NFL Nation: Atiyyah Ellison

The Jaguars' roster purge under second-year general manager Gene Smith will continue Monday with the release of eight-year defensive tackle John Henderson, reports Adam Schefter.

Henderson was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2002 and went to the Pro Bowl twice. Paired with Marcus Stroud in the middle of the defensive line, he helped give the team a strong-up-the middle, physical identity.

But he has worn down and not been nearly up to his earlier standard in the last two seasons, and was called out by coach Jack Del Rio for sitting out minicamp sessions last year with a shoulder injury.

The Jaguars used their top two picks in the draft for interior defensive lineman -- Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith -- and are set to move on with those two, Terrance Knighton and Atiyyah Ellison as their defensive tackles.

Jacksonville tried to move Henderson during the draft, but clearly had no takers -- more evidence of how little value veteran players had during the three-day draft.

Schefter also reports that the Jaguars have withdrawn their RFA tender offer to linebacker Clint Ingram, who becomes unrestricted. A trade for Kirk Morrison Saturday gives the Jaguars an upgrade, and they will now play with Morrison in the middle, flanked by Daryl Smith and Justin Durant.

That makes for three first- and second-round picks the Jaguars have dumped in recent days. Along with Henderson and Durant, they traded Quentin Groves to Oakland for a fifth-round pick.

The team now has just six of 15 first- and second-round draft picks from its seven drafts from 2000 through 2006 on the roster:

A few updates on developments in the division as the clock ticks toward the start of the new league year:

The Colts have reportedly declined to offer restricted free-agent tenders to Marlin Jackson, Tim Jennings and Aaron Francisco. Jackson is the surprise. He tore up a knee for the second time in two years this season. But in time -- if his rehab goes well -- I’m certain someone will jump at him and could get a good player with a cheap incentive-laden contract.

No word yet on tenders for nine other Colts who are slated to become restricted free agents.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, signed defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison to a contract, preventing him from becoming a restricted free agent. They also signed reserve guard Kynan Forney, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent. No word on tender offers for Clint Ingram, the linebacker, or defensive lineman Greg Peterson, the teams’ only other restricted free agents to-be.

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:12
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Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.

RFA tender update

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:08
AM ET
Restricted free-agent tenders have to be done before midnight ET. Here's what's out so far:

Houston

From John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis

Bethea info from Adam Schefter.

Jacksonville

Tennessee

From Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

 
  AP Photo/Phil Coale
  Atiyyah Ellison (99) hopes he's found a home with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

In Atiyyah Ellison's media guide entry, his year-by-year bio has just a two-word edge on this lengthy transaction history:

TRANSACTIONS: Originally a third round (89th pick overall) draft choice by Carolina in 2005 NFL Draft ... Waived by Carolina on 9/3/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the practice squad on 9/5/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on 9/14/05 ... Waived by Carolina on 9/24/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the practice squad on 9/27/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on 10/31/05 ... Waived by Carolina on 9/2/06 ... Signed by Houston on 9/3/06 ... Waived by Houston on 9/7/06 ... Signed by Baltimore to the practice squad on 9/12/06 ... Signed by Baltimore to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on 12/4/06 ... Waived by Baltimore on 9/1/07 ... Signed by Baltimore to the practice squad on 9/2/07 ... Signed by San Francisco off the Baltimore practice squad on 9/5/07 ... Waived by San Francisco 8/30/08 ... Signed to San Francisco practice squad 8/31/08 ... Signed by Jacksonville off San Francisco practice squad on 12/10/08.

He shakes his head and grins when he talks about the 18 moves -- "I've been everywhere," he said -- but remains surprisingly upbeat and optimistic that No. 18 will be the big winner, that he's finally found a home with the Jaguars.

"Being a third-round pick and then getting cut and put on the practice squad, people see that and think, 'Something's got to be wrong with him' or 'Something is up with him' or 'He was drafted too high,' I honestly couldn't tell you one specific thing," Ellison said.

"Every place I've been, nobody's flat out told me, 'You're not good enough for this' or 'You're not good enough for that.' It's just I've got to put everything together and just make a run for it."

 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  Tony Brown's skill set brought him to Tennessee.

Ellison is hardly alone. The league features plenty of defensive tackles who've bounced around, tantalizing teams with combinations of height and weight, speed and strength, then not fitting the style of play those clubs seek.

And so they wander, as Ellison and two former teammates in Carolina, Tony Brown and Jovan Haye, have done.

"Really it happens in all positions, but D tackle is kind of a fickle position as far as what exactly you are asking them to do," Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said. "The body might look the same, but the mind and the feet react differently.

"The biggest thing is that some guys are built to go down the line and take up space and some guys are built to go upfield, be more aggressive and rush. That's two completely and totally different skills sets you are talking about."

ESPN.com's NFC West maven Mike Sando keeps track of starting lineups, and on his list of projected starting defensive tackles he found 21 drafted by one team but playing for another.

They cover a wide range. Baltimore's Kelly Gregg was a sixth-rounder in Cincinnati in 1999, but wasn't an impact guy there or in Philadelphia. Now he's a mainstay in Baltimore. Aubrayo Franklin started only one game in four seasons with the Ravens after they drafted him in the fifth round in 2003, but he is a two-year starter with the 49ers and finished last season on the upswing.

Brown wasn't drafted, but went from Carolina to Miami to San Francisco to a year out of the league to Carolina again to Tennessee.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars think John Henderson can return to the form he showed in back in 2006. Whether he can or can't, defensive tackle may be the Jaguars biggest question mark.

I'm sure they hate when we harp on ancient history. But when the Jaguars had Henderson and Marcus Stroud side by side, teams knew they were in for a physical battle. The duo provided the identity not just of the defense, but of the team.

 
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  The Jaguars are looking to tackle John Henderson to anchor the defensive line.

Can they get it back?

If they do it'll be because Henderson rebounds and a collection of lesser known players combine to be productive around him. Last year Rob Meier was the second starter, but the team has since concluded less is more with him in terms of snaps.

I talked with defensive line coach Ted Monachino and asked him to share an assessment of the interior guys beyond Henderson:

Derek Landri: "His dominant traits are his effort and his quickness. When you tie those things together, he can change plays to help your defense win games. Some of the things that he needs to continue to work on and improve on are just lining up across from a guy and whopping him physically in the run game. But we did enough with Derek that he can still be an effective run player. I think his chances are excellent to be a big player in what we do."

Meier: "What we'd like to do with Rob is get him enough snaps so that he can be effective for every one of them. Rob has a tendency to go in there and spend himself in a hurry. If we try to get 50 snaps out of a guy who plays best when he only plays 30, then that's our fault. We don't ever have to worry about Rob not playing the best he can play when he puts his hand down. Does he have some liabilities? Sure he does. There are things he can get better at. He's similar to Derek. He's got a bigger body and a bigger frame than Derek does, but he's still more of an edgy, penetrating, disrupting defensive tackle. We think he's got plenty of gas left in the tank to contribute. I think the number is 25 to 30 plays."

Atiyyah Ellison: "He's got to be in the right system to perform well. Being in an attacking front that involves some movement and allows for some flexibility in his charges, I think, makes a difference with him. If he had to line up head up and two-gap somebody, which is what they were doing with him in San Francisco, he did a great job at giving great effort to do that, but I think he's more suited to do what we do here. He has been a very pleasant surprise. We didn't have low expectations, but for him to come in and put in the body of work he's put in, that's a very pleasant surprise. Very strong and explosive, a real thick body, but has some legitimate quickness and athletic ability as a pass rusher." [More on Ellison sometime soon.]

Terrance Knighton: "He's a young guy that needs to do some things physically to get himself into position where he can play as hard as he can for as long as possible. We need to get him into a manageable area when it comes to body weight. [He's listed at 325.] I'm talking about what is the best weight that he plays at? We've got to figure that out, we've got to figure out can he play a 60-snap game at the weight he's at? Right now we're seeing great things out of him as far as being able to physically whip blockers, his ability to get off and make some athletic plays in the run game and he's also got a little bit of sneaky pass rush ability."

Two others in the mix are Jonathan Lewis (a worker) and Montavious Stanley (who knows the scheme from a previous stint.)

Will any of those guys be Stroud in his prime? That would be a big surprise. Is there enough there to piece together effective play? The Jaguars sure believe so.

Said GM Gene Smith: "We may have some unknown guys or some unproven guys in that group, but there are some talented guys and it's a very competitive group right now. So, it's going to be interesting to see the cream rise to the top. There is still an evaluation period that needs to take place. We think we've got strength in numbers. We'd like for a couple guys to emerge, guys that take three and four hands to block."

Keeping track of the developments here may be as significant as any in camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  Bill Baptist/Getty Images
  A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.

Houston Texans

Training camp site: Houston, Texas

Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson

The safety position remains an issue, with Nick Ferguson and Eugene Wilson in line to start now. But the team will allow for the possibility of Dominique Barber to nudge his way into the lineup.

Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.

Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.

Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.

Division Camp Previews
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Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
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Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates
With new coaches overseeing the defensive line and the defensive backs, there is a real chance for new messages and approaches to have a  bearing on players and units.

The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.

Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.

Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.


Indianapolis Colts

Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.

 
  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.
Campfires: Targets for Peyton Manning are crucial, of course, and that's why there is such a large focus on the three-way fight for the No. 3 receiver spot. Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall will draw a lot of attention as that's sorted out. Garcon seemed to be getting a lot of positive reviews in OTAs and min
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.

Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.

The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.

Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.

With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.

Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.

It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.

Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.

The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.


(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  The Titans will look to Jason Jones anchor the defensive line this season.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn is mixing and matching and it will be a while before he knows how his interior guys will line up in the post-Albert Haynesworth era.

However it sorts out, Jason Jones will have a big role.

Everybody knows Haynesworth was the AFC's top defensive tackle with 8.5 sacks. Nobody knows Jones was second among interior linemen in the conference with 5.0 sacks.

Ask Washburn for specifics that Jones -- or any of his linemen --  need to work on, and he says they all need to work on everything.

Jones believes one key to substantial improvement is a focus on better hand placement.

"My hand placement was all off [in 2008]," Jones said. "If my hand placement is all over the place, it won't help me on the block that I am getting. If my hand placement is there, everything will be all right. It's recognizing the blocking and focusing on your aiming points. Coach Wash gives us aiming points on the offensive line body that I have got to concentrate on."

With prompting, Jones put his hands on me, showing me a bit about angles and leverage -- one hand centered on my chest, the other pushing on my shoulder.

"I'm blowing you into the backfield," he said. "If your hands are in the right place, it helps you a whole lot."

Jones said Tony Brown is the guy he tried to follow with regard to hand placement, and that guard Jake Scott is difficult to get hands on correctly.

"He's tricky, he blocks a certain way you've really got to get used to," Jones said. "Certain things you do that work against a regular person won't work on him. He's one of the guards that's kind of challenging. Going against him every day is helping me a lot."

I look for Jones to be one of several interior defensive linemen in the AFC South to emerge or re-emerge this season.

Among the other candidates:

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