AFC South: Robert Ayers

Linkenbach fares OK protecting Manning

September, 27, 2010
9/27/10
6:11
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The Indianapolis Colts were forced to endure a preseason scramble on the offensive line. Jeff Saturday had knee surgery and wasn’t around. Charlie Johnson missed a ton of work with a foot injury. Tony Ugoh was still in the mix but also hurt.

But one of the silver linings was a chance to see kids in action, and tackle Jeff Linkenbach made the team based on his performance. Sunday he started for the still-ailing Johnson in Denver, protecting Peyton Manning’s blind side.

“I think the nice thing with him is he got a chance during the preseason to play a pretty significant amount,” Jim Caldwell said at his Monday press conference. “So he got quite a few reps underneath his belt. He had an opportunity to match up with some of the talent within the league early on and that helped him. They just continue to get a little bit better, a little bit more comfortable, but it doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks or months. I think it’s years, particularly at that particular position until they get really, really settled down.

“We faced a couple of guys last year that were rookies at the tackle position and by the time we saw them that following year, things had changed. They had become more confident, they understood how to use their skill set and they’d improved. I would anticipate that he’s going to follow the same graph.”

Linkenbach got some help from Brody Eldridge and even Dallas Clark lining up next to him, but he was on his own plenty as well. Linebacker Robert Ayers ran around him once to put a combo hit on Manning as he threw a third-down incompletion.

“In the passing game, that was the exception, not the rule,” Linkenbach said. “There were a couple mental mistakes early on with the crowd noise and then I settled down. I was high at times in the run game. I was all right, not great. It was not bad for a first start…

“I got some good feedback on a lot of stuff to help me do better. It’s always easier to handle after a win rather than a loss.”

But he seemed to come through it OK and he did the No. 1 job of a left tackle: He didn’t get his quarterback hurt.

“He hung in there, he played tough, he’s a scrappy guy, he gets after it in there,” Caldwell said. “He did some things that young guys do. He’s coming along.”

There is no indication if the week off means Johnson will be feeling better and be able to return to action in Jacksonville to deal with Aaron Kampman or if he needs time on the shelf and Linkenbach will face the veteran 4-3 edge rusher.
The suggestion, from Dave in Baltimore, MD: About 9:30 left in the Colts/Broncos game, Colts on their own 20 facing 3rd and 10. Manning hits Austin Collie on a curl for a 23-yard completion, moving the chains, keeping the drive alive, and eventually putting seven points on the board to salt the game away. [Nilay Baxi in Ocean, NJ and unionjackwh joined Dave’s suggestion.]


AP Photo/Michael ConroyAustin Collie's 23-yard reception in the fourth quarter against Denver was a key play in the Colts win.
The situation: Denver’s just cut Indianapolis’ lead to 21-16 and with 8:57 left in the fourth quarter the Colts face a third-and-10 from their own 20-yard line. Peyton Manning’s been cold -- completing just one of his first 11 second-half throws with two picks.

Manning lines up in the shotgun, flanked by Dallas Clark on his left and Joseph Addai on his right. Pierre Garcon is lined up right, Austin Collie is in the slot left and Reggie Wayne is wide left.

The Broncos are in nickel, with Champ Bailey on Wayne, Andre Goodman on Garcon and Alphonso Smith on Collie.

What I saw unfold after the snap: Manning takes the shotgun snap, drops back two steps and bounces three times, with plenty of time to assess and release.

Lined up as left end, Elvis Dumervil hesitates and waits to see if he needs to cover anyone out of the backfield, drawing no real attention. Once right tackle Ryan Diem sees Dumervil is staying, he shifts inside to help Kyle DeVan and they cancel out right defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday.

D.J. Williams blitzes from right linebacker and is handled by center Jeff Saturday.

Lined up as left linebacker, Wesley Woodyard crosses the path Williams took and tries to get to Manning by squeezing between Saturday and left guard Ryan Lilja. Addai picks him up and Clark is nearby in case he’s needed, which he isn’t because the ball is out by the time Ayers recovers from Addai’s initial stop.

Right end Robert Ayers comes out of his stance, waits for Clark or Addai to emerge from the backfield. When neither comes he waits and then tries to chase the play. Left tackle Charlie Johnson realizes he doesn’t need to get Ayers, so he looks to help Lilja who’s already doing just fine against right defensive tackle Darrell Reid.

Collie is looking inside as the snaps comes, gestures inside with his shoulders and hands, then beats Smith off the line to the outside. As he gets downfield, he leans inside selling a curl and buying himself the space he wants before breaking off his route at about the 34 and turning back outside to face Manning’s pass while standing on the “3” of the “30” on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. Smith slips off him and is face down as Collie cuts outside where Wayne is blocking Bailey. Safety Brian Dawkins arrives to make the tackle after a 23-yard gain.

Result: The Colts eat 7:19 on the drive, ending it with Clark’s third touchdown catch that puts them ahead 28-16 with only 2:25 remaining for Denver.

Ultimate outcome: Denver moves just eight yards in four plays, giving the ball back with 1:51 remaining in the game. Manning kneels three times to run out the clock and seal up the Colts’ 13th win.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Mike Silver's annual ultimate mock draft allows teams to pick anybody.

Houston Texans

  • The top two running backs in the draft are hardly flawless, writes McClain.
  • A look at a local: John McClain on Brandon Pettigrew.
  • The case for Matthew Stafford as the No. 1 pick, from McClain.
  • Teams get drug test results from the combine Monday, says McClain.
  • Natalie Meisler looks at Gary Kubiak's participation at a clinic at Colorado State, where two of his sons play. (Thanks for Alan Burge for pointing out the link.)
  • Alan Burge doesn't want to hear pleas for patience from the Texans' defense.
  • What tender did Owen Daniels get? Burge ponders conflicting reports.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

Stuff a mock in it

March, 12, 2009
3/12/09
1:51
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Opened my mailbox Wednesday (the kind outside at the end of a driveway), found Albert Pujols on the cover of Sports Illustrated, flipped inside to Jim Trotter's mid-March mock draft, scanned it, and immediately had this thought:

That's a nightmare scenario for the Jaguars.

In Trotter's draft, the top two offensive tackles, the top two receivers and the top defensive tackle are all gone before the Jaguars come around at No. 8. He's got them taking Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, a player I'm hearing has sinking stock.

I'll bet the Jaguars are hoping things don't pan out like this projection.

Onward...

Here's a mock-by-mock roundup of the AFC South, with some thoughts splashed in.

The mockers in addition to Trotter: Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, Don Banks, Rob Rang, Chad Reuter, Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwan of NFL.com.

Jacksonville, No. 8

Kiper: Quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC
McShay: Receiver, Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
Trotter: Jenkins
Banks: Quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC
Rang: Quarterback Josh Freeman, Kansas State
Reuter: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, Mississippi
Prisco: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, Georgia
Kirwan: Sanchez

My thoughts: There are two ways to view a quarterback pick here (and I think Freeman would be a stretch) considering the Jaguars are just a year removed from a big contract for David Garrard. It's a smart move for new GM Gene Smith, who was not the decision-maker when that deal was made, if he's not sold on Garrard. Or it's a major white flag for an organization that was sure it had a long-term guy less than 12 months ago. Prisco's got as good a read on the Jags as anyone, so put stock in his thinking here. But boy they have other spots in which they need help. I don't think Crabtree will be there at No. 8, but he'd be hard to resist no matter who the QB is.

Houston, No. 15

Kiper: Outside linebacker Brian Cushing, USC
McShay: Defensive end Robert Ayers, Tennessee
Trotter: Cornerback Vontae Davis, Illinois
Banks: Linebacker Clay Mathews, USC
Rang: Running back Chris Wells, Ohio State
Reuter: Matthews
Prisco: Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland
Kirwan: Wells

My thoughts: Hearing more and more linebacker talk, and if Cushing or Matthews is judged the value, I'd have no beef. I think it's got to be a defender. But if Heyward-Bey is what he appeared to be at the combine, I'd ask the same question Prisco does -- could you imagine him paired with Andre Johnson?

Indianapolis, No. 27

Kiper: Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, Mississippi
McShay: Defensive tackle Evander Hood, Missouri
Trotter: Linebacker James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
Banks: Laurinaitis
Rang: Hood
Reuter: Jerry
Prisco: Hood
Kirwan: Laurinaitis

My thoughts: It's easy to give the Colts the best defensive tackle or outside linebacker left here. But I think they will have more good options to choose from at wide receiver and won't be surprised by virtually anything considering how Bill Polian goes with best player available regardless of need.

Tennessee, No. 30

Kiper: Defensive end Everette Brown, Florida State
McShay: Receiver Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
Trotter: Defensive end Tyson Jackson, LSU
Banks: Ayers
Rang: Cornerback Darius Butler, Connecticut:
Reuter: Butler
Prisco: Laurinaitis
Kirwan: Ayers

My thoughts: Right now, cornerback is the biggest need, but one signing and the Titans won't be desperate for anything. Still, they don't value middle linebackers like a lot of other teams, so I just don't see Laurinaitis. And while they could go Ayers, Brown or Jackson if he's the best on their board, they have a pretty deep pool of defensive ends. The guy who slips and everyone wonders how he's still there, that's who I think they'll take.

Talk the mock, walk the mock

February, 28, 2009
2/28/09
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

New mock drafts are in from Todd McShay, Rob Rang, CollegeFootballNews.com and Steve Silverman.

A brief break from free agency for a scan of the selections:

Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 8

McShay: Receiver Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
Rang: Tackle Michael Oher, Mississippi
CFN: Oher
Silverman: Oher

Houston Texans, No. 15

McShay: Quarterback Matt Sanchez, USC
Rang: Defensive end Brian Orakpo, Texas
CFN: Defensive end Tyson Jackson, LSU
Silverman: Cornerback Vontae Davis, Illinois

Indianapolis Colts, No. 27

McShay: Receiver Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
Rang: Defensive tackle Evander Hood, Missouri
CFN: Nicks
Silverman: Cornerback D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt

Tennessee Titans, No. 30

McShay: Defensive end Robert Ayers, Tennessee
Rang: Defensive end Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
CFN: Davis
Silverman: Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, Mississippi

Mock talk, Jayhawk

February, 25, 2009
2/25/09
2:35
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Plenty of mock drafters are still sifting through what they learned and heard at the scouting combine. But I found four updated mocks on Wednesday that are sure to stir some conversations, so I'll dive right in.

Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 8

Charles Davis, NFL.com: Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State
Pat Kirwan, NFL.com: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, Georgia
Chad Reuter, NFLDraftScout.com: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, Mississippi
Don Banks, SI.com: Quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC

My thoughts: Only Reuter has a chance at a bull's-eye here. If the Jaguars stay at eight, I find it hard to believe they would go for a quarterback or running back. They are not unsatisfied with David Garrard, they think he needs better protection and more threatening weapons. And they are ready to hand more work to Maurice Jones-Drew with help from Greg Jones -- guys who also need better offensive line play. But maybe I am too focused on need.

Houston Texans, No. 15

Davis: Quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC
Kirwan: Defensive end Tyson Jackson, LSU
Reuter: Outside linebacker Brian Cushing, USC
Banks: Jackson

My thoughts: Jackson is a case of matching need with availability. Seems possible, though I didn't sense any buzz about him in Indianapolis. Cushing would be tempting depending on who's available. Sanchez? Maybe he'd be judged a value here, but replacing Sage Rosenfels is hardly one of the team's priorities considering their issues on defense, particularly on the line and in the backfield.

Indianapolis Colts, No. 27

Davis: Wide receiver Percy Harvin, Florida
Kirwan: Linebacker James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
Reuter: Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, Mississippi
Banks: Linebacker Clay Matthews, USC

My thoughts: I've written about why Harvin doesn't look like a match -- they need a guy who can run precise routes and that's not what he was asked to do at Florida. Laurinaitis or Matthews could arrive in a best-player available scenario. Jerry fits, but watch him rise in the coming weeks. I think he will be gone well before this pick.

Tennessee Titans, No. 30

Davis: Wide receiver Kenny Britt, Rutgers
Kirwan: Defensive end Robert Ayers, Tennessee
Reuter: Cornerback Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
Banks: Ayers

My thoughts: I think it's a mistake to automatically funnel defensive linemen to the Titans. Even if Albert Haynesworth is gone, the team drafted tackle Jason Jones and end William Hayes last season. If the Titans break with tradition and take a wideout in the first, Britt could be the guy. Smith is intriguing too -- they are likely a year away from needing a replacement for Nick Harper and are hardly shy about drafting corners.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Three of our four teams are receiver needy, so I took note of Mark Maske's blog entry on receiver speed.

Houston Texans

A look at a local: Texans defensive end Brian Orakpo.

Indianapolis Colts

Jeff Saturday is disappointed in the Colts offer and thinks he will do better elsewhere. Mike Chappell talked to him.

The Indy Star sorts through several reports, the gist of which are that Marvin Harrison won't take a pay cut and wants to be released.

Notes out of Bill Polian's chat at the combine from Mike Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars and Maurice Jones-Drew are working on a deal that would pay him along the lines of Steven Jackson.

At look at a local: Tennessee State offensive lineman Cornelius Lewis.

Tennessee Titans

Another day, another Titans free agent who says he plans to explore the market. This time it's Chris Carr, with details from Jim Wyatt.

A look at a local: Vanderbilt corner D.J. Moore.

A look at a local: Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers.

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