AFC South: Steve Slaton

Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

The Texans released Steve Slaton, writes John McClain. In Sunday's 40-33 loss at New Orleans, he carried four times for 8 yards and showed little quickness when trying to make the cuts that are so essential to the Texans' running game.

My take: He has never really been the same since suffering a neck injury in his second season. It’s amazing how quickly things evolve. He went from being one of the most productive, quick backs in the league in 2008 to being fifth among Houston backs in 2011.

Indianapolis Colts

Nate Dunlevy says Pat Angerer and Drake Nevis were every bit as good as advertised. "Anyone saying the Colts are bereft of young talent from the draft either has an agenda or hasn't been paying attention. Both players are every bit as good as anyone Indy has had at linebacker and DT in the past 10 years. This defense hits and hits hard. It was the hardest hitting I've seen from an Indy D since '96."

My take: They’re both good players, for sure. But imagine if they were playing with a home run first-rounder from 2010 instead of Jerry Hughes.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jack Del Rio is the only person of note with the Jaguars who’s under contract beyond this season, says Pete Prisco. It’s a surprise that GM Gene Smith and his people are in the final year of their deals. “If Smith is going to remain in charge with building this team into a contender, he needs more job security. If he isn't, then is begs this question: Is Weaver ready to turn to a coach/general manager type?”

My take: Who knows what Wayne Weaver is thinking? I understand it’s hard to provide job security to people when you don’t know if your team is really heading in the right direction. Guys need to set aside the air of uncertainty and do work that demands new deals.

Tennessee Titans

Not quite the sort of statistical news Chris Johnson is trying to make: “According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player in NFL history to have that low a yards-per-carry [2.1] through his first three games of a season -- coming off even two-or-more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons -- was the Bengals’ Corey Dillon in 2000.” The blog post from ESPN Stats and Info.

My take: As much as the Titans have to be encouraged about, if they can’t figure out what’s up with Johnson and get him going, they’re ultimately doomed.

Colts sign Orlovsky, Texans cut Slaton

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
6:10
PM ET
Two developments today worth noting in the division.

The Colts signed quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who was with them in the preseason, says Mike Chappell.

Orlovsky could be the team’s backup Monday night in Tampa depending on the condition of Kerry Collins, who may have suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh. The team tried out former Chiefs signal-caller Brodie Croyle before deciding to bring back Orlovsky.

Meanwhile, Houston gave up on its No. 4 running back, Steve Slaton, who ran for over 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2008 as a third-round draft pick. The Texans promoted Chris Ogbonnaya from their practice squad to take Slaton’s place.

Ogbonnaya could rank as high as second Sunday against the Steelers if Arian Foster and Derrick Ward are not back from injuries.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 34, Colts 7

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
3:53
PM ET
HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 34-7 rout of the Colts at Reliant Stadium.

What it means: The Texans bolted out to a 1-0 start over the Colts last season, but this one was different. We saw what a good team can do against Indianapolis minus Peyton Manning. The Texans sailed, and the Colts struggled. It’s hard to call any Houston game a turning point, but this is one we might look back to as a pivot point for control of the AFC South.

What I liked: Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson was virtually can’t-miss after an early interception of a pass that slid through Johnson’s hands. Derrick Ward and Ben Tate both ran effectively. Jacoby Jones showed smarts and speed on a 79-yard punt return for a score. The Texans’ new 3-4 defense found consistent pressure that made life very tough on Kerry Collins. End Antonio Smith was especially effective.

What I didn’t like: Collins was just shaky, handing away two fumbles in a short span early on, once on a sack, once on a fumbled snap. Unless the protection was perfect, he was messy and there were only a handful of snaps where the protection was perfect. Indianapolis’ defense simply didn’t show any ability to bottle up the run, and receivers consistently found space between defenders to collect Schaub’s passes.

Who to worry about: Colts linebackers. Gary Brackett suffered a shoulder sprain when he was tackled at the end of an interception return. The Colts played bad defense with him. Without him, they’d really have a hole. Ernie Sims suffered a knee sprain early in the game, which meant undrafted rookie Adrian Moten saw time in the nickel package.

One good thing about the Colts: They didn’t quit, showing some life in the second half even though they knew it was over. Reggie Wayne was in the middle of it. Jeff Saturday fought hard to recover Collins’ third fumble at the bottom of a pile.

One bad thing about the Texans: With Arian Foster (hamstring) already hurt, Ward left the game with an ankle injury. Tate and Steve Slaton provide nice depth, but any team down its top two running backs has questions.

What’s next: The Colts try to recover when they host Cleveland. The Texans try to keep things going in Miami. The rematch between Houston and Indy is at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 22.

Arian Foster's hamstring injury kept him out of practice Wednesday as the Houston Texans worked to get ready for Sunday’s visit from the Indianapolis Colts.

Still, according to John McClain, the team is calling Foster day-to-day.

If there is any risk of Foster straining his hamstring a third time on Sunday, the Texans would be wise to limit him or even sit him.

It’s a huge game with a chance to set the tone for the season. Foster is a giant part of what the Texans do. But, frankly, if the Texans plan for this game like they should, call plays like they should and run block like they should, the offense should be able to produce sufficient ground yards against Indianapolis with a combination of Derrick Ward and Ben Tate.

Ward did very good work as the team’s No. 2 back last season, and Tate was productive and intriguing in the preseason. We’re not even talking about the team’s fourth back, Steve Slaton.

It’s a deep position.

If Foster plays and comes out of Week 1 limping, we’ll be talking about a lingering injury. It’s the nature of teams and players to push through injuries. But having him whole for the long term is the greater good.

The Texans should err on the side of caution, in hopes of having a full-strength Foster later this month, for other tough, upcoming games at New Orleans, against Pittsburgh and at Baltimore.

Houston Texans cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
9:36
PM ET
Click here for a complete list of the Houston Texans’ roster moves.

Surprise moves: After cutting rookie punter Brett Hartmann last week, the team cut veteran Brad Maynard. The Texans do not have a punter. One fan quickly joked that a high-powered offense doesn’t intend to punt. But the Texans clearly have their eye on someone and will be adding a punter in the next couple of days. They've left a roster spot open for him. Fifth-round safety Shiloh Keo, a Wade Phillips favorite who was supposed to be a special-teams demon, didn’t make it. Raw, undrafted outside linebacker Bryan Braman did make it.

No-brainers: Deciding Steve Slaton was one of their best 53 players and keeping four running backs seemed prudent to me. Deciding Trindon Holliday wasn’t going to help as a return man or receiver makes sense, too.

What’s next: The team has only Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones and newcomer Bryant Johnson at receiver and could be looking for a fifth option, though their pass-catching tight ends ease the concern. Houston is thin on the offensive line, too.

As we await word, cut questions ...

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
10:06
AM ET
Cut questions as we wait for news on who’s in and who’s out …

Houston Texans

I’ve confirmed outside linebacker Xavier Adibi will be released, which is a surprise. The Texans are going younger at the spot, which could mean good things for undrafted Bryan Braman. He is raw and probably best suited for the practice squad, but may have done too much to risk cutting first. Can Steve Slaton stick? Odds are against him as he ranks as the team’s fourth back, at best. But he’s got to be a hard guy to let go even after a preseason limited by injury. He’ll be scooped up for sure by a team in need at the position. And he likely still qualifies as one of the team’s best 53 players.

Indianapolis Colts

I know a lot of fans want to see the end for players like Donald Brown, Jerry Hughes and Anthony Gonzalez. But we must ask who are the better options? I’m not sure about Gonzalez, but I suspect that Brown and Hughes are on this team. One guy we presume to have made it who might not is veteran defensive tackle Tommie Harris. One guy we presume not to have made it who might is undrafted rookie tight end Mike McNeill.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Former sixth-round pick Scotty McGee, a return specialist, was among the cuts we learned of Friday. They also included undrafted receivers Armon Binns and Dontrelle Inman. Does that mean another receiver, Jamar Newsome, separated himself and will make it? A team that loves to keep an undrafted guy or two may not this time around. Larry Hart, a 2010 fifth-round defensive end, is probably in trouble.

Tennessee Titans

There looks to be a battle for a backup safety slot between Vincent Fuller, Robert Johnson and Anthony Smith. I wish I had a better feel and could pick a favorite there, but I can’t. It’s a tough call to whittle down from seven receivers, too. Can recent addition Kevin Curtis dislodge Justin Gage and does the team still have patience for Lavelle Hawkins? I can’t see Gage getting cut, even though he is due $3.5 million. Linebacker Rennie Curran sounded like a goner in Mike Munchak’s news conference Friday.

Three 1,000-yard backs not so rare

August, 23, 2011
8/23/11
10:23
AM ET
Three backs who’ve run for 1,000 yards on the same team sounds like a rarity.

But after writing about the Texans and Arian Foster, Derrick Ward, and Steve Slaton Monday I asked Stats & Info how often it’s happened and they took it to Elias. Apparently, it’s not so uncommon, especially when Michael Bennett (who ran for 1,296 yards for Minnesota in 2002) is involved.

There have been three instances of a team having three 1,000-yard rushers in just the last five years.
  • 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Michael Bennett, Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams
  • 2008 Washington Redskins -- Shaun Alexander, Ladell Betts and Clinton Portis
  • 2007 Kansas City Chiefs -- Michael Bennett, Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson

Foster and Ward are definite for the Texans. If Slaton sticks, they’ll be added to this list. He has to rank fourth at best right now, behind Ben Tate.
Arian Foster and Derrick Ward will be members of Houston’s 53-man roster. Ben Tate is close to a sure thing now that the team has finally gotten to see last year’s second-round pick really run in game action. Steve Slaton is only a couple of years removed from a 1,000-yard season. The team is also high on Chris Ogbonnaya.

Four of those guys could be on the opening day roster.

But to be the third or fourth guy, Tate and Slaton will have to find special-teams roles to stick. Ogbonnaya’s roster candidacy would be keyed on great special-teams ability.

“That could be something that separates them when it’s all said and done,” Gary Kubiak said.”Really you would like every guy other than your starter to contribute on special teams. That’s not always the case. Derrick worked on special teams last year but didn’t do much. But definitely you’d like your three and four to do quite a bit.”

Slaton was the team’s primary kick returner last season. He’s listed as the fourth-stringer at the spot on the team’s most recent unofficial depth chart.

Odds are he’ll need to cover or block, not return, to be a special-teamer going forward.

If the first five running backs on the Texans are healthy, it might be the deepest single position in the division right now.

But I welcome you to propose other candidates below.
Quick observations and thoughts on the Houston Texans 27-14 preseason win over the New Orleans Saints at Reliant Stadium Saturday night:

The big guns: The three main guys on offense all looked great. Matt Schaub threw with precision and was in control, hitting on 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards and a 107 passer rating. In his first preseason action with Andre Johnson in the lineup, he found his No. 1 guy four times for 100 yards, even with a Johnson drop. Arian Foster ran very well, with 47 yards and two touchdowns on five carries.

Emerging: Ben Tate did some very nice work as the second running back behind Foster, showing just why the Texans found him such a system fit when they used a second-round pick on him last season. He carried nine times for 95 yards and a score and also caught a 13-yard pass. Once Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton are healthy, the Texans will have quite the loaded backfield.

Run room: The defense did well sniffing out screens and short stuff from Drew Brees and frustrated the quarterback. But New Orleans ran well with their frontline offense finding 86 ground yards and a 4.6-yard average in the first half including a 17 yard run and a touchdown run. The new defensive front would surely like to be more discouraging to an offense looking to hand it off.

Also: First round end J.J. Watt was disruptive and energetic, again. … Kareem Jackson did well to let Devery Henderson get in trouble for taking a couple swings in an after-the-whistle incident. … Xavier Adibi started in place of DeMeco Ryans (elbow) as one of the inside linebackers. Adibi was way late diving in to hit an already-down Lance Moore, drawing a personal foul early. … Chase Daniel's 56-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Morgan came over new safety Danieal Manning.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 16, 2011
8/16/11
10:56
AM ET
HOUSTON -- Yes, they brought in a top-flight defensive coordinator, drafted well and signed some good-looking free agents.

Still, the Texans have been the breakout pick so often in recent years and have come up short that it’s completely fair to ask, even with those changes: Why should people believe? Why should they buy this team?

“I couldn’t sell it to anybody,” said Chris Myers, the team’s underrated center. “We’re doing what we do here in camp. If you’re a Texans fan, you’re a Texans fan. Our offense is the same offense that we’ve had and we’re going to try to make it better. Our defense has brought in who we think can change it, take it in the right direction and make us that complete team.

“That’s the pitch. If you’re going to buy it, you’re going to buy it. If not, we’re still rolling.”

To find their way to the playoffs for the first time since the franchise began play in 2002, the Texans need to find the consistency they’ve lacked on many levels -- start to finish in a game, week to week over the course of the season.

That new defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, has a great record of turning defenses around. Gary Kubiak carries questions as a head coach, but not as an offensive mind.

It’s a now or never deal for Kubiak, and he’s got a lot of talent on his roster that knows it.

Receiver Andre Johnson, one of the league’s top players, says the team’s spent the past few preseasons talking about breaking through. This time he wants less talk and more action.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1) How quickly can Phillips shape the defense?

He's coming off a poor term as head coach in Dallas, but his track record as a coordinator is excellent.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams and Wade Phillips
AP Photo/David J. PhillipMario Williams is adjusting to life as a stand-up linebacker in Wade Phillips' scheme.
Players on the Texans' defense say he’s funny, yet pointed. He’s already infused the group with confidence, and he quickly identified things that amounted to easy fixes. Mario Williams’ false step should disappear, for example, and Kareem Jackson is unlikely to be seen in press coverages.

“Wade Phillips and [linebackers coach Reggie Herring] have brought a credibility and a confidence to the system that they run,” said end-turned-outside-linebacker Connor Barwin. “I feel like it carries over to us. You know if you do what you’re coached up to do that it’s going to work.”

The change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 isn’t as extreme as some imagine, because Phillips’ 3-4 doesn’t demand a gigantic space-eating nose tackle, and it doesn’t ask linemen to be responsible for two gaps. The linemen are really playing roles akin to what they did in the previous system, with Williams now standing up as an on-the-line 'backer on the weak side.

Creating that matchup as often as possible is key, and Williams should be the centerpiece of the retooling.

Though Williams didn’t look comfortable in the preseason opener, end Antonio Smith thinks offenses will really struggle with Williams and his bull rush.

“It has not been stopped in camp yet,” Smith said. “Since he decided to do it, I ain’t seem him lose. You know what you need to do to beat a person. I think that throughout this camp, he’s figuring out how to use that. He’s added it into his bag of tricks and he’s going to figure out how to use it along with his other moves.”

Matt Schaub and Johnson have both talked about how many more balls are contested and broken up in a typical practice. That difference suggests the new philosophy’s growing on a unit that’s needed not just players like Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning but also the sort of direction Phillips is providing.

2) Will Arian Foster be able to have another big season on the ground?

It wasn’t long ago that Steve Slaton ran for 1,282 yards. He’s disappeared since the 2008 season, however.

Foster said that what he did over 16 games last season proved him capable and that the notion of a fluke is ridiculous. But for the Texans’ offense to get better, he’ll have to follow up his 1,616-yard season and rushing title with another big showing.

“When you come out and have a season like that, then everybody wants to see what you’re going to do the next season,” Johnson said. “I think that is important for him, to come out and show people that he is the guy that he was last year.

“I think he’ll do it, there is no doubt in my mind. Because he works hard and he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

Houston’s play-action can be spectacular with Foster running as he did in 2010. His style is perfectly suited for the team’s blocking scheme, which encourages him to cut once and take all he can get.

Another big year will go a long way toward setting the Texans’ course.

3) Do enough guys have killer instinct?

The Texans' slow starts and inability to finish were major issues last season. Better personnel and coaching will need to be accompanied by a killer instinct this franchise has too frequently lacked.

[+] EnlargeDanieal Manning
AP Photo/David J. PhillipThe Texans are counting on Danieal Manning to bring some veteran leadership to the defense.
“You could put it that way,” tight end Owen Daniels said. “There’s definitely never been a lack of effort. I think it’s been missed opportunities at finishing games. ... We need to find something different this year in order to close out those games.”

A guy like Johnson, soft-spoken but intense, certainly has a personality you can win with. But are the Texans, in total, too low-key? I think it’s a fair question.

“You’ve got to have that [killer instinct],” said Manning, one of the key newcomers. “... If you believe, all this other stuff is going to come into play: working together, supporting your man, pushing him, making him work hard, holding him accountable. All that stuff goes hand in hand. I’ve never seen a championship team that didn’t believe, that didn’t finish.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

When they grabbed him during the 2010 season, I don’t think the Texans expected much from veteran cornerback Jason Allen. But the secondary was better with him than it was without him. Now, with a fresh start, he’s mounting a serious challenge to Jackson, the 2010 first-round draft pick. The team would be well served to go with Allen if things come out roughly even. Jackson’s seasoning would be better for now as a role player.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Antwaun Molden looks the part as a 6-foot-1, 200-pound corner. But the team has finally stopped talking up the fourth-year man from Eastern Kentucky. He’s not sturdy enough and doesn’t show enough gumption to be a factor in a group where he’s had a chance to add some depth. He had an interception in the preseason opener, but only after he committed a penalty that washed it away.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Joel Dreessen is consistently underrated. Dreessen can block and, while not as dynamic as Daniels, has a knack for finding open spaces and presenting himself to Schaub. The Texans have a lot of quality tight ends. Look for the team to put three tight ends on the field at times, when they can operate as a heavy package or shift Daniels, Dreessen, James Casey or Garrett Graham into space, depending on the defensive personnel. Anthony Hill is the blocker of the bunch.
  • After facing questions about durability, Schaub’s played two full seasons. Now the questions are about play in the clutch. He needs to eliminate moments like the one when he threw an overtime pick-six against Baltimore last season.
  • I expect the Texans to look closely at receivers when the league cuts down rosters. Dorin Dickerson currently looks to be fourth in line, but I saw him fighting some passes in practices and he’s still relatively new to the position. Jeff Maehl heads the undrafted group but didn’t look great, either. Receiver depth is an issue.
  • Inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton could be the best non-starter on the roster come opening day. He’s in a tough spot behind DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, though injuries are often in play with Cushing.
  • Myers is a key cog in making the Texans’ offensive line work, and he could be taking his place right alongside Jeff Saturday as an indispensable center in the division.
  • The team could be an injury away from trouble at end and safety.
  • Trindon Holliday’s speed is not enough for him to overcome his size as even a situational receiver. Plus, he seems easily hurt. The return jobs are open if the team wants to avoid using Jacoby Jones as the punt returner and Manning as the kick returner.
  • Undrafted rookie Brett Hartmann beating out veteran punter Brad Maynard is a definite possibility.
  • Count me among those not convinced that Matt Leinart can’t play. If this team needs a few spots starts, I bet he can do OK. One of the NFL’s quarterback-needy teams was foolish not to add Leinart to the mix. He’s better than a lot of guys with a chance to start some games this season.
  • Lawrence Vickers is better equipped to work as the fullback than Casey, and he should get far more frequent opportunities to lead the way for Foster.

Three things: Jets-Texans

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
11:09
AM ET
Three things to watch for in Houston’s preseason opener against the visiting New York Jets on Monday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN.

The new 3-4 front will be on display in a game situation for the first time. Coach Gary Kubiak said starters will only go 10 to 12 plays, but it should be enough to give us a sense of how things are different in the Wade Phillips-coordinated defense. Mario Williams will stand up as a “linebacker” for the first time, but he’s still going to be at or near the line of scrimmage. Look for him to regularly find his way to the weak side and to go heavy with the bull rush from the start against D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Wayne Hunter.

Matt Leinart was labeled a “special” in the last week by Kubiak. Matt Schaub’s backup will play a lot against the Jets. Leinart looks great in practice, with solid command and a nice ball. But critics who’ve watched him regularly from close range believe he’s just a beat off in game situations. The Jets intend to play starters for the entire first quarter, so while Leinart will work with mostly second-stringers, he will get some good work against some top defensive personnel.

Meet Chris Ogbonnaya. With Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and Ben Tate all dealing with hamstring injuries, expect Derrick Ward to get the carries with the first team and Ogbonnaya to be the running back who gets the most work on the night. The team really likes him, but the four guys in front of him all have loftier pedigrees, so it will be very difficult for him to make the team.
HOUSTON -- Arrived at Texans practice about halfway through. I thought I’d start out with some straight observational sharing.

1) I watched the offensive and defensive line one-on-ones from a tough angle.
And the highlight for me: Brooks Reed vs. Eric Winston. Reed quickly got inside Winston on the first snap. Then he did it again though he had to go wider. And against Newton, he got steered out real wide, wide enough that he probably couldn’t have recovered to make a play.

Reed’s clearly super-fast off the edge. (Sidenote: He’s got relatively skinny legs. Calves anyway.) On the second snap against Winston, I wondered if he went wide enough that even a clean run might take him too long to get to the quarterback, allowing for the ball to come out. Still, forcing a quick pass with such pressure is a victory.

2) Brian Cushing, who’s been out of action for most of camp as he recovered from knee surgery, was part of team drills. In the very first snap of 11 vs. 11 work I saw, he edged up to the line and weaved his way through the middle very quickly and cleanly, slicing through the line in a way he would have had a pretty good shot at Matt Schaub in a live situation.

3) Schaub found Kevin Walter with a bomb up the right side that fell incomplete only because Kareem Jackson had a handful of Walter’s jersey to prevent him from catching up to it. Jackson made no real effort to hide the foul or recover from it.

4) Owen Daniels slipped open against what had to be a busted coverage for a big play. Reed let him go near the line of scrimmage and Glover Quin wasn’t in range. The culprit is likely unidentified.

5) Trindon Holliday had a nice little catch-and-run, but limped back and found a trainer.

6) Sherrick McManis intercepted Matt Leinart.

7) When I talked to the sidelined Ben Tate after the practice, he indicated that Steve Slaton now has a hamstring issue as well.

First look: Texans' depth chart

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
1:07
PM ET
A first look at the Texans' unofficial depth chart gives us these nuggets to consider:
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson takes on the AFC South running backs in this Insider piece Tuesday. You know the division is loaded with talented run games when Arian Foster and the Texans rank third. Here’s a sampling of Williamson’s assessment, with some reaction from me.

Tennessee Titans

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Charles Small/US PresswireEven though Chris Johnson took a step back last season, he's still the most dangerous back in the NFL.
Williamson: “Johnson might be the most dangerous player in all of football. The entire league was keying on him last season, and the blocking for him wasn't nearly as good as it was in 2009. His quarterback situation certainly didn't help his cause. It was unrealistic to expect him to maintain the pace that he set for himself in 2009.

“But I also believe that Johnson took a small step backward last season. I have very few worries about him and do think he is simply phenomenal, but I thought he tried to bounce more runs outside, didn't always take what was given to him and too often looked to bust the long run. Johnson was hit behind the line of scrimmage far too often in 2010. Always looking for the big play doesn't work well in this league. In 2009, the big plays came from a workmanlike approach to every carry.”

He also says pass blocking was a problem for Johnson last season and notes how he fared far worse as a pass-catcher than he did in 2009. He believes rookie Jamie Harper will get more work than Javon Ringer if Johnson is healthy, and could even challenge for some third-down action.

Kuharsky: The interior line simply has to play better to maximize the Titans' chances to run effectively, and all indications are the team will re-sign Leroy Harris and stick with him and Jake Scott as the guards with Eugene Amano as the center. Johnson needs to find ways to be more of a leader.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Williamson: “[Maurice Jones-Drew’s] career to date has been impeccable. I am very high on him, but I do fear that we are seeing the very first stages of his inevitable demise. Running backs don't last long in this league.

“That isn't to say that Jones-Drew will not be effective in 2011. I think he will again rank among the best at his position. He was very impressive last year, averaging more than 117 total yards in his 14 games with every defender on the field keying on him. And he did it while battling a knee injury for the better part of the season. Jones-Drew posted a six-game stretch last season when he rushed for more than 100 yards. His toughness cannot be questioned. He is a bowling ball -- extremely difficult to get a great hit on and quite good in short-yardage situations. Jones-Drew is the definition of a leverage player. He is a touchdown machine who excels between the tackles, on the perimeter and as a pass-catcher. Despite his size, Jones-Drew is also one of the best running backs in the league in blitz pickup. He can do it all.”

He calls Jones-Drew an old 26 and sees Rashad Jennings as one of the most underrated backups in the league.

Kuharsky: The passing game needs to offer Jones-Drew and the run blocking better relief and help open things up. That falls on receivers Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Jarett Dillard as well as tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller.

Houston Texans

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Patrick Green/Icon SMIArian Foster broke out for a monster season in 2010, racking up 1,616 rushing yards.
Williamson: “[Foster] has very good size, exceptional run instincts, strength, cutback ability and breakaway speed. Foster presses the hole very well and shows great patience and skill with setting up his blocks. He is also excellent out of the backfield as a receiver, and offenses designed by Gary Kubiak throw a lot to running backs…

“Can he match those astronomical numbers? I tend to doubt it. He did log 392 total touches, and durability remains a question mark. But everything is set up for this 24-year-old, who has only 380 carries at this level, to excel again in 2011.”

He doesn’t love Derrick Ward or Ben Tate, and predicts Steve Slaton will be elsewhere but not bring much in return. He gives high praise to Vonta Leach and the entire run blocking game.

Kuharsky: There is a lot of sophomore slump talk out there regarding Foster. (I know it’s his third year, but it will only be his second as the starter from the beginning.) I don’t foresee it. And if teams load up to stop him, Houston is equipped to make them pay in the pass game.

Indianapolis Colts

Williamson: He fears Joseph Addai’s best years may be behind him already, but as a solid dump-off threat and a trustworthy piece for Peyton Manning, he believes Addai is more valuable to the Colts than he would be to anyone else.

The most interesting piece of this write-up is on rookie Delone Carter:

“It might not happen right away, especially with the lockout situation, but I honestly would not be shocked if Carter became the No. 1 option at running back.

“This guy is a brute. He is built low and like a brick wall. And yet he is quite nimble. Carter is a decisive runner who will stick his foot in the ground and get downhill with conviction. He should be excellent in short-yardage situations and near the goal line. Indianapolis has not had such a running back in some time. As with any rookie runner, pass protection could take some time, but his competitiveness and build imply that he could eventually excel at keeping Manning clean in the pocket. He could use work as a receiver as well. He's the type of runner who can consistently keep Indianapolis ahead of the down. When Manning sees favorable numbers in the box, Carter should excel. Carter could put the Colts' opponents away once Indianapolis gets a firm lead late in games. Don't underestimate how important that is. The selection of Carter could go down as the best value pick in the draft.”

Kuharsky: I completely agree about Addai -- he’s a better back in this system than he would be elsewhere. The Colts have talked of dipping into free agency a bit. If Reggie Bush is available and affordable, I believe they’d consider him and look to pair him, rather than Addai, with Carter.
Williams/GarrardAP Photo/Phil CoaleMario Williams and David Garrard are two of the 53 players under contract in the AFC South slated to make more than $1 million this season.
After being struck recently with how the NFL's labor rift has been cast as billionaires vs. millionaires, I thought I’d look at some players' salaries.

Totaling-up career earnings is quite difficult, and bonus money can be hard to nail down and sort through.

We can still get an interesting snapshot by looking at scheduled 2011 base salaries. I suspect many readers will be surprised that the vast majority of players will earn less than $1 million this fall.

Here, according to the NFLPA, are the players from each AFC South team currently scheduled to make a base salary of $1 million or more in 2011. Keep in mind guys in line for some form of free agency are not part of things here.

Fifty-three of 216 players under contract are slated to make $1 million or more. That’s 24.5 percent of the division.

Houston Texans
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 13

Total players under contract for 2011: 49

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 26.5

Indianapolis Colts
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 11

Total players under contract for 2011: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 19.3

Jacksonville Jaguars
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 13

Total players under contract for 2011: 51

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 25.5

Tennessee Titans
Total base salaries of $1 million or more: 16

Total players under contract for 2011: 59

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.1

*Young will be cut or traded, the Titans have announced.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider