AFC South: Tye Hill

RTC: The Colts and The Curse

September, 5, 2010
Reading the coverage ...

Mike Silver’s annual owner rankings: Part One, Part Two.

Houston Texans

Kris Brown is on IR until he reaches an injury settlement, says John McClain.

The Texans are a team ready for takeoff, says Steve Wyche.

Richard Justice on Dan Orlovsky, with a tangent on Jim Lauderdale.

The secondary is a whole lot different, but that’s not a bad thing, says Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

Mike Chappell takes on the Colts and The Curse.

Devin Moore won the kick returner job, says Chappell.

I participated in this roundtable with Tom Brew about whether the Colts will sweep the division again.

What Nate Dunlevy learned from cut day.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars cut ties with safeties Reggie Nelson and Gerald Alexander, writes Vito Stellino.

It’s time for lofty goals for the Jaguars, says Tania Ganguli.

Five first-year Jaguars to watch, from Ganguli.

Gene Smith provides hope, says Gene Frenette.

Tennessee Titans

Jim Wyatt talked to cut Titans Samkon Gado and Tye Hill.

Kenny Britt’s not guaranteed to be active on Sunday, says Wyatt.

Ahmard Hall has studied Lorenzo Neal, says Kyle Allen.

Tennessee Titans cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
Check here for a full list of Tennessee's roster moves.

Biggest surprises: Running back Samkon Gado ran ahead of LeGarrette Blount since he was added, but Gado lost out to the unproven rookie. Tight end Sean Ryan seemed like he’d stick as insurance for Craig Stevens, whose role is now quite important and who’s had concussion issues in the past. But the Titans parted ways with Ryan. Veteran cornerback Tye Hill was surprised he was let go, according to The Tennessean. Jeff Fisher says teams need at least four corners. If you count nickelback Vincent Fuller, a safety, in the equation the numbers are OK. But otherwise unproven Ryan Mouton is fourth.

No-brainers: Chris Simms often looked confused and flustered in preseason action, and it became clear that the Titans would stick with Kerry Collins as the veteran backup to Vince Young while looking to develop rookie Rusty Smith for down the road. Collins can run the scout team at practice and step in with no practice work if and when he’s needed, and Smith’s got a lot of good qualities, including a nice arm and swagger.

What’s next: The Titans will probably look for help at linebacker, where Gerald McRath’s four-game suspension is underway, and the primary alternative, Collin Allred, has not been durable lately. Could they pursue Oakland’s Thomas Howard in a trade? The depth right now beyond Stephen Tulloch, Will Witherspoon and Allred is Jamie Winborn, Stanford Keglar and long snapper Ken Amato. With receiver Paul Williams finally gone, Keglar can be the guy fans wonder about still being around.

Three things: Titans at Seahawks

August, 14, 2010
Three things I’ll be looking for in Titans at Seahawks:

Vince Young and Michael Griffin: I consider the two veteran first-round picks from Texas to be the keys on each side of the ball. No, they won’t play much. But a show of poise and production from each could provide the very first kernels of confidence in them for 2010. Let’s see some rhythm from Young and no mistakes from Griffin.

The new ends: Thinned by injuries, the Titans just added Raheem Brock and Chris Harrington. They could get a lot of work chasing Seattle quarterbacks. Will they start to make a charge for roster spots, or are they going to turn out to be bodies the Titans can plug in for a time while they await the return of William Hayes and Derrick Morgan.

Young cornerbacks: Cortland Finnegan won’t play, which means expansive opportunities to put things down on film for all the candidates to start opposite him -- Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton, Alterraun Verner and Tye Hill. Make some plays, create or expand your buzz. Verner, in particular, has been getting good practice reviews as of late.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

However unlikely it is, however many other times muscled-headed men (and women) cried wolf, however long Pinocchio's nose appears to be, Brian Cushing could be telling the truth. His problem right now is that it is an almost unbelievable truth, says Jerome Solomon.

Be cynical if you want. But if a guy can come up with an excuse this creative, I'm for giving him a pass. It took him several months and came after a few others were tested, but it's a good one, says Richard Justice.

John McClain can’t see Roger Goodell overturning Cushing’s suspension.

Mario Williams got a second opinion in Philadelphia and does not need surgery to alleviate hip troubles, says John McClain.

Williams has never consistently drawn double teams and hasn’t shown great pass-rush instincts, says Justice.

Prankster David Anderson is showing a desire to improve, says Jordan Godwin.

Dan Orlovsky will get extensive playing time against the Cardinals, says John McClain.

Antwaun Molden’s competing for a roster spot after an ankle injury, says Godwin.

Ageism, the Texans and the success cycle, from Rivers McCown.

Indianapolis Colts

Jerry Hughes gives the Colts a triple threat of pass-rushers, says Mike Chappell.

Bob Kravitz considers Colts to come for the Hall of Fame.

Expect John Gill to land on a reserve list while he gets his personal issues resolved, says Mike Chappell.

Andy Alleman is out, Adrian Martinez is in as the Colts shuffled an offensive line spot, says Chappell.

Anthony Gonzalez tried to make up for lost time in 2009 with offseason workouts with Peyton Manning in Tennessee, says John Oehser.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Joint practices between the Jaguars and Falcons are underway, says Tania Ganguli.

The Jaguars are dinged-up on the lines.

Mike Thomas is standing out, says Ganguli.

Vic Ketchman’s gut feeling is that Vince Manuwai won’t make the starting lineup.

Tennessee Titans

Tye Hill is finally back in the mix, says John Glennon.

Robert Johnson, who’s never played special teams before, is looking to make his mark on special teams, says Jim Wyatt.

The Titans have showed an interest in returner LeRoy Vann, says Wyatt.

Damian Williams is inching closer to action, says Glennon.

Ahmard Hall’s found a recipe for longevity, says David Boclair.

Derrick Morgan is planning on buying iPads for the defensive linemen instead of taking on a dinner tab, says Terry McCormick.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans defensive backs shined early in the team’s Sunday practice. Go ahead and respond to my tweets about it with commentary, telling me that with that quarterback and those receivers, how could it be different?

But one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills are, by their nature, to the offense’s advantage. While there were drops -- most noticeably four by Justin Gage -- there was a lot of tight coverage and breakups from a group of DBs that is already thinned out.

Tye Hill is out with a hamstring injury and Nick Schommer and Jamar Love are on PUP, so nickelback and safety Vincent Fuller played some outside cornerback in team drills with the twos and threes.

Among the top playmakers in the secondary was Jason McCourty, the corner who was back with the first team after Ryan Mouton was in the spot the first day. A couple of them were not against Jerry Rice, they were against Paul Williams. But with opportunity to make plays he made them, and he doesn’t rank highly enough to be choosing his matchups. On his knees, he also picked off a Kerry Collins pass meant for Lavelle Hawkins in the end zone during red-zone work.

Gage had a lot of trouble pulling in the ball, several times against rookie Alterraun Verner.

But it wasn’t all about the defensive backs. Marc Mariani had a nice afternoon with slithery slot work, including an excellent diving catch down the right sideline over Verner for a gain of more than 40 yards on a throw by Chris Simms.

A couple other notes:
  • Derrick Morgan did very little, aggravated his left calf which was an issue during OTAs. He will be monitored, but sure seems likely to miss at least a couple days. Saturday night, just before the first-round pick signed his contract, he tweeted a picture of himself in the room where he waited at team headquarters. It was filled with boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. My natural follow-up question to that was did he have any? He said he limited himself to one, original style.
  • I was a bit surprised when Jim Washburn, the notoriously loud and outspoken defensive line coach, got on safety Donnie Nickey about not attempting to get the ball out when an offensive player broke into the secondary. Is there protocol about yelling at a guy who you don’t coach? Nickey said he’s absolutely fine with it and that Washburn had a good point.
  • Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks benched 315 pounds, the measuring standard for a Titans defensive lineman, zero times when he joined the team as a second-round pick out of Auburn last year. “I didn’t even want to get up under it,” he said. Before 2009 training camp, also zero. In recent days, twice. It might not sound like a lot, but he and coaches regard it as a great improvement that shows the strength gains that will pay off for him this year.
  • Nice camp moment: Rookie safety Myron Rolle introduced his mom, Beverley, his dad, Whitney, and his brother, McKinley, to defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil and linebackers coach Dave McGinnis. Minutes later at his locker, Rolle was checking text messages McKinley sent him during practice about particular plays.
A pre-camp depth chart can tell us more about PR, seniority and staff loyalties than about who will be in up-in-the air spots come opening day.

That said, having one is better than not having one. And among our four franchises, only the Titans have one out so far.

I just got around to scanning the depth chart the Titans included as part of their training camp release and thought a few bullet points were worth mention and discussion.
  • Though middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch was not with the team through the entire offseason as he tried to leverage a long-term deal, he is listed as the starting middle linebacker. Odds are he’s in camp in time -- his one-year restricted free-agent tender was signed in June. Colin Allred’s worked in his place, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if coach Jeff Fisher put Allred with the first team to start to make a statement of his own.
  • At outside linebacker, Gerald McRath and David Thornton are listed as the starters. But Fisher said during OTAs, while Thornton healed multiple injuries, that the veteran didn’t qualify as a starter then. McRath is suspended for the first four games. Will Witherspoon, listed behind McRath, was the team’s biggest free-agent addition and is unquestionably going to be one of the starters outside.
  • Rookie third-rounder Damian Williams is listed as the front-liner at both punt returner and kick returner, with another rookie receiver, Marc Mariani, second at punt returner and Kenny Britt second at kick returner. Alvin Pearman is third at both and clearly only veteran insurance. But Pearman ranks third at running back, ahead of rookies LeGarrette Blount and Stafon Johnson.
  • Elsewhere, rookies rate lowly, as you’d expect. First-round defensive end Derrick Morgan is third on one side behind Jacob Ford and Jason Babin.
  • Defensive tackle Jovan Haye, the player I rate as most likely to be demoted out of the starting lineup, remains a starter ahead of Jason Jones and Sen’Derrick Marks.
  • Cornerback Jason McCourty is the second starter, with Ryan Mouton and rookie Alterraun Verner behind him while Tye Hill is backing up Cortland Finnegan on the other side.

Again, it’s an unofficial depth chart they are nice enough to provide this early for us to pick apart. We’ll take similar looks at the others when we first see them.
John Clayton points to two AFC South camp battles in his top five for the conference.

He’s looking at Anthony Gonzalez injecting himself back into the Colts’ receiving corps a year after an early injury opened the door for rookie Austin Collie.

And he’s listed the Titans’ four-way battle for the starting cornerback spot opposite Cortland Finnegan.

I don’t think there is an easy answer in Indy. The slot receivers will slug it out, and Gonzalez won’t only get snaps inside. But if the Colts remain four deep, I envision them all playing, not a scenario where the “loser” hardly gets on the field when everyone else is healthy.

In Tennessee, Jason McCourty got a disproportionate number of days running with the ones in OTAs -- as in almost all of them. Jeff Fisher has a way of talking about a competition while predetermining the favorite, and it may already require a combination of a bad camp from McCourty and an outstanding one from Ryan Mouton, Alterraun Verner or Tye Hill to alter things.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans appear hell bent on maintaining the cornerback slot opposite Cortland Finnegan is open for competition.

And that’s the right approach in June, when you can't win a job and probably can't lose one either.

But through 12 of 14 spring and summer OTA practices, Jason McCourty has run with the first team 11 times. Tye Hill was due to get a shot last week, but suffered a hamstring injury and was out. Ryan Mouton got that day, but then McCourty was quickly back in place.

[+] EnlargeJason McCourty
AP Photo/Bill KostrounWhile Jason McCourty appears to be the front-runner to start opposite Cortland Finnegan, Titans coaches aren't saying as much.
Still, coach Jeff Fisher says it’s unwise to read too much into who’s getting the reps at the head of the line.

“We’re just rotating,” Fisher said.

But no matter how much he talks about rotating, the team hasn’t been rotating, at least not at the top.

Fisher said Hill, when healthy, can expect reps to come, as can rookie Alterraun Verner.

Rod Hood would have been in the mix as well, but he tore an ACL recently and is out of the mix.

I sought out former Titans safety Marcus Robertson, the defensive backs coach, to get a review of McCourty’s work so far.

Like his boss, Robertson wasn’t especially eager to single out McCourty or differentiate him too much from Mouton -- leaning toward talking of “them” rather than “him.”

Perhaps we need start calling them McCourton?

I think it’s clear that the Titans like Mouton better in the slot and he’s better suited for it while McCourty is better outside. But with Vincent Fuller entrenched there, it’s not an available spot.

Robertson said McCourty has “drastically improved.”

“Both of those guys have the ability,” Robertson said. “The one thing I like about JMac is the simple thing that he’s coachable. He has all the tools to be a good football player, he understands the game. I think for him, the more times he sees it, the better he will be.”

A brutal season for the Titans' secondary last year included too much time for Mouton and McCourty on the field as rookies.

“Although it wasn’t a great thing for us, I think it was a good thing for them,” Robertson said. “Because they got an opportunity to realize that at any given time you can be exposed and that if you don’t do the hard work during the week, you can easily be embarrassed on Sunday.

“That isn’t a good feeling and I know now that they are dedicated to being the best players they can be.”

McCourty said he isn’t concentrating on who’s lining up when, but that all of the team’s corners -- with Nick Harper’s old spot now open -- have to think of themselves as starting material.

“I know the guys behind me are just as good,” McCourty said. “So if I go out there and I slack, one of them is going to pick up on that and hop in front of me.”

Receiver Lavelle Hawkins interrupted to brag about having beaten McCourty on a play late in practice. McCourty didn’t really flinch. Pressed, he said it wasn’t much of a victory for the receiver, who grabbed a short slant.

Practice notes from Nashville

June, 15, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple thoughts out of the Tennessee Titans' organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday:

  • I think Will Witherspoon is going to be a good player and a settling force for this team. So I was surprised to see that he’s not currently on the field as part of the nickel package, yielding to Gerald McRath and Colin Allred, who’s filling in for Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch is not with the team as a protest over his contract. Both Jeff Fisher and Witherspoon said they expect he will ultimately be part of the nickel package, and that his absence from it now is merely about him getting to know the base component of the system first.
  • Fisher has talked about rotating candidates through the starting cornerback spot opposite Cortland Finnegan. But until Tuesday it’s been all Jason McCourty. Now it’s Ryan Mouton. “Mouton just needs to go out there with the ones and continue to make the plays,” Fisher said. “He’s got a real good feel for what we’re doing, the one-on-one stuff has really improved, his understanding of the concepts is improving. He just needs to go out and make plays. McCourty did a nice job. He was very quiet, very competitive and much better playing the ball this spring, getting his hands on the ball, reacting to things.” Tye Hill, who suffered a hamstring injury Monday, and rookie Alterraun Verner will also get chances at the spot, Fisher said.
  • Kenny Britt is out of the doghouse where he landed for coming to initial OTAs out of shape. Mostly. He’s still not running with the first unit -- lining up only after the likes of Lavelle Hawkins -- and didn’t have a great day. Fisher said Britt’s climb back up the depth chart is about consistency and time. If Britt doesn’t qualify as this team’s top receiver by opening day, it’ll be a huge disappointment.
  • Everyone had a good laugh when Chris Simms scored in a goal line period on a bootleg. Not really his forte.

AFC South uncertainty index

May, 24, 2010
With all the teams that go from bad to great and great to bad from one season to the next, forecasting how things will pan out in the NFL is close to impossible.

It’s another ingredient in why the NFL is the best thing going in sports, another piece of the unpredictability we love.

Generally, I have trouble forecasting big things for teams that are counting on a high number of unproven players to make simultaneous jumps and be productive -- though they can emerge as far better than I expect, of course. Still, it’s why I am not particularly optimistic about the 2010 Tennessee Titans.

I thought I’d go team-by-team in search of less-than-established spots in the lineup to create an AFC South uncertainty index.

Let’s be clear: you may not prefer Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle for the Houston Texans, Kyle DeVan at right guard for the Indianapolis Colts, Brad Meester at center for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Michael Griffin at safety for the Titans. But they are guys who will play and have a degree of faith from the team.

I’m looking at spots where inexperience is a big factor.

We’re not pretending to know the season-opening depth charts here, simply building off last year’s versions. We’ll look a bit beyond starting lineups with significant roles and return jobs included. Here's our look in order of uncertainty. (Starting positions labeled with an asterisk.)

Titans (10, with three starters)

Kuharsky’s take: Sure, young and talented can be exciting and promising, but that’s quite a lot. You’d expect Morgan to be fine. And they went with numbers instead of value at corner, where I’d think one or two guys have to emerge. McRath, Stevens, Cook and Marks all need to contribute. If Jeff Fisher hasn’t found solutions in the return game, they’ve got serious issues.

Jaguars (10 with two starters)

Kuharsky’s take: Alualu, the first rounder, should fare well. Finding playmakers (beyond hyphen guys Mike Sims-Walker and Maurice Jones-Drew) out of the receivers and running backs is a huge issue. McGee or Karim panning out as a returner would help in that department too. With shaky veteran safeties, nickelback will be especially important.

Indianapolis (six, with one starter)

Kuharsky’s take: Potentially they’ve got just one starting spot in question. A season-killing knee injury to third-rounder Kevin Thomas hurts depth options at cornerback, but a lot of teams would be pleased for that to rank as one of its big issues. Eldridge could help upgrade run-blocking and Fisher and James seem to be more exciting return options than they’ve had recently.

Houston (four, with three starters)

Kuharsky’s take: I’d prefer to have inexperienced guys with upside in the mix at nose tackle and free safety, but they look to be sticking with the status quo in Shaun Cody and Eugene Wilson, respectively. If you’re going to have new starters, let them be high draft picks like Tate (second), Caldwell (third last year) and Jackson (first).
» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


Nick Harper, former Titans cornerback: His name’s not surfaced in any sort of free-agent talks around the league. No one thought he’d resurface with the Titans, and that’s been guaranteed with the addition of free agents Rod Hood and Tye Hill. Harper, underrated in his first two seasons with the Titans, slipped in his third and will be 36 in September. Will he find a team that wants experienced depth?


Jacques Reeves, Texans cornerback: Consistency has been the question. But with the offseason conditioning program under way, he’s got a chance with Dunta Robinson gone to make a play for a big role. Odds are a rookie corner from high in the draft will be part of things at the end of the month. But good work from Reeves now and through the summer can potentially keep him at the head of the line opposite second-year man Glover Quin.
Houston Texans

To earn his big new contract, DeMeco Ryans “did everything the right way,” says GM Rick Smith, reports John McClain.

Texans faithful are relived and excited about Ryans’ deal, writes Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

Looking at needs in Colts’ context with John Oehser.

Robert Mathis had a meeting with a whale and Stampede Blue has the photographic evidence.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars should bring back Reggie Hayward, says Alfie Crow. I agree.

Expect a continued focus on acquiring value, says Vic Ketchman.

Jeremy Mincey’s clinging to his dream, writes Ketchman.

Tennessee Titans

Interest in Chris Simms or Patrick Ramsey could help the Titans gain leverage with Kerry Collins, says Jim Wyatt.

The addition of Tye Hill kept the Titans’ focus on defense.
Is Tye Hill a magic solution for the Titans who have a hole at one of their starting cornerback spots? No.

But if you don’t have a clear-cut starter, the next thing you want is options. And the Titans have done well to supplement second-year corners Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty with veteran free agents Rod Hood and now Hill.

Hill’s agreed to a one-year deal with the Titans, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

We have a scouting take on Hill here.

Based on that, the question now is how well Chuck Cecil, Marcus Robertson and Tim Hauck are able to coach Hill up to get him in position to be a contributor. But if they do great work with Mouton and McCourty, it may not turn out to matter much.

Some will now extrapolate that the Titans will definitely go defensive end in the first round of the draft. I think their total work in free agency leaves them in a spot where they do not have to address any one spot at No. 16.

But the pool of ends and their two moves at corner certainly leave them the room to go for a pass-rusher if one they love is there.
The Titans are looking at veteran defensive backs, and it seems there are two categories under consideration: corners who can add depth and physical safety types who can add some depth and contribute on special teams.

I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. for his assessment of the four names that have surfaced:

Cornerback Tye Hill

Williamson: “A former first-round pick who is physically gifted, especially from a pure speed perspective, He is the guy with the most upside of the ones you mentioned, but his recognition skills are very suspect and he doesn't offer a lot vs. the run.”

Cornerback Ken Lucas

Williamson: “He was a guy that I was high on. Much bigger than Hill and has at least been successful at this level, but he had a pretty bad year in Seattle -- although he wasn't helped much by a pass rush. Still, he might be done.”

Safety Aaron Rouse

Williamson: “Rouse is a big strong safety type. He had some good (and bad) moments with the Packers and then by default, got a lot of playing time for the Giants last year, where he was a liability in coverage. He needs to be near the line of scrimmage and is tight in the hips and in transition.”

While Williamson was aware of Tra Battle, who played in the UFL, he said he doesn’t have any insight on Battle’s recent play.

If I am the Titans, if I can get Hill or Lucas inexpensively, I’d jump. Neither has the complete résumé the team would want in its second starter, but you don’t find well-rounded players in this stage of free agency. I’d lean toward Hill on youth.

If they has Rod Hood, Hill or Lucas, Ryan Mouton, Jason McCourty and a draft pick, that’s a pretty good pool from which to find a starter to play opposite Cortland Finnegan and to have sufficient options for when (it’s rarely "if," anymore) that starter or Finnegan go down for a stretch.

As for safety, Rouse or Battle is unlikely to line up as Chris Hope’s successor and it would be good if that extra safety was a young guy with more upside. It Titans should have a third safety who could step in if something happens to Hope or Michael Griffin, because pulling Vincent Fuller away from the nickel spot would weaken them there.
Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Continuing our periodic look at the history of the AFC South-relevant first-round draft slots ...

We've already hit on No. 30, where the Tennessee Titans will pick Saturday, and No. 27, where the Indianapolis Colts sit.

Here's a look at the last 10 picks in the No. 15 slot owned this time around by Houston.

The No. 15 Pick Since 1999
Year Pos. School Player Team Comment
2008 G Virginia Branden Albert Kansas City As a rookie, started 15 games at left tackle
2007 LB Florida State Lawrence Timmons Pittsburgh Has appeared in all 32 games,
had five sacks in second year
2006 CB Clemson Tye Hill St. Louis Not a big factor; hurt in the last two years
2005 LB Texas Derrick Johnson Kansas City Has started 58 of possible 64 games for Chiefs
2004 WR LSU Michael Clayton Tampa Bay Has dropped off since giant rookie year, but Bucs re-signed him
2003 DE Miami Jerome McDougle Philadelphia Just three sacks in 37 games; currently a free agent
2002 DT Tennessee Albert Haynesworth Tennessee Just signed monster deal with Washington
2001 WR Clemson Rod Gardner Washington Seven seasons, four teams, 242 catches, 3,165 yards, 23 TDs
2000 CB California Deltha O'Neal Denver 34 interceptions with Cincy, Denver and New England
1999 DT LSU Anthony McFarland Tampa Bay Recorded 22.5 sacks in 109 games in nine seasons