMI
  Jaguars GM Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio are placing a larger emphasize on building team chemistry and this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

To any Jacksonville Jaguar who might have been a bit reserved in 2008, who deferred to leaders like Fred Taylor and Mike Peterson, who thought it better to fit in and follow than to try to help set a tone, general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio have a message:

Step forward.

"When you look at things with a league with great parity, I do think team chemistry is a direct factor, a big reason why some teams win at a higher level than other teams," Smith said. "I am a firm believer, and I say this all the time, that good players that play great together win championships.

"In order to play together you've got to have people that are unselfish, that are very disciplined, that put team first and where you have great peer leadership. That's where you develop that core team chemistry that enables you to succeed at a higher level."

Smith has been with the organization since 1994 and was elevated to GM after the 2008 season, taking over for vice president of player personnel James "Shack" Harris, who had resigned. With the new post came more power than Harris had -- Smith has control of all personnel decisions. As the Jaguars headed into the 2009 season and Smith sorted through the roster he inherited, the team appeared to believe in addition by subtraction:

  • It let several free agents go without any effort to retain them: Peterson, a linebacker, landed in Atlanta; safety Gerald Sensabaugh in Dallas; left tackle Khalif Barnes in Oakland and Pierson Prioleau in New Orleans. Receiver Reggie Williams is unsigned.
  • It dumped players considered to be mistakes who didn't produce or got in trouble: Receivers Jerry Porter and Matt Jones and cornerback Drayton Florence.
  • It parted ways with some older guys who were looked to as leaders and spokesmen: Taylor (now a Patriots running back) and defensive end Paul Spicer (now with the Saints).
 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Mike Peterson is gone from Jacksonville after clashing with coach Jack Del Rio last season.

Peterson's relationship with Del Rio soured and came to a head after a well-publicized incident last year in which Peterson chafed over criticism from his coach. It was not a good development in a locker room that was already decimated by injuries, filled with underperformers and fracturing because of how some guys who'd been paid (like Porter and Florence) or wanted to be paid (like Peterson and Williams) were acting or being treated.

"The leaders, the veterans of the team, the true guys that were part of the team last year and will be part of the team going forward, all came and said, 'Coach, you did the right thing,'" Del Rio said of the Peterson developments. "That was important. It was something that needed to be done.

"Again, that's a situation where a guy was putting selfish interests ahead of the team, and then bucked up when challenged about it. It's been portrayed a certain way, and that's OK, because I'm not really concerned with it. But I know, and everybody that was a part of that understands that there's a way to do it that's right and there's a way to do it that's wrong, and there's going to be accountability in our organization."

How did a team that had great chemistry and success in 2007 lose so much of it in a year's time?

This was a big part of Del Rio's explanation at the owners' meetings:

"The thing that stood out in my mind was that we did pay a couple of guys a lot and elected not to -- for whatever reasons internally, and I'm not saying I didn't support it -- but when you don't pay a handful of guys whose contracts are expiring, and you are paying a couple that come in and don't prove to be the right kind of guys, it disrupts things. I think that was part of it."

That shouldn't be an issue going forward.

After conceding mistakes with Porter and Florence, the Jaguars have sworn off high-priced free agents. The two outsiders brought in -- tackle Tra Thomas and safety Sean Considine -- were inexpensive. The free agents they've re-signed were role players who didn't get much, either -- veteran center Brad Meester and special-teamers and backups Montell Owens, Brian Iwuh and Scott Starks.

 
  Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
  Maurice Jones-Drew will be expected to take on a larger leadership role this season.

The one guy who's in line for a pricey extension, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, might be the team's most important player. It would be hard for anyone to grumble legitimately if MJD gets his new deal.

With or without a new package, Jones-Drew will be looked to by the post-Taylor Jags to lead more.

"Certainly, Maurice Drew is one of the electrifying guys in the league," Del Rio said. "We're going to get him more opportunities. I think yo
u'll see some of his leadership skills emerge with the void created. He never really wanted to step on Fred's toes. And I think now that Fred's not there, it's going to open up the door for Maurice to be more assertive."

He and the rest of the Jaguars' vets will be joined by Smith's first draft class -- currently nine picks deep. Smith has said he plans to build through the draft, and that he plans to place a premium on character in his selections.

"We want to add good teammates to this football team," he said.

Del Rio emphasized that the franchise hardly feels the cupboard is bare. Smith pointed to players he expects to take on larger leadership roles in the new environment.

"We have a good core of what I would call emerging leaders, we have some young ascending players from Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, David Garrard, Marcedes Lewis, Brad Meester, Greg Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew. We go down the list, we have a number of players.

"Montell Owens is an outstanding leader on special teams. We have a good core and we have other guys that are emerging as well. As you build a team chemistry and you get people believing in 'we,' you have a chance to compete at a high level."

It's an age-old debate: Does chemistry beget winning or does winning beget chemistry?

Del Rio said he played on teams that had great chemistry but didn't win, that the 1989 Dallas Cowboys developed respect for each other even as they finished 1-15. The Cowboys of the early 90s, the Ravens of 2000 (for whom he was an assistant coach) and the 2007 Jaguars all had great chemistry, he said.

"It was as unselfish, team-first, egos-really-checked-at-the-door as it could be," Del Rio said of his group two years ago. "The same combination of guys for the most part kind of soured the following year. As coaches, we'd like to get our hands on it, whatever that magic formula is, and sprinkle it on all of our players. But it doesn't work that way. You have to work at it ....

"It's not automatic. I think there's a common respect needed. Last year -- again, I hate to continue to go back talking about it -- but one of the things that was clear early on was that this time of year we had a lot of talk about, 'Boy, my contract's not getting done, I need this.' There was a lot of 'I, I, I' and not enough 'We, We, We.' So we just need to get back to that commitment of doing things for the good of the team, and putting team first. That's going to be an emphasis."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

  • John McClain says the Texans will sink or swim with Matt Schaub and have no interest in trading for Jay Cutler.
  • A look at Texans' records that could fall in 2009, from Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Tony Dungy won't be doing anything for the union on a paid or staff basis, reports John Oehser.
  • The Colts are the "leading choice" to be the Bill's opponent in Toronto this fall, reports Vic Carucci.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • The release of Matt Jones had to happen, according to Cole Pepper.
  • End Paul Spicer signed with New Orleans, where he will be reunited with coordinator Gregg Williams and linemate Bobby McCray, says Vito Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

  • David Climer says the Titans ought to find a way to get Jay Cutler.
  • Terry McCormick feels compelled to dismiss the idea of a trade bringing Cutler to Nashville.
  • Receiver Justin McCareins could make a free-agent visit near the end of the week, says McCormick.
  • A video interview with Jovan Haye, by Gary Estwick.

As we wait for midnight...

February, 26, 2009
2/26/09
9:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A roundup of some Thursday developments and articles as we await the clock striking midnight:

Houston Texans

Who will be Matt Schaub's new backup once the Sage Rosenfels trade to Minnesota goes through? How about Chris Simms? The Titans free agent could land a better offer with a better chance to start. But he's college pals with Houston coordinator Kyle Shanahan, which could make for a match.

The Texans extended qualifying offers to five restricted free agents, with tight end Owen Daniels getting the maximum offer of a $2.792 million tender that comes with first- and third-round picks attached as compensation, John McClain reports.

Receiver David Anderson and defensive end Earl Cochran each got the minimum tender of $1.01 million. That comes with a seventh-round pick attached as compensation for Anderson and no pick connected to Cochran if they got an offer sheer the Texans don't match.

Indianapolis Colts

Early in the day there was speculation Jeff Saturday could try to get the Steelers interested, but he reached a three-year deal with the Colts.

Dominic Rhodes will test the market, writes Mike Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The team announced it would cut veteran defensive end Paul Spicer.

"Paul Spicer has been a productive and valuable member of this team for a long time," Jaguars GM Gene Smith said. "We've appreciated his team-first mentality and his blue-collar work ethic. He was a good example for the younger players because he was a guy who was not drafted but worked very hard to establish himself and his career."

The Jags could look for a mid-range veteran to help out. But even if they do, 2009 will bring more work and bigger expectations for Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, last year's top two picks.

Tennessee Titans

With no deal for Kurt Warner in Arizona, the Titans and Kerry Collins aren't going to get any closer. Collins has been waiting on a Warner deal to then try to get a percentage of the deal. If Simms (see Houston entry above) gets a quick deal with a team like the Bears or the Texans, it will mess up the Titans' Plan B and give Collins even more leverage.

If things drag on, Jim Wyatt wonders if the Titans would express an interest in Warner -- an unlikely match -- just to stir things up.

There has been nothing Thursday to indicate the potential for a last-minute breakthrough with the Titans and Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth tops Pete Prisco's list of the 50 top free agents.

Harvey getting pressures, not sacks

December, 12, 2008
12/12/08
3:36
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

On the Titans and Jaguars stat sheets, the column reads "QBP." For the Colts it's "PR." In Houston: "QB Press."

As with tackles, quarterback pressures are a subjective number that comes out of a specific team's standards as defensive coaches review film.

The AFC South is loaded with top flight pass-rushers: The top four vote-getters in the fan portion of Pro Bowl balloting for AFC defensive ends were from the division.

Scan this list of the top QB pass-rushers in the division and see if anyone jumps out at you:

AFC South QB pressures (with sacks)

Dwight Freeney, 25 (9.5)
Mario Williams, 24 (11)
Derrick Harvey, 24 (1.5)
Tony Brown, 21 (3.5)
Paul Spicer, 20 (3.5)
Albert Haynesworth, 19 (8.5)
Kyle Vanden Bosch, 18 (4.5)*
Reggie Hayward, 17 (1.5)
Rob Meier, 17 (2)
Jevon Kearse, 15 (2.5)
Robert Mathis 14, (11.5)
*Vanden Bosch missed the bulk of five games with a groin injury

Yes, Harvey, the Jaguars quiet rookie who isn't anywhere close to Freeney and Williams in sacks, is judged by his coaches to be in their ballpark with pressures.

Here's Jacksonville defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on how his team judges a pressure and on the progress of Harvey. These excerpts of Williams' recent chat with Jacksonville reporters come courtesy of the team's PR staff.

On what defines a quarterback pressure for him and why Derrick Harvey has so many despite few sacks: "A pressure for us is if you move the quarterback off the spot and be the cause for an incompletion. Does the quarterback get the opportunity to throw on rhythm or throw like there are no linemen on the field as in a seven-on-seven period? Obviously, when he's doing that you're not doing a very good job in your pass rush. What we're trying to do is move him off the spot, move in from the spot, and the pass has to be an incomplete pass. The hit, when we talk about a hit, is only when you're taking him to the ground. You have to take him to the ground."

On what he's seeing from Derrick Harvey, and can he be an impact player: "I would say this; we're always hoping for that to come about. The last two or three weeks we've seen some significant strides. From a technique standpoint and a feel and awareness standpoint; some of the best football players that I've been around have had the feel and instinct of how to play the game outside of coaching and outside of things that you bring up and talk to robots about. He's not robotic. He has a feel for the game, which is good. And the more you play and feel the suddenness and strength and power of an NFL lineman opposed to a college lineman; some things you can do at the level he just came from are just on sheer speed and strength where you win. It's more than that here. You're going to have to have a counter and set people up thinking like a chess match two, four or eight snaps down the road how you're working and impacting your matchup. I'm starting to see those things from him."

On if Harvey has enough moves: "You're starting to see those kinds of moves. When you study you're starting to see him come under and spin. One of the players I had, Sean Taylor, who was just a gifted athlete, had the ability to abort the design of the defense sometimes because he knew where the ball was going to go."

On what the growth period is for a defensive end: "Typically, each one is different. But if I'd have to group it around the one's I've been around that have been successful; they make the biggest impact in that second or third year. You brought up a name and another smile came to my face on Jevon Kearse, another Florida guy who I was a part of. Do you realize that he never put his hand down? He had never been a defensive lineman until we drafted him and put his hand down in mini-camps and started him out that way. It was truly a remarkable first year with a guy like that who had never done it at all. Really the only thing you saw him do that rookie year was line up and go and his athleticism; his speed like a DB or a wide receiver allowed him to make an immediate impact. Now, Derrick (Harvey) isn't that fast. He's not a 4.37 in the 40 at the combine like Jevon was when he came out."

What I think they're thinking

November, 17, 2008
11/17/08
7:47
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

What I think they are thinking at headquarters of the four AFC South teams the day after Week 11 games...

Houston Texans

Either the turnover message isn't getting through or we don't have the people to execute well enough to abide by it, or both. We protected the ball until the end, but that's not good enough. And nobody outside our headquarters was surprised when the Colts sealed the game with a pick of Sage Rosenfels, but we're compelled to act as if it was unexpected to us.

It would be good if Jim Zorn's Redskins, Mike Smith's Falcons, John Harbaugh's Ravens and Tony Sparano's Dolphins could put together a bit of a losing streak right now. Those guys aren't good for job security here and we don't want owner Bob McNair looking around and thinking a new guy with a new staff could turn things around so quickly here.

Indianapolis Colts

Well, here's the streak Tony Dungy's been talking about. No turnovers in three weeks, no losses in three weeks either. Outsiders have been concerned about the production of defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had two sacks in the win over Houston, and receiver Marvin Harrison, who had nine catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

We're tied for a Wild Card spot and the other three teams that are 6-4 have a lot tougher road the rest of the way -- Baltimore and New England each have four games left against winning teams, and Miami has three. We don't see a winning team until Week 17 when we get our rematch at home against Tennessee.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Well, coach Jack Del Rio gave an honest assessment of our playoff chances now at 4-6 -- "a very remote possibility." We appreciate the candor. We're beyond the ugly demotion of Mike Peterson, a story Del Rio gave life for too long, but are we in line for more moves like the symbolic start Derrick Harvey got over Paul Spicer Sunday in the loss to Tennessee?

Let's hope our scouts are doing careful work looking at offensive and defensive linemen out there, because we need to overhaul and quickly -- not just with rookies, but with some experienced players who can help us get back on course. Though Matt Jones missed Sunday's game with a thigh injury, we guess his suspension appeal worked for us out no matter what happens now -- it kept him in the mix for us as long as we stayed in the mix in the AFC.

Tennessee Titans

This one-game-at-a-time talk is actually working! We've managed to instill this confidence where we don't think anything can throw us off course and we can play our way though anything, and that quality makes us unbeatable as much as anything else. Our guys are willing to bend conventional thinking to fit us -- one player said after the win in Jacksonville that nobody likes an underdog (never mind that people love underdogs and we're not one anymore) and another said the Titans are like Michael Phelps when people were rooting against him sweeping all the gold medals at the Olympics (show us the American who wanted him to get silver and wasn't related to someone swimming against him).

Some people scoffed when we didn't grab any big names in free agency. But Chris Carr represents just the sort of guy we were looking for -- a versatile player who would be able to contribute in multiple areas if -- or more accurately, when -- we needed him. We wouldn't likely be 10-0 without him. The Jets will bring a lot of hype and a lot of eyes, we need to show them the same thing we've shown the first 10 teams on the schedule.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Good morning. For your one-stop shopping and reading pleasure, I present my tour of the AFC South.

Houston Texans

  • The Texans' players have Gary Kubiak's back, writes John McClain. Call me crazy, but I think the best way to support a coach is to play well for him, not to talk about your support.
  • Steve Slaton was wearing down, so the Texans lightened his load Sunday against Baltimore, explains McClain.
  • McClain breaks out the F-minus in his report card.
  • Players are focused on moving forward for each other, blogs Megan Manfull.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Jack Del Rio is pulling out some old coaching standards, and quite frankly they feel a bit high-schoolish: shuffling lockers, sending a player home, scolding laughter at inappropriate times, indicating that he thinks the locker room music is too loud.

 
 Tom Hauck/Getty Images
 The chemistry of Jack Del Rio's Jaguars has been off this year -- leading to some unusual choices by the coach.

Early this week in response to a question about team chemistry not matching last year's, he called it the $64 million question. It seems reasonable to expect that a coach who got a deal with $20 million guaranteed through 2012 would have the answer. Perhaps behind the scenes he does. What he's shown publicly and other details that have trickled out suggest he doesn't.

With his underachieving team stuck at 3-5 and its season in jeopardy, scrambling name plates on locker stalls and turning down the stereo aren't going to fix a broken team with questionable construction.

And the head coach is the guy in charge of facilitating quality chemistry, an issue that seems a little late to address now, though I guess he's got to continually try to address it. Put it on the list of things that need to be better forged in training camp 2009, when he's certain to still be in place no matter how badly the second half may go.

The Jaguars' issues interconnect on several levels, creating uncertainty regarding their identity, their patience and their makeup, both mentally and in personnel.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Jaguars aren't spending a lot of time thinking about the Monday night matchup. They are far more concerned with their Sunday game against Cleveland.

Still, it's hard not to wonder what they envision as a better result between the Titans and Colts.

In the AFC South, would it be better for Jacksonville if the Titans were way out ahead at 7-0 and the Colts were 3-4? Or would it be more favorable for the Jaguars, competing with both of those teams, to see Tennessee 6-1 and have the Colts at 4-3?

Defensive end Paul Spicer and linebacker Mike Peterson both said they'd vote for a Titans' loss.

Spicer: "You always like when the Titans lose because it increases our chances. I really don't care about either team but the way things are shaping up right now, I would definitely like the Titans to take an 'L.' We could be right in the thick of things in the division."

Peterson: "I want to see the Titans lose just to open the race up, no other reason. It's a tight race. Usually it's Indianapolis and everyone is chasing them. Now it's Tennessee up top but they still have to play everybody (within the division). There is a chance for them to fall. Tennessee is just sitting up there right now undefeated. We have to take care of our business."

I'm not surprised. It's awfully early to basically concede the division. If the Jags top Cleveland and the Titans lose Monday, Jacksonville would be two-and-a-half games behind based on the tiebreaker from their opening-day loss to Tennessee. That's significant but hardly insurmountable.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

During a training camp visit with Fred Taylor, the topic turned to the Jaguars defense. A lot of running backs would wave off a question about the other side of the ball. Taylor, a leader and spokesman, ran to it as if it were a gaping crease in a defensive line.

He said in Jacksonville's playoff loss in New England that Tom Brady might as well have been on a yacht when he dropped back.

"I think, what I saw and what the whole entire world saw, was that he's just back there," Taylor said. "He had way more than enough time, and no way in hell defensive backs can cover that long. No pressure."

In big games against big-name quarterbacks, the 2007 Jaguars generated an insufficient pass rush, getting to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady just four times in three games.

So the pass rush was the big offseason project on the defensive side of the ball. When Mike Smith left to become head coach in Atlanta, Jack Del Rio hired Gregg Williams, a coordinator with some experience at getting people to the quarterback, with extra people if necessary. They traded up to draft Derrick Harvey eighth and hoped to double their fun with Quentin Groves, 52nd overall.

Now as the Jaguars prepare to face Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger, a team and a quarterback against whom they've had great success, their ability to get to the quarterback remains the big defensive question.

The Jaguars sacked Big Ben 11 times in two wins last year. But last week, Jacksonville failed to sack or harass Houston's Matt Schaub and nearly paid the price, holding on for an overtime win even though they gave up a season-high 307 passing yards.

Groves and Harvey have combined for one of the team's five sacks and too often quarterbacks have been steering that yacht.

Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. wrote on Tuesday: "The Jaguars can't get to the quarterback with just their defensive front four, so they brought linebackers and corners in nine times versus Houston. However, they still didn't get to QB Matt Schaub -- that's a lot of gambling with marginal results."

"It's something everyone would like to have and everyone would like to see and everyone would like to get: sacks," Groves said. "It's something that's going to come in time."

Why can't the Jags get pressure from their front four or with blitzes?

A scout from another team in the division said the line is too imbalanced. While John Henderson is a load inside, he's not a pass rusher. While the tackles are good against the run, they don't have an interior presence that pushes the pocket.

Their four interior guys have one sack among them; that's one fewer sack than Buffalo's Marcus Stroud, a player Jacksonville deemed finished and dealt away.

With little inside, the Jaguars are depending on the rush to come from the edge. And out there they've got two older ends who aren't especially dynamic rushers in Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward, and the two kids who aren't yet going to regularly beat quality tackles.

Harvey missed all of camp and is still way behind. Groves is a speed rusher discovering he needs to diversify.

"I thought it was going to be somewhat like college, but then I got into the heat of the fire and realized that you can't just make one move to get through these guys," Groves said in a phone chat this week, echoing what thousands of linemen have said before him. "You've got to make two or three moves and continue to rush the passer if you are going to get there. That's the thing I am getting better at week by week."

Perhaps part of what is going on in Jacksonville is that the personnel does not necessarily fit with what Williams likes best. He has a good group of linebackers and a less talented line when he'd probably willingly swap the two, taking a line that can get up field and create some chaos with steady, responsible linebackers behind them.

As Williams learns what he has and when he can and cannot be riskier, things will improve. He's also got to stay within what a defensive head coach, Jack Del Rio, wants to do.

The Jaguars seem intent on showing patience, which is smart because when you bank on two kids you don't have much of a choice. Groves said Williams is preaching that pressure and sacks will come.

"Our coaches are going to be able to scheme and find ways to get us open and get us free," Groves said. "They've helped us a lot to show different schemes and stuff like that."

Pittsburgh is 31st in the league in sacks per play and may prove a temporary solution. Jacksonville doesn't want to be the team that can't get to Roethlisberger. If it is, things are worse than they seem.

That scout and this blogger are not so sure about Williams' long-term faith for this season. The Jaguars have not yet altered the formula, but they probably are going to have to.

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