AFC South: Rahim Moore

Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

In a 49-pick span, the Houston Texans look to have given their defense just the sort of talent influx it needed.

Wade Phillips is wielding his influence and the fans who fill Reliant Stadium have cause to feel pretty good.

The team has added a big, quick, play-making end at No. 11 in Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt; a speedy pass-rushing strongside linebacker in Arizona’s Brooks Reed at No. 42; and a well-rounded, if short, corner in Miami’s Brandon Harris after trading up with New England to No. 60.

I like it. It’s enough to help me get over missing out on Aaron Williams or Rahim Moore.

I still think they undervalue safety. But perhaps they’ll chase Eric Weddle or Melvin Bullitt if there is a conventional free agency. Perhaps Harris will allow for Glover Quin to move to free safety.

Yes, they’ll be mentioned as a potential suitor for Nnamdi Asomugha. I don’t see the free agent purse opening wide enough to fit that stack of bills through. I don’t think you can go wrong adding him, though at some point you have to draw a financial line.

Who would have thought after two rounds it might feel as if a move of that size might not be necessary for the Texans to get good enough on defense to win.

Some nuggets on Harris from KC Joyner of Scouts Inc. from this piece Insider :
  • In an 11-game sample of his 2010 season, Harris gave up only nine completions in 36 attempts.
  • He gave up a 3.7 overall YPA, a 3.8 vertical YPA (on passes 11+ yards) and a 4.1 stretch vertical YPA (20+ yards).

Second-round suggestions: Texans

April, 29, 2011
Guys who could be available tonight when the Houston Texans go on the clock for No. 42 overall, the 10th pick of the second round:
  • Aaron Williams, CB, Texas -- The best free safety option in the draft is still available, but is unlikely to last to 42nd. Houston should trade up for him. If the Texans like him at cornerback, then they could move Glover Quin.
  • Rahim Moore, S, UCLA -- The best college safety in the draft. A notch below Williams, but a guy who would help upgrade the secondary.
  • Justin Houston, DE, Georgia -- He’d be an outside linebacker in the Texans' 3-4. Houston in Houston would reduce the chances of confusion.
The Houston Texans need safeties, and while there will be some when free agency arrives, there won’t be a ton of opportunity Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the draft.

This draft is rated as exceptionally weak at safety. UCLA’s Rahim Moore is rated the top player at the position, and I’ve had a couple insiders tell me they don’t even think he can be an opening-day starter.

Texas cornerback Aaron Williams is rated by many as a player who could comfortably flip to safety, and he could be drafted by a safety-needy team with an eye on that switch.

But he’s unlikely to last until 10th in the second round, 42nd overall which is Houston’s second pick.

The Texans may move Glover Quin to free safety if they fare better at adding a quality corner than a quality safety.

“I keep hearing conversations on how football has changed now with so much passing and so many teams throwing the ball so much,” Houston general manager Rick Smith said at Monday’s pre-draft news conference. “You do need safeties that have cover ability, especially if you want to try to bring pressure [with blitzes] because you have to have guys that can cover those third wide receivers in the slot or the athletic tight ends that everybody has and employs.

“The transition from corner to safety, as long as you have a guy who is physical and who will tackle and has some football awareness, then you’ve got a chance. The guys that are out there that are just fast and can cover and really have tunnel vision, they don’t make good safeties because obviously you have to have a guy that understands what you’re asking everybody to do in the context of the whole defense. He has to be a smart guy and a guy who can tackle. If you’ve got that, then you have a good chance of getting a guy that can transition.

Beyond Williams, four other corners who might be moved to safety are Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson, Jalil Brown of Colorado, Chris Culliver of South Carolina and Chris Rucker of Michigan State.

Here is some interesting stuff on Williams and Moore from Doug Farrar.
Troy Nolan, Courtney GreeneAP PhotosHouston's Troy Nolan, left, recorded three interceptions in 2010, while Courtney Greene picked off one pass and forced a fumble for Jacksonville.
If Peyton Manning dropped back and looked downfield against the secondaries of the Texans or Jaguars right now, he’d find a safety pool that averages 2.25 years of experience and has an average draft spot of No. 205.

Collectively, Troy Nolan and Dominique Barber of Houston and Don Carey and Courtney Greene of Jacksonville have five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 31 career starts.

They are nice guys with some promise, but it’s hard to tab any one of the four as a star in the making.

As Houston and Jacksonville head toward a draft where the safeties are not highly regarded, it screams the question:

How can teams trying to catch Manning’s Colts playing in an increasingly quarterback-driven league be so poorly stocked as such a critical position?

It’s hard to figure.

At least the Jaguars have taken a big swing, missing badly on No. 21 overall pick Reggie Nelson in 2007, a feeble tackler who tended to take terrible angles. He was traded to Cincinnati before the 2010 season. Jacksonville was also the first team to have Bob Sanders in for a visit after he was cut by the Colts in February, but he ultimately lined up to go to San Diego.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio talked of his desire to add “that guy,” whether he came in the form of Sanders or not.

The Jaguars’ last homegrown safety of influence before Nelson was Gerald Sensabaugh, a fifth-rounder in 2005 whom the team let walk to Dallas as a free agent after the 2008 season and who’s scheduled to be a free agent again.

The team simply asked too much of young guys last season. Carey moved to safety from corner. He had never made calls before, but he was usually responsible for adjusting one half of the pass defense once it lined up, a tall task in games against the likes of Manning and Matt Schaub.

“Even when you crack down on your film study, when you get to a game it’s still very frustrating because they kind of know what you’re going to do in certain situations,” Carey said. “You try hard to hide your coverages; it’s a real chess match.”

Carey said he can’t worry about who’s brought in, he just needs to work to get better. General manager Gene Smith still sees Carey as an “ascending” player. Del Rio said Carey needs “technique clean-up.”

“Will he ascend to the starter we need him to be?” Del Rio asked. “I don’t know that. I think the jury’s still out.”

For a team that wants to build through the draft, Houston has devoted virtually no resources to the safety position. Of the 76 draft selections the Texans have made since they got off the ground in 2002, they've spent eight on safeties, but only one as high as the fourth round.

They relied on veteran castoffs the past few years but released the ineffective Eugene Wilson and made it known the one-dimensional Bernard Pollard will not be re-signed.

One personnel man told me recently that the state of the positions in the league is average, that this draft is thin at the spot, that the options are better at free than strong and that teams may look more than ever to try to convert corners.

Rob Rang of thinks these five corners could wind up being NFL safeties: Aaron Williams of Texas (second round), Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson (third), Jalil Brown of Colorado (third or fourth), Chris Culliver of South Carolina (fourth) and Chris Rucker of Michigan State (fourth or fifth).

Many teams are increasingly blurring the lines between the roles and ideally like to have two players who can both run and cover and step up to play the run.

Teams like the Texans and Jaguars would surely be pleased, however, to have one player with a talent on each end of the safety spectrum who could serve as an upgrade and help reduce the stress on the cornerbacks.

Houston may move Glover Quin to free safety, but then it will be playing its best cornerback out of position.

How much could better play from the safeties help a group of young corners that really struggled in 2010?

“I think it’s significant,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “I mean you’re looking at a former safety. So I value the position significantly.”

Both Texans coach Gary Kubiak and the Jaguars’ Smith have said they hope to add a veteran at the position as well as examining the draft options.

“You’d always like to have a veteran at the safety position,” Gene Smith said. “Playing safety is like playing quarterback, and you’d always prefer to have a veteran at quarterback. You don’t always have the luxury of being in that position, but that would be a good area to get a veteran player.”

A guy like San Diego free safety Eric Weddle, who could buy a real secondary ownership stake by signing with Houston or Jacksonville, should be an attractive option if he reaches the market. And he or Indianapolis’ Melvin Bullitt could help one of the incumbent kids or a rookie grow into a role quicker. Signing him could also help weaken the division’s top team.

Their values, when free agency arrives, should be high no matter who’s been drafted.

Even if the Colts re-sign Bullitt, they probably will be looking for safety depth. And while Tennessee maintains faith in free safety Michael Griffin, it should be looking for a player to challenge slipping veteran Chris Hope.

That’s just four teams in need of six players at the position in a draft where ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks Rahim Moore of UCLA may be the only guy in the draft capable of stepping in as an opening-day NFL starter.

“He’s a really good player, great angles, ball skills,” McShay said. “The thing that keeps him from being elite is he’s not fluid in man-to-man coverage. But he has good range and is very instinctive.

“After that there is a big drop-off. Jaiquawn Garrett from Temple is a good player, but not elite. Ahmad Black from Florida is a great athlete, quick, and hits hard for a small guy, but he’s really small. DeAndre McDaniel from Clemson is so overrated.”

Those are hardly two paragraphs that will get Texans and Jaguars fans excited.

They may have an entirely different effect on Manning and the quarterbacks slated to throw against those teams if and when we get kickoffs this fall.
INDIANAPOLIS -- According draft-expert types, it’s a bad year to need a young safety.

It’s not a deep pool and there is no clear-cut first-rounder.

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireUCLA's Rahim Moore is viewed by many analysts as the top safety available in the draft.
Scouts Inc. has Rahim Moore of UCLA as the top guy at the position, 31st overall.

“I believe I have first-round talent, I believe that I’m special,” Moore said Sunday at the combine. “… But you know what? I can’t be the judge. It’s all about that one team that will fall in love with me. Hopefully on draft day I am in the first round and my dream comes true."

Maybe he climbs to be No. 16-worthy for Jacksonville. He was asked about Houston, which drafts 11th, and he said he hopes to talk to the Texans because he knows they have a need at the position. Going to Baltimore and playing with Ed Reed “would be like going to heaven,” he said.

If he does last to the late first or the top of the second round, I’d love to see the Texans or Jags one of those teams move up to get him. I’ve written time and time against that it’s embarrassing that two teams who face Peyton Manning twice a season can be so woefully stocked at safety.

While Moore talked of his versatility and willingness to move to cornerback if asked, he said his favorite work is probably playing the deep middle.

“The thing I bring is the hard work and dedication,” he said. “If a team drafts me, they won’t have to worry about the safety position for the next 10 to 12 years. I believe that I am special, and I mean that in the most humbled way. I’m going to be a guy, I’m going to get in early, I’m going to leave late. I’m going to put in similar hours, maybe more, than the coaching staff.”