AFC South: Vincent Fuller

Yes, I agree that Cary Williams should have been ejected from the Super Bowl for his shove of official Steve Stelljes.

The Ravens cornerback lost his head when the game was chippy. Touching an official is verboten, and you are supposed to get tossed for it.

Setting that aside. Williams is a quality player who was a solid part of a good effort in the secondary of the champion Ravens.

And he once belonged to Tennessee.

A seventh-round pick out of Washburn by the Titans in 2008, he played in five games in his first two seasons. But he was on the practice squad in 2009 and when the Ravens came calling, the Titans let Baltimore sign him away to their 53-man roster. Had Tennessee offered to promote him to its roster, odds are he would have chosen to stay.

David Climer of The Tennessean highlighted Williams as a difference between the Titans and Ravens. One team judged him expendable, the other saw him as valuable and we see which one just won a title.

Who were the corners on the 2009 Titans? Cortland Finnegan, Nick Harper, Vincent Fuller, Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton were all on the roster that year and Rod Hood also spent time on the team.

Credit the Ravens, for sure, for seeing Williams as a talent.

Surely, though, they needed help with numbers at the position in a way the Titans didn’t at the time. And the Titans were hardly alone. I didn’t see anything in the year plus Williams was in Tennessee that suggested he would qualify as a good get.

Now he’s heading toward free agency, and whether the Ravens make him a bigger offer than the one he turned down before the season or he lands somewhere else, he’s a starting NFL corner for sure.

Had he stayed in Tennessee and developed in a similar fashion, he could have been playing outside opposite McCourty, at least in the nickel package, with Alterraun Verner working in the slot instead of Mouton or Coty Sensabaugh.

RTC: Reviewing the division's cuts

September, 4, 2011
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Their best back in the preseason and a fifth-round pick were among the Texans' cuts, says John McClain.

The Texans are heavy at defensive back, light on the offensive line, says Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

The shared experience of Chad Span and Darren Evans continues, says Mike Chappell.

Phillip B. Wilson on Colts’ survivors.

Assessing the 53, with Brett Mock.

Another 53 breakdown, with Jake Sanders.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars lost Rashad Jennings for the year and traded for Dwight Lowery, says Tania Ganguli.

The defense will determine the Jaguars fate, says Gene Frenette.

The Times-Union went hard with a “Little Engine That Could” theme on its season preview. Here’s the lead story from Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

The cuts included three guys who’d been around for a while: Justin Gage, Vincent Fuller and Jacob Ford, says John Glennon.

The suspended Ahmard Hall says he never took steroids and thinks he’s built up enough of a relationship with fans that they should believe him, writes Glennon.

I missed this breakdown of Chris Johnson’s contract from Andrew Brandt.
A running list of Saturday cuts around the AFC South so far, per reports from people in the know…


As we await word, cut questions ...

September, 3, 2011
Cut questions as we wait for news on who’s in and who’s out …

Houston Texans

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

Indianapolis Colts

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

Jacksonville Jaguars

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

Tennessee Titans

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

Preseason finale storylines

September, 1, 2011
The big storyline or two for the AFC South preseason finales, all of which will be played tonight…

Colts at Bengals

It would be silly for Kerry Collins not to start, and Jim Caldwell has said the new quarterback will play “a lot.” They should give him a reasonable amount of time with the starting line and the weapons he needs to sync up with if he’s starting on Sept. 11 in Houston. That would stray from the typical philosophy in the fourth game, but the change of circumstances dictates a change in approach. Unfortunately, Collins won’t have a chance to work with Austin Collie (foot) or Anthony Gonzalez (hamstring).

Titans at Saints

Depth decisions are the big story for Tennessee at this point. It’s a big night for wideouts Lavelle Hawkins and Kevin Curtis, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, offensive tackles Mike Otto, Troy Kropog and Pat McQuistan, linebackers Rennie Curran and Patrick Bailey and safeties Vincent Fuller, Robert Johnson and Anthony Smith. Jake Locker should see significant time and it would be nice to see him cap the preseason with a performance that shows his growth since the starts of camp.

Rams at Jaguars

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew and defensive end Aaron Kampman are both coming back from knee injuries and they will see their first action of the preseason. Odds are we don’t get great reads on either, but it’s a significant thing for them to be involved in a bit of live action. A sack, at any time, by anyone, would really help in dealing with pass rush concerns. David Garrard will only get a series or two. He can do a lot for himself and the team but putting together an effort that helps create confidence.

Texans at Vikings

We’ll see some kids play a lot, a whole game in some instances. Matt Leinart will have a big chance to show why Gary Kubiak is so high on him, and it would be good if he could connect some with newcomer Bryant Johnson. Like the Texans, the Vikings are expected to have a bunch of guys in street clothes. So while I’d like to see guys who’ve shined for Houston in a great preseason -- like Xavier Adibi, Jesse Nading, Troy Nolan -- fare well early in this game, it won't mean much more than them faring well a bit later in previous games.

My plan

From AFC South blog HQ, I expect to watch the first hour of the Colts and the first hour of the Titans and post something on those two games when they are over. The Jaguars and Texans may need to wait until morning depending on how things unfold. Odds are against me seeing all four games start-to-finish by the time I post some thoughts on them. And by "odds are against," I mean it can't happen.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cortland Finnegan’s move to the nickel spot when the Titans see three wide receivers looks to be a good one. He’s a physical corner who can blitz and likes to mix it up in traffic.

But it left me with one big question:

What happens when the Titans want to match Finnegan up with a top receiver, as they often do with Andre Johnson. [Insert tired joke about how Johnson got the best of Finnegan in their fight last season here. We will pause for it. …OK, move along.]

Well, while the Titans intend to use Finnegan as their primary nickelback, it doesn’t mean he’s their lone nickel ack. Alterraun Verner played there much of last year after replacing Vincent Fuller, who is still around. Safety Jordan Babineaux is working there with backups.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray wants flexibility. The team’s corners are not exclusive to a side of the field and can flip. And he has more than one frontline option at nickel. He can adjust plans by game.

“Right now to me, Cortland is our best nickel from a blitzing and covering standpoint,” Gray said. “And he has that extra dimension -- he doesn’t mind going in there and mixing it up with the big guys, that’s what makes him a lot better in there.

“We’ve got some other guys who can play it. He just happens to be the best at it. If we decide to match up versus guys, we can do it, that’s easy. If we’ve got guys who are good that you can match up personnel-wise, or you want to put a tall guy on him, that’s easy.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker and the Titans' offense paid their first visit to the red zone at practice Wednesday, and Locker threw the ball with great accuracy into tight spots during seven-on-seven work.

Here are some highlights of that period, all from when Locker was throwing to receivers:
That last throw was just excellent.

Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said he thought it looked like the fourth or fifth time the offense has been working inside the 20, not the first.

I watched defensive coordinator Jerry Gray talk to the defensive backs, urging them to slow it down, telling them to force the quarterback to make the perfect throw. After Williams’ great catch, secondary coach Marcus Robertson indicated he was fine with it.

“They’ll hit that one out of 10 times,” he said.

After practice, I asked Gray about slowing it down.

“Be ready to break,” Gray explained. “If you run cover-2 in the middle of the field, it’s different than in the red zone. But a lot of times, a young guy doesn’t know that. What they don’t understand is the game changes...”

“Now the game breaks down to shorter increments, so you have to be a whole lot faster breaking.”

The temptation closer to the goal line can be to break faster, so what Gray and Robertson is coaching can seem counterintuitive.

The practice was like a Friday in a game week, when team’s work on red zone. Gray said you can’t fake it in tight quarters, so guys really reveal themselves.

In seven-on-seven, it's a period that favors the offense and gives Gray and Robertson plenty to review with their guys.
Michael GriffinFernando Medina/US PresswireSafety Michael Griffin had an up-and-down season in 2010, just like the Tennessee Titans.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Michael Griffin puzzles me.

The Titans safety is a supremely gifted athlete who’s been remarkable for the team at times during the four seasons since he was the 19th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He’s also gone through stretches in which he’s been far less than remarkable, winding up on another kind of highlight reel -- chasing players who’d made big gains against Tennessee.

With a new staff awaiting the team when the labor impasse ends, and Griffin participating in a two-day player minicamp this week, I sat with him and also talked to his new defensive coordinator, Jerry Gray, seeking clarity.

The drop-off from 2008 Pro Bowler to 2009 disappointment, we already knew, had a good deal to do with some off-the-field issues and a torn labrum.

Wary of making excuses or tossing anyone under a big yellow transportation vehicle that carries children, Griffin still offered a lot of hints about what went wrong in 2010.

He was great as the Titans jumped out to a 5-2 start. But he struggled the rest of the way -- like just about everyone else on the roster -- as the team lost eight of its final nine games to finish 6-10. Football Outsiders charted him as missing 17 tackles, the most in the league and 12 more than he missed in that bad 2009 campaign.

(His Pro Bowl selection and standing as a Second Team All-Pro were testament to the impression his early-season success made on voters, and also spoke to the state of safeties in the AFC and the league as a whole.)

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichael Griffin had four picks in the first half of last season, but none in the second half when he played closer to the line of scrimmage.
“There was just too much finger-pointing instead of us all saying, 'Let’s sit down and let’s resolve it',” Griffin said. “There was just too much going on and we were divided ...

“There was a lot going on behind the scenes. It was kind of good that there was a change. I think it was a change for the best. With a lot of the things that made headlines, you could just see where this team was. We were all on different pages, and it started from the coaches on down.”

Although Gray says Griffin has the skill set to play strong safety, given his skills and other available personnel, Griffin has clearly been best as a free safety for the Titans. He collected an interception in four consecutive games at one point last season, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for October.

Yet as the season moved along, he found himself playing a good deal of strong safety. He was asked to play nearer the line of scrimmage and make tackles on running backs and tight ends instead of roaming center field, reading quarterbacks and pouncing on pass-catchers.

“I feel like I’m better in the field. I’ve always been a free safety, playing in the field and trying to get jumps on quarterbacks,” he said. “Two years ago, all my interceptions came when I was in the field playing Cover 2 or playing Cover 1. Last year all my interceptions came playing the field. Then, all of a sudden I kind of got moved to the box.

“If I know this guy right here can get to the quarterback on passing downs, get him in the game and get him to the quarterback. If I know this guy is a great run-stopper, play this guy on run downs. I am not telling coaches how to do their job, but those are my examples. Compared to how we played two years ago when we were one of the top secondaries and doing a great job and had three Pro Bowlers, we were just never put in those same positions.”

Veteran strong safety Chris Hope was partially the issue. He wasn’t the in-the-box presence he’d been in years past, and the Titans believed getting Griffin more involved in defending closer to the line of scrimmage would be beneficial. But Hope has slowed down and wasn’t a big help in coverage, either.

Another curious move from coach Jeff Fisher and his defensive coordinator, Chuck Cecil, was made at the end of October: Longtime nickelback Vincent Fuller was taken out of the lineup. A staff that had always been incredibly loyal to veterans pulled Fuller and began shifting starting rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner inside to cover the slot receiver, replacing him outside with Jason McCourty.

“It’s just the way our business is,” Griffin said. “You can understand why they did it, but at the same time, you can’t understand why they did it. It makes sense, but it doesn’t really make sense. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m not saying it's the reason things started going bad. There were just a lot of things going on.”

[+] EnlargeJerry Gray
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNew Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray plans to play to the strengths of his players on defense.
Jerry Gray’s a Texas guy just like Griffin. I expect the two will build a good rapport.

Gray said Griffin is capable of playing free or strong safety, comparing him to the late Sean Taylor. Gray coached the versatile Taylor in Washington.

“What Griffin did best, he got four interceptions last year. I thought he did a good job of tracking the football, reading the quarterback when he was in center field,” Gray said. “But he made tackles too. … You’re going to start him out at free. His identity is going to show up in practices, hopefully before it gets to games. Our job is to not spread him thin and let him go play what he’s really good at.

“Sometimes you may give up 10 to 20 tackles a year. But you gain five or six interceptions. Is a tackle more important than a turnover? If it’s not, then put him at free safety. That’s what we’re kind of leaning on in the beginning and wanting to see if we can make work.”

Hope will turn 32 in September. If he can regain form and the pass rush helps the secondary, things could get a lot better. If he cannot, the Titans don’t appear to have a guy in the backup pool who is clearly next in line at either safety spot.

Young corners Verner and McCourty should be better, and Fuller, a sure tackler, could resurface.

Whoever is on the field, Griffin is confident that Gray and holdover defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson will provide a unified plan that maximizes the chances to be effective and will provide answers if things don’t go according to plan.

He’s most concerned with a return to winning football. But heading into the final year of his contract, he also said a consistent season is mandatory if he wants to ensure a good future for himself.

“It has to be a great year,” he said. “I think they are going to put us in the best situations possible for us to make plays. After that, when they put us in the positions, it’s up to us as players to make plays. If we can’t make the plays, that’s when we’ll point the fingers at ourselves.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans certainly got some good out of a two-hour, player organized practice session that included more than 50 participants on Wednesday morning at Father Ryan High School.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and guard Jake Scott deserve credit for getting so many players out.

Of note:

  • Eugene Amano and Jake Scott
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comOffensive linemen Eugene Amano, left, and Jake Scott work against each other.
    Running back Chris Johnson was part of things. He said his contract isn’t on his mind right now and declared that he expects rookie quarterback Jake Locker to start right out of the gate. Here’s the news story.
  • Locker had some nice moments and some that were not so good. About what you’d expect. He certainly threw the ball better than Brett Ratliff. And he didn’t go the Joe Cool route like Ratliff and Rusty Smith, who practiced in sunglasses.
  • The host school’s football staff ran the individual position drills, which had to be a cool thing for most of them. From the stretch through some team work, players seemed to strike just the right measure of laughs with work.
  • Safety Michael Griffin said the defense just worked through basic coverages. Players expect the new defense, coordinated by Jerry Gray will touch on them all. They thought running through basics rather than trying to learn and execute anything new was the smart approach.
  • Among the notables under contract who were missing -- and let’s be clear they didn’t have to be there and could have had very legitimate reasons for not making it -- were Michael Roos, David Stewart, Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, Alterraun Verner, William Hayes and Brett Kern. Justin Gage was a late arrival and just watched.
  • Without their own receivers, the Titans benefited from the presence of three quality outsiders: Derrick Mason of the Ravens, Golden Tate of the Seahawks and Patrick Turner of the Jets. Mason started his career with Tennessee and still has an area home while Tate and Turner are both from Nashville. Tate went to Father Ryan arch rival Pope John Paul II, and wore his purple Ryan shirt inside out.
  • Gerald McRath and Akeem Ayers
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comLinebacker Gerald McRath coaches up second-round pick Akeem Ayers.
    Several players who are not under contract for 2011 participated: defensive end Dave Ball, guard Leroy Harris, linebacker Tim Shaw and safety Donnie Nickey. Nickey had a big, early collision in seven-on-seven work with Marc Mariani as both went up for a pass from Ratliff that put the receiver at risk. It was the only obvious injury scare of the day. Both bounced up.
  • Plays of note: Mariani dropped a well-thrown deep ball from Locker after slipping behind multiple defenders. Corner Jason McCourty dropped a pick of a pass that bounced off Jared Cook; Ratliff threw an incredibly bad, incomplete pass down the deep middle, a duck that wobbled more than a lot of punts do.
  • Among the guys I saw doing a great deal of leading of young guys were Scott, Ball, defensive back Vincent Fuller and linebacker Gerald McRath.
  • The Titans will have another session Thursday.
As the Titans look for their quarterback for the future, they certainly hope he will be a guy who can give them better downfield looks.

Since 2008, Titan quarterbacks have thrown seven more interceptions than touchdowns on throws of 15 yards or more downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Titans have completed 36.7 percent of such passes, compared to a league average of 41.5. They’ve gained 9.8 yards per attempt compared to a league average of 11.1. They’ve scored 16 touchdowns compared to a league average of 21.7. And they have posted a passer rating of 61.2 compared to the league average of 76.9.

Now Vince Young and Kerry Collins didn’t have a lot of great downfield options during that stretch, but things should be better for the next guy. Receivers Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Damian Williams are likely to be the top three guys outside and Jared Cook is expected to take over as the lead tight end.

We don’t yet know how the offense will change under coach Mike Munchak and coordinator Chris Palmer.

How about some key numbers on defense?

The Titans are likely to draft a corner at some point and if this draft wasn’t so weak at safety I’d give them one for sure. Stats and Info says the numbers suggest nickel defense concerns. The Titans had Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner as their starting corners, with Jason McCourty playing in the nickel with Verner sliding to the slot, where he displaced long-time incumbent Vincent Fuller. During the 2010 season, 17 teams used a 4-3 defense package against 100 or more throwing attempts. The Titans allowed an opposing passer rating of 74.9 on such attempts, second-best in the NFL.

However, when the Titans used five or more defensive backs, opposing quarterbacks had a 92.1 rating. The increase of 17.1 points was the worst passer rating differential in the NFL this year.

Those struggles weren't strictly on the corners. Safeties Michael Griffin and Chris Hope, linebackers who couldn't cover tight ends and a pass rush that faded were part of the issues too.
Williams/GarrardAP Photo/Phil CoaleMario Williams and David Garrard are two of the 53 players under contract in the AFC South slated to make more than $1 million this season.
After being struck recently with how the NFL's labor rift has been cast as billionaires vs. millionaires, I thought I’d look at some players' salaries.

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

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

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

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

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

Total players under contract for 2011: 49

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 26.5

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

Total players under contract for 2011: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 19.3

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

Total players under contract for 2011: 51

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 25.5

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

Total players under contract for 2011: 59

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.1

*Young will be cut or traded, the Titans have announced.
What I think they are thinking at headquarters of the four AFC South teams …

Houston Texans

Is Gary Kubiak going to get fired? How about Rick Smith? Does a big work week and performance against Jacksonville do anything to help them? Do we care? Does beating the Jaguars and ensuring they are not in the playoffs and don’t finish better than .500 provide much of an incentive for us? No matter what happens, wouldn’t it be nice to walk into the offseason with a win? If we make David Garrard look bad, can we not finish with the league’s worst pass defense? Where should we go to unwind, have a drink on the beach, play a bunch of golf and/or get reacquainted with the wife and kids?

Indianapolis Colts

Control, control, control. Considering all we’ve been through, we can’t be unhappy at all with being in a win-and-in scenario in our final regular season game. The Titans will put up a tough fight as they try to ruin it for them. But if Matt Cassel is shredding them, Peyton Manning certainly can. And we were really in control of the entire game when we won on Dec. 9 in Nashville. The run game and the run defense are peaking, and those are awfully good things to be able to say when heading into a game against Chris Johnson and then, we expect, into the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars

It would have been nice to hear Jack Del Rio and Garrard own some of their mistakes from Sunday’s loss. That’s a bad one. And we know people think it won’t be hard for us to go to Houston, fall behind big early and take away any of the suspense over who’s going to win the division. Even on a bad day, we’ve got to be able to beat Washington at home. If we finish 8-8 or 9-7 it’s forward progress in the big picture, but in the smaller picture, we really will have blown it. Will it be enough for Del Rio to survive? For Garrard to hold his spot? We need to not think about that and convince ourselves that the Titans can beat the Colts.

Tennessee Titans

I don’t really fear getting replaced in the lineup for the finale. Maybe I should, because we’ve seen Vincent Fuller, Bo Scaife and Jovan Haye get sat down for at least a game. But look at Justin Gage. He’s good for a drop or two a game and suffers no consequences. I can mail it in like that. This may be Jeff Fisher’s last stand and why should we believe he'd change for it? We’re all in better standing with him here than without him, but are we smart enough to know it? Is there any player on the roster who can stand in the middle of a huddle and tell us why we should think we can win at Indianapolis? Anyone? Anyone? Monday and Tuesday could be a lot more exciting than Sunday.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

November, 3, 2010
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


The Titans in the fourth quarter of close games: They did well to pull away from Philadelphia with a 27-point fourth in what had been a close game. But against Pittsburgh, Denver and San Diego when they were in range, the Titans have not had the execution, ability or killer instinct to win.

Gary Kubiak’s play calling: I hear the explanations. Convert some third downs and stay on the field and they would have been balanced. But Kubiak outsmarted himself. The Texans ran all over the Colts the first time; the obligation is to make them show they can stop it before you turn to what you prepared for them stopping it. Also, you get into a lot more third-and-shorts if Arian Foster is running for 4 or 5 yards on first and second down.

Vincent Fuller, Titans defensive back: The team’s feisty full-time nickelback since 2007 was reduced to a role in the much less frequently used dime package. The Titans love Alterraun Verner, who’d been playing outside with Jason McCourty injured. With McCourty back, Verner started outside, and moved inside in the nickel, with McCourty taking his place.


[+] EnlargePat Angerer
AP Photo/Nick WassPat Angerer has played his way into the Colts' starting lineup.
Pat Angerer, Colts outside linebacker: He’s a middle linebacker in their eyes, but he played so well filling in a couple of weeks ago for Gary Brackett that the Colts decided they needed to keep him on the field. Out went strongside starter Philip Wheeler, in went Angerer on Monday night. He didn’t light up the stat sheet but Jim Caldwell sang his praises.

David Garrard, Jaguars quarterback: The good is outweighing the bad to the tune of a 98.8 passer rating, the fourth best in the NFL. He put the Cowboys to shame on Sunday with a sterling performance. But here’s a helpful hint: Don’t say how the team you just beat up gave up -- it takes a little shine off of what you just did.

The Colts' backups: We’ve covered it extensively (here and here), but the performances of tight end Jacob Tamme, running back Mike Hart and cornerback Justin Tryon were key in the Colts’ win over Houston. They keep calling on the depth and it keeps giving the team what it needs.

Collins tops Edwards in backup battle

October, 19, 2010
Kerry CollinsAP Photo/Stephen MortonKerry Collins replaced injured starter Vince Young and passed for 110 yards and a touchdown.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Hours before kickoff at EverBank Stadium on Monday night, Titans offensive linemen found themselves in one of a million time-passing situations they’ll share this season.

They talked of how fortunate the team was to have a veteran backup quarterback like Kerry Collins.

“Knowing you have a veteran like that, God forbid anything happens, but you’re in really good hands, there is no drop-off or anything,” Tennessee left tackle Michael Roos said. “You just really trust him, have that rapport in the huddle, know he’s going to take control and lead us.

“Hopefully it wasn’t foreshadowing for Vince’s sake.”

But Vince Young did go down in the first quarter, Collins did get the call and Roos and the linemen proved prescient as the Titans routed the Jaguars 30-3.

In a league where the quarterback pool is treacherously shallow, it was a night when both teams needed to turn to their reserve. The Titans showed themselves to be two-deep, while the Jacksonville Jaguars looked to be no-deep.

Young and Collins combined for two touchdowns, no picks, no sacks and a 123.3 passer rating. The Jaguars' David Garrard, who was knocked out of the game with a concussion, and Trent Edwards combined for no touchdowns, three interceptions, two sacks and a 37.8 rating.

Collins entered the game facing the sort of situation where most teams would have called for a run and settled for a punt. But on a third-and-12 from his own 18-yard line, Collins dropped back and found rookie receiver Damian Williams for a 20-yard gain on the left side.

“It pays to have a great backup quarterback, and Kerry Collins is proof of that,” Titans nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “The first play said it all, VY gets injured, Kerry comes in third-and-long and converts right off the bat.

“We’re just glad that our situation is a lot better than theirs.”

Edwards said he couldn’t forecast what’s ahead for Garrard but that he needs to be ready to play in Kansas City next week if called on.

Collins is 37 and in his 16th year. He moved past Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for 10th on the all-time completions list with 3,307.

He is hot and cold, and when he’s cold, it can be ugly. Although he still garners some support as a better option among some players and coaches on the Titans, the overriding opinion is that the team needs to ride Young and see what it has as the franchise looks ahead rather than relying on an immobile greybeard.

It’s the right thinking. I believe these Titans need to decide on Young by the time this season is over and extend him beyond the final year of his contract in 2011 or move on and piece together a plan.

[+] EnlargeTrent Edwards
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackTrent Edwards replaced injured starter David Garrard and struggled for the most part. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 140 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 40.3.
He’s played pretty well this season. But the consistent, drama-free season he really needs doesn’t appear to be materializing. He had issues with meetings before his terrible performance in the loss to Pittsburgh, which led to heavily debated but much-deserved criticism.

Although he was unlucky to get bent awkwardly back on his left knee by the Jaguars, he wouldn’t have been in a susceptible position had he cleanly fielded the snap and backed out from under center.

There will not be, or certainly shouldn’t be, calls for Collins to replace a healthy Young. But he’ll need tests after getting back to Nashville, there is no indication of what the timetable will be and coach Jeff Fisher surprisingly didn’t tell us after the game that Young is a fast healer.

Young has a knee sprain and an ankle injury and said initially he feared his season was over. He was on his feet for most of the rest of the game.

Collins benefited from coming into the game with the Titans already ahead.

“The first team that got up, the other team was going to have a hard time trying to catch up,” Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “They had a hard time trying to catch up once we got up on them.”

Even if this is the only big contribution Collins makes this season, look at the value of a veteran backup able to step in with no first-team practice reps and produce as compared to one searching for consistency.

After the game, as they searched for positives, some reporters in the Jaguars' locker room asked Edwards about having driven his team into the red zone on the first two possessions he managed, possessions that yielded the shutout-preventing field goal and an end zone interception by Fuller.

“I was put in the same situation [Collins] was and he operated their offense pretty well,” Edwards said. “He’s been in that offense for a little bit longer than I have this offense and he was throwing the ball around and making great plays.

“And that’s what you need to be at this level in this league in that position.”

After he led the Titans to a 13-3 record and the AFC's No. 1 seed in 2008 when Young was demoted, Collins signed a two-year, $15 million deal before last season. Then he was benched after the Titans’ 0-6 start.

He’s making good money to run a scout team and be an in-case-of-emergency guy. He’s surely a guy who would provide a preferable alternative to the backup on a vast majority of teams. I’d take him over at least a half-dozen starters.

“The Titans, Philly, there are a few,” Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “Not too many where you have your second guy come in and be as productive as your first. It’s definitely a luxury.”

Collins concedes his pride allows for him to flip by a game once in awhile where he thinks he’s good enough to start not just for one team, but both.

“My ego says, ‘Yes, I’ve still got it, I could still start,'” he said. “I don’t sit and say, ‘That guy sucks.’ But I try to put myself in a situation where I can be successful and I look at things sometimes, and I’d like to think I can do a better job than some guys. But every player is like that.”


Will Texans, Titans play extra nickel?

September, 10, 2010
The Texans and Titans face similar circumstances for the first month of the season, as they both will be missing a strong presence at outside linebacker.

Both Houston’s Brian Cushing, the reigning defensive rookie of the year, and Tennessee’s Gerald McRath, a second-year player expected to be a big factor for the defense, are suspended for the first four games for violations of the league’s policy against performance enhancers.

Their first-choice replacements both have durability issues.

The Texans' Xavier Adibi and the Titans' Colin Allred are constantly nicked up. Adibi’s healthy at the right time and will start Sunday against Indianapolis. Allred’s been limited this week with an ankle injury but practiced Friday. The Titans could go with Jamie Winborn instead, but linebackers coach Dave McGinnis said Allred is ahead because he's been around longer and knows the defense better.

The drop-off at both spots is significant -- certainly more so in Houston than in Tennessee as McRath hasn’t proven much yet.

But both defenses might be quicker to go to nickel packages and take that extra backer off the field. Houston would be kicking Glover Quin inside with Brice McCain taking his spot. Tennessee would be pulling Allred or Winborn in favor of Vincent Fuller, a safety who covers slot receivers.

Against the Colts, the Texans are going to play plenty of five-defensive back sets. How much the Raiders will go three-wide with new quarterback Jason Campbell under center remains to be seen.

But for both teams, it’s something we’ll be monitoring.

Maybe after the weekend, the Titans will talk against with Oakland about trading for Thomas Howard.