AFC South: Terrence Johnson

AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:


Right tackle: Rashad Butler versus Derek Newton

Right guard: Antoine Caldwell versus Brandon Brooks

The Texans are reshaping the right side of their offensive line after releasing right tackle Eric Winston to save money and watching right guard Mike Brisiel take a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders.

Butler and Caldwell have experience in the system and go into training camp as favorites to win the starting jobs. But it won’t be a giant upset if one of them loses out to the promising kid in position to make a push. The team is high on Newton, who appeared in 14 games as a rookie in 2011, and Brooks, a third-round pick who was listed at 343 pounds when he was drafted and would be the team’s biggest lineman even if he slims down. We won't see Newton and Brooks as starters, but we could see one of them pull an upset.


Cornerback: Kevin Thomas versus all comers at left cornerback

The secondary is the Colts’ biggest issue, and depth beyond starting right cornerback Jerraud Powers is very questionable at corner. Thomas lined up as the second starter during spring and summer work. But the team did a lot to give itself other options for that slot as well as nickel and dime.

The Colts traded for Cassius Vaughn, claimed Korey Lindsey off waivers and signed free agent Justin King, previously of St. Louis. Those three, plus holdovers Chris Rucker, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King will look to earn roles during training camp. The team could continue to seek help at corner, too.


Cornerback: Rashean Mathis versus Aaron Ross

While Derek Cox will man right cornerback, veterans Mathis and Ross will compete for the starting job on the left side.

Mathis is a true pro who’s been a good leader for the Jaguars for nine seasons. He’s made great progress in a comeback from a shredded knee suffered in November. Ross was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams with the New York Giants and also offers leadership. The guy who doesn’t get the starting job still will be an important player on defense, lining up in the slot in the nickel package.


Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck versus Jake Locker

It’s experience versus potential in what will be one of the most-watched training camp battles in the NFL. Don’t believe Hasselbeck can’t lose the job. Coach Mike Munchak wouldn’t be setting it up as a competition for show.

To me, the question is whether Locker can be accurate enough to make his mobility too appealing to pass up. If so, he’s got a chance. If not, then Hasselbeck should retain the job. In the long run, it would be far easier to pull Hasselbeck along the way than it would be to take Locker out of the lineup. That could be a factor in what the Titans say will likely boil down to a gut feeling on whom they are better off with under center.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts generated some buzz Tuesday afternoon, putting their rookie quarterback on display in front of approximately 7,500 fans in a minicamp practice at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was the public’s first real look at the new regime in action, and they hope it also served to sell some tickets -- the 3,000 available seats were marked off and fans could sample them before buying.

Standard disclaimer: There is not a ton to glean from a minicamp practice, with no pads, no contact and systems still being installed.

Even so, here are 10 things from this afternoon:

1) I’ve generally expressed surprise that this building came with the giant window and the retractable roof, as it’s so rarely open during football season. But today was a lovely day to have it. I watched from the stands at midfield rather than the corner of the end zone that was the designated press area. And in the shade with a lovely breeze made it was a phenomenal spot.

2) During kick-return work early on as quarterbacks threw to get loose, Reggie Wayne stepped in for the equipment man who was catching Andrew Luck’s throws. (Most non-special teamers just stood around. There was more of that than in similar situations under the previous regime.) Later in a similar situation, Austin Collie did the same. Every little bit helps, and there is no sense having the equipment guy get familiar with Luck’s throws. It’s not a big deal, but it’s hardly insignificant either.

3) Eight guys were in line for field kicks during the kick-return work -- the ones named by the team’s play by play guy who worked as MC were receivers Donnie Avery, LaVon Brazill and Jabin Sambrano, running back Deji Karim and cornerback Cassius Vaughn.

4) Coach Chuck Pagano said as the hybrid 3-4 comes together, ends turned outside linebacker Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will spend some of the positional periods working with linebackers and some with defensive linemen. Freeney was with the linemen today and Mathis with the backers.

5) Luck showed me some arm strength. I’ve not bought into the doubters, but I don’t see how they’d have many questions after a day like today. He threw a solid 55-yard pass to the goal line for Wayne that fell incomplete but not for lack of distance. On another throw to Wayne that required a dart of 20 or 25 yards as the receiver angled in from the left side, Luck fired it right in there with great zip. The arm’s not an issue.

6) In 2:00 drill work, Luck showed nice touch and Collie made a nice adjustment to a fade, catching a short TD pass over cornerback Terrence Johnson.

7) Pagano pumped up the crowd with a thank you over the loudspeaker system when things wrapped, talking about making LOS a place with a big home-field advantage. We’ll see if Luck’s “debut” and the practice session sold many tickets.

8 ) According to Pagano, Colts rookies have two weeks left of the seven offseason weeks they can work at the facility with coaches. Those days can be 10 hours long, so Luck and coordinator Bruce Arians will get some serious time together before things shut down until camp.

9) Seth Olsen is playing at left guard with the starting offensive line, but Pagano said Olsen working ahead of Joe Reitz is a matter of the team monitoring and protecting Reitz’s workload as he’s been nicked, and there isn't any clear depth chart advantage at this point. Pagano didn't specify Reitz's nick.

10) Finally, I know many of you don’t care about debates over access or consider it inside baseball. Still I am compelled to get on the record here. The Colts asked credentialed press not to tweet during practice and as far as I know we abided despite our protests. I don't want to live tweet play-by-play, but when I see news at a public event, I need to be free to share it. So going forward, I ask them to realize it’s impossible to keep any secrets from any public practice.

Nate Dunlevy is a quality reporter and writer, and the Bleacher Report’s AFC South writer was in the stands, without a credential. So if you followed him today (@NateDunlevy) you got info about who was on the first team and what was unfolding. Why should, the Indy Star and others who are spending money to have people “cover” the Colts minicamp be restricted while the 7,500 who walked in the gates to watch practice were free to tweet whatever they liked?

It’s not sensible, and it comes across as a control issue. The post-Bill Polian Colts have loosened up with the media, and we’re all grateful for that. But the franchise has got to rethink this issue. Because at training camp practices with crowds, if a reporter being paid to be there sees news, there is no rationalizing not getting it out there. John Doe will, and he shouldn't be entitled to be first, maybe for hours. He also might not be able to offer the context the reporter can. It doesn’t make sense that relationships between the press and the team could be damaged as a result of a media member breaking with a policy that shouldn't exist.
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Colts in 2012.

Dream scenario (8-8): I consider this a pretty optimistic dream, but since we’re dreaming …

This one would require exemplary rookie seasons from quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and at least a few others from the new regime’s first class.

But beyond that, they’ll need several guys from the old regime to play far better in a new system than they did in the old one for which they were better suited.

Donald Brown or Delone Carter will have to run effectively, for example. From a pool of returning cornerbacks, including Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King, they need to find at least a nickel, and that presumes the guy they just traded for, Cassius Vaughn, will be the second starter. (If I am playing against the Colts, with that collection of defensive backs, I’m trying to get them in dime.)

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis prove to be pass-rushing demons as outside linebackers in a 3-4 base set in which they are coming from less predictable spots and forcing quarterbacks into all kind of mistakes. Their play offsets the questions at other spots for the defense and helps set up Luck and the offense with good field position.

Nightmare scenario (2-14): Yes, it’s possible the first year of the Ryan Grigson-Chuck Pagano regime matches the last year of the Bill Polian-Jim Caldwell one.

The Colts will face Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in 2012. But if things go badly, plenty of second- and third-tier quarterbacks will also shred a patchwork secondary that added only safety Tom Zbikowski in free agency and Vaughn in a trade and got no help in the draft.

The defense can prove to have too few quality pieces to run a 3-4 or a 4-3 effectively, and if it’s giving up a lot of points, Luck will be dropping back a lot to try to lead comebacks. If a line of leftovers and castoffs can’t consistently fend off rushers, there will be trouble.

Should Luck get hurt and miss any time, the team will look to Drew Stanton or seventh-round pick Chandler Harnish. Either one is likely to leave fans pining for the halcyon days of Dan Orlovsky.

Also damaging would be the Texans' ability to stay good and improvements from Tennessee and Jacksonville. The Colts got their two wins last season against the Titans and Texans late in the year.
Regrets? Everybody’s got a few… We asked for some feedback on one thing you’d like to go back and change for each team in the AFC South.

For the Colts, the overwhelming response was regretting not having a solid backup plan for Peyton Manning. But I’ve said time and time again that all but a few teams in the league would trade the Colts run of success and one awful year for what they’ve had. So I don’t place a lot of blame -- developing some young quarterback with Manning yielding no snaps or luring a quality veteran backup who expected he’d never play would have been difficult.

Here’s my biggest second-guess about the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.

Not shoring up the secondary.

Re-signing safety Melvin Bullitt was, I believe, the right thing to do. But he quickly got hurt and the backup plan was insufficient.

The same can be said at cornerback. They let Kelvin Hayden go over money and while Justin Tryon’s been cast as far better than he is, he was better than the other options. He landed in the doghouse and got cut. Jerraud Powers was the lone quality corner and was under too much strain before he got hurt.

Jacfob Lacey was awful, and got benched, though he rebounded well when he found his way back into the lineup.

No one was afraid to throw the direction of safeties Joe Lefeged or David Caldwell or corners like Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas or Chris Rucker.

The Colts got good play from Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the defensive line and from Pat Angerer at middle linebacker. But on the secondary level, no one played to that standard and it was a big part of what killed the Colts in a miserable season.

Whatever system the new Colts run, it’ll be a big part of what they need to fix under new GM Ryan Grigson.

Rebounding Lacey was big piece for Colts

December, 19, 2011
Jacob Lacey had fallen so far out of favor that he was inactive for the Indianapolis Colts' eighth game after starting the first seven.

The Colts had decided they would be OK without veteran corner Kelvin Hayden, who was cut before the season in a cash-saving move. Then they cut Justin Tryon after three games.

Lacey's struggles made those decisions look very questionable.

But Lacey has played much better since the team gave him back a big role because of injuries.

Sunday he muscled a pass away from Chris Johnson and took it 32 yards to the end zone for a crucial touchdown in the Colts’ win over the Tennessee Titans. He also had 12 tackles and another pass defensed.

“Lacey had an excellent day out there again,” coach Jim Caldwell said.

Lacey is a soft-spoken, thoughtful guy who’s basically working as the No. 1 corner now with Jerraud Powers and Terrence Johnson on IR. His game really slipped, but a change in coordinator from Larry Coyer to Mike Murphy appears to have helped him rebound.

“Team-wise and personally, being in the position we were in has been tough on us, but we never strayed away from each other or gave up on anybody or anything like that,” Lacey said. “It felt good to come out here and show how much we’ve jelled as a unit.

“I put my nose to the grindstone and I used my time at practice to improve myself going against Pierre Garcon every day, just battling, coming out and trying to work on everything I needed to work on.”

Next Level nuggets for you to chew on

December, 7, 2011
Some items I found interesting out of the weekly ESPN Stats and Info Next Level packet that could be things to keep an eye on Sunday:

Jaguars’ pass protection: Defenses have sacked Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert 15 times, rushing four or fewer and 15 times rushing five or more. But they are getting to him nearly twice as often with blitzes. He’s sacked once every 12.9 plays without extra rusher, and once every 6.8 plays with at least one extra.

Indianapolis’ corners: The Colts just lost their top corner, Jerraud Powers, and their nickel corner, Terrence Johnson for the remainder of the season to injuries. Baltimore challenges the defenders on the outside often as quarterback Joe Flacco thrown outside the number more than anyone except Tony Romo and Eli Manning. Flacco’s only connected on 48.9 percent of his 221 attempts to the outside, however.

The Saints in the middle of the field: No one throws more passes between the numbers than New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. He’s hitting 72.4 percent of his passes to the middle of the field, for an average of 8.2 yards per attempt with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Titans rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is coming off an AFC defensive player of the week showing in the win at Buffalo, but Brees will challenge him along with the Titans safeties and nickel corner Cortland Finnegan.

Keep the Bengals from YAC: Houston has tackled pretty well all season and needs to keep it up. The Bengals rarely get a boost from big yards after the catch. Only 39.1 percent of their passing yards come after the catch, the second-lowest percentage in the league. It amounts to only 4.5 yards per catch.

The Colts blitzing: Indianapolis and Philadelphia are tied with the fewest defensive plays sending five or more pass rushers, with 76. But Colts opponents have fared far better against those blitzes than teams going against the Eagles. Against the Colts, quarterbacks have hit 61.8 percent of their pass attempts for seven touchdowns, no interceptions, three sacks and a 120.1 passer rating. Against the Eagles those numbers are 43.4, six, one, six and 95.6.

Defensive back blitzes: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to blitz anyone from anywhere. Matt Hasselbeck will have to be on the lookout for guys coming out of the secondary. The Saints have blitzed a safety or corner a league-high 117 times. (The Colts have sent a defensive back after the passer a league-low 11 times, and the Jaguars are second at 22.)

RTC: Why would Manning want to stay?

December, 6, 2011
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak is 46-46 as coach of the Texans, says Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle. It’s fitting that as the team overcomes serious injuries and continues to win this season, he can get over .500 for the first time Sunday in Cincinnati.

A Texans win and a Titans loss Sunday would clinch the division for the Houston, and it could happen without Andre Johnson on the field, says John McClain of the Chronicle.

T.J. Yates got good reviews after his first start, says McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

Is there a good reason for Peyton Manning to want to stay in Indianapolis? There is a growing schism between the quarterback and the front office and he especially dislikes insinuations that he’s pulling strings behind the scenes, says Bob Kravitz on the Indianapolis Star. Kravitz asks why Manning would want to be part of a dysfunctional mess like the Colts.

Cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Terrence Johnson are the newest guys out of the mix because of injuries, says Mike Chappell.

The Patriots didn’t take the Colts seriously, says Tom Curran of Comcast Sportsnet.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Despite all the change and promise, the Jaguars endured the same result, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

The Chargers exploited the Jaguars’ injury-depleted secondary on "Monday Night Football," says Tania Ganguli of the T-U.

Maurice Jones-Drew continued to carry the load for Jacksonville, says Don Coble of the T-U.

The city of Jacksonville and the Jaguars’ defense have taken way too many hits, says Gene Frenette of the T-U.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans hope Jason McCourty recovers from a concussion in time to have the Titans at full strength to defend Drew Brees and the Saints, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Cortland Finnegan is the Titans' Walter Payton Man of the Year for the second consecutive season, says Wyatt.

Tennessee is excelling on special teams, says Wyatt.

Roster moves in Indy and Jacksonville

December, 5, 2011
We've got roster news in Indianapolis and Jacksonville.

The Colts’ pass defense, miserable as it’s been, is about to get worse.

The team’s top cornerback, Jerraud Powers, and another corner who’s played a lot, Terrence Johnson, were put on injured reserve today after suffering injuries in the loss to New England.

Jacob Lacey, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker figure to be the top three players at the position going forward.

Linebacker Zac Diles, cut by Tampa Bay, was claimed off waivers by Indy.

In Jacksonville, the Jaguars claimed and were awarded receiver Taylor Price from New England. The third-rounder was a bit of a surprising release by the Patriots.

It appears the Jaguars won’t have to clear roster space for Price until tomorrow.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

T.J. Yates held his own on a day Reliant Stadium might have been as loud as ever and the Texans boosted their record to 9-3, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Arian Foster was at the center of a giant drive that rested the defense and provided the winning points, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

There is now officially a storybook quality to the Texans who are even with the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots for the best record in the AFC, says Richard Justice of the Chronicle.

Gary Kubiak motivated his guys by telling them about how they were an underdog and how it was an insult to the league’s top-ranked defense, says Jeffrey Martin of the Chronicle.

Kareem Jackson was among the defensive stars, say McClain and Martin.

Joel Dreessen added to his tremendous TD-to-catch ratio, says McClain.

At the scouting combine at Indianapolis, Yates was a low-ranking quarterback. Which meant he arrived early, stayed late and threw a ton as a combine arm who provided the passes for all the other prospects to catch, says Mike Silver of Yahoo.

Gary Kubiak made it clear he isn’t scaling anything back for Yates, says Jeff Darlington of

Eric Winston said if the Texans could win with Yates and what they have against Atlanta, they can win with it any time, says Clark Judge of

Indianapolis Colts

Dan Orlovsky led some late scoring drives and gave the Colts a shot to win, but it was too little, too late, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Orlovsky wasn’t interested in his good stat line since it came with a loss, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Linebacker Pat Angerer and corners Terrence Johnson and Jerraud Powers were all lost to first-half injuries, says Chappell.

When the Patriots rolled early, the pace killed the Colts, writes Phillip B. Wilson.

Rob Gronkowski had a field day for the Patriots, says Wilson.

Peyton Manning’s interview with James Brown on CBS. (Video.)

Don’t take Orlovsky’s performance seriously, he’s horrible, says Nate Dunlevy of

Jacksonville Jaguars

After a big week of change, the Jaguars and coach Mel Tucker turn their attention to Monday Night Football against the Chargers, writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Stellino traces Tucker’s path to his spot as coach of the Jaguars.

The Jaguars’ future in Jacksonville is in the hands of the fans, says Stellino. The only way to quiet speculation about a move is to sell more tickets.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans surpassed their win total from last year and stayed very much in the mix for a playoff berth, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Chris Johnson was sick all week, but it didn’t stop him from another giant game in another big win, says Wyatt.

It says a lot about the Titans’ resilience that they head into the final quarter of the season with a real crack at a playoff spot, says David Climer.

Injuries meant the Titans used a piecemeal secondary, says Climer.

Michael Griffin’s big play wound up with a favorable bounce for the Bills, say Wyatt and Climer.

Breaking down Colts as they break down

October, 27, 2011
Peyton ManningDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Colts were clearly ill-prepared for life without star quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s ugly in Indianapolis.

At 0-7, the Colts are talking about sticking together, improving and giving themselves a chance to win.

But as they prepare for a trip to Nashville for a Sunday meeting with the Titans at LP Field, they are a severely broken team. Where they would be with Peyton Manning is an interesting hypothetical question, but we’re dealing with realities. And those realities are the sort that will test the franchise’s stitching -- seamwork that might not hold together when this is all over.

Who’s at fault? Everyone’s got a hand in it, but let’s look at the Colts from a couple of angles.

A big cover-up: It’s not a secret that Manning has helped cover up a lot of flaws and allowed the franchise to under-address certain areas.

The Colts during the Manning era have never been much concerned with size, always valuing speed and instincts more. They’ve never worried about stocking special teams with any veteran backups, in part because they spend their money on stars or adding a high-quality return man. They’ve settled for being below average running the ball. And they’ve won despite a general inability to stop the run.

Without their four-time MVP running the offense, all those things are magnified in ways they’ve never been before.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re built to have Manning at the controls, and he’s been there all the time from the very beginning in 1998 until opening day this season.

There are maybe two teams and markets in the league that would not trade for what the Colts have done since 1999. Twelve consecutive playoff seasons followed by one complete dud? Where do I sign up for that?

[+] EnlargeJacob Lacey
Michael Hickey/US PresswirePersonnel decisions by the Colts put cornerback Jacob Lacey, 27, in a prominent role in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Construct questions: That said, regardless of a serious neck surgery to the star quarterback, what exactly was the plan in the secondary? Is an evaluation that leaves Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker as cornerbacks Nos. 2 through 5 good enough? Absolutely not.

The Colts get credit for adding a couple of outside veterans this season -- linebacker Ernie Sims, and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. But the drafting has dropped off.

Set aside the most recent class, as it’s too early to judge.

The Colts drafted 41 players from 2005 through 2010. I count one star, safety Antoine Bethea, and two guys who can become stars, linebacker Pat Angerer and receiver Austin Collie (if he’s working with Manning). Running back Joseph Addai is a good fit who does more than people think. And receiver Pierre Garcon and cornerback Jerraud Powers have been pretty solid starters.

Sure, the Colts drafted higher in the five years before. Still, those classes produced five guys who rank among the best players of their generation at their positions: tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Bob Sanders, and receiver Reggie Wayne. The next tier provided steady starters on the offensive line (Jake Scott, Ryan Diem) and at linebacker (David Thornton).

That list is more than a third of a starting team, a big-time core. As those guys age or disappear, I'm not seeing a core in waiting.

Colts president-turned-vice chairman Bill Polian said recently on his radio show that they needed to have done better recently, particularly at defensive tackle and cornerback.

And there is a domino effect to the problem. Find Tarik Glenn’s ultimate replacement at left tackle in 2007, and you don’t need to use your top pick in 2011 on Anthony Castonzo. Hit on Donald Brown in the first round in 2009, and Delone Carter might not be necessary in the fourth round in 2011.

The Polians: Bill Polian has been pulling back and yielding responsibility to his son, GM Chris Polian. (Chris politely declined to be interviewed for this story.)

We don’t yet have much tape on Chris Polian, so to speak. Bill Polian is a good talent evaluator who has had success in three NFL stops and has done well to build a team with which Manning has won. But Bill Polian also has overseen those recent draft drop-offs.

His strong-willed personality is part of what has made him good at his job, and his big-picture assessment of important league issues is as intelligent as anyone’s. He’s got clout and influence that extend beyond Indianapolis.

Stylistically, he’s a stubborn and demanding boss. There are indications from within that, without the steady stream of personnel hits he provided earlier in his tenure, some inside the building are tiring of the way things are run.

Bill Polian recently talked about how Curtis Painter's play vindicates the team for having faith in him, but failed to mention that faith was so strong that the team signed Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract shortly before the season started and handed him the starting job.

I suspect Bill Polian has the backing of owner Jim Irsay for as long as he wants it. That would ensure safety for Chris Polian, too.

Bill Polian made the Manning-over-Ryan Leaf call in 1998. Because of the way Leaf busted, people forget that was a coin flip at the time, that Leaf was regarded as a big-time prospect just as much as Manning was. Polian called it correctly, built a team that’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, got a new stadium built, and greatly enhanced the value of Irsay’s franchise.

Cryptic messages: Further complicating things is Irsay, who clearly gets a kick out of being the center of NFL attention in the Twitter-verse but has undermined some of his people with it.

He announced the team added Collins while coach Jim Caldwell was conducting his daily news conference. It did Caldwell no favors, as he appeared completely out of the loop.

Most recently, following the 62-7 loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, Irsay provided this gem:
“Titanic collapse, apologies 2 all ColtsNation...problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again”

A day later, he added:
"Just because you perceive problems on the horizon,and you possess solutions..doesn't mean they are avoidable and implementation is instant"

Solutions in progress, but complex in nature. That sounds to me like what would be written in big silver letters on the lobby wall of a consulting company on a TV show. Or a clever, but far-too-long name for a band.

It also sounds like change is going to come.

Coaching questions: While Bill Polian recently said that adding Jim Tressel to the staff as a replay consultant was Caldwell’s idea, it’s a weird-looking move that’s made some of us wonder whether a bigger role awaits the former Ohio State coach.

Caldwell does a nice job managing personalities, looking at things philosophically and staying on message. I believe he’s a good teacher, and his patient, quiet style is generally healthy for a team with a good share of veteran stars.

But he has blind spots, too, and is hardly a strategy master. There are bound to be significant changes at the conclusion of what’s sure to be a dreadful season, and he’ll be at the front of the line.

If he does the best job we can remember at holding a terrible, ineffective team together, is that enough? I’d guess not.

Injuries: This team gets hurt too much. There is a huge element of bad luck to it, of course. But is there something bigger at work as well?

Last season as quality players went down, Manning helped some role players such as tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White emerge. This season, guys such as linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early, and there's been a revolving door on the offensive line because of injuries.

The Colts are constantly testing their depth and shuffling the back end of their roster. There is only so much shuffling a depth chart can handle.

I believe they need to attempt some change that might have a positive effect on their overall health -- whether it be adopting new training philosophies, altering how they evaluate prospects or changing personnel philosophies.

It's easy to ask them to figure out why they tend to suffer so many injuries, and it's hard to find an answer. But some sort of shift is due, even as we know it comes with no guarantee of better health.

When the current approach is failing, it's OK to try something else. It's not admitting some sort of failure; it's merely part of a necessary process of evaluating and revising operations.

Suck for Luck: Given a chance to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, I think the Colts would. Bill Polian can give Chris Polian the guy expected to be the NFL's next great quarterback, and Chris Polian's legacy would be built on a fantastic cornerstone.

But there is no losing on purpose to get in position for Luck. You think Wayne or Mathis is interested in such a master plan?

Said veteran center and team tone-setter Jeff Saturday: “I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote: 'I ain't sucking for anybody.'”

Steady Bethea surrounded by questions

October, 20, 2011
Antoine Bethea is surrounded by nobodies.

Jerraud Powers is a good corner who’s going to be a factor for a while, but he’s got a bad hamstring.

Everyone else in the Indianapolis Colts’ secondary is hardly noteworthy.

Yet Bethea is playing as effectively as a free safety in such circumstances can, a true pro who won’t allow his game to be influenced by such circumstances.

Quarterbacks are completing 69.9 percent of their passes against Indianapolis. They have a 104.0 passer rating and a 70 QBR (out of 100), the 31st worst number in the league.

I’m not sure what Indianapolis’ plan for the secondary was this season. When they let cornerback Kelvin Hayden go because he cost too much, one had to believe the Colts felt confident in the alternatives. Then Justin Tryon, who was an effective player last season, fell out of favor and wound up getting cut. The No. 2 corner, Jacob Lacey, is no longer a full-timer in the base defense with Terrence Johnson getting some time in the spot.

The Colts are playing David Caldwell at strong safety in the base defense and Joe Lefeged in the spot in the nickel.

Corner Chris Rucker is also seeing some action.

“As a veteran back there, I see myself as the glue,” Bethea said. “One of my roles is to get everybody lined up and confident. As a safety, that’s my job.”

Bethea said he likes the way the Colts are deploying their other safeties, using Caldwell (“He lays the boom”) against the run and Lefeged (“He plays the ball well”) in passing situations. In time each may be well-rounded enough to be a full-timer, but for right now splitting the job between them is a smart approach.

Bethea is backing his guys, but neither has been great since Melvin Bullitt was lost for the year with a shoulder injury.

Bethea said the young corners need to play technique, show improvement week by week and be sure not to repeat the same mistakes.

The Tryon situation was business, and players can’t spend time questioning a front office decision. Bethea is great at focusing on his stuff and his guys. He said that although 0-5 is a miserable place, no matter where the team goes moving forward we will not see the sort of fissures that often open on struggling teams.

As for being surrounded by unproven guys ...

“You can’t let other people affect how you play,” Bethea said matter-of-factly. “How you play is how you play, how you study is how you study. If my play goes down because there are different players around me, it says guys can’t look up to me. They need to see 41 flying around, playing hard, making plays.”

AFC South Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Jacob Lacey, Indianapolis Colts cornerback: Lacey is ideally a dime guy, maybe a nickel. But the Colts married themselves to him as their No. 2 starter right after the lockout in a move many of us still struggle to understand. Lately they’ve been using Terrence Johnson some. Sunday in Cincinnati it sure seemed like they went with Lacey early and then pulled him for Johnson. If there was anyone on the roster who was capable of putting real pressure on Lacey, he’d have to get some time on the bench to get his game together. Drew Brees will look his way and see red meat.

2. Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback: In a poor first half for the Jaguars in Pittsburgh, Mathis was exceptionally noticeable. He had a crack at a hit that would have prevented a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run, got stiff-armed out of another run play, he dropped a ball I thought he could have picked and was in defense on a touchdown pass to Mike Wallace (yes he’s tough to defend, but still). Mathis is a quality leader and a quality guy. He told the team after the game that it’s on the cusp of winning a game. They may be, but he’s one of the guys who’s got to do better to make it happen.

3. Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano, Tennessee Titans interior offensive linemen: Mike Munchak’s team has been very good in pass protection, which is why Matt Hasselbeck’s been able to be such a significant story. But run blocking is an issue, and these two guys are the root of it. Munchak is steadfastly loyal to the group that started for him last season when he was offensive line coach, but asked recently if he was considering any line changes, his answer wasn’t “no,” it was “not yet.” That’s as close as this pair may come to getting put on notice. Fernando Velasco is the one legitimate alternative on the bench.

[+] EnlargeTim Jamison
Zuma Press/Icon SMITim Jamison has stepped up admirably in Mario Williams' absence.

1. Tim Jamison, Houston Texans defensive end: As the Texans started life without injured outside linebacker Mario Williams, Jamison exploded with a big first-half performance: two sacks, including one that forced a fumble he recovered that set up a touchdown. It was an impressive showing, and it’s the sort of effort from a member of the supporting cast that the Texans can really use. Gary Kubiak said he sees Jamison as a young Antonio Smith. That’s high praise considering what a player Smith is.

2. The Tennessee Titans’ health: Coming off a bye, the Titans appear pretty healthy. Safety Chris Hope (arm) is out for a long stretch. Backup linebacker and special-teamer Colin McCarthy (hamstring) may be the only other issue. If tight end Craig Stevens (ribs) is feeling better, things will be looking up for the Titans. And considering the Texans just played the very physical Ravens and have a banged-up quarterback in Matt Schaub, it’s a nice advantage to have.

3. Indianapolis’ pass protection: The Colts have scrambled to patch things together with a bunch of injured guys, but quarterback Curtis Painter has gone over 100 pass attempts without an interception and he’s had time the past few games to make his reads and make his throws. Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne have been beneficiaries. This line’s taken a beating when things have been bad, and run blocking is no strength. But the group is stepping up to give the young quarterback a chance.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 14, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Blitzing Joe Flacco: The Texans generally get good pass pressure without extra rushers. A lot of that has been because of end-turned-linebacker Mario Williams. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Texans have 21 sacks when rushing four or fewer players since the start of 2010. Williams recorded 10 of them, and no other player has more than 4.5. Williams is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Can Houston get to Flacco with a standard rush? If it can’t, will defensive coordinator Wade Phillips call for more blitzing? How the Texans try to disrupt Baltimore’s quarterback will be a big story line in Texans-Ravens.

[+] EnlargeMaurice-Jones Drew
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThrough five weeks, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew has 476 rush yards and two touchdowns.
Get MJD cranking: The Steelers have given up some big run yards this season, including 150 yards to Houston’s Arian Foster. To win at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars will need Maurice Jones-Drew to carry a big share of the load. He’s gained more than 80 yards in every game so far. That’s a rare feat; only Edgerrin James (2005), Priest Holmes (2003) and Robert Smith (1996) have done it over the last 15 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jacksonville’s offensive line has been inconsistent and injuries have caused them to change things up. Tackles Eugene Monroe and Guy Whimper have been limited at practice this week.

Defensive backfield in doubt: Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie receiver A.J. Green have developed a pretty good connection so far. The Colts will have to rely on their pass rush to throw Dalton out of rhythm, because their struggling secondary is a mess. Their best cornerback, Jerraud Powers, is probably out with a hamstring injury. That means Green will be working against the likes of Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson and Chris Rucker. It’s a group that did not have much success at all against Dwayne Bowe and the Kansas City Chiefs receivers a week ago.

Tight end- and running back-reliant: Matt Schaub threw for 416 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, but only 99 of those yards went to wide receivers. Schaub is the only quarterback since 2001 to throw for 300 yards in a single game to just tight ends and running backs. Although the team added Derrick Mason, Gary Kubiak and Schaub probably will continue to lean on Arian Foster, Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen. They can win featuring those guys in the passing game, provided they get plays after intermission as well as before. Houston has outscored the competition 90-25 in the first half and been outscored 70-37 in the second half. They have scored 6 points in the third quarter. It doesn't say much about their ability to make any adjustments.

Mindset: While the Titans enjoy a weekend off, everyone involved in the run game should be preparing to return to action absolutely determined to get things cranking. They simply cannot be the worst run team in the league and remain an AFC playoff contender. Chris Johnson has to show far more determination and get back to running downhill. All his blockers and play-caller Chris Palmer have to get to the root of the issue and solve it. Five games is plenty for them to understand what is happening, what is not happening, and why.

AFC South Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. The secondary, Indianapolis Colts: Safety David Caldwell dropped an end-zone interception that really could have influenced the game early on. The three cornerbacks who were on the field a lot struggled to locate pass-catchers and get them to the ground. Are Terrence Johnson, Jacob Lacey and Chris Rucker good enough to hold up against superior passing teams like New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston and New England coming up later on the schedule? It’s a rhetorical question, and the answer right now is no.

2. Danieal Manning, Houston Texans special-teamer: We’re not knocking Manning the safety here. We’re knocking the guy who blocked a Pittsburgh field goal attempt on the last play before halftime. He circled around and was one of a convoy of Texans following Johnathan Joseph as he scooped up the kick to run it back for a score, and Manning inexplicably shoved kicker Daniel Sepulveda in the back. There was no way the kicker was going to threaten the play, and Houston was very fortunate to survive the lost touchdown. So props to Manning on the block, but he’s got to be smarter from there.

3. Linebackers, Jacksonville Jaguars: The team poured money into the position in the offseason, and Paul Posluszny and Clint Session are good players. But Posluszny dropped a pick and Daryl Smith let Drew Brees guide him out of bounds on an interception return. The backers were repeatedly victimized by running back Darren Sproles, who averaged 10.9 yards a touch, and tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught 10 balls for 132 yards. The Jaguars need more from these guys against players like that.

[+] EnlargePierre Garcon
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesBoth of Pierre Garcon's receptions Monday night went for touchdowns.

1. Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis receiver: He can be maddening with his drops -- he had one early against the Bucs. But the reason he’s around is that he can change games with one play. He had two of them for the Colts Monday night, grabbing Curtis Painter passes and doing excellent work after the catch. They were the sort of explosive offensive plays Indianapolis has to have if it’s going to be competitive.

2. Tight ends, Tennessee Titans: Among the people the team has talked of needing to help fill the void without Kenny Britt, Jared Cook was a top name. If teams choose to cover him and attempt to tackle him the way the Browns did, look for him to put up monster numbers. Craig Stevens is regarded as more of a blocker, but he did well to catch a touchdown. If Cook, Stevens and Daniel Graham can continue to be counted as good targets for the accurate Matt Hasselbeck, there is a lot of cause for hope. Those guys complementing receivers Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins are looking like a strong group.

3. Antonio Smith, Houston Texans defensive end: He’ll represent the entire defensive front here, which has been very good and which just overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line in Sunday’s win. Ben Roethlisberger can be exceptionally tough to drag down, but Smith and the Texans ganged up on him for five sacks and really hit him with great regularity. The secondary is vastly improved, but life is a lot better back when a quarterback like Roethlisberger has little time to work.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 24, Colts 17

October, 4, 2011
Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 24-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Colts are 0-4 for the first time since 1998, and while things have gotten a bit better they are still flailing. They rank with the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings as the NFL’s remaining winless teams.

What I didn’t like: A gruesome leg injury suffered by defensive tackle Eric Foster that left teammates ashen-faced and fearful. Clearly in great pain, he pounded his chest and the roof of the cart as he was taken from the field with his leg in a blow-up brace. The Colts also lost starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and his backup, fellow rookie Ben Ijalana, to injuries. That meant Mike Tepper, signed off the practice squad earlier in the day, was with the starting offense at the conclusion of the game.

What I liked: The inconsistent Pierre Garcon made two giant plays for Curtis Painter, for 87- and 59-yard touchdowns. While he lost a fumble and absorbed four sacks, Painter's 13-for-30, 281-yard effort with the two scores and no picks was a good enough effort to win.

Not assertive enough: With 8:27 left in the third quarter of a 10-10 game, Painter threw an incomplete pass on third down with less than a yard to go near midfield. Then the Colts punted. The Colts have to run there, and if they don't then they have to run on fourth down. For years we’ve talked about how they need to be able to run for a yard. Even with a dinged up offensive line, Delone Carter can’t get a yard?

Ugly numbers: The Colts allowed 466 net yards, left their defense on the field for 39 minutes and let Tampa Bay get away with 14 penalties worth 106 yards.

Still wondering: After watching Terrence Johnson, Jacob Lacey and Chris Rucker work as cornerbacks, I was still left wondering why the Colts decided to release Justin Tryon last week.

What’s next: The Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs, who just got their first win Sunday. The Chiefs could provide Indianapolis’ best chance to win yet.