NFL Nation: AFC South column
July, 15, 2010
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Phil CoaleReceiver-turned-tight end Ernest Wilford stood out for his performance during OTAs.Four things that should impact the AFC South this fall:
In Jacksonville …
Ernest Wilford got his money in Miami. When things didn’t work out for him there after a free-agent deal, he returned to Jacksonville for 2009, a receiver turned tight end who was second to Marcedes Lewis. Wilford played in 15 games, catching just 11 balls for 123 yards and a score.
Wilford’s not been talked about much this offseason. It’s second-year man Zach Miller, after all, who’s supposed to be this great piece for Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to use creatively.
But while Miller was banged up and missing work, it was Wilford who got a lot of featured time during offseason work. Wilford might be the big surprise among David Garrard's pass targets and tight ends.
“We think Zach can be that guy, we have high hopes for him,” Koetter said. “The guy that’s really shined bright in [organized team activities] in Zach’s absence is Ernest Wilford. Back in  when we did go to the playoffs, Ernest was our leading receiver. I think Ernest has been kind of reborn.
“He’s got all these reps. We’re excited about the role Zach can play. But I think Ernest Wilford probably made more big plays at OTAs than anybody out there.”
Safety Bob Sanders only played in two games last season, the first for Larry Coyer as the Colts' defensive coordinator. Defenders loved that Coyer started incorporating some blitzes, something the team almost never did under Ron Meeks.
John Pyle/Icon SMIBob Sanders is looking forward to being unleashed on quarterbacks.
I imagine Sanders as a scary blitzer who will get his chances for shots at quarterbacks.
“I think he’d be pretty good at it,” Colts president Bill Polian said. “He’s not blitzed a lot. Almost none, because we weren’t a blitzing team in the old configuration. His explosiveness and speed are something that are really special. We’ve used him in special situations in the past where we’ve assigned him to a running back and he’s done a heck of a job with it. So there is no reason to believe he won’t be a good blitzer.”
Sanders sounded excited during summer workouts about the possibility of adding some sacks to his stats.
“I love it because it just expands my game and each safety around here, it gives us more opportunity to show what we can do and showcase our skills,” he said. “So we’re excited about it and look forward to getting better at it.”
In Houston …
With Rick Dennison taking over for Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and Greg Knapp in place as quarterbacks coach, there is not a major transformation of the Texans’ offense in the works. But there are subtle changes we might notice.
Matt Schaub said his review of the 2009 season was helpful, as he and the two new coaches came to a consensus on how things developed. Dennison has roots with the same Denver system that bred Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and Shanahan (now with Washington), while Knapp worked with Schaub in Atlanta.
One key to Schaub’s great connection with Andre Johnson has been crossing routes. And one small change with the new coaches pertains to those.
Previously Schaub read progressions the same way regardless of the coverage.
“They came in and said, if we get man coverage let’s look at it this way and if we get zone let’s read it a different way,” Schaub said. “I think it’s really going to help us. There are only certain concepts that we do that on.
“But I think that will really help our game get even better to take advantage of some of the throws down the field rather than taking throws underneath when something could have opened up. Those can help us get bigger chunks of yardage.”
In Tennessee …
Don McPeak/US PresswireLavelle Hawkins could be in line for more playing time out of the slot.
I’ve always thought that offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was simply philosophically opposed to going deeper than three receivers on a Sunday if health allowed him to stick with his top three. Depth, though, always has been a Titans issue that fit neatly with the practice.
But in talking to him at the end of OTAs, I learned that reluctance to look to a fourth or even fifth receiver on a game day hasn’t been as much about rhythm as it has been about the fissure between the third and fourth guys.
Behind his top three of Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Justin Gage, Heimerdinger now has Lavelle Hawkins, for whom the lights apparently have come on, as well as third-round pick Damian Williams, who’s likely to be working as a return man.
“Hawk’s got a good feel, he was actually coaching other guys. That was scary when I saw that,” Heimerdinger said with a laugh. “He’s gotten to the point now where I get on him about little things and he’ll do it right the very next time.”
If Hawkins can stay on course, look for him to get chances working out of the slot.