NFL Nation: Courtney Greene

Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.
Fullback Michael Robinson's recent declaration regarding Seattle Seahawks teammate Bobby Wagner made waves around here last week.

"I call him a baby Patrick Willis because I hadn't seen a linebacker move like that since Pat," said Robinson, who played with Willis, a perennial Pro Bowl selection, on the San Francisco 49ers.

Wagner, a rookie second-round draft choice, did not stand out to me during the Seahawks' exhibition opener Saturday night, but perhaps a certain fullback inflated my expectations beyond reason.

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle gave high marks for Wagner's performance. Wyman played the position in the NFL for nine seasons. He certainly knows what to look for in one. Wyman: "I'm always impressed when I see a rookie have poise and look like he's in control. It's almost like he's back in college. I don't know what's going through his mind, so maybe there were some things out there that kind of threw him off, but it certainly didn't look like it. Bobby Wagner looked like he fit right in with that defense. Really fast, he had a really nice tackle, took on some blocks really well, made some little mistakes that you see rookies do, but other than that, I thought he showed really well." Noted: This assessment should be very encouraging for Seahawks fans.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune runs through the Seahawks' roster by position. He has a hard time envisioning Tarvaris Jackson figuring into the team's plans.

Clare Farnsworth of recaps the exhibition opener, raising a question: Why not start Russell Wilson against Denver in Seattle's next game?

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' approach to late-round draft choices -- going after players making position changes, in some cases -- has paid off under the team's current leadership, as the selection of J.R. Sweezy this year indicates. Noted: Former Seahawks president Tim Ruskell fared pretty well in seventh rounds especially. Doug Nienhuis, Ben Obomanu, Ryan Plackemeier, Steve Vallos, Justin Forsett, Courtney Greene and Cameron Morrah were among Seattle's seventh-rounders from 2005 through 2009. All played in the NFL. Obomanu, Vallos, Forsett, Greene and Morrah remain active.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals tight end Jeff King never missed a practice -- not even in junior high -- until sitting out with a quadriceps injury this offseason.

Darren Urban of saw a more spirited practice Monday as coach Ken Whisenhunt ramped up the intensity following two disappointing exhibition games. Also, the team is giving D'Anthony Batiste a shot at right tackle.

Also from Urban: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton thinks his players might be suffering from overconfidence.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jeff Fisher found some positives in the team's 35-3 defeat to open the exhibition season. Also: "On the 63-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Donald Brown, television replays showed a Colts blocker clearly grabbing the jersey of Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis to keep him from tackling Brown near the line of scrimmage. It also showed Michael Brockers being held by another blocker a few yards down the line of scrimmage. After the game Sunday, Fisher pointed out the missed calls but didn't dwell on them. On Monday, he made it clear he wasn't piling on the replacement officials."

Nick Wagoner of lists Fisher's disappointments from the first game, and also this: "Fisher said his team was extremely vanilla while the Colts did quite a bit of scheming. That doesn’t mean there’s a right or wrong way to do but just different philosophies. Fisher said the Rams will steadily add more and more to the pregame schemes in each game though the final preseason contest will likely be fairly plain as well."

Matt Maiocco of saw good things from Mario Manningham in the 49ers' practice Monday.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on the team's defensive effort against Minnesota in the exhibition opener. Fangio: "I just think we got a little full of ourselves."

Taylor Price of saw good things from quarterback Alex Smith in practice. Price: "Smith displayed excellent downfield accuracy while completing three deep sideline throws in the same midfield team period. First, Smith found a familiar target, locating tight end Vernon Davis 30 yards down the field on a deep wheel route against the coverage of linebacker Michael Wilhoite. On the very next play, Smith attacked the left sideline again, this time on a 30-yard deep throw to veteran wideout Randy Moss. Smith completed his third deep sideline pass of the period to running back Kendall Hunter."

Tucker and Jaguars alter staff, roster

November, 30, 2011
Two things buzzed around the Jaguars' offense as things fell apart this season, producing a 3-8 record that got Jack Del Rio fired.

The wide receivers were insufficiently coached by the inexperienced Johnny Cox.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Mel Tucker
AP Photo/Rick WilsonJaguars' interim coach Mel Tucker made several moves on Wednesday.
Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert wasn’t getting as much quality, hands on coaching from quarterback coach Mike Sheppard as he needed.

Mel Tucker’s staff move Wednesday suggests both sentiments were correct. The Jaguars’ interim coach let Cox go, and shifted Sheppard to receivers. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will take control of the quarterbacks.

Del Rio didn’t really have a lot of options in terms of staff. His assistants only had one year remaining on their contracts. Anyone he added would have had the same, and the best assistant coaches find more security than that.

Quarterbacks coach Mike Shula jumped to Carolina in the offseason, and Del Rio shifted one of his best teaching assistants, Todd Monken, from receivers to quarterbacks. Then Monken bolted for an assistant job at Oklahoma State, and Del Rio had to shuffle again.

Now, Tucker clearly sees the potential for addition by subtraction.

The team also made roster moves at receiver. Jason Hill, who’s been in the No. 2 role all season, was released. That makes room for more playing time for Jarett Dillard, rookie Cecil Shorts and Chastin West.

The Jaguars also signed running back DuJuan Harris from their practice squad, signed cornerback Morgan Trent and put safety Courtney Greene on IR.

Perhaps Harris will have a chance to earn touches in front of the struggling backup to Maurice Jones-Drew, Deji Karim.

Greene is the 18th Jaguars to go on the list, a league high.

AFC South Stock Watch

September, 20, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Luke McCown, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback: Pick the synonym for awful and it fits his game against the Jets: dreadful, horrendous, ugly. Four interceptions got him pulled in favor of rookie Blaine Gabbert, and now the Jaguars’ quarterback situation is up in the air. Whichever quarterback is in the huddle will be hoping for the return of tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) and receiver Jason Hill (hip), who was unwise to question the hype surrounding Darrelle Revis in a week when he didn’t even play.

2. The Colts’ red zone offense: With Peyton Manning at the helm, this is an area where Indianapolis typically excels. Last season the Colts scored touchdowns on 67.9 percent of their possessions that crossed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. But as part of Sunday’s field-goal festival in the loss to Cleveland, the Colts moved four yards in six snaps in the red zone before kicking. Their lone red-zone touchdown came when the game had already been decided. Indianapolis’ defense isn’t good enough to make field goals stand up.

3. Pick a guy, Jacksonville Jaguars: The receivers are certainly candidates, as they did little against the Jets on McCown’s bad day. (And Hill embarrassed himself without even playing.) If safety Courtney Greene can be nudged out of the lineup for Chris Prosinski or Dwight Lowery, Greene may have made a case for the move with a poor game. And defensive end Aaron Kampman, who suffered a setback in his return from an ACL reconstruction, missed his second game and won’t play Sunday. The defense misses his leadership for sure.


[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Jim Brown/US PresswireMatt Hasselbeck successfully orchestrated a win against a tough Baltimore defense.
1. Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans cornerback: Finnegan was excellent in the Titans' win over Baltimore with four tackles and three passes defended. He was consistently involved for Tennessee in a rebound effort that can’t be underestimated. And with the praise Mike Munchak has offered Finnegan, it sounds like his play so far is the culmination of his leadership during the lockout and a solid camp that featured a short, failed walkout in a contract dispute.

2. Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans receiver/ punt returner: He had an excellent catch on the sideline, tapping his feet to be in bounds, and three catches for 48 yards. His performance is a good contribution in an offense featuring Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. He also chipped in with an early 40-yard punt return that helped set the tone. On a day the team was without Kevin Walter, Jones did his part to make sure the team wasn’t lacking. Is he becoming more consistent?

3. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans quarterback: He keyed a solid offensive day against a Baltimore defense that teams struggle against. A week after he ended a disappointing loss in Jacksonville with a bad interception, he was very accurate. Though Chris Johnson couldn’t get going, the other elements Hasselbeck counted on when he signed in Tennessee came through. He wasn’t sacked and his pass catchers like Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Jared Cook made plays for him.

Reed: Landry was key piece for Ravens

September, 14, 2011
Dawan Landry was effective for the Jaguars in his debut Sunday.

His old partner at safety, Ed Reed, had nothing but praise for him on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeDawan Landry
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDawan Landry had a solid debut with the Jaguars, recording eight tackles.
Landry left Baltimore after five seasons for free-agency riches from the safety-needy Jags: five years, $27.5 million including $10.5 million guaranteed.

Reed said he still talks to Landry once in a while and checked in with him after Sunday’s game to see how he came out of it physically.

“I know he’s going to be a great player because Dawan is a professional,” Reed said in a conference call with Nashville reporters. “He studies tape, he knows how to read offensive formations and stuff like that. So he’s going to put himself in the right place in the scheme to make sure he’s able to make a play.”

Reed said he expects Landry to get some notoriety as a member of the Jaguars.

“He definitely deserves it,” Reed said. “He helped hold this secondary together just as well as I did. Dawan was a very important piece of our defense. It’s just the nature of our business that you’ve got to make decisions for your family. He understood that, he made the best decision for his family and for himself and he’s in a good place in Jacksonville.”

The Ravens now have Tom Zbikowski starting opposite Reed.

Meanwhile, Landry is Jacksonville's anchor at safety. He's been working with Courtney Greene, but late-addition Dwight Lowery is also in the mix and the team put three safeties on the field at times in the win over Tennessee.

Three things: Falcons-Jaguars

August, 19, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Jaguars against Atlanta at EverBank Field, where kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.

1. QB competition: David Garrard is set for his first preseason action, and it’s become clear that he is in a competition for the starting job with rookie Blaine Gabbert. The Falcons have an established cornerback in Dunta Robinson, but he will be out with a knee injury. Atlanta will deploy the very good up-and-comer Brent Grimes and, probably, Chris Owens. Can Garrard make some plays to Mike Thomas and Jason Hill against them? What the veteran quarterback does here won’t make or break him, but a solid performance could go a long way toward quieting demands for Gabbert.

2. What’s the pass defense look like? Aaron Kampman won’t play, but can they get a rush on Matt Ryan without him? And can the secondary, particularly corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, hold up against receivers including Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones? We’ve been wondering about Courtney Greene and Dawan Landry both being more strong safeties than free safeties. It would be good if they were challenged in coverage so we could see their skills in space.

3. Offensive line depth. It is a question mark. Right tackle Eben Britton is out. Will we see Guy Whimper or Daniel Baldridge in his place? Whoever is there may be spared going against Ray Edwards (knee) as he will be a game-time decision. Can Britton’s fill-in show himself a capable backup, or will Jacksonville come away with concerns and take a look at some veteran free agent help?

First look: Jaguars' depth chart

August, 7, 2011
Initial depth charts are like all of them -- unofficial and not always accurate.

Still, they are teams putting players and slots on the record.

The Jaguars' release for their preseason debut is out, and a depth chart is a required part of it.

No major surprises, but here’s stuff of note:
The Jaguars needed at least three new starters on defense.

They’ve already added that many. Tania Ganguli reports they are finalizing a deal for former Baltimore safety Dawan Landry, adding him to a free-agent class that already included linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session.

Landry tied for fifth on Scouts Inc.’s list of the top available safeties, just ahead of Melvin Bullitt who is re-signing with the Colts. Here is their scouting report:
“The 2010 season was Dawan Landry's most productive since entering the league 2006. Landry has good size, strength and athleticism for the safety position. He is a quick reactor to fill the alley in run support as well as leveraging receivers in both man and zone coverages. He closes well and shows good range in pursuit. He uses his hands well to shed blockers to stay active to the pile. Landry is a solid wrap tackler who is reliable in the open field. He anticipates well to jump patterns when reading route progressions. Landry is a good player who has developed into one of the best overall defenders on the Ravens' roster.”

How much he benefited from being on one of the top defenses in the league remains for us to figure out. He won't have Ed Reed beside him.

If the Jaguars start a secondary of Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox at corner and Landry and Courtney Greene at safety, they could be OK if the front with the revamped linebackers and a healthy Aaron Kampman can pressure quarterbacks.

I’d still like to see an upgrade over Greene. But Gene Smith indicated at the combine that the team would add one safety in the draft and one in free agency, and the team selected Wyoming’s Chris Prosinski in the fourth round.

Ganguli also reports it looks like the Jaguars won’t reach a deal with Chris Carr. The Baltimore corner is looking for a starting job, but the Jaguars covet him as a nickel.
I’m obsessed with the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars issues at safety. It’s a serious, serious architectural flaw to reside in Peyton Manning’s division and not do better work to ensure you can cover the deep middle and help your corners.

It’s a terrible year to need safety help from the draft. But I like what Houston and Jacksonville have tried here. They each drafted a guy with a narrow skills set who can, hopefully, take care of one job well though he may be lacking on the other end of the safety spectrum. It strays, certainly, from the desire a lot of teams have to play two safeties who are interchangeable.

Mel Kiper says Jaguars fourth-rounder Christopher Prosinski from Wyoming has good speed and range and can play smart football in deep patrol. Great, give him a chance to earn a job playing centerfield and find a sure-tackler who can come forward in run support to be the strong safety. (One better than Courtney Greene, if possible.)

A guy, perhaps, like Houston’s fifth-round safety, Shiloh Keo from Idaho.

Keo didn’t run well at the combine, but Kiper says he’s a big-hitter who flies around. PFW says he’s actually best as an extra linebacker. He’s drawn comparisons to outgoing Houston strong safety Bernard Pollard and Baltimore’s boxing safety, Tom Zbikowski.

Prosinski and Keo will both be special team contributors.

Will they take away room for Manning to throw or room for Chris Johnson to run? That’s a leap to project within an hour of learning who they are.

But it seems like each teams see qualities in its guy that might be able to make their defenses a little bit better.

I’d still root for a return to four-year free agency at the conclusion of the lockout and keep the phone numbers for Eric Weddle, Melvin Bullitt and Michael Huff's agents handy.
Troy Nolan, Courtney GreeneAP PhotosHouston's Troy Nolan, left, recorded three interceptions in 2010, while Courtney Greene picked off one pass and forced a fumble for Jacksonville.
If Peyton Manning dropped back and looked downfield against the secondaries of the Texans or Jaguars right now, he’d find a safety pool that averages 2.25 years of experience and has an average draft spot of No. 205.

Collectively, Troy Nolan and Dominique Barber of Houston and Don Carey and Courtney Greene of Jacksonville have five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 31 career starts.

They are nice guys with some promise, but it’s hard to tab any one of the four as a star in the making.

As Houston and Jacksonville head toward a draft where the safeties are not highly regarded, it screams the question:

How can teams trying to catch Manning’s Colts playing in an increasingly quarterback-driven league be so poorly stocked as such a critical position?

It’s hard to figure.

At least the Jaguars have taken a big swing, missing badly on No. 21 overall pick Reggie Nelson in 2007, a feeble tackler who tended to take terrible angles. He was traded to Cincinnati before the 2010 season. Jacksonville was also the first team to have Bob Sanders in for a visit after he was cut by the Colts in February, but he ultimately lined up to go to San Diego.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio talked of his desire to add “that guy,” whether he came in the form of Sanders or not.

The Jaguars’ last homegrown safety of influence before Nelson was Gerald Sensabaugh, a fifth-rounder in 2005 whom the team let walk to Dallas as a free agent after the 2008 season and who’s scheduled to be a free agent again.

The team simply asked too much of young guys last season. Carey moved to safety from corner. He had never made calls before, but he was usually responsible for adjusting one half of the pass defense once it lined up, a tall task in games against the likes of Manning and Matt Schaub.

“Even when you crack down on your film study, when you get to a game it’s still very frustrating because they kind of know what you’re going to do in certain situations,” Carey said. “You try hard to hide your coverages; it’s a real chess match.”

Carey said he can’t worry about who’s brought in, he just needs to work to get better. General manager Gene Smith still sees Carey as an “ascending” player. Del Rio said Carey needs “technique clean-up.”

“Will he ascend to the starter we need him to be?” Del Rio asked. “I don’t know that. I think the jury’s still out.”

For a team that wants to build through the draft, Houston has devoted virtually no resources to the safety position. Of the 76 draft selections the Texans have made since they got off the ground in 2002, they've spent eight on safeties, but only one as high as the fourth round.

They relied on veteran castoffs the past few years but released the ineffective Eugene Wilson and made it known the one-dimensional Bernard Pollard will not be re-signed.

One personnel man told me recently that the state of the positions in the league is average, that this draft is thin at the spot, that the options are better at free than strong and that teams may look more than ever to try to convert corners.

Rob Rang of thinks these five corners could wind up being NFL safeties: Aaron Williams of Texas (second round), Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson (third), Jalil Brown of Colorado (third or fourth), Chris Culliver of South Carolina (fourth) and Chris Rucker of Michigan State (fourth or fifth).

Many teams are increasingly blurring the lines between the roles and ideally like to have two players who can both run and cover and step up to play the run.

Teams like the Texans and Jaguars would surely be pleased, however, to have one player with a talent on each end of the safety spectrum who could serve as an upgrade and help reduce the stress on the cornerbacks.

Houston may move Glover Quin to free safety, but then it will be playing its best cornerback out of position.

How much could better play from the safeties help a group of young corners that really struggled in 2010?

“I think it’s significant,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “I mean you’re looking at a former safety. So I value the position significantly.”

Both Texans coach Gary Kubiak and the Jaguars’ Smith have said they hope to add a veteran at the position as well as examining the draft options.

“You’d always like to have a veteran at the safety position,” Gene Smith said. “Playing safety is like playing quarterback, and you’d always prefer to have a veteran at quarterback. You don’t always have the luxury of being in that position, but that would be a good area to get a veteran player.”

A guy like San Diego free safety Eric Weddle, who could buy a real secondary ownership stake by signing with Houston or Jacksonville, should be an attractive option if he reaches the market. And he or Indianapolis’ Melvin Bullitt could help one of the incumbent kids or a rookie grow into a role quicker. Signing him could also help weaken the division’s top team.

Their values, when free agency arrives, should be high no matter who’s been drafted.

Even if the Colts re-sign Bullitt, they probably will be looking for safety depth. And while Tennessee maintains faith in free safety Michael Griffin, it should be looking for a player to challenge slipping veteran Chris Hope.

That’s just four teams in need of six players at the position in a draft where ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks Rahim Moore of UCLA may be the only guy in the draft capable of stepping in as an opening-day NFL starter.

“He’s a really good player, great angles, ball skills,” McShay said. “The thing that keeps him from being elite is he’s not fluid in man-to-man coverage. But he has good range and is very instinctive.

“After that there is a big drop-off. Jaiquawn Garrett from Temple is a good player, but not elite. Ahmad Black from Florida is a great athlete, quick, and hits hard for a small guy, but he’s really small. DeAndre McDaniel from Clemson is so overrated.”

Those are hardly two paragraphs that will get Texans and Jaguars fans excited.

They may have an entirely different effect on Manning and the quarterbacks slated to throw against those teams if and when we get kickoffs this fall.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Needs.

Houston Texans

Where to start? The defense needs a major personnel infusion, starting at safety, where this draft is weak. Eugene Wilson (cut) and Bernard Pollard (not tendered in case he would be restricted) are not going to be back. They need candidates for both starting spots.

Outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 is a void, where rehabbing 4-3 end Connor Barwin is slated to be one guy and there is a blank on the other.

The team has talked confidently about Shaun Cody, who got a two-year contract, and second-year man Earl Mitchell being capable of playing the nose for Phillips. They can certainly upgrade.

The best answer for a group of too-young cornerbacks would be a veteran, not a rookie, but who knows how the next guy arrives? And a No. 2 wide receiver better than Kevin Walter who can do what they’d hoped Jacoby Jones would do would be nice.

Indianapolis Colts

We’ve been hearing about the need to get a tough yard in a crucial situation with the run game for some time and haven’t seen the personnel changes necessary. Then Bill Polian said during the season that yes, offensive tackle Rodger Saffold (drafted by the Rams in the second round) could have helped the Colts. The team needs offensive linemen, plural. At least one high-quality guy who can contribute from opening day would be big.

When they're healthy, Indianapolis has a great four-pack of receivers in Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez. But health questions on Collie and Gonzalez will linger; none of those guys looks to be an heir to Wayne’s role, and the Peyton Manning-era Colts have spent premium picks on skill guys.

The corner depth proved pretty good, but even if they are ultimately able to re-sign Melvin Bullitt, the Colts need some depth at safety.

Jacksonville Jaguars

While Courtney Greene may be a serviceable NFL safety, Don Carey probably is not. Odds are the Jaguars draft one and sign one at a position that was a big weakness in 2010.

Linebacker is also a spot of need. Daryl Smith is locked in, but the team probably will allow Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant to walk as free agents, meaning they need a starter on the middle and the outside.

Defensive end wouldn’t seem a need considering the team drafted Larry Hart and Austen Lane last season after adding veteran Aaron Kampman. But the pass rush is not where they want it, and a rush end could well be a position they address.

Inconsistent quarterback David Garrard needs to see the team have a legitimate alternative, and he should come from this draft. And those two quarterbacks plus Luke McCown need a No. 1-caliber receiver to head a group that won’t bring Mike Sims-Walker back.

Tennessee Titans

It starts under center, where the Titans do not have a No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback. They intend to add one veteran and one rookie and could easily spend their first or second pick on a signal-caller.

The team needs to get bigger and more durable on the defensive line. A beefy tackle and a rugged defensive end are on the wish list, and both could help make things easier for the rest of the defense. The interior didn’t collapse the pocket a lot, and the smallish ends wore down. Three of them are heading for free agency -- Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford.

Stephen Tulloch is heading for free agency, and the Titans didn’t get enough plays out of the linebackers last year, so they could upgrade.

Chris Hope’s replacement at strong safety doesn’t appear to be on the roster. While it’s a thin draft at the spot, the Titans need to find a candidate.

Leading Questions: AFC South

February, 22, 2011
With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each AFC South team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:


How do they fix the secondary?

New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is charged with repairing and revitalizing a defense that was 30th overall and dead last against the pass. His 3-4 front will alter a lot of things and the Texans will need to add some personnel to fill it out. Better work up front will ease some of the pressure on the defensive backs, but they will need more than that.

We don’t know when -- or even if -- there will be free agency. But the Texans need to make a big splash with a veteran outsider. Nnamdi Asomugha or Champ Bailey could knock every one down a peg at corner, shut down a side of the field or a primary receiver and help transform things. A veteran free safety like Eric Weddle could provide a big boost as well.

If the Texans think the pass defense can be fixed by coaching and will improve dramatically with a scheme and maturing kids, they’re overestimating what they’ve got, again.


Are they going to take action to address the offensive line?

We’ve heard for years about how the Colts would get better at converting that tough third-and-1 in the run game. We saw Bill Polian drop Ryan Lilja after pointing to the offensive line as a reason for the loss in Super Bowl XLIV. We heard Polian admit Rodger Saffold could have been a solution for the Colts at left tackle.

Now, as Peyton Manning heads into the final stretch of his prime, the Colts need to move from talk to action with regard to the offensive line. After last year’s comments, Polian added middling free agents Andy Alleman and Adam Terry and drafted Jacques McClendon in the fourth round. Only McClendon stuck and he did nothing.

Getting Manning more time for things to develop downfield and creating more of a push for ball carriers means investing at least one premium draft pick and landing at least one quality veteran via free agency or trade when those windows open. The Colts don’t have to find Hall of Fame linemen. But there is a lot of room between some of the guys they’ve been relying on and that level of talent.

They’re overdue to follow through with a real revamping.


How do they fix the secondary?

With four games a season against Manning and Matt Schaub, the Jaguars are woefully unprepared to face them with what they’ve got at safety. Last season, Jacksonville spent its first four draft picks on defensive linemen. This season, they’d be wise to put a similar emphasis on the secondary, and safety in particular.

Ideally they’d have drafted an up-and-comer to go with a veteran brought in from the outside -- someone like Weddle, Dawan Landry, Quintin Mikell or Donte Whitner. They've already had Bob Sanders in for a look. While depth at cornerback is also an issue, I suspect Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and William Middleton will all look a lot better if they are playing with safeties who are superior to Don Carey and Courtney Greene.

They’ve got a big question at quarterback, too. It’s time to draft and develop a signal-caller with more upside who can be more consistent than David Garrard. But they contended last season with Garrard. It's possible they can make a playoff push with him under center -- provided they address the secondary.


Who’s the quarterback?

There couldn’t be a worse time to be uncertain at the position, and the Titans’ depth chart at the spot currently has blanks at starter and backup. Blame it on Bud Adams and his love affair with Vince Young.

New coach Mike Munchak and his offensive coordinator Chris Palmer don’t really know what they will be able to do offensively, because they do not know who they will be asking to do it. General Manager Mike Reinfeldt has said the team will find a veteran and use a draft pick. But if the draft comes before free agency and trades, it will be more difficult to be patient and to take more of a project guy out of college. It’s not a good year to need a quarterback in the draft, and the scouting department will have to show it can find someone in the group who will develop into a franchise guy.

Once they do, they could look to make a big move for Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton, Matt Flynn or any number of veteran options they believe could operate an offense that will remain run-centric keyed around Chris Johnson.

Jaguars regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 16
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireMaurice Jones-Drew had more than 1,300 rushing yards for the second season in a row.
Biggest surprise: Speedy growth by the kids. Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu are not yet approaching the standard the team set for imposing defensive tackles back when John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were at their peak. But their development this season ranks as the Jaguars’ best story and they may be able to give the team that identity again in time. Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, before he was hurt, were better in their second years as the starting offensive tackles as well. Mike Thomas is a reliable play-maker and once Derek Cox got out of the doghouse, he was a good cornerback on a team with safety issues.

Biggest disappointment: The offense gave the ball away too often (21 interceptions, 12 fumbles) and the defense didn’t take it away enough (13 interceptions, five fumbles). The Jaguars simply weren’t high-powered enough to be able to overcome a minus-15 take-away, give-away ratio -- 43 turnovers off the standard set by New England at the top of the lead. The offense needs to protect the ball better, but the lack of plays by the defense may have been even more disappointing. To be effective in the team’s chosen style -- a run-first offense and physical defense -- turnovers need to be more in balance.

Biggest need: Safety times two. Courtney Greene was a pretty sure tackler after he took over at strong safety, but the team’s lack of defensive playmaking traces back to both safety spots first. Converted corner Don Carey was too inconsistent and Sean Considine is too slow -- and even the better in-the-box guy has to be able to run well in today’s league. They traded Reggie Nelson early, cut Gerald Alexander twice and traded Anthony Smith. The team’s miss with the Nelson pick in the 2007 first round really hurt the Jaguars. Now they will have to do more work in the draft and free agency to make up for it.

Team MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew. Despite a knee issue from the summer, he worked his tail off and keyed the stretch where the team re-established its identity as a running force and got into contention for the division crown.

Lame ducks: Jack Del Rio is signed through 2012, but Wayne Weaver made it clear there will be a house-cleaning if the Jaguars are not in the 2011 playoff field. The assistant coaches have only a year remaining and will operate as lame ducks. I’d hope it would motivate some guys as opposed to causing problems for them. If they do good work, they’ll get a new deal if things go well on a broader scale. At least they'll be marketable if things don’t. Players will know, too. If they like the guy who runs their room, they need to produce for themselves and for him.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

December, 22, 2010

1. Jacksonville’s execution at a critical time: Down four points in the third quarter, you can’t go for it on fourth-and-1 in your own end and not convert. I didn’t like Jack Del Rio’s call. But fact is, if David Garrard snuck it, there was room, and if Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t fumble the pitch he had room to convert it too.

2. The Texans’ perspective: Explain it away all they like, but the Brian Cushing-Antonio Smith on field scuffle looked horrible. It almost matched Bob McNair’s weak praise of his team last week for the comeback against the Ravens. Never mind they lost in overtime. McNair shouldn’t follow the instructions of his team’s fans, but he also can’t be that disconnected. And after he shared that enthusiasm about the team’s direction, it rewarded him with a dud in Nashville.

3. Don Carey and Sean Considine, Jaguars safeties: Angles, tackling and reliability have been an issue for the team from the safety position all season. In the Jaguars’ biggest game of the year, the two starters were glaringly poor. Gene Smith couldn’t fix all the personnel problems at once. Courtney Greene may be OK at one spot going forward, but this team needs to add at least two safeties in the offseason.


[+] EnlargeJacksonville Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliJaguars linebacker Daryl Smith is flying under the radar and making plays.
1. Daryl Smith, Jaguars linebacker: He was all over the place against the Colts, and if it came in a win, I think it may well have been an AFC defensive player of the week worthy performance. Smith’s backers have touted him as one of the most underrated players in the league. He was the best linebacker in the AFC South on Sunday.

2. Fernando Velasco, Titans center: Subbing for Eugene Amano, who went on IR last week, Velasco got high praise from Jeff Fisher and was part of the team’s best offensive line effort in recent memory. He’s a strong guy who seemed ready to perform, just as he did in a spot start for Leroy Harris against Dallas. Velasco could be injecting himself into the mix for a front-line spot in 2011.

3. The Colts' run-blocking: Donald Brown was our High Energy Player of the Week Tuesday, but we failed to give enough credit to the guys in front of him. It was a quality game plan which was well-executed and stopped the more powerful Jaguars. Holding up a couple times when the Jaguars needed only a yard was impressive work.
BrownScott Boehm/Getty ImagesDonald Brown had the best game of his season Sunday when he rushed for 129 yards on 14 carries.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Sunday’s 34-24 win over Jacksonville put the Colts back in control.

Win at Oakland and against Tennessee, and the Colts will be AFC South champs.

Though both teams are 8-6 and they split the season series, Jacksonville would lose a common-opponents tiebreaker if they both finish 10-6. The Jaguars could win a division-record tiebreaker if the two teams knot at 9-7 with the Colts' loss coming to Tennessee and the Jaguars' win coming at Houston.

Five things I learned while watching the big AFC South showdown unfold:

The Colts can stop a physical run game, and Donald Brown can be an effective running back.

I believe even the Colts expected they’d give up more than 67 rushing yards. In honest moments, they would have expressed doubts about cranking out 155 yards on just 24 carries -- a good share starting up the middle against a physical Jags' front.

Joseph Addai and Mike Hart have been out hurt, but Brown had been tentative as their replacement. In the win at Tennessee, Brown pirouetted more than once in the backfield, costing himself valuable time and faking out no one.

He was much more efficient this time, particularly on his fluid 43-yard touchdown run.

“[The Colts] heard all week how they couldn’t stop our run game and they did a pretty good job,” Jags coach Jack Del Rio said. “...They’ve had issues stopping the run against us and against others. They got it done [Sunday], you’ve got to give them credit.”

Brown praised his blocking: “When you are in the secondary and it is the first time you are getting touched, that makes for a great day.”

Jags tailback Maurice Jones-Drew said it was the best run-stopping work he could remember from the Colts against his team. He rushed 15 times for 46 yards, ending his streak of consecutive 100-yard games at six with his worst game ever against Indy.

“They were at their gaps all the time and they tackled well,” he said.

Austin Collie is an absolute difference-maker.

The Jaguars had no answer for the Colts receiver while he was in the game. Peyton Manning found him eight times for 87 yards and two touchdowns before a hit by Daryl Smith left Collie with another concussion in the second quarter.

If Dallas Clark or Addai was around, Collie might be less vital. But without either of them available, Collie simply gives Manning a prime target who is reliable and has great instincts. That's a quality otherwise missing.

“He was good in the first half, I don’t know if we stopped him,” Del Rio said. “He certainly gave them a life and they were excited to have him back, I think. He must have something going there. He came back slowly over a long period of time and there was a good shot and he’s down again. That’s usually not good for a guy.”

The Colts need two wins to assure themselves of the division title. They’ll have a harder time getting them without Collie.

“He said it wasn’t as bad as the last one, so that’s good news,” Reggie Wayne said. “But they are all bad.”

The Jaguars' issues at safety are too difficult to overcome until they get to add new talent.

[+] EnlargeAustin Collie
AP Photo/AJ MastAustin Collie scored two touchdowns against Jacksonville before leaving the game with a concussion at the end of the first half.
At least they’d built some continuity with six games of Don Carey and Courtney Greene side-by-side. But Greene sprained a shoulder at Tennessee. Indy took advantage of Greene replacement Sean Considine’s relative lack of speed and tackling abilities.

Both Carey and Considine were unable to get to the middle of the field on Collie’s second touchdown, when he ran away from Smith. Carey couldn’t catch up to the receiver and Considine didn’t arrive in time from the other side of the field.

“There were a few times, yeah, where we had shots in the middle of the field,” Colts tight end Jacob Tamme said. “That second touchdown to Austin, they were taking away certain things and the middle of the field was there, it was a great call, a really nice throw by Peyton.”

Jags cornerback Rashean Mathis said not to point too much at Considine, who let Brown hold him off with a hand-to-hand stiff arm and got beat by Collie on the first touchdown -- to point to just a couple plays.

“I actually felt Sean had a very good game,” Mathis said. “We all could have made more plays. I don’t think he actually gave anything up. What looked like his fault it probably wasn’t. I know it’s a busted coverage and he was the main guy that was back there, but it wasn’t his fault.”

David Garrard was one big mistake away from a potentially fantastic game.

He made some very good throws and really did well to pick up for what the run game could not do.

He averaged 12.3 yards per completion, compared to 7.9 for Manning.

But then came the game's crucial moment. Garrard drove Jacksonville to the touchdown that closed Indy’s lead to 24-17 with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third period. The Jags' defense forced a Colts' punt about two minutes later. But from the Colts' 38, Garrard overthrew Jason Hill and got picked off by Antoine Bethea. The Colts drove for a Adam Vinatieri field goal and had a 10-point cushion with 9:57 to play.

“It was a little high,” Garrard said of the throw, after which he got crushed by Dwight Freeney. “Pressure or no pressure, I still have to be able to make that throw. I have to be able to stand in there and deliver.”

Given a chance to clarify things, referee Mike Carey didn’t, did he?

It was not a good day for Carey and his officiating crew. The non-fair catch call on the Jags' Mike Thomas prior to his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown was a judgment call. The Colts thought it was a signal, Thomas said it wasn’t and the officiating crew agreed with him.

But other stuff took too long to sort out and was not sufficiently explained.

On a Jacksonville third-and-3 from the Indy 40-yard line in the first quarter, the Jaguars ran a play and Rashad Jennings got stuffed. There was a flag, Carey announced there was no foul and Jacksonville was allowed to replay third down.

“I blew it dead for a false start and we picked up that flag,” Carey told a pool reporter. “That means there was no play. So I shut it down, a dead ball foul.”

Was it an inadvertent whistle?

“No,” he said. “It was just a foul that wasn’t there."

If you follow that, you’re doing better than I am.

The muffed punt call where the Colts recovered it was ultimately hashed out correctly. The Colts didn’t technically interfere with a fair catch as Taj Smith was blocked in the back by the Jags' Derek Cox and that pushed him into Thomas. The Jags' returner failed to make the catch as a result of a penalty against his own team. The Colts’ Kavell Conner had recovered, so they declined the penalty. But the play helped put the Colts into position to expand their lead to 24-10 with a field goal in the third period.

Carey and crew got it right, which is most important. But it took entirely too long to sort it out. (More on officiating here.)