NFL Nation: Antwaun Molden
Scouts Inc. gives him a three out of five in coverage skills:
Possesses quick feet and good short-area quickness. However, has some tightness in his hips and ankles particularly when matched up in off man coverage. Most effective in press technique when having man coverage responsibilities. He's physical at the line of scrimmage to disrupt receivers release and shows ability to open and mirror in trail technique. Shows good balance with hips faced toward quarterback in zone coverage. Closing burst is above-average and can make up ground when the ball is in the air. Flashes an extra to recover when caught in trail technique.
He’s added to a less than stellar, hardly proven group of corners: Alan Ball, Kevin Rutland, Mike Harris and Antwaun Molden.
He’s 5-foot-11, weighs in about 201 and ran a 4.44, so he does fine in the height-weight-speed departments.
Pro Football Weekly says he draws comparisons to the Packers Casey Hayward, who’s coming off an excellent rookie season.
Of the first four players they've brought in, I love one: Roy Miller. He is a solid, run-stuffing defensive tackle I suggested might have fit nicely in Houston to replace Shaun Cody. The Texans run a 3-4 front, and it doesn’t take much to adapt to Wade Phillips’ scheme.
With the Jaguars he stays in a 4-3 and figures to help on early downs. I think he’s a rising player and a good addition.
“Miller is a powerful wide body with good short-area quickness and above-average agility but limited lateral range and very limited pass rush skills. He plays with natural leverage and does a good job of using his hands to defeat and shed blockers. He feels pressure and works his way back through the block to squeeze the play down. He does a good job of holding his ground and tying up blockers to keep the linebackers free to make plays. He shows marginal explosive quickness and burst as he escapes blocks and often ends up just missing the tackle on runs.”
He helps offset the loss of Terrance Knighton, who left as a free agent to sign with the Denver Broncos. Knighton lost his early down job last season to C.J. Mosley. Knighton was listed at 6-foot-3, 330-pounds but was surely bigger than that. Miller was listed by Tampa Bay at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds.
To their first addition, linebacker Geno Hayes, the Jaguars have added two other guys. Both were with the Texans last year.
Running back Justin Forsett is a good complimentary back who should fare better working with Maurice Jones-Drew than last year’s backs, who wound up having to replace MJD when he got hurt.
Alan Ball has one thing Gus Bradley really likes in his cornerbacks: size. He’s 6-foot-2, 191-pounds. Unfortunately that size didn’t factor into his play last year, which was poor for the Texans when they called on him to help out after Johnathan Joseph was injured.
The Jaguars also resigned Antwaun Molden, a corner who has bounced around a lot and was with Jacksonville for the last five games last season.
The first and most important thing to note about this is that it would be awful news for Thomas personally. The main reason players generally don't come back from a second torn ACL is that most of them aren't able to get through the grueling, one-year rehab for a second time. Thomas did that and went to training camp determined to reclaim his status as a Giants starter and an emerging star cornerback. If he's torn it again, he'll be devastated, and the prospect of a third rehab just for a chance at a comeback will appear staggeringly difficult. No matter who your favorite team is, if you're human, you have to hurt for a guy in this situation. The game is just very cruel.
As for the impact on the team, the Giants are actually fairly well positioned to handle the loss of Thomas again. It's not ideal, certainly, and one of the main reasons they so easily parted company with free-agent Aaron Ross (who started in Thomas' place last season) was because of their belief that Thomas would come back healthy. But they always knew there was a chance he wouldn't, and 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara waits in the wings as the most likely replacement. The Giants also drafted cornerback Jayron Hosley in the third round of April's draft, and have depth on the roster in the form of guys like Michael Coe, Justin Tryon and Antwaun Molden.
There's also the chance that they could bring back veteran safety Deon Grant, who re-signed during training camp last season once injuries began to deplete the secondary. After Grant signed last year, they were able to use safety Antrel Rolle as their nickel cornerback with Grant and Kenny Phillips at safety. So keep an eye on that possibility.
As for money, the only guaranteed money in Thomas' new contract, per Mike Garafolo, is his $1 million signing bonus. The contract was structured in such a way as to protect the Giants financially in case Thomas got injured again.
Obviously, their preference would be for the news to come back better than expected so they could pay him the full amount of his contract to start and play for them. But right now, it doesn't sound good.
The latest revelations -- profanity-laced recorded comments Williams made to New Orleans Saints players before their playoff game at San Francisco -- are chilling in their specificity. Time and again, Williams encouraged players to injure specific opponents, from Michael Crabtree to Frank Gore to Alex Smith to Kyle Williams.
Given these recordings, it's for the best that Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, declined to appeal his suspension relating to the Saints' bounty scandal. There can be no defending what he said.
Pro Football Talk has transcribed some of the comments. Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver also has a column on the matter. I listened to the comments and transcribed them for this item.
"Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head," Williams told Saints players one day before the 49ers defeated New Orleans in the wild-card round. "Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head."
There was more. Much more.
"We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion," Williams said, referring to Kyle Williams. "We need to [expletive] put a lick on him right now."
Williams also indicated the Saints should take out Crabtree's knee.
"We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake ass prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy," Williams told players. "We need to find it out. He becomes human when we [expletive] take out that outside ACL."
On and on it went.
Williams encouraged players to hit Smith under the chin, referring back to the "big eyes" Smith got when the Saints hit him repeatedly during the exhibition opener. He wanted the Saints to take out all the 49ers' key players, noting repeatedly that his team should not apologize for how it plays the game.
"We need to decide on how many times we can beat Frank Gore's head," Williams said.
Williams allegedly punctuated some of his comments with a hand gesture indicating he would pay cash for injuring the 49ers. These are damning tapes further cementing Williams' reputation for crossing the line.
Looks like we'll have even more than anticipated to discuss on the blog Thursday.
Elsewhere in the division ...
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the 49ers not facing the Raiders in the preseason.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Reggie Smith's departure from the 49ers in free agency further guts what remains of the team's 2008 draft class. Barrows: "According to a source, Smith, an unrestricted free agent, told the 49ers in his exit interview in January that he was not interested in returning to the team, presumably because he knew his chances of starting were slim with Dashon Goldson on the roster. The 49ers made Goldson their franchise player, although he has yet to sign the tender. The top three safeties for 2012 appear to be Goldson, strong safety Donte Whitner and C.J. Spillman. Madieu Williams, who also is a free agent, could return."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says players are working out informally at team headquarters in advance of the voluntary offseason workout program.
Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis quotes new Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan saying he wanted to play for Williams. Finnegan: "Every player you talk to says what a great coach he is. I was so excited to have a chance to play for him. He has a great defense and players love playing in that defense."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says recently retired former Rams receiver Torry Holt downplayed talk about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Holt: "Shoot, we've got to get Cris Carter in the Hall, we have to get Andre Reed in the Hall, we've got to get Tim Brown in the Hall before we even start mentioning anything about Torry Holt being in the Hall."
Also from Thomas: notes from Holt's retirement news conference. Holt on whether signing a one-day contract would let him suit up: "I was speaking to Carla, my wife, and said, 'You know what? It would probably be cool if I called (equipment manager) Jimmy Lake and I had him set up my locker and get my cleats, and get my gloves, get my baggy shorts, and let me run one more deep seven (route). Shoot it out of the JUGS machine and I could catch it for a touchdown.' ... You know what? That'd be too much. Let's act like an adult here, I guess."
More from Thomas: The Rams have interest in free agent receiver Jerome Simpson.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune makes available draft analyst Rob Rang for a discussion focusing mostly on the Seahawks. Rang: "I believe Coby Fleener is going to wind up as a top 20 pick. There are few teams with obvious needs at TE to warrant such a pick, but coming off a 2011 season in which Gronk, Graham, etc. demonstrated just how effective these matchup nightmares can be, I believe some team is going to shock everyone. That team could be Seattle. If you're going to build a team around a relatively weak-armed QB, he'd damn well better have some weapons."
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle explains why he thinks the Seahawks' were true to form in letting David Hawthorne sign with New Orleans.
Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times says the Seahawks met with Patriots free agent defensive back Antwaun Molden.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals' preseason schedule: "It will be the eighth time in the past nine seasons that the Cardinals have played the Broncos in the final preseason game."
Also from Somers: Levi Brown re-signed with the Cardinals shortly after the team visited with free-agent tackle Demetress Bell. Somers: "Coincidence? Maybe. The Cardinals paid Brown a $7 million signing bonus. Earlier in free agency they signed guard/tackle Adam Snyder to a five-year deal that included a $5 million signing bonus. The Cardinals remained interested in Bell, but it was questionable if they were going to write another big check for an offensive lineman."
More from Somers: The Cardinals have their key specialists under contract.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at options for Arizona on the offensive line. He quotes line coach Russ Grimm on Adam Snyder: "He was tops on our free agent list as far as offensive line was concerned. He’s a big physical guy, he's smart, he has played a number of positions. Right now we have him penciled in at right guard but if we have to move it around before camp we’ll move it around."
Still, the Texans have been the breakout pick so often in recent years and have come up short that it’s completely fair to ask, even with those changes, why should people believe? Why should they buy this team?
“I couldn’t sell it to anybody,” said Chris Myers, the team’s underrated center. “We’re doing what we do here in camp. If you’re a Texans fan, you’re a Texans fan. Our offense is the same offense that we’ve had and we’re going to try to make it better. Our defense has brought in who we think can change it, take it in the right direction and make us that complete team.
“That’s the pitch. If you’re going to buy it, you’re going to buy it. If not, we’re still rolling.”
To find their way to the playoffs for the first time since the franchise began play in 2002, the Texans need to find the consistency they’ve lacked on many levels -- start to finish in a game, week to week over the course of the season.
That defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, has a great record of turning defenses around. Gary Kubiak carries questions as a head coach, but not as an offensive mind.
It’s a now or never deal for Kubiak, and he’s got a lot of talent on his roster that knows it.
Receiver Andre Johnson, one of the league’s top players, says the team’s spent the past few preseasons talking about breaking through. This time he wants less talk and more action.
THREE HOT ISSUES
1) How quickly can Phillips shape the defense?
He's coming off a poor term as head coach in Dallas, but his track record as a coordinator is excellent.
“Wade Phillips and [linebackers coach Reggie Herring] have brought a credibility and a confidence to the system that they run,” said end-turned-outside-linebacker Connor Barwin. “I feel like it carries over to us. You know if you do what you’re coached up to do that it’s going to work.”
The change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 isn’t as extreme as some imagine, because Phillips’ 3-4 doesn’t demand a gigantic space-eating nose tackle, and it doesn’t ask linemen to be responsible for two gaps. The linemen are really playing roles akin to what they did in the previous system, with Williams now standing up as an on-the-line backer on the weak side.
Creating that matchup as often as possible is key, and Williams should be the centerpiece of the retooling.
Though Williams didn’t look comfortable in the preseason opener, end Antonio Smith thinks offenses will really struggle with Williams and his bull rush.
“It has not been stopped in camp yet,” Smith said. “Since he decided to do it, I ain’t seem him lose. You know what you need to do to beat a person. I think that throughout this camp, he’s figuring out how to use that. He’s added it into his bag of tricks and he’s going to figure out how to use it along with his other moves.”
Matt Schaub and Johnson have both talked about how many more balls are contested and broken up in a typical practice. That difference suggests the new philosophy’s growing on a unit that’s needed not just players like Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning but also the sort of direction Phillips is providing.
2) Will Arian Foster be able to have another big season on the ground?
It wasn’t long ago that Steve Slaton ran for 1,282 yards. He’s disappeared since the 2008 season, however.
Foster said that what he did over 16 games last season proved him capable and that the notion of a fluke is ridiculous. But for the Texans’ offense to get better, he’ll have to follow up his 1,616-yard season and rushing title with another big showing.
“When you come out and have a season like that, then everybody wants to see what you’re going to do the next season,” Johnson said. “I think that is important for him, to come out and show people that he is the guy that he was last year.
“I think he’ll do it, there is no doubt in my mind. Because he works hard and he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”
Houston’s play-action can be spectacular with Foster running as he did in 2010. His style is perfectly suited for the team’s blocking scheme, which encourages him to cut once and take all he can get.
Another big year will go a long way toward setting the Texans’ course.
3) Do enough guys have killer instinct?
The Texans' slow starts and inability to finish were major issues last season. Better personnel and coaching will need to be accompanied by a killer instinct this franchise has too frequently lacked.
A guy like Johnson, soft-spoken but intense, certainly has a personality you can win with. But are the Texans, in total, too low key? I think it’s a fair question.
“You’ve got to have that [killer instinct],” said Manning, one of the key newcomers. “... If you believe, all this other stuff is going to come into play: working together, supporting your man, pushing him, making him work hard, holding him accountable. All that stuff goes hand in hand. I’ve never seen a championship team that didn’t believe, that didn’t finish.”
When they grabbed him during the 2010 season, I don’t think the Texans expected much from veteran cornerback Jason Allen. But the secondary was better with him than it was without him. Now, with a fresh start, he’s mounting a serious challenge to Jackson, the 2010 first-round draft pick. The team would be well served to go with Allen if things come out roughly even. Jackson’s seasoning would be better for now as a role player.
Antwaun Molden looks the part as a 6-foot-1, 200-pound corner. But the team has finally stopped talking up the fourth-year man from Eastern Kentucky. He’s not sturdy enough and doesn’t show enough gumption to be a factor in a group where he’s had a chance to add some depth. He had an interception in the preseason opener, but only after he committed a penalty that washed it away.
- Joel Dreessen is consistently underrated. Dreessen can block and, while not as dynamic as Daniels, has a knack for finding open spaces and presenting himself to Schaub. The Texans have a lot of quality tight ends. Look for the team to put three tights on the field at times, when they can operate as a heavy package or shift Daniels, Dreessen, James Casey or Garrett Graham into space, depending on the defensive personnel. Anthony Hill is the blocker of the bunch.
- After facing questions about durability, Schaub’s played two full seasons. Now the questions are about play in the clutch. He needs to eliminate moments like the one where he threw an overtime pick-six against Baltimore last season.
- I expect the Texans to look closely at receivers when the league cuts down rosters. Dorin Dickerson currently looks to be fourth in line, but I saw him fighting some passes in practices and he’s still relatively new to the position. Jeff Maehl heads the undrafted group but didn’t look great either. Receiver depth is an issue.
- Inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton could be the best non-starter on the roster come opening day. He’s in a tough spot behind DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, though injuries are often in play with Cushing.
- Myers is a key cog in making the Texans’ offensive line work, and he could be taking his place right alongside Jeff Saturday as an indispensable center in the division.
- The team could be an injury away from trouble at end and safety.
- Trindon Holliday’s speed is not enough for him to overcome his size as even a situational receiver. Plus, he seems easily hurt. The return jobs are open if the team wants to avoid using Jacoby Jones as the punt returner and Manning as the kick returner.
- Undrafted rookie Brett Hartmann beating out veteran punter Brad Maynard is a definite possibility.
- Count me among those not convinced that Matt Leinart can’t play. If this team needs a few spots starts, I bet he can do OK. One of the NFL’s quarterback-needy teams was foolish not to add Leinart to the mix. He’s better than a lot of guys with a chance to start some games this season.
- Lawrence Vickers is better equipped to work as the fullback than Casey, and he should get far more frequent opportunities to lead the way for Foster.
So rather than continue to wait on Nnamdi Asomugha, they reached an agreement with Cincinnati free agent Johnathan Joseph on a five-year, $48.75 million contract with $23.5 million guaranteed and a $12.5 million signing bonus.
Joseph becomes the top defensive back for a team that, for a long stretch last season, had a historically bad pass defense. He will start, likely opposite last year’s No. 1 pick, Kareem Jackson, who struggled badly as a rookie. The team also has draft pick Brandon Harris and several guys who contributed to the terrible defense in 2010: Jason Allen, Brice McCain, Sherrick McManis and Antwaun Molden.
Glover Quin, the team’s best corner last season is in line to play free safety. The Texans are now in the market for a veteran strong safety to play with him. McClain said they are one of three finalists for Chicago free agent Danieal Manning who could decide on Friday.
Joseph is a good get, and surely has the endorsement of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Phillips had a strong say in a defense-heavy draft class as he transforms the team to a 3-4 scheme.
Here’s Scouts Inc.’s assessment of Joseph:
“Joseph is a good combination of size, strength and athleticism for a perimeter defender. He is explosive, quick and sharp out of his breaks. Joseph gets off the ground well and has very good overall speed. He reads plays well in zone and can stay on his opponent's hip in man coverage. He is a solid run-support player and a reliable tackler in the open field. Joseph has had some durability concerns throughout his career, but when healthy, he's an excellent cornerback.”
Joseph is a big-ticket acquisition for a team that doesn’t do a lot of big-ticket free agent shopping.
But he won’t be come in regarded as a savior. Maybe that’s part of the silver lining on not getting Asomugha. Had the Texans landed him, a lot of people outside the team, and perhaps some inside it, might have thought him the solution to all their problems.
Joseph is a good player who will be a good piece. But no one will expect him to fix the team on his own, so no one will be tempted to think it’s all taken care of.
1. Kareem Jackson, Texans cornerback: He got muscled by Hakeem Nicks on an early touchdown, a tough play for any corner. But Jackson looked to grow increasingly hesitant, getting blocked out of one big-gain screen and failing to stick with Nicks on a big change of direction on a 27-yarder. Ultimately, the Texans looked to minimize his role, though they lack a solid alternative and a hamstring injury to Sherrick McManis meant he wound up back with a good share of work.
2. Cortland Finnegan, Titans cornerback: He has tremendous talent, but isn’t playing up to his standards right now and admitted as much on his weekly radio show in Nashville. He gave up too many plays in Dallas and may have let the fines and discussion of whether he’s feisty or dirty get in his head some. If he’s not playing close to his best, Tennessee’s defensive backfield isn’t nearly as good as it can be.
3. Texans early special teams: Two of the team’s first three drives started too deep in Houston territory because of penalties against the kickoff return team byDarryl Sharpton and Frank Okam. And before either of those, when Darius Reynaud muffed a Matt Turk punt, the Texans could have had possession in the red zone. Instead they watched Chase Blackburn recover the ball at the 15-yard line. Antwaun Molden and McManis didn’t seem to track the play as long as they should have and Xavier Adibi lost a race to the loose ball.
2. Antoine Bethea, Colts free safety: In many ways, he is the glue of the Colts defense. He’s playing beside a third-string strong safety and along one corner, Kelvin Hayden, who has seemed off his game. I don’t know that the Chiefs were ever going to score a touchdown. But Bethea eliminated one opportunity with a big, fumble-causing hit on Jamaal Charles with 1:07 left in Colts’ territory.
3. Aaron Kampman, Jaguars defensive end: In the win at Buffalo, Kampman had a tone-setting defensive effort with a team-high 10 tackles, four quarterback pressures, two tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. The Jaguars are very happy with what they are getting from their big free agent addition, who’s leading a young group.
Glover Quin’s earned a starting spot, but ideally he’d be a No. 2 guy. Kubiak was asked at the owners meetings who would line up opposite Quin right now.
“I don’t know," he said. "There would be a lot of guys lining up there right now. You’ve got Jacques [Reeves]; you’ve got [Brice] McCain; we still think [Antwaun] Molden has a chance to be a fine player. We’ve been disappointed. He has not stayed on the field. But we do like him a lot. It’s an open book right now. They’ll all battle. We’ll see. To say who’s one, two or three, I don’t think any of us know that.”
Kubiak didn’t mention Fred Bennett there. I don’t know if that was on purpose or just an incomplete list, but he was asked a follow-up about Bennett and whether his fourth year will be a do-or-die season for him.
“I don’t want to say do or die," Kubiak said. "I don’t want to say that. Fred’s been so up and down. He’s been to the brink where he looks like he’s ready to be a starter in this league and he goes the other way. It’s time for some consistency out of Fred. He’s at a point in his career where he’s going to have to play like a starter and be more of a contributor to this football team or it’s going to be tough. I don’t think anybody knows that more than Fred. He can’t be staring at more of an opportunity than he’s ever stared out, so we’ll see how he handles it.”
There is no doubt the Texans bring in a corner in the draft, probably early.
The first thing of note I’ve seen was this from Adam Schefter via Twitter:
"Colts coach Jim Caldwell is thinking about playing some four WR sets with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez."
As if three wides and Dallas Clark isn’t enough of a problem.
I automatically started thinking of secondary depth in the division and how it would stack up against that. Nobody in the league has the kind of corner and secondary depth needed to stand up to that personnel grouping with Peyton Manning at the controls.
The Texans and Titans are definitely in the market for a cornerback, and safety is also in play. The Jaguars likely take a defensive back or two as well in the draft.
Teams could obviously use an additional safety in the sort of dime scenarios this could force. Here’s our take on the depth at defensive back for each of the Colts’ division opponents:
Nickel: Glover Quin, Jacques Reeves, Brice McCain.
Dime candidates: Cornerbacks Fred Bennett, Antwaun Molden; Safeties Dominique Barber, Troy Nolan.
Assessment: Contemplating this secondary against the Colts’ four-wide lineup is scary right now. Throw Clark in as the fifth skill player and I don’t know how Houston holds up. Corner and free safety are big draft needs.
Nickel: Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Tyron Brackenridge.
Dime candidates: Corners William Middleton, Kennard Cox, Michael Coe; whichever safety isn’t already playing out of Reggie Nelson, Anthony Smith, Sean Considine.
Assessment: Top three are pretty solid, but safety really needs to be sorted out and could have a new piece.
Nickel: Cortland Finnegan, Ryan Mouton, Vincent Fuller.
Dime candidates: Corners Rod Hood and Jason McCourty; safety Donnie Nickey.
Assessment: I am giving the nod as the second starting corner to Mouton right now based on hearing the team is high on him. A draft pick needs to compete for that spot. Overall depth is unproven.
Robinson didn’t handle last season’s franchise tag well, he wasn’t worth a second year of franchise money and it was clear they couldn’t find common ground.
But remember, when he suffered a horrible right knee injury in the middle of 2007 and missed to the middle of 2008, the team struggled to fill his spot. It needs to do better filling in for him now.
I know the Texans like Glover Quin, but a one-year sample size isn’t sufficient for me to tab him a solution.
Quin, Jacques Reeves, Brice McCain, Fred Bennett and Antwaun Molden amount to an insufficient pool of cornerbacks considering they’ll need three, probably four, and considering free safety remains an unsettled spot that also needs addressing.
Does that group bring any swagger? Robinson was a tone setter. I’m not sure they’ve got one now, and I consider it an important ingredient that’s now part of the team’s shopping list.
|Bob Levey/Getty Images|
|Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans defense have a new attitude.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- React or act?
Give a group of guys who've spent a lot of time doing the former to do the latter and you'll be greeted with glee.
That's the Houston Texans' defense's feelings for first-year coordinator Frank Bush, promoted by Gary Kubiak to replace Richard Smith.
"I think we had guys thinking too much, we had so many checks and this and that. It was too much, you're thinking so much to where you can't just line up and go tee off on someone. Now we can just line up and get it, there isn't so much too it. It's simplified to where we don't have all the checks."
The primary word being used for the team's new approach is "aggressive," and that's not a term that characterized them too often with Smith at the controls. The mild mannered Bush has the defense excited and determined not to let the Texans be known exclusively as an offensive team.
While Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels will go a long way towards determining if the Texans can build on consecutive 8-8 seasons and make the playoffs, Mario Williams, Ryans and linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick, bring a good dose of star power to the defense.
To graduate to being a playoff team, the Texans have to reverse some trends. They'll need to play better early so they aren't left to fight so hard to get back to .500. They need to fare better within the division, finding ways to finish off their primary rivals when they have the chance.
They expect the Titans and Colts to be strong again. The Texans will likely have to chase one or both of those teams down.
Anything less than double digit wins and a playoff berth won't be considered a success.
1. Can the offense fix turnover and red-zone issues?
The Texans ranked third in total offense last year, but it didn't mean as much as it should have because they were 17th in points per game. The two big themes heading into the 2009 season are cutting turnovers and getting better production once they get inside the 20.
They were minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways last year, third worst in the NFL. They scored touchdowns on just 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions.
"I think if we can make those two adjustments, we can win at least two more games," Shanahan said. "If we can do that I think we will be a playoff team. We were a good offense last year statistically. But that was the first thing I talked about on the first day of OTAs this year, that doesn't mean anything. The top three offenses in the league last year were New Orleans, Denver and us. None of us made the playoffs. Moving the ball does not matter unless you move it across that goal line."
2. Do they have enough in the secondary?
Their top cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has not been with the team because he's upset about getting slapped with a franchise tag, but he will ultimately sign it and play for a guarantee of nearly $10 million.
Jacques Reeves will miss the start of the season with a fractured fibula, which means Fred Bennett will get some time as the second starter. Rookie Glover Quin is currently the nickel and they like his physical play.
But the safeties and the defensive backfield depth are question marks, even if the defensive front gets more of a pa
ss rush and forces the ball out quicker. Can they get steady enough play from Eugene Wilson and second-year man Dominique Barber, the presumptive starters at safety on opening day against the Jets?
|Defensive end Mario Williams|
|Defensive end Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans' 25 sacks last season.|
The Texans had just 25 sacks in 2008, fewest in the division. And Williams accounted for 12 of them. Houston made moves intended to get pressure from elsewhere -- first by signing free agent defensive lineman Antonio Smith, then by drafting Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin with their first two picks. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar is a fiery type who preaches pocket penetration and may just be the team's biggest addition.
An effective rush from the front can help take a lot of pressure off the secondary, which ranks as the team's weak link.
Ideally, Jacoby Jones would be in line to replace Kevin Walter as the No. 2 receiver in a year if the team doesn't or can't re-sign Walter. But Jones lacks maturity and consistency and his job security could be in jeopardy. The team is looking at kickoff return man Andre Davis, a better receiver, as a punt return possibility. If Davis succeeds there, Jones could be expendable.
Jones can be very good, but he can also put the ball on the ground too much as a punt returner. And Kubiak is not a fan of specialists. He wants football players who can fill multiple roles. That describes Davis, who can cover kicks as well as return them in addition to catching passes. It may not cover Jones much longer.
Newcomer to watch
"He's a kid that can move from outside to inside, he's a big man that's a real good athlete," said Bush, who also worked with him in Arizona. "He's a 285-pound guy with good knee bend. He's extremely tough, has no problem playing over a center, guard or tackle. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and he came up through the ranks the hard way, he honed his craft and made himself what he is.
"That whole sense of a guy that came from virtually nothing to what he is right now kind of helps our team. Other guys can see it and aspire to be that way."
Antwaun Molden got hurt in his rookie season when the team wanted to bring him along slowly. He's a physical cornerback who could provide some great insurance or become a real alternative now if he's needed. ... Dan Orlovsky hasn't looked very good, but the team knows it will take him a while to be comfortable in the system and are convinced with coaching he can be a quality No. 2 quarterback for them. Even before a hamstring injury Rex Grossman wasn't going to challenge him for the backup quarterback job. ... Ryan Moats is like Slaton style-wise and Arian Foster is Chris Brown-like. But the undrafted rookie back may have missed his chance with a preseason injury and a too-slow return. Brown's ability to stay healthy will be a big question for the offense. ... While he's a popular fall guy with media and fans, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who's missed camp so far recovering from hernia surgery, generally does what the team asks, taking up blockers. That it's a contract year won't hurt his motivation either. ... Undrafted free agent John Busing hits and plays good special teams, which may give him a shot at a roster spot that has belonged to Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison. ... The team also likes undrafted defensive end Tim Jamison, but will there be room for him? ... Frank Okam is big, quick and smart and he's been a pet project for coaches. When Kubiak complimented his offseason, Okam knew it meant something, "because it's difficult for an Aggie to give a Longhorn a compliment." ... Rookie tight end James Casey can play fullback, line up wide or throw. That's versatility that makes him Houston's Wildcat candidate. ... Want an undrafted possibility on offense? If Jones is out, there could be room for receiver Darnell Jenkins.
Let's zip around the division, shall we?
- Texans owner Bob McNair is optimistic, but losing some patience, writes Megan Manfull. While he said the team will evaluate everyone after the season, his comments included this: "If we have a chance to upgrade our coaches, will we do that? Yes. We'll always do that."
- McNair may know Kubiak isn't the right guy, blogs Richard Justice.
- Antwaun Molden could get some time on defense soon, says Manfull. A young guy getting an opportunity in the second half of a not-so-good season. Hmmm, I wonder what that means.
- The Colts are on pace for the second-best red-zone offense in the last 10 years, says Mike Chappell.
- A rundown of Indy's injuries from Phil Richards.
- Deeper kickoffs have been a boost for the Colts, says Justin A. Cohn.
- Mike Peterson feels like he's being phased out, while Jack Del Rio won't detail the plan for the linebacker, writes Michael C. Wright.
- Uche Nwaneri will spend a lot of time trying to slow Albert Haynesworth, says Vito Stellino.
- Fred Taylor laughed at the concept of a "last stand," but Sunday's game against the Titans may be just that, writes Jim Wyatt.
- Another write up about Peterson, from the AP.
- Better health has helped produce better play in the secondary, according to Wright.
- Albert Haynesworth and Chris Johnson are one of eight tandems Nate Davis considers most influential.
- The Titans playoff-ticket plan is under way, according to Jim Wyatt.
- A look at the Kerry Collins-Mike Heimerdinger relationship, from Terry McCormick.
- Jeff Fisher is underrated and under the radar, according to Tania Ganguli.
- Haynesworth said everyone thought the Titans' schedule was tough when the season started, writes Gary Estwick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
|AP Photo/David J. Phillip|
|Ahman Green (30) runs during a training camp workout Saturday.|
HOUSTON -- I watched the Texans practice in pads this morning with the intention of answering the most popular question I've fielded from Houston fans: How do the running backs and the running game look?
I'll go chronologically through my notes, and hope to offer some tidbits that qualify as answers.
During positional work, D-line coach Jethro Franklin told his charges that Sunday they started well and finished poorly. If they are going to be inconsistent, he pleaded, he wants that pattern reversed and prefers a big finish.
• Alex Gibbs, the assistant head coach who's basically the run game coordinator, and John Benton, the offensive line coach, finished one period working exclusively with guards and centers -- eight guys in all. That's a 1:4 coach-to-player ratio, an impressive number for a practice in July. It has to help the learning curve.
Gibbs isn't as loud as the last time I watched him work, during Atlanta practices in Nashville a few years ago. But the intensity is the same. He offered small reviews on every little thing to multiple guys after each snap, at a breakneck pace.
Rookie Steve Slaton had 10, Ahman Green (the starter) and Chris Taylor had seven and Darius Walker had six. There seemed to be an effort to keep them all involved, a good mix of inside and outside stuff and a decent number of pass-catching chances. While some of Slaton's came at the end of each period with second- or third-teamers, I felt like they all got some chances with the ones on offense.
Two bad moments of note for Walker: On a play-action, check-down in a team period, he seemed very timid as he collected a short pass in the middle of the field. While he may have been expecting a lick, he lost a chance at additional yards as no one arrived immediately. On one bad play in 9-on-7, Walker got folded in half by safety C.C. Brown.
Chester Pitts told me Sunday the Texans are doing a better job of using the whole field in the run game, and I could see that is the case. It looks like everyone involved in the run game is making progress with the new zone-blocking scheme, though obviously the offensive line isn't cut-blocking teammates. I'll have another entry further addressing some of that soon.
• Matt Schaub was 4-for-5 in his first run through in 7-on-7 passing, hitting Owen Daniels on a nice midrange ball but overthrowing Green up the right side when the back had a half-step on linebacker Morlon Greenwood. Sage Rosenfels was 1-for-3 with a drop and a throw-away. Later in a team period, what I thought was Schaub's deepest throw of the day didn't make it to Andre Johnson as rookie cornerback Antwaun Molden stayed with him up the left side and broke it up. Offense was heavy on short stuff passing-wise. Based on it being my second padded practice, I can't tell you if that's a trend or was just the way the morning unfolded.
• I felt like Daniels did the most damage receiving-wise, pulling in a handful of midrange passes. He was a big part of last year's offense. He should be a bigger part of this year's. More to come on him. If you don't like to spend high fantasy picks on Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, get a read on where Daniels is being drafted and take him a round earlier. [Disclaimer you'll see often: I never win my league.]
• Johnson didn't have a lot of balls come his way, but when they did, you can see how smooth he is. He just carries himself, runs and moves like a top-flight receiver.
• Play of the practice: linebacker Chaun Thompson made an excellent leaping grab in front of Daniels inside the 5-yard line near the boundary in red-zone work. A very pretty interception. I didn't write down who threw it, but as it was the fifth play of a period that lasted about 20, I suspect it was Schaub.
When the entire team was gone, DeMeco Ryans and Rosenfels were still around doing interviews. (Thanks to both.) Molden and fellow corner Derrick Roberson were the last two players on the field working, catching balls shot out of a Jugs machine.
I hope that provides some insight. I can't always look for everything you ask about, but when I have the opportunity to watch a session start to finish, I will certainly try to concentrate on the most frequently asked questions or some that are especially unique.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Since I was en route from Terre Haute to Houston Sunday morning, this morning I sifted through what I found from Sunday and Monday.
Did I miss something good? Have a question? Hit my mailbag.
- Meghan Manfull of the Houston Chronicle wondered if Mario Williams is becoming the league's best defensive end. He's using his hands better and showing better instinct, two signals that tackles and their help are going to struggle to keep their quarterbacks on their feet. I got only a glimpse of Williams Sunday, and am looking forward to seeing him work up close this morning across the street from Reliant Stadium. (You'd think a building that big would cast the sort of shadow that would make sunscreen unnecessary, but it doesn't).
- John McClain of the Chronicle assesses things in Houston after the first five practices, predicting rookie cornerback Antwaun Molden will end up a starter this season. I watched Molden and chatted with him on Sunday, sharing some impressions here.
- Anna-Megan Raley of Chron.com gives us a video report on a mini-kicking contest. With advice from Texans kicker Kris Brown, Houston Dynamo defender Craig Weibel hit from as long as 63 yards, earning free soccer tickets for charity. Weibel offers pretty good commentary about how it's easy when you have a big leg and an expert tinkering with your form.
- Steve Campbell of the Chronicle tells us Xavier Adibi couldn't believe he lasted until the fourth-round. He should be a key special teamer because of his experience at Virginia Tech. He's also a bookworm who plays chess.
- Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star has been tracking Raheem Brock, and the versatile defensive lineman is on the move again -- to left end in the base defense, with a shift inside as part of the nickel package. The move should help Brock hold up better over the course of the season, but injuries could always dictate more time at tackle. Freddy Keiaho blamed a too-big hit on Mike Hart Saturday on his frustrations related to California traffic. (Look out for him on the 405).
- Chappell also writes that while at 285 Jared Lorenzen is bigger than two-thirds of the Indy's defensive linemen, he's very much a quarterback.
- Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.com, who's super at identifying and debunking NFL myths, visited the Colts while I was also in Terre Haute, Ind. Here are his five things to know about Indy.
- Michael Marot of the Associated Press looks at Mike Pollak's move from center to guard.
- Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union thought if the 57th pick in the 2006 draft, Devin Hester, asked for and got a new contract, maybe the 60th pick, Maurice Jones-Drew, would want one, too. But MJD said "I'm fine" and will wait for his turn.
- Stellino also looks at a camp highlight that will unfold this evening, the Oklahoma Drill -- a hard-hitting one-on-one between an offensive and defensive lineman. I wish I could see it for myself. Next year I will schedule for the crowd-pleaser. With Jerry Porter (hamstring) and Reggie Williams (knee) already out and Mike Walker (knee) limited to one practice a day, the Jags were already quite thin at receiver. Now Dennis Northcutt is day-to-day with a strained back. They could look at Terry Glenn but another injury question mark probably won't solve their issues.
- Florida-Times Union practice highlights here give us a name to track. Running back Anthony Cotrone was undrafted out of Maine.
- Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean says Jevon Kearse thinks these Titans have a Super Bowl feeling like it's 1999, that David Thornton also participated in his first practice Sunday, that Stephen Tulloch's impressed Albert Haynesworth and that Ryan Fowler says he's got no news on the league's steroid accusation.
- Joe Biddle of The Tennessean ponders Good Albert vs. Bad Albert after Haynesworth got to camp.
- Christopher Smith of Titansonline.com says Jeff Fisher thinks Justin Gage and Justin McCareins are doing well to set a standard for the rest of the Titans receivers, who are constantly hearing from the outside about how the Titans failed Vince Young by not replacing them.
- Gary Eswick of The Tennessean talked to LenDale White about topping last year, something that will take him staying healthy. The running back scored a lot of points with the Titans for showing toughness and playing through a knee injury and they'll need him to do it again because they don't have another guy who can handle the bulk of the work. We get his listed weight, 235, but not an update on what his real number is right now, always a point of interest.