AFC South: Whitney Mercilus

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans were without three starters at practice for the second straight day.

Tight end Garrett Graham (ankle), receiver Andre Johnson (concussion), and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (back) were among the players to miss practice two days in a row. Defensive end Tim Jamison (knee) and guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (back) also missed practice.

Graham suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of last week's game against the Jaguars. Johnson took a hard hit to his head last weekend that seemed to knock him unconscious for a few seconds and caused his concussion.

Mercilus was having issues with his back that limited his playing time against the Jaguars. On Thursday, O'Brien was unsure about Mercilus's status for Sunday's game.

Brian Cushing did not practice Wednesday, but returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. Rather than the knee recovery that kept him on the injury report earlier in the season, Cushing is now on the report with an ankle/back designation. The seriousness is unclear, but it's good news that he returned to practice.

Running back Arian Foster (groin) and cornerback Johnathan Joseph (knee/achilles) both returned to practice after missing practice Wednesday.
HOUSTON -- It's not an easy thing to know that your team has just used the No. 1 pick to draft someone at your position.

There might not have been a better way to handle it than Whitney Mercilus did.

"Everybody can have their worries about it, speculate about a lot of things, somebody's going to get replaced or things like that, but that's what happens year in and year out," Mercilus said. "They're always trying to find somebody better at each position. All you can do is control what you can do and just go out there and make the best of your opportunities."

That opportunity came for Mercilus as opportunities often do in the NFL -- as the result of an injury. When first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney suffered a torn meniscus in his first game, that outside linebacker spot went back to Mercilus.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mercilus's 27 quarterback pressures from the right side rank seventh among 3-4 outside linebackers, a total that includes four sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 13 quarterback hurries. He garnered all four of those sacks in two games -- two against the Pittsburgh Steelers and two against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Mercilus said the process was tough, but he started to feel comfortable in the Texans' defense around the third preseason game.

"Being introduced to the new system, definitely a different system -- especially from what I was used to, so that was interesting," he said. " ... Most important thing is to know exactly where you're supposed to fit up. Knowing that actually allows you to know whether you have help, whether it's outside or inside. Where are your bodies at on the field?"

Understanding the concept of the defense as a whole was critical for Mercilus.

"Before it was pretty much just go, go, go," he said. "That's it."

Mercilus remained the Texans' starter when Clowney returned to playing. He's been an important piece of the Texans' defense.
HOUSTON -- In his first game back since tearing his meniscus, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was kept on a pitch count.

Clowney played 32 snaps, or 52 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

What Texans coach Bill O'Brien saw in those 32 snaps was a player who gave a lot of effort, who had what O'Brien called a "decent" game and who is still working on improving his conditioning to get back into football shape.

"He got off on the ball well," O'Brien said. "He had good explosion off the ball. He had good assignments, he was good on his assignments. I think it’s going to be a work in progress as far as him getting back into shape. There’s a difference between running around the track on field one out there and having to play in a football game, so he’ll continue to work on that after practice, in the mornings, trying to get his conditioning level back to where it needs to be."

O'Brien said Clowney's snaps should increase, but he's not yet at the point where he'll play 80 snaps in a game.

There was a lot of linebacker talk Monday because of Clowney's return and inside linebacker Brian Cushing missing Sunday's game in Tennessee. A few notes from Monday:
  • O'Brien was pleased with the play of his inside linebackers in Cushing's absence. In particular, his absence increased the playing time of Akeem Dent and Mike Mohamed. "I thought those guys stepped up and played well," O'Brien said. "I think Akeem Dent played a good football game. Mike Mohamed played a good football game. Tug (Justin Tuggle) played a good football game. Mohamed was the one who tracked down that one punt return and then Dent made a few plays on the kickoff."
  • Whitney Mercilus had more snaps than any other linebacker with 46. That accounted for 75 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. As outside linebackers alone went, Clowney had 32 and Brooks Reed had only 20. Reed is dealing with a groin injury he suffered during the Texans' Thursday night game against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • O'Brien's thoughts on the OLB rotation: "I think you do it by package. We have four or five different defensive packages, a couple of base defense packages, a couple of nickel packages, a dime package, so that way you can kind of plug them in and understand how they’re going to be used throughout the game. ... The thing that’s been good about the linebacker play is when guys have been injured that the next guys have stepped up and played pretty decent. So hopefully that continues."
  • Cushing said he thought he could have played Sunday. Later in his interview he said the training staff thought it was best for him to rest. "I want to play and it hurts every time I don’t," he said. "But you get a little bit older and you have to be a little bit more patient, you have to be a little bit smarter about how you approach the game and what level you’re playing the level at. You want to be as close to 100 percent as you can." He added that the last time he's been 100 percent was probably before he started playing in the NFL.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 12

November, 25, 2013
HOUSTON -- A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 13-6 victory over the Houston Texans:

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJacksonville brought constant pressure against Case Keenum on Sunday.
Shorts involved: Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said they were going to get receiver Cecil Shorts more involved in the offense this week after Shorts complained about getting only two catches in a loss to Arizona. They were true to their word. Shorts was targeted a team-high 11 times and caught a team-high eight passes for 71 yards. The Jaguars got him involved early, too, targeting him four times on their first three possessions.

Good gambles: Bradley's new buzz word is "bold," and he's coaching that way. He went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the game's opening possession and also called a Wildcat formation pass by Denard Robinson, a play that would have worked for a big gain had Shorts not dropped the pass. Bradley also told Fisch to stay with the offense and not just call running plays when the Jaguars got the ball back with 4:24 to play and clinging to a seven-point lead. "We preach to our players that we're going to be bold when opportunities present themselves," Bradley said.

Front plays well: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is usually the one who bats down passes at the line of scrimmage, but the Jaguars did a better job of that on Sunday. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks deflected two and defensive end Andre Branch deflected one. The front seven pressured quarterback Case Keenum all day, sacking him twice and hitting him five other times. The Jaguars generally don't blitz a lot, but defensive coordinator Bob Babich called several middle blitzes to try to get players in Keenum's face. Keenum said he never felt comfortable and could never get in a rhythm.

Henne hangs in: Quarterback Chad Henne took a pounding against the Texans, especially early, but hung in there and had one of his better games despite not throwing a touchdown pass. Henne was sacked four times, including three in the first half, and hit 13 other times. Watt sacked him once and hit him five more times and linebacker Whitney Mercilus sacked him once and hit him four times. Despite the battering, Henne completed 23 of 32 passes for 239 yards. He did not throw an interception. "You just have to sit in there and sometimes you're going to get hit and sometimes you're not, but overall the offensive line did a good job," Henne said. "For the most part we got the ball out on time and really fought through and did really well."

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 23, Texans 20

September, 29, 2013

HOUSTON -- Some thoughts from the Houston Texans' 23-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

What it means: It took the Seahawks some time to wake up, but until then, the Texans dominated them. The same old mistakes returned late, though, capped by another pick-six from Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who shushed the crowd with his game-tying score. This marked Schaub's third interception returned for a touchdown in three games. The Seahawks won on a 45-yard field goal in overtime.

Stock watch: Schaub's body language on the field reflected the gravity of the mistake he made when he threw the interception that tied the game. The quarterback took a beating from fans last week and played well early in Sunday's game, other than a red zone interception in the first quarter. But his late interception sent his stock plummeting further, despite two touchdowns in the first half.

Texans defensive end Whitney Mercilus had his best game yet with 2.5 sacks against a depleted Seahawks offensive line. For the Texans to win, it was imperative they take advantage of the problems Seattle's line was having. The second-year outside linebacker set a rookie record with six sacks last season and already has 3.5 this season. The Texans constantly surrounded Wilson.

Brian Cushing's value: Cushing left the game in the third quarter with a concussion. On the very next drive, the Seahawks scored their first touchdown of the game, mostly on the back of quarterback Russell Wilson. The drive changed the momentum of the game and preceded a defensive stop by Seattle. Officially Cushing left the game with nine tackles, but that number is likely to increase after the coaches' review.

What's next: The Texans continue their tour around the NFC West, this time visiting the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers lost to the Seahawks in Week 2.

The inaugural Texans Twitter mailbag

September, 14, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- Last season the Houston Texans didn't use outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus much, but when they did he made a difference.

Their first-round draft pick from 2012 only played 469 snaps last season, putting him in the bottom half of playing time for defensive first-round picks from 2012. Only Fletcher Cox's production rate was higher than Mercilus's last season. With some help from ESPN Stats & Info, I counted impact plays as forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, tackles for loss, sacks, pass breakups and interceptions. The last column, in the chart below, shows on what percent of their snaps each player made an impact play.

Tonight, Mercilus begins his first season as an NFL starter, replacing Connor Barwin, who left in free agency. It's perfectly reasonable to expect his production rate to go down in his new full-time role. Add to the fact Mercilus missed the preseason, forced to be patient while healing a hamstring injury, and there could be an ajustment period.

But Mercilus learned a lot through the course of last season and that's a process every rookie goes through.

"I think I would be able to produce double-digit sacks and I’m pretty confident in myself," Mercilus said. "It’s just a matter of putting in the work to get there."

It's something the Texans could use. Last season a majority of their sacks came from their defensive ends J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. Outside pressure is hugely important and they expect the return of inside linebacker Brian Cushing to create mismatches that help their outside linebackers.

"It's actually huge," Mercilus said. "They can’t just focus on one person if we have edge pressure. It’s going to free up J.J. It’s going to free up Cush. It’s going to free up me, (OLB) Brooks (Reed), Antonio when he gets back, and it’s just you can’t just game plan for one guy. As soon as we get that pressure on the outside, guys on the inside are going to come free. Get the pressure on the inside, guys on the outside are going to come free."

Double Coverage: Texans at Chargers

September, 6, 2013
JJ Watt and Philip RiversGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt and the Texans could make it hard on Philip Rivers if San Diego's offensive line does not hold up.
In the second half of the opening Monday night doubleheader, Houston is traveling to San Diego to put an end to NFL Week 1. The Chargers are in rebuild mode, while the Texans are looking to take the next step this season and become true Super Bowl contenders. While the Chargers’ fan base should be revved up for this prime-time contest, getting J.J. Watt blocked could be a very futile effort for San Diego’s offensive line.’s Matt Williamson and Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli bring you their Double Coverage preview.

Tania Ganguli: How has the atmosphere in the organization changed with GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy taking over?

Matt Williamson: A change in San Diego was certainly needed. The environment had become stale and the once wide-open window under former coach Norv Turner and a roster stocked with great players has closed. A rebuild is needed, and a new general manager and head coach are what is needed to potentially get this team back where it once was -- or maybe beyond. Has the right side of the Texans’ once-great offensive line been fixed?

Ganguli: It's certainly on its way. The Texans are rightfully very high on right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Derek Newton is healthy. They didn't mind rotation in those spots last year, but stability will definitely help.

Can McCoy turn Philip Rivers (back?) into an elite quarterback?

Williamson: I feel as though we have seen the best of Rivers’ impressive career, unfortunately. That being said, the scheme change, which stresses getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands quicker, could be an advantageous move to boost Rivers. He does have a quick release and makes quick reads, making him a good fit for what McCoy is looking to accomplish.

What is the status of Arian Foster, and might Ben Tate have an expanded role for the season and to open the year?

Ganguli: Tate will have an expanded role, especially early in the year. The Texans won't ride Arian Foster too much given he missed all of the preseason, training camp and most of organized team activities (OTAs). He was working, but they're intent on being smart with his return to make sure they have him at full strength late in the season.

What are the biggest problems with the Chargers' offensive line?

Williamson: Once again, the scheme switch to a short passing game should help the protection of this line -- a line that is better-equipped to run block than protect. Still, the true problem with this line is they simply lack good players up front. They added a few free agents, but no one that is even a league-average starter, and they used their first-round pick on D.J. Fluker to play right tackle. However, I have my doubts that Fluker is quick or light enough on his feet for edge protection. Instead, I think Fluker could be a Pro Bowler at guard.

What impact does first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins have on the Texans' offense?

Ganguli: It's difficult for rookie receivers to put up big numbers, but Hopkins will have a major impact on the Texans' offense. He'll take pressure off Andre Johnson, on whom the Texans were overdependent last season in their passing game. He is very skilled on contested catches and will help Houston's red zone efficiency.

What impact does Dwight Freeney have in San Diego?

Williamson: Can he still be productive at 33? Of course it would be ideal to have Melvin Ingram in the fold as well as Freeney, who could be the perfect mentor, but Freeney has looked quite spry through the preseason and should have plenty left in the tank. The concern for me is that San Diego will be forced to play the 33-year-old too many snaps, which could lead to less effective play late in games and especially late in the season.

How big a boost to this team -- tacitly and emotionally -- is it to get Brian Cushing back on the field?

Ganguli: Cushing makes a difference in both ways. He creates mismatches in the pass rush that free up the outside linebackers. His presence in the middle makes things easier on the Texans' defensive backs, too. Emotionally, Cushing provides an edge for the Texans' defense. His maniacal intensity is contagious and the Texans feed off it.

How will Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews impact each other?

Williamson: While Mathews is a decent pass-catcher, Woodhead is an exceptional all-around contributor in the passing game. Their roles should be very distinctive, with Mathews -- who has looked excellent this preseason -- as the early-down workhorse (if he can hold up) and Woodhead being the specialty movement player that is equal parts running back and slot receiver.

Watt is a rare interior pass-rusher, but does Houston have enough pressure coming from their 3-4 outside linebackers?

Ganguli: That remains to be seen. It's definitely been a focus for the Texans' outside linebacker group. Whitney Mercilus, now in his second year, has taken over as a starter opposite Brooks Reed after the departure of Connor Barwin. Mercilus set a franchise record for rookies with six sacks last season, but he missed most of training camp and the preseason. Reed is healthier than he was at the end of last season when he returned from a groin injury. He had an offseason surgery to repair it fully.

The best thing about outside linebacker Willie Jefferson right now is his ceiling.

It's high.

This is only the third season Jefferson has played defense. He switched from receiver after transferring to Stephen F. Austin. Though he made an impact as a defensive end there, he's still learning a lot.

"At the start of minicamp I was like a little fish," Jefferson said. "Right now I'm just swimming in the pool with sharks. Just trying to learn every day. Trying to learn something new. Sitting down with some of the vets, learning what they do to get through practice, get through games."

On Sunday against the Saints, Jefferson seemed constantly in New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees' face. He nearly took Brees down in the end zone once.

Jefferson, an undrafted rookie, played with the starters because of an injury to outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Jefferson is still working on his run-stopping, but his pass-rush ability was clear all summer and it continues to improve.

"I just feel like athletes make plays," Jefferson said. "Be out there on the island with a person that's bigger than me and slower than me, I just gotta have the chance to make a play. When I have the chance to make a play, I'm going to make one."

It has seemed easy for Jefferson, but it hasn't been.

"I had a time where it was just everything was just going over my head and I was like 'I need help,' Jefferson said. "Some of the best took care of me. Talk about I just need to calm down, take it one step at a time, learn one step at a time."

His development, which quickly rose past the level of two draft picks at his position, is a testament to staying healthy and making the most of the chances before him.
Most of the rookie love during the offseason and training camp for the Houston Texans has gone to first-round pick receiver DeAndre Hopkins and second-round pick safety D.J. Swearinger.

Hopkins has added a completely new dimension to the Texans' offense. With hands that can only fit into XXXL gloves, he catches just about anything within a five foot radius around him.

Swearinger is always the loudest guy on defense. He is intense, instinctive, athletic and plays with the confidence of an NFL veteran that Texans coach Gary Kubiak has never seen in a rookie before.

But the preseason isn't nearly as important for those guys as it is for the undrafted rookies and veteran free agents who will fight for roster and practice-squad spots over the next few weeks.

These four undrafted rookies have already made a positive impression in training camp:

Dennis Johnson, RB, 5-7, 193 pounds

With only Arian Foster and Ben Tate on the roster, the running back competition in Houston provided a rare chance for an undrafted rookie to make the 53-man roster and stay there.

"He's short but he’s stocky," left tackle Duane Brown said. "He's strong, very low center of gravity, and that can play to his advantage when he's going against some of the taller guys. ... He caught a couple people sleeping."

Johnson, who played at Arkansas, has gotten looks at both running back and kick returner during camp. He would have started tonight if Tate weren't ready.

"He’s got great quickness," Kubiak said of Johnson. "He catches the ball well. The thing I’ve been impressed with probably more than anything is that he’ll step up and block a blitz. It’s hard to find guys who stay on the field for three downs. And if you’ll block the blitz and know what’s going on, you can become a three-down player."

Justin Tuggle, OLB, 6-3, 247 pounds

The Texans invited former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein to their rookie minicamp for a tryout. They actually gave Tuggle, another Kansas State product, a contract.

Tuggle is a study in adaptability. He played quarterback up until he went to Kansas State, where he did what Klein refused to do on the NFL level: give up the quarterback position to increase his value. Tuggle knew that as a quarterback he would spend his entire time at Kansas State behind Klein.

Making such a smart football decision might have come in part from having a father, Jessie Tuggle, who knew exactly how this business works. Jessie Tuggle played 14 seasons in the NFL and went to five Pro Bowls.

"It’s been an adjustment for him, but he’s fixing to line up and start so he’s fixing to play a lot of football," Kubiak said. "We like him. He comes from a background that says he’s going to be able to do this. His dad was a great player and he’s really adapted to what we’re doing."

A.J. Bouye, CB, 6-0, 183 pounds

The shift from playing in college, where so much of your day is accounted for with classes, workouts and practices, to the NFL, where, at least in Houston, players are treated like grown-ups with some level of autonomy, is difficult for some. It wasn't for Bouye.

He grew up raised by a single father after his mother died when he was one year old.

"You've got to make sure you stay on top of your game because you really don't have anybody else pushing you, so you have to push yourself," Bouye said. "I've learned growing up how to take care of myself. That helped a lot. It was me and my dad. I had to learn how to stay out of trouble."

Bouye had a quietly strong season at Central Florida last year. What's making him even better in Houston is his willingness to ask questions. That day when Deion Sanders held court with the Texans' defensive backs, Bouye was one of the few players to step forward and ask a question.

"I've been talking like J Joe [Johnathan Joseph], watching film, technique really, leverage, what to look for on film, what to look for in a receiver," Bouye said. "I've been learning a lot of stuff from him and coach [Vance Joseph]. My pedal technique, how to come off my breaks."

Willie Jefferson, OLB, 6-5, 233 pounds

Six-foot-five might be an undersell on Jefferson's height. He towers over teammates and has a lanky figure that could pass for a basketball player.

Jefferson is taking camp very seriously, considering it part of his second chance. He was kicked off Baylor's football team after arrests while at the school and then transferred to Stephen F. Austin, where he became a defensive end.

He first drew attention when the Texans put on pads and Jefferson held his own in one-on-one pass-rushing drills. Jefferson's opportunity increased when starting outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus suffered an injury that will keep him out of tonight's game. It led to Jefferson facing left tackle Duane Brown in drills, something he called a privilege.

"It was eye-opening going against D. Brown and the other tackle on the outside," Jefferson said. "It showed me that I need to get better at some things and showed me that I’m good at some things."

Run-stopping has been a bit more of a learning process for Jefferson.

"Hasn’t missed a rep," Kubiak said. "He’s kept up with what we’re doing. He’s kept up with [special teams coordinator] Joe [Marciano], so Willie’s got a tremendous opportunity to help this football team quickly. We’ll see how he does in the game."
When Bob McNair bemoaned the Texans linebacking depth on Jan. 13, it came across as silly.

Houston used 11 different linebackers last year.

Brian Cushing, Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Daryl Sharpton, Barrett Ruud and Mister Alexander all played inside last year and Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus, Bryan Braman and Jesse Nading saw time outside.

No team, 3-4 or not, is going to field quality players when it turns to its ninth, 10th or 11th player at the position.

Yet after the season ended, McNair offered this:

“As we develop more depth, when those things happen it’ll hurt us less and less. In this particular case, we got hit at one position with a lot of injuries. It made it very difficult. We’ll work on adding more depth and playing better.”

If they need 11 linebackers, they will struggle again.

But, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, they’ve added an additional veteran who can help, signing Joe Mays, the former Denver Bronco. He buried Matt Schaub on Sept. 23, 2012 during a 31-25 Texans’ win in Denver last year, a hit that drew a $50,000 fine.

The Texans lost Barwin in free agency and Ruud, James, Alexander and Nading are also gone.

They’ve now added third-rounder Sam Montgomery and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams as well as Mays, a sixth-round pick by Philadelphia in 2008. The Eagles swapped him to Denver in 2010 in exchange for running back J.J. Arrington.

As long as Cushing can stay on the field a year after he tore an ACL, the Texans should be fine if they are assured of Sharpton, Dobbins or Mays as a second inside guy. Sharpton is on the NFI list. He and Dobbins don’t have good records of staying healthy.

Mays has played in only 47 of a possible 80 games over five seasons. He was suspended for one game last season then missed the final nine games of the regular season with a broken leg and ankle.
J.J. Watt's 2012 performance was off the charts.

And when things go off the charts, the expectation is that the follow-up will return to the charts.

Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle's Texans blog talked to the Houston Texans defensive lineman about the idea of regression, and he didn’t give it much credence. But even Wade Phillips has said it will be hard for Watt to match the sky-high numbers he posted last year (including 20.5 sacks).

Tristan Cockcroft looks at Watt’s 2013 potential from a fantasy perspective, where the defensive lineman is a giant presence in a league that includes individual defensive players (IDP).

“History says that it's Watt's position that presents his greatest danger of regression,” Cockcroft writes. “Linemen are the ones most at risk of ‘falling back to earth’ after big years."

Watt is a break-the-mold sort of guy.

Few of us would have said he could have done what he did in 2012. It would be foolhardy to insist we could predict what he will do for a follow-up. Heck, he’s got a healthy elbow now and he didn’t last year.

But it’s not unreasonable to look at history to see what has happened, and what has happened is typically the best indicator of what will happen.

“Watt amassed 61.5 of his 170.5 (fantasy) points from his sacks alone, and had he totaled, say, 12 sacks, he'd have scored a ‘more human’ 145 points yet still ranked among the greatest historical years by any IDP,” Cockcroft said. “Be aware that no player since 1982 has amassed 20 or more sacks in multiple years of his career; only nine players have managed at least 16, or an average of one per game, in multiple years.

“This isn't to say that Watt can't manage a second consecutive MVP-caliber campaign. It's merely a caution that even the greatest defensive players of the past two decades have had a difficult time maintaining the level he enjoyed in 2012.”

I expect Watt to have another big year, though I think the numbers won’t be as good. But I think the attention he draws will help teammates like Whitney Mercilus, Antonio Smith and Brian Cushing be even more productive.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak just said on "SportsCenter" that he isn't concerned with where the sacks come from, as long as they come.

"I think our numbers can improve as a team," he said.
Texans third-round rookie outside linebacker Sam Montgomery was placed on the team's non-football injury list Monday.

Indications are it's not an injury that landed him there, but his conditioning. (Texans' brass, ridiculously, has declined to confirm anything, treating it like a state secret that makes it a bigger deal than it needs to be.)

Texans rookies reported to training camp Monday and Montgomery apparently didn't show up at neither the weight nor in the condition the team expected.

That's not necessarily a giant issue, but if it's the case it is a disappointing development given the questions Montgomery carried into the draft in late April.

The strength coach at LSU, Tommy Moffit, included Montgomery on a list of players he wouldn't talk to NFL scouts about because they "miss workouts and always have an excuse."

“They lack the self-discipline and motivation to take care of their responsibilities,” read a sign from Moffit on an office door in the Tigers' facility. “I will not answer questions regarding their performance numbers or character, as they care only about themselves.”

I discussed that and Montgomery's poor interviews at the scouting combine in this column on the day the Texans drafted him.

Montgomery was initially slated to compete for time at strongside linebacker along with fourth-round pick Trevardo Williams.

But Williams told me in June that Montgomery was working on the weak side, where 2012 first-rounder Whitney Mercilus will be the starter.

We don't know how much progress Montgomery must make to get off the list and into action. But the first practice with the entire team is Friday morning.

If he misses that, the concern level goes up at least a notch.

Links: Saunders latest Colt to be suspended

July, 19, 2013
Who is the most important player for each team in the AFC South? It’s Houston’s Andre Johnson, Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Tennessee's Andy Levitre, writes’s Adam Schein.

Houston Texans

When June minicamp was over, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus took three days to rest. Then he went to Phoenix, Ariz., to begin training again, writes Drew Dougherty for the team's official website. "I trained out there for about three weeks, and I definitely improved in a lot of areas,” Mercilus said. “Body-wise, I feel great. I feel faster. I feel like I’m fluid. I can’t wait to start training camp and just show what I can prove.”

For J.J. Watt's next amazing feat, he'll leap almost 60 inches without a running start.

Indianapolis Colts

Tight end Weslye Saunders has been suspended eight games without pay after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, AP reports. Saunders is the third Colts player to be suspended this offseason, and you can expect the NFL to fine the Colts over the multiple suspensions, says ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Andrew Luck's father, Oliver, talks about his son's progression in Year 2 of the Colts offense.

Conrad Brunner of the team's official website recaps the 2009 season, which saw the Colts reach the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville Jaguars's Matt Williamson likes wide receiver Justin Blackmon's breakout potential Insider in 2013. "Blackmon will miss the first four games of the season and might have the worst quarterback situation in the league. But we saw enough of him, especially later in the season, to suggest that he is on the verge of a breakout," Williamson writes.

Owner Shad Khan's purchase of Premier League team Fulham F.C. can only help Jaguars (subscription required), writes Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

After agreeing to terms with safety Josh Evans on a four-year deal Thursday, the Jaguars have signed their entire 2013 draft class, reports the Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran.

Tennessee Titans's Matt Williamson put Kendall Wright at No. 6 on his list of breakout candidates Insider at wide receiver. Wright "led the Titans in targets last year and showed some chemistry with [Jake] Locker, which is very promising, but Tennessee needs to unleash his big-play abilities more," Williamson writes.

There's an emphasis on youth and speed over experience at linebacker for the Titans, writes The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt in a look at the position ahead of training camp.

Jake Locker is one of Clark Judge's five guys with something to prove during training camp. Judge: "The Titans made a commitment to him when they made him the eighth pick of the 2011 draft, but they just hedged their bets by adding Ryan Fitzpatrick as his backup. Yeah, I know, the job belongs to Locker, but I know several quarterback coaches in this league who think Fitzpatrick presses him."
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Second-year outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is No. 25 on’s list of players poised to make a leap in 2013, from Dan Hanzus.

Expectations of the Texans, from Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle blogs.

Indianapolis Colts

A look at centers who are candidates for the Indianapolis Colts' all-time team, from Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. Not much debate here before Jeff Saturday is the guy.

A look at some players likely on the bubble for the Colts during training camp, from Kyle Rodriguez.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Shad Khan’s purchase of Fulham of the English Premiere League could be completed in time for the club’s season opener Aug. 17 at Sunderland, says Ryan O’Halloran.

What Khan's purchase of Fulham could mean for Jacksonville and the Jaguars, from Cole Pepper.

Tennessee Titans

Bernard Pollard is emphasizing togetherness for the Titans, off the field as well as on it, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

How did the Titans run in the red zone in 2012? Well Chris Johnson’s success rate was just 44 percent, writes Tom Gower of Total Titans.