AFC South: Quinn Pitcock

Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Matt Schaub on Ed Reed: “I’ve been across from him enough to know what kind of player he is and what he brings to the defense. He can still play at an exceptional level. The leadership and knowledge he brings to the locker room can help everyone play at a higher level." John McClain spoke with Schaub in advance of his upcoming fundraiser.

In his second mock draft, McClain has the Texans taking Baylor receiver Terrance Williams.

To which I say: It may be worth noting that McClain’s a Baylor guy.

Indianapolis Colts

Quinn Pitcock ranks as the Colts’ eighth-worst draft pick, while Antoine Bethea holds spot No. 9 on the list of the best, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star.

Looking at long-term needs means considering who’s heading into contract years in 2013, says Kyle Rodriguez of Colts Authority.

To which I say: While this is an important piece of the overall equation, the Colts also have to anticipate the value of some of the guys who can be free agents in 2014. Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner are good players in their system, but even if they have big seasons, how attractive will they be on the market?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Looking at the Jaguars’ building plan that features great restrain in terms of jumping out for costly free agents, with Dan Pompei of the National Football Post.

Aaron Ross quickly apologized for his crack that 2012 was a paid vacation for him in Florida, says Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com.

John Oehser of the team website on cornerbacks for the Jaguars: “A first glance at (Gus) Bradley’s system would indicate you don’t have to have a top-10 drafted corner to be elite there, and that the emphasis on big, physical players could allow the Jaguars to address that spot a bit later in the draft, but we shall see.”

To which I say: Plenty of great cornerbacks come into the league outside of the top 10 in the draft. But no matter how much Bradley craves size, his big corners will obviously need to be able to play.

Tennessee Titans

Bernard Pollard says Michael Griffin reminds him of Reed, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

To which I say: It’s nice work trying to boost Griffin up, I suppose. But with the way Griffin’s played the last couple years, it’s laughable to mention him in the same sentence as Reed.

Over the past five seasons, the Titans have drafted 3.8 fewer offensive linemen than an average, hypothetical team, says Tom Gower of Total Titans.

Colts blind spot: Third round

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
2:35
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Every team in the league has some sort of blind spot when it schemes to the draft: A position it can’t resist or won’t touch, a spot where there is always need, a round that’s an extra high hurdle.

Today we’ll strive to examine one biggie for each team.

Indianapolis Colts -- The third round

Thirty-five draft picks were on the Colts roster (including IR) at the end of the season. Here’s the round-by-round composition: Eight first-rounders, five second rounders, three third-rounders, five fourth-rounders, two fifth rounders, six sixth-rounders and six seventh-rounders.

The third round has been a bugaboo, and while 2009 corner Jerraud Powers is definitely a quality player, the other two third-rounders on the roster are question marks. Philip Wheeler, a linebacker from 2009, has been unable to hold on to a starting spot and 2010 cornerback Kevin Thomas was injured and lost for the year during the offseason before his rookie year.

Notable misses: Corner Dante Hughes (2007), defensive tackles Quinn Pitcock (2007) and Vincent Burns (2005), defensive backs Donald Strickland (2003), Joseph Jeffries (2002) and Cory Bird (2001) and receiver E.G. Green (1998)

The lesson: Stay away from defensive backs in the round, and don’t be afraid to trade the pick.

UPDATE: Apologies for initially including guard Brandon Burlsworth from 1999 on the notable misses. He died in a car accident before his rookie season.

RTC: Texans primed for playoff run?

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
10:30
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans schedule sets the team up to make a playoff run, writes the Houston Chronicle's Jerome Solomon.

The Chronicle has a preview of the 2011 schedule in photos.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts should be interested in drafting defensive linemen -- the question is how soon. Mike Chappell reviews the deepest position group in this year's class.

Should the Colts reconsider Quinn Pitcock? And is defensive tackle a higher priority than offensive tackle for the Colts? Chappell tackles these questions and more in his mailbag.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Florida Times-Union's Tania Ganguli examines whether it's wise for the Jaguars to spend a first-round pick on a safety.

The Jags should pass on taking a quarterback in the draft this year, writes the Times-Union's Hays Carlyon.

Tennessee Titans

Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt expects there to be plenty of trades on draft day.

The Tennessean's John Glennon looks at the quarterbacks in this year's class not named Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert.

Draft watch: AFC South

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
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NFC Schemes/Themes: 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: Busts and late-round gems.

Houston Texans

The previous regime traded with division rival Tennessee to get Western Michigan linebacker Jason Babin with a second first-round pick in 2004 and he never became what they envisioned. The first-rounder from the next year, Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson, wasn’t good either. Johnson flashed some but wasn’t long-term help. Wide receiver David Anderson (seventh round from Colorado State in 2006) is a quality slot receiver, and probably the team’s best late-round pick.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts traded up in 2007 to take Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh 42nd overall. He was the man to replace Tarik Glenn when he surprised the team by retiring the same year. But Ugoh lost his starting job in 2009 and was often inactive. Two third-rounders from the same draft also faded: cornerback Dante Hughes from Cal didn’t make it out of camp in 2009 and Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock quit football in 2008. Late-round finds abound: Howard safety Antoine Bethea (sixth round) is a Pro Bowl talent; Mount Union receiver Pierre Garcon (sixth round, 2008) just had a breakout season; punter/kickoff man Pat McAfee from West Virginia (seventh round, 2009) is a consistent performer. And Indianapolis does consistently well with undrafted rookies, such as safety Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jacob Lacey.

Jacksonville Jaguars

First-round busts have been a major reason the Jaguars haven’t broken through as a consistent contender: receivers R. Jay Soward of USC in 2000, Reggie Williams from Washington in 2004 and Matt Jones from Arkansas in 2005 are gone and safety Reggie Nelson (Florida, 2007) and defensive end Derrick Harvey (Florida, 2008) rank as major underachievers. Late-round gems? Purdue guard Uche Nwaneri was a 2007 fifth-rounder and has started a lot of games and Florida’s Bobby McCray was a good defensive end for a seventh-rounder in 2004. James Harris was ousted as the personnel chief and the team seems on a better track under Gene Smith, who was named GM about a year ago.

Tennessee Titans

Any list of recent high-ranking failures has to start with first-round cornerback Pacman Jones, sixth overall from West Virginia in 2005. He was probably the best defensive football player there, but the Titans failed miserably in researching his personality. Other busts who hurt them: Ben Troupe (second-round tight end from Florida in 2004), Andre Woolfolk (first-round cornerback from Oklahoma in 2003) and Tyrone Calico (second-round receiver in 2003). Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was an All-Pro in 2008 and heads any list of recent late-round gems. He was a seventh-rounder from Samford in 2006. Tight end Bo Scaife was a sixth-rounder from Texas in 2005 and promising defensive end Jacob Ford from Central Arkansas was a sixth-rounder in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Cornerback Dante Hughes and offensive lineman Steve Justice are among the first three cuts for the Colts, according to Mike Chappell.

Hughes was a third-rounder in 2007, a class of nine that has not proven to be Bill Poilian’s best.
  • First-rounder Anthony Gonzalez is in line as the second wide receiver and has been very good in his first two years.
  • Second-round left tackle Tony Ugoh has been demoted to backup status though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets the starting left tackle job back.
  • Hughes played in 24 games in two seasons.
  • The other third-rounder, defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, retired before training camp of his second season.
  • Fourth-round defensive Brannon Condren played in eight games as a rookie, was elsewhere in 2008, re-signed in 2009 but was cut in late July.
  • Fourth-round linebacker Clint Session is in line to start and looks like he will be a good player.
  • Fifth-round receiver Roy Hall played in seven games in two seasons and was waived injured on Aug. 13. He is now on IR.
  • Fifth-round defensive back Michael Coe played in six games and was recently cut.
  • Seventh-round defensive end Keyunta Dawson was eventually moved to tackle, where he started 14 games last year. He now ranks as a backup end. I think they like him, but don't know if he's a lock for the final 53.

A draft class of nine players produced a crop that now includes two starters and two backups. Granted, Pitcock was a bad-luck development for the team and a good club isn't necessarily going to have room for late rounders.

Still, the way the Colts operate, I feel as if a group in its third year should be nearing its peak and contributing and producing more than that.

Do you agree?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

How things sort themselves out at defensive tackle for the Colts will be a big training camp storyline once practices start Monday.

The team went into the offseason determined to get bigger in the middle and added three players who give them size but can also move the way they need their tackles to: veteran returnee Ed Johnson (6-foot-2, 296 pounds) and draft picks Fili Moala (6-4, 303) and Terrance Taylor (6-0, 319).

"It's designed specifically to get us back to where we were when we had Booger McFarland and Corey Simon," Colts president Bill Polian said. "Corey, I don't know what the hell he was, he might have been 320, Booger was between 307 and 310. And that's what you need to play; you can't play at 265.

"We're not looking for the space-eater, we're not looking for the guy who's just going to sit there and absorb blocks. The idea is not to keep blockers off the linebackers, that's not the design of our defense. But we needed to get people who could stand a gap over 16 games, and that's what we have when we were at our best."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Jason from Parts unknownwrites: The Colts cut a player named Ed Johnson last year. He got into legal troubles, but it appeared he was well liked by the coaches and players. My question is: Where is this guy and why isn't anyone picking him up?

Paul Kuharsky: The Colts told him one incident and he was done. And he had one incident and, to their credit, they stayed true to their word.

Why isn't anyone picking him up? Do you want your team to rely on a guy who couldn't stick to rules spelled out for him by the team that really liked him? Also, you don't see many homegrown DTs from Indy landing elsewhere and playing much because everyone else is generally looking for bigger interior linemen than the Colts use. They are unique in how they value quickness above all else.

Indianapolis suffered last year when Quinn Pitcock retired before camp and Johnson got himself cut.


Jason from Chicago writes: Paul you are known to hate VY this should be good for you to read. I acknoledge he cant read coverages or throw intermediate but he just wins... Of course you can compare Cutler to Young, they are both quarterbacks who were taken in the first round in 2006. Both were pro-bowl quarterbacks, both started in their first year in the league. One got his coach fired the other got his coach a new contract. One is abused for quitting during a game the other is praised for refusing to talk to his coach or the owner. One dealt with his benching by going to work to get his job back. The other dealt with the attempted trade by pouting like a little girl until the owner said to hell with this, get him outta here. You want more. One we have been told got into the face of his defensive team-mate when he thought he was unnecessarily rough on a receiver in practice. The other we have been told verbally abused his receiver during a game for dropping a pass. Vince Young is a leader, Cutler isn't. That is why Cutler has never won anything since high-school and Vince has never had a losing season in his life period.

Paul Kuharsky: I don't hate Vince Young. I'm allowed to judge him, however, on his body of work independent of Jay Cutler, and I have far more first-hand information on Young.

I've said that Young, Cutler and Matt Leinart have all come across as guys who seem to feel entitled rather than guys hungry to earn it. I think it's somewhat representative of their generation.

That's great that Young is a leader and I know you and a lot of his fans are super excited about it.

But his coach and his coordinator benched him, so that leadership must have been judged by two pretty good coaches to not be sufficient enough to outweigh his abilities as a quarterback. And when they did bench him, his teammates rallied to an incredible degree around his replacement and were relieved by the change in leadership. There is no such thing as an NFL QB who won with leadership even though his arm was not great, his touch was poor, he didn't read defenses well and he couldn't respond well to adversity or hardships.


Jordan from Austin, TX writes: Hey Paul, I guess I'm just thick but I just no longer see the reasoning behind people believing that the Texans are for sure drafting an OLB with their first rounder, I believe they signed Cato June(29 years old too)who to my knowledge was very good in a 4-3 cover 2 scheme and now he's signed with the Texans whom run some sort of 4-3. Seems to me like they should take Peria Jerry or maybe even Vontae Davis (eek)/Malcolm Jenkins if he falls.

Paul Kuharsky: I don't know that we could say for sure the Texans were taking a linebacker before or since the recent additions of June and Buster Davis. But those guys are hardly huge upgrades, and they can do better if they so choose. The other guys you mention are intriguing. I'd sure rather have Jerry than risk him slipping to the Colts at 27 -- I think he'll go before then -- and have to face him twice a year.


Steven Matheny writes: My name is Steven Matheny and I am the Titans Superfan for the Football Today podcast on ESPN  Radio. I have heard you on the podcast and have read your blog for a long time now. I thought that I could email you on a subject that has been slightly overlooked this offseason. With the new NFLPA head what will this do the possibility of no salary cap in the NFL? As a giant Titans fan this scares me because the Titans would not spend anywhere near the amount of money as Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder. I am afraid that this league will turn into the MLB. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

Paul Kuharsky: It won't be as bad as it sounds. There are several mechanisms to offset the lack of a cap -- players need more service time (six years rather than four) to get to unrestricted free agency, teams get an additional franchise tag, the best teams are limited in what they can add in free agency.

I don't think it will turn the NFL upside down if it gets to an uncapped year. A few guys with very fortunate timing will make a load of money, but it won't be enough to alter the general parity.


Joshua Sloan in Noblesville writes: I just saw that the Colts resigned Hagler today. Do you think that will change there draft needs? You had mentioned that in your AFC South work left to do column. Seeing that there not as thin at linebacker as they were, any chance that they bring back Freddy Keiaho.

Paul Kuharsky: No idea about Keiaho at this time, sorry.

They still need to add there, but they are not as desperate as they were and I don't expect they will use one of their premium picks.


Earl from Seattle writes:  First off, Paul, love the blog. It's daily reading here even if I'm not a fan of any of the teams in the division. As for your question about three first-round QBs on the roster at the same time, not sure if it was the last time, but the 1980 Raiders had three first-round QBs on their roster: Dan Pastorini (Oilers, 1971), Jim Plunkett (,1971), Marc Wilson (Raiders, 1980)

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks, Earl. He's responding to this blog entry about three first-round quarterbacks on a team simultaneously.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

We know what the compensatory picks are for the four teams of the AFC South in the upcoming draft.

But what have they meant in past drafts?

Using the great website drafthistory.com, I looked at all the picks the Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans have made after the 32nd pick in rounds three through seven since 2004.

The scorecard is unsurprising. The Colts, who've let a lot of players who made big contributions leave via free agency, have had 10 compensatory selections; the Titans have had eight; the Jaguars and Texans three each.

There are some significant names on the list of players acquired with those picks:

Indianapolis: Center Steve Justice, running back Mike Hart, defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, linebacker Clint Session, safety Antoine Bethea, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler.

Titans: Running back Quinton Ganther, receiver Roydell Williams, guard Eugene Amano.

Jacksonville: Defensive end Bobby McCray.

Houston: Receiver David Anderson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Often times mock drafters or fans (or mock drafter fans) who aren't fully aware of a team's depth chart will connect the easiest dots.

The Titans, for example, lost Albert Haynesworth, therefore a lot of people presume they automatically need a replacement defensive tackle and put them down for one at No. 30.

 
  Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
  Just because the Titans lost Albert Haynesworth through free agency doesn't mean they are dead-set on a replacement in the first round.

Except that the Titans drafted Jason Jones in the second round last year and he was impressive as a rookie, with five sacks in 13 games. They signed free agent Jovan Haye, a favorite of defensive line coach Jim Washburn. They like starter Tony Brown very much, and they like Kevin Vickerson as their biggest body -- enough so that he got a contract extension during the 2008 season.

The Titans may well be in best-player-available mode and if Evander Hood is there at their spot and they see him as a great value they could take him.

But it's hardly a foregone conclusion.

Similarly, I believe it's a mistake to cross left tackle off the list of potential picks for Jacksonville just because they signed free agent Tra Thomas. They still need a long-term solution, and if the best tackle at No. 8 is a better value to them than what's left at receiver, defensive tackle or cornerback -- or if they aren't taking a quarterback or trading the pick to someone who wants one -- they may well take a potential offensive line anchor.

The Scouts Inc. needs board looks pretty good to me, so I'd keep an eye on that. It gets adjusted based on any new developments.

Meanwhile, here's an up-to-date rundown of the primary needs, in my view, for the teams of the AFC South:

HOUSTON TEXANS

Defensive tackle: Amobi Okoye needs some help inside to be the player the Texans envisioned, and an effective tackle who demands attention will help the continued push to upgrade the line and produce more consistent pass pressure.

Defensive back: There is evidence that Jacques Reeves wasn't as bad as portrayed last year as the corner opposite Dunta Robinson once Robinson returned from injury. But competition for the second and third spots would be good to add with Reeves and Fred Bennett. And none of the top three safeties are overwhelming -- Eugene Wilson at free and Dominique Barber at strong are the starters, with Nick Ferguson as depth. The Texans should add the best overall defensive back they can find, maybe a couple.

Outside linebacker: The Texans can use a bigger, more rugged outside 'backer who can rush the quarterback and drop into coverage.

Running back: Steve Slaton was a godsend in the third round last year. Now the Texans need to find a bigger guy to take some of the carries and serve as a heavier changeup.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Defensive tackle: The Colts lost the big bodies in the middle of their line, space-eating run-stuffers Quinn Pitcock and Ed Johnson, right at the start of last season and they need to spend to get quality replacements.

Receiver: Anthony Gonzalez can become a full-time guy with Marvin Harrison gone, and he or Reggie Wayne can kick into the slot in the often featured three-wide sets. Still, a third quality wideout is a necessity, and it won't be a surprise if Bill Polian uses No. 27 to address the position.

Outside linebackers: This group needs to be replenished as two guys who've seen significant time in the last two seasons, Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler, appear out of the picture. But the Colts restock their linebackers often through the draft and with undrafted rookies.

Running back: Was Joseph Addai banged up and suffering behind an injured line, or is he not going to be able to carry the load? The Colts like Mike Hart, who's coming off a bad injury. But they haven't re-signed Dominic Rhodes and need more.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Receiver: A perpetual need. They are down Reggie Williams, a free agent they have no interest in, and Matt Jones, who was cut after a new round of trouble. To get a true read on David Garrard, he needs real weapons on the outside.

Defensive tackle: GM Gene Smith has talked a lot about building from the inside-out and the Jaguars thrived when John Henderson and Marcus Stroud gave th
em an identity. Their plans to replace Stroud after a trade failed, and they need a better partner for Henderson that will help toughen them and could be a good influence on him.

Cornerback: Brian Williams can play opposite Rashean Mathis or he can play safety. Free-agent safety addition Sean Considine is an X factor here. But even if he's in the lineup and the Jaguars have their two starting corners, they need nickel candidates and depth badly.

Left tackle: As mentioned above, the addition of Thomas does not mean the Jaguars are done addressing this spot. Garrard needs not only better weapons but better protection and the offense is built around running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who needs consistent long-term blocking.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Receiver: They hope for big things from free-agent addition Nate Washington, but considering how long they've lacked a dynamic weapon outside, they can't have enough candidates for the role. A legitimate big-play threat can help create things for Chris Johnson, the running back who's the centerpiece of the offense.

Cornerback: Beyond starters Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper and nickel Vincent Fuller, the Titans have only unproven Cary Williams. The expectation is the Titans will draft a corner who would be in line to replace Harper in 2010 and they need the depth now after losing Eric King and Chris Carr in free agency.

Outside linebacker: Stalwart Keith Bulluck is heading into a contract year and should the Titans have trouble holding on to him or decide not to, they could use an heir in place and it's unclear if Stanford Keglar can be that guy. Better depth and a player who could be a big special-teamer will be nice to have in 2009.

Offensive tackle: Daniel Loper was a versatile swing guy who backed up both Michael Roos and David Stewart and could move inside to play guard. He went to Detroit as a free agent. Maybe Mike Otto is the new third tackle, but a versatile lineman is a need for depth.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

They are easy matches for mock drafters.

Give the Colts the best defensive tackle you can find at 27. Insert the top remaining wide receiver next to the Titans' line at 30.

But presuming those picks is a mistake on both counts, unless you are banking on those teams breaking from their staunch recent histories.

Indianapolis looks to draft the best player available early on, and after a couple top interior linemen go early, team president Bill Polian said defensive tackle value doesn't usually re-emerge until the later rounds.

And the Titans, who once passed on Randy Moss, haven't touched a receiver in the first round since they took Kevin Dyson ahead of Moss in 1998, giving off a vibe since that it's just too unpredictable a position to value so highly.

 
  Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images
  The Colts would be bucking a trend by picking Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry in the first round.

Indianapolis suffered on the interior defensive line last season, not because it had planned poorly, but because of two surprises: Quinn Pitcock, a fourth rounder out of Ohio State in 2007, decided to quit football before training camp last year. Ed Johnson, who'd been an impact player as an undrafted free agent in 2007, was on a zero tolerance policy, got in some trouble after one game in 2008 and was let go.

The Colts will add multiple interior linemen between now and training camp, but they will likely come with a pick or two later in the draft, and inevitably, with a potential diamond in the rough they don't even need to spend a pick on. Besides Pitcock, Polian hasn't drafted a defensive tackle since 2002, when Larry Triplett was a second rounder and David Pugh a sixth rounder. In 11 years, Polian's drafted five players at the position, only Triplett higher than the fourth round.

"I've always approached the draft as take the best player no matter what the position is," Polian said. "Don't worry about filling a need, you can do that later in the draft. Take the best player in the first two rounds, whoever he is."

So it's fair to say through much of his tenure he hasn't seen a lot of defensive tackles of value available with his highest picks?

"Yeah, that's probably correct," he said. "They go in the first 15 usually, then you see them resurface in the latter rounds -- five, six, seven."

(Read full post)

Hot Button: AFC South

February, 9, 2009
2/09/09
11:22
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

 
  Doug Benc/Getty Images
  Matt Schaub tossed 10 interceptions and lost four fumbles in 2008.

Primary issue: The 2007 Texans were a terrible turnover team, giving the ball away 38 times with interceptions and fumbles. Protecting the ball and taking it away from the opposition were huge themes from the time that season ended all the way through the 2008 season.

But Houston cut the giveaways by only six and improved its takeaway-giveaway ratio by just three, to minus-10. For a team that was far better on offense than defense, it's hard to harp on an offensive issue. But Gary Kubiak simply has to find a better way to get the message across to his team. The Texans were 2-5 when they had three or more turnovers and 5-2 when they had one or none.

Quarterback Matt Schaub needs to play a full season and find a balance between being an aggressive weapon and a turnover liability with picks and fumbles.

Solution: Stickum? The primary people with the ball in their hands aren't going to change, so Kubiak and his staff have to continue to pound the theme and seek new ways to get the message across. If the defense can improve from 22nd overall, perhaps the offense will squeeze the ball or force a play less often.

Secondary concern: The pass rush just wasn't sufficient and Mario Williams can't work alone. The Texans had 25 sacks, 12 from Williams. The teams that qualified for the playoffs in the AFC averaged 38 sacks and the Super Bowl champion Steelers had 51. In the AFC South, quick heat on Peyton Manning and an ability to get through Tennessee's solid line are necessities.

Hot Button Archive
Kuharsky: AFC South
Yasinskas: NFC South
Seifert: NFC North
Walker: AFC North
Sando: NFC West
Williamson: AFC West
Graham: AFC East
Mosley: NFC East
The Texans played better defensively at season's end when they were more aggressive. Under new defensive coordinator Frank Bush, they hope to continue the move to that style. But to make it work they need a second big-time pass-rusher who can take some pressure and attention off Williams and whose impact will trickle to the linebackers and secondary.

Solution: The Texans have the 15th and 46th picks on the first day of the draft, and ideally will be able to grab a defensive end or pass-rushing outside linebacker with one of those selections. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar could have a positive impact here.


Indianapolis Colts

 
  AP Photo/Tom Strattman
  The Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison duo may have seen its last days.

Primary concern: The way the Colts build, they're unlikely to be a premier rushing offense or a premier run-stopping defense. But they need to be consistently better at both.

Offensively, they dealt with a banged-up offensive line and feature back in 2008, but left tackle Tony Ugoh and running back Joseph Addai may have questions lingering about their toughness and production. If the team was confident enough in the run game that it could have handed off to convert a late third-and-2 in San Diego and succeeded, it would have advanced to a divisional-round playoff game in Pittsburgh. Is team president Bill Polian satisfied with the primary pieces or will he look for some alternatives, and what does his new coach, Jim Caldwell, want?

Defensively, the Colts suffered from the loss of size on the interior line with the unexpected retirement of Quinn Pitcock and the discipline-necessitated departure of Ed Johnson. They would benefit from getting stouter between Pro Bowl ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and such roster revisions should help them be more consistent against the run.

Solution: The Colts have not drafted a defensive tackle higher than the third round since 2002; in fact they've only drafted one -- Pitcock -- since then. That streak could end. But whether it does or not, look for a big stable of late picks and undrafted free agents who are bigger but still agile to get a chance to help. Odds are the team sticks with Ugoh and Addai, expecting better health and better play.

Se
condary concern:
Marvin Harrison's production doesn't match his contract and the Colts are going to have to resolve that because they have looming cap issues. It's hard to envision Harrison, who will be 37 by opening day, calmly agreeing to a reduction in pay, so an ugly ending could be ahead for a player who's been a major force.

Harrison often looked out of sync with Peyton Manning during the season, and a year removed from major knee issues, he wasn't running away from many defenders.

Solution: Maybe Indy is actually fortunate it can blame the cap for forcing a move with Harrison. The offense is powered by the precise passing game, and while Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez are a high-quality three-pack, the Colts will need to import a smart receiver, likely in the draft, who can make a quick contribution.


Jacksonville Jaguars

 
  Fernando Medina/US PRESSWIRE
  The Jaguars may seek an upgrade at left tackle over Khalif Barnes.

Primary issue: The Jaguars want to be a physical team that can wear an opponent out, but to do that they need an influx of healthy talent on both their offensive and defensive lines.

Injuries crushed the offensive line in 2008, but Khalif Barnes was healthy. He's just not the right left tackle for a team that seeks to run the ball above all else. The team needs a consistent tone-setter in this spot and also has to decide whether it wants veteran center Brad Meester, a free agent who turns 32 next month, back.

On defense, the team overestimated what it had to replace Marcus Stroud on the inside. Not only was the production from that spot insufficient, but John Henderson was not up to par playing next to those guys. Pairing him with an effective tackle who can help get him back to form is crucial.

Solution: Last year the Jaguars traded up to No. 8 in the first round. This year they earned it themselves. A franchise left tackle would be an ideal get there, and defensive tackle is likely to be addressed relatively early, too.

Secondary concern: Chemistry was a major issue for last year's team, and Jack Del Rio's continued job security likely depends on rebuilding it.

As Del Rio and new GM Gene Smith, a promotion from within, look to reconstruct the roster, they'll have to weigh personalities and leadership traits. Many believe winning breeds chemistry and not vice versa.

It's a complicated formula the team needs to try to figure out.

Solution: Virtually everyone who's added to the team needs to have the right kind of work ethic and personality. Del Rio and Smith can't forge chemistry, but they can provide optimal ingredients.


Tennessee Titans

 
  Kenny Felt/Icon SMI
  The Titans need to bring veteran QB Kerry Collins back into the fold.

Primary issue: If the Titans are going to build on what they had last year, the primary issue is obvious no matter how determined they are to say it's not. The Titans need a threatening, big-play wide receiver to make defenses play honest and to make Tennessee dynamic on offense beyond running back Chris Johnson.

In the playoff loss to Baltimore that ended the team's season, the offense was hardly dangerous once Johnson was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. Coach Jeff Fisher said the Titans proved that they can be successful with receivers who are at the right spots at the right time if they've got a quarterback like Kerry Collins benefiting from good protection and delivering the ball on schedule.

Acquiring that receiver won't mean much if the quarterback isn't in place, so the Titans have to get Collins back. They said the right things at season's end, but if they don't treat him right Collins means it when he says he'd be content to retire and go hunting.

Solution: Sign Collins to a fair two-year deal that treats him like a starter, then upgrade his weapons with a bold move, trading for Anquan Boldin or trading up to land Michael Crabtree.

Secondary issue: The beauty of the Titans' defense in 2007 was that with a consistent pass rush out of the front four, it rarely needed extra rushers. With a defense that was strong everywhere, former coordinator Jim Schwartz had to cover for no one. His replacement will not have it so good if defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth gets to free agency and jumps to another team.

The Titans have a strong group of linemen, but all of them have benefitted from the attention Haynesworth has demanded.

Solution: Lock up Haynesworth before free agency. Barring that, add a tackle in the draft and get ready to add more blitzes to the repertoire.

Titans castoff now a key piece for Colts

December, 24, 2008
12/24/08
12:30
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  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
 Tennessee's running backs will have to deal with a defensive lineman on a mission -- Antonio Johnson -- who was let go by the Titans and is now playing for the Colts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Titans proved themselves to be nine players deep on their defensive line in an excellent performance against the Steelers.

Sunday in Indianapolis, Tennessee's running backs will try to get past a player the Titans did not judge to be worthy of a spot in that group, who's now starting for the rival Colts.

When Indianapolis wanted to sign Antonio Johnson off the Titans' practice squad on Nov. 4, Tennessee deemed him expendable rather than doing what was necessary to create a roster spot to promote him.

Since then, Johnson has played in seven games, starting the last three, while averaging four tackles and playing a part in an improved Colts defense.

"He's been good," said Colts president Bill Polian.

"We went through a couple before we got him, but he's a great fit," Colts strongside linebacker Clint Session said. "I love playing behind him. He keeps me free. I run sideline to sideline without getting touched. That comes from his play. They're double-teaming him and he's been filling in for us great. He probably wasn't their guy there, but he's our guy here."

The Colts were thinned out on the interior defensive line very early, losing their best, biggest players against the run when Quinn Pitcock retired before training camp and Ed Johnson was cut for disciplinary reasons after Week 1.

So if Antonio Johnson was a solution sitting on the Titans' practice squad, why wasn't he en route to Indianapolis until the Colts were preparing for Week 10 in Pittsburgh?

"I don't like to poach, I really don't," Polian said. "I wish there were some other way that we could deal with that and my hat's off to them, they've done a great job. We probably should have got him earlier -- it was the idea of the poach and that he had been hurt the previous year so we really weren't sure. But if we were smart, we would have got him six weeks earlier."

Sign a player to your 53-man roster off someone else's practice squad, though, and you've got to keep him for three weeks. With his roster in flux because of injuries, Polian said he worried that he might be handcuffed with Johnson. When things settled down and the Colts still needed help, they made the call.

Johnson said he was glad to get the chance.

"I'm with the Colts now, I've got to play Colts football and I'm just happy to have this opportunity, I'm happy to be back out on the field playing football," Johnson said. "It's been good. I've come in and just tried to do my role, help out on the run, that's what they got me here for. That's what I do, every play I just try to make something happen."

Johnson was rated as a late-bloomer with enormous upside by the Titans when they spent a fifth-rounder on him, the 152nd pick overall, when he came out of Mississippi State in 2007. But he blew out a knee early in training camp as a rookie and after a year of rehab, couldn't beat out Kevin Vickerson, a run-stopper the Titans added during the year Johnson was on IR.

The Titans stashed Johnson on the practice squad and still hoped he'd blossom. But when the Colts came calling, Tennessee chose to keep three non-contributors on offense -- receivers Paul Williams and Chris Davis and running back Chris Henry -- ahead of him.

"We were disappointed we lost a draft choice that we felt had potential to eventually play for us, but at that point we did not have a spot roster-wise for him," coach Jeff Fisher said. "He'll get off the ball and play hard and fly around. We thought he was just going to take a bit more time."

(Read full post)

AFC South midseason awards

November, 5, 2008
11/05/08
12:15
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Halfway home in the AFC South, the division is packed with surprises.

The title is all but sealed up by undefeated Tennessee, which has Vince Young on the bench and Kerry Collins in the huddle. Peyton Manning has not been himself as the Colts have stumbled. The Jaguars can't run the ball or establish a defensive identity. Despite a major offseason emphasis, the Texans continue to give the ball away.

 
 Jamie Squire/Getty Images
 Albert Haynesworth is setting himself up for a big payday.

Thanks to readers for your input Tuesday.

Without further delay, here are the first annual AFC South Blog midseason awards:

MVP: Albert Haynesworth, defensive tackle, Tennessee.

The best player on the best team, Haynesworth demands constant attention by multiple blockers. His six sacks are the second most for an interior lineman and barring injury he's lining himself up for unrestricted free agency if it's what he wants. If and when he gets it, somebody is going to make him the highest-paid defensive player in football. Also considered: Houston receiver Andre Johnson.

Top Offensive Player: Andre Johnson.

A singular offensive force in this division, he's surpassed Reggie Wayne as the most dangerous pass catcher. He's on pace for 10 100-yard games, 120 catches and 1,664 yards. And he has room to play even better -- he struggled with a couple catchable balls in a loss at Tennessee and a lost fumble near the goal line against Miami that could have been a killer. Will he do with fill-in Sage Rosenfels in the coming weeks what he's been doing with the now-injured Matt Schaub? Also considered: Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Top Defensive Player: Cortland Finnegan, cornerback, Tennessee.

The fiery Finnegan is tied for the league-lead with four interceptions, has a team-high 12 passes defended and is fourth on the team with 46 tackles. He's as fierce against the run as he is against the pass and his spunk helps set the tone for the Titans defense, though he's got to be careful about taking it too far and drawing unnecessary penalties. Also considered: Texans defensive end Mario Williams. (MVP was ineligible.)

Top Rookie: Chris Johnson.

I was among those who mistakenly thought, "This guy better be an awfully good situational player to be worth the 24th pick in the draft." Yeah, he's situational alright, as in effective in any situation. The Titans haven't lined him up wide and thrown to him like a receiver as much like we expected, because they haven't had to. He's a complete running back, who sure doesn't seem to be at risk of wearing down. He's accounted for 60 percent of the team's rushing yards, 35 percent of the team's total offensive yards and 32 percent of the team's touchdowns. Also considered: Houston running back Steve Slaton.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Fisher, Tennessee.

Unless the Titans wind up undefeated, odds are he loses out to a Mike Smith or John Harbaugh in the league award at the end -- it seems to always go to the breakout guy. But come on, no one expected him to be guiding a team that's forgotten how to lose. He's pushed all the right buttons so far.

Biggest Surprise: Kerry Collins, quarterback, Tennessee Titans.

His numbers aren't going to get you real excited unless you are willing to focus on 7-0 as the starter and an interception percentage on par with Donovan McNabb, behind only Jason Campbell. The surprise is the steady and reliable play and leadership for a team that expected Vince Young to be its pilot. How many teams in the league could have had a seamless transition to the backup after a week, better yet done so and emerged as the best team in the league? Also considered: Tennessee running back LenDale White, Indianapolis safety Melvin Bullitt.

Biggest Disappointment: Marvin Harrison, wide receiver, Indianapolis.

While he has shown flashes, the evidence through eight games is that Harrison is not the same. A lot of people are wondering if at least some of his snaps in the offense when only two wide receivers are on the field should be going to Anthony Gonzalez. Harrison's 27 catches account for 14.8 percent of the team's receptions. The lowest in his previous 11 seasons was 18.1 percent, all the way back in 1998. He's certainly suffered from Peyton Manning's inconsistency after two summer knee surgeries and a missed training camp as well as the injuries on the offensive line that meant more protection problems. Also considered: Manning, Young, Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai.

Best addition: Chris Carr, returner, Tennessee.

Carr has been a consistent contributor to solid field position for the Titans. His 28-yard average kickoff return doesn't include anything longer than 52 yards. It's the reason the Titans are one of three teams who start an average drive after a kickoff across the 30-yard line. Too, Carr is symbolic of the Titans' roster-building approach. They targeted the versatile defensive back as veteran depth and special teams help, singing the restricted free agent to an offer sheet the Raiders didn't match. He's an inexpensive role player who fills many roles, supplementing a roster built primarily though the draft. Also considered: Tennessee
guard Jake Scott.

Worst addition: Jerry Porter, wide receiver, Jacksonville.

The Jaguars signed the free agent to a big-dollar contract, waited on his after summer hamstring surgery, then said he simply wasn't a big part of the plan. An offense lacking big plays could really use some deep balls -- supposed to be what he brought to Florida -- to back people off in order to find room to run more effectively. David Garrard tried to throw to him for a crucial two-point conversion late Sunday in Detroit to no avail. Three catches for 44 yards aren't what the team had in mind when it went out and got him. Also considered: Texans running back Chris Brown, Jaguars defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Most missed: Marcus Stroud, defensive tackle, Jacksonville (trade to Buffalo).

The Jaguars shipped the massive defensive tackle to Buffalo, overestimating their ability to replace him. Without him, Jacksonville doesn't cave the pocket from the middle and is overly reliant on rush from the edge, something that has not shown up often enough. Also considered: Indianapolis guard Jake Scott (free agent to Tennessee).

Biggest killer decisions: Quinn Pitcock retiring, Ed Johnson getting arrested.

The Colts may well have had trouble stopping the run this season even with their two largest interior defensive linemen contributing. But Pitcock retired, never reporting to camp and Johnson got into trouble, getting himself cut. (The team deserved credit for sticking to its hard-line policy with him). The two developments meant Indianapolis went into Week 2 minus the top two run-stoppers it projected into the middle of their defense.

 
 AP Photo/Michael Conroy
 The connection between Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison hasn't been up to par this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts are as uniquely constructed a team as there is in the NFL -- they are more centered on their quarterback than anyone, they are more willing to roll players through their linebacking core, they are resigned to inconsistency on special teams because they don't spend money on veteran backups and they are least concerned with size on defense.

It's easy to watch their struggles this year and conclude that their window of opportunity is closing. The clock usually starts ticking on teams that piece together long stretches of success and the Colts have enjoyed six consecutive years of 10 wins or more and five years in a row with at least 12 wins.

The Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison connection has looked terrible, and the 36-year old receiver, coming off knee issues, could be slowing down.

Beyond that, if the Colts have an age issue, it's that they are too young, not too old.

They have the third-youngest roster in the league, behind only Green Bay and Kansas City. A closer look shows:

  • The NFL's third-youngest starting defense.
  • The 13th-youngest starting offense.
  • The youngest overall defense
  • The fifth-oldest overall offense.

This is not a team that is getting creaky. Still, it's been an awful season by the Colts' standards. They are 3-4, four-and-a-half games off the pace of the undefeated, division-leading Tennessee Titans.

(Read full post)

Don't look for outside help for Colts

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
12:52
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts have issues, particularly stopping the run.

But don't expect a big personnel move that will bolster things after their bye. That means no Rob Morris and no John Lynch.

"I don't know if we have any type of salary-cap room to have anyone in the picture, but I don't think it's going to be a matter of somebody coming in from the outside that's going to save this thing," Tony Dungy said. "I think it's going to be our guys playing a little bit better and a little bit sharper, us coaching a little bit better and getting back to our fundamentals. It's easy to say, 'Change this person,' or 'Change this,' or 'Do this differently.' We have to get back to doing what we do best and playing a little bit harder and a little sharper."

Linebacker Gary Brackett concurred: "There's no way one guy can come in and be the savior for what's going on."

Injuries have hurt for sure. Linebacker Tyjuan Hagler isn't a guy who'd fix things by himself, but he could help. The earliest he emerges off PUP is for an Oct. 19 game in Green Bay. Bob Sanders, a huge difference-maker, could be back around the same time.

Two other losses amounted to bad luck for the Colts.

Quinn Pitcock (6-foot-2, 299 pounds) decided he didn't want to play any more football before camp opened and Ed Johnson (6-2, 296) got himself kicked off the team after the first game for violating strict guidelines the team had set for his off-the-field behavior.

That means the only large run-stoppers the team has are recent imports -- LaJuan Ramsey (6-3, 300) and Daniel Muir (6-2, 312).

Maybe they'll be in a place where they can make a bigger contribution after the bye. But for the Colts to fix a run defense ranks 30th in the league and is allowing an average of 199.3 ground yards a game, a small and quick defense is going to have to rediscover how to get to the ball carrier and how to get him down.

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