AFC South: Thomas Jones

NFL Power IllustrationThe voting for the NFL's top running back was a tight one between Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.’s NFL writers rank the top 10 running backs in the league today. Next week: Top 10 pass-rushers.

When it came to deciding who we think is the NFL’s best running back, everyone representing the NFL Blog Network chose between Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson at the top of the ballot.

Everyone except AFC West blogger Bill Williamson, that is.

Williamson’s second-place vote for Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles bumped Peterson to third on his ballot. So instead of Peterson splitting the top spot with Johnson, he came in second by a mere point -- 76 to 75.

Johnson joins Houston receiver Andre Johnson as tops at his spot in our positional power rankings.

“I squeezed Charles in between Johnson and Peterson because I think Charles may be rising some and Peterson may be falling just a tad,” Williamson said. “We all know running backs have short shelf lives, so any little indication of slippage could be significant.

“I know Johnson slipped some in 2010, but this is still a highly productive player who has plenty left in the tank. I think Johnson gives defensive coordinators more Tuesday night headaches than any tailback in the league right now. I get to see Charles quite a bit, and he is simply explosive. He truly can score any time he touches the ball.”

Full disclosure: I very nearly put Charles second, too, though had I made the move it would have pushed back Johnson, not Peterson -- and given us that tie. Ultimately, I put Peterson first because I think he’s largely resolved his biggest issue, fumbling, while Johnson regressed in 2010 as a pass-catching threat. I think Charles is fantastic, but he hasn't approached the workload of AP or CJ yet, so I put him third.

The overall ballot created a tie for third between two other top-flight backs, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Houston’s Arian Foster, giving the AFC South three of the top four backs in the poll.

Foster was dinged by an eighth-place vote by me (love him, but one year is not a big enough sample size for a lead back), while Jones-Drew was hurt by an eighth-place vote by NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert.

"Maybe next time MJD will think twice about crossing an NFC North player,” Seifert said. “Seriously, his Twitter criticism of Jay Cutler played no role in my decision. As I did last week with Andre Johnson, I'll plead unfamiliarity. I don't have anything against Maurice Jones-Drew. As an NFC North divisional blogger, I haven't had many opportunities to see him play. First-person observations tend to have a bigger impact on your judgment. Plus, I wanted to give the Jaguars' fan something to get upset about."

Charles finished fifth, with the second-place vote from Williamson and No. 10 vote from NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, who also cast the lone vote for Charles’ backfield partner, Thomas Jones.

Yasinskas put Jones, who was with the New York Jets in 2007-09, two spots ahead of Charles.

Yasinskas said he didn’t want to give too much weight to flavor-of-the-year candidates and still wants to see more from Foster and Charles before really anointing them.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Chris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTennessee's Chris Johnson rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and topped the list of four of our eight panelists.
“That’s why I based my ballot mainly on looking independently at combined rushing totals of the last two years and the last three years and then drawing conclusions,” Yasinskas said. “Foster’s had one good year and Charles has had two. I tried to focus on guys who have been consistently productive for at least two years and preferably the last three years.

“That thinking led me to cast the lone vote for Thomas Jones, who didn’t make our top 10. I’ve got no regrets about that vote. Jones’ numbers dipped last season and there is no doubt he’s nearing the end of his career. But his numbers in the previous two seasons were outstanding, and when you combine them with his numbers from last year he still stacked up well compared to most running backs over two- and three-year spans, which were the time periods I tried to focus on.”

Jones, 32, and LaDainian Tomlinson, 31, were the oldest backs to draw votes. Seifert placed Tomlinson 10th.

Otherwise the panel leaned to youth.

Among the 12 backs who made our top 10 list, based on ties, Michael Turner (29), Steven Jackson (27) and Frank Gore (27) rank as the old men. The other nine are 25 or younger.

Turner edged Jackson for sixth, making every ballot. AFC East blogger Tim Graham didn’t include Jackson in his voting.

“I couldn't bring myself to vote for Jackson because he averaged only 3.8 yards a carry, scored six touchdowns and had little impact in the passing game,” Graham said.

Ray Rice has a big cushion for eighth while Rashard Mendenhall finished ninth, with two seventh-place votes but three voters not including him.

Gore, LeSean McCoy and Darren McFadden finished tied for 10th, while Jones, Peyton Hillis and Tomlinson got votes but didn’t make the final list.

I found it tough to pass on Gore, but he played in only 11 games in 2010 before landing on IR with a hip injury. There was such stiff competition, so I leaned on guys who were more durable.

“Gore has certainly played at a high level longer than Rice, Turner or McFadden,” NFC West blogger Mike Sando said. “He's produced across systems for a team that has had a different offensive coordinator every season of his career.

“He's never had a quarterback to take pressure off him. Defenses have known what was coming, and Gore has kept coming anyway. It's bitten into his production and taken a toll on his body, but he has produced.”

Final Word: AFC South

December, 3, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/Henny Ray AbramsMaurice Jones-Drew has been blowing past defenses designed to contain him.
No matter the numbers: Maurice Jones-Drew has run well this season when teams have loaded up to try to stop him, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When opposing defenses expect run and bring more defenders into the box than the offense has blockers, Jones-Drew still produces. He has 37 carries under such circumstances and his 4.7 yards per carry average is tied for the third-best in the league. Since the beginning of 2008, only Thomas Jones (18) has more rushing touchdowns against the loaded box than Jones-Drew (15).

Three more TDs: Dallas has not played in Indianapolis since Nov. 17, 2002, when the Colts beat them 20-3. It will be only the third Cowboys-Colts clash of the Peyton Manning era and he’s 2-0 against Dallas. Manning already has an NFL-record 12 seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes. He needs three more TDs to make it 13. In his last two games -- losses to New England and San Diego -- Manning has thrown six touchdown passes but also seven interceptions.

Score more: The Titans were faring great in the scoring department before their four-game losing streak. Now, over the past month, they’ve scored 25, 17, 16 and 0, a total of 58 points. That’s less than half the point production from the four games before that (121). The Titans need some lengthy drives and big plays. They’ve talked over and over about the coverage WR Randy Moss is drawing. But his previous teams found a way to get him 948 catches against difficult coverages and it’s time for the Titans to figure out how. Without Moss, they scored 30 in Jacksonville on Oct. 18.

Beat up: Yes, the Jaguars are playing far better than they were when the Titans beat them up in the first game. The biggest difference heading into the rematch could be the health of the Titans’ defensive line. Tennessee’s pass pressure has dropped off and the group is dealing with injuries. Sen'Derrick Marks is probably out and Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Jason Jones and Tony Brown are all on the injury report. I expect more time for David Garrard and more room for Jones-Drew.

Run wary: The Colts might have Gary Brackett back at middle linebacker, and they could use him. Under interim coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have shown more determination to run the ball. The undersized, undermanned Colts can certainly be run on. They’ve given up 136.9 yards a game and 4.9 yards a carry this season.

Scouts Inc.: Ranking the top running backs

October, 14, 2010
Peterson/Johnson/JacksonUS PresswireAdrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson lead a pack of talented running backs.
The majority of these decisions were clear-cut for me, including deciding between the top two. But after Michael Turner, this list became very difficult to compile.

I was torn between Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy for the last two spots. For me, a true barometer when judging a running back’s greatness is consistency over a long stretch of time -- though I realize that running backs’ life spans are very short. And Mendenhall, Charles and McCoy have not demonstrated that consistency. I left Charles off the list because he isn’t the clear lead dog on his team -- although he certainly should be.

Two other backs I’m very high on, Jonathan Stewart and Beanie Wells, obviously have no case for being on this list, but they do have the skill sets to be among the best in the league.

An all-time great who I thought was washed up, LaDainian Tomlinson, could very well convince me that he belongs back on this list if he continues to perform as well as he has for an extended stretch. What Tomlinson is doing is pretty remarkable, but I also think we need to keep it in perspective. He is in the ideal offense to succeed, with a hammer lead-blocking fullback, the best center in football, outstanding overall blocking, a quarterback who needs the safety blanket check-down receiver that Tomlinson provides and a playcaller dedicated to the run. Just look at how different Thomas Jones has been in Kansas City instead of New York. Still, Tomlinson has completely blown me away.

It's too early to include Houston’s Arian Foster among the top 10 running backs, but what he has done in 2010 is very impressive. I must see more from him, however, to put Foster with the big boys. Foster, the leading rusher in the NFL with 564 yards, has durability concerns and looks to be nicked up. He isn't special enough to be the type of guy who can be counted on week to week, but his downhill, no-nonsense running style is exactly what Gary Kubiak wants in his zone-blocking scheme. (Check out Jeffri Chadiha’s Hot Read on Foster.)

Here are my top 10 running backs.

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings: He is noticeably better than he was a year ago in all phases of his game. And he was the best back in the league last year. I said it then, and I will say it now. Peterson is an all-time great and clearly the best overall running back in football.

2. Chris Johnson, Titans: Johnson has been up and down this year, but some of that has to do with his supporting cast. He did look like the 2009 version of himself in Week 5. There isn’t a more dangerous player in the game.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/Stephen MortonMaurice Jones-Drew has only rushed for one touchdown this season after rushing for 13, 9, 12 and 15 in his first four seasons, respectively.
3. Steven Jackson, Rams: Jackson recently eclipsed the 7,000 rushing yards mark. Just think how many he would have on another team. Jackson contributes in every way possible.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: I actually worry that MJD might, just might, be showing the very first signs of decline to his lofty game. I hope I am wrong about that, because he is a joy to watch and is remarkably consistent. Jones-Drew is a touchdown machine who can beat you as a runner or receiver.

5. Frank Gore, 49ers: The only knock I have on Gore is durability, as he seems like a lock every year to miss a game or three with a lower-body injury. But he is a very special talent who can put a football team on his shoulders. It looks like he is going to have to for the 49ers to rebound.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens: This past week, we finally saw the Rice of 2009. He really does everything well at the running back position. If anything, he should move up this list soon.

7. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: Wow, do I wish that we all could see Williams in Green Bay this year. Instead, he is in an absolutely dismal situation on one of the worst offenses in the league. Since Williams should be a free agent after this season, next year I might just get my wish. I bet he wouldn’t complain either.

8. Michael Turner, Falcons: Turner is a perfect fit for Atlanta’s power running game and they tend to go as he goes. For a big back, he breaks a lot of long runs, but he offers little in the passing game.

9. LeSean McCoy, Eagles: McCoy has come into his own. He is now stronger and understands the NFL game much better. Remember, last year he was one of the youngest players in the league. He’s a dual threat with rare elusiveness. And he really fits the Eagles’ offense. I am a believer.

10. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: Mendenhall has not been spectacular during the first four games this season, but he has gotten a ton of attention from opposing defenses because the Steelers didn’t have a quarterback to speak of. Prediction: The next 12 games will justify this ranking. He is quietly coming into his own and dripping with natural gifts.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 8, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Ninety minutes early: Sunday at 11:30 a.m., we’ll find out just who’s OK to play and who’s not among the Colts. Crucial guys who could miss action include Austin Collie, Antoine Bethea and Jacob Lacey. Bethea, who has a bad hamstring, almost has to play because the Colts will be digging deep to announce a starter at the other safety spot, where Brandon King or DaJuan Morgan look to be the primary possibilities. Whoever lines up at strong safety, look for the Chiefs to try to target him in any way possible.

Watch the tight ends: Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders says the Giants have the league's best defense against tight ends so far this year while the Texans have the league's worst defense against tight ends. Houston’s not looked to Owen Daniels much, though Joel Dreessen’s been effective, averaging 17 yards a catch. Brian Cushing’s return should help the Texans’ defensive deficiency against Kevin Boss, who has 110 yards on just five catches.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Kim Klement/US PresswireFacing Buffalo's struggling run defense may be just what Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars need.
Packed in Bills: The Jaguars seem to have accepted that they need to keep the passing game focused on short stuff to give David Garrard his best chance to succeed. But by doing so, they might not take defenders deep too often. And by not taking them deep, the run game becomes more difficult for Maurice Jones-Drew and blockers who have to deal with more people. Buffalo’s dead last in run defense, so it may not be much of a factor at Ralph Wilson Stadium

Get creative: Outside of some option plays, it doesn't seem like the Titans have been very creative with Vince Young this season. Even if he lost the coaches' faith for his poor preparation during Pittsburgh week, it’s time to see if they can’t find some things to get and keep him in a rhythm. If Young gets off to a hot start, the Cowboys might feel he warrants more attention. If that happens, Chris Johnson might break something big.

Not so unfamiliar: Teams who haven’t faced Peyton Manning often overestimate what they will be able to do against him. But Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has a defensive coordinator in Romeo Crennel who has gone against the four-time MVP before and I’d expect him to have a reasonable approach. On the other side, the Chiefs have a pair of backs in Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles who might be able to pound away at a defense that’s had trouble slowing Arian Foster and Jones-Drew.

Mailbag: Everybody's in

March, 15, 2010
Randy Phillips in Mt.Vernon, Ill., writes: Am I the only Titans fan that realizes the Titans will be better this year? I guess many do not get the point of addition by subtraction. Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch had more penalties than sacks last year. I think Jacob Ford and William Hayes paired with Tony Brown and Jason Jones will be the starting front four, and Titans will probably add a stud DE with 16th pick. Would like Jason Pierre-Pail, but he will probably be gone. Carlos Dunlap could be a great steal at 16. What do you think about that, and who do think starts beside Finnegan this year?

Paul Kuharsky: Kearse hardly played and Hayes and Ford have not shown they can handle a full load of snaps. They’ll be younger, that’s for sure. JPP and Dunlap are both intriguing, but I don’t know how you can guarantee they are good out of the gate. I like the first four, but they need more than four.

I hope Finnegan’s counterpart is not on the roster yet. Best current option is now Rod Hood. They’ll hope for jumps from Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton, and may look at a restricted free agent and will certainly draft one.

Carl from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Paul, I can't tell you how good it is to have a daily connection to football during the off-season. In terms of the Colts, since Tony Dungy's departure, Jim Caldwell began installing beefier defensive linemen, and it now appears he's looking to do the same on the O-line. Will this affect the high level of protection Manning has come to expect? Also, it seems that since the Super Bowl, the tone from the Colts as an organization is that of a grumpy neighbor. I really think the Colts are still shocked that they lost the Super Bowl, and recovering from losses is not something they're used to dealing with. Do you really think the Colts are past the big loss, or is this something that will linger to the point of being harmful next season?

Paul Kuharsky: Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball so quick, he created a large degree of his own protection. Since that’s the case, they seem to be thinking, "We can find bigger guys who can pass block and also help us when we need a tough 2 yards on the ground."

Recovering from big losses is not something they’re used to dealing with? They’ve suffered big losses in the playoffs every year but one.

I think they’ll always have regrets but have moved on and it’ll have minimal bearing on next season, except serving as some of the inspiration for changes they are making.

Scott Ota in Austin, Texas, writes: With all these veteran free agent running backs on the market, why haven't the Texans shown interest? I know they made mistakes with Ahman Green in the past, but someone who can help develop our youth would be huge -- Arian Foster and Steve Slaton. With a terrific passing game, bringing someone in like Brian Westbrook would create matchup nightmares all over the field, and limit his carries and increase his durability. Or, possibly putting Westbrook and Slaton on the field at the same time is another exciting thought. Anyways, I think if we had those three backs exchanging carries, we could have a much more potent, balanced offense. Your thoughts? And I am also excited about our young defense. I am proud to say that we have drafted well, and next year gives us more opportunities. For my draft, I see us taking safety and cornerback in the first two rounds.

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks, Scott.

I think Thomas Jones would have been a nice fit. Pay Westbrook and he gets a concussion and is that much closer to done. I can understand their determination to go younger. It’s clear they will be drafting the back, and that Slaton will still have a significant role -- I did this column on that recently.

Huge mistake in my opinion to expect much from Foster. That was a very small sampling we got of him, and I don’t think he’s someone they can rely on for much.

I’d love to see a safety in the first -- Earl Thomas would be great. Figure in first three they need FS, CB, RB in some order.

LQ from parts unknown writes: Do you think the Jaguars will add another defensive end or defensive tackle from free agency? Who would be a good fit for their defense? And what of the future of the Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey?

Paul Kuharsky: Maybe, but not anyone of note. Aaron Kampman and Kassim Osgood are the two big additions. I think they will be mostly focused on the draft from here unless they try to lure an inexpensive unrestricted free agent -- and he probably wouldn’t be a lineman.

Harvey is locked in as the second starting end and is better than people think, just not a great rusher. Groves has a lot of questions to answer.

Jeff Piercey in Goodlettsville, Tenn., writes: Paul, I listen to The Wake Up Zone every morning, and always look forward to when you will be the guest. Your insight to the program is invaluable. My question is this, what do the NFL owners think of LenDale White? It must not be very much. I thought a club would jump at giving a second-round pick for him. How come no club has made him an offer?

Paul Kuharsky: Owners don’t decide the value, their GMs do. Restricted free agency hasn’t really gotten started. I suspect it will pick up after compensatory draft selections are awarded, so teams know exactly what they have.

I don’t know why you would think teams would jump at giving up a second for him. Seconds are considered super-valuable. I know at least one team still has character concerns left from its draft review. A lot of teams are two-deep at running back. Combine all that, and the possible match list is slim, no?
Steve SlatonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Slaton is eager to bounce back from a subpar sophomore season, and he's not averse to sharing carries if it helps the team.
The sign on the road Steve Slaton is traveling is a common one in the NFL for a guy coming off a poor season:

Uncertainty ahead.

In a 15-minute chat with him this morning, I sensed he’s got a handle on that, and is fine with it. He’s ready to prove himself again, plug into the Texans' offense in whatever way he’s asked to and wipe the tarnish off his name that came with a shaky sophomore season.

Something his coach, Gary Kubiak, told him after an outstanding 1,282-yard rookie season in 2008 proved prophetic.

“You come out of a rookie year where you gain 1,100-1,200 yards you think, ‘Damn, this is a pretty easy deal,'" Kubiak said. “I teased with him before the season and said 'The next 1,200 you gain will probably be the toughest of your career. It’s not that easy.’”

Slaton’s still got 763 yards to go to get there after a poor 2009, when he gained only 3.3 yards per carry and fumbled seven times before a neck injury ended his season after 11 games.

By the time he went on injured reserve, he said he had a numb right arm from the top of his shoulder to his thumb, all day every day for two months. A pinched nerve led to a C-5 cervical fusion in mid-January.

He felt the difference as soon as he woke up and doctors told him it went as smoothly as possible and rate his recovery, tabbed to take four to six months, as very good. He said he will be ready for training camp, holding the ball high and tight.

He’s been rehabbing since surgery and can now run and lift weights as long as he limits the stress on his neck.

“Everybody wants to come in their second year and never have that slump, and not have an excuse for something you think you can help,” he said. “It was uncharacteristic of myself to fumble that much. I won’t say it was the only thing, but I think it was a big part.”

A revamped run game is the team’s offensive objective this offseason. The Texans were a bad rushing team no matter who carried the ball, Kubiak emphasized. That was on the running backs, the line, the scheme and the coaches.

Guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel were lost for the season early on, and with Kasey Studdard and Chris White in their place, the interior line was a weakness.

“We regressed in there, not by lack of effort, just by young players having to play,” Kubiak said.

As the Texans seek to boost the run game and give a great pass game featuring Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson better balance, Slaton should be part of a new backfield combination.

If the price falls on a veteran free agent such as Chester Taylor or Thomas Jones, maybe one of them could be getting carries. If they don’t see a value there, the Texans will attack the spot in the draft.

After failing with Ahman Green and Chris Brown, the popular thinking and the team’s tenor suggest the Texans will address other areas in free agency and look for the running back in the draft.

“That has been a young man’s position in this business for a while,” Kubiak said.

So the expectation is that Slaton is the team’s quick back and the Texans will attempt to bring in a bigger guy who can be effective in short yardage and goal-line situations.

“I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the smallest guy,” said Slaton, who was listed as 5-foot-9, 215 at season’s end. “This league spits out running backs, they don’t last too long. So to have somebody to help in certain situations is good. I want to be the guy when the game is on the line, you give me the ball.

“… As a running back, you’re always stingy but you’ve got to be smart. If it helps the team, if I can’t get it done and somebody else can get it done, then I’ll gladly let that person come in and handle that job. But my thing is I want to be that go-to guy, I’ve always been that, that’s what I pride myself on.”

While he’s encouraged by his recovery, ESPN’s resident physical therapist Stephania Bell put up a caution flag. (See sidebar.)

“He will need to work diligently to strengthen the stabilizing muscles around his neck (very deep muscles) as well as all the muscles in the upper back that help support the neck,” she said of going forward with the neck issue. “While he can very well be cleared to return -- and he can indeed go on to have success and not have another major incident -- there is inherently more risk, simply because of what he has been through.”

Kubiak doesn’t sound like he wants to distribute carries by preset formula, just the flexibility to use two different quality options in situations in which they excel. Offensive line/run game guru Alex Gibbs is no longer on the coaching staff, but Kubiak said the team has invested a lot of time in his zone blocking scheme and will stick with it, adding a few things.

One-cut-and-go backs are usually the guys who fit it well, though Kubiak said he’d be fine with two cuts.

Slaton is good with 20 carries in a game, Kubiak said, and actually runs better in the second half than he does at the start.

“But I think like anybody else in this league if you put the whole load on him, you can wear him down pretty damn quick, so we need a complement to him,” he said. “… Obviously there is a place in this league for that guy, there is no doubt. He can make big plays. And then there is a place for a guy who can take a little bit more of a pounding and be a short-yardage and red zone guy. I think there is a place for those two guys in the league.

“The bottom line is we’ve just got to get another good player to go with him.”

Should Texans consider Jones?

March, 1, 2010
LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook were quick nos for me when I lined them up with the Texans.

Jerome Davis/Icon SMIRecently-released running back Thomas Jones could be a good fit for the Texans.
Tomlinson’s simply worn down and Westbrook’s injury-prone and more of a dual threat than the goal-line short yardage banger the Texans covet.

But Thomas Jones I’m not so sure about.

Yes, everyone is wary of a back over 30 and Jones will be 31 in August. But the guy about to be released by the Jets is a sculpted. He’s coming off a season with the most carries of his career, averaging 4.2 yards a carry, the third best number of his 10-year career. In 148 NFL games over 10 years, he’s averaged 17.4 touches on offense, a significantly smaller number than LT’s 24.2.

“I like him more than Westbrook and a lot more than LT, for anyone,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me. “Yes, he still has juice left and would be best in a tandem with a dynamic type (like a healthy Slaton). He isn't flashy, but he has a very professional approach to playing the position. He runs hard and doesn't make many bad decisions. It is a different scheme that what he ran in New York, but I do think Jones could be successful against unstacked boxes in Houston. Would say he is an above average goal line runner.”

Ahman Green was a failed attempt at getting a veteran running back for Houston, but they were looking for a primary back then. Chris Brown was a failed attempt as getting a veteran complimentary back, but he was cheap and miscast.

Jones could be a different deal if the price is right.

I believe the Texans would like to draft a back.

But after letting Dunta Robinson walk, their need list is pretty lengthy: corner back, running back, interior offensive lineman, interior defensive lineman, free safety. Go into the draft with five needs, the odds of filling them all sufficiently with first-year players seems slim.

So I’d say they need to fill one or two of them in free agency -- by landing an unrestricted or by luring away a restricted with an offer sheet or through a trade.

Given that, they have to seriously examine Jones, especially if no one else pounces on him when free agency opens Friday.

“He's a beast,” says Tim Graham, my sworn enemy who works this job on the AFC East. “Known for being a freak in terms of his physique. He will be a good complementary back anywhere he doesn't have to shoulder the whole load. Not just goal line, either. He broke some long runs this past season.”

Parsing Manning's words, numbers

January, 25, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning’s post game press conference Sunday night was filled with good stuff, and I wanted to revisit a couple pieces and also share some numbers.

Sneaky: Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, the Colts got to the 1-yard line. After Austin Collie came up short on second down, they hurried to set up Manning for a sneak attempt that took forever for a quick play and was stuffed.

Manning felt like officials stood over the ball too long, allowing the Jets to substitute when the rule is the defense substitutes at its own peril if the offense doesn’t make any changes.

“We didn’t substitute and for some reason the referee stood over the ball,” Manning said. “Why he stood over the ball and allowed them to get set, I’d like to get the explanation on that. That allowed them to get set. That was a shame.”

Jim Caldwell said the explanation he received was that officials were not waiting on the Jets. Officials who raced in to spot Collie from the play before needed time to back out and clear, and that’s why there was a delay, Caldwell was told.

Grind: Manning is conscious of overusing words. He said several times how he grinded in preparation for the Jets and how the game was a 60-minute grind.

“That’s kind of my word for the day,” he said. “I’m trying not to say ‘obviously.’ That’s been a habit of mine. So I’m saying grind.”

Pumping Wayne: Manning was sure to mention the importance of Reggie Wayne in every question he fielded that touched on the big games by Pierre Garcon and Collie.

He also didn’t like the idea of people suggesting the Colts feared or stayed away from Darrelle Revis. Clearly there were better matchups elsewhere to take advantage of. But Manning indicated he connected on a handful of solid plays against Revis too.

Yes, Manning had a passer rating of 139.9 on plays to Garcon and Collie. But he was at 104.2 to everybody else, and that’s outstanding too.

Chilly Archie: Asked about the possibility of cryogenically freezing Archie Manning for the purpose of producing more quarterbacks, Peyton Manning said: “I think he’s done.”

Onward to ESPN Stats & Information fine observations about Manning in the win:

Big rushes and big drops: When New York brought six or more rushers and Manning took a full seven-step drop, he was eight for 10 with a 16-yard average, a TD and a 152.1 passer rating.

First 28: The Colts started the game with balanced attack on offense. Twelve of their first 28 plays were rushes (42.9 percent). After Joseph Addai fumbled on the 28th play from scrimmage, the Colts changed their play-calling drastically and ran on just five of the next 28 plays (17.9 percent). Manning played much better when he got in a rhythm and didn't have to worry about the run game.

On the first 28 plays he was eight for 14 with a 90.8 passer rating, two sacks and the Colts produced six points.

On the next 28 plays, he was 17 for 23 with three touchdowns, a 142.4 passer rating and the Colts produced 21 points.

Run defense: Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene of the Jets averaged 4.9 yards against base defenses in playoff wins over Cincinnati and San Diego. Against the Colts base defense, that number was just 3.1
Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson & Eric FosterUS Presswire/Getty Images/AP PhotoDaniel Muir (left), Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster will face the league's best rushing offense Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2009 Indianapolis Colts needed to be stouter.

Item No. 1 on virtually every team's list of needs after the 2008 season was defensive tackle. A new head coach with a new defensive coordinator would still want quick interior linemen, but a little more beef would help the team better tamp down the run.

Thus, the Colts selected Fili Moala out of USC in the second round of the 2009 draft. They grabbed Terrance Taylor from Michigan in the fourth round. They recruited Adrian Grady from Louisville as an undrafted free agent. They ultimately brought back veteran Ed Johnson, who had been waived early in the 2008 season.

Things were going to appear a whole lot different between veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Months later, here stand the Colts, a game away from their second Super Bowl in four seasons. The three defensive tackles who will key the run-stopping efforts Sunday against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game are... the same three guys they intended to replace with upgrades.

New York has a Pro Bowl center in Nick Mangold and a Pro Bowl left guard in Alan Faneca, two key pieces of an offensive line that blocks for the NFL’s top rushing team. The Colts will counter with starting defensive tackles Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir and Eric Foster as the primary changeup.

Of all the "upgrades," only second-rounder Moala stuck -- and he's inactive when the guys ahead of him are healthy.

The three holdovers are used to beating long odds. Antonio Johnson was signed off the Tennessee Titans' practice squad in early November 2008 and played eight games with the Colts that season. Muir was a waiver claim from the Green Bay Packers in late August 2008. Foster was an undrafted free agent from Rutgers signed in 2008.

And so it’s no-names versus big-names in the trenches when the Jets have the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it could be the matchup most telling in who wins the AFC title and advances to the Super Bowl.

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Three matchups/angles to watch

January, 22, 2010
I asked Ken Moll, Doug Kretz and Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to give me one, non-obvious, key matchup in the AFC Championship Game and to tell me how they envision things panning out in that area. (You can find biographical in fo on these three fine men here.)

Here’s what they said:


"Here is something that I thought was very subtle in last week’s game that the Jet were trying to do. Get the old man Tony Richardson more involved only early downs. Not so much in the running game (though he did average over 6 yards per carry this year/ regular season, only seven attempts) but as a receiver out of the backfield. Obviously the Colts will stack the line of scrimmage (eight in the box, etc. especially on early downs) and slipping Tony out of the backfield off of play action will likely put him WIDE OPEN in the flat where he can turn up field. They (Brian Schottenheimer) tried to get him the ball versus the Chargers (two catches and he dropped at least one) where he only had three catches all of the regular season."

"I don't think this will be a BIG part of the game but I do think he could play a part in giving the Jets young quarterback some easy throws on early downs in a hostile environment."

"Tony only has four catches in the two seasons but he does have good hands and usually is reliable as a receiver out of the backfield (career catches 205-- and nine TDs). "

"Again not a big part of the game (though he will blocking a bunch) but this matchup between the oldest man on the field (Tony Richardson) and the Colts linebackers (both in the running game as well as defending him off of play action) could be a factor in keeping the Colts defense off balance."


“I’d look at the play of the two interior lines. A lot of attention is being focused (and rightly so) on New York’s two offensive tackles being able to contain Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and their ferocious pass rush. New York NEEDs to establish a strong ground game, especially up the middle. Center Nick Mangold and guards Alan Faneca and Brandon Moore allow the Jets to do a lot of running between the two tackles an area that has traditionally been a weakness for the Colts’ defensive front."

"The play of DTs Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson has been a huge lift to Indianapolis’ defense. If the Colts can’t contain New York on the ground and force them into a lot of obvious passing situations (third and long) all that speed on Indianapolis’ defense will be negated. In years past the Colts were extremely undersized up the middle, on defense, but both Muir and Johnson are legitimate 300 pounders and have done a lot to improve the Colts’ run defense."

"Look for the Colts to focus a lot of their attention to stopping Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene before they can get to the second level and produce explosive run plays or simply keep moving the chains. I’d expect the Jets to struggle with their ground game."

[Side note: Stay tuned for a column by yours truly on those defensive tackles in just a bit.]


"I fully expect Darrelle Revis to matchup with Reggie Wayne for the majority of this game. It should be noted that Revis did usually line up over Antonio Gates last week when Vincent Jackson went to the slot and Indy might try similar tactics to free up Wayne. But all in all, the Colts do what they do and they do it extremely well."

"They will not differ much from their norm -- nor should they. So, that will often leave Pierre Garcon on Lito Sheppard. Sheppard has more big-game experience and is probably the bigger named player, but I tend to give this advantage to Garcon -- if Peyton Manning isn't under too much duress.

"Also, the further that Indy goes into their wide receiver corps, namely Austin Collie, the harder and harder time New York will have matching up with their cover men. Many thought this was the case last week. But while Malcolm Floyd is extremely talented, he is also inconsistent and often just misses on big plays. I expect Garcon to convert."

Double Coverage: Jets-Colts

January, 21, 2010
Double CoverageGetty ImagesQuarterbacks Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez are expected to play different roles in their respective offenses in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
No matter what style of football gets your blood pumping on Sunday afternoons, the AFC Championship Game should quicken your pulse.

The New York Jets call their approach "ground and pound." The Indianapolis Colts own one of the NFL's more prolific aerial attacks.

In that spirit, AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and AFC East blogger Tim Graham tried their bloggerest to break down Sunday's matchup in Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s a quasi-rematch of what transpired in Week 16 between the sorta Colts and the full-go Jets. New York prevailed 29-15 over what amounted to Indianapolis’ reserves in the second half.

Paul Kuharsky: OK, we have to start with the Jets' identity, and that's not just defense, but an attacking defense. Rex Ryan's guys blitz more than anyone in the league.

That isn't a good match against the Colts. I know New York just dispatched the Chargers and a quarterback in Philip Rivers who is quite good against the blitz. But Rivers is a neophyte compared to Peyton Manning, and it's long been held that the quickest way to get beat by Manning is to send people at him. ESPN Stats & Information says he posted a 101.4 passer rating when teams sent five or more pass-rushers during the regular season.

He simply won't hold the ball long enough to be sacked, and with fewer numbers in coverage, he will find the favorable matchup to attack. (Shameless plug: I wrote about how quickly the ball is out of his hand earlier this week.)

I know the Jets don't have any give-up in them. Still, I think the longer you go at the Colts in that fashion without success, the more dispiriting it can be. That’s the case even if the Colts have to dink and dunk. Let Manning hit a home run to Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon or Austin Collie and it's even worse.

Tim Graham: All right. Everybody knows I don't like you, and you don't like me. But let's see if we can get through this without any name-calling.

There's a myth about the Jets' defense that because defenders always go, go, go after opposing quarterbacks, they rack up a lot of sacks and get quarterbacks rattled. Not so. The Jets registered only 32 sacks all year, more than only 10 other teams. The Buffalo Bills had 32 sacks.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Jets moved Darrelle Revis around in coverage last Sunday against the Chargers.
What makes the Jets' attacking defense work is the confusion it creates. Quarterbacks don't know where the pressure will come from or which defenders will handle which receivers. Against the San Diego Chargers last week, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis would be on No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson one play and tight end Antonio Gates the next. The Jets' defensive mission is to get a quarterback to second-guess what he's seeing. They're just as interested in forcing an incomplete pass as they are in the big quarterback hit.

That's why the Jets are so masterful at managing down and distance. They routinely get teams into unfavorable situations. No defense allowed a lower percentage of third-down conversions or overall first downs, a measly 14.8 a game.

PK: Manning didn’t win MVP No. 4 by getting confused. If Revis is on Wayne, Manning will look to Clark or Garcon. If Revis is on Clark, Manning will look to Wayne or Collie. He’s not going to put his hands on his helmet and called a panicked timeout over the sort of switcharoo that sent Chad Henne or Josh Freeman into a spiral. The Jets weren’t that masterful while losing seven games.

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Quick Take: Jets at Colts

January, 17, 2010
Three things to know about next Sunday’s Jets-Colts AFC Championship Game:

1. The Jets handed the Colts their first loss of the regular season. Fans were bitter and the media was mostly mystified when the Colts pulled their key people in the third quarter of the Week 16 game against the Jets. New York took advantage and won, and won the following week in Cincinnati when the Bengals had no reason to play to win.

Much was made of the Jets earning entry to the playoffs with two such victories, sparking a debate about how to ensure end-of-season games are meaningful.

The Jets got hot and pulled upsets in Cincinnati and at San Diego to get to the conference title game, while the Colts enjoyed a bye and dispatched the Ravens in the divisional round.

If Indianapolis wins the AFC with a win over the Jets, they will surely feel they’ve further vindicated their decision not to worry about going 16-0 and to rest up for the postseason.

2. The Colts will lick their chops at the prospect of going after a rookie quarterback: They made life very difficult for second-year quarterback of the Ravens, Joe Flacco.

The Jets have one of the league’s very best offensive lines, and their ability to slow Indy’s mighty pass rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be a huge key to whether they can advance to the Super Bowl. Even if the duo is unable to knock Sanchez around, they should be able to get the Jets to expend an awful lot of energy and resources to slow them, creating opportunities for others on a defense with solid players at every level.

Same goes for stopping the run, something to Colts have done better than most people realize. They beat the Titans with Chris Johnson twice this season, and will have to have similar success against the Jets, who had the league’s top rushing attack behind Thomas Jones and Shone Greene.

The Colts will need to do two things to minimize the damage New York’s run game can do: Tackle reliably and see the offense build the sort of lead that prompts the Jets to shift the offensive burden from the run game to Sanchez.

3. The Jets qualify as a super rarity: An underdog from New York? How often do we get one of those? (Sure, the Giants were one against New England not long ago, but how many more can you give me?) New York brings more hype, more attention and more pressure for the Colts.

The Jets are the Cinderella of the Final Four and will rate as big underdogs. That means it’s the Colts who’ve got everything to lose.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 13, 2009
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesDwight Freeney has recorded a sack in each game this season.
Tom Brady knows how dangerous Dwight Freeney is. Freeney against rookie left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, filling in for the injured Matt Light, could be the biggest matchup of the game. The presumption is that the Patriots will hurry into three wide to test the Colts’ secondary depth and bring cornerback Tim Jennings on the field. But doing so will limit the possibilities of offering Vollmer help on Freeney. The rookie handled Miami’s Joey Porter last week. Can he go 2-for-2 against a guy who’s got a sack in every game?

The road to 2,000? Chris Johnson needs to average 130 yards per game rushing over the Titans’ final eight games to get to 2,000 for the season. The Bills are the NFL’s worst rushing defense, allowing 173.6 yards a game. Johnson’s gone for 228 and 197 in his two best games this year. Let’s say he splits the difference and manages 216 on the ground against Buffalo -- a giant day for sure. That would get the average he’d need over the last seven games down to 117. Doable?

There will be a twist for the Colts to figure out. Indianapolis’ defense under coordinator Larry Coyer is a bit less predictable, but the Colts' formula is no secret and they’ll challenge Brady and the Patriots to beat it. On the other side, however, the Patriots are sure to do something unexpected, deploying groupings they haven’t used in some time or switching fronts or coverages. Peyton Manning's ability to dissect and diagnose those alterations could become the story of the game.

The Jaguars need to play from ahead. A big start at Giants Stadium really could help Jacksonville’s cause. Get ahead, and the Jaguars can rely on their strength and feed the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew. Fall behind, and face a steady diet of the Jets' Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. That’s a huge disadvantage considering the Jets are the NFL’s No. 1 team when it comes to rushing yardage, with an average of 177.6 yards a game. The Jags need to get MJD in the end zone, too. He leads the NFL with 11 scores, but he was on the losing end of the two games where he didn’t score.

The longer leg in from New England. Does "Sunday Night Football" come down to the last possession and a field goal attempt? If so, Brady won’t have to move the Patriots as far as Manning would have to move the Colts. Stephen Gostkowski hit his two longest field goal attempts of the year, from 53 and 45 yards. Matt Stover, who’s filling in for the injured former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, is known now for accuracy, not distance. He’s hit a 40-yarder and hasn’t tried anything longer.

How things get better for Titans' D

September, 24, 2009
Jason Bridge/US PRESSWIRE; AP Photo/Wade Payne
The Titans need Nick Harper, Kyle Vanden Bosch and the rest of the Titans' defense to step up their game for the team to avoid an 0-3 start.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The numbers hardly add up. A team with three Pro Bowlers in the secondary rates 32nd in pass defense and has two losses two weeks into the season.

The 34-31 loss to Houston, in which Matt Schaub shredded the secondary, skews the ranking against the pass. But at crucial moments, the max-protecting Steelers picked the Titans apart and the quick-throwing Texans found plenty of big plays.

A lot of pride is on the line as the Titans head to Giants Stadium to face the Jets, and they know an 0-3 hole could simply be too big to dig out of.

“I’m very confident that that was a one-time deal, it won’t happen again,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said of the Houston game. “We all were embarrassed by it on the defensive side of the ball …. We got it out of the way.”

First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, who was previously the secondary coach, said he understands why passionate fans are distraught over the team’s results so far, but that he’s obligated to take emotion out of things, dissect what’s happened and plot what needs to be done.
AP Photo/Wade Payne
First-year Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said the defense's problems won't be difficult to fix.

“The biggest thing to me is to be objective about what’s happening and I feel very confident about what we are trying to get accomplished and what we’re doing,” he said. “I think what problems we might have had are easily rectified. …. The emotional part of it you have to step back and just go, ‘No, what happened, why did it happen, what do you need to do to fix it? And move on.”

Simply put, defensive backs need to cover better. As Jeff Fisher said Monday, “when a player gets beat one on one, it has nothing to do with the game plan or the calls or so on and so forth.”

That’s priority No. 1 for corners Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan, safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin and nickelback Vincent Fuller.

“We’ve got some things going on right now, and we’re going to get them fixed,” Harper said. “For whatever reason we’re just not playing well right now. … Right now we feel like we’re letting the team down. The past two seasons we felt like we were the strongest unit. We feel like we’re the weakest unit right now.”

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Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Thomas from parts unknown writes: Kuharsky how do you know that other teams had Derek Cox rated lower on their draft boards. Did you see any teams actual draft boards? Or did you think teams had him rated lower because ESPN Faux-Scouts Kiper and Mcshay figured he was a late round selection because he wasn't invited to the combine. And that they might have overlooked him all together because he was from a small school. You should maybe get off the whole Derek Cox could have been had in a later round shtick, because in reality you aren't a scout and you don't know.

Paul Kuharsky: Here's how I know: I know people with other teams whom I trust and who help set their teams' draft boards.

So I said to them, "Hey, where did you have Cox that Jacksonville spent the 2010 second to take in the third?" And two different people with two different teams said, "Oh, sixth or seventh."

The days when teams don't pay attention to small-school guys and non-combine guys are largely over. People knew who this guy was. And he could turn out to be great. We'll have to wait and see -- the Jaguars will certainly have the last word. But we do have some context for where Cox was valued by other teams and it's hardly unreasonable to say so.

Larry in Washington, D.C., writes: I know the Colts are going to miss Howard Mudd tremendously, but with the rumors that Tom Moore may follow him into retirement scares me more. What are your thoughts on the transition should he actually retire? We know Peyton had more input in playcalling than most, if not all, QB's in the league. Do you see him actually taking over the full play-calling as opposed to choosing between the 2 or 3 plays Moore would "suggest"? Thanks, and I hope the offseason is treating you well.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, the retirements are official now, though the possibility of some sort of return as consultants hasn't been erased.

I would expect Clyde Christensen (or maybe Jim Caldwell himself) to work with Peyton Manning the same way Moore has. Manning will still need some additional, outside perspective.

Ross in Brentwood writes: I'm surprised you haven't addressed the Titans bringing in Drew Bennett for a physical yet Paul, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on them potentially bringing him back, especially in the wake of this "weakness" article on their passing game. I do agree with parts of that article, but I do think there's actually going to be improvement this year, and as I've said in my "mythbuster" response, they don't need an air-it-out offense to succeed. I do, however, think Bennett is not the missing piece here. They already tried bringing back a veteran wideout who began with the Titans, and that didn't work out too well for Justin McCareins. At this point they don't need to break the bank and/or trade away multiple draft picks (high ones at least) for a Boldin or Edwards, but Drew Bennett will just be another veteran presence who won't be a game-changer...although with the youngsters now at the position, maybe that is what they need.

Paul Kuharsky: I was away for two days when Bennett passed through Nashville.

If he's the fourth/fifth guy in case Hawkins still can't do anything or someone gets hurt, I could live with that. If he takes any opportunity away from Britt or Hawkins, then no thanks.

He's certainly not the playmaker or speedster they want, but at this stage Washington and Britt are those guys and it's unlikely they will be able to add any more. The question really is, do you want Bennett now as the fifth, or will you take your chances with what will come free at the end of training camps around the league?

Josh in Memphis writes: Wouldn't the Titans be better off signing Malcolm Floyd RFA S. Diego than Drew Bennett? The two are the same size, Malcolm's younger 27 vs. 30-31, Malcolm's healthier, caught as many balls in SD last year than Bennett in STL in 2 years. Malcolm brother player WR for the Oilers back in the 94-97 years.

Paul Kuharsky: The period for signing restricted free agents to offer sheets ended April 17. Floyd had a second-round pick attached as compensation. Between that and the contract it would have taken to assure the Chargers didn't match the offer, he would have been a lot more expensive. Friday, Floyd signed his one-year deal with the Chargers.

As for where his brother was over 10 years ago, do you really think something like that would factor in to a team's personnel decision? Why?

Mauricio in Houston writes: If I may, three questions in one. Is the need for help at running back of my Texans real? If it is, would it be worth pursuing Jones from the jets and if so, what would be a reasanoble trade value in draft picks.

Paul Kuharsky: Absolutely it's real. They need someone to complement Slaton and to turn to if he's hurt.

Maybe Jeremiah Johnson or Arian Foster surprise -- I'm in Tennessee so have seen and heard a lot of Foster and don't have high expectations for him. Maybe Chris Brown can stay healthy for a stretch. Maybe they eventually add Ryan Torain or another outsider to the mix.

Thomas Jones from the Jets, I would expect, would be too expensive. If the Texans didn't spend a second-, third- or fourth-rounder on a running back in the draft, would they part with one for a back who will be 31 in August? I suspect not. Running backs over 30 are viewed as huge question marks by most teams.

Evan in Chattanooga, Tenn., writes: Paul, I enjoy the blog, keep it up. My question is about the Titans defensive line this upcoming season. With the loss of Haynesworth, will the line still have the same potency it had last year, or do you see the Titans having to start blitzing linebackers to keep the pressure on the qb? Kearse and KVB are getting older, do you see any of the Titans young DE's having the potential to be of the same caliber as these guys? I think Tony Brown is a great DT and will be starting this year, will Jovan Haye or Jason Jones be starting as the other DT? Thanks, Evan

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks, pal.

I wouldn't say the same potency. They'll miss automatic double teams and Haynesworth's size.

But a year ago they lost Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy in free agency -- a tandem that combined fo
r 14 sacks the year before. And I can't remember once in 2007 watching the Titans and saying, "They are really missing Odom and LaBoy." I still expect them to rush the passer effectively with the front four.

I expect Brown and Jones will be the starters, but there is room and time for that to change.

They may blitz more, but I don't think it will be a lot more.

Weller Ross in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: I was wondering what your thoughts were on Tom Moore and Howard Mudd retiring. How big of a hit do you think this will be to the Colts offense if at all? Thanks, Weller PS: I also blogged about it and thought you might find it interesting.

Paul Kuharsky: I've done several posts on it. I think no matter how ready they were with guys to promote, that this could be a big hit, particularly from an offensive line perspective. Does Tony Ugoh, for example, get better without Mudd? I suspect not.

Dash in Nashville writes: the blog. Who do you think will take the #3 RB roster spot for the Titans? A. Javon Ringer B. Chris Henry C. Rafael Little

Paul Kuharsky: A. I think it would take an upset for Ringer not to be on the roster. Little is an intriguing guy. Henry, in my eyes, has no chance to stick.

Farris in Nashville, Tenn., writes: Great blog Paul! I wanted to get your opinion on something. With the Titans finally giving Dinger a decent set of WR's that could possibly be a solid 4 deep, that he will open up the passing game and give Collins more opportunities to throw more vertical routes? I've got a gut feeling that Collins could possibly be in store for a 3,000 plus yard season and 20 plus TD's. It could possibly resemble the Co-MVP season of McNair. Dinger loves the deep routes and he finally has the speed to get it done. Thanks and I LOVE the blog and your segment on 104.5 The Zone!

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks very much, Farris.

Better and more open? Yes. Dramatically? I'd say no. The one big difference here is that in 2003 the Titans' 3.3 yards per carry was the worst for the franchise since 1974. Barring major injuries, this year's run game will be far better than that, reducing the need for Tennessee to open things up too, too much.

Pokerfitz in Jacksonville writes: Im not sure why you dont understand the reason they Jags love Greg Jones so much. When he gets the ball the guy has been productive. Including rushing for over a 100 yards in Pittsburgh when he was subbing for an injured Fred Taylor. He gets tough yards, Breaks tackles and can catch the ball. His only knock has been his health, not his ability.

Paul Kuharsky: Huge scouting bromide -- the best ability a player has is availability.

You know a guy who's even more proven? (And by proven I mean has more than 64 carries a year.) Taylor.

Jones has a 3.4-yard average. For comparison's sake, let's look around the division at secondary running backs: Houston's Chris Brown has a 4.3 average (but has bigger health issues than Jones); Tennessee's LenDale White has a 3.9 average (and gets the ball in extremely favorable situations); Former Colts running back Dominic Rhodes has a 4.0 average (and is now with the Bills).

That's not the be-all end-all, of course. But I'm not, or wasn't, really excited about them either. It's hardly unreasonable to say Jones is unproven as an every game, No. 2 commodity like they plan to make him. I will be interested to see him work.

Taylor in Murfreesboro writes: Hey Paul, I love the blog! But all I hear about Vince Young is the money the titans will have to be paying him for a back up QB is going to be way too much! So, why not try putting him on the field as a wide receiver, he has the skills, (6'5", athletic, fast) to be a great No. 1 wr if he were trained properly and was willing to "contribute" to the teams success instead of riding the bench, or he could run some Ohio State kinda of sets (Pryor and Boeckman in the fiesta bowl). What do you think about all of this?

Paul Kuharsky: I think it's crazy talk, really.

They spent good money on a free agent in Nate Washington and their top draft pick on Kenny Britt. Why not try to develop actual receivers? I am against anything that would take even a snap away from those two guys.

I can't understand the line of thinking that because Young is a good athlete he'd have to be a good wide receiver. You say he "has the skills" to be a great wide receiver -- then the first thing you list isn't a skill, it's his height, and the second and third things are "athletic" and "fast," qualities a ton of bad receivers possess, too.

Young's a good athlete and he's not a very good quarterback at this point -- and he's been focused on that position for his entire adult football life. But he's going to be a successful receiver?

cameron from parts unknown writes: Firstly, I want to say i am a huge fan of your blog and i am a constant reader. My question to you is that the texans are ready to make a run to the playoffs, i feel, but do you think trying to add a Plaxico Burress would to far of a reach to compliment andre johnson. Also do you think they should go after a chris mcallister because of his playoff experience and his career numbers.

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks and please keep clicking.

Burress still has legal issues to resolve and from what I've read and seen, he is unlikely to be immediately available. Complementing Andre Johnson isn't a huge issue for Houston. Kevin Walter had 60 catches and eight touchdowns last year.

You fall into a familiar trap with McAlister. He's recognizable so you think he'd help. The Texans, and every team, evaluate a guy like that based more on what he can do going forward than than "playoff experience and career numbers." I don't love their secondary, but I don't feel like McAlister would qualify as an addition that could fix their issues. He only played in six games last year and he's about to turn 32.

Paul in Iowa City writes: As far as Titans myths go, one I'd like to discuss is something of a non-myth. Its the whitewashing of the 99 draft, where we picked Kevin Dyson over Randy Moss. Dyson of course has a mythical position within the organization because of the MSM, but without that play the refusal to draft Moss stands out as a colossal mistake (which it still should). By and large though, the Titans draft well.

Paul Kuharsky: The posts with responses to AFC South myths are coming soon. This one wouldn't fit there, but seemed good for the mailbag.

By and large they draft well. Unless, of course, botching No. 6 and No. 3 overall picks in consecutive years counts against them.

Did they choose the wrong guy talent-wise for the receiver position at No. 16 in 1998? Absolutely.

But taking your logic and extending it, then I expect you'd absolutely defend their choice of Pacman Jones in 2006. He was, after all, a superior football talent to Antrel Rolle. (As then-Titans GM Floyd Reese predicted at the time, Rolle didn't even stay a corner.)

Now Jones turned out to be far more of a headache and troublemaker than Moss and couldn't keep himself eligible to play.

But if you rip the Titans for not taking Moss, by the same logic you would have had to applaud them for taking Jones.

So how's that stance working out for you?

Sam in Nashville writes: 2 comments. First, does anyone else but me think that Haynesworth isn't really that important to our defense? While he is a very good player, he is injured often and has a tendency to be unmotivated. Also, Washburn seems to turn everyone into a star DT. Second, Vince has shown that he is not the quarterback of the future through his skills. His skill set does not include good footwork or accuracy. Because of this, do you see the Titans drafting another quarterback soon? And since we'll probably be in the 20-30 pick range, who would you see as a possible fit next year?

Paul Kuharsky: I'm sure there are others who think as you do. I think you are overreaching on Haynesworth not being that important. He was very important, often the best player they had on the field and made life easier for the other 10 guys.

If he took plays off, as a Titans beat guy named Terry McCormick has pointed out, the defenses assigning double teams to him didn't know which ones they would be. Haynesworth looked plenty motivated to me over the last two years. That doesn't make him worth the contract he got, and it doesn't mean he's irreplaceable.

The Titans are now a smallish interior D, at least among their best guys.

Washburn turns a lot of guys into good players, absolutely. You might be overstating just a little to say he turns "everyone into a star DT." Randy Starks ring a bell? Antonio Johnson? Jesse Mahelona? Jared Clauss?

I would expect the Titans will be looking to draft a QB next year. He doesn't have to be a first-rounder, and I can't pretend to know who would fit.

Nathan in N.Y. writes: How are the Texans going to break .500 if glass-jawed Matt Schaub can't manage to start 16 games and they replaced maligned but halfway decent Sage Rosenfels with a guy last seen running out the back of his own endzone?

Paul Kuharsky: Schaub staying healthy is a must for the Texans. I wasn't big on the Dan Orlovsky signing either -- even if you love him, you overpaid and messed up the backup quarterback market. But ...

The "halfway decent" Rosenfels you mentioned wasn't regarded as much when he arrived in Houston, either. Gary Kubiak is pretty good with signal-callers, and gets the benefit of the doubt here that he will be able to turn Orlovsky into something better and the Texans will still have a chance to win a game if Schaub can't go.