AFC South: roy Hall
Cornerback Dante Hughes and offensive lineman Steve Justice are among the first three cuts for the Colts, according to Mike Chappell.
Hughes was a third-rounder in 2007, a class of nine that has not proven to be Bill Poilian’s best.
- First-rounder Anthony Gonzalez is in line as the second wide receiver and has been very good in his first two years.
- Second-round left tackle Tony Ugoh has been demoted to backup status though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets the starting left tackle job back.
- Hughes played in 24 games in two seasons.
- The other third-rounder, defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, retired before training camp of his second season.
- Fourth-round defensive Brannon Condren played in eight games as a rookie, was elsewhere in 2008, re-signed in 2009 but was cut in late July.
- Fourth-round linebacker Clint Session is in line to start and looks like he will be a good player.
- Fifth-round receiver Roy Hall played in seven games in two seasons and was waived injured on Aug. 13. He is now on IR.
- Fifth-round defensive back Michael Coe played in six games and was recently cut.
- Seventh-round defensive end Keyunta Dawson was eventually moved to tackle, where he started 14 games last year. He now ranks as a backup end. I think they like him, but don't know if he's a lock for the final 53.
A draft class of nine players produced a crop that now includes two starters and two backups. Granted, Pitcock was a bad-luck development for the team and a good club isn't necessarily going to have room for late rounders.
Still, the way the Colts operate, I feel as if a group in its third year should be nearing its peak and contributing and producing more than that.
Do you agree?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's been a gorgeous day in Indy and the Colts-Vikings game will unfold beneath an open roof and window at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Three pregame thoughts/questions:
1) Sage Rosenfels is starting for the Vikings against a team that is not playing any of its starting secondary. On the one hand, Minnesota fans should feel confident the candidate for the starting job will be able to complete some passes. On the other hand, take a look at the picture atop this post from last October and revisit, if you will, a game famous for the "Rosencopter fumble" in an appearance against the Colts.
While we are touching on the Indianapolis secondary, let's take note of where cornerback Dante Hughes lines up. Is he second team (and thus starting)? Third? I don't get the sense the team is big on him right now, but what does playing a lot in a Colts' preseason game mean for a non-starter? That they like you? That they don't? That they need film to decide? It's harder to tell with them than with a lot of other teams.
2) Roy Hall is already gone, and I think Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie are both in line for roles as contributors at third receiver. Here we get our first game-pressure looks at them with big expectations. Peyton Manning won't play long and Anthony Gonzalez won't play at all. We shouldn't read much into it if Manning throws to one a bunch and the other not at all or hardly to either or a lot to each. But provided he aims for them a couple of times, do they look poised and comfortable and is it clear they are getting to their spots or are there hints of any hesitation?
3) Is there a discernable difference on special teams? I had a chance to talk with new coach Ray Rychleski, a very interesting guy with great passion for his job. Will we be able to see a difference in his charges? And how does rookie Pat McAfee fare punting and holding for Shane Andrus, who's keeping Adam Vinatieri's seat warm?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
- Rashad Butler provides security at offensive tackle, says Jordan Godwin.
- Dan Orlovsky is slated to play the second and third quarters against the Chiefs, says John McClain.
- With Brian Cushing out, Connor Barwin and Antoine Caldwell will get more of the rookie spotlight, says Dale Robertson.
- Richard Justice thinks camp should be easier and points out that at least Dunta Robinson can't get hurt.
- A breakdown of five more Texans from Lance Zierlein.
- Gary Kubiak likes the progress of Rex Grossman, says Alan Burge.
- Kubiak says Boomer Grigsby suits what the Texans do.
- Rookie punter Pat McAfee is preparing for work as a holder, a job that's taken for granted until it doesn't go well, writes Mike Chappell.
- The Colts ran out of patience with Roy Hall. Here's Chappell on roster moves.
- The offensive line wants to see progress in the preseason opener, says John Oehser.
- Five things to watch in Colts-Vikings on offense and on defense, from Oehser.
- Jim Caldwell expects some butterflies before he walks the sidelines as an NFL head coach for the first time, says Tom James.
- Linebacker Russell Allen has a chance to make the roster, says Vito Stellino.
- The Jaguars are sponsoring a photo contest in conjuction with their "Support the movement" theme.
- Kevin Dyson encouraged Kenny Britt to study receivers of the same build, writes Gary Estwick.
- Vince Young says he isn't worried about potential boo-birds at LP Field, write Jim Wyatt and Estwick.
- Keith Bulluck passed on a day off, says Jim Wyatt.
- A Thursday practice report from Wyatt.
- A check-in on Kevin Mawae from Terry McCormick.
- A convicted felon accused of selling the gun used to kill ex-NFL quarterback Steve McNair has been indicted on a firearm charge.
- If you're interested in how Jim Schwartz is doing in Detroit, here's a look from Matt Crossman.
Preseason depth charts don't often mean much. Most of the time they honor seniority and incumbents. But teams are obligated to put one out in advance of their preseason debut.
The Colts just sent out their press release in advance of Friday night's preseason debut against Minnesota, and one piece of the depth chart jumps out.
In his chat with the local media, Jim Caldwell confirmed Johnson is the starter.
"That's where we had slated for him to play, at left tackle, and he obviously is a guy that's played a number of different positions for us, but that's a key spot," Caldwell said. "What we'll probably do is have Tony actually bounce back and forth to both spots, maybe put him over at the right by Ryan Diem, behind Ryan Diem. He'll also get a little work at left as well ..."
"It was something we had, we were slated to do at the onset. Charlie got hurt, but we'll let the two of those guys battle it out and see how they do. Tony is not out of it by any stretch of the imagination. He's still got a chance to keep battling, and just like anything else, we're expecting him to take a step forward and play well."
I did a giant column on Ugoh not long ago. As much as the Colts defended him, Ugoh would not be in this competitive of a situation if they were happy with his work.
Said Johnson: "I just go where I am told. It's been this way for four years now. I come back they say, 'Go play here.' And I just go play."
Asked if left tackle was a step up, he said: "If it is, I've played there before, played some games there and I'm comfortable. But I'll go play and play to the best of my abilities."
Other depth chart notes of note:
- Pierre Garcon is listed as second behind Reggie Wayne, ahead of Roy Hall and Austin Collie.
- Antonio Johnson is listed as the left defensive tackle, beside Ed Johnson, with Dan Muir and rookie Fili Moala in the second spots behind them.
- With Bob Sanders and Adam Vinatieri on PUP, Melvin Bullitt and rookie Shane Andrus are listed as the starting strong safety and placekicker, respectively.
|Bill Baptist/Getty Images|
|A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.|
Training camp site: Houston, Texas
Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.
Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson
Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.
Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.
Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.
The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.
Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.
Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.
Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.
|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
|Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.|
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.
Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.
The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.
Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.
With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.
Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.
It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.
Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.
The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
I'll be at another Titans OTA practice Wednesday, then running home to see if the U.S. can give us a respectable showing against Spain.
- Once upon a time, James Casey was destined to be a baseball player, writes Richard Justice.
- Duane Brown is a Texans' building block.
- Lance Zierlein works the numbers and predicts "Madden NFL 10" ratings for some Texans. (ESPN.com will reveal AFC South Madden ratings from July 13-16.)
- This is old and I should have linked to it earlier. Apologies. Still relevant, however. Kimberly Morrison looks at the Jaguars' ticket sales situation.
- Fernando Bryant, picked 23rd overall by the Jaguars in 1999, is retiring. He played his first five years in Jacksonville.
- Mike Heimerdinger says he has no feel for Kenny Britt, who hasn't been able to participate enough in practices. David Climer's column is here.
- The Titans signed draft picks Jason McCourty and Ryan Durand.
- Sen'Derrick Marks is trying to fit in, say Wyatt and Gary Estwick in The Tennessean's notebook.
- Paul Williams and Britt suffered leg injuries during an OTA session, says Terry McCormick.
- In addition to divorcing LenDale White, Chris Johnson is seeking celebration suggestions, McCormick says.
- Wyatt blogs his practice observations.
- Steve McNair has opened a Nashville restaurant, writes Andy Humbles.
- Three pieces of an Ernest Byner interview on 104.5 The Zone: On White's progress, on White's weight and on Javon Ringer and Rafael Little.
Bert in Danville wants to know who I see as the Colts third wide receiver and if I think they might get one in free agency.
Paul Kuharsky: There are no free agent wide receivers that would be especially attractive, and the Colts don't usually go that direction. They expect a solid third guy to emerge from Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hal.
Here is something I wrote in them during the recent minicamp:
Kingpin in Grinnell, IA writes: Paul - I know you've been visiting/covering other teams lately, but any word who might be returning kicks and punts for the Titans this year?
Paul Kuharsky: They are a long way from replacing Chris Carr. They'll be looking at a lot of people for a good while before deciding. Mark Jones probably gets best chance, but he's got to be able to play some WR too. Rafael Little could be interesting on kickoffs if he makes the team.
Ted LaDue in St. Augustine, FL writes: Hi Paul. You seem almost apologetic about having little to report on the Jags for the last several days. This time of year I think that is a good thing. My wife's birthday was a few days ago. I went to one of the local college/pro sports wear stores to purchase the new styled Jags Jersey for her. As you might imagine, the selection was very limited. Uniform design changes cost those places a lot of money. I was talking with the manager of the store about the Jags. He was dropping a few names and talking about how good things look. My reply was that the Jags are one big question mark, but I am really looking forward to the season because of that. He replied that he didn't really agree with me, and he thought the Jags were going to be much much better than last year. He seemed a bit irritated. I took another angle. I told him that I'm not a guy that would show up at a game wearing my Leftwich or Taylor in Teal Jersey, but I would wear my Mercedes Lewis in White even though it is the old style jersey. Bearing in mind that I am a thrifty individual, and what we know about the Jags today, who's jersey would you pick other than MJD, or Monroe? Based on what we know right now, who's jersey can I purchase that can most likely be worn during the 2010 campaign? He couldn't give me an answer and went back to dropping more names. Like I said, we have a lot of question marks. Can David Garrard bounce back, and can he learn to throw the deep pass? Can Drew carry the load? Henderson? Will Meester hold up for more than 1 season? Will Manawaui be effective in his key run blocking duties following his knee injury? Nelson has to have a good season. Mercedes Lewis has to have a good season. Why is Williamson still on the team? Will our 2nd year D ends develop or will they bust? Is this Cox kid going to be any good with the pads on?
Paul Kuharsky: Interesting stuff on your conversation with the store manager.
Good questions too, all to be answered.
I can say this about Williamson:
If he wasn't an attitude problem, why cut him early instead of late? You haven't paid him anything in 2009 yet. What if none of the draft picks do anything in camp or Holt falls down the stairs between now and the end of the preseason?
Why not keep options open and give the guy a continued chance? Don't cut for cutting's sake. Cut because you don't want a guy, don't need a guy, really don't like a guy or can't fit a guy.
Jon in Silver Spring, MD writes: Good god almighty! The Texans actually SIGNED Sexy Rexy? what the hell?! *slaps forehead*they are morons.
Paul Kuharsky: Easy killer. Rex Grossman's not starting. He's not even in line to back up. You can do a lot worse at third if you are looking to be three deep. I don't love him at all. I have no problem with him at that position on a depth chart, though.
Adam in El Paso writes: Hi Paul, I am a avid jaguars fan and enjoy reading your coverage on the jags (and AFC south in general). I was wondering what your take is on the recent rift that has developed between Jack Del Rio and John Henderson. Do you believe this will effect Henderson's playing time on the field? If it continues will he be traded/released? How would this affect the team in general? Thanks in advance for answering!
Paul Kuharsky: Henderson is not getting traded or released. Release him, and teams are lining up to sign a guy with that size. If he's then determined to show you what a mistake you made, you look horrible. They need him to play and play well. They are trying to light a fire however they have to, which is fine with me.
Ryan M. in Tullahoma, TN writes: Hey Paul, All this concern over teams possibly getting sponsor patches on their jerseys seems like nothing new to me...The Titans have a patch from Baptist Sports Medicine on theirs, and have had it for as long as I can remember...see here: http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/04bu3Wp7iR5al/610x.jpg
So, did the Titans get away with it simply because the practice at Baptist Sports Park?? or am I right to think that this is not a new concept? Thanks Paul, love the blog, I check it everyday. Ryan
Paul Kuharsky: Thanks, Ryan, I appreciate the loyalty.
It's not a big deal, I agree. Titans have worn them for a long time. There may be a new rule allowing it, but there was never a rule disallowing it either.
Michael in California writes: Afternoon Paul, First off, I wanted to say I thoroughly enjoy your blog. I'm a huge Steelers fan, so the AFC North is where I go to first, but of all the division writers you are my favorite. Now that that's done my question. Do you think Jeff Fisher even wanted Vince Young when the Titans drafted him? I've never felt that he was the style of quarterback Fisher desired. In hindsight, which is 20/20, it seems they would have been better off taking D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Just wondering if you had any insight. Thank you for your time, and all the best. Michael Elliott
Paul Kuharsky: In hindsight, I certainly they wish they'd taken Cutler. They couldn't have not taken one of the quarterbacks when they were needy at the position.
I don't think Young was Fisher's first choice. I think he would have preferred Leinart (who his Norm Chow also wanted).
But I do believe Fisher thought all three QBs were going to be good and that any of the three would be a long-time solution for him.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The offensive and defensive lines need some sorting out, but the most intriguing competition for a prominent role with the 2009 Indianapolis Colts might be for the No. 3 wide receiver slot.
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|Pierre Garcon is one candidate for the Colts' No. 3 receiver spot.|
"I've been throwing with them a lot during this offseason," Peyton Manning said. "I try to take them all individually and work with them one-on-one. Sometimes, I think you get out there in a big group session and you throw one route to Pierre and one route to Austin, you get pretty good at a bunch of them instead of trying to master all of the routes. We do these private sessions in the morning. We started it a couple of years ago. I think it really does make a difference. I get really comfortable with the timing on all of them.
"Pierre can really run. He's made big strides since last year. He's made some tough catches so far in the OTAs. Collie is a guy, it's still early, and you're kind of evaluating him and getting a feel for him, but you can tell he knows how to catch the ball. He's caught so many balls in practice. You have Roy Hall who's competing in there, Sam Giguere, who's injured right now, who was making some strides. It's going to be good, healthy competition. I think Taj [Smith] is in there. Competition will be a good thing all the way leading up to the first game of the regular season."
Manning had more to say there about Garcon and Collie than Hall, and the buzz among people who cover the team on a daily basis is that it follows a trend. Generally, players and coaches don't talk about Hall unless specifically asked about him. Maybe we over interpret, but that would seem to suggest he's not at the front of the group.
Garcon catches the ball very well, Hall is the biggest receiver at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. Collie seems to be a crafty player -- he's drawn a lot of comparisons to Brandon Stokley.
"Everybody knows the playbook, you've just got to step out and do something great," Garcon said.
Team president Bill Polian said he's confident one from the group will emerge and be the clear-cut No. 3. He doesn't expect any sort of committee, but he doesn't expect a verdict before the team is well into training camp, either.
Reggie Wayne, who trains in Miami and only has been around for a few days, said he doesn't know much about Collie yet. But Garcon and Hall have been asking him a lot of questions and leaning on him as the team looks to sort out the position beyond Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez in the post-Marvin Harrison era.
"We've got something in store for you, you are going to see," Wayne said. "As a receiving corps, I think we are going to surprise a lot of people."
FRANKLIN, Ind. -- Some observations and thoughts from Saturday afternoon's public minicamp practice at Franklin College's Faught Stadium:
Outreach: Bill Polian spoke to the crowd before things started and told those in attendance that owner Jim Irsay had charged the team to create more outreach and more interaction with fans, which was the impetus for a practice like this one.
Boomer: New special teams coach Ray Rychleski has a booming voice that carries. He's got some enthusiasm for sure and offered critiques and compliments with equal fervor. Rookie punter Pat McAfee bombed a couple, but was inconsistent.
Stumble: Tyjuan Hagler provided some comic relief, tripping over his own feet during a linebacker drill where players zigzagged in a back pedal before breaking on a ball.
Third wide: I tried to read into how the receivers deployed, but there is no telling at this stage how the candidates for the No. 3 job -- Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall -- stack up. My eye -- which has no experience training receivers, just lots watching them -- puts them in that order right now.
It got even harder to gauge Garcon against Collie when Anthony Gonzalez dropped out, seemingly with a right thigh issue. Those two worked in three-wide with Reggie Wayne. That might tell us something about Hall, though.
Clyde Christensen is working as the offensive coordinator now, but is still with the receivers as their position coach. The Colts are creative in some of the drills they use when the wideouts work alone. I don't recall seeing other teams, for example, run short stuff where they cut behind a blocking bag that interrupts their view as they angle back to collect a pass. But it seems a smart way to recreate some real-world experience in this sort of mild setting. I saw Collie, Hall and Taj Smith drop short passes in that segment.
Details: While special teams work went on at one point, quarterbacks worked alone. Peyton Manning lined up in the spot where he imagined a defender would be on a specific play and looked to offer detailed commentary/advice/coaching to Curtis Painter before he took a few drops envisioning the full 11 that could be opposite him.
Protection: The first offensive line that worked in front of Manning in a team drill was, left to right: Tony Ugoh, Jamey Richard, Jeff Saturday, Dan Federkeil and Ryan Diem. (Charlie Johnson and Mike Pollak didn't work and Ryan Lilja didn't work that deep into the session.)
Scrambled backers: I tried to look at linebackers the same way, but it seemed like there was a lot of mix and match going on. One early group had Jordan Senn and Philip Wheeler bracketing Adam Seward. Of all the things not to read much into -- which is virtually everything here -- I'd rank this first.
Coming back: Watched Lilja, who's coming off a season lost to a knee injury, a little bit. He wore sleeves on both knees and seemed comfortable firing off the line and cutting down a blocking bag/tackling dummy as the O-line concentrated on some individual technique.
Off day: Among those who sat out at spots other than the O-line: Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, defensive end Dwight Freeney, cornerback Marlin Jackson, safety Bob Sanders and linebacker Gary Brackett.
Catches: In work with just quarterbacks and wide receivers, Gonzalez ran on to a nice line drive post from Manning, stopping it with one hand and then catching up to it as he accelerated. In the same period, Austin went to the ground to collect a pass from Chris Crane.
The break-up: Third-round cornerback Jerraud Powers made what I thought was the standout defensive play of the afternoon. In the team period, matched up with Wayne and with Manning, Powers broke well on mid-range pass to the left side, got a hand in front of Wayne and broke it up.
When I talked to Anthony Gonzalez recently for a blog column on the Colts' No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone, I had a chance to ask Gonzalez about the two prime veteran candidates for the Colts No. 3 receiver job, Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon.
Gonzalez and Hall go way back as they played at Ohio State together and were both drafted by the Colts in 2007, Gonzalez in the first round, Hall in the fifth.
Gonzalez is a focus-on-myself guy who didn't want to say too much, but still I think his answer illustrates that the two receivers are trying to crank it up for a training camp battle that will also include fourth-round pick Austin Collie from BYU.
"I'll say this: they are both noticeably working harder, I think. They both see big opportunities coming, for all of us really. It's going to be different without Marvin for all of us really, with what he meant to the Colts for so long. I think those guys are working hard and doing what they can do to lock up that third or fourth spot."
Hall's been hurt a lot, and I wonder if there is a clock ticking for him.
|Thomas E. Witte/Getty Images|
|The Colts seemingly showed faith in Anthony Gonzalez by not taking a receiver in the first three rounds of last weekend's draft.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Anthony Gonzalez is typecast.
As I considered the possibility of the Indianapolis Colts using the 27th pick in the draft on a receiver, I kept hearing the same thing about Gonzalez: He's a nice slot guy for Peyton Manning; the Colts showed a willingness to draft a player for a narrow role when they took him out of Ohio State with their 2007 first-round pick, 32nd overall.
The Colts, I knew, viewed Gonzalez differently than many others in the league. After all, they have tight end Dallas Clark working out of the slot in a lot of formations and last year they threw a wrinkle at defenses where Wayne lined up in the slot with Gonzalez outside.
"I've never thought of myself as a slot or an outside guy necessarily. I think of myself as a receiver," Gonzalez said in a phone interview this week. "For example, the drills I do, the routes I run, the fundamentals are the same whether you are inside or outside, so they are all geared toward being a complete receiver. Now there are some different challenges as to how a defense plays a guy on the inside and what he's looking at as opposed to when he's outside.
"This is a guess, but I would say if you looked at all my snaps that I've had with the Colts since I've been here, I'd bet that I've had more snaps outside than inside."
Not only did the Colts not use their top pick on another receiver, they didn't address the position until the fourth round, when they took BYU's Austin Collie, a player who's compared by some to the slot receiver Gonzalez was drafted to help replace, Brandon Stokley. The Colts may see him as more, but Mel Kiper Jr. was hardly alone when he wrote that Collie won't be too much of a vertical threat against NFL corners but could be good as a "possession type, underneath receiver."
Wayne and Gonzalez now head a corps that also includes Roy Hall, Pierre Garcon and Collie. With Harrison gone and Jim Caldwell taking over for Tony Dungy as coach, Wayne is No. 1, Gonzalez should be No. 2 and Clark will continue to be a primary target. Forecasting how the others receivers will be deployed is a guessing game.
Coming from some, the "slot guy" label suggests restricted skills. Gonzalez may still be accurately described as crafty, quick and shifty. But those are qualities he can -- and has -- just as easily put to use outside.
His numbers don't look particularly slot-like. Consider that in two years of working mostly in the slot in New England, Wes Welker has averaged 10.5 yards a catch while Gonzalez's average in the same period was 13.2 yards.
One AFC personnel man said he still envisions Gonzalez as best used when shifted inside in three-wide formations. The inexperienced Hall, Garcon and even Collie will have an easier time breaking out on the perimeter, while Gonzalez can be at his best in the middle of the field handling more blitz-related responsibilities.
"I think of Gonzalez as a slot guy, because that's kind of the reason that they took him," he said. "I think they took him to be primarily their slot guy. ... He is a heck of a receiver. He's super quick, he can catch the ball, he can run after the catch, he's a tough kid, he has all those attributes. He can be a No. 2 and he is going to be a No. 2 and I think he's going to be a pretty good one. I think ideally his skills are suited to play in the slot."
|Ron Schwane/US PRESSWIRE|
|As a senior, Anthony Gonzalez was used primarily in the slot at Ohio State.|
As a senior at Ohio State, Gonzalez said he pressed the coaches to give him more work outside, for variety if nothing else. But the reality was the Buckeyes had quality receivers like Ted Ginn Jr. and Brian Robiskie to split out, and the experienced Gonzalez was told he was the most trustworthy at picking up on blitz situations.
As he and his staff studied the 2007 draft class, Colts president Bill Polian saw Gonzalez as an excellent fit.
"This guy's a Colt," Polian said after drafting him. "He's got the horseshoe stamped all over him from the minute that you saw him."
With the Colts there is not much difference between lining up inside or out, according to Gonzalez. Outside he's reading three defenders -- the cornerback, the safety to his side and the closest linebacker. Inside, he looks largely at the same three guys from a different perspective. But based on the protection he knows who's accounted for and who isn't. Most of the time he turns into a hot receiver for Manning when one of those three opponents blitzes, he said, but sometimes it's any of two or three that can prompt him to break off his route to be ready for an extra quick delivery.
Gonzalez has no interest in talking about the strengths and weaknesses of his game -- he's only half joking when he calls them trade secrets. But his offseason work is all designed to address the weaknesses and he said he has great faith in his plan.
Odds are as the post-Harrison Colts get started, Gonzalez is going to be a super-popular pick as a breakout guy.
"I really like the kid," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Very smart. Excellent work ethic. Much faster and quicker out of his breaks than many tend to realize. Soft hands. Should be an ideal guy with Manning, as he will study defenses and work real hard to get open, find the soft spots in zones and present a good target for Manning to hit. Also very competitive with the ball in his hands after the catch.
"He isn't weak, but he also isn't an overpowering physical player by any means. Better when he doesn't have to fight off a jam and might still project best to the slot. However, I expect that to change going forward and I see him as a very productive player going forward. Should have a huge year."
Two years of work with Manning have Gonzalez feeling comfortable, but he referred questions about their chemistry to the quarterback. (Stars of Manning's stature are not readily available and I was unable to attend his round of golf with Tiger Woods Wednesday -- I'll have to check in on that at minicamp in early June.)
|The chemistry Manning and Gonzalez have developed over the past two seasons will be vital as the team enters the post-Marvin Harrison era.|
"Are we at the point that him and Marvin were at their peak? Absolutely not," Gonzalez said. "You're talking about the No. 1 quarterback-receiver tandem in the history of the game. Are we there? No sir. But it's one of those things where there is no substitute for experience, so the more game situations and practice situations we can get into, it'll benefit our chemistry."
Out wide, Gonzalez is not lacking, the personnel man said. It's just that his best qualities serve him best inside.
"Because of his quickness and his ability to change directions, it's a matchup deal and he gets much more favorable matchups when you move him into the slot," the personnel man said. "When you're playing with two receivers, he's with Wayne. When you bring in your third, then ideally you take Gonzalez from outside to inside to have more favorable matchups. Then you bring your third in and let him play outside."
Gonzalez said he doesn't know the team's early plan for how he or the other receivers will be used. Harrison regularly lined up on the right. Without him, the Colts may move people around more to be unpredictable and search for the most favorable matchups.
Gonzalez has no prediction or expectation.
"I don't really know what to expect," he said. "I don't anticipate being handed anything, I will tell you that. I'm going into minicamp and training camp with the idea that I've got a lot to prove and I've got to earn whatever reps, snaps, throws I get."
Jon in silver spring writes: Paul, love the blog...have a question about the Texans draft needs. Im an old school Houston guy, and have been watching this team since they been in existence and one MAJOR aspect thats lacking is secondary...yet all i hear is them picking another LB or DL...when Malcolm Jenkins is out there, the guy from Mizzou is out there...what gives? Thanks.
Paul Kuharsky: I think it's that the linebackers are perceived to be more worth the 15th pick than the corners -- this corner class is getting middling reviews. I agree it's a need, especially when there is no guarantee of Dunta Robinson beyond this year. And they could well take a corner at No. 15. Really, it's too bad there is no first-round caliber safety. That would be a real solution, but this draft doesn't appear to have one. "The guy from Mizzou," I presume, is safety William Moore. He's rated as a second- or third-rounder and they could go for him there.
Chris Kirk from parts unknown writes: I've been waiting to see what you had to say about Rhodes leaving for Buffalo but I decided to go ahead and e-mail you for your thoughts. This move has to move Running Back up on the list of the Colts priorities to address in the draft right? I'm as big an Addai-hater as you'll find among Colts fans so I've been hoping for them to address that position anyway. That being said I could have seen Polian standing pat(no matter how much I disagree) since between Rhodes, Addai, and Ball/Simpson we would have had a nice mix of youth and vets in our Running Back corps. Looking back at most of the Addai apologists from your column about replacing a Colt a lot of them brought up Rhodes potential presence in a two-back system as a reason to expect better production from Addai. With Rhodes gone our already anemic run game just went on life support leaving us with one barely proven runner. With a number of mock drafts having Wells and /or Moreno available at twenty-seven and two Receivers already on the roster good enough to start for most teams how can the Colts possibly put Receiver as a higher priority than Running Back?
Paul Kuharsky: I don't think they are crestfallen that Rhodes is off the market, but I think they would have loved to have retained the option of coming back to him after the draft as a low cost guy for sure. This is one of the toughest questions of the offseason -- how much was Joseph Addai responsible for the Colts' run struggles, how much was on the line and how much was it that both were banged up?
I think a third receiver still ranks as at least as big of a need as a second running back, if they still see Addai as the lead guy -- and I expect they do. Look at it this way -- in which situation would you be more confident:
A) Addai goes down and they have to make do with Mike Hart, Lance Ball, Chad Simpson, mid- to low-draft pick or undrafted rookie.
B) Reggie Wayne or Anthony Gonzalez goes down and they have to rely on Roy Hall, Pierre Garcon, mid- to low- draft pick or undrafted rookie.
I think they survive A better than B, which leads me to conclude they spend a value pick on a receiver over a back. Also I think this is a much better draft for receivers than backs and there will be more attractive wideouts at 27 than runnning backs..
Hey, we could see receiver and running back as two of the first three. Bill Polian may think he can fix defensive tackle and linebacker with less than premium picks.
The first wave of free agency has come and gone. While Round 2 hasn't played out yet -- the draft is still six weeks away and offseason programs are in the offing -- the AFC South blog pauses to assess our four teams.
What's the overriding issue that remains to be addressed for each team? How might the franchises take them on?
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images|
|Defensive end Antonio Smith gives the Texans some help on their defensive line.|
The team's 2006 draft was the last with Charley Casserly as GM and coach Gary Kubiak signed off on all seven picks. Three of them -- Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels -- already have been to the Pro Bowl, and a fourth -- Eric Winston -- is a very solid starter.
If the Texans can come close to matching that with a defense-heavy draft, they could position themselves to challenge Tennessee and Indianapolis atop the division.
They need an infusion of defensive playmakers for new coordinator Frank Bush to work with: A sturdy linebacker, a stout defensive tackle, a safety or corner to challenge for a big role.
Never mind their standing as the league's 22nd-ranked defense in 2008. If the Texans can improve in scoring defense (24.6 points, 27th) and third-down defense (39.4 percent, 16th), that can make a huge difference. Defensive stinginess would help a team that's got an offensive head coach in Kubiak and an attack that should be able to score with a quality skill trio of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton.
They believe they answered the question at defensive end by signing free agent Antonio Smith to play opposite Williams. But more additions to the front seven are needed, as they have to produce more pressure on quarterbacks. Only five teams had fewer than the Texans' 25 sacks last year, 12 of which came from Williams. Each of the 12 playoff teams last season recorded more sacks than it allowed. Houston was minus-seven.
Above all else, the pass rush needs to remain the focus. The Texans need a pocket-collapsing tackle, a linebacker who could contribute to the rush and/or a defensive back who can help keep the ball in a QB's hand for an extra beat. A running back to go with Slaton will be tempting, but the Texans should wait to grab one until after they've spent at least a couple of value picks on defense.
The Colts like Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon, but they are unproven and it would be asking for and expecting a lot for one of them to emerge as the third receiver on a team that needs dependable pass catchers for Peyton Manning. That's why it won't be a surprise at all if the Colts use the 27th pick in the draft on a wideout if there is one they believe fits what they do and can contribute right away.
But even if they go that direction early, their bigger issue is on defense, where the front seven needs restocking. The Colts need at least one big, run-stuffing defensive tackle and they need a new weakside linebacker with Freddy Keiaho (not given a qualifying offer when he could have been a restricted free agent) and Tyjuan Hagler (unrestricted) apparently out of the picture.
New defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is expected to be more complex, and Polian needs to give him more pieces to work with. The Colts like to choose "the best player available" in at least the first two rounds. It would be great for them if those players happened to be interior linemen or outside linebackers. Without boosts there, we'll be discussing a lot of the same issues in 2009 we covered in 2008.
The Jaguars have sent the message loud and clear: They are looking to rebuild by improving their foundation first, and they are big believers that the offensive and defensive lines are that foundation.
|Howard Smith/US Presswire|
|While providing stability on the offensive line, Tra Thomas knows he needs work on his run blocking.|
The addition of veteran left tackle Tra Thomas alleviates the pressure on the team to find a left tackle at No. 8 in the
draft, but Thomas himself said he needs work as a run blocker. With a team looking to spring Maurice Jones-Drew, that's the big priority.
At their peak, Jack Del Rio's Jaguars were known as one of the league's most physical teams. For a long time, the interior defensive line tandem of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were primary reasons for that reputation.
The 2008 Jaguars never really replaced Stroud effectively after he was traded to Buffalo, and finding someone like him who could eat space and blockers and help boost Henderson back to his old form is important.
As usual, Jacksonville needs a playmaker outside. Their failures with receivers are well documented, but if David Garrard has insufficient protection and the defense can't get off the field on third down better, the next Jerry Rice won't win them too many games.
Re-establishing a physical identity remains priority No. 1, and will be a big focus in the draft.
Beyond Haynesworth, the Titans have lost little and should be in position to be a contender again. The big issue is the lack of playmakers.
When Chris Johnson left the Baltimore playoff game hurt, Tennessee didn't have an alternative and became far less threatening. Adding a field-stretching receiver can improve the Titans' quick-strike ability. A burner would help keep defenses honest so they can't focus on Johnson as much.
Is free-agent acquisition Nate Washington that guy? Perhaps.
If the Titans can bring back Chris Carr or sign one of the veteran corners they've looked at -- Justin Miller, Eric Green or Jarrett Bush -- they won't be in dire need of anything in the draft. That's a liberating idea for a team that needs to line up heirs at some spots like outside linebacker and corner.
But it also gives the Titans the option of grabbing a receiver they think can help add a dynamic like Johnson did a year ago. The question is, will they finally do it?