AFC South: Travis Johnson
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in the spot.
2010: OT Anthony Davis (49ers)
2009: LB Aaron Maybin (Bills)
2008: DB Leodis McKelvin (Bills)
2007: LB Patrick Willis (49ers)
2006: QB Jay Cutler (Broncos)
2005: LB DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys)
2004: QB Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
Last year at No. 11, the 49ers got Rutgers offensive tackle Davis, who started every game on the right side. Maybin, taken in the spot in 2009, is on the hot seat in Buffalo, where he’s not come close to expectations. In 2007, the 49ers got the excellent middle linebacker Willis 11th, when the Texans took defensive tackle Amobi Okoye the spot before. The verdict on Cutler is still to be determined, while Ware is a superstar and Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls. Other hits since the NFL-AFL merger include Michael Irvin, Dwight Freeney and Leon Searcy. Other misses: Ron Dayne, Michael Booker.
2010: WR Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)
2009: WR Percy Harvin (Vikings)
2008: RB Felix Jones (Cowboys)
2007: QB Brady Quinn (Browns)
2006: LB Manny Lawson (49ers)
2005: WR Mark Clayton (Ravens)
2004: QB J.P. Losman (Bills)
Last year’s 22nd pick, Denver receiver Thomas, caught 22 passes and scored two touchdowns. Minnesota grabbed receiver Harvin in the spot in 2009 and he’s one of the game’s most dynamic players already. Quinn didn’t cut it in Cleveland and ranks third now in Denver, and Losman didn’t solve Buffalo’s quarterback issues. The last time the Colts were in this spot, they took receiver Andre Rison in 1989. He played only one season for the franchise, but in 12 years he amassed more than 10,000 receiving yards and caught 84 touchdowns.
2010: DE Derrick Morgan (Titans)
2009: LB Larry English (Chargers)
2008: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Cardinals)
2007: DT Justin Harrell (Packers)
2006: CB Jason Allen (Dolphins)
2005: DT Travis Johnson (Texans)
2004: OT Shawn Andrews (Eagles)
Morgan went 16th to Tennessee last year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury early on. Rodgers-Cromartie had a big rookie season in 2008 as the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu was a huge find at the spot in 2003 and Jevon Kearse set a rookie record for sacks and led Tennessee to the Super Bowl in 1999. But others in the recent past like Allen, Houston's Johnson and Cleveland running back William Green hardly lived up to expectations. Dan McGwire, a big quarterback bust for Seattle, also went in the spot in 1991. But anyone thinking the Jaguars can’t hit a home run should know that a guy rated by many as the greatest player of all time, Jerry Rice, was selected 16th in 1985.
2010: LB Rolando McClain (Raiders)
2009: OT Eugene Monroe (Jaguars)
2008: DE Derrick Harvey (Jaguars)
2007: DE Jamaal Anderson (Falcons)
2006: S Donte Whitner (Bills)
2005: S Antrel Rolle (Cardinals)
2004: CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons)
McClain went to Oakland eighth last season and was second on the Raiders in tackles his rookie year. Jacksonville had the spot the two years before that. The Jaguars think they got a long-term left tackle in Monroe, but Harvey might be done already. Jordan Gross is a topflight tackle for Carolina and receiver Plaxico Burress was a Super Bowl hero for the Giants. But receiver David Terrell busted for the Bears, receiver David Boston didn’t fare much better in Arizona and running back Tim Biakabutuka was a dud for the Panthers. Sam Adams’ long career clogging up the middle as a defensive tackle started in Seattle. The last time the Titans had this pick, they landed Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak, who’s now the team’s coach.
It's an Insider piece , but I negotiated permission to share AFC South details. Hindsight is crystal clear, but boy did the division get some upgrades.
No. 6 -- Tennessee Titans
Took: Pacman Jones, corner and returner from West Virginia -- Despite flashes, an absolute disaster as he emerged as the poster boy for Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy.
Redraft: Vincent Jackson, receiver, Northern Colorado -- The sort of big productive target the Titans may have finally found in Kenny Britt, five drafts later.
No. 16 -- Houston Texans
Took: Travis Johnson, defensive tackle, Florida State -- Never panned out into the stalwart the team expected from such an investment. Traded after four middling years.
Redraft: Michael Roos, left tackle, Eastern Washington -- Get to see technically sound tackle twice a year as Mario Williams tries to get through him to get to Titans’ quarterbacks.
No. 21 -- Jacksonville Jaguars
Took: Matt Jones, wide receiver, Arkansas -- Never turned into half the player they thought he would be as they passed on Roddy White and Jackson.
Redraft: Chris Kemoeatu, guard, Utah -- A strong guard who’s done solid work for the Steelers and could have really been a presence inside for the Jaguars.
No. 29 -- Indianapolis Colts
Took: Marlin Jackson, defensive back, Michigan -- A starter on a Super Bowl team, who faded pretty quickly because of serious injuries.
Redraft: Mike Williams, receiver, USC -- Has taken him a long time to become a factor, but as Kiper says, imagine if he was working with Peyton Manning from Day One.
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
Shaun Cody started with Okoye last year, and end Antonio Smith will continue to kick inside for clear-cut pass-rush situations. Third-round pick Earl Mitchell should solidify the rotation while Frank Okam and DelJuan Robinson continue to compete for roles.
But there could be an unexpected guy making a push for one of those roles: undrafted rookie Malcolm Sheppard from Arkansas.
“Probably the young kid who has surprised me the most through OTAs and everything has been this Sheppard kid that we got from Arkansas,” coach Gary Kubiak recently told Houston reporters. “I’m not trying to put pressure on him or anything, but he’s been a very pleasant surprise.
"I think he’s going to make a good push for this football team. He’s played extremely hard, very physical, [a] better athlete than we thought coming out. We thought he was going to get drafted but he didn’t. We were lucky to get him.”
There is room for Sheppard to win a spot and have an impact. He'll need to build upon the positive initial impression.
So I am here to tell you, while trading up is often too expensive, trading down is often overrated.
For starters, to get down, you need a team that wants to move up.
“Sitting in the draft room for many years, I think those are conversations that always come up: 'Well, wouldn’t it be nice to move back and pick up a couple other picks?'" Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Well in that 10 minutes or whatever you have before that pick, if you’re not a hot commodity at that time and nobody wants to talk to you, you better be ready to do business.
“I think it’s probably a hell of a lot easier said than done.”
Said Jacksonville GM Gene Smith in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders: “My mindset is to acquire picks. If we’re able to do that, I’ll have a smile on my face.”
But even if you have a lot of needs, like Smith, is that the right route?
Let’s look at the recent trade-down history of our four teams and then assess. We’re considering just picks-for-picks trades, not moves that include veteran players.
In the last six years, with the help of Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information and prosportstransactions.com, here are first-round trade-downs in the division.
2008 -- Traded with Baltimore
Gave: No. 18 in first round (quarterback Joe Flacco)2005 -- Traded with New Orleans
Got: No. 26 pick in first round (offensive tackle Duane Brown), a third-round pick (86th overall, running back Steve Slaton) and a sixth-round pick (173rd overall, defensive back Dominique Barber)[+] EnlargeAaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesThe Texans drafted Duane Brown after trading down in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Value chart says: Ravens, 900-883.2 points
Assessment: Baltimore got its quarterback and Flacco is clearly the most valuable player of all of these. The Texans got their left tackle (Brown), a skill player who’s had one great year and one terrible season (Slaton) and some shaky secondary depth (Barber).
Gave: No. 13 in first round (offensive tackle Jammal Brown)Indianapolis
Got: No. 16 in first round (defensive tackle Travis Johnson) and a third-round pick in 2006 (66th overall, offensive tackle Eric Winston)
Value chart: Texans, 1,260-1,150. (That link is to an NFL-style draft value chart like the ones teams use to measure trade values.)
Assessment: Brown has been a Pro Bowler twice and an All-Pro once. Johnson underachieved and was traded. Winston is a very solid starter, but the Saints got more bang here, I think.
Sidenote: The Colts gave up their 2008 first-rounder and their 2007 fourth-rounder to get the 2007 second-rounder from San Francisco they used to draft offensive tackle Tony Ugoh. That can be classified in different ways. I see it more as the Colts going up to get Ugoh, so I don’t use it as a trade-down scenario here.
2004 --Traded with Atlanta
Gave: No. 29 in the first round (wide receiver Michael Jenkins) and a third-round pick (90th overall, quarterback Matt Schaub)Jacksonville
Got: No. 38 in the second round (traded to Steelers for a second-round pick, 44th overall, Bob Sanders and fourth-round pick, 107th overall, linebacker Kendyll Pope), a third-round pick (69th overall, linebacker Gilbert Gardner), and a fourth-round pick (125th overall, cornerback Jason David)
Value chart says: Colts, 845-780
Assessment: A double-trade down netted the Colts Sanders. He may miss way too many games due to injuries, but he won a defensive player of the year award and keyed a Super Bowl team. But Schaub sure proved to have value for Atlanta when Houston came calling a couple years later.
2007 -- Traded with DenverTitans
Gave: No. 17 in first round (defensive end Jarvis Moss)
Got: No. 21 in first round (safety Reggie Nelson); a third-round pick (86th overall, traded to Baltimore for a fourth-round pick, 101st overall , a fifth-round pick, 166th overall, and a sixth-round pick 203rd overall); and a sixth-round pick (198th overall, traded to Atlanta as part of package for a fifth-rounder, 149th overall, guard Uche Nwaneri). Punter Adam Podlesh and defensive tackle Derek Landri came out of that trade with Baltimore, with the 203rd pick also going to Atlanta in the trade that got Jacksonville Nwaneri[+] EnlargeScott A. Miller/US PresswireThe Jaguars' Reggie Nelson had a disappointing sophomore season.
Value chart says: Jaguars 973.2-950 (not factoring in trades of other picks involved)
Assessment: They did OK, but if Nelson continues on his current course, we'll remember them failing with another first-rounder.
2004 -- Traded with Houston
Gave: No. 27 in the first round (defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Babin) and a fifth-round pick (159th overall, traded to Jacksonville)Conclusions:
Got: No. 40 in the second round (tight end Ben Troupe), a third-round pick (71st overall, defensive tackle Randy Starks), a fourth-round pick (103rd overall, defensive end Bo Schobel), and a fifth-round pick (138th overall, guard Jacob Bell)
Value chart says: Titans, 860-708.8
Assessment: On draft day, it looked like a monster win for Tennessee and in time, because Babin busted, it still leaned their way. But for the Titans, only Bell was a consistent performer. It’s easy to look back on drafts and play what if, I know, but what if the Titans or the Texans had used No. 27 on Sanders or Karlos Dansby or Chris Snee?
Let’s emphasize this is not scientific and it's not a very big sample size.
Still, these five deals produced just one player we’d rate as stellar, and Sanders has major injury issues. They also yielded AFC South teams a left tackle who still has to prove himself (Brown), a defensive tackle who busted (Johnson), a free safety whose second year was very poor (Nelson) and a tight end who’s out of the league (Troupe).
Trading down doesn’t always produce the yield everyone imagines. One very good player is better than a couple who rank a notch below. The chance at that player is typically better where you are, not lower than that.
So if the Jaguars see someone they like a lot at 10 or if the Titans see someone they like a lot at 16, they should jump, not dump.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.
The previous regime traded with division rival Tennessee to get Western Michigan linebacker Jason Babin with a second first-round pick in 2004 and he never became what they envisioned. The first-rounder from the next year, Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson, wasn’t good either. Johnson flashed some but wasn’t long-term help. Wide receiver David Anderson (seventh round from Colorado State in 2006) is a quality slot receiver, and probably the team’s best late-round pick.
The Colts traded up in 2007 to take Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh 42nd overall. He was the man to replace Tarik Glenn when he surprised the team by retiring the same year. But Ugoh lost his starting job in 2009 and was often inactive. Two third-rounders from the same draft also faded: cornerback Dante Hughes from Cal didn’t make it out of camp in 2009 and Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock quit football in 2008. Late-round finds abound: Howard safety Antoine Bethea (sixth round) is a Pro Bowl talent; Mount Union receiver Pierre Garcon (sixth round, 2008) just had a breakout season; punter/kickoff man Pat McAfee from West Virginia (seventh round, 2009) is a consistent performer. And Indianapolis does consistently well with undrafted rookies, such as safety Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jacob Lacey.
First-round busts have been a major reason the Jaguars haven’t broken through as a consistent contender: receivers R. Jay Soward of USC in 2000, Reggie Williams from Washington in 2004 and Matt Jones from Arkansas in 2005 are gone and safety Reggie Nelson (Florida, 2007) and defensive end Derrick Harvey (Florida, 2008) rank as major underachievers. Late-round gems? Purdue guard Uche Nwaneri was a 2007 fifth-rounder and has started a lot of games and Florida’s Bobby McCray was a good defensive end for a seventh-rounder in 2004. James Harris was ousted as the personnel chief and the team seems on a better track under Gene Smith, who was named GM about a year ago.
Any list of recent high-ranking failures has to start with first-round cornerback Pacman Jones, sixth overall from West Virginia in 2005. He was probably the best defensive football player there, but the Titans failed miserably in researching his personality. Other busts who hurt them: Ben Troupe (second-round tight end from Florida in 2004), Andre Woolfolk (first-round cornerback from Oklahoma in 2003) and Tyrone Calico (second-round receiver in 2003). Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was an All-Pro in 2008 and heads any list of recent late-round gems. He was a seventh-rounder from Samford in 2006. Tight end Bo Scaife was a sixth-rounder from Texas in 2005 and promising defensive end Jacob Ford from Central Arkansas was a sixth-rounder in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Houston Texans finally announced their trade of defensive tackle Travis Johnson on Tuesday, and also cut four players to get to the league mandated limit of 75.
These are the four who are gone:
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Lots of AFC South in Pete Prisco's review of his training camp travels.
- The Texans couldn't run it and couldn't stop the run, says John McClain.
- Eric Winston said Brett Favre's crackback on Eugene Wilson was "bush league" but Wilson's knee is OK, says the Chronicle's notebook.
- Dale Robertson assesses the quarterback play against the Vikings.
- Richard Justice didn't see a whole lot of progress.
- The Texans were not ready for prime time, says Alan Burge.
- Travis Johnson was stunned by his trade to the Chargers, says McClain. Check that antennae, Travis, there had been speculation they were looking to move you for about a week.
- Shane Andrus: place-kicker, realist. A look from Mike Chappell.
- Jim Caldwell says starters' time in the preseason finale will be limited, says Mike Chappell. And by limited, I am sure he means nonexistent for a lot of guys.
- John Oehser's ‘magnificent seven' include a reminder not to panic.
- How high up the list of quarterback-receiver TD combinations can Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne go? Oesher answers.
- A comparison of the first two seasons of Anthony Gonzalez to those of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, from 18to88.com.
- Phillip B. Wilson invites you to pick the final 13 guys who will make the roster.
- Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas are back and trying to regain their footing, says Vito Stellino.
- Terrance Knighton could help the Jaguars get back to Twin Towers status, says Stellino.
- We might actually get a real indicator out of their preseason finale, says Vic Ketchman.
- David Climer wonders about the sliding scale used to judge Vince Young.
- Keith Bulluck and Chris Johnson are in the middle of the craze that has players broadcasting from their computers, writes Teresa Walker. (Thanks to musiccitymiracles.com for pointing us to this link.)
- Five things Jim Wyatt knows about the Titans. He likes Stephen Tulloch's fire and doesn't like the state of the return game.
- Only seven days removed from the season opener, the Titans have to be limited against the Packers, writes Terry McCormick.
- Wyatt was unimpressed with Dateline's piece on Steve McNair and I have to say I am with him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Some thoughts on what the Texans did and failed to do in their 17-10 preseason loss to the Vikings in Houston Monday night:
- Based on their failures against the Saints, we figured run defense would be a big issue to monitor. And boom, Adrian Peterson went 75 yards on the first play from scrimmage. I’m sure some of the linemen could have done better to get off blocks, but weakside linebacker Xavier Adibi went way too far with his initial read, running himself out of the play.
Brett Davis/US Presswire Matt Schaub appeared to have hurt his ankle when he was pushed out of bounds Monday night.
The linemen in front of him couldn’t have reasonably been expected to get to where Peterson went, and the defensive backs behind him weren’t going to chase Peterson down. It was hardly the lone bad moment for Adibi. He got a roughing the passer penalty the announcers objected to but that could have been the kind of hit below the knees the league is frowning on, though it wasn’t a lunge. And later, Adibi and Glover Quin both had Percy Harvin lined up and bounced off him as Harvin ran for more yards. Adibi did finish with five tackles and a pass defensed.
- Did Matt Schaub show something to his team, and his town, by returning to action after suffering a sprained left ankle? Maybe. And he was still taken out of the game earlier than planned. But I’m not sure proving a point is more important than being especially prudent there. He takes too much grief on the toughness issue, but here’s hoping he’ll be able to navigate his way out of bounds on the sideline without problems.
- We had developments on the interior defensive line the day the Texans dealt the injured Travis Johnson to San Diego. Houston started Dan Shaun Cody, who’d been working behind Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle, at the nose tackle spot where Johnson spent much of the last four years. DelJuan Robinson, who’s been working as the starter there, was playing in the fourth quarter. Cody’s hardly the first guy to have his hands full against that offensive line, but was moved with ease on some plays. Guard Anthony Herrera turned him aside on one big Peterson run, if 15 yards qualifies as big for Peterson.
- A replay review of an Andre Johnson catch of a deep ball from Dan Orlovsky on which he stepped out of bounds earlier than officials thought simply cannot take that long to sort out. I’m totally pro-replay, but a pause that long actually gives me pause. It was 46 yards, not 58 and it should have taken very little time to figure it out.
- If Chris Brown is available to make plays like that fourth-and-1 conversion early in the third quarter when he bounced off Pat Williams, Steve Slaton is really going to benefit.
- More reason to dislike Wildcat shenanigans: Brett Favre split out, compelled to throw a crackback block at safety Eugene Wilson that left him with a knee injury. If it proves serious, we’ve got a big story on our hands.
- If Jacoby Jones is really fighting for a job, shouldn't someone else be getting a chance to field a punt?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Texans get the "Monday Night Football" spotlight as hosts to Minnesota tonight, though Brett Favre will grab a lot of the attention. Here are three things I'll try to watch closely:
The run defense: The defensive front got handled last week by New Orleans, with the Houston defensive tackles having an especially difficult time. On a day when the team dealt defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who'd been out recovering from surgery to repair a sport hernia, can the remaining tackles show they can play much better? Or is run defense going to show itself to be a continuing issue and leave us all wondering how much of a boost first-round linebacker Brian Cushing can help when he gets back from a knee injury? The Vikings are a premier run team and should provide an excellent measuring stick.
Ball security and red zone running: Cutting down turnovers is priority No. 1 for the Texans, so the first-team offense needs to drive the ball and not give it away. And once they get inside Minnesota's 20-yard line, let's pay attention to how effectively the Texans are able to run it. They believe running the ball more effectively at close range is the big key to curing their red zone production issues. And in the recent loss to the Saints, the first-team's nice touchdown drive seemed to do well to address it. More please.
Pass pressure: The secondary doesn't qualify as a team strength, and the Texans are counting on an improved rush to help things on the back end. It'd be nice if Mario Williams had some company trying to make Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson and homecoming king Sage Rosenfels uncomfortable. If they are allowed to throw on their own timing, I expect defensive ugliness whether it's a future Hall of Famer or future trade bait dropping back.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Texans' trade of Travis Johnson wasn’t exactly an exercise in gaining value. In exchange for the 16th pick in the 2005 draft, Houston gets a conditional pick, either a fifth- or sixth-rounder from San Diego, depending on how Johnson performs.
While I was in Houston recently, Johnson was still out recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia. But the company line was that while Johnson got a lot of grief from the media and fans, he ate up blockers the way the team wanted him to. Maybe it’s reasonable to think now, they were just trying to keep his image as polished as they could knowing they were going to try to get something for him.
Monday night against the Vikings on national TV, the Texans will aim to show they can stop the run much better than they did in their last game, when the Saints ran it right up the middle on them.
With or without Johnson, the Texans need to see more from their interior linemen, starting with third-year man Amobi Okoye. But he plays the spot next to the one Johnson was in, and DelJuan Robinson and Frank Okam have not been especially impressive in that spot so far. Shaun Cody is due to get more of a look. When the team signed him as a free agent, the talk was of his ability to play both inside spots.
The Texans will hope for continued growth from Robinson and Okam and a better showing from Cody. Certainly it’s fair to expect that third down will feature end Antonio Smith kicking inside with rookie Connor Barwin getting on the field to rush the passer.
Johnson finishes his Texans career with 52 appearances, including 38 starts. He had 124 tackles, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble to show for all that time on the field. You’d think a few more big plays would have happened for him just by accident.
|Bob Levey/Getty Images|
|Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans defense have a new attitude.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- React or act?
Give a group of guys who've spent a lot of time doing the former to do the latter and you'll be greeted with glee.
That's the Houston Texans' defense's feelings for first-year coordinator Frank Bush, promoted by Gary Kubiak to replace Richard Smith.
"I think we had guys thinking too much, we had so many checks and this and that. It was too much, you're thinking so much to where you can't just line up and go tee off on someone. Now we can just line up and get it, there isn't so much too it. It's simplified to where we don't have all the checks."
The primary word being used for the team's new approach is "aggressive," and that's not a term that characterized them too often with Smith at the controls. The mild mannered Bush has the defense excited and determined not to let the Texans be known exclusively as an offensive team.
While Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels will go a long way towards determining if the Texans can build on consecutive 8-8 seasons and make the playoffs, Mario Williams, Ryans and linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick, bring a good dose of star power to the defense.
To graduate to being a playoff team, the Texans have to reverse some trends. They'll need to play better early so they aren't left to fight so hard to get back to .500. They need to fare better within the division, finding ways to finish off their primary rivals when they have the chance.
They expect the Titans and Colts to be strong again. The Texans will likely have to chase one or both of those teams down.
Anything less than double digit wins and a playoff berth won't be considered a success.
1. Can the offense fix turnover and red-zone issues?
The Texans ranked third in total offense last year, but it didn't mean as much as it should have because they were 17th in points per game. The two big themes heading into the 2009 season are cutting turnovers and getting better production once they get inside the 20.
They were minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways last year, third worst in the NFL. They scored touchdowns on just 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions.
"I think if we can make those two adjustments, we can win at least two more games," Shanahan said. "If we can do that I think we will be a playoff team. We were a good offense last year statistically. But that was the first thing I talked about on the first day of OTAs this year, that doesn't mean anything. The top three offenses in the league last year were New Orleans, Denver and us. None of us made the playoffs. Moving the ball does not matter unless you move it across that goal line."
2. Do they have enough in the secondary?
Their top cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has not been with the team because he's upset about getting slapped with a franchise tag, but he will ultimately sign it and play for a guarantee of nearly $10 million.
Jacques Reeves will miss the start of the season with a fractured fibula, which means Fred Bennett will get some time as the second starter. Rookie Glover Quin is currently the nickel and they like his physical play.
But the safeties and the defensive backfield depth are question marks, even if the defensive front gets more of a pa
ss rush and forces the ball out quicker. Can they get steady enough play from Eugene Wilson and second-year man Dominique Barber, the presumptive starters at safety on opening day against the Jets?
|Defensive end Mario Williams|
|Defensive end Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans' 25 sacks last season.|
The Texans had just 25 sacks in 2008, fewest in the division. And Williams accounted for 12 of them. Houston made moves intended to get pressure from elsewhere -- first by signing free agent defensive lineman Antonio Smith, then by drafting Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin with their first two picks. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar is a fiery type who preaches pocket penetration and may just be the team's biggest addition.
An effective rush from the front can help take a lot of pressure off the secondary, which ranks as the team's weak link.
Ideally, Jacoby Jones would be in line to replace Kevin Walter as the No. 2 receiver in a year if the team doesn't or can't re-sign Walter. But Jones lacks maturity and consistency and his job security could be in jeopardy. The team is looking at kickoff return man Andre Davis, a better receiver, as a punt return possibility. If Davis succeeds there, Jones could be expendable.
Jones can be very good, but he can also put the ball on the ground too much as a punt returner. And Kubiak is not a fan of specialists. He wants football players who can fill multiple roles. That describes Davis, who can cover kicks as well as return them in addition to catching passes. It may not cover Jones much longer.
Newcomer to watch
"He's a kid that can move from outside to inside, he's a big man that's a real good athlete," said Bush, who also worked with him in Arizona. "He's a 285-pound guy with good knee bend. He's extremely tough, has no problem playing over a center, guard or tackle. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and he came up through the ranks the hard way, he honed his craft and made himself what he is.
"That whole sense of a guy that came from virtually nothing to what he is right now kind of helps our team. Other guys can see it and aspire to be that way."
Antwaun Molden got hurt in his rookie season when the team wanted to bring him along slowly. He's a physical cornerback who could provide some great insurance or become a real alternative now if he's needed. ... Dan Orlovsky hasn't looked very good, but the team knows it will take him a while to be comfortable in the system and are convinced with coaching he can be a quality No. 2 quarterback for them. Even before a hamstring injury Rex Grossman wasn't going to challenge him for the backup quarterback job. ... Ryan Moats is like Slaton style-wise and Arian Foster is Chris Brown-like. But the undrafted rookie back may have missed his chance with a preseason injury and a too-slow return. Brown's ability to stay healthy will be a big question for the offense. ... While he's a popular fall guy with media and fans, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who's missed camp so far recovering from hernia surgery, generally does what the team asks, taking up blockers. That it's a contract year won't hurt his motivation either. ... Undrafted free agent John Busing hits and plays good special teams, which may give him a shot at a roster spot that has belonged to Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison. ... The team also likes undrafted defensive end Tim Jamison, but will there be room for him? ... Frank Okam is big, quick and smart and he's been a pet project for coaches. When Kubiak complimented his offseason, Okam knew it meant something, "because it's difficult for an Aggie to give a Longhorn a compliment." ... Rookie tight end James Casey can play fullback, line up wide or throw. That's versatility that makes him Houston's Wildcat candidate. ... Want an undrafted possibility on offense? If Jones is out, there could be room for receiver Darnell Jenkins.
|ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky|
|Antonio Smith has a unique way of getting around.|
HOUSTON -- My Thursday was highlighted by a conversation with Antonio Smith, and I give him a big thumbs-up. He's a very cool guy and was generous with his time.
Much of what we talked about will be sprinkled into posts to come.
What set him apart in this scenario was his mode of transportation.
While teammates trudge, shuffle or mosey through the underbelly of Reliant Stadium, Smith gets around on a Segway X2.
Travis Johnson was trying to hijack it after Smith pulled up for our chat, but while he stepped off it to talk, he didn't allow his defensive linemate to borrow his wheels.
"It's pretty much just fun," he said. "I'm not going to lie, it has saved my legs a little bit. But for the most part it's just fun. It's a lazy-man machine."
Does he allow others to ride it? Does it disappear on him?
"Oh anybody," he said, before proudly posing for this picture. [Curse that light in the background.] "I don't discriminate. It never disappears. They'll come ask first."
- Travis Johnson is working his way back from a sports hernia, the Chronicle staff reports.
- The Colts will be without a bunch of key players Friday night against Minnesota including the entire starting secondary, says Mike Chappell. Once Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are out of the game, Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels have to like the sound of that.
- Colts moves: WR Roy Hall waived-Injured, G Tom Pestock waived, RB Walter Mendenhall (Illinois State) and DE Rudolph Hardie (Howard) signed.
- Bigcatcountry.com previews Jaguars-Dolphins Monday night.
- A real commitment to the 3-4 requires some major personnel alterations and the Jaguars are not making those, reminds Vic Ketchman.
- Chris Johnson and LenDale White thoroughly entertained Michael Silver.
- Vince Young's agent says a report about the quarterback's potential willingness to reduce his pay in 2010 is a nonstory, reports Jim Wyatt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
- The Texans start camp aiming for the playoffs, writes John McClain.
- There is progress on a contract for Connor Barwin, says McClain.
- Houston re-signed veteran defensive lineman Jeff Zgonina to help out while Travis Johnson and Amobi Okoye recover from surgeries.
- Alan Burge says the Texans put three on the PUP list: Antwaun Molden, Travis Johnson and Anthony Hill.
- A look at Bill Kollar from BattleRedBlog.com.
- Tom Moore and Howard Mudd have rejoined the Colts, write Mike Chappell.
- Stampedeblue.com looks at the under tackle position on the Colts defensive line.
- Chappell takes questions.
- Vic Ketchman has pull with Jack Del Rio on the participants in the famous Oklahoma drill, and his top billing is Eugene Monroe vs. Derrick Harvey.
- My look at Del Rio as he heads into a crucial season.
- Del Rio will run a tougher camp, writes Vito Stellino.
- Single-game tickets go on sale Saturday. Buy some and you might help avoid blackouts.
- The Titans will announce a lottery partnership Friday, reposts Jim Wyatt. Isn't it great how the anti-gambling NFL can justify these kind of deals?
- Shockingly, Jeff Fisher was optimistic about Kenny Britt's deal getting done in time for practice this afternoon.
- The future of Steve McNair's foundation may be in question.
- Training camp from a fan angle, from Gary Estwick.
- Titans training camp at a glance, from the Tennessean.
- Kevin Mawae's not ready for the start of training camp, says Terry McCormick.
- Titans Radio considers wide receivers. Audio here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Matt Bowen runs through issues in the division as camps draw near.
A video report on the Texans' outlook at quarterback, with John McClain.
Travis Johnson had surgery to repair a sports hernia three weeks ago, reports Mark Berman.
Read of the morning: KC Joyner considers 10 reasons Peyton Manning isn't as revered as he should be.
Will Bob Sanders stay healthy? John Oesher examines it as part of his 20 Questions.
Mike Chappell says the Colts generally don't crank up contract negotiations for draft picks until about 10 days before camp.
A breakdown of safety Matt Giordano from Oehser.
Marvin Harrison's accuser is reportedly shot again, says the AP.
"There are not 32 backs out there who are better than me," Edgerrin James tells David Dorsey.
Aaron Schatz considers whether backs who get a big increase in carries like Maurice Jones-Drew will stand to drop off.
KC Joyner thinks offensive line injuries masked other issues for the Jaguars last year and became a blanket excuse.
A preview of the Titans offensive line from Jim Wyatt.
A quick Q&A with Michael Roos.