AFC South: Quentin Groves

Sanders/WattUSA TODAY SportsAce Sanders and the Jaguars' receivers must pick up their play against J.J. Watt and the Texans.

HOUSTON -- Oddly enough, it’s the team with the worse record that enters this game with the better vibes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally won a game two weeks ago, whereas the Houston Texans are trudging through what’s now an eight-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.

For Houston, it’s been a matter of finishing. The Texans have led at halftime in each of their past three games. They regularly gain more yards than their opponents. They just can’t finish with wins, having lost by one, three, three and five points in their past four games.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: So, Mike, do you think the Jaguars have shown signs of improvement lately?

DiRocco: In certain areas, yes. They've been much better against the run since the bye week, holding the Titans to 83 yards and the Cardinals to just 14. Their special teams have improved, too, especially the kickoff-return unit. Since bobbling several kicks against the San Francisco 49ers, Jordan Todman is averaging 34.7 yards on his past seven returns. Outside of those two areas, though, improvement is hard to find. The running game is still struggling. Since rushing for 90 yards against San Francisco, the Jaguars have totaled 86 in the past two games. The passing game really misses Justin Blackmon, too, because teams are concentrating on stopping receiver Cecil Shorts, and the rest of the receivers just aren't good enough right now to carry the offense. The pass rush managed three sacks against Arizona but overall has been ineffective. Couple that with a secondary that includes three rookies and you can see why they're struggling against the pass, too.

Speaking of struggling, what has been the biggest reason for the Texans' surprising stumble this season? Is it quarterback play? Injuries?

Ganguli: Special teams, turnover margin, quarterback play, injuries and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball are all to blame. The Texans' kicker, Randy Bullock has really struggled. He made a 51-yarder on Sunday -- his first field goal from 50 yards or longer this season. Overall, he’s made only 65.4 percent of his field goal attempts. The Texans currently have their starting tight end, running back, strong safety and middle linebacker on injured reserve. They might get tight end Owen Daniels back in a couple of weeks, but not having him has been bad. The Texans' offense and special teams have turned the ball over at a high rate -- and that’s not just on former starting quarterback Matt Schaub, though Schaub has been a big factor. Pick-sixes aside, Schaub wasn’t actually playing too poorly before he got benched for Case Keenum. He had one game that was top-to-bottom bad: the Texans’ loss in San Francisco. But a pick-six is such a big play that his really hurt the Texans. That’s not something anyone predicted heading into the season. Well, maybe someone did. Certainly not me.

Speaking of quarterbacks, what did it take for the Jaguars to finally give up on Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Gus Bradley says the team hasn't given up on Gabbert, but it's pretty obvious it has by the fact that Chad Henne is starting even though Gabbert has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been healthy for weeks. It was typical Gabbert when he did play earlier in the season: some really good throws, some terrible throws and a few "what the heck was he thinking?" throws. He just hasn't been consistent enough, and he's had three seasons. The other issue is that he can't seem to stay healthy. This season alone he had a sprained ankle early in training camp, fractured his thumb in the preseason, missed two games because of a cut on his hand and left the Week 5 game with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since. He also missed the final six games of the 2012 season with a forearm injury.

Tania, what is Schaub's future in Houston? If he's out, are Keenum or T.J. Yates viable long-term solutions or will the Texans go after a quarterback in the draft?

Ganguli: Schaub’s future in Houston is murky at best. He knows that. His teammates know that. As I said earlier, people did not see this coming. The Texans' handling of Yates indicates they don’t think he’s the future. I don’t think it’d be smart to go into next season with only Keenum as a starting option given the unknowns that remain about him. So far, he hasn’t been able to react well to defensive adjustments against him. It’s entirely possible he gets better at that, but I just don’t think you know for sure yet. I could absolutely see the Texans drafting a quarterback. It’ll be a pretty deep class, though there doesn’t seem to be a knockout like Andrew Luck.

Let’s finish up with defense. The lack of a pass rush has been a problem in Jacksonville for so long. Why has it been ineffective?

DiRocco: The bottom line is the players aren't anything but average. It dates back to 2008, when the team drafted Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second to improve the pass rush. They were both busts, and the Jaguars have been chasing those picks ever since. They signed Aaron Kampman to a free-agent contract in 2010, but he arrived coming off a torn ACL, and he went on to suffer another tear, among more injuries. The Jaguars claimed Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia in 2012, and he has 4.5 sacks in 15 games with them. Andre Branch, last season's second-round pick, has just three sacks in 23 career games. Upgrading the pass rush will be one of the team's biggest tasks in free agency and the draft this offseason.

This obviously isn't the kind of season the Texans expected. How has the locker room been? Do you get the sense of any problems, and is it a case which another few losses (especially one to the Jaguars) could make things get nasty?

Ganguli: The locker room is frustrated, but right now, the Texans are closing ranks and taking an us-against-the-world mentality. We saw a bit of frustration within the team when Schaub yelled at Andre Johnson on the sideline for stopping his route near the end of the Texans' loss to the Raiders. Johnson yelled back and then walked off the field before the official end of the game. The team didn't need him anymore at that point because Oakland was simply kneeling to the finish, but it was a surprising move from a guy who doesn't normally show his frustration like that. Still, Johnson and Schaub both downplayed the argument, saying they were fine with each other. I thought Johnson's comments on Wednesday supported that. He talked about how "you hate to see" what Schaub has gone through this season, especially given their long history together. This is a pretty good locker room. I think if they were going to turn on each other, they would have had plenty of reasons to do so already.

During four years as the Jaguars general manager, Gene Smith developed a reputation as a personnel man who liked small college guys.

He didn’t do it early on. His four first-round picks were out of Virginia, Cal, Missouri and Oklahoma State.

But later in drafts he turned to places like William and Mary, Liberty, James Madison, Murray State, Wyoming, Lehigh and Nevada.

And he left us looking up schools like Nebraska-Omaha, Mount Union and Ashland.

Yes, he found a players like receiver Cecil Shorts, cornerback Derek Cox and offensive lineman Will Rackley from those places. But he seemed to fall for a good story from a lesser school too often. Smith’s overall hit rate was not high enough, and his small school hit rate was certainly in line with that.

No SEC players for a team in SEC country was a bone of contention for a lot of fans.

The man who replaced Smith is unlikely to plot a similar draft map.

“I always believe in drafting and acquiring toward what the norms are,” David Caldwell told John Oehser of the Jaguars website. “If 93 percent of the players in the NFL are playing at Division I-A programs, that’s the norm. I’m not saying I would never draft a small-school player, but they would have to dominate that level. I wouldn’t say absolutes, but I’m a believer: big school, big competition.’’

The Jaguars have done their share of failing in the draft from major college programs, too.

The guy doing the drafting before Smith, Shack Harris, fared terribly with SEC guys at the top of the draft: in 2008 in Derrick Harvey (Florida) and Quentin Groves (Auburn) and with safety Reggie Nelson (Florida) in 2007, though Nelson is now playing an important role for Cincinnati.

I like Caldwell talking about the norms.

You're not going to be able to piece together a quality team thinking you can outsmart the rest of the league with small-school finds. One or two here and there are fine. But most of the best players come out of the best football programs, and that's where Caldwell and his staff will do most of their looking.
The National Football Post's Joe Fortenbaugh has a nice piece reviewing AFC South draft trends.

Here’s a nugget on each team with a thought from me:

Fortenbaugh: “Since 2001, the Colts have drafted only three offensive tackles. To put that in perspective, take note that over the last 10 years the team has spent the same amount of selections on kickers and punters (3).”

[+] EnlargeTony Ugoh
AP Photo/Darron CummingsThe Colts spent a 2007 second-round pick on Tony Ugoh but cut him last season.
Kuharsky: It’s significant and it’s time to make a substantial investment. But when a team has a left tackle who plays for nine years and goes to three Pro Bowls (Tarik Glenn) and gets steady play from its right tackle for eight years (though Ryan Diem slipped last season) there isn’t cause for huge expenditures at the spot. They failed in a second-round attempt (Tony Ugoh in 2007) to replace Glenn.

Fortenbaugh: “Since 2001, the Jaguars have drafted nine defensive ends, but only two (Derrick Harvey, Quentin Groves) have been selected within the top 100 picks.”

Kuharsky: Jaguars GM Gene Smith worked to offset that by bringing in free agent Aaron Kampman last offseason. And now it appears quite possible Smith will spend the 16th overall pick on a defensive end to complete the makeover of the line that included their top four picks from 2010.

Fortenbaugh: “Since Gary Kubiak took over as head coach in 2006, the Texans have drafted exactly 19 offensive players and 19 defensive players.”

Kuharsky: It’s nice to populate the roster in a balanced fashion. But if Houston does as it should and looks to fill a load of defensive holes in this draft, these numbers will tip to the defensive side.

Fortenbaugh: “Since 2005, the Titans have selected an average of 2.0 wide receivers per draft. Tennessee has landed at least one wideout in each of the past six drafts and has selected as many as three wide receivers two times in the last six years.”

Kuharsky: The all-star receiver roster of those past six drafts: Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones, Roydell Williams, Jonathan Orr, Paul Williams, Chris Davis, Joel Filani, Lavelle Hawkins, Kenny Britt, Dominique Edison, Damien Williams and Marc Mariani. The lone Pro Bowl appearance was Mariani last year -- as a return man.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Houston Texans

Best choice: The Texans got crushed by just about everyone when they tabbed defensive end Mario Williams as the No. 1 overall selection in 2006. Though he’s dealt with some nagging injuries, time has proved him a more dangerous and valuable player than Reggie Bush or Vince Young, the two players people wanted them to take instead. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thinks Williams will be like Bruce Smith in the team’s new 3-4.

Worst choice: Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye shows flashes and maybe he somehow works better in the new 3-4 front. But after four seasons, the No. 10 overall pick from 2007 has hardly been the sort of impact player you hope for from such a big investment. He’s still got a giant chance, but the Texans should have hit a home run in the spot and did not.

On the bubble: Indications are the Texans would like to re-sign receiver/returner Jacoby Jones, a third-rounder from 2007. But he’s hard to figure out. He can be the sort of dynamic player who’s a real bonus for an offense with Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. Or he can disappear and drop the ball when he gets chances.

Indianapolis Colts

Best choice: Antoine Bethea came in with little fanfare as a sixth-round defensive back out of Howard in 2006. But he’s grown into a steady and reliable fixture for the Colts at free safety. He’s a great model of the sort of late-round success that is a key part of how Indianapolis builds. Last season, with defensive backs falling all around him, Bethea held a patchwork secondary together.

Worst choice: The Colts traded up to get offensive tackle Tony Ugoh in the second round in 2007. But he never won the team over as the permanent answer at left tackle, and he was done before last season. It’s a spot the franchise is still looking to fill. Had Ugoh been the guy, Peyton Manning would be working with more time and it would be easier to get the tough yard on the ground.

On the bubble: Anthony Gonzalez can be a very effective receiver in the Colts’ scheme and has done a lot of work to earn Manning’s trust. But he’s appeared in just three games over the past two seasons because of injury. Bad fortune is not in his control, but we still aren’t sure he’s a long-term piece of the puzzle and they could really use him.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best choice: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew remains well aware that everyone passed on him and he knows all the pundits who said he wouldn’t make it. The Jaguars didn’t pass on him twice, and their second-round pick from 2006 is the centerpiece of their offense, a player they rely on for a very large percentage of their touches on offense.

Worst choice: Defensive end Quentin Groves just didn’t fit the Jaguars' defense. He was even part of the reason they experimented with a 3-4 front for part of 2009. But no matter where the 2007 second-rounder was plugged in, he didn’t produce and didn’t bring much fire to the job. He was traded to Oakland after just two seasons.

On the bubble: Tight end Zach Miller is a versatile talent who played quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha and was supposed to be a wild-card piece of the Jaguars’ offense. But the 2009 sixth-rounder has only 41 catches in 29 games through two seasons and has not forced his way into the plan the way the team had hoped. It would be great for the team if he could still be an X factor.

Tennessee Titans

Best choice: Running back Chris Johnson looked like a third-down specialist, a track guy who was a reach at No. 24 in the 2008 draft. He’s proved to be much more than that, posting a rare 2,000-yard rushing season in 2009 and posing a matchup nightmare even when he’s not made the best choices about where to go.

Worst choice: The Titans completely fell for Chris Henry’s combine work, allowing it to overshadow an unimpressive college career. The second-round running back from 2007 was a physical specimen. Unfortunately he lacked the sort of instincts needed in a runner. He actually stuck around three seasons as Tennessee hoped he’d emerge. It was a wasted roster spot.

On the bubble: William Hayes came in as a raw talent in 2008, and the fourth-round defensive end figures to have his best chance to be a consistent impact player going forward as the Titans look to be bigger up front. But his primary backer, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, has moved on and Hayes has to step forward to prove he can be a force.
Let’s call Jaguars-at-Bills the “Cleaning House Bowl.”

Since Gene Smith took over as Jacksonville’s GM in 2009, the team has gotten rid of a slew of high draft picks made before he assumed power: Quentin Groves, Reggie Nelson, Clint Ingram, Matt Jones, Khalif Barnes, Reggie Williams and John Henderson.

Since Chan Gailey took over as coach of Buffalo on New Year’s Day, his team's overhaul has been smaller, but the Bills parted ways with three high-ranking players at premium positions -- releasing veteran pass rusher Aaron Schobel and quarterback Trent Edwards and trading running back Marshawn Lynch.

If it wasn’t working, you’ve got to tear it down in order to build it back up.

The Jaguars are certainly ahead of the Bills in that process, something they need to show in the form of a positive result Sunday in New York.
I'm not going to lie to you. I misunderstood a Saturday assignment and initially, instead of filling these categories with just one selection for the whole division, I did one per team.

And so, after another run through, I present to you a broader look at the AFC South's drafting.

Houston Texans

Best move: The Colts didn't touch their their return man issues until taking cornerback Ray Fisher in the seventh round. The Titans convinced themselves they can get both receiver and return contributions from Damian Williams and Marc Mariani. But the Texans, already more threatening when fielding kicks and punts, jumped at Trindon Holliday from LSU in the sixth-round. He’s tiny at 5-5 and 169 pounds, but he could earn a few touches on offense and is the sort of special teams player the rest of the AFC South could wind up chasing all over the field.

Riskiest move: A lot of people expected them to take running back Toby Gerhart in the second round, but they made two trades to drop down eight slots and went with Auburn’s Ben Tate instead. Those two will likely be measured against each other for a good while and the Texans really need to have nailed it.

Most surprising move: See earlier post.

File it away: Fourth-rounder Garrett Graham out of Wisconsin and seventh-rounder Dorin Dickerson out of Pitt could be part insurance plan, part plan for 2011 and beyond. Owen Daniels is a world-class pass catcher. But he’s coming off his third ACL tear and is a restricted free agent seeking a big contract. They drafted a blocking tight end last year in Anthony Hill and a receiving tight end in James Casey and still took two in nine picks in this draft.

Indianapolis Colts

Best move: See earlier post.

Riskiest move: Bill Polian didn’t fare real well with two recent second-round picks on the offensive line (Tony Ugoh, Mike Pollak), so he went back to what’s worked better. The Colts took Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon in the fourth round (No. 129), where they’ve landed Ryan Diem and Jake Scott a little deeper in the team’s past. He didn’t register on some other teams’ radar at the same level. Polian said it was a weak tackle group after the top guys.

Most surprising move: Many probably didn’t list tight end as any sort of need considering the team has Dallas Clark, Gijon Robinson, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi on the roster. But Robinson’s not been as consistent a help in run blocking as they need and Santi’s been hurt too much. Enter fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge from Oklahoma, who’s 6-foot-5 and 261 pounds. I love this pick and the thinking behind it.

File it away: Polian opened the door, at least a little, for cornerback Jerraud Powers to be involved in the return games. Polian said a return specialist was a luxury they’re not convinced was necessary and one they won’t lose sleep over missing out on. But are they pushing it asking Peyton Manning to drive the offense so far so often? Fisher might be a big piece in the equation now too.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best move: I like the trade for Oakland linebacker Kirk Morrison, a tackling machine. He may not be super-sturdy against the run, but with the Jags’ emphasis on defensive tackles he should get some room to work. Morrison has a reputation as a good guy and a good leader, and the Jaguars are trying to fill their locker room with both.

Riskiest move: See earlier post.

Most surprising move: A second defensive tackle in the second round. D’Anthony Smith came on the heels of No. 10 pick Tyson Alualu and last year’s third-rounder Terrance Knighton. Gene Smith is a foundation builder with a deep pool of defensive tackles and the picks meant the Jaguars parted with John Henderson on Monday.

File it away: Gene Smith’s getting hit for not trading down in the first or third round before grabbing Alualu or Smith, but he was a capable trader. He got a fifth-rounder from Oakland recently for failed second-round end Quentin Groves and pulled off a trade with the Raiders for Morrison during the fourth round.

Tennessee Titans

Best move: See earlier post.

Riskiest move: Not taking a corner before the fourth round and 103rd pick. Alterraun Verner sounds like a good prospect, but he’ll be part of a five-person competition for the starting job opposite Cortland Finnegan. There is some safety in numbers. There is a bit more safety in having a clear-cut front runner for such a crucial spot.

Most surprising move: I thought they’d take a quarterback in the middle or late rounds. I didn’t expect it would be Florida Atlantic’s first draftee, Rusty Smith. Mike Heimerdinger will have a chance to develop a guy they’ve characterized as a true pocket passer, and may be lining themselves up with an alternative if Vince Young doesn’t pass the final audition of his rookie contract this season.

File it away: See earlier post.
Quality reads

The best mock drafter in the biz, Rick Gosselin, offers his predictions.

Why the draft is a national obsession. It’s about hope, says Michael Rosenberg.

A very nice draft guide from Lance Zierlein.

Sigmund Bloom’s draft viewer’s guide.

I talked with Titans Radio about the draft for the rest of the division.

Houston Texans

Rick Smith likes the new draft format, says John McClain.

Matt Schaub and the Texans are looking to raise awareness about concussions with kids, says McClain.

Richard Justice says the Texans need to finish the deal.

The Texans are after character, not characters, says McClain.

McClain’s final mock, with Ryan Mathews to the Texans.

Justice says there is a trade coming.

Eric Winston has a mock draft. Interesting commentary.

Zierlein also has Houston taking Mathews.

Indianapolis Colts

Says Bill Polian: "It's about the entire process, not just the first round. Our focus is actually greater on the lower rounds than it is the first.'' Mike Chappell’s story.

John Oehser sifts through Polian’s talk with the press, which includes this: “But my personal feeling is that contrary to perception this is not a terribly deep offensive line draft. The top guys will go off early, and then it thins out.”

Nuggets from Polian’s press session, from Chappell.

Indy Football Report’s final mock.

A round up of mock picks for the Colts.

A look at Rodger Saffold, from Terry Hutchens.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are keeping everyone guessing, says Vito Stellino.

Gene Smith approaches the draft the right way, says Gene Frenette.

Don’t expect a quarterback, says Stellino.

Mackey Weaver was promoted to senior vice president of marketing and sales as Tim Connolly moves to Green Bay.

The Jags dealt Quentin Groves to Oakland.

Vic Ketchman gives his best-case and worst-case scenarios.

A case study on bad draft strategy, from Jonathan Loesche.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans will figure out how their philosophies fit and work in the new draft format, says Jim Wyatt.

Wyatt evaluates the Titans’ roster and needs.

Tony Brown got a three-year deal, reports Wyatt. Titans fans who constantly say they don’t re-sign anyone, please take note.

If they make a move for Albert Haynesworth, they should do it before No. 16, says Wyatt.

There will be more time to talk trade, write David Boclair.

Ross Tucker gives LenDale White a 20 percent chance of being traded.

Mike Reinfeldt doesn’t have any regrets about the Jared Cook pick, says Wyatt.

The defensive end pool is deep, says Joe Biddle.

Titans Radio’s two-hour draft preview.

Quentin Groves just didn't work

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
4:40
PM ET
Quentin Groves tweeted this at about 2:30:
Duval County....I LOVE U GUYS...thanks for all your support...New Starts=New Beginnings...OAKLAND HERE I COME!!!!

Chris Mortensen reported he believes the Jaguars got a fifth-round pick for Groves.

Groves told me in an e-mail that it's done “pending a physical.”

The deal gives the Jaguars, who are without second- and seventh-round picks a total of seven selections now, with two in the fifth and two in the sixth. The move is another example of Gene Smith’s willingness to admit the franchise’s errors, acknowledge a non-fit or both.

Among the others disposed of or allowed to walk: Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Khalif Barnes, Gerald Sensabaugh and Derek Landri.

They were all drafted when James “Shack” Harris was running the front office, but this isn’t about a divide between old leadership and new.

Smith needs all the good players he can get; he’s not clearing out guys he believes can help. It’s to his credit that he’s not compelled to give guys more time than he thinks they need to be sufficiently evaluated.

The Jaguars couldn’t figure out how to get production out of Groves, who was part of the reason they dabbled with a 3-4 last year and was part of the reason the team had only 14 sacks. They started him at linebacker, they started him at end and they shuffled him way down the depth chart.

It just didn’t work.

Now new defensive line coach Joe Cullen’s had time with him and I feel sure his input was factored in.

A team looking to revamp its pass rush now goes with Derrick Harvey and free-agent addition Aaron Kampman as starters with Reggie Hayward and a to-be-drafted player in the mix.
Chris S. in Knoxville, TN writes: Alright Paul, We discussed this before, but now that the NFL has changed the OT rule. How do you feel about it? I still think this is not the right way to go. Seems like they should just play out the OT period all together. At some level this smells like a kid shoveling the sidewalk so poorly his parents never ask him to do it again. Just seems like they ignore the easy and obvious to come up with the ridiculous and controversial. -Chris S.

Paul Kuharsky: Playing the whole period isn’t fair. Whether it’s just playoffs or it’s playoffs and regular season, the teams are subject to an extra quarter’s worth of injuries. Then, having played that much more, they are that much more tired/beat up as they look to recover and play a fair game the next week.

I don’t like the rule for two reasons. I think it creates unnatural football in two ways:

If opening possession produces a field goal, the team that has to match, at worst, to keep the game going, then goes for it on fourth down to get into field goal range. Four-down offense isn’t regular football, it’s a different sort, a desperation sort.

And a safety wins but a first-possession field goal does not, even though a safety is worth one less point. It’s a game about scoring more points, right?


Nick in The U.K. writes: Hey Paul, been from the U.K. your blog is by far the best way to keep up with the Colts news! There’s a lot of talk about Peyton Manning becoming the NFLs highest paid player, and rightly so, but is there any chance he takes a cheaper deal for the sake of the teams development, I mean, he’s good, but he needs a defense and wide receivers to win still. Manning comes across a squeaky clean and this seems like something he may do. Thanks!

Paul Kuharsky: Well, they have lost exactly zero pieces of the receiving corps and defense he went to the Super Bowl with, so I can’t see the Colts making an appeal for charity.

The two are not mutually exclusive, especially now with no cap. Manning’s earning years are limited, he’s an all-time great and a smart businessman. If you’re the best guy at your company and it’s time to talk contract, do you offer to take less and tell your boss you know it would help the company if you did so? Or is that not your problem?

I vote B for sure.


Chris in Houston, Texas writes: Do you really believe the Texans and Gary Kubiak will use a higher than a third round pick to address the running game? I'm very skeptical for a couple of reasons. One is that I believe that Kubiak thinks addressing the inside of the line will resolve our short yardage problems. The other is I hope that Steve Slaton will fix his fumbling problem and have a bounce back year. Kubiak thinks this too, more than likely. Do you see Owen Daniels coming back from his injury to put up Pro Bowl caliber numbers?

Paul Kuharsky: They don’t want Slaton carrying the bulk of the load and his neck injury is a concern -- see Stephania Bell’s piece on this.

I think they probably address one of their defensive needs in the first round -- corner, free safety, defensive tackle -- and get their running back in the second or third. I’d be very surprised if they don’t have a back before the fourth.

Yes, I think Daniels will return and return to form.


William in Oviedo, FL writes: With regards to Quentin Groves being a bust, yes he hasn’t had sacks, but if you look at quarterback pressures, he was solid, just not finishing the job sacking the quarterback. Also, I think some of the blame can be put on the defensive line coach as it is his responsibility to develop the talent. I think between Joe Cullen and Aaron Kampman they should be able to get him to play much better.

Paul Kuharsky: Finishing the job IS the job. Pass rushers aren’t judged or rewarded for getting close. It’s about sacks, and Groves has not been productive. To be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve seen him AROUND the quarterback a lot either. And his coaches and management clearly have questions about him at this stage. His time is now.

That doesn’t mean others haven’t played a role in his lack of development, or that Cullen and Kampman won’t help him. But if they are banking on him for a big contribution, it’s a mistake. Let it be gravy if you get it.


Jason Pitts in Lufkin, TX writes: I have a question about quality control coaches. How do people find out about these jobs? Do the Titans have quality control coaches? How do they apply and get hired?

Paul Kuharsky: They are the lowest ranking spots on a staff, obviously, and do a lot of administrative work. Head coaches have running lists of guys they’d like to bring in, their assistants tell them about guys they’ve worked with, they have a pool of former players looking to break in, etc.

It’s not like an office where an opening comes up and they post a help wanted ad. Chuck Cecil started as one, for example. This is one of those walks of life where you don’t get to apply for jobs, you work your way into a pipeline Jeff Fisher monitors that feed the positions. They aren't always called quality control, by the way. Some teams just call them offensive assistant or defensive assistant.


Tucker in Columbus, IN writes: The draft is still a month away, but your recent article about the Colts going 4-wide and the need for defensive back depth among the competition has me thinking on it more. Obviously the Titans coaching staff is aware of the Colts' ability to utilize their talent at catching the ball, so do you think this puts cornerback higher in the needs column than defensive end? A great pass rusher can be just as effective as a great corner at disrupting the passing game, if not more so. Have an idea of what the Titans may lean towards, or will it boil down to the best player available at those two positions left on the board?

Paul Kuharsky: No guarantee they draft either at No. 16 -- it depends entirely on who is there. Sure they need a corner and end, and yes each can play a role in defending Manning. The Colts will use some four-wide but it's not gong to be their base or primary offensive personnel grouping. But the other three AFC South teams were all building to slow Manning and that passing offense already. Some snaps of four-wide doesn’t somehow make it more of a mission.


Mauricio in Houston, TX writes: Paul, I read and enjoy your comments with a lot of interest. How likely do you find this scenario -- Earl Thomas drops to the 16th spot on the draft and Houston sends its first and fourth pick this year to Seattle, to get this talented young man. I feel the secondary to be the highest priority by far.

Paul Kuharsky: The Titans draft 16th, not Seattle. No. 20 and a fourth-rounder might not be quite enough to move up like that.

I like Thomas a lot and would love to see him on the Texans.


John Wilson in Knoxville, TN writes about all the top-flight receivers the Titans will face and wonders if they don’t need a shutdown corner to go with Cortland Finnegan against them all.

Paul Kuharsky: It’s just like quarterback. That you need a Manning or a Darrelle Revis doesn’t make one magically available to you.

I think the Titans can be fine with Finnegan as No. 1 if they are solid at second and third corner.
Thanks much to those of you who responded to Saturday’s mailbag by firing me a lot of quality questions on the Texans, Colts and Jaguars. They prompted this bonus mailbag made up from questions that arrived only after your teams drew blanks.

I encourage your continued participation -- as I mention over and over, I can only answer the questions I get. (Direct access to mailbag here.)

Jason in Tallahassee/Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Who would be likely trade partners for the Jaguars to trade with? I think GM Gene Smith will trade down multiple times this April and I wouldn't be surprised if he completely traded out of the first round to recoup the spent second and to gain a handful of mid-round picks. What do you think?

Paul Kuharsky: I think it’s possible someone would want to move up to No. 10 for C.J. Spiller. But it’s very difficult to predict trade partners without knowing who’s taken with the first nine picks.

I value quality over quantity and don’t understand wanting lower picks instead of a high one. Hit a home run at 10. Also, I don’t think finding trade partners to move down is so easy.


Bryan in Afghanistan writes: Paul, I just wanted to say thanks for writing this blog. It's good to be able to read a more in-depth analysis on my favorite Division. My question was this: We all know that the Texans are "fiscally fit" and more than likely weren't going to make a splash in FA other than trying to keep their players... but some of us would have thought to have heard on contract talks with their "valuable" RFA players (i.e. Owen Daniels, DeMeco Ryans, etc...) I know they were given RFA tenders, but that doesn't really show me they want to get some deals made. Some knowledgeable insight would be appreciated, thanks.

Paul Kuharsky: Hope you’re safe over there.

They are assured they have those guys this year -- so the ticking clock isn’t very loud. A big extension right now comes knowing there is probably a lockout in 2011. I think that’s a deterrent for doing something big at this point.

But I do think that out of Daniels, Ryans and Bernard Pollard, they should really get one, if not two, done before 2010 kicks off. If Gary Kubiak got an extension, what’s your rationale for leaving some of his best players hanging?


Tony from Greensburg, Ind., writes: Mel Kiper believes the Colts will take a DT. I can't see this happening. They have gotten decent play from Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson. With the DB's depleted don't you think they will have to address this as a need?

Paul Kuharsky: I think they have the defensive tackle; he’s last year’s second-rounder, Fili Moala.

That doesn’t mean they won’t take one. Offensive line is the biggest need, defensive back depth another. But their first-round pick won’t necessarily be married to a need. They go best player available as well as anyone.


Dallas in Jackson, Minn., writes: Do you see the Texans drafting a QB this upcoming draft? Maybe a Dan LeFevour or a Matt Nichols to start grooming behind Matt Schaub who is not old but isn't a youngster.

Paul Kuharsky: I do not. Schaub’s going to be 29 in May, which is nowhere near old enough to start considering life after him.

They have plenty of other needs and a significant investment in backup Dan Orlovsky.


Trace Jackson in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Hey Paul. One of my absolutely favorite Jaguars players in the past few years has been Rashean Mathis. For awhile there, he was truly one of the great cornerbacks in the league; plus I loved that he was a local guy. He had a pretty down year in 2009, though, owing to his groin injury. Do you think he'll make a comeback in 2010, or was the injury the beginning of the end for him?

Paul Kuharsky: I think he’ll make a comeback in terms of being healthy and productive, but I do think he’s started to slip some. He’s signed through 2011. They could draft a corner this year to be third and grow into his replacement.


Chris in Wiesbaden, Germany, writes: What are the chances that if the Jags can't trade down, they draft Joe Haden, and move Rashean Mathis to free safety?

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t know that Mathis is a free safety. Most longtime corners don’t wind up safeties. It’s not like shortstops moving to third.

But Mathis, Haden and Derek Cox as the top three corners would be very nice.


Meredith in Indianapolis, Ind., writes: I'm curious about the condition of Dwight Freeney's ankle. I haven't heard anything about it in our local media. I assume no news is good news, but how severe was the injury after playing on it in the Super Bowl? Will he have any difficulties getting back to 100%?

Paul Kuharsky: Hi, Meredith. Nice to hear from you.

No new news from the team or player on this. The Colts don’t offer up a lot of injury info when they talk daily, better yet at this time of year when things are generally quiet. Unless they completely fibbed about what it was, I don’t see a reason to expect anything less than a full recovery.

With Raheem Brock gone, I do think a third defensive end is a priority.


Harsha Rajashekar in West Palm Beach, Fla., writes: I am surprised so many mock analysts have the Jags picking a wide receiver in the first round considering the amount of effort put into acquiring receivers in last year’s draft and the recent acquisition of Kassim Osgood. What’s your take on this?

Paul Kuharsky: Not impossible they look wideout. But while they need weapons, like you said, they loaded up on receivers in last year’s draft and with Osgood in free agency and need to give those guys a chance.

Meanwhile they can’t rush the passer consistently, even with Aaron Kampman in the fold.

Other needs trump receiver to me.


Joseph in Texas writes: Texans seem like they would be a fit for Nathan Vasher. They play enough mix of man and zone and I don't know of any character issues to make them shy away. What do you think? (And you better post this or the nice comment on your last mailbag defending you from being a Titan Homer disappears, buddy LOL.)

Paul Kuharsky: Dirt cheap and low risk? Sure, bring him on in.

But I’m not real excited about him as I discussed here.


Glenn in Los Angeles, Calif., writes: Hey Paul, How do you see Colts O-line situation shaping up? We let some players go and made a couple signings. Do you see us definitely picking up a center/guard early in the draft? How about our left tackle situation? Do you see us making any moves there? Thanks! Glenn

Paul Kuharsky: It’s completely up in the air. Jeff Saturday is the only guy I think we can safely say is locked in. We could see Charlie Johnson moved inside, or moved to a backup role. There is all kinds of possibilities. Pass protection will remain a priority, but all indications are they are looking for bigger guys who can also run block better.

They’ve added Adam Terry and Andy Alleman. I’d expect they’d draft a couple more linemen, bigger guys than they currently have. And I’d think we’d see one in the first two or three rounds, yes.


Greg in New York City writes: It's pretty much conventional thinking that the Jaguars will be selecting some defensive lineman this draft, as Gene Smith has not made it any secret that he thinks the DL crop is very deep. My question is if they do draft a defensive end or two, what ends currently on the team get kicked to the curb? Between Derrick Harvey, Quentin Groves, Aaron Kampman, Julius Williams, Bryan Smith, Jeremy Navarre, etc. there are plenty of ends currently on the roster. I'd argue Groves has performed the worst out of the bunch, could he be gone?

Paul Kuharsky: Beyond Harvey and Kampman, there isn’t a guy on your list or their roster they can’t upgrade on. None of those guys should be stopping the Jaguars from bringing in the best rush end they can find.

Groves certainly needs to make a showing in camp to solidify a roster spot and role.

Mailbag: Everybody's in

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
12:49
PM ET
Randy Phillips in Mt.Vernon, Ill., writes: Am I the only Titans fan that realizes the Titans will be better this year? I guess many do not get the point of addition by subtraction. Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch had more penalties than sacks last year. I think Jacob Ford and William Hayes paired with Tony Brown and Jason Jones will be the starting front four, and Titans will probably add a stud DE with 16th pick. Would like Jason Pierre-Pail, but he will probably be gone. Carlos Dunlap could be a great steal at 16. What do you think about that, and who do think starts beside Finnegan this year?

Paul Kuharsky: Kearse hardly played and Hayes and Ford have not shown they can handle a full load of snaps. They’ll be younger, that’s for sure. JPP and Dunlap are both intriguing, but I don’t know how you can guarantee they are good out of the gate. I like the first four, but they need more than four.

I hope Finnegan’s counterpart is not on the roster yet. Best current option is now Rod Hood. They’ll hope for jumps from Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton, and may look at a restricted free agent and will certainly draft one.


Carl from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Paul, I can't tell you how good it is to have a daily connection to football during the off-season. In terms of the Colts, since Tony Dungy's departure, Jim Caldwell began installing beefier defensive linemen, and it now appears he's looking to do the same on the O-line. Will this affect the high level of protection Manning has come to expect? Also, it seems that since the Super Bowl, the tone from the Colts as an organization is that of a grumpy neighbor. I really think the Colts are still shocked that they lost the Super Bowl, and recovering from losses is not something they're used to dealing with. Do you really think the Colts are past the big loss, or is this something that will linger to the point of being harmful next season?

Paul Kuharsky: Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball so quick, he created a large degree of his own protection. Since that’s the case, they seem to be thinking, "We can find bigger guys who can pass block and also help us when we need a tough 2 yards on the ground."

Recovering from big losses is not something they’re used to dealing with? They’ve suffered big losses in the playoffs every year but one.

I think they’ll always have regrets but have moved on and it’ll have minimal bearing on next season, except serving as some of the inspiration for changes they are making.


Scott Ota in Austin, Texas, writes: With all these veteran free agent running backs on the market, why haven't the Texans shown interest? I know they made mistakes with Ahman Green in the past, but someone who can help develop our youth would be huge -- Arian Foster and Steve Slaton. With a terrific passing game, bringing someone in like Brian Westbrook would create matchup nightmares all over the field, and limit his carries and increase his durability. Or, possibly putting Westbrook and Slaton on the field at the same time is another exciting thought. Anyways, I think if we had those three backs exchanging carries, we could have a much more potent, balanced offense. Your thoughts? And I am also excited about our young defense. I am proud to say that we have drafted well, and next year gives us more opportunities. For my draft, I see us taking safety and cornerback in the first two rounds.

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks, Scott.

I think Thomas Jones would have been a nice fit. Pay Westbrook and he gets a concussion and is that much closer to done. I can understand their determination to go younger. It’s clear they will be drafting the back, and that Slaton will still have a significant role -- I did this column on that recently.

Huge mistake in my opinion to expect much from Foster. That was a very small sampling we got of him, and I don’t think he’s someone they can rely on for much.

I’d love to see a safety in the first -- Earl Thomas would be great. Figure in first three they need FS, CB, RB in some order.


LQ from parts unknown writes: Do you think the Jaguars will add another defensive end or defensive tackle from free agency? Who would be a good fit for their defense? And what of the future of the Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey?

Paul Kuharsky: Maybe, but not anyone of note. Aaron Kampman and Kassim Osgood are the two big additions. I think they will be mostly focused on the draft from here unless they try to lure an inexpensive unrestricted free agent -- and he probably wouldn’t be a lineman.

Harvey is locked in as the second starting end and is better than people think, just not a great rusher. Groves has a lot of questions to answer.


Jeff Piercey in Goodlettsville, Tenn., writes: Paul, I listen to The Wake Up Zone every morning, and always look forward to when you will be the guest. Your insight to the program is invaluable. My question is this, what do the NFL owners think of LenDale White? It must not be very much. I thought a club would jump at giving a second-round pick for him. How come no club has made him an offer?

Paul Kuharsky: Owners don’t decide the value, their GMs do. Restricted free agency hasn’t really gotten started. I suspect it will pick up after compensatory draft selections are awarded, so teams know exactly what they have.

I don’t know why you would think teams would jump at giving up a second for him. Seconds are considered super-valuable. I know at least one team still has character concerns left from its draft review. A lot of teams are two-deep at running back. Combine all that, and the possible match list is slim, no?

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Recent history.

Houston Texans

The best move the Texans made in the past three seasons was trading a second-round pick in 2007 and 2008 to Atlanta for Matt Schaub, a quarterback who’s the key to their offense and team. With so many teams in need of a quality starter, that trade seems like a steal now. They’ve taken four defensive backs with the 10 picks they’ve made in the fifth round or later, and out of Brandon Harrison, Dominique Barber, Brice McCain and Troy Nolan they’ve not found a guy who has been able to contribute consistently. It’s time to spend a big pick on a free safety or corner who has great ball skills.

Indianapolis Colts

Skill positions get attention early, with receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown grabbed with the two first-rounders in the past three years. The hits in the third round and later have become significant players: Clint Session, Pierre Garcon, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie, Pat McAfee. Trouble spot? Look to the five offensive linemen who haven’t really panned out. That’s understandable with Steve Justice (sixth in 2008), Jamey Richard (seventh in 2008) and Jaimie Thomas (seventh in 2009), but Tony Ugoh (second in 2007) and Mike Pollak (second in 2008) have left the team with holes and problems that need to be addressed in April. Out of five picks there has to be at least one starter, probably two.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Two first-round picks out of Florida have not met expectations, but the Jaguars still hope safety Reggie Nelson and defensive end Derrick Harvey can become consistent players. Of 25 picks, only one is established as a playmaker on offense, Mike Sims-Walker (third-rounder in 2007). That’s a big part of the reason the team’s not especially potent on offense beyond Maurice Jones-Drew. The top four from the 2009 draft got significant starting experience as rookies, and the 2010 class will have similar opportunities. While Harvey can be steady, he’s not an explosive pass-rusher, and Quentin Groves has struggled. Even with Aaron Kampman signed, they still need another pass-rusher.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have fared nicely with pass-rushers from lesser-known schools -- William Hayes of Winston-Salem State is on the brink of big things and Jacob Ford of Central Arkansas is a skilled rusher. Contributions from second-rounders have been minimal -- Chris Henry is already gone, Jason Jones hasn’t stayed healthy or consistent and Sen'Derrick Marks had no impact as a rookie. After hitting a home run with seventh-rounder Cortland Finnegan in 2006, late-round corners Ryan Smith, Cary Williams and, so far, Jason McCourty, haven’t panned out. A quality corner is a need early in this draft.

AFC South Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
2:32
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

Houston Texans

Final Power Ranking: 14

Biggest surprise: Despite losing tight end Owen Daniels to injury along the way, quarterback Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson connected consistently, even as defenses keyed on minimizing the receiver. Johnson led the league in receiving with 1,569 yards -- 221 yards more than No. 2 Wes Welker. Schaub answered questions about his durability by starting all 16 games, earning a $10 million option bonus to trigger the remainder of his contract in the process.

Biggest disappointment: The inability of Kris Brown to hit clutch kicks and running back Chris Brown to convert clutch chances. In back-to-back November losses to Indianapolis and Tennessee, the kicker had chances to force overtime and missed on each occasion. The running back was miscast as a short-yardage answer, and his ineffectiveness hurt the Texans at the end of losses to Jacksonville and Arizona.

Biggest need: The Texans have issues in the secondary, where free safety and cornerback need to be upgraded. But this is an offensive team and, even when running back Steve Slaton was healthy and running behind a healthy starting line, it didn’t run well enough to complement the pass attack. The Texans need a big back who can gain a tough yard.

Team MVP: Johnson. He consistently produced despite extra defensive attention, putting his combination of size and speed to the best use yet.

Contract issues pending: Three key members of the Texans -- Daniels, middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and strong safety Bernard Pollard -- will lose chances at unrestricted free agency if there is no new CBA. In that case, they would be restricted free agents. They won’t be happy playing for one-year tenders and the Texans need to find a way to smooth things out with them.


Indianapolis Colts

Final Power Ranking: 1

Biggest surprise: Rookie cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey were supposed to be role players. But injuries in the secondary meant they were each starters for the majority of the season. Both did very well doing what the Colts asked of them. Overall, the secondary got little from three of four projected starters, with only free safety Antoine Bethea a consistent presence. But the Colts defense played very well anyway, giving up few big plays when Randy Moss wasn’t involved.

Biggest disappointment: Passing on a chance to try to carry a perfect regular season into the playoffs was a biggie. Team brass was clearly put off, and surprised, by the volume and depth of the media and fan backlash after the Colts pulled starters and handed the Jets a game that dropped the Colts to 14-1. To suggest records for wins in a decade and consecutive regular season wins were more historic than a perfect 19-0 season sure seemed silly during the spin control period.

Biggest need: Offensive linemen. Charlie Johnson did admirable work after he was promoted to replace the disappointing Tony Ugoh at left tackle and Kyle DeVan was a more physical right guard after replacing another underachiever, Mike Pollak. With legendary line coach Howard Mudd set to retire, the Colts need to restock and provide more options for his successor, Pete Metzlaars.

Team MVP: Peyton Manning is expected to win NFL MVP, so it would be hard to look anywhere else. He was exceptionally accurate and was a big reason young receivers developed and old targets produced. And it seemed like he led his team to a fourth-quarter comeback weekly.

Next men up: Anthony Gonzalez was expected to be the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Reggie Wayne. But he went down with a serious knee injury in the season opener and never made it back. Rookie Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon were effective targets for Manning when opponents worked hard to blanket Wayne and forced the Colts to go elsewhere.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Final Power Ranking: 23

Biggest surprise: They called it a retooling instead of a rebuilding, but after major roster turnover the Jaguars were 6-4 and 7-5 and very much in the thick of a hunt for an AFC playoff berth. They got quality experience for four high draft picks who started a lot of games -- offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, cornerback Derek Cox and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

Biggest disappointment: David Garrard was sacked 42 times and hit way too much. The Jaguars failed badly in two West Coast trips, losing in Seattle and San Francisco, and closed with a four-game losing streak. Losses to Indianapolis and at New England were understandable, but defeats at home to Miami and at Cleveland in the season finale with an 8-8 record on the line were a lot harder to accept.

Biggest need: Though the team traded up for Derrick Harvey and took a second defensive end, Quentin Groves, with their first two picks just two years ago, it’s in desperate need of pass rush help. The team had just 14 sacks. Quarterbacks often had all day to throw and managed a 96.0 passer rating, 28 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions against Jacksonville.

Team MVP: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew fared very well in his first season as the team’s feature back and is the franchise’s lone Pro Bowler. He ran for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns behind an inconsistent line.

Mighty have fallen: Free safety Reggie Nelson, the team’s top pick in 2007, could be on his way out. He was consistently burned in coverage and failed to finish tackles. The team tried him at cornerback when injuries thinned out that position and he fared no better. By season’s end, he earned himself a spot on the bench.


Tennessee Titans

Final Power Ranking: 16

Biggest surprise: Chris Johnson showed himself to be an electrifying playmaker in his first season. But when he said in training camp before his rookie campaign he would run for 2,000 yards, people scoffed. Improbably, on a non-winning team, Johnson ran for a league-leading 2,006 yards, becoming just the sixth member of the 2,000-yard club. He topped 100 yards rushing in each of his final 11 games and scored on seven rushing plays of 20 yards or more.

Biggest disappointment: After a 13-3 regular season that was the NFL’s best in 2008, the 2009 team played terribly early and dug itself an 0-6 hole. While it did well climbing out and finishing 8-8, that miserable start cost the Titans a chance at a return to the playoffs. The slow start featured a slew of drops by the receivers, horrific pass coverage, and return game nightmares. The turnaround began after team owner Bud Adams called for Jeff Fisher to replace Kerry Collins with Vince Young at quarterback.

Biggest need: Defensive playmakers. The Titans got old and less effective at several spots. Defensive end Jevon Kearse and cornerback Nick Harper won’t be back. The team is likely ready to move on from veteran linebackers Keith Bulluck and David Thornton as well. Free safety Michael Griffin took a huge step backwards and defensive tackle Jason Jones couldn’t fight through a shoulder injury. The Titans will look to add veterans and draft picks to rebuild.

Team MVP: Johnson should be the NFL’s offensive player of the year. Without him, who knows what the Titans would have done down the stretch. Getting him to 2,000 yards was a unifying team goal. Johnson even impressed his teammates by backing up the bold 2,000-yard prediction.

Back from the dead: While he didn’t finish especially strong, Young did a lot of good work in 10 games after he was reinserted as the starter. He deserves credit for maturing. His decision making has improved. He's set himself up to be the Titans starter in 2010 after changing the opinion of many of his critics, some of whom reside inside team headquarters.
Houston Texans

“Like a comic book hero turned villain, [Dunta] Robinson went from being the heart and soul of the Texans, an unquestioned fan favorite, to being a favorite sports-talk radio target.” Jerome Solomon with a look at the cornerback.

The Texans' run game is reminiscent of 2002, says John McClain.

Matt Schaub’s big passer numbers are no reason to celebrate, says Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

Cover guys concentrate on smothering return men, says Phillip B. Wilson.

A fourth MVP would cement Peyton Manning as the best ever, says John Oehser.

Considering the best undrafted free agents for the Colts this decade, from Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Could Reggie Nelson be demoted? Michael C. Wright looks into the options. I vote yea.

Quentin Groves talks fatherhood and his future.

Tennessee Titans

Keith Bulluck doesn’t know about his future, says Jim Wyatt.

What the Titans need to happen to keep their playoff hopes alive, from Terry McCormick.

The league put the Chargers at a competitive disadvantage when it scheduled the Christmas night game in Nashville, says Clark Judge. I agree. The Titans catch a break here with the timing.

Freeney, Mathis in starting lineup

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
7:12
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE -- The Colts starting defensive ends are active and in the starting lineup. How much dinged up Dwight Freeney (abdomen) and Robert Mathis (quad) play against the Jaguars remains to be seen.

I expect Raheem Brock and Keyunta Dawson will get a lot of early-down action. That would be a smart way to scale back work for their stars, who would benefit from less contact with Maurice Jones-Drew.

Only three inactive Colts were left to be determined after the team declared the status of its injured players on Tuesday. Because five guys were already declared out, there could be guys eligible or dressed tonight who hardly play -- that will be one of the story lines we’ll try to follow for you after kickoff.

For the Jaguars, Russell Allen will start at outside linebacker for Clint Ingram (shoulder) and Attiyah Ellison will move ahead of Quentin Groves for the start at defensive end. As expected, Montell Owens is the starting fullback with Greg Jones (ankle) placed on injured-reserve.

Here’s the full list for both teams.

Colts:
Jaguars:

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