AFC South: William Hayes

In early March, I outlined a five-category plan for offseason moves for each team in the AFC South.

I considered finances, continuity, turnover, additions and the draft.

Today we’ll look back to see how my plan and the team’s offseason lined up and how they didn’t.

Next up are the Jaguars. Here’s the original post.

What I got right:

Turnover: "Allow the rest of the free-agent class to hit the market and wish it well. If a player like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton or fullback Greg Jones doesn’t find what he wants out there and remains available later, consider an offer down the road."

Knighton is in Denver. Jones is in Houston.

Draft: “The No. 2 spot is a toughie, because clear choices at the top of this draft have not emerged. There is defensive line talent, however, and the pass rush is a longstanding issue the new regime is inheriting. That first pick needs to be able to rush the passer or be a long-term fixture on the offensive line. Needs are so wide-ranging, there are few spots the Jaguars need to avoid. Although I'm not happy with the quarterback situation, I would not feel I had to have another one unless I saw a real value in the second or third round.”

In Luke Joeckel they got the long-term fixture on the offensive line, and they did steer clear of drafting a quarterback.

What I got wrong:

Finances: “The Jaguars have about $24 million in salary-cap room, so they don’t have a huge issue. But they are carrying several contracts that are too hefty. Laurent Robinson is overpaid, but they are a year into his deal and unlikely to bail. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and guard Uche Nwaneri are too costly, both due base salaries of more than $4 million this season. Linebacker Paul Posluszny ($6.5 million base), Dawan Landry ($5.4 million) and cornerback Aaron Ross ($3.75 million) are also costly. I’d make no money moves until my coaches have time with the team on the field for a thorough assessment and see some of the alternatives brought in.”

They didn’t wait to make money moves, parting ways with Robinson, Landry and Ross in short order.

Continuity: "Re-sign outside linebacker Daryl Smith. He’s been a very solid player for the franchise, and because he was hurt for 14 games last season, his price is going to be discounted. Re-sign cornerback Derek Cox, ideally to an incentive-laden deal tied to his availability. Hope he’ll give you a chance to match if someone else gives him a better offer. He’s a great player but it’s hard to invest in a guy who misses so much time."

They had zero interest in Smith, who wound up in Baltimore. Cox might have been of interest, but the Chargers got him with a four-year, $20 million deal with $10.5 million guaranteed.

Additions: "I’d shop more aggressively than I expect the Jaguars will, based on how they’ve spoken about free agency, but I will try to stick to their parameters here. Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch was a key piece of the defense Gus Bradley ran for the Seahawks, and new coaches typically like bringing in a guy or two who know how they will operate. I want to make at least one statement signing that addresses a big area of concern. If Sebastian Vollmer’s back checks out, he’d be my guy. He’s a top right tackle who’s been part of a successful franchise in New England. From there, I’d pursue a few more affordable types: one of two cornerbacks, Greg Toler from Arizona or Bradley Fletcher of St. Louis, and a defensive end who’s still young and has some versatility, William Hayes, also of St. Louis."

I don’t believe they showed even a degree of interest in any of the five players I listed. I can say it was hard to predict what Dave Caldwell was going to do as a first-time GM, but this is what I would have done, not necessarily what I expected they would do.
The AFC South has six additional picks in April thanks to the NFL’s formula for compensatory draft picks.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.

The Texans get a third-rounder, No. 95 overall, and a sixth-rounder, 201st overall as a result of losing Jason Allen, Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and Mario Williams while signing Bradie James and Donnie Jones.

The Titans get a third rounder, 97th overall, a sixth-rounder, 202nd overall and a seventh-rounder, 248th overall as a result of losing Cortland Finnegan, William Hayes and Jason Jones. Their two prominent signings, Kamerion Wimbley and Steve Hutchinson, were cut by their previous teams. The formula factors in only players who had expiring contracts and became free agents. The Titans signed none who qualified for consideration in the league’s equation.

The Colts get a seventh-rounder, 254th overall even though they did not suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents last year. Under the formula, the compensatory free agents lost by the Colts ranked higher than the ones they signed. The formula needs annually adds 32 picks, the equivalent of a full round of picks, to the draft and the Giants and Colts got the two extra picks to fill out that number.

The Jaguars didn't qualify for an extra pick

Complete team-by-team draft orders will appear here shortly.
My plan for the Jacksonville Jaguars as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: The Jaguars have about $24 million in salary-cap room, so they don’t have a huge issue. But they are carrying several contracts that are too hefty. Laurent Robinson is overpaid, but they are a year into his deal and unlikely to bail. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and guard Uche Nwaneri are too costly, both due base salaries of more than $4 million this season. Linebacker Paul Posluszny ($6.5 million base), Dawan Landry ($5.4 million) and cornerback Aaron Ross ($3.75 million) are also costly. I’d make no money moves until my coaches have time with the team on the field for a thorough assessment and see some of the alternatives brought in.

Continuity: Re-sign outside linebacker Daryl Smith. He’s been a very solid player for the franchise, and because he was hurt for 14 games last season, his price is going to be discounted. Re-sign cornerback Derek Cox, ideally to an incentive-laden deal tied to his availability. Hope he’ll give you a chance to match if someone else gives him a better offer. He’s a great player but it’s hard to invest in a guy who misses so much time.

Turnover: Allow the rest of the free-agent class to hit the market and wish it well. If a player like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton or fullback Greg Jones doesn’t find what he wants out there and remains available later, consider an offer down the road.

Additions: I’d shop more aggressively than I expect the Jaguars will, based on how they’ve spoken about free agency, but I will try to stick to their parameters here. Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch was a key piece of the defense Gus Bradley ran for the Seahawks, and new coaches typically like bringing in a guy or two who know how they will operate. I want to make at least one statement signing that addresses a big area of concern. If Sebastian Vollmer’s back checks out, he’d be my guy. He’s a top right tackle who’s been part of a successful franchise in New England. From there, I’d pursue a few more affordable types: one of two cornerbacks, Greg Toler from Arizona or Bradley Fletcher of St. Louis, and a defensive end who’s still young and has some versatility, William Hayes, also of St. Louis.

Draft: The No. 2 spot is a toughie, because clear choices at the top of this draft have not emerged. There is defensive line talent, however, and the pass rush is a longstanding issue the new regime is inheriting. That first pick needs to be able to rush the passer or be a long-term fixture on the offensive line. Needs are so wide-ranging, there are few spots the Jaguars need to avoid. Although I'm not happy with the quarterback situation, I would not feel I had to have another one unless I saw a real value in the second or third round.
Early thoughts on the Titans' players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

The Titans have already re-signed three players who were heading for free agency: tight end Craig Stevens, tackle Mike Otto and receiver Lavelle Hawkins.

Fullback Ahmard Hall -- He’s a great locker room guy, but did not have a great season and the Titans have Quinn Johnson in house.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery -- Couldn’t push his way into action and presuming the team drafts at least one receiver, it should have no interest.

Guard Jake Scott -- Team will say thanks for solid service and look to get younger and better on the interior.

Defensive end Dave Ball -- He’s not the solution, but he’s a quality complementary part who can get into the backfield.

Defensive end William Hayes -- Just hasn’t panned out. The team needs at least one new end and there won’t be room for him any longer.

Defensive lineman Jason Jones -- Was not as good at end in the new defense as he was at tackle in the old one. He can still be a very good player.

Linebacker Barrett Ruud -- Didn’t play well before he was hurt, then got displaced by rookie Colin McCarthy.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan -- I don’t think the Titans want him at anything near what he’ll be able to command.

Safety Jordan Babineaux -- Played well enough that safety-starved Tennessee should want him back.

Safety Michael Griffin -- Does the best when everything around him is going well. But the price he’ll want gets paid to a leader, not a follower.

Safety Chris Hope -- Made a difference on the field and in the locker room for a long time, but his time is now past.

Other UFAs:

Titans regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 12
Preseason Power Ranking: 23

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Don McPeak/US PresswireThe Titans became a passing team this season behind the solid play of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Biggest surprise: The 9-7 record. The team was expected to suffer from the lockout and resulting lack of offseason work, but it came together and outperformed expectations given a new coach, new staff and new quarterbacks. Matt Hasselbeck had the best passing season in franchise history by anyone not named Warren Moon despite losing WR Kenny Britt early to a torn-up knee and not getting consistent production from running back Chris Johnson. Coach Mike Munchak set a tone and showed himself to be a straight-forward, well-measured coach who won the respect of his players. With a big contribution from their rookie class, the Titans started off well under a new regime.

Biggest disappointment: Johnson secured a big new contract after he billed himself as a playmaker, not just a running back. But he and the run game were so ineffective that the Titans became a passing team even with Britt on IR. Over half of Johnson's yards came in four wins over bad teams. And although the team consistently defended him, it was completely fair to question his effort. He often went down too easily, he didn’t make a guy miss when he wound up one-on-one and he didn’t work hard enough at his responsibilities without the ball in his hands. The team is hopeful it can get him back on track with an offseason in which he’s expected to be in Nashville far more often.

Biggest need: Defensive pieces. Rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who was not part of the plan at the start of the season, was probably the best defensive player on the team at season’s end. That indicts a lot of other guys. The Titans have to rush the passer better to be more consistent on defense and they need more than Derrick Morgan, Jason Jones (who should go back to tackle), Dave Ball and William Hayes. Three safeties are heading toward free agency, so the Titans have a lot to sort through there, too.

Team MVP: Hasselbeck is the easiest choice. He played better than many of us expected and brought just the sort of leadership the Titans needed. But I’ll go with receiver Nate Washington, who became the No. 1 receiver with Britt’s injury and delivered a 1,000-yard season even with a bad ankle for the last part of the season. Washington thrived with the new coaching and new quarterbacks. His maturation serves as a symbol of what the Titans need from a lot of other guys at a lot of other spots.

Sorting out the secondary: Safeties Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux and cornerback Cortland Finnegan all have expiring contracts. Finnegan probably draws an offer in free agency beyond what the Titans would give him. The team cannot make a long-term commitment with big money to the inconsistent Griffin. Hope is likely done. Babineaux played well and would be nice to retain. That’s a lot to decide on just in the secondary, but I’d expect a big infusion of new guys to work with young corners Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner.

Mailbag: Once around the AFC South

December, 10, 2011
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Matt from Berkeley, CA writes: If Maurice Jones-Drew wins the NFL rushing title this year with how bad the Jags passing game is, his career definitively jumps into HoF consideration. How many snaps has he run into the teeth of 8 and 9 man fronts? Imagine what MJD could do on a prolific, no scratch that, even an average passing team. The HoF is for special players whose skill breaks the game, and I think MoJo is showing us this season that is exactly the kind of player he is. How bad the Jags are shows how good MoJo truly is, because we can see how he plays when EVERYONE is trying to stop HIM. Of course, he will need to keep it up a few more seasons and finish strong with a long and productive career, but I feel every bit as certain I'm watching a HoF caliber player when I watch him every bit as much as when I watch Brady or Manning.

Paul Kuharsky: Easy, Killer.

He’s a great back. But you have to be super-great to threaten the Hall of Fame from a team that hasn’t been to or won a Super Bowl or even been in the playoffs more often than not. We need time to judge, and to me the biggest question for the Hall of Fame is, was he the best player or one of the best players at his position during his time and among his contemporaries?

In 2009 and 2010, MJD wasn’t even the best back in his division. He’s still writing his resume, but I think Fred Taylor is going to have a tough time getting in the Hall of Fame. And MJD will have to more than double his career rushing yardage to catch Taylor in that category.


Jack Peters from Denton, TX writes: I seem to have heard somewhere that Peyton Manning's $28 million is due before the official opening of the 2012 season, and so he can't be traded until after that payment has been made (which I believe is a bonus rather than base salary). Does that mean that the Colts would be on the hook for Manning's $28 million even if they trade him once the 2012 season officially opens? Or is the only way to avoid it if Manning agrees to re-structure so that the payment is due after the 2012 season begins? Also, do you think that since Andrew Luck has a year of college eligibility that he could threaten to go back to school if the Colts don't trade Manning before he has to declare for the draft so that he wouldn't have to sit behind Manning for potentially 3 or 4 years (like Aaron Rogers did) if Manning comes back healthy.

Paul Kuharsky: Yes, the bonus is due before the new league year starts. So if the timetable is not adjusted, he can’t be traded until after it’s paid. And all of it would then be accelerated to go onto the 2012 cap if he were dealt.

I don’t expect Luck to make a power play, but I don’t expect any team would plan to sit him for more than a year. Rodgers was a major exception, not an example of how to operate. He also came into the league with a lot more work needed than Luck will come in needing,


Stu from Austin, TX writes: Using ESPN as background noise for studying for finals, I have continually heard the talking heads on SportsCenter, NFL Live and then PTI talk about the signing of Jeff Garcia, usually along the lines of Yates not being the starter for long. Do these guys really think two over the hill QBs offer the Texans a better chance to win this season than Yates? I understand the security blanket that two veteran playoff game starting QBs offer, but did anyone at ESPN watch the Texans game last week? It’s kind of hard to say T.J. Yates played any worse than Matt Ryan did.

Paul Kuharsky: Yates played pretty well and showed a lot of upside.

It’s not uncommon for national pundits to see a team, which lost its top two quarterbacks, turn to a rookie they don’t know and think that team would be better off with a veteran they are/were familiar with.

But it’s Yates’ team. If the Texans wind up playing a fourth-string quarterback, it’ll be worse, not better, I expect.


Gary Marsh in Nashville writes: My question is around Jason Babin, how much did he get when he signed with Philly? What are your thoughts around the Titans losing him? My thought is they should be kicking themselves, since they are a team that is struggling to get the sacks...Now, I guess if I rewind to my thoughts of Jason Babin at the end of the year, I think maybe he was a 1 hit wonder...and fits nicely with Jim Washburn and might not have worked out with Tracy Rocker, but mere speculation at this point.

Paul Kuharsky: The Titans wanted to go bigger and didn’t think Babin was worth big money after paying him $1 million as a reclamation project in 2010.

He got a five-year, $28 million deal from the Eagles. But the important numbers are -- a $5 million bonus and $1 million base salary in 2011. He’s scheduled to earn a $5 million base next year.

Would the Titans kill for his pass rush production right now? Sure. Would they be getting it out of their altered system? Hard to say. I’d be more angry over the team’s dependence on guys who haven’t produced (Jason Jones, Derrick Morgan) or panned out (William Hayes) than on its decision not to pursue Babin.


Michael Ivey from Jasper, TX writes: You use 10,000 words on how Tenn can win the AFC South. For the Texans to win the AFC South this week you use four words. A little weak, you must have been on your way out!!

Paul Kuharsky: For a team to have to do far less is far better. You’re making the mistake of suggesting more words somehow mean more. Of course it doesn’t in this instance. (If you were serious.)

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 22, 2011
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars coach: His damage control on Monday was better, but he had a terrible Sunday. When he says coordinator Dirk Koetter makes the play calls, he appears to be throwing the assistant under the bus. He also appears not to have a good feel for the job. Allowing coordinators to do their thing is important. But it’s not a violation of their freedom to do their jobs for a head coach to participate in a timeout discussion of what’s to come. To claim that Koetter has complete autonomy is to distance yourself from important decisions. That’s a weak strategy. Shouldn’t the buck stop here?

2. Tennessee Titans defensive ends: The Titans were excited about getting Derrick Morgan in the mix after losing him for his rookie year to a torn ACL, but he’s made minimal impact and hurt an ankle in Atlanta. They moved Jason Jones from tackle to end to help beef up the outside, and he has not been a big presence. Dave Ball is hurt again. William Hayes flashed a week ago but clearly is not a staff favorite and killed the Titans with a fourth-down offside penalty against the Falcons. Production from the group has been simply insufficient.

3. Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks: We probably will learn the team’s verdict on the starting quarterback for the Carolina game on Wednesday. But does it matter much? I think Curtis Painter is better than Dan Orlovsky and should be the choice, but it’s not much of a choice. The best-case scenario is that whoever is at quarterback makes a couple of big plays to Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, then plays mistake-free. Even in that scenario, the Colts would need the sort of defensive effort to win that they don’t seem capable of.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJake Locker played well in relief of Matt Hasselbeck this past Sunday.
RISING

1. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans backup quarterback: He showed himself to be ready and able in relief work of Matt Hasselbeck. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer put him in favorable situations -- working out of shotgun, throwing on the move, in position to take off running. He sailed a few throws but overall earned an "A" for being prepared, confident and effective. That said, the right move is to return him to the bench behind Hasselbeck. It’s the kind of playing time and experience that’s really healthy for Locker at this stage.

2. The perception of the AFC South as super-weak: The Colts are winless. The Jaguars can’t beat the bad Browns. The Titans are average. The Texans are a good team, but they are moving forward without their quarterback. Hasselbeck is the division’s best quarterback now with Matt Schaub out, and although we need to see Matt Leinart, we know Painter and Blaine Gabbert are awful now. The AFC North and NFC South feel very good about drawing this division on their schedules this year.

3. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans receiver: He’s ready to return, and adding one of the game’s best receivers to the lineup should provide a jolt. Leinart must find him early and take advantage, too, of the attention the Jaguars are likely to devote to him, creating space and opportunity elsewhere. The Texans did great work with Johnson out of the lineup for six games with a hamstring injury. Getting him back for the first game without Schaub is a big, big deal. Someone asked me how long I thought it would take for Johnson to get back into the flow. I say three plays.

Titans not inconsistent, just average

November, 20, 2011
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Michael TurnerDaniel Shirey/US PresswireTennessee was unable to contain Michael Turner as he rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown.
ATLANTA -- The Titans are getting mislabeled.

They are not an inconsistent team. If anything, their 23-17 loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome made them even more predictable.

Over their past eight games, the formula’s been simple: They have beaten bad teams and lost to good ones.

It’s easy to see they are better than Denver, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Carolina. It’s just as clear they are not in a class with Pittsburgh, Houston, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

The Titans are too sloppy, don’t find enough big plays and don’t match up well enough with quality teams. Ten games into the season, they’re 5-5 and it’s exactly what they deserve.

Sunday they played good enough red zone defense to stay in the game, but could never get back to even from 13-0 and 23-3 deficits.

A look at three key issues for Tennessee coming out of the game:

The quarterback situation: Matt Hasselbeck banged his elbow as he threw late in the third quarter. He couldn’t generate any power on the ball after that, so doctors had him yield to rookie Jake Locker.

“He did exactly what a second-team quarterback should do when he gets an opportunity,” coach Mike Munchak said.

Locker moved right and hit Nate Washington, who stiff-armed a defender and ran to the end zone on a 40-yard touchdown play. In the fourth quarter, working in hurry-up mode out of the shotgun, he ran for 11 yards on a third-and-10, he hit tight end Jared Cook for 22 yards on a fourth-and-17 and he found Washington for another touchdown with 3:09 left in the game.

The defense, however, couldn’t get provide him a chance to engineer a game-winning drive.

Locker finished with a 107.3 passer rating, but the Titans diffused any possibility of a quarterback controversy.

Hasselbeck is sore and he had ice wrapped around the inside of his left elbow and forearm as he spoke to the press. He said he’ll have an MRI Monday. Munchak said he wasn’t about to make a change based on the small sampling of Locker. If Hasselbeck is fine, “he’s the quarterback, there is no doubt about that.”

While Hasselbeck hardly has his best game -- 13-of-25 passing for 124 yards, an interception and a 49.4 passer rating -- the Titans aren’t going to forget how large a role he’s played in many of their good moments this season.

“Jake kind of puts a defense on its heels a little bit, because you’ve got a younger guy who can run,” receiver Lavelle Hawkins said. “That’s taking nothing away from Matt, because Matt is a great mind who knows how to read a lot of stuff and sees a lot of things before they happen. I think either, or is great.”

Making mistakes: Munchak’s Titans were supposed to be a disciplined team that executed precisely. But there was a major lack of precision in key moments against the Falcons.

The Falcons went for it on fourth-and-1 twice in the second half.

They motioned and reset, then motioned and reset again, making it seem like they were merely waiting for the defense to jump. On the first instance, Matt Ryan had the ball snapped and snuck at an unexpected time in the long sequence of shuffling.

And on the second, defensive end William Hayes was flagged for jumping offsides.

“There is no excuse for me doing that, it’s fourth-and-1, I’ve got to be patient,” Hayes said. “They got me.”

He actually got bailed out as Colin McCarthy forced a Michael Turner fumble on the next play and Will Witherspoon recovered it.

That’s when Locker took the Titans on the 14-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that cut the lead to six with 3:06 left.

With three timeouts and the two-minute warning, Tennessee then needed to force a punt to get Locker the ball back.

And on the very first play from scrimmage, safety Jordan Babineaux slipped off Turner, allowing him to spring free for a 27-yard gain. Two Jason Snelling carries and a 6-yard Harry Douglas catch later and Ryan was ready to take a knee three times and shake some hands.

The Titans failed to slow Atlanta’s stars. Ryan passed for 316 yards, Turner ran for 100 and receiver Roddy White pulled in seven catches for 147 yards.

On top of that, the Titans were flagged for 10 penalties. They accounted for 86 yards and five of the Falcons’ 25 first downs.

“We didn’t play smart for 60 minutes,” Munchak said.

Mixed up routes: It seems every game the receivers have at least one mixed-up moment that costs Tennessee a chance or causes a problem.

The Titans were behind only 7-0 when the biggie in this game arrived.

Hasselbeck threw up the left side and Hawkins appeared to be out of position as cornerback Dunta Robinson intercepted the pass.

The receiver stopped running, looking around puzzled instead of pouncing to touch Robinson while he was down. Robinson got up and ran for 14 yards.

Guard Jake Scott yelled at Hawkins over the failure to stop a return. Hasselbeck pointed and screamed as he left the field, clearly annoyed by the way the play unfolded.

Damian Williams, who ran a post on the same side of the field, said the underneath receiver is supposed to cut in if the Titans are running it or cut out if they are throwing it. He said he was partially to blame for not getting the check communicated.

Said Hasselbeck: “I believe what happened is when I checked, Hawk wasn’t looking at me. I think when I checked they were adjusting who was on the ball, who was off the ball. I was trying to throw it to Hawk, yes. I’m not sure if he knew it was a pass or not.”

Mistakes will happen, I understand.

If the Titans are getting 1.1 yards a carry from Chris Johnson, they need to be an exact passing offense, however. Under the previous regime, Hawkins didn’t get on the field much because he was regarded as undependable.

On that and the Titans being average or worse, things don’t appear to have changed much.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans aren’t doing a great job getting to the passer, with an average of less than two sacks a game.

Britt
Whitworth
In their last two losses, they have totalled one.

Sunday at LP Field they’ll be going against a big Cincinnati line that’s given up only a dozen sacks this season, keyed by left tackle Andrew Whitworth, an underrated guy who’s becoming premier.

“They’re group up front, they’re huge, they are all working well together, the ball is coming out quick, the quarterback (Andy Dalton) doing a good job of that for a young guy,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. “He’s a good football player, hard to get around, heavy with his hands.”

The Titans will send defensive end Dave Ball at Whitworth, supplementing him with William Hayes if he’s recovered from back issues and earns his way back into action, or Malcolm Sheppard.

Whitworth vs. Ball will be a size versus speed matchup -- Whitworth is 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds, while Ball is 6-5, 255.

“Whitworth might be the best left tackle in the league right now, or at least is playing that way,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said.

He’s heavier than Titans left tackle Michael Roos.

“I like the way he plays, he’s kind of under-the-radar, quiet,” Roos said. “He does his job, he does it well. I don’t think he gets enough credit.”

He’s a fan too, of Whitworth’s look.

“We both have shaved heads,” he said, with a laugh.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Texans and Titans have no big surprises on their inactive lists for Sunday’s big showdown at LP Field.

As expected, Houston receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) and fullback James Casey (pectoral) won’t play. Trindon Holliday is active and could work as the primary return man.

Titans defensive end William Hayes, who started having back issues late in the week, is a scratch, which creates opportunity for Malcolm Sheppard.

The full lists:

Titans
Texans

Can Babineaux impact Titans' secondary?

September, 18, 2011
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NASHVILLE. Tenn. -- Will Chris Hope’s shoulder injury result in a permanent lineup change?

We don’t know Mike Munchak’s philosophy on starters losing jobs to injury, and the Titans decided to move forward and pay Hope a $6.5 million base salary this season.

But Jordan Babineaux will fill in for Hope today against the Ravens at LP Field. He’s got a history as a playmaker, and if he can provide the Titans with a jolt, Munchak and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray could have a tough call once Hope is healthy.

The inactive lists:

Titans
Ravens
Reading the coverage ...

Gregg Doyel forecasts doom for the Colts and big things for the Texans.

Houston Texans

Houston flipped the script, started well and beat the Peyton Manning-less Colts, says John McClain.

The Texans nearly got a shutout in a game they said was merely a good start, says Jeffrey Martin.

Ben Tate stepped in and maintained the Texans' running game, says Dale Robertson.

McClain’s report card.

Afraid to believe? Not Richard Justice.

The Texans looked division-title good, says Tully Corcoran.

Indianapolis Colts

The blame for this loss extends well beyond Kerry Collins, says Mike Chappell.

Players emphasized it’s just one game, writes Phil Richards.

Jim Irsay was coy in talking about Peyton Manning’s timetable, says Mike Chappell.

For the Colts, that was first and terrible, says Bob Kravitz.

Players were in the spirit of the 9-11 anniversary, says Chappell.

For Collins and the Colts, the first game merely might have confirmed for future opponents what they had suspected all along. Manning, probably out for the season after neck surgery, covered up a multitude of deficiencies sprinkled throughout the team, proving, if possible, that he was even more valuable than his four league Most Valuable Player awards indicated. From Judy Battista.

The specter of Brett Favre has to have crossed someone’s mind with the Colts, says Don Banks. Please no.

You don't start Collins in a game with two weeks to learn the offense and expect to get anything other than what the Colts got. Yesterday was not the test of whether this team will be in games. That test comes next week against the lowly Browns. There are games the 2011 Colts have no chance to win going in. Accept that now, urges Nate Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

A turmoil-filled week ended with a buzz-creating win, says Tania Ganguli.

Luke McCown passed his first test, says Vito Stellino.

Style points weren’t necessary in this win, says Gene Frenette.

The Jaguars' defense set a tone with the very first play, says Garry Smits.

Kenny Britt kept the Titans alive, says Smits.

Frenette’s report card.

Combination analysis from Ganguli and Frenette. (Video.)

Maurice Jones-Drew wanted more work on a day coaches limited him, says Stellino.

Paul Posluszny thought solid run defense against a good run team was a good start, says John Oehser.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans looked like they were running in sand early, and by the time they found solid footing it was too late, says Jim Wyatt.

You can’t play like this and expect to win, says David Climer.

The debut of the Titans’ bigger defense was a failure, says John Glennon.

Chris Johnson was a non-factor in his first game after his holdout, says Glennon.

Wyatt’s report card.

William Hayes is another hurt defensive end, says Glennon.

Michael Griffin lamented a missed opportunity, says Wyatt.

The interior offensive line reverted to bad form and the offense was vanilla, says Music City Miracles.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLuke McCown
Howard Smith/US PresswireLuke McCown has completed 59.2 percent of his passes over his career.
Don’t overrate David Garrard. A lot of people seem to think that the Jaguars' cutting Garrard makes them a less dangerous team. I assure you, they are not thinking that way. They will be the same run-heavy offense. The Jaguars, who play host to Tennessee on Sunday, will look to an upgraded defense to be physical and bottle up Chris Johnson. And they expect a crisper performance from Luke McCown than they would have had from Garrard, who struggled throughout the preseason. If McCown doesn’t have a good day, let’s hold the talk that makes it sound as though Garrard would have played like Johnny Unitas.

Can the Texans' running backs help out blocking? Their underrated offensive line has its hands full against the Colts' pass rush, which features Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. But if Arian Foster is out or limited, the team could lean more on Derrick Ward for his experience than on Ben Tate for his potential. Tate ran great in the preseason, but can he take on a defender determined to bring down Matt Schaub?

Unproven pass rushes in Jacksonville. The Jaguars still haven’t solved their pass-rush issues. Aaron Kampman is back from knee surgery and Matt Roth is a solid addition. We know their middle guys can get push, but who’s going to make Matt Hasselbeck uncomfortable? Same goes for the Titans. Derrick Morgan is out, so Malcolm Sheppard will be in the mix at end behind William Hayes, Jason Jones (who's been hurt) and Dave Ball. They’re working with a more disciplined scheme to be sure they stop the run, but can those guys bother McCown working more technique than speed?

Spotlight on Kerry Collins. The whole football world is watching to see what the Colts look like without Peyton Manning. We’ve talked a lot about Collins' protection and how he’s picked up the system. But what kind of feel has he developed for his targets? Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai make up a very reliable quartet that knows how to be in the right spots and get open. Collins didn’t have a crew like that during his time with the Titans. Does he have a feel for the talent?

Unveiling the 3-4. Wade Phillips is a master at turning around defenses, but he’s had a shorter time frame with this new group. Surely there are elements of what the Texans will do that they did not show in the preseason. Phillips’ defenses have fared great against Collins. As the Texans look to extend that streak of success, end Antonio Smith could be a big factor. He’ll probably be working against Joe Reitz and Jeff Saturday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some quick thoughts on Tennessee's opening practice of training camp, before a run to the airport.
  • With Matt Hasselbeck looking on, unable to practice until Thursday, Jake Locker worked as the starting quarterback. He had a several very shaky throws before the defense was even part of things -- a short ball to the left that sailed well over Lavelle Hawkins, a short pass wobbled over the middle that may have slipped out of his hand, a high deep ball that amounted to a punt Jared Cook had to wait on. But he settled down as the practice went on and didn’t look out of place.
  • Kenny Britt didn’t practice. He ran in the morning and the team is being careful early with a guy who had a hamstring issue last season. He looks to be fit, thin even.
  • Without Britt, Nate Washington and Justin Gage worked as the starting receivers with things rotating quickly. Joe Tronzo was the fullback leading Javon Ringer. Fernando Velasco plugged into Leroy Harris’ left guard slot. (Jim Wyatt broke the news during practice that Harris agreed to return with a two-year deal.)
  • The starting defensive line, left to right, was William Hayes, Jovan Haye, Jurrell Casey and Jason Jones. Will Witherspoon was a middle linebacker between Akeem Ayers and Gerald McRath. Alterraun Verner was at corner opposite Cortland Finnegan.
  • While Ayers is bigger than any Titans linebacker in memory, the most impressive size was in free agent defensive tackle Shaun Smith (325), who can't yet practice, and Haye. Haye played last year at 275 and told me he’s now 312, heaviest in his life. He feels way more powerful. Protein shakes, his wife’s cooking and heavy weights helped him bulk up to line up with the new staff’s emphasis on size. He’s benched 405 when he never topped 315 before.
  • Chris Hope was here and at strong safety. He was due a $500,000 roster bonus Friday and there has been no news of a restructured deal. That means he got it and isn’t going anywhere unless something big changes between now and opening day.
  • The coaches are a vocal bunch. Two of note I didn’t hear were offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews. No surprise there. McRath dropped a tipped ball for a pick and linebackers coach Frank Bush told him: “Don’t be afraid to be a hero. All they’re going to do is put your name in the paper.”
  • Receiver coach Dave Ragone drilled the first pass of one positional drill into the facemask shield of Nate Washington. He warned that balls would be on guys fast out of their breaks, but this bullet may have been too fast and too early for Jerry Rice. Washington had to wipe down the shield before getting into back into line.
  • The Titans voted to reconstitute the NFLPA.
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.

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