AFC South: Vonta Leach

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Houston Texans

Fullback Vonta Leach, the former Texan who’s said he’d like to return, is now fielding interest from the New York Giants.

Arian Foster and J.J. Watt are both in the NFL Network’s list of the top 10 players from 2012 (subscription required), says Tania Ganguli.

Tight end Garrett Graham has done a lot to establish himself since coming into the league as a fourth-rounder in 2010, says Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts

As part of the Indianapolis Star’s Ultimate Colts Team Contest, Mike Chappell has chosen Peyton Manning as the all-time Indianapolis quarterback.

LaVon Brazill’s four-game suspension will cost him over $124,000 and maybe his roster spot, says Chappell. He certainly can't afford another positive test.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew paused from rehab long enough to host his annual charity golf tournament, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

Stadium improvements suggest the Jaguars aren’t leaving, says Matt Gonzales of the Yahoo! Contributor Network. (I’ve said the same.)

Tennessee Titans

Third-round cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson is in line to compete for one of several roles in the secondary, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy and Arizona rookie receiver Ryan Swope had limited offseasons because of lingering concussion concerns, says Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster says he should be on track to return from his calf strain in time for the team’s summer work.

The running back told Ross James of he will “more than likely” be ready for training camp.

“It’s just a small calf strain," he said on the set of a Foot Locker Under Armour commercial. “News is dry in the offseason, so it made headlines.”

Foster also spoke of the possibility that the Texans bring back fullback Vonta Leach. Leach left Houston as a free agent two years ago, and helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl. But the Ravens recently cut him in a cost cutting move and his agent told two outlets the Texans have expressed interest in a return, a move I don't think would be wise.

“Obviously, I have played with Vonta before and I know his game and we work well together,” Foster said. “He’s one of the best fullbacks in the league, if not the best. We just signed Greg Jones and that’s what the NFL is all about. It’s about competition. I’m not sure if [the Texans] will make that move, but if they do, it will be a competition during camp.”
If the Houston Texans move forward with their interest in Vonta Leach, their old fullback, it’ll send a terrible message to late-career veterans the team looks to recruit in the future.

The Texans let Leach walk for big money two years ago.

When James Casey, an H-back miscast as a fullback, bolted for Philadelphia this offseason, the Texans signed Greg Jones.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
AP Photo/David J. PhillipIn Greg Jones, the Texans have a fullback capable of doing more than just block out of the backfield.
The former Jaguar is a quality blocker. He’s 32 and heading into his 10th season. He’s not a long-term piece, but he’s a pro who can do what the Texans need done from a lead blocker for Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

Now both Mark Berman of Fox in Houston and Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle report the Texans are interested in a return engagement for Leach.

If the Texans were to sign Leach, would they be asking him to come in and compete for the fullback job? Or would they be giving up on Jones?

If it’s the former scenario, I guess it’s fine. Though why you need a competition of that level between two very good veterans is a good question and you’re basically holding one hostage when he could be entrenching himself elsewhere now instead of when you cut him later. (It would be monstrously silly to keep both as Casey played just 53.3 percent of the Texans' offensive snaps last year.)

If it’s the latter scenario, I’ve got huge objections.

It would mean the Texans swallow $400,000 guaranteed of Jones’ one-year, $1 million contract. A team that’s tight against the cap can’t be throwing $400,000 away on a guy they don’t ever let take the field and have no complaint with. (How could they have a complaint about a fullback in June, when a fullback’s performance is based on physical play and physical play doesn’t start until late July?)

Jones would have every right to be upset and feel mistreated.

Teams make decisions all the time based on what’s available at the time, then they move on.

Fullback is not a position of need, no matter the good feelings and sentimentality they may have for Leach. He’s only six months younger than Jones.

Circumstances change, sure. But as good as Leach is, he’s not so much better than Jones that it’s something they absolutely have to do.

I asked a scout if Leach is better than Jones.

“Not better, just different,” he said. “Jones is very versatile, can run with ball, solid hands, good athlete. Leach is a blocker first, can catch but not going to be a threat.”

How much better a blocker, I asked.

“Not enough,” he said. “I would rather have the versatile player.”

If the Texans make this move, the next late-career free agent whom the Texans court will have to ask himself whether the team really wants him, or if it would jump for a slightly better alternative in a matter of months.
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Houston Texans

Ed Reed offered reassurance that all will be fine with regard to his surgically repaired hip, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle. Reed is still not sure precisely when he will be back.

Ganguli points us to video of Tom Brady’s kick at Reed in the AFC Championship Game that Reed said he thinks caused his hip issue.

Tim Dobbins stands by his decision to skip OTAs to work on building his house in Nashville, says Ganguli.

To which I say: It sounds odd, but voluntary is voluntary and if he proves the team’s best option at inside linebacker next to Brian Cushing, the OTA absences won’t factor into a decision.

Gary Kubiak is concerned about right tackle, but Derek Newton and rookie Brennan Williams are expected to be ready for the start of training camp, says James Palmer of CSN Houston.

Vonta Leach would like to return to the Texans, he told Mark Berman of Fox Houston.

To which I say: Don’t know why he’d say it publicly, since the presence of Greg Jones means it can’t happen.

Indianapolis Colts

Robert Mathis on LaRon Landry: “He brings ugly. He brings a streak to us that we haven’t had.” Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star has this story on Landry, who was not part of OTAs.

Ahmad Bradshaw feels like he will bring a spark to the Colts’ young offense, writes Chappell. Bradshaw said he looks forward to helping Vick Ballard and the rest of the running backs.

The Colts' offensive tackles, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus, have a friendship that dates back to Boston College, says

Remembering a funny slip up Chuck Pagano made at the combine regarding Leach, who’s now a free agent, with Brad Wells of Stampede Blue. (I've been told this morning that they won't pursue Leach).

Pagano said nose tackle Josh Chapman amounts to an immovable 800-pound safe on the middle of the field, says Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s never been an easy ride for Alan Ball, who signed with the Jaguars because of the chance to start, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. Safety Dwight Lowery sees a perfect system for Ball.

To which I say: Ball really struggled when he had opportunities with the Texans last season, so he’ll need a big turn-around to be effective for the Jaguars.

The Jaguars claimed former Patriots quarterback Mike Kafka, who they cut to make room for Tim Tebow, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.

“(Maurice) Jones-Drew's future with the Jaguars will be tied to his production on the field, not his culpability in a bar altercation where somebody is clearly sticking to a bold-faced lie, says Gene Frenette of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

“Seeing (Marc) Mariani on the practice field is a testament to modern orthopedic medicine and his dedication,” writes David Climer of The Tennessean.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey sees Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray balancing each other out, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Chris Johnson disputes the notion that he’s selfish, says The Tennessean’s notebook.

To which I say: He sold himself as not just a running back, but a playmaker, when he held out for, and received, a new contract. He has hardly been the guy he said he’d be. Despite his assertion, him getting 2,000 yards isn’t the best route for the Titans to get to the playoffs.

Johnson speaks highly of Shonn Greene in this piece from Crag Peters of the team’s website.

RTC: Texans-turned-Ravens not bitter

February, 1, 2013
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Houston Texans

Three former Texans who are now Ravens -- Bernard Pollard, Vonta Leach and Jacoby Jones -- aren’t bitter about Houston, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

J.J. Watt recently married young for a day, says Nick Matthews of the Chronicle.

Bob McNair, who wants guys who “will bite the head off a nail,” thinks the Texans never recovered from consecutive overtime games in a short span.

Indianapolis Colts

A downtown admission tax stands to raise the price of most Colts tickets, but a team official told Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star that "the team intends to absorb most of the pain of the tax increase."

Chuck Pagano has two more new assistants, says Richards.

Ed Reed could be a nice stopgap at safety for the Colts, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Jacksonville Jaguars

A busy signal on draft day in 2003 may have changed the fortunes of the Jaguars and Ravens, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Marcedes Lewis bounced back with a solid season in 2012, says Dunlevy.

Tennessee Titans

Can Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray coexist on the Titans coaching staff? David Climer of The Tennessean says a title for Williams isn’t important, “but he should have the first and last word on your defense. If Gray can handle that, fine. If not, fine.”

Considering his yards per catch, the catch rate for Kendall Wright was low, says Dunlevy.

AFC South links: High hopes for MJD

January, 30, 2013
Houston Texans

Former Texans fullback Vonta Leach said it was a call from linebacker Ray Lewis that sold him on the idea of playing for the Ravens in 2011. "I got a call from [Ravens GM] Ozzie Newsome, he said 'Hey, I need you over here,'" Leach says. "My next phone call was five minutes later. It was Ray Lewis. He said, 'Hey, we need you to get your tail over here.' So I came. That sold it. When Ray Lewis calls you, that's gonna' sell you. He said, 'You're one of the missing pieces.' I jumped on here on faith. I didn't know a whole lot about the Ravens except for the defense and [running back] Ray Rice."

Indianapolis Colts takes a look back at the team's top running plays from the 2012 season in this video.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Count Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson among those who say they believe Maurice Jones-Drew can return to form after missing most of this past season with an injury. “My experience and talking to Maurice, if you watch his work ethic, he’s a guy that works at it and works hard,” Faulk said. Said Tomlinson: “MJD is determined to come back from this and be as good as he’s ever been. And I think he’ll do that.”

Tennessee Titans

Is wide receiver Kenny Britt more trouble than he's worth?
Darrick Seymore from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: The way our new owner, Mr. Khan, rolled into Jacksonville, I was expecting some really flashing things to be happening by now. Not sure if this is the quiet before the storm or something else. What's your take in the apparent lack of activity here in J-Ville?

Paul Kuharsky: Shad Khan is not about flashing things, so far, and that’s fine. Certainly he’s got a general manager and a coach who are not flashy.

Teams who are about flashing, or flashy things, generally don’t fare well. Who’s the last team that won the offseason and the Super Bowl? (That said, Khan could have tempered the big talk about being "all in." It made agents expect that GM Gene Smith was going to be out there with rolls of money, shopping.)

The Jaguars could have done better in free agency, but they retained their key people, added a receiver they like in Laurent Robinson, got a backup/alternative quarterback in Chad Henne and hope for a big draft.

I don’t know what storm you can still anticipate this long after the top free agents are gone.

Graham from Montreal writes: With Koppen re-signing with the Patriots, what's the Titans' potential opportunities to improve at center in free agency? Is it more likely that we'll see a middle-round pick being used to try to develop a center and maybe also to be used as a long-snapper?

Paul Kuharsky: There was never any evidence the Titans had any interest in Dan Koppen after they lost out on Chris Myers, Scott Wells and even Jeff Saturday.

I think your scenario is the likely one now. It’s quite possible the Titans will go forward with Eugene Amano still in place, or with a rookie or Fernando Velasco; Kevin Matthews could even fight his way into the lineup.

Jonathan from Fort Wayne, Ind., writes: Find it interesting you question why Irsay would want to be coy with the Luck pick. While I agree it's obvious based on what I've read/heard that the Colts will select Luck, Irsay not sharing has incentive - it keeps the Colts in the spotlight for a little bit longer. After the draft, the Colts will quickly fall from a team that garnered a ton of press the past few years to another struggling team with a promising future. For the first game or two the Colts will once again be thrust in the spotlight as people judge Luck. So, the team needs as much press as possible right now. I think it is mostly a PR move to keep analysts (even if they are 99.99% sure) to at least discuss the decision and the team. Even more so now with the CBA because the team won't need extra time to negotiate the contract. After this draft the Colts won't be talked about very much for awhile based on a roster that should struggle, even with a possible once-in-a-generation quarterback.

Paul Kuharsky: As I’ve written, the team isn’t obligated to reveal anything and can milk it if it likes.

The Colts aren't getting any huge public-relations advantage leading up to the draft that they wouldn’t be getting if the verdict was made public early that they are taking Andrew Luck. When Bill Polian is out there saying it's who team owner Jim Irsay wants, Irsay being coy doesn't really work.

Either way, I would have written this piece that was published Friday, for example. They didn't gain anything from mystery there. And there really is no mystery.

April 26 -- the first day of the NFL draft -- is going to wind up being more about who goes third and what happens with Ryan Tannehill than it will be about Luck or Robert Griffin III, because there is no mystery about them.

Interest in Luck will last all season, no matter how bad the Colts are.

Matt from Berkeley, Calif., writes: What do you think of Jags fullback Greg Jones? He's been a low-profile player at a low-profile position, but I've only ever read positive things about him - especially from opposing defensive coordinators. Today, I realized he'll be remembered (if people really remember fullbacks) for blocking for both Fred Taylor and MJD. Taylor arguably had a HoF career - at least by the numbers, and MJD is on pace to make an argument as well. What other positions in football have silent contributors stalwartly working to help their team week after week? We as fans often miss such players between the highlights.

Paul Kuharsky: He’s a good player, but Jack Del Rio’s love of him was overboard and he’s been dinged a lot in his career.

The difference between an average fullback and a really good fullback – which Jones is usually rated as being – is not that extreme or significant to me or to most. While the AFC South is now a division with four fullback teams, I prefer teams that have more versatile tight ends serve as the extra blockers.

I wouldn’t exactly call fullback an under-recognized spot, either. When a back has a big season like Maurice Jones-Drew did, the fullback typically gets his accolades. Vonta Leach certainly reaped huge benefits (in a big free-agent contract from Baltimore) after Arian Foster broke through in Houston.

There are a ton of offensive linemen and interior defensive lineman who do dirty work on all or most of the snaps – as compared to the typical third of the snaps of a fullback – with even less notoriety.

Bobby from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: Just a general NFL question here. If a team with no first-round picks signs a player with a first-round tender such as Mike Wallace, what do they give up or is it even allowed?

Paul Kuharsky: You have to have your original first-round pick to give up. You can’t sign a guy with a first-round tender to an offer sheet unless you have it or make a deal to get it back.
Saturday’s mailbag led with a note from a frustrated Jags fan.

It was such a big hit, I thought we’d give a frustrated Texans fan a chance.

LX Aguirre from El Paso writes: Will the Houston Texans show some signs of intelligence any time soon???? After their first playoff appearance and a small taste of victory on wildcard weekend, I expected more from them. The only moves they've made so far were the retention of Myers and Foster. You may reason that the team's inactivity is due to salary cap issues, but that excuse becomes irrelevant when the team is willing to trade its Defensive Captain and lose money in the process. The betrayal to DeMeco was magnified because the team had just lost M. Williams, the most powerful defensive weapon; and the lopsided trade showed that management has a disregard for team continuity, fan loyalty, and esprit de corps. For the Texans, continuity involves getting rid of their good players like Williams and D. Ryans (Pollard, Leach, Robinson in previous years) while stubbornly holding on to unproductive failures like J. Jones, K. Jackson (ESPECIALLY KAREEM JACKSON!!!!), and Quinn. With Manning gone, the division is almost a guarantee, but the Texans will lose the crown this year because of indecisiveness and lack of aggression.

Paul Kuharsky: I am taking a deep breath … OK, I am ready.

Has it been a good offseason? Of course not. But good teams tend to be up against it financially and lose good players. They took an additional $750,000 loss on Ryans this year to save a ton of money over the next three years. That money will help them be able to sign guys like Duane Brown and Connor Barwin, and prevent you from ripping them next year for not holding the team together.

DeMeco Ryans was a great leader, but no longer a very good player. He wasn’t even on the field for 60 percent of the team’s defensive plays. You think they’d have been sitting him so often if he was great for them?

You wanted them to keep Bernard Pollard, who couldn’t cover, and Vonta Leach, who got way too much money and plays one-third of the snaps, and Dunta Robinson, who was not close to worth what Atlanta gave him? I’d argue that you are being too emotional.

Glover Quin (with one N) is a good player, I don’t know why you would lump him in with Jacoby Jones and Kareem Jackson. Do they like those two guys too much? Sure. But it’s too early to give up on Jackson and the savings would be minimal at this point. And why cut Jones right now without a replacement in sight? Dumping him wasn’t going to save a guy they lost.

The three areas you list as dented are all not nearly as relevant to team success as you may think.

Continuity is nice (especially on the offensive line). But teams regularly turn over 25 to 35 percent of their roster.

You don’t really want teams making decisions based on fan loyalty, do you? Fan loyalty can change week-to-week, and a lot of fans are loyal to Tim Tebow despite the fact he can’t throw with anything close to NFL-caliber accuracy. Should the Broncos have kept him because of fan loyalty? Should the Texans have overspent on Leach and Robinson just because you liked them?

Esprit de corps? Sure, guys are upset in the offseason when they see good players and friends leave. When it comes time to play, if they are pros, they go out and do their job and expect the guys beside them to do theirs. Collectively, they should get good results. Trust me, come the first huddle, an NFL players mentality doesn’t allow him to look around in there and sentimentally contemplate who isn’t there.

The Texans have work to do. But it’s not a train wreck. They showed good depth last year. Now they need guys to step into roles that opened and for players like corner Brandon Harris and outside linebacker Bryan Braman to be that depth. They’ll restock with the draft and contend for the division and a deep run into the playoffs, I’d bet.

Quick Take: Texans at Ravens

January, 8, 2012
Three things to know about next Sunday’s Houston Texans-Baltimore Ravens divisional playoff game:

1. Complete effort required: When the Texans lost in Baltimore on Oct. 16, they had a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. Then they gave up 16 unanswered points. In the fourth quarter, Houston managed just three first downs and didn’t string together a drive of more than 37 yards. And that was with Matt Schaub still healthy and playing quarterback. He threw for 220 yards and a touchdown while taking four sacks. The Texans are 0-5 all time against the Ravens, and their first breakthrough won’t come this time at M&T Bank Stadium if they don’t play well for a full game. Baltimore is undefeated at home and spent the whole season working to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, which they have against everyone except New England.

2. Limit big plays: The Ravens are hardly a team built on the ability to make big pass plays down field. But the Texans made Baltimore seem that way. Joe Flacco threw for 305 yards thanks to connections of 56 yards to Anquan Boldin over Johnathan Joseph and 51 yards to Torrey Smith over Kareem Jackson. Ray Rice chipped in with a 27-yard run on the final Ravens touchdown drive that put the game out of reach. The Ravens looked like a big-play machine against a defense that did a good job limiting such things for most of the year and finished as the No. 2 unit in the NFL. Andre Johnson didn’t play in the regular-season game for Houston, so the Texans will have their own big-play element in the lineup.

3. Pro Bowl backs: Two of the AFC’s three Pro Bowl running backs will square off here in Baltimore’s Rice and Houston’s Arian Foster. Rice runs behind fullback Vonta Leach, who was an All-Pro for the Texans last year and is an All-Pro for the Ravens this year. Houston had the No. 2 run game in the NFL, Baltimore’s was No. 10. The team that slows the opposing star back would seem likely to move on to the AFC Championship Game. But they finished the regular season awfully even. The Ravens allowed 92.6 yards a game and 3.5 yards a carry; the Texans were at 96.0 and 4.1.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 9, 2011
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14, with large thanks to ESPN Stats and Info:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Jim Brown/US PresswireArian Foster has been the catalyst for Houston's recent win streak.
Workhorse: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has taken on a huge load during their six-game win streak. He has scored seven touchdowns since Week 7, as many as anyone in the NFL. He’s got 147 rush attempts, most in the league, in that time period while averaging 101.8 rushing yards. He’s also been the team's primary pass target when they’ve been without Andre Johnson, who has a new hamstring issue. When Johnson was out, Foster was the team’s leading receiver with 32 targets, 26 receptions and 427 yards.

Scoring issues: The Jacksonville Jaguars have not scored more than 20 points in a game this season. That streak extends to 14 games dating to the 2010 season. If they don’t get to 21 or more on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field, they will tie the Cleveland Browns of 2008-09 for the longest such streak since 2001. Only the St. Louis Rams have fewer points per game (11.7) than the Jaguars (12.7) this season. But the Bucs have given up 350 yards or more in nine consecutive games. Can the Jaguars find a way to get a lead? No team has spent more time trailing this season than the Buccaneers, who have been behind for 475 minutes and 22 seconds. The Bucs have trailed for 43 more minutes than the Colts, the next worst team.

Elements and points: Sunday in Nashville is the final game of the regular season in which the New Orleans Saints will play outdoors. New Orleans is 2-2 in games played outside this season. The forecast for Sunday: Sunny with a high in the 40s. I’m not seeing playing outdoors as major issue in this game. The temperature may not be the only thing in the 40s if Drew Brees is working against minimal pass rush and if cornerback Jason McCourty is out after a head injury. The Tennessee Titans know they’re going to have to score to stay in this one.

Serving up Rice: The Indianapolis Colts are 30th against the run. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is second in the NFL with 1,474 scrimmage yards this season. Rice ranks third in the NFL in rush yards and his fullback, Vonta Leach, deserves some credit. ESPN Stats and Info says Leach has been a lead blocker on 173 of Rice’s 208 rushes, including all of his NFL-high nine rushing touchdowns. No other running back-fullback combo has been together for as many rushes. The Colts are newly depleted at cornerback. Second-level run-stopping help from the secondary will probably be undependable.

And also: The Saints have scored on 49.6 percent of their offensive possessions this season. Since the start of 2007, only the 2007 New England Patriots finished with a higher scoring percentage. … Matt Hasselbeck has averaged 5.0 yards per attempt in his last three games, the lowest number among quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. … This season, the Cincinnati Bengals are 1-5 against teams that currently have a winning record. They are 6-0 against teams currently with a losing record. … The Jaguars have lost their last two games against NFC South opponents, scoring 10 points in each game.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Vonta Leach doesn’t think the Texans appreciated him and was insulted by their offer before he jumped to Baltimore as a free agent, writes Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle. Fullbacks are only worth so much, I think, and the Texans have run pretty well without Leach.

Indianapolis Colts

Any quarterback put in Curtis Painter’s situation behind Peyton Manning would have had a hard time early on, according to Austin Collie. Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star has the story.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars' last trip to Pittsburgh convinced them they were close to being a real contender and put them on a course that ultimately hurt them badly, writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

With a 3-2 record at the bye, the Titans still qualify as a bit of a mystery, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Observation Deck: Jets-Texans

August, 15, 2011
The Houston Texans are scheduled for only one prime-time game in the regular season, Week 16 at Indianapolis. But the new-look Texans got the Monday Night Football spotlight on the opening weekend of the preseason.

Viewers saw a team already thinned out at running back get thinner as a revamped defense did some nice things in a 20-16 win over the New York Jets.

One man's quick observations…
  1. The Texans lacked some of firepower, with Andre Johnson (finger), Arian Foster (hamstring), Brian Cushing (knee) and prize free-agent cornerback Johnathan Joseph (groin) sitting out. We saw more, sooner, of Jacoby Jones, Derrick Ward, Darryl Sharpton and Jason Allen as a result.
  2. Ward started and didn’t last long before suffering a head injury, leaving the team with only Chris Ogbonnaya and Javarris Williams as its running backs. Houston tried running Ogbonnaya inside too much, but got him going more as a bootleg pass target for Matt Leinart. He caught a short touchdown pass among his team-high six receptions for 67 yards. He ran for the game-winning touchdown from a yard out with just under 2:00 left.
  3. Ankle injuries to Antoine Caldwell and Kasey Studdard could mean the team could be thinned for a time at guard as well.
  4. Matt Schaub hit on just 2 of 5 passes before yielding to Leinart. Schaub was just a touch off and two of his targets, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter, were unable to pull in balls they got their hands on.
  5. The Texans shouldn’t feel obligated to use James Casey as the first-string fullback just because he was the primary plan once Vonta Leach left. They later signed free-agent Lawrence Vickers. He shouldn’t be waiting until the second half for a chance to impact the game. He quickly had a 22-yard catch and run.
  6. Second-string inside linebacker Xavier Adibi had a nice night, though he was unblocked on one of his two sacks. Another No. 2, outside linebacker Jesse Nading, was also productive with a sack and a forced fumble. Second-round pick Brooks Reed looked good, showing good burst at the snap. He had one good rush followed by a nice recognition in which he stopped chasing to jump and knock down a pass.
  7. The late work of undrafted rookie outside linebacker Bryan Braman out of West Texas A&M is the sort that makes a guy impossible to hide for a practice squad spot. No matter the caliber of the people attempting to block him, he showed a knack for getting to the quarterback, even if he allowed rookie quarterback Greg McElroy to shrug out of a sure sack on the final possession of the game.
  8. Quintin Demps fielded kickoffs and punts early on without much affect. Trindon Holliday was out hurt and the team wisely didn’t choose to look at Jones and Danieal Manning, veteran starters who didn’t need to be exposed to injury risk on special teams.

Mailbag: I take on your best

August, 14, 2011
Kyle Marcil from Jacksonville writes: I just saw the Jaguars added another defensive player in DE/OLB Matt Roth, who was arguably the best defensive player for the Browns. Two questions: Why are the Jags not considered in the top five for off-season moves/acquisitions, especially since the Patriots are considered to have made one of the best moves by adding a past his prime Chad Ochocinco and a lazy Albert Haynesworth who doesn't want to play now that he's paid? And with Roth filling the last hole in our defense, assuming he plays DE, do you think that we have the best defense (at least on paper) in the AFC South?

Paul Kuharsky: Free agency scoring is likely over. The Jaguars did quite well. The reason they didn’t get more hype, I believe, is because the pass defense was so bad and the only big early addition who is perceived as directly impacting that is Dawan Landry. I doubt many folks who saw what the Patriots hung on the Jaguars Thursday night are going to be touting Jacksonville's defense, regardless of who played or did not play. I still have major concerns about the secondary. I'm not willing to declare who the best defense on paper is. but they are definitely in the conversation. And the competition is not great.

Todd from Pennsylvania writes: With the Colts apparently content to stand pat on the nose tackle position even though Antonio Johnson is the only true nose tackle with any experience on the roster, does he suddenly become the Colts second most important player to keep healthy? (behind Peyton Manning of course).

PK: Seriously? Replace a mediocre nose tackle with a bad nose tackle and it’s not a big deal. Replacing Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea, Austin Collie, or even Dallas Clark would be far, far more difficult. You can also find nose tackles on the street -- see Johnson as an example. They signed him from Titans’ practice squad when they got him.

Of starters, Johnson is probably the most replaceable.

Ryan from Arlington, Texas, writes: Aren't people over reacting a bit to the loss of Vonta Leach? Houston had Leach from 2006-2010. In those years, the Texans' running game was good in 2010, but was putrid in 2009 and mediocre the rest. Also, Arian Foster averaged 5.5 yards/carry without Vonta in the game, and 4.7 with him. I'm not disputing that Vonta is a very good fullback, but I think his impact is being overplayed.

PK: I’m with you. A fullback is only so influential. I understand people love him. Great guy, great story. But at some point you have to separate the emotional part and be rational and fiscally responsible. The Texans were, even if a percentage of their fans were not. It’s a situational role. Lawrence Vickers and James Casey can more than handle it.

Riverman from Florence, Ala., writes: How can the Titans justify drawing a line in the sand for (Chris Johnson) to come to camp before they "will talk" about a new deal? Didn't they go on record last by saying that if CJ would come to camp for the $500k increase, then they would work out a new contract? So they have had almost an entire year knowing that this situation was coming. This type of business is why the Titans have a reputation of "not paying their players" as Marshall Faulk said last year.

PK: All true. But you have to acknowledge that a four and a half month lockout took away a significant chunk of time. Maybe they would have worked this all out around organized team activities. But the calendar didn’t include that this year. Asking him to come and not practice while they negotiate doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. He could always leave after a few days if it wasn’t going to his liking.

The financial reputation is simply incorrect. Who did they fail to pay? Did you want them to spend what Washington did on Haynesworth and have that catastrophe on their hands?

Matt Hasselbeck is getting paid. Michael Roos, David Stewart, Finnegan and Eugene Amano all got early, proactive extensions. Will Witherspoon got paid. Barrett Ruud and Daniel Graham chose to take the Titans’ deals so they had to be reasonable, no?

It’s hard to find a guy who reached free agency who they let walk fare better with his new team than he did in Nashville. If you want star chasing, this isn’t your team. That doesn’t make them cheap.

Matthew from Montréal writes: Paul, Your comment that life is easier for the media when all is running smoothly in relation to whatshisname walking out on the Titans: I don't think so. If nothing's happening, then no one wants to read/watch what the media says. The media's job is to sell, to make things interesting. To declare that the media has no agenda is disingenuous, of course it does. And making a mountain out of a molehill is something the media does very well. The media thrives on drama, whether it's Grandma Favre's dithering about a comeback or whatshisname walking out on the Titans. So don't tell us that whatshisname thinks people are idiots when you yourself take up a disingenuous argument that insults your readers' intelligence. Just saying.

Paul Kuharsky: I understand your broad point and it’s a fair one. But I don’t wake up in the morning hoping for controversy. I really don’t. And I don’t think my bosses do either. People are obsessed with the NFL and gobble up every nugget. I’m always rooting for a good nugget and a compelling story above all else. Plenty of them happen to be controversial. But plenty of them are not.

I promise, on a Saturday with a chance for some family time, people who cover the Titans aren’t excited when Cortland Finnegan does something foolish.
Rarely, if ever, does an NFL unit simply pick up where it left off one year as it begins the next. Coaches talk all the time about how you’re actually starting from zero every time you start up.

Gary Kubiak’s been reminding his offense of that, and he wishes it had more of a chance to build some continuity in the first week of camp and in life after Vonta Leach.

Instead, with contract delays, injuries and a later addition in Leach’s replacement, Lawrence Vickers, the Texans have been patchwork on offense.

Here’s Kubiak with Houston media today:
“The number one thing I wish would happen is I wish we had these offensive guys on the field working. That’s been disappointing because you can have all the guys you want on paper, but they need to work together and play together. With Arian [Foster] going to miss some time now and Andre [Johnson] has missed some time; Jacoby [Jones] missed a lot of time, not his fault by any means; [Owen Daniels] missed a day. We need that continuity. We need to get on the field and get better. We’ve got to replace Vonta; we’ve got to replace the things David Anderson did for us, so we need that continuity, but I’m hoping that starts to pick back up next week.

“… They did some good things last year; that’s last year. You don’t ever stay the same in this business. You’re either moving forward and getting better or you’re stepping back. We’ve got a good group and I like the way our guys up front have worked, and they look very solid. Our tight ends look solid, but it’s about putting the whole group together and everybody being there to work for Matt [Schaub]. We’ll be smart; we’re not going to throw somebody out there who’s not ready to go, but boy, I sure would like to get them all back out there.”

I get to Houston on Thursday. Selfishly, I'd love it if the offense was closer to fully stocked during my visit.
With my magical user name and password, I cracked into this Insider file.

So I am able to share some of the AFC South elements of Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson’s assessments and grades of free agency.

Houston Texans

Williamson: “I'm usually very reluctant when teams decide to switch their defensive personnel. But in this case -- seeing how Houston has handled it in the draft and free agency -- I am quite excited about the improvement that is coming on this side of the ball as the Texans make the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Plus, Houston couldn't have gotten much worse than how it played on defense in 2010.

“The team has filled needs extremely well while making this schematic transformation. Adding [Johnathan] Joseph and [Danieal] Manning to a historically poor secondary is exceptional work, and both cover men have enough versatility in their game to allow Wade Phillips to run a wide array of coverages. Joseph is the bigger name player, but Manning had a very good season in Chicago last year. [Mike] Brisiel is a vastly underrated player, and keeping him allows this excellent offensive line to create further continuity. The only big loss is [Vonta] Leach, who will deal a blow to the Texans' rushing attack. There are other lead blocking fullbacks in this league, but none like Leach.”

Grade: B+

Kuharsky: I like what they’ve done as well, though I am taking a major wait-and-see attitude about the 3-4. Manning is the best safety the team will have had since I started covering the team in 2008 and Joseph will be the best corner. Lawrence Vickers is a drop-off from Leach, but likely a serviceable one.

Indianapolis Colts

Analysis: “Considering the effect the lockout could have on rebuilding teams, and considering that Indianapolis also is getting back a lot of contributors from injury, keeping the status quo should serve [Peyton] Manning & Co. quite well. [Joseph] Addai is worth more to the Colts than to any other team, but I suspect he might not be starting by the end of the year. One area of the team that will be different, however, is along the offensive line. Bringing [Charlie] Johnson back as a versatile tackle/guard would have been a great situation, but Indianapolis did use two very high picks to rebuild its ailing offensive front.

“On the other line, [Jamaal] Anderson is a curious fit. He certainly isn't in the mold of their speed-rushing defensive ends. Indy most likely will use him as a penetrating defensive tackle. Early in his career, [Tommie] Harris was the prototypical three-technique for a scheme such as the Colts'. Injuries have vastly altered his career path, but he still does flash at times. They will need to nurse him along, but he could act as a great mentor to Drake Nevis and help out in limited snaps. The pass-rushing foursome of Anderson/Harris, Nevis, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on throwing downs might be extremely potent.

Grade: C+

Kuharsky: Three stabs into the outside veteran free-agent market -- in Anderson, linebacker Ernie Sims and Harris -- is a nice change. The risk/reward seems just right. They’re exploring a different avenue for roster improvement and deserve applause. But no points for re-signing Manning, as he was not a free agent with an exclusive-rights franchise tag.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Williamson: “There could be an argument that the Jaguars overspent on [Paul] Posluszny, but this market is difficult to get a true handle on. And I do think Jacksonville has spent wisely in terms of which players it has brought in. Along with Daryl Smith, the Jaguars now have three very solid starting linebackers, and what was a weakness now looks to be a strength. They did spend a ton of money on second-level defenders, though. [Dawan] Landry is an excellent addition as an in-the-box safety type who also can cover tight ends (like Owen Daniels and Dallas Clark).

“Although Posluszny is an every-down linebacker, Jacksonville hasn't improved itself dramatically on defense against the pass in free agency. With Houston, and especially Indianapolis, in the division, that is a serious concern.”

Grade: C+

Kuharsky: I think that’s low. I like what they’ve done. I think a safety combination that won't include Don Carey will be better. Drew Coleman is a flexible veteran corner who should upgrade the nickel. And I think the front seven is much stronger, which should mean quarterbacks have less time.

Tennessee Titans

Williamson: “I very much understand that the Titans could not open the season with just Jake Locker behind center, and throwing their first-round pick to the wolves probably isn't a recipe for success. But I also don't see the infatuation with [Matt] Hasselbeck. He hasn't played well in two years; he is a major durability risk; and the Titans' interior offensive line is vastly overrated -- not a great situation for an aging signal-caller. Plus, Hasselbeck's skill set isn't similar at all to Locker's.

“[Barrett] Ruud is another overrated player, but I am not implying that he will be a liability as the starting 'Mike' linebacker. His tackle numbers just make him out to be a better player than he truly is. Ruud should provide valuable leadership to Tennessee's young linebacker corps. I also think [Jacob] Ford's best days could still be ahead of him. Still, the Titans might be worse on defense now than they were a year ago. [Daniel] Graham will be a big help as a blocker, but [Leroy] Harris and [Ahmard] Hall were disappointing blockers in 2010.”

Grade: C-

Kuharsky: I think a change of scenery will help Hasselbeck, and while I have concerns over the interior line, if two Hall of Famers (Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews) overseeing the group are confident it will play more like 2009 than 2010, I tend to give some benefit of the doubt. The defense remains a big concern.