AFC South: Ray Fisher

Why Powers is the Colts' punt returner

September, 23, 2010
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Many of you who follow the Colts have been asking about the punt returner situation. There was a bit of a charade leading into the opener about Anthony Gonzalez fielding punts, but it didn’t come to life before he was hurt. And the guy who made the team to field kicks, Devin Moore, has taken a backseat on punts to starting cornerback Jerraud Powers.

Powers
Powers

Discussions about starters with big roles as returners always hit on Jason Sehorn, the one-time Giants corner who missed a season as a result of a preseason injury suffered as a returner.

Every coach and team measures such risk, and based on a transcript of coach Jim Caldwell on Thursday he doesn’t think it’s an unreasonable one for the Colts to use Powers in the role.

“It was a combination of a little bit of everything,” Caldwell said of the decision to use Powers. “He’s done it before. He’s very good at it. Even the week leading up to it we certainly didn’t give any definite declaration of who was actually going to do it, so we worked several guys back there, Pierre Garcon, Blair White, Anthony Gonzalez, Jerraud Powers and Brandon James. We had a number of guys that still work at it. Obviously, we felt that particular day with the situation we were facing that he would do a great job for us and that carried over to the second week, as well.”

Caldwell also talked about how many starters have special teams roles, singling out Philip Wheeler, Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt while talking of how many starting offensive linemen are on the field-goal unit and how many starters are in the field-goal block group.

But linemen and even players who run down to cover kicks are not being targeted and tackled.

The Colts took a thorough look at three return candidates in the preseason – Moore, James and seventh-rounder Ray Fisher. It’s unfortunate none of them emerged as the best option to field punts. For now it looks like Powers, but I won’t be surprised if he’s not permanent in the role.

While it would be nice to bust some big ones, it’s usually been an area where Bill Polian teams have been willing to sacrifice play-making ability because the offense is capable of gaining the yards the special teams can’t.

It’s probably a safer strategy than putting a top cover guy at additional risk.

Checking in on AFC South draft picks

September, 7, 2010
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A look at AFC South draft picks heading into opening day …

Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
  • First-rounder Jerry Hughes is in line to work as the third or fourth defensive end.
  • Second-rounder Pat Angerer is a backup linebacker and special-teamer.
  • Third-rounder Kevin Thomas (knee), a cornerback, is on IR.
  • Fourth-rounder Jacques McClendon is the backup right guard.
  • Fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge is the starting H-back.
  • Seventh-rounder Ricardo Mathews is a backup defensive lineman.
  • Seventh-rounder Kavell Conner is a backup linebacker and special-teamer.
  • Seventh-rounder Ray Fisher, a cornerback and return man, was cut. (Not put on IR as I originally wrote.)
Jacksonville Jaguars
  • First-rounder Tyson Alualu is a starting defensive tackle.
  • Third-rounder D’Anthony Smith (Achilles), a defensive tackle, is on IR.
  • Fifth-rounder Larry Hart is the second-string right defensive end.
  • Fifth-rounder Austen Lane is the third-string left defensive end.
  • Sixth-rounder Deji Karim is the third-string running back and the top kick returner, though he could be slowed early with a thumb injury.
  • Sixth-rounder Scotty McGee is the punt returner.
Tennessee Titans
  • First-rounder Derrick Morgan is part of the rotation at defensive end.
  • Third-rounder Damian Williams is the second return man and the fifth or sixth receiver.
  • Third-rounder Rennie Curran is a backup linebacker and special-teamer.
  • Fourth-rounder Alterraun Verner could be part of a rotation at right cornerback.
  • Fifth-rounder Robert Johnson is a third-string safety.
  • Sixth-rounder Rusty Smith is the third-string quarterback.
  • Sixth-rounder Myron Rolle, a safety, was cut and is on the practice squad.
  • Seventh-rounder Marc Mariani is the return man and the fifth of sixth receiver.
  • Seventh-rounder David Howard, a defensive tackle, was cut.

Thoughts on Bengals 30, Colts 28

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
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Some bullet-point thoughts on the Colts’ 30-28 preseason loss to Cincinnati on Thursday night.
  • The Colts sat 32 players.
  • The kick and punt return candidates didn’t seem to do a whole lot to differentiate themselves. Devin Moore took two punts 4 yards and Brandon James took one punt 2 yards. Those two and Ray Fisher all had averages between 17.5 and 25 yards on kickoffs.
  • James and Tom Brandstater certainly had nice statistical nights, linking up for three touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the final 20 minutes of the game.
  • Indy gave up a 93-yard touchdown run to Cedric Peerman and didn’t get a run longer than Javarris James’ 12-yarder.
  • Even playing a large share of guys who will be cut by Saturday, the Colts played pretty clean. They committed just three penalties worth 30 yards, while Cincinnati had 11 for 99.

Three things: Bengals at Colts

September, 2, 2010
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Three things I’ll be looking for in Bengals at Colts:

The return games: It may be hard for the Colts to use all three of their return options in the same game, as they can’t do much to control how many punts and kickoffs a game will have. But they’ve got to have Devin Moore, Brandon James and Ray Fisher in some pecking order going in. They hope for enough on tape that they will be able to adjust that order if they need to.

Pat Angerer: The guy’s been all over the place in the preseason and is sure to get a lot of time in a game where the Colts typically don’t put starters on the field at all or for very long. His production gives them confidence he can step in if there is an injury and hope that he can get the job done on special teams.

Brody Eldridge: If you’ve missed it, I love the potential for this guy to be an impact player on offense -- a tight end who can make a significant difference in the run game while still threatening to slip out and catch a pass. We could see a lot of him here. If we don’t, I’d suggest that means he’s in line for an even bigger role than I thought.

RTC: Good news/bad news reports

September, 1, 2010
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Reading the coverage ...

An AFC South preview from Andrew Lawrence.

Houston Texans

David Anderson’s latest column focuses on pressure.

The Texans have hit a record in season-ticket sales, says John McClain.

Dan Orlovsky will start the preseason finale, says McClain.

A replay of McClain’s chat.

On Arian Foster’s emergence as the lead back.

Matt Musil spoke to Owen Daniels, Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans and Matt Schaub during Celebrity Server Night at Morton’s Steakhouse.

Good news/bad news on the Texans from Khaled Elsayed.

It’s put-up time for Gary Kubiak, says Alan Burge.

Houston Diehards thinks the Texans showed way too much against the Cowboys.

Indianapolis Colts

The move of the umpire is a good one, says Bob Kravitz. He and Michael Wilbon have made a good point in this debate: rule after rule has protected the quarterback. It’s time for them to give a little on protecting someone else now.

The preseason finale is a biggie for return candidates Devin Moore, Brandon James and Ray Fisher, says Mike Chappell.

Jerry Hughes is likely to get good work against the Bengals, says Phil Richards.

John Oehser covers the umpire, the receivers, Jeff Saturday and the run game.

Good news/bad news on the Colts from Elsayed.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Special teams are expecting big things, says Tania Ganguli.

Injuries thinned out the Jags at center, says Vito Stellino.

Stellino and Ganguli preview the preseason finale against Atlanta.

Good news/bad news on the Jags from Elsayed.

Vic Ketchman discusses leverage and rates Troy Polamalu as the league’s best tackler.

Tennessee Titans

What do the Titans’ skill guys think about wearing leg pads? Jim Wyatt’s story.

Chris Simms sees a 50-50 chance to stick, say Jim Wyatt and John Glennon. I admire Simms’ optimism.

Tony Brown is ready to roll, says Glennon.

Defensive line depth has been revealed in the preseason, says David Boclair.

Greed is good for Chris Johnson, says Mike Silver.

Good news/bad news on the Titans from Elsayed.

The Eugene Amano-Leroy Harris combo is proving a good fit, says Mitch Pulley.
A check in on unresolved starting position battles in the division as teams prepare for preseason finales on Thursday and the cut down to 53 on Saturday.

Houston Texans

Right guard: It’s third-year man Mike Brisiel, who missed all but the opener last season with an injury, trying to hold off second-year man Antoine Caldwell. I’d think they view Caldwell as having more upside and being more suited to the system, but it seems too close to call still.

Kicker: Kris Brown could be limited with a bit of a foot injury, but it doesn’t sound like it will factor into the decision. He and Neil Rackers have been quite even, so the question becomes does Gary Kubiak stay loyal to Brown or decide a change of scenery will be healthier and go with Rackers?

Outside linebacker: While Brian Cushing sits the first four games to serve his suspension, it's still unclear what the Texans will do. There was a lot of talk about Zac Diles playing strongside while rookie Daryl Sharpton took Diles' spot. Now the local media is talking as if Kevin Bentley is the front-runner.

Indianapolis Colts

Left guard: The offensive line’s been a complete scramble in the preseason because of injuries. Presuming Charlie Johnson is set to return as left tackle for opening day in Houston, this spot looks like the one most up in the air. Tony Ugoh was plugged in at the start of camp, but then wound up at tackle when Johnson was hurt. Jamey Richard could also win it, and if the Colts are being secretive, rookie Jacques McClendon could factor in.

Return man: Three newcomers -- Brandon James, Devin Moore and Ray Fisher -- have all gotten looks in games. Moore had the best results with the ball in his hands. But he's been dinged and the other two have made fielding errors with Fisher booting one against Buffalo and James doing the same at Green Bay. How they stack up in-house right now is unknown, and Thursday could certainly still factor into things.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Right guard: Has Vince Manuwai, an incumbent starter, held on to the one open spot on the line? If so he should play on the right. If not, Uche Nwaneri will probably play on the right with Kynan Forney on the left. It seems Jack Del Rio’s decided, but just isn’t sharing yet.

Safety: Both spots are hardly cemented, and it will be a bigger surprise if the team doesn’t add a safety from waivers than if it does. Anthony Smith looks to lead at strong with Gerald Alexander at free, but they have Sean Considine and Reggie Nelson and even Courtney Greene and Tyron Brackenridge in the mix too. None of them has stepped forward and made a huge push so far.

Tennessee Titans

Right cornerback: Jason McCourty is steadier and faster, rookie Alterraun Verner is a bigger playmaker. Jeff Fisher’s left open the possibility of playing them both, but that’s a difficult juggling act that could slow the progress of both. It’s also a good way for the coach to keep quiet on the starter in the opener until just before kickoff.

Returner: Damian Williams is the guy they’d like to win it, but he’s been a little timid and lost a fumble during a return in Carolina. Another rookie, Marc Mariani, is the primary alternative.

Outside linebacker: While Gerald McRath serves his four-game suspension, who lines up with Stephen Tulloch and Will Witherspoon? Colin Allred would appear the leader, with Jamie Winborn the other possibility. Activating David Thornton off PUP and using him is an outside option. I don’t see it considering his scheduled salary of around $5 million, his propensity for getting hurt and his current physical status.

Thoughts on Bills 34, Colts 21

August, 20, 2010
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Sometimes geography and TV schedules make seeing a preseason game impossible. In New Orleans, I was unable to see the Indianapolis-Buffalo game. But from highlights, write-ups and statistical review, here are some bullet-point thoughts on the Colts’ 34-21 loss to Buffalo on Thursday night in Toronto.

Impressive:
  • Joseph Addai showed great burst and was slippery on his 17-yard touchdown run.
  • Jacob Tamme found a nice space between three defenders and Peyton Manning put a perfect pass there for a 21-yard score.
  • Bob Sanders was back on the field for the first time since Nov. 1, 2009.
  • Curtis Painter fared far better than he did in the preseason opener, completing 5 of 6 passes for 97 yards, a touchdown and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
  • Devin Moore had a nice night as a return man, with two punt returns for 51 yards and four kickoff returns for 129 yards.

Disappointing:
  • Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea were among the players who slipped off of C.J. Spiller during the rookie’s 31-yard touchdown run.
  • The Colts stutter-started with early penalties against Ramon Humber and Tony Ugoh and a Manning tipped-ball interception that was returned for a touchdown.
  • Just one sack, from Eric Foster.
  • Three lost fumbles, including one from Ray Fisher who’s trying to win a return job.
  • Not that they care, but ... this was Indy's 21st loss in its last 25 preseason games.

AFC East wizard Tim Graham was there to look at things from a Buffalo perspective. Here are his notes and his column on Spiller.

RTC: Colts sign first pick of 2010 class

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
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Reading the coverage:

Houston Texans

Richard Justice looks at what went wrong for former Texans tackle Charles Spencer, who trying to make a comeback in the NFL.

HoustonTexans.com has a position preview of the linebackers.

Isaac Schamis of SportsAgentBlog.com sees the Texans as one of the most likely destinations for free agent Terrell Owens.

Indianapolis Colts

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times takes a quick look at the division with a focus on the Colts and their chance to repeat as division champs.

Seventh-round pick Ray Fisher became the first of the Colts' 2010 draft class to sign.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars signed sixth-round pick Scotty McGee, leaving the team with just two unsigned draft picks.

Fantasy aficionado Maurice Jones-Drew weighed in on who he thinks is the top options at quarterback, running back and wideout.

Tennessee Titans

Robert Johnson agreed to a deal with the Tennessee Titans, which he announced on his Twitter account.

The Titans opted to shuffle their offensive line this offseason even though the unit led the way for just the sixth 2,000-yard rusher in NFL history. Jim Wyatt writes that, "because it will take some time to develop chemistry, the line will give up more sacks and the Titans will have fewer rushing yards. It will still be one of the team’s best units, however."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Last time I was at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was crackling for the AFC Championship Game.

Saturday, for a public minicamp practice, it was a bit different. And by a bit, I mean a lot. About 4,000 people came out, many focused on the half hour of autograph signing before things kicked off.

It’s what you’d expect for a Saturday in June, with players not in pads, not hitting and opening day more than three months away.

Some observations:

  • People watched the punt returners with special interest as there is new potential at the position. (When they ran two punt drills at once, safety Jamie Silva shockingly failed to measure up to Pat McAfee.) Brandon James was out, while Ray Fisher, Brandon King and Devin Moore fielded balls. It’s a training camp battle likely to be sorted out largely by preseason game performance. Hardly a newsflash here, but McAfee’s leg can be simply electric.
  • On a day like this, I try to spot kids who look lost. The young quarterbacks had some bad moments, and I am sure there were some young players out there who were unsure of themselves. But they were not especially easy to pick out. At least part of that, I think, is testament to the Colts’ way. They tend to draft and bring in smart guys and I am sure their rookie orientation and early days are quite thorough. While a lot of young guys are brought along slowly and benefit from patience, my sense is the Colts don’t give kids a lot of time to be lost over the basics of how things work.
  • I don’t believe Peyton Manning likes quiet time during practice, so even when quarterbacks might have some time to kill the Colts signal-callers do some sort of work. We watched while they were stationed at a 15-yard line and Manning, Curtis Painter, Drew Willy and Tim Hiller threw to the back left corner of the end zone. Austin Collie stood there and worked his feet on the boundary as passes arrived. One set of quarterback drops came with an early shoulder fake, and it appeared Manning was coaching the other three on how to make theirs more believable.
  • Rookie tight end Brody Eldridge figures to be more blocker than pass catcher early on, and I intend to write about him soon. But he appeared a comfortable route runner and pass catcher in the little bit we saw.
  • I only saw one snap of Jerry Hughes’ work during one-on-one pass rush drills. (Remember, no pads, no real hitting; it’s about speed, footwork and hand placement at this point.) Ryan Diem swallowed the first-rounder up.
  • No offense to any of the involved parties, but I’m still amazed at this element of springtime NFL: People came to the stadium and whooped and hollered at a Painter completion to Blair White over Jordan Hemby. Will any of them play a meaningful snap this season?
  • How desensitized am I to ridiculous pricing at professional sports venues? A special that got me a hot pretzel and a decent-sized Diet Coke for $5 felt like larceny.
  • The last three Colts on the field? Jim Caldwell signed autographs and Bill Polian threw passes to his young grandson. But Moore, the first-year running back from Wyoming, outlasted them both. And one set of lights went off just as he ran down the tunnel. Hope he didn't hold up a bus.

Ranking Colts' unknown corners

May, 26, 2010
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With third-round draft pick Kevin Thomas lost for 2010 due to a knee injury he suffered at an early rookie practice, cornerback depth is an issue for the Indianapolis Colts.

After Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey, the options are limited.

[+] EnlargeRay Fisher
AJ Mast/Icon SMISeventh-rounder Ray Fisher didn't play cornerback until his final year at Indiana.
Indianapolis drafted Ray Fisher in the seventh round, brought in six undrafted corners and has a leftover from the practice squad.

I asked Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. if he could tell us a bit about each of them so we might gain a better feel for who has a chance to emerge this year the way Lacey did in 2009.

Here’s what Muench said:
Ray Fisher (Indiana) -- Fisher is a developmental prospect who played receiver for the first three years of his career at Indiana and sustained a season-ending knee injury in his only season playing corner [last year]. It’s going to take him some time to pick up an Indianapolis scheme that’s been more creative under defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. So, as you point out, Fisher is going to make his biggest impact on special teams at least early on.

Here is how I would rank the rest of their options at corner at the back end of their roster. We don’t see any of them developing into quality starters but they are capable of providing adequate depth.

Brandon King (Purdue) -- King doesn’t have great man-to-man cover skills but he flashes the ability to reroute receivers at the line of scrimmage. In addition, it’s still a base Cover-2 scheme and he can hold up in underneath zone coverage.

Mike Newton (Buffalo) -- Newton doesn’t have great speed for a corner or size for a safety but he is a four-year starter who shows above-average instincts and can line up at corner as long as he gets help over the top. He’s capable of picking up this scheme and giving Coyer some flexibility in coverage.

Terrail Lambert (Notre Dame) -- Lambert is the X factor here. He signed with San Francisco as a rookie free agent in 2009 and later signed with the Colts. I don’t know how he’s progressed over the course of the last year but I put him here because he spent some time on the practice squad last year and should be comfortable with the scheme/team.

Thad Turner (Ohio) -- Turner has the potential to be an effective reserve bump-and-run corner but he needs to add weight and his upside is limited by stiff hips.

Jordan Hemby (North Carolina) -- There’s a lot to like about his upside but Hemby has had some problems staying healthy and it has hindered his progress. While he’s someone to keep an eye on, I’d be surprised if he made a substantial contribution this year.

Donye’ McCleskey (Indiana State) -- The good news is he has the tools to develop into an effective reserve safety. The bad news is he got away with suspect technique at Indiana State and he’ll have to break those bad habits to succeed in the NFL.

David Caldwell (William & Mary) -- Caldwell is a small-school prospect who should have a more difficult time adjusting to the speed of the game than McCleskey because he doesn’t have as much natural ability.

AFC South uncertainty index

May, 24, 2010
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With all the teams that go from bad to great and great to bad from one season to the next, forecasting how things will pan out in the NFL is close to impossible.

It’s another ingredient in why the NFL is the best thing going in sports, another piece of the unpredictability we love.

Generally, I have trouble forecasting big things for teams that are counting on a high number of unproven players to make simultaneous jumps and be productive -- though they can emerge as far better than I expect, of course. Still, it’s why I am not particularly optimistic about the 2010 Tennessee Titans.

I thought I’d go team-by-team in search of less-than-established spots in the lineup to create an AFC South uncertainty index.

Let’s be clear: you may not prefer Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle for the Houston Texans, Kyle DeVan at right guard for the Indianapolis Colts, Brad Meester at center for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Michael Griffin at safety for the Titans. But they are guys who will play and have a degree of faith from the team.

I’m looking at spots where inexperience is a big factor.

We’re not pretending to know the season-opening depth charts here, simply building off last year’s versions. We’ll look a bit beyond starting lineups with significant roles and return jobs included. Here's our look in order of uncertainty. (Starting positions labeled with an asterisk.)

Titans (10, with three starters)

Kuharsky’s take: Sure, young and talented can be exciting and promising, but that’s quite a lot. You’d expect Morgan to be fine. And they went with numbers instead of value at corner, where I’d think one or two guys have to emerge. McRath, Stevens, Cook and Marks all need to contribute. If Jeff Fisher hasn’t found solutions in the return game, they’ve got serious issues.

Jaguars (10 with two starters)

Kuharsky’s take: Alualu, the first rounder, should fare well. Finding playmakers (beyond hyphen guys Mike Sims-Walker and Maurice Jones-Drew) out of the receivers and running backs is a huge issue. McGee or Karim panning out as a returner would help in that department too. With shaky veteran safeties, nickelback will be especially important.

Indianapolis (six, with one starter)

Kuharsky’s take: Potentially they’ve got just one starting spot in question. A season-killing knee injury to third-rounder Kevin Thomas hurts depth options at cornerback, but a lot of teams would be pleased for that to rank as one of its big issues. Eldridge could help upgrade run-blocking and Fisher and James seem to be more exciting return options than they’ve had recently.

Houston (four, with three starters)

Kuharsky’s take: I’d prefer to have inexperienced guys with upside in the mix at nose tackle and free safety, but they look to be sticking with the status quo in Shaun Cody and Eugene Wilson, respectively. If you’re going to have new starters, let them be high draft picks like Tate (second), Caldwell (third last year) and Jackson (first).
In honor of Tim Graham’s idea to honor Cinco de Mayo with five random thoughts, here are five random thoughts on the AFC South:

1) I wonder how much Pete Metzelaars will carry over Howard Mudd’s thinking about offensive linemen, and how much he will stray from it. Mudd was way down on Tony Ugoh, who may get a whole new second chance after Mudd’s retirement. Metzelaars replaces a legendary assistant, but is going to have leeway to put his stamp on things. Four of five incumbent starters are back, but I feel like only one is absolutely assured of being in the same spot: center Jeff Saturday.

2) There are a lot of great Twitter guys in the AFC South rookie classes, but I think the Texans’ Ben Tate (@BenTateRB) is the early leader for his combination of quality and quantity. He’s shown confidence and a lot of respect at the same time in what I’ve read, reaching out to several NFL guys to introduce himself or connect. If he’s the productive running back the team expects, adding his personality to that is going to make him very popular in Houston very quickly.

[+] EnlargeTrindon Holliday
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Texans are hoping that pint-sized speedster Trindon Holliday can spark their return game.
3) The ability of the Texans, Titans and Jaguars to close the gap on the Colts could come from new special-teams sparks. I’m anxious to see Trindon Holliday, Damian Williams and Scotty McGee at work. The Colts downplayed their own attempts to address the return spots, by Ray Fisher may be an answer. How those four stack up comparatively could have a correlation to the standings.

4) Titans sixth-round quarterback Rusty Smith could create a lot of buzz in training camp. He’s the fourth guy now, but will wind up third unless he implodes. I saw him in a very limited window at a small, all-rookie practice. But between that and what the Titans have said about him, I expect people who love a drop back, pocket passer with a big arm (I admit I do) are going to fall in love with him. And if or when Vince Young struggles, a faction will emerge that prematurely asks about Smith’s potential to get on the field.

5) Pot Roast’s backside is a concern. Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton had an impressive rookie year and can really stop the run. He’s hard to move, but also has to be able to move. And his backside was huge at Jaguars’ minicamp last weekend. He’s listed at 325. I think they’d like him to be 325. I feel certain he’s well above 325.
Houston Texans

Bob Karmelowicz, whose distinguished career as an assistant included time with the Texans, passed away.

Indianapolis Colts

A must-read profile of Chris Polian from Phil Richards.

Ray Fisher and Brandon James will look to inject new life into the Colts’ return games, says Mike Chappell.

A pre-OTA look at the offense from John Oehser.

What to expect from Kavell Connor, from Nate Dunlevy.

Do the Colts really have a short-yardage issue on offense? Stampede Blue examines the question.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars could sign Darren Sharper as early as Monday, says Gene Frenette. I talked with Gene Smith about the possibility Sunday.

The Jaguars can win over Tim Tebow fans and solidify their place in Jacksonville by winning, says Pete Prisco.

David Garrard is motivated by the criticism from owner Wayne Weaver and coach Jack Del Rio, writes Michael DiRocco.

Punter/golfer Josh Scobee will try to qualify for the U.S. Open, says DiRocco.

Looking at the linebackers with Zoltan Paksa.

Tennessee Titans

Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Kevin Matthews has been in the Titans' locker room before, writes Jim Wyatt.

Chris Johnson’s timing is bad, says David Climer.

Damian Williams watched Stafon Johnson’s weight-lifting accident from close range, says David Boclair.

LeGarrette Blount is looking for redemption, writes Climer.
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.
Some thoughts from Colts president Bill Polian on his final three picks in the draft and the Colts’ expectations for late-rounders and free agents.

On seventh-round defensive end Ricardo Mathews: “He is a power defensive end. He can also move inside and rush in the forefront. He is a real physical, hard-nosed tough football player. We like everything about him in that role. We think some of the things we are going to do on defense this year, we’ll have a specialized role for him and we feel really good about it.”

On seventh-round linebacker Kavell Conner: "He is very smart and very tuned in. He can fly around and run and hit guys, which is typical of the kind of linebackers that we like. He is very similar to Clint Session. Very similar."

On seventh-round cornerback Ray Fisher: "He is a kick and punt returner as well as a very good corner. He played obviously at a high level of competition and had a lot of success in the return game. We felt he was a dual-purpose guy, and a guy that could very likely make our team and contribute in a lot of ways as a ‘gunner’ on special teams and things of that nature, in addition to the return game.”

On success with late picks and undrafted rookies: "We, more than anybody, the statistics show we have more second-day draft choices and collegiate free agents who play critical roles for us than any team in the National Football League. In a salary cap environment, which I hope we’ll be going back to in a year, you have to do that. If you have highly paid stars that you keep, which we do, then you have to do that."

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