AFC South: Rob Bironas

The case for and (more) against Munchak

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
12:30
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Mike MunchakJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak has a .091 winning percentage versus teams finishing the season with winning records.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Monday the Titans begin the process of deciding what to do with Mike Munchak, who’s under contract for one more year as head coach.

Let’s set aside all the predictions and expectations.

We know very little about how team president and CEO Tommy Smith will operate in his new role and how he will balance his family’s long-term relationship with Munchak against the results he’s produced as a head coach. We don’t know if Munchak has the backing of general manager Ruston Webster going forward.

We do know what goes into the case for him and the case against him. So let’s examine those and then delve into things I consider significant issues where I don’t see a clear counterargument in his favor:

For: The Titans are on the verge. They’ve lost six one-possession games this season. Make the jump in just half of those and they could be a 10-win playoff team.

Against: They are unable to finish games, and there is no reason to expect they find it all of a sudden under the same leadership.

For: The division is bad and there is room to get better in a hurry against rebuilding Houston and Jacksonville.

Against: The Titans are 3-8 in the division in the past two seasons and 1-4 this year heading into the finale against Houston. Tennessee lost to the Texans and Jaguars this year when it should be sweeping those teams when they are having down years. That’s the path to actually competing for the division.

For: This roster has stood firmly with Munchak. There has been no dissension. They haven’t quit on him and have been playing hard to the end. His message is working. They work hard to execute what is asked of them.

Against: Having a roster of guys committed to following a coach who’s not doing a good job is nice, but if he’s not doing a good job it doesn’t matter as much. What is asked of them isn’t right often enough. This team’s in-game adjustment to what opponents do is typically poor.

For: Smith has pledged another big offseason, and the Titans will create a spring and summer buzz much like last year’s, when they spent over $100 million on free agents and had the 10th pick in the draft.

Against: The fan base is angry and/or apathetic. The tickets are bought, in part because so many people are financially committed with PSLs. But that hasn’t meant they have showed up. A new coach and staff will also have a free-agent class and draft and that will do a lot more to get Nashville interested.

For: Though they were overmatched, the Titans stood toe-to-toe for a good while with some of the NFL’s best -- Seattle and Denver. They lost twice to the AFC South champion Colts by a combined 11 points.

Against: Munchak is 2-20 -- not a misprint -- against teams that finish the season with a winning record. Whether they are close to the caliber of those teams or not, that is a .091 winning percentage against winning teams. How can Smith endorse that?

For: They could be one player away, and we’ve seen them make a big addition and a big jump before.

Against: The odds of landing Jevon Kearse are small, and the 1998 Tennessee Oilers had more pieces in place than the 2013 Titans do.

For: They’ll move away from Chris Johnson and by doing so they’ll be in line to have the run game they expected this year. This offensive line needed time to jell. In 2014, Shonn Greene and a mid-round draft pick will be more effective.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak wanted the Titans to be a run-first team but inconsistency in the run game plagued Tennessee all season.
Against: Three years in and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as a head coach with a Hall of Fame offensive line coach still haven’t produced a team that can run consistently. How can they possibly say, “We need more time” and get it? How did lines with injuries in Seattle and Miami manage to play well enough to win? They have to replace David Stewart at right tackle, right? Another change positions them for more excuses about needing time to jell.

For: The Titans didn’t have their starting quarterback for nine games this year. Who wins without their starting quarterback? Injuries to Greene and center Brian Schwenke also hurt.

Against: It would be a good argument if Jake Locker was a proven NFL franchise quarterback. He is not and they sold Ryan Fitzpatrick as a top-flight alternative. We know Locker has potential and is injury prone. Pinning hopes on that for 2014 seems dangerous. The Greene and Schwenke injuries should not be regarded as hugely impactful and are on par with the sort of thing every team in the league deals with.

For: He doesn’t care about the peripheral stuff; he’s not going to play the game. He just wants to coach and do things the right way.

Against: Tough for him. A head coach is a CEO and the responsibilities require more. You have to be a PR guy and a marketer. He doesn’t embrace that stuff and it hurts the franchise. You can’t play the “I just want to coach” card until you’ve proven you can win.

A few other things don’t fit as neatly in a for-and-against format and mostly qualify as arguments against his return.

I think it’s very difficult to make a case for him based on his work in the division, his record against winning teams and his inability to explain what’s wrong.

Warped thinking: Munchak endorsed a foolish onside kick approach with an unconventional, tee-less spinner that kicker Rob Bironas clearly did not like. Worse, the coach judged his team to be 1-for-3 with it rather than 0-for-3 because San Francisco bobbled the kick before recovering it. Note to Munchak: Such a kick is judged a success if, and only if, you recover it. We know it’s very difficult to do. We also know it’s ridiculous to deem one a success when the other team comes out with the ball. Lo and behold, the Titans recover a conventional, high-bounce onside kick during a furious comeback against Arizona.

Straying from his philosophy: Over and over Munchak spoke of how the 2013 Titans would be able to get the tough yard on the ground. These Titans were going to throw it when they wanted to, not when they had to. But given a chance to win the Arizona game with 10 seconds left with a two-point conversion play from the 1-yard line after a penalty, he chose overtime. The team he promised shouldn’t have even considered kicking the extra point. In sharing more about his logic a day later, he said the team hadn’t run it in an hour as it played hurry-up to overcome a big deficit. Shouldn’t a team built around the offensive line and backs be able to run for a yard whether they’d been running it or not?

Salesmanship: He’s a better salesman than he is a head coach. In memorializing Bud Adams when he died, he spoke about how he used to walk the hallways of the team’s facility on a Saturday before the game with Adams and Adams’ friends, looking at the pictures of the team’s history and telling stories. It showed me that Munchak was shrewd in how he dealt with the owner, playing right into what the owner liked and taking Adams right where Adams liked to go. It endeared him to his boss and did a lot to make him the choice when the team and Jeff Fisher parted ways. I expect he will do well selling Smith on the plan going forward. But the team gets better by adjusting the plan, not by selling the plan better to a new person at the top of the organization. Old-time Oilers memories should mean nothing now.

Lame duck: His résumé certainly doesn’t warrant an extension. That means he and his staff would be working as lame ducks in 2014. Lame-duck scenarios aren’t typically healthy. They make it hard to attract players and assistants. They make it easy for a team to tune out if and when things don’t go well.

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
7:46
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rapid reaction from the Tennessee Titans' 37-34 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals at LP Field:

What it means: The Titans sprang to life, rallying from a 34-17 deficit with 6:13 remaining, pulling even with 10 second left and forcing overtime. But Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his second interception to Antoine Cason on the first drive of overtime, and the Cardinals moved to a 41-yard Jay Feely field goal that won it. The Titans lost for the eighth time in their past 10 games, falling to 5-9 and guaranteeing a losing season.

Stock watch: Receiver Michael Preston, stuck on the practice squad for most of the season, caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Fitzpatrick late in the fourth quarter as the Titans got it to 34-34. Preston had room to shine because Justin Hunter and Damian Williams were inactive for violating team rules. Kenny Britt dropped what would have been a touchdown before Preston caught his first one.

Evening out: It wasn’t long ago that Bernard Pollard was called for a bad penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver and Shonn Greene was flagged for unsportsmanlike contact for apparent taunting. The Titans were later told they were bad calls. This time it was the Cardinals who drew the penalties, and they may hear the same about a Rashad Johnson hit on Britt and a taunting call against Daryl Washington. The Titans felt like they lost in part because of those calls against them. They didn’t really use them in their favor as a springboard to win this one. A roughing call against Calais Campbell at the start of the Titans’ second-to-last drive helped produce a 24-yard Rob Bironas field goal that spurred the comeback.

What’s next: The Titans travel to Jacksonville looking to avenge a 29-27 loss on Nov. 10 to the previously winless Jaguars at LP Field.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s the most important step you take on any given play.

I recently toured the Titans locker room asking that question. A lot of guys said it’s the first step, and that didn’t surprise me. But in getting the same answer from guys at different positions, I got different rationale.

Let’s run through the replies.

Running back Chris Johnson: “The step is once you see the hole, you’ve got to hit it. You can’t really hesitate. In the whole game you might have two maybe three big home run plays where it’s going to open up for you and you can’t hesitate, you have to hit it. Once you see the hole, that step, you’ve got to hit it. Your mind is making a decision with your feet.”

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTight End Craig Stevens says he has to be set by his second step to be ready to make contact.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Your eyes tell you which step to take, the first step. It’s having your eyes on the receiver and going off of the right thing. It really just depends on what the receiver does. I mean we’re basing everything on the receiver. Your eyes tell you everything.”

Receiver Kenny Britt: “It depends on what route it is. Most of it is being precise all the time with the quarterback. Depending on whether they are blitzing and what the coverage is, you’ve to be in the right place at the right time. You’re starting point is everything to your route, you have to get off the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to know if he’s going to press you, if he’s going to ball on you. It’s about getting off the line clean.”

Safety George Wilson: “A lot of time it’s that first one. You’re trying to get that run-pass key. If it’s pass and you step up in the hard play action sometime that’ll take you out of position for where you are supposed to be to defend the pass. It’s important that you have your eyes in the right place every place so that your first step is the right step.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill: “The first step. Get off the ball first. If I beat my man, nine times out of 10 I’ll cause disruption in the backfield. …Now my man is back to defense and I’m on offense, he’s got to figure out what we’re doing. If he’s first, you’ve got to work like hell to get back in position.”

Left tackle Michael Roos: “The first one. It’s the one that starts all your other steps. If your first one is too wide, you’re going to compensate, try to make up for it. It might be wider, you might cross over. On a pass set if your foot’s not square, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, that means your body is turned, now you get an inside move, you can’t turn, correct yourself as fast. You’ve got to gain the right amount of ground otherwise everything falls apart after that.”

Fullback Quinn Johnson: “It’s pretty much the same thing as the offensive line, it’s the first step. It’s like Coach [Sylvester] Croom tells me, if I take the wrong first step, everything else moves downhill. I’m off course and everything goes off timing. I watch it on film. When I take the wrong first step, everything else goes bad. When I take the right step, everything else goes good.”

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy: “First step. Obviously, downhill. As a linebacker you’re playing run first, pass second. Getting your run-pass key and reacting as fast as you can off of that.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “You’ve got to get off the ball as quick as you can and make that first play-side step. But then really my most important step is my second step, because it brings your whole body with it and that’s where your power is. Whenever I’m run blocking, I’m always making contact on my second step. Short, quick step. Get your two feet on the ground as quick as you can.”

Kicker Rob Bironas: “Has to be the first step, yeah. If the first step’s wrong, the next step’s wrong, the whole thing’s wrong. If you step off the wrong direction or over-stride, then you are trying to make up for that the whole way. In my case, it’s a jab step and then two steps to the ball. I just roll into or fall into my jab step. It’s just five, six inches with my left foot.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
Reading the coverage of the Titans ...

Five troubling developments out of the preseason so far from Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean. No. 1: The defense is getting pushed around.

To which I say: That new defensive identity they’ve been promising hasn’t really shown its face.

Rob Bironas said back soreness wasn’t a factor in his bad night -- it was rust and rhythm issues, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Titans are very thin at linebacker because of injuries, says Wyatt.

"In their own way, Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard have nominal strengths and significant flaws," says Tim Gower of Total Titans in a review of the safeties.
Reading the coverage of the Titans ...

Saying it’s just the preseason doesn’t make David Climer of The Tennessean feel better about what he’s seen from the Titans. “There’s something troubling about the way the Titans are going about their business. This is a crossroads season, yet there seems to be no sense (of) urgency.”

To which I say: It is concerning. Part of it is the vanilla approach, but they should be better even when they are vanilla. And they aren’t good enough to simply flip a switch when the games count.

The Titans expect to activate Delanie Walker from PUP this week, says John Glennon of The Tennessean, who also offers an injury update and details of how Moise Fokou has pretty much won the starting middle linebacker job.

It’s getting harder to figure out Kamerion Wimbley's role, says Glennon.

To which I say: He was used too much last season, but it looks like a guy who got a five-year, $35 million contract may not be used enough to make him worth it this season.

A breakdown of the offense against Cincinnati from Tom Gower of Total Titans. He says Geno Atkins gave Andy Levitre fits and the Titans were in three-wide over half of the snaps.

To which I say: Atkins is going to give just about any guard fits.

The Titans running back tandem is gaining steam, says Craig Peters of the team’s web site.

An interesting point on kickers from an examination of Rob Bironas and the potential for drop-off, from Music City Miracles. “What appears likely ... is that kickers are attempting such a small number of field goals each season that 1-3 additional misses greatly drops their average."

I love this picture of Mohamed Sanu’s touchdown catch against Tommie Campbell based on the background from Paul Brown Stadium. From Music City Miracles.

Quarterback Jake Locker played a confident and efficient first-half. The run game looked good again. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey turned a triple play with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all in one swoop.

Those were encouraging developments.

That was about it for the front-liners, and those positives were swallowed up by a pretty lengthy list of bad stuff for the Tennessee Titans in preseason game No. 2, a 27-19 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday night.

A look at much of what went wrong:

Third-and-long failures. Tennessee allowed Cincinnati to convert third-and-longs and string together three long drives before halftime as the Bengals built a 17-3 lead. The headliner in third-down defensive gaffes was strong safety Bernard Pollard. He and nickelback Coty Sensabaugh missed chances to tackle Mohamed Sanu on a 24-yard catch and run to the 1-yard line that set up Cincinnati’s first score. A bit later, Pollard couldn’t bring down a crossing Brandon Tate, who ran away from him for another third-and-long conversion.

Injuries. Both strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers (right ankle) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (knee) rode a cart to the locker room after suffering first-half injuries. Both rank high on the list of players the Titans can least afford to be without. The Titans don’t have a quality, big linebacker backup for Ayers and Wright is probably the most unique receiver on the team. Ayers was on the sideline in the second half, not in a walking boot per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean on Twitter.

Drops. Receiver Nate Washington could have made a tough catch at the goal line. He was well covered by Adam Jones for a while, but the ball looked like it went through his hands. Receiver Kenny Britt let a good throw from Locker bounce off his hands. Undrafted tight end Jack Doyle had a terrible drop on what should have been an easy catch for a good gain.

Run defense. Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard looked very good (seven carries for 37 yards). He took one carry 22 yards and went the same distance for his one catch. Bernard got a lot of his work on one drive and looked to tire out the Titans' defense. On a Cedric Peerman run, the Titans missed two chances at a tackle for a loss (linebacker Patrick Bailey and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua), allowing him to escape outside.

Missing kicks: After moving ahead 3-0, the Titans missed three field goals in a row, with two of the off-target kicks coming from Rob Bironas and another from Maikon Bonani. It’s bad enough that the Titans had to settle for field goals. Bironas hooked the first miss wide-left, and the second went wide-right. The usually reliable Bironas missed time recently with a back issue and this was his first preseason action. Hopefully for Tennessee, his problems were related to rustiness.

Solid fade: The Bengals got a very nice Andy Dalton throw and Sanu catch on a 2-yard fade in the back left of the end zone. Tommie Campbell wasn’t as bad as he was in the preseason opener, and he had a good play on him here. He did get his hands on Sanu early, but Sanu just made a good play. That said, he didn’t look to seize the job in this game. Alterraun Verner made two plays in the first five minutes of the second half. Forget the physical attributes. Verner is a just better football player who understands the game better and has superior instincts.

The second half: The second and third teams fared better and produced a couple of touchdowns. One gaffe of note early in the fourth quarter, however: Right end Scott Solomon crashed to the middle of the field rather than containing on his side. Young Bengals running back Dan Herron reversed course and ran to where Solomon should have been. The result was a 39-yard touchdown scamper that wound up providing the winning margin.
In early March, I outlined a five-category plan for offseason moves for each team in the AFC South.

I considered finances, continuity, turnover, additions and the draft.

Today we’ve looked back to see how my plan and the team’s offseason lined up and how they didn’t.

Last up are the Titans. Here’s the original post.

What I got right:

Finances: “There are contracts here that need to be dealt with, but the team has about $18 million in cap room at the start and there's no need to make any moves right away. Guard Steve Hutchinson ($5.25 million base in 2013) and center Eugene Amano ($3.935 million) can't be on the roster at those salaries, and won’t be. Safety Jordan Babineaux ($1.6 million) could be in a similar situation. But the Titans have said they won’t make cap moves until replacement players arrive, and that’s sound thinking.”

Hutchinson, Amano and Babineaux all are gone. It took a while with Amano, but the Titans needed a knee issue to be resolved before they could let him go.

Continuity: “Keeping kicker Rob Bironas would be nice, but you can only spend so much on a kicker, considering how we’ve seen some kids come out of nowhere and do big things. [Since this was posted, The Tennessean reported the Titans struck a two-year deal with Bironas.] Tight end Jared Cook was enough of a problem that the Titans didn’t tag him, so they must move on from the headache. Center Fernando Velasco should be fine if he’s between better guards; the Titans should tender the restricted free agent so that he’s sure to remain. It’d be nice to keep Darius Reynaud, but if Marc Mariani returns healthy, Tennessee doesn’t need both returners.”

They let Cook walk for a giant contract with the Rams, tendered Velesaco, and kept Reynaud.

Turnover: Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks is probably not worth what he might draw on the market, so be ready to move on there. Will Witherspoon wasn’t a good enough backup for injury-prone Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker, and an upgrade is needed.

Marks wound up in Jacksonville, Witherspoon is unsigned and Moise Fokou was signed as they looked to upgrade linebacking depth.

What I got part right, part wrong:

Additions: “It’s time to be aggressive. Chase Buffalo’s durable guard, Andy Levitre, and lure him by telling him how much better he can get with the polish two Hall of Fame coaches can apply. The other big fish needs to be Michael Bennett, the Tampa Bay defensive end. He’s a big, ascending player who can play every down and would give the pass rush the boost it needs. Dustin Keller was hurt last year, but he played in every game in his first five seasons. He can be the reliable tight end working underneath for Jake Locker that Frank Wycheck was for Steve McNair. To replace Marks, roll the dice on Kansas City defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who should be affordable and might fare well in a second act with lower expectations.”

Levitre was their primary target. But the Titans went different directions at the other spots -- Ropati Pitoitua at end, Delanie Walker at tight end and Sammie Hill at defensive tackle.

Draft: If Alabama guard Chance Warmack is on the board at No. 10, he would complete the interior line rebuild. I want a corner who can provide another option outside, a safety to groom behind George Wilson and one of the big running backs in the middle rounds who can complement Chris Johnson.

Warmack was the pick at No. 10. The corner arrived in the form of third-rounder Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The additional safety and running back came in free agency, not the draft, with Bernard Pollard and Shonn Greene.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The five biggest questions that are still unsettled as the Texans head into their summer hiatus, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

These Texans have a better Super Bowl chance than last year’s version, says Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Willie Jefferson could follow a path blazed by Bryan Braman, says Ganguli.

Guard Brandon Brooks and defensive end Jared Crick are in position to be breakout players in 2013, says Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle blogs.

July 17 is a key date for Brian Cushing, who expects to get a green light from his doctor regarding his surgically repaired ACL, says Nick Scurfield of the team’s website.

Indianapolis Colts

His high school coach rates Colts’ first-round pick Bjoern Werner as "a force of nature," writes Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Will the Colts be better in 2013? They could be better but not have as good a record, says Bob Kravitz of the year after Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia gave them something to rally around. “I want to see us make the transition away from me and toward our players,’’ Pagano said. “ChuckStrong still exists because I have this unique platform now where I can help raise money and awareness, and I’ve been doing that and I’m going to continue to do that. But I’m not the story anymore. Even last year, I didn’t want to be the story. The story is the players on this team. That’s the way it should be."

The inside linebackers are a great value, says Kyle Rodriguez of Colts Authority.

An early stab at the Colts’ 53-man roster from Brad Wells of Stampede Blue.

Darius Heyward-Bey arrived in Indianapolis with a catch rate of 14.6 on balls thrown 20 yards or more downfield, says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

An early attempt to shape the 53-man roster of the Jaguars, from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. He sees the team carrying only two quarterbacks.

Former Jaguars defensive end Austen Lane was claimed off waivers by Kansas City, says O’Halloran.

Some Jaguars fans enjoyed a Father’s Day brunch at EverBank Field, says Roger Bull of the Florida Times-Union.

The offseason is over, but the Jaguars are hardly finished revising their roster, says O’Halloran. GM David Caldwell said: “I expect some more movement. I don’t know where and at what position, but everybody will have ample opportunities to claim one of those positions.”

Not having most of their draft picks signed yet is not a big deal at all for the Jaguars, says John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

A getting-to-know-you video with Denard Robinson from the team’s website.

Julian Stanford may push Geno Hayes for a starting outside linebacker spot, says Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country.

Tennessee Titans

Receiver Nate Washington is in great shape and is ready to fight for his role among a bunch of high draft picks, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Mike Munchak is doing some hands-on work with the offensive line again, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

New special teams coach Nate Kaczor is injecting life into his units, says Marc Torrence of The Tennessean.

Kicker Rob Bironas is aiming for better accuracy in 2013, says Tyler Whetstone of The Tennessean.

Single game tickets go on sale July 12, says The Tennessean.

Steelers tight end Heath Miller may not be healthy enough to play on opening day against the Titans and Music City Miracles reflects on what his absence could mean.

AFC South links: Matt Hasselbeck's future

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
10:39
AM ET
Houston Texans

The NFL has denied an appeal by New York Jets guard Matt Slauson regarding the $10,000 fine he received on a block to Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, reports Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

The Houston Chronicle's John McClain says, "Unless (Eric) Winston gave a big-time hometown discount, which would be foolish at his age, I expect him to sign with another team."

Texans safety Glover Quin is a "priority re-signing," according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, who lists value-added free agents.

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis is chomping "at the bit to pursue Baltimore Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger or San Diego guard Louis Vasquez" once contract negotiations with agents begin Saturday at 12:01 a.m., says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Quarterback Chandler Harnish, also known as 2012's Mr. Irrelevant, spent last season on the Colts' practice squad. Harnish tells The Journal Gazette that he's positioning himself to make the active roster in 2013, a move that could prove more feasible should backup QB Drew Stanton leave the Colts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars safety Dawan Landry, who was set to make $5.35 million this year, will be released by the team on Friday, according to ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.

The Jaguars have $26 million in cap space and only one potential big-money free agent in cornerback Derek Cox. But "this isn’t time for a spending spree," reminds the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran, who says regardless of the cap, Jacksonville will still need to add key positions before the draft.

Who are the Jaguars' restricted free agents? O'Halloran has details.

Tennessee Titans

While Matt Hasselbeck's future with the Titans is up in the air, the 14-year veteran quarterback tells The Tennessean's John Glennon that he's hopeful he'll stay in Tennessee but some things are just out of his control.

Jake Locker stands by his belief that wins are more important than accuracy: “...I have to figure out ways to put our team in better situations to win games and that is by finding ways to complete more passes.”

Rob Bironas, the third most accurate kicker in NFL history (85.6 percent) and second leading scorer in franchise history, tells Gary Glenn of Titansonline.com that his multi-year contract extension keeps him in a place and with a team he calls home and he couldn't be happier.
My plan for the Tennessee Titans as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: There are contracts here that need to be dealt with, but the team has about $18 million in cap room at the start and there's no need to make any moves right away. Guard Steve Hutchinson ($5.25 million base in 2013) and center Eugene Amano ($3.935 million) can't be on the roster at those salaries, and won’t be. Safety Jordan Babineaux ($1.6 million) could be in a similar situation. But the Titans have said they won’t make cap moves until replacement players arrive, and that’s sound thinking.

Continuity: Keeping kicker Rob Bironas would be nice, but you can only spend so much on a kicker, considering how we’ve seen some kids come out of nowhere and do big things. [Since this was posted, The Tennessean reported the Titans struck a two-year deal with Bironas.] Tight end Jared Cook was enough of a problem that the Titans didn’t tag him, so they must move on from the headache. Center Fernando Velasco should be fine if he’s between better guards; the Titans should tender the restricted free agent so that he’s sure to remain. It’d be nice to keep Darius Reynaud, but if Marc Mariani returns healthy, Tennessee doesn’t need both returners.

Turnover: Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks is probably not worth what he might draw on the market, so be ready to move on there. Will Witherspoon wasn’t a good enough backup for injury-prone Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker, and an upgrade is needed.

Additions: It’s time to be aggressive. Chase Buffalo’s durable guard, Andy Levitre, and lure him by telling him how much better he can get with the polish two Hall of Fame coaches can apply. The other big fish needs to be Michael Bennett, the Tampa Bay defensive end. He’s a big, ascending player who can play every down and would give the pass rush the boost it needs. Dustin Keller was hurt last year, but he played in every game in his first five seasons. He can be the reliable tight end working underneath for Jake Locker that Frank Wycheck was for Steve McNair. To replace Marks, roll the dice on Kansas City defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who should be affordable and might fare well in a second act with lower expectations.

Draft: If Alabama guard Chance Warmack is on the board at No. 10, he would complete the interior line rebuild. I want a corner who can provide another option outside, a safety to groom behind George Wilson and one of the big running backs in the middle rounds who can complement Chris Johnson.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Reviewing the play of the outside linebackers in 2012 with Nick Scurfield of the Houston Texans web site.

The Texans defense needs reloading, says Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts

Jeff Saturday’s biggest regret is that the Colts didn’t pursue the perfect season in 2009, writes Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

A trip to visit the troops was life-altering for Clyde Christensen, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Running through the Jaguars roster and considering where the biggest reconstruction is needed, with Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

How points per attempt weighs in on the Blaine Gabbert versus Chad Henne, from Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Tennessee Titans


Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean expects the Titans will be able to keep Rob Bironas, and that they will chase Andy Levitre.

An apologetic letter from Vince Young to Jeff Fisher was like a lot of stuff from Young, too little too late, says Wyatt.
This list was somewhat of a bear. The gap between No. 1 and No. 12 isn’t so big. There is a huge degree of subjectivity and personal preference.

I wanted my one overriding consideration as I pieced together the top 12 free agents in the AFC South to be production versus potential. If I’m shopping for a player, I want to feel like he’s got potential to produce for me, of course. But I want that feeling rooted in the fact that he already has produced. But few guys with expiring contracts in our division strike the right measure in the production versus potential debate.

You could reshape this in any number of ways and I likely wouldn’t object. So have at me in the comments. It seems quality fodder for some discussion.

My top 12 free agents-to-be in the AFC South:

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsLosing the coverage skills of safety Glover Quin would surely be a big blow to Houston.
1) Glover Quin, free safety, Texans. He’s versatile and can cover and hit. He may rank as only the fourth-best safety to get to free agency in the NFL, but he could be a strong addition to a secondary and losing him would hurt the Texans.

2) Dwight Freeney, defensive end, Colts. He’s aging, sure. But for a team needing a pass-rushing boost, he’s got to be intriguing. Put him back in a 4-3, ideally indoors on turf, and he’s going to get some sacks.

3) Daryl Smith, outside linebacker, Jaguars. A durable guy, the timing of his first serious injury was poor and he missed all but two games last year. A very solid player the Jaguars would probably do well to retain.

4) Jared Cook, tight end, Titans. He’s an intriguing physical specimen who’s quite a threat as a pass-catcher. While the Titans didn’t figure out best how to use him, he wasn’t very consistently productive and is limited as a blocker.

5) Derek Cox, cornerback, Jaguars. But for health concerns that have cost him 17 games over the past three seasons, he’d probably be atop this list. When he’s on the field, he can be a high-quality cover corner. Can he stay on the field?

6) Greg Jones, fullback, Jaguars. It’s a position that is increasingly devalued and de-emphasized. But if you need a lead back, he’s a quality guy who’s done some awfully good work paving the way for Maurice Jones-Drew.

7) Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle, Jaguars. He can show great feet for a giant man, and seemed to get his weight under better control. But his best play was early in his time with the Jaguars, not late. That was a big disappointment considering how much of a contract he could have earned.

8) Connor Barwin, outside linebacker, Texans. Had a big year in 2011 and passed on a contract extension before the 2012 season. What he’s going to get now, after a poor season, is unlikely to match up to the deal he passed on. Does he rebound or did he simply flash once?

9) Sen’Derrick Marks, defensive tackle, Titans. Has some ability to penetrate on early downs and has made some progress. But isn’t as far along as suitors would probably like for a second-round pick four years into his career.

10) Jerraud Powers, cornerback, Colts. A smart player who understands how to play. Didn’t have sufficient time to settle into Colts’ new system which has a thin secondary before he was sidelined by a toe injury. His inability to stay healthy is the big issue for him at this point.

11) Rob Bironas, kicker, Titans. Bironas has a strong leg and a clutch history, though he’s not coming off his best season. But in a league where analytics are carrying more weight, more teams will cap what they’ll pay a top guy at the position

12) James Casey, fullback, Texans. I think he’s been somewhat miscast as a lead blocker. He’s got excellent hands, so I think he could do more in an atmosphere where he has more chances to catch passes.

Combine takeaways: Tennessee Titans

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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A combine rewind on what we heard from the Tennessee Titans in Indianapolis…

The Titans could be active early in free agency: This is a team that has largely sat back in free agency and let the early market sift out before getting involved. But both coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster said at Lucas Oil Stadium that they expect to be negotiating with at least one free agent during the three-day period where conversations are allowed before free agency opens.

No cuts on the immediate horizon: The Titans have $18.021 million in salary-cap room, so nothing is pressing in terms of salary-cap cuts. But general manager Webster said the team would trim salaries as it makes additions through free agency and the draft. Presumptive translation -- when the Titans get a guard, they can part with either Steve Hutchinson (due a $4.75 million base, he would cost $3 million in dead money cap hit) or guard/center Eugene Amano (due a $3.935 million base, but they’d save only about $1 million by cutting him). The other could be gone post draft.

The draft is deep at the right spots for this team: Before the Titans signed veteran safety George Wilson, Webster talked about how all three of the team’s biggest needs -- guard, safety and defensive end -- are deep in this pool of prospects. I pushed to see if Webster would put the three in order and he ranked guard and safety as the top two. He didn’t talk about the depth at kicker, but said if the Titans lose Rob Bironas as a free agent, Tennessee would consider drafting one. Three seem to be ranked as draftable.

The Titans will remain a team capable of using two-back sets: Quinn Johnson is a free agent to-be. His size -- 6-foot-1, 263-pounds -- fit the mold former offensive coordinator Chris Palmer wanted. We don’t know if he’s the same sort of fit for what Dowell Loggains intends to do while in the job. But Munchak said the Titans will carry a fullback and that Chris Johnson runs better in certain circumstances with one and in other circumstances without one. Loggains and new running back coach Sylvester Croom will talk with CJ about some play-by-play preferences on that.

Tennessee seeks mature additions: Webster says out of the info overload he looks for buzz words that relate to maturity. He wants to be sure the Titans wind up with guys who can handle the combination of free time and big money that they will wind up with after they are drafted. Everyone is coached to say the right things and give the right indications as they talk with scouts, coaches and executives. So there is work to sift out who’s really equipped to handle things and who is not.

Polian on AFC South's top free agents

February, 5, 2013
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ESPN’s Bill Polian has a major Insider file out ranking the upcoming class of free agents.

He divided them into three tiers:
  • A Players: Worth paying big, starter-caliber money.
  • B Players: Guys I would sign but only if the value made sense.
  • C Players: Guys I'd sign for low-salary, short-term (one or two years) value, with low bonuses.

Let’s look at how Polian views free-agents-to-be coming out of the AFC South. Obviously he's got some special insight, and regard, for the Colts on this list:

A Players:

Titans TE Jared Cook

Polian: “I think he'll command some money based on his potential.”

Kuharsky: Polian mentions Cook as a franchise possibility, and I suspect that is what will happen.

Jaguars FB Greg Jones

Polian: “Can he pass a physical? And is he affordable? He is one of the few FBs who can carry the ball and do it well.”

Kuharsky: Both Super Bowl teams used fullbacks, but it’s still a position that’s fading.

Colts OLB Dwight Freeney

Polian: “I see Freeney as a fit in a Wide-9 scheme or as a 4-3 DE. I believe he still has a lot of talent, but age is definitely a concern.”

Kuharsky: He’s going to want more years than he’s going to be able to get.

Texans S Glover Quin

Polian: “If you want a safety to play man, cover ground, and go up and play in the nickel on the line of scrimmage, this is a guy who does all of that well.”

Kuharsky: Like Polian, I think the Texans will make a big push to keep Quin in Houston.

B Players:

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