AFC South: Russ Purnell

Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Cut-blocking, which is legal, is viewed as "cowardly," per Cleveland defensive end Jayme Mitchell via the Akron Beacon-Journal, writes Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle. The Texans continue to hear opponents grumble about their style. But when opponents say "dirty," the Texans hear "hard," as in the opposite of "soft," which is a tag that has saddled the team for years. That their style gets in people’s heads ahead of time gives them an advantage, I believe. They are a tougher football team than they used to be.

Cut blocking is legal. But Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle asks if it’s ethical. I ask if a football team needs to be concerned with such a question as it tries to plot a course to success. The Texans are very good at what they do, and have built a roster to do it.

Indianapolis Colts

What has Chris Polian done to assure his long-term security, asks Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. Kravitz spoke to several former Colts people who said Polian has been “a toxic force who has brought this franchise to its knees for reasons other than Peyton Manning's injury.” “Tell me, what has Chris Polian actually done besides win the genetic lottery?” Wow. Those are some very strong words.

Special teams coverage and returns have stubbornly defied sustained improvement for years, writes Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. Through three head coaches and special teams coordinators -- Jim Mora and Kevin Spencer, 1998-2001; Tony Dungy and Russ Purnell, 2002-08; Jim Caldwell and Ray Rychleski, 2009-present -- they have remained largely substandard. I believe the team is simply too willing to not be good on special teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gene Frenette of the Times-Union offers his midseason report card for the Jaguars. He’s got an F for passing offense and a D for coaching, grades that offset some Bs.

“It would completely fly in the face of (Wayne) Weaver’s image as a patient owner to jettison (Gene) Smith after three years,” writes Frenette. “My goodness, he’s given (Jack) Del Rio nine years, longer than any coach in history without winning a division title. He gave Smith’s predecessor, James Harris, six years despite totally setting this franchise back with repeated first-round draft busts.” I agree. A housecleaning should not include Smith, and he should be hiring the next head coach.

Tennessee Titans

Javon Ringer finds himself a larger part of the Titans’ offense than he or anyone else would have envisioned at the start of the year, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean. Ringer is averaging more yards per run and reception than Chris Johnson, carried the ball a career-best 14 times last week against the Colts, and was on the field for the last three drives of the game. If he’s running better, he needs to play more, I believe. I’d make him, minimally, the third-down back.

Marshall Faulk knows what hitting a wall looks like and feels like, and tells Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean that Chris Johnson has not hit a wall. But Falk has serious questions about CJ: “Right now, he looks like a guy who doesn’t have a good grasp of what they are trying to accomplish in the running game. He is running like a guy who is not certain about how teams are attacking him.”
Matt Turk has punted 16 times through three games. He’s got five touchbacks and only three punts pinned inside the 20.

Jack Del Rio talked after a bad game in Carolina, where Turk dropped one snap in the rain and lost the Jaguars' possession, about the need to better work out of the punt team.

Part of it will come in the form of lower, turning, rugby-style kicks, special teams coach Russ Purnell told Jacksonville reporters Thursday. Purnell used that style once his unit crossed midfield with Hunter Smith in Indianapolis and with Adam Podlesh in Jacksonville. Podlesh went to Chicago as a free agent and the Jaguars signed Turk.

Said Purnell:
“I just think you have a bigger margin of error in there, as far as you’re not going to hit the ball too hard. Very, very seldom are you going to hit the ball too hard. When the ball hits the ground you’re going to get more balls that pop straight up or back up, like a wedge shot on the green. You eliminate that ball carrying into the end zone. You only kick that rugby style punt about 40-45 yards. If you hit a good punt it’s going to go 50 yards. If the wind carries it and it’s two yards deep in the end zone, they’re on the 20 instead of the 10 or 12 or inside the 10.”

Turk’s worked to gain a comfort level with the new approach, and Purnell indicated we could see it used against the Saints on Sunday at EverBank Field.

Really long isn’t always really good, when you’ve got 20 yards of wiggle room with a touchback in play.

“He tries to say, ‘I only want to punt this ball 40 yards and I’m going to swing nice and easy,’ and he hits the sweet spot on that ball and it goes 50 yards instead of 40 yards,” Purnell said, painting out a scenario in golf terms. “Whereas if you’re rugby style and you’re getting that end over end, it just can’t travel as far. I think you’ve got a bigger margin for error where you can control your distance much better. You can kind of eliminate the really long punt.”

Halftime thoughts from Colts-Jags

December, 17, 2009
JACKSONVILLE -- Some thoughts at the half of a highly entertaining, back-and-forth Colts-Jaguars game that stands Indy 21, Jacksonville 17:

  • Not Gary Brackett’s best half. He missed what should have been a fumble recovery that the Jaguars got back. Maurice Jones-Drew also ran him over on a touchdown.
  • Chad Simpson got the Colts’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2004 against a team whose special teams coach, Russ Purnell, was a longtime Tony Dungy assistant and who Jim Caldwell let go.
  • David Garrard made several good plays but he’s overthrown three open receivers -- Torry Holt, Marcedes Lewis and Holt again -- on potential big plays. The Lewis play was at the goal line and should have been picked by Kelvin Hayden.
  • Dallas Clark’s great one-handed touchdown catch in Baltimore came with the assist of his helmet. His TD catch tonight, where he bobbled the ball on his back in the end zone, also got a helmet assist. This one may have been facemask.
  • Jaguars rookie corner William Middleton tasted both sides of life -- he nailed Austin Collie for a loss, then got beat for a touchdown on consecutive plays.
  • Matt Stover is at 2,001 career points after three PATs. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to get 2,000.
  • Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have played very sparingly, only in major pass rush situations.

Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans
  • Dunta Robinson and Nick Ferguson will start in the Texans’ secondary, says John McClain.
  • Running back Andre Hall was cut to make room for Robinson to officially join the 53-man roster, writes McClain.
  • It will be weird to just watch for Anthony Weaver, says Jerome Solomon.
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Jaguars special-teams coach Russ Purnell has no hard feelings against his former team, the Colts, says Michael C. Wright.
  • The Jaguars are confident Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton are confident, writes Wright.
  • Troy Williamson gives Dirk Koetter possibilities, writes Vito Stellino.
  • Wright found no Jaguars among the Sporting News’ top 100 players.
  • The game has got to be the centerpiece of every game-day experience, says Vic Ketchman of
Tennessee Titans
  • Bo Scaife is day-to-day after what Jeff Fisher said was a legal hit by James Harrison, says Jim Wyatt.
  • Ben Roethlisberger had too much time to throw, says Joe Biddle.
Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Ryan Robinson of looked at the final play of Thursday night's Jacksonville-Philadelphia game and came up with these numbers: it lasted 42 seconds and 15 people touched the ball.

"Trailing by one point with 10 seconds remaining, the Jaguars offense started their final drive from their own 23-yard line. Following an incomplete pass on the first play, quarterback Paul Smith hit rookie wideout Todd Peterson for a 19-yard reception as time expired. That is when things got wacky, with 13 laterals that saw every position on offense touch the ball. Here is the play-by-play:

"Peterson to Jarett Dillard to Josh Vaughan to Peterson to Smith to Tiquan Underwood to Tyler Lorenzen to Underwood to Dillard to Smith to Underwood to Cameron Stephenson to Peterson to Lorenzen. After 42 seconds, Lorenzen was finally tackled at the Jaguars 42-yard line for a 19-yard gain on the play."

Some might question why the team went to such lengths on the final play of a preseason game. But a touchdown would have turned a 33-32 loss into a win, and I thought the innovation and effort far outweighed the risk of injury. If I am Jack Del Rio or special teams coach Russ Purnell, I applaud my guys for that.

The longer the Jaguars kept it alive the more certain I felt someone was going to find a lane and be able to get in range of the end zone and maybe flip it back once more to someone who could finish against a tired defense.

Alas it was not to be.

  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  New coach Jim Caldwell has made a number of changes and the Colts appear happy with the alterations.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dwight Freeney didn't shoo Tony Dungy out the door and wasn't begging for alterations to a formula that has brought the Indianapolis Colts great success.

But Freeney is content with new coach Jim Caldwell's changes at defensive coordinator and special teams coach. The Colts' star defensive end surveys a landscape that no longer includes Ron Meeks and Russ Purnell and feels just fine.

"I think that's one thing people need to understand: We had a lot of success in the years with Meeks and Purnell and, yeah, we are changing personnel as far as those coaching positions are concerned. But change is not always a bad thing," he said. "If you look at the end result, and I'm not saying it was their fault, but we only achieved the end goal once even though we were very successful.

"And I'm not saying it was because of them. But there is always room for improvement. You never know -- you change things around, it brings new energy, it brings new fire. We could see some bigger things."

Camp Confidential: AFC South
Titans: Mon., Aug. 3
Jaguars: Sat., Aug. 8
Colts: Sat., Aug. 15
Texans: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index

That energy was palpable early in camp from a team that overcame a lot to go 12-4 last year, then botched a big opportunity in a playoff game in San Diego.

The Colts have had a smooth transition because they anticipated the change and had Caldwell serve as associate head coach under Dungy. Caldwell removed Meeks and Purnell, replacing them with Larry Coyer and Ray Rychleski, respectively.

But the other key people in the organization who provide major stability are still in place -- Bill Polian is still the team president and Peyton Manning is still the quarterback.

Like Freeney, Polian believes some change can be a good thing.

"Sometimes that's good -- you hear a different voice, you hear a different approach, it gets the message across in a different manner," Polian said. "Both are excellent coaches, both are terrific guys.

"They're both organized and they're both good teachers, so I don't think there is any real change there. But maybe the way the lesson is taught might be a little bit different and it's probably, in the end, good."

Key questions

1. Can the third-down defense get Manning the ball back?
The Colts tied for second worst in the league in third-down conversion rate, allowing teams to convert on third down 47.4 percent of the time. Bend-but-don't-break is going out of fashion under Coyer, according to many of his players. And with third down as a focus, they hope to get the offense back on the field and allow their best people to spend more time working.

Only six teams fared worse in time of possession than the Colts (28:39) last year. No matter how opponents try to play keep-away, getting Manning and the offense on the field more must be a priority.


2. Does Manning have the weapons and protection?
Reggie Wayne has been the de facto No. 1 receiver for a while already. And Anthony Gonzalez is primed for a great year in his third season, with a lot more opportunities to come. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie were both impressive early in camp and appear primed to be steady contributors, and Donald Brown provided a second running back with dynamic possibilities.

The protection question may be a bigger conc
ern. Charlie Johnson has been inserted at left tackle. While he has been an effective fill-in, if he is the guy for 16 games, defensive ends named Mario Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch are going to find the holes in his game. Perhaps Tony Ugoh responds to the demotion and seizes the job back. Either way, could Manning have to worry more about getting hit from a blind side rusher than he has in the past?

3. Can special teams provide a boost?
Mediocre to poor special teams have been the norm for the Colts, and under Dungy there seemed to be a level of tacit acceptance. Enter Rychleski, a fiery and passionate special teams coach who Caldwell hired from South Carolina. As in many of the departments where the Colts ranked poorly in the past, just a moderate improvement can make a big difference.

The return games have been the worst element. T.J. Rushing is the leading candidate right now, but rookies Collie and Jerraud Powers could provide a boost. Another rookie, Pat McAfee is slated to be the new punter.

Market watch
Working predominantly as the third receiver last season, Gonzalez had 664 receiving yards. Bumped up to No. 2, he should be poised to top 1,000 yards and improve on the four touchdown catches he totaled in 2008. He is typecast by too many as a slot guy, but in three wide receiver sets it appears more likely that Wayne or Collie will line up inside.

Gonzalez is a complete receiver who has established a great rapport with Manning -- so much so that Manning invited the receiver to serve as his caddy at a pro-am golf tournament in April.

  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  The Colts are counting on Donald Brown to have a big impact in his rookie season.

Newcomer to watch
While most analysts figured the Colts would look wide receiver or defensive tackle late in the first round, Polian spent the 27th pick in the draft on highly productive UConn running back Brown. An indictment of Joseph Addai? Perhaps. An upgrade over Dominic Rhodes? Absolutely.

The Colts' plans for Brown and their opinion of Addai after an off year in which he struggled with with knee trouble are both unclear. But Caldwell has made it clear he anticipates significant work for his top two backs. Brown was effective in his first preseason action, even as it came against a mix of second- and third-string Minnesota defenders. High draft picks on offense are expected to help right away and rookie running backs regularly plug in and excel. It's what Addai did in 2006 as the league's leading rookie rusher and it's what Brown may well do in the same offense.

Observation deck
Kicker Adam Vinatieri (hip) isn't expected back until the very end of the preseason. When he's kicking again, he will work intensively with McAfee, his new holder, to get their rhythm and timing down. ... If everyone is healthy in the secondary, work as the dime won't be sufficient for safety Melvin Bullitt. Expect the Colts to creatively find other ways to get him on the field regularly. His development likely means Antoine Bethea won't be re-signed when he becomes a free agent. ... Ryan Lilja is the best run blocker on the line and will also help Jeff Saturday provide an additional veteran influence on the younger players in the offensive line meeting room. ... While Harrison was locked in to lining up in the right, Reggie Wayne will move from the left into the slot, making him tougher to predict and defend. ... Curtis Painter's preseason play could determine his fate. The team doesn't intend for the rookie quarterback to be Manning's backup this season -- that's still Jim Sorgi's job. But injuries and numbers at other spots could impact their ability to keep three signal-callers. Ideally they would have Painter on the practice squad, but what if someone else wants to sign him away? ... Gijon Robinson can block and catch and qualifies as a starter. Buy the development of two second-year right ends could cut into his time. Jacob Tamme runs good routes and has good hands, qualifying as more of a pass catcher while he's emerging as a better blocker. Tom Santi can be a combination guy but has had health issues. ... Because the Colts added three big bodies to the defensive tackle mix -- veteran Ed Johnson and rookies Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor -- two guys who contributed in the interior last year could see far less action. Keyunta Dawson has been moved to end and Eric Foster could get caught in a numbers crunch. ... If Philip Wheeler and Clint Session lock in the outside linebacker spots, then Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will give the Colts something they have not often had -- veteran linebackers available for a lot of special teams work. ... Dante Hughes looks to have fallen out of favor, which creates a lot of opportunity for Powers. ... Maybe I just caught him on a good couple days of practice, but receiver Taj Smith looks like a guy with real potential to develop. Look for him on the practice squad again.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Just two thoughts form the Jaguars night practice Thursday, which was pushed back a bit by weather and took place in a steady rain until at least the halfway point.

1) Jack Del Rio was wearing a headset during a couple of team periods.

Many of us have anticipated him being more hands on with the defense this year, with more pressure, more youngsters and a young coordinator in Mel Tucker. I unsuccessfully tried to tweet the question: Was JDR calling the defenses or listening to the calls?

Linebacker Justin Durant told me Del Rio must have been listening in, because the voice inside his helmet was Tucker's.

2) Wednesday night I tracked Josh Scobee's kicks in a field goal period: good from 32, good from 36, good from 40, good from 44, good from 47, good from 51. Thursday night I was unable to pay such close attention, but he was on target again, maybe perfect.

He set me straight afterward, admitting he missed his first one from 34 yards. But from there, in the rain, he connected on five in a row including a couple from 47 or 48 and one from 53. Eleven for 12 in two days has to make new special-teams coach Russ Purnell happy.

Odds are Scobee's kicks will be especially important this season. The retooling Jaguars probably won't win a lot of blowouts, so every chance at 3 points may be at a premium and some victories could be by a margin he provides.

Which would be OK from Scobee's perspective.

"It makes it a lot of fun to play here, because I know whenever I have a good game, we normally win," he said. "That puts a little more added pressure on me and I like that. I know that if I go out there and go 3-for-3 in a game, we're going to win. That makes me pretty excited for game day."

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Some teams are cracking down on Twitter.

Bob Kravitz has some opinions on the tweeting issue. I think it's absolutely ridiculous to expect reporters not to use Twitter at a practice that's open to the public when the public is allowed to do it.

Houston Texans

  • Rex Grossman is working hard to revive his reputation and his career, writes Richard Justice.
  • Steve Slaton plans to make a bigger impact on offense, which would be no small thing. Jordan Godwin's story.
  • Chris Myers should be ready for the opener and the Texans are looking at veteran defensive backs including Mike McKenzie as well as a couple of running backs, says John McClain.
  • Brice McCain is getting a big chance to show his stuff, often against Andre Johnson, says Jordan Godwin.
  • McClain expects Dunta Robinson will be a white knight coming to the rescue.
  • Justice thinks Gary Kubiak will have a hard time not calling plays.
  • A confirmed list of Texans on Twitter.
  • Lance Zierlein has the Texans and Titans both finishing 9-7 behind Indianapolis.
  • The Texans' practices with the Saints will be open to the public. Details from Alan Burge.
  • Rookie coach and Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews dusted off his Elvis impersonation, says Justice.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Stopping the run seems complicated now, writes Michael C. Wright.
  • The Jaguars are finding new ways to get the ball to their playmakers, says Wright.
  • Mike Walker has a huge opportunity if he can stay healthy, says Wright.
  • Russ Purnell has been in the visiting locker room the Jaguars are using 14 times with other teams.
  • A look at the tight ends from Big Cat Country.

Tennessee Titans

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Here's more from Chris Mortensen on how confusion over changes to the league's pension plan prompted Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd to retire and have offensive coordinator Tom Moore ready to follow Mudd's lead.

NFC West maven Mike Sando also did some nice follow-up reporting Wednesday examining the pension issues that helped prompt those decisions.

Interesting line in Sando's blog entry from Coaches Association head Larry Kennan about the possibility of coaches retiring to collect lump sum pensions, and then returning in a year. Mudd, 67 and dealing with back issues, and Moore, 70, might be less likely to follow that course than some of their colleagues.

I would think any coach at or beyond 65 with significant service time in the league is consulting with his accountant and considering his options.

I only found three other assistant coaches in the division who look to have the combination of age and NFL coaching experience that might land them in this category:

Houston running back coach Chick Harris, 63
Indianapolis linebackers coach Mike Murphy, 64
Jacksonville special teams coach Russ Purnell, 60.

Houston assistant head coach/ offense Alex Gibbs, 68, doesn't fal linto this category, according to Mortensen's report, because he "met the league formula for cashing out fully on his pension, only to be hired back as a $800,000 to $1 million consultant." Gibb was an Atlanta Falcons consultant in 2005 and 2006 and was out of the league in 2007.

The Titans oldest assistant coach, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, will only turn 60 in December and has only 10 seasons in the league.

Best Match: AFC South

March, 2, 2009

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Two things to keep in mind when looking to match remaining free agents with AFC South teams.

This was a harder exercise than I expected, largely because the available talent pool hardly has super attractive, can't-miss types at the top of each position list.

And I have not factored in expected price tags or team budgets at all -- just matched a name with a team.

Houston Texans


The Texans got their big target by signing defensive end Antonio Smith away from the Cardinals.

Houston can still use an interior defensive lineman to work with Amobi Okoye, a cornerback to contend for the starting job opposite Dunta Robinson, a veteran running back to help keep Steve Slaton's workload reasonable and a bigger and more durable outside linebacker.

They're talking to Cedric Benson about that running back role right now.

The list of options at all three spots is hardly spectacular.

I pondered going the restricted free agent route and parting with a fifth-round pick to try to sign defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery away from Washington. (It's easy for me to spend their draft picks, right?)

But I think I like their thinking with Benson.

Here's some of what Scouts Inc. has to say about Benson:

"He is effective when he runs behind his pads and attacks the line of scrimmage. He has good foot quickness to make subtle cuts and hit a crease with acceleration. He has adequate speed to the outside and can lower his shoulder for a strong finish at the end of runs. He lacks long speed to run away from defenders once in space. Benson doesn't show great vision or creativity when dealing with congestion. He's not overly elusive to make multiple cuts and he's at his best making one cut and getting his shoulders squared up field. As a receiver, Benson has good hands out of the backfield. He's not overly dynamic in space, but he can get north-and-south quickly after the catch. Benson is better suited to be a backup because he lacks consistency."

One cut-and-go is what works best in Alex Gibbs' run blocking scheme, and the things Benson may lack are a lot of the qualities Slaton has. A strong finish in Cincinnati made it seem as if Benson might have gotten it together.

Indianapolis Colts


This one needs a major disclaimer: the Colts won't be signing any big free agents. The biggest free agent for them this offseason, beyond Jeff Saturday, could be Dominic Rhodes. Outside of their own guys, the likelihood they add even a mid-range outsider is slim to none.

They need linebackers and defensive tackles, and we can expect those positions to be addressed in the draft and with the quality crop of undrafted rookies they always manage to bring in. If it doesn't work out with Rhodes, they could need another running back too. However, I suspect Joseph Addai and Mike Hart as the first two backs might be OK. They need a receiver too, but I am thinking that will be addressed with the first round pick.

No one at any of those spots still available in free agency strikes me as a sure-thing Colt.

So I use this category to go somewhere I know they won't -- Tennessee free agent return man and cornerback Chris Carr.

New special teams coach Ray Rychleski is going to run into the same issues his predecessor Russ Purnell did -- the Colts' construct doesn't provide many veteran backups to fill out their special teams. Carr is not flashy with the ball in his hands, but he is dependable and will get what's there. That would give Peyton Manning and the offense a little boost in field position, offer depth in the defensive backfield, and weaken the division rival that got in front of the Colts in the AFC South last season.

Jacksonville Jaguars


The Jaguars have made it clear they aren't going to be big spenders. They've re-signed a few of their own guys and brought in safety Sean Considine to take the place of Gerald Sensabaugh, who they won't bid on.

They need better protection and better weapons for David Garrard as well as help on the interior defensive line.

The remaining list of free agent tackles -- offensive or defensive -- is hardly exciting. Maybe a guy like Tampa Bay free agent defensive tackle Jovan Haye could be a good role player for them.

If the draft falls right, the team can get a stud left tackle at No. 8 in the draft.

Which means, even a year removed from the Jerry Porter debacle, they should
be looking carefully at available wide receivers. The two that could help them most also qualify as players of interest for division-rival Tennessee: Devery Henderson and Nate Washington.

Scouts Inc.'s Insider Analysis on Henderson starts with this:

"Henderson is a good-sized receiver with excellent top-end speed, who can stretch the secondary and be the downfield threat for virtually any offense."

We're naming names here, not extrapolating the finances. I don't know what he's looking for or what the Jaguars would be willing to pay on the heels of the failed Porter deal.

He's not going to burst on the scene as a No. 1 receiver. But I think Henderson could give the Jaguars good upside if they were going to go get one more guy in free agency. (Read the Titans' section for more.)

Tennessee Titans

Surprise, surprise: Tennessee's primary need is once again at wide receiver.

This free agent group is hardly a huge impact group, but a receiver drafted at No. 30 in the first round won't get on the field much immediately if the team's history is any indication. (But then, if the team's history is any indication, a first-round receiver isn't even going to be around to present that issue.)

Washington is in Nashville today. Mel Kiper's 2005 draft book had him running a 4.53 coming out of Tiffin, which doesn't make him seem like the blazer the Titans could use to help stretch the field. But he's been a deep threat for the Steelers and his career average of 16.4 yards is 1.3 yards better than the only established receiver on the Titans roster, Justin Gage.

But we are looking to another free agent receiver the team has reportedly expressed interest in, Henderson.

We can't pin everything on stats of course. But our friends at had Henderson as the NFL's No. 1 receiver in DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.

"This number represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations," explains. "The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance."

At 36.5 % in that category, Henderson well outdistanced the two players regarded as the league's best wideouts -- Andre Johnson (22.4%) and Larry Fitzgerald (19.7%) -- not to mention Washington (-0.9%).

Worth a shot, no?

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

We haven't had a chance to really examine at Jack Del Rio's hires, so I thought I'd take a closer look at the new Jacksonville assistant coaches.

Del Rio had seven holes on his staff after expired contract, defections and dismissals. He's certain to still fill one of the spots that remain -- defensive backs coach-and likely to fill another -- assistant strength and conditioning coach. But two others -- assistant wide receivers coach and defensive assistant -- may not be filled since Del Rio's newcomers include a quality control coach and a defensive line assistant, positions that did not exist on the 2008 staff.

A look at the new assistants:

  • Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, 36, previously served as defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2008 after three seasons as the team's defensive backs coach. The Wisconsin graduate also has eight years of collegiate experience with four years at Ohio State University.

With the Browns he headed a 3-4 defense. But his one season as coordinator was under a head coach, Romeo Crennel, with a defensive background who was working to hold on to his job. Tucker now faces a similar scenario under Jack Del Rio. There has been speculation about changing to a 3-4, but such a process takes the sort of time Del Rio doesn't have and while it could suit a young player like Quentin Groves it wouldn't fit a veteran like John Henderson.

I wouldn't expect a scheme change.

  • Strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson spent the last nine years at Athletes' Performance, where he designed and implemented programs to help athletes preparing for the NFL Combine and also readied NFL veterans for the rigors of the season. From 2001-2008, Richesson and the integrated API performance team helped the performances of over 214 draftees, including 116 first day picks and 44 first-round selections.

Del Rio said in his season wrap-up press conference that he wanted his players committed to the team's offseason program. Clearly the hope is Richesson's program will help convince players to stay in Jacksonville more in the offseason and provide them with the sort of training that some of them have found on their own back in their hometowns.

Richesson is married to Anita-Nall Richesson, who won three swimming medals in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

  • Special teams coach Russ Purnell, 60, previously served as special teams coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts under Tony Dungy. The Whittier College graduate has extensive NFL experience with Seattle, Tennessee and Baltimore as well as Indianapolis. He was with the Ravens when they won the Super Bowl.

Purnell will now work for his third team of the AFC South roster. While his replacement in Indianapolis has not been hired, many felt he benefited from the Dungy's loyalty during his seven seasons with the Colts.

  • Defensive line assistant Charlie Jackson, 32, spent the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos as a defensive coach and was with the Green Bay Packers in 2005. The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate has five years of collegiate experience and enters his fourth season in the NFL with the Jaguars.

The Jaguars are counting on the development of Derrick Harvey and Groves, their top two draft picks last season, and giving defensive line coach Ted Monachino an assistant is certainly aimed at least in part at making sure the second year jumps are what the team expects.

  • Quality control coach Johnny Cox spent the past season at Holy Cross as wide receivers/special teams coach. The Fort Lewis graduate has over a decade of collegiate coaching experience including three seasons coaching wide receivers at North Dakota State.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

Nada, sorry.

Indianapolis Colts

Bob Kravitz wonders if the Colts got rid of the right assistant coaches.

Jacksonville Jaguars

An I-was-wrong-alert. I thought the Jaguars might hire Mike Trgovac when he decided to leave Carolina, because he and Jack Del Rio are friends. But Trgovac landed in Green Bay as defensive line coach. Vito Stellino reports it's official: Mel Tucker is the new defensive coordinator, Russ Purnell is the new special teams coach, Charlie Jackson is the new defensive line assistant, Luke Richesson is the new strength coach and Johnny Cox is the new quality control coach.

Gene Frenette says the Jaguars should take the best available player with the eighth pick in the draft and expects Jack Del Rio will be running the defense no matter who's the coordinator.

Tennessee Titans

Michael Griffin has big plans for big improvement in the offseason, writes Jim Wyatt.

Wyatt thinks Jeff Fisher is leaning to Chuck Cecil over Dave McGinnis for defensive coordinator. I agree and think the announcement hasn't come because Fisher wants to get his other ducks in a row first.

A look at the free agents in the Titans defensive backfield from Gary Estwick.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts just announced that Ron Meeks, their defensive coordinator for the last seven seasons, has resigned.

It's the second major coaching departure since Jim Caldwell inherited the head coaching job from Tony Dungy. Special teams coach Russ Purnell did not get his contract renewed.

As is often the case with a coordinator on the same side of the ball as the head coach, it wasn't always clear how much control Meeks had under Dungy, who was brought to Indianapolis largely because of his defensive prowess and success with the Tampa 2.

We may not know exactly what change Caldwell is looking for with this move until we see who he hires.

Will the Colts move away from the zone scheme that has defined their defensive personality?

Will they move away from small linemen and linebackers, going a little bigger at some spots while sacrificing the qualities they've put a real premium on defensively -- speed and quickness?

Will they remain committed to strong safety Bob Sanders despite his propensity for injuries that cost him long stretches of games?

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Jim Caldwell has made his first coaching staff adjustment. The Colts just announced that special-teams coach Russ Purnell did not get his contract renewed.

Indianapolis' special teams have long been an issue, and the team has said its salary structure is a big reason. A star-laden team such as the Colts relies on a lot of youth and has few veteran backups, and those veterams are usually the core of special-teams units.

The Colts were the league's worst punt return team and ranked 28th in kick returns, while they were 15th in punt coverage and 24th in kick return coverage in 2008.

Purnell was with the Colts for seven seasons. He's also worked for the Seahawks, Oilers and Ravens, winning a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore.