NFL Nation: Dominique Barber

Early thoughts on the Texans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

Running back Derrick Ward -- A third-stringer who has good experience and could be important if Arian Foster is lured away with an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Tight end Joel Dreessen -- Though largely underrated from the outside, he’s been a nice contributor and certainly has value for the Texans.

OG Mike Brisiel -- A solid starter they’d surely like to keep in order for their very good offensive line to remain intact.

C Chris Myers -- A very valuable cog in the machine and a great system fit, he may have been the best center in the NFL in 2011.

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson -- He was a non-factor as the team’s fourth receiver and they need to upgrade the spot.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins -- Played well when he got on the field, but may find better opportunity elsewhere.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams -- If the Texans can’t lock him up before March 13, he will become the biggest prize of the free-agent class. It would be a huge accomplishment to find a way to re-sign him.

Cornerback Jason Allen -- He’s been a virtual “co-starter” with Kareem Jackson and has typically outplayed him. But based on this list, he’s not close to a priority.

Kicker Neil Rackers -- Rackers has been a steady guy for the Texans, who surely would like to keep him rather than shopping for a replacement.

Also UFAs:
A couple quick thoughts on the Houston Texans 30-7 win against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park Saturday night ...
  • The big issue is Arian Foster's left hamstring. He left the game in the first quarter after re-injuring it. The team feels good about its depth with Derrick Ward and Ben Tate, but make no mistake -- a major countdown of Foster’s readiness for the Sept. 11 opener against the Colts is now underway. Ward ran for a score and Tate had a 4.7-yard average including a very nice two-cut run on a draw that showed patience and vision. Jeffrey Martin described the Foster scene here.
  • Jacoby Jones had a Matt Schaub pass in the end zone go through his hands early on. Yes, it was on him quickly, had a lot of zip and required him to reach for it. But it’s the sort of catchable pass he misses that drives his critics crazy. It killed a drive that turned into the first of Neil Rackers' three field goals.
  • Troy Nolan took an interception off Colin Kaepernick 73 yards for a touchdown after picking Alex Smith, too. Good news for a backup safety at a position where depth is a question. Kaepernick's was a horrible, telegraphed throw. Houston's defense was good against bad signal-callers, who managed to combine for a 7.6 passer rating. [I initially wrote that Dominique Barber had the pick of Smith. I did not see that play for myself, and the official NFL game book credits Barber. Apologies.]
  • While Houston played starters into the third quarter, the 49ers went to backups far earlier. That’s nice that the Texans can push them around and build confidence and continuity. I understand Jim Harbaugh is sticking to his plans and not allowing an opponent to dictate what he does. But how does such a scenario benefit the home team?
  • Twenty-eight guys earned a mention on the defensive stat sheet. Mario Williams was not one of them.
In general, we expect too much from late-round picks. (And from overall draft batting averages.)

In a recent conversation with former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist, he pointed to an article he once read in Ourlads by Joe Landers. Apologies, I couldn’t find the link.

“Using some common sense and a little investigative research, you'll find that it's rare, at least according to Landers’ study, to find a cornerback or running back or wide receiver that's really going to help you in the last three rounds,” Sundquist said. “And yet you'll find teams constantly take a reach on one of these positions.

“Evidence shows you're more likely to find a defensive tackle, offensive lineman, safety or tight end in the later rounds. Why? Most conventional wisdom says don't draft a safety or tight end high due to escalating rookie salaries and the going market at the position. As for defensive tackles or offensive linemen, it’s probably because of the greater numbers at the position. Both circumstances force down talented players at those positions.”

I went back and combed over the AFC South drafts since 2002, to see how many picks they spent on each side of the ledger Sundquist sets forth and how often the Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans did well with a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round pick at those spots. This is, of course, highly unscientific. Metrics guys can probably shred it. But I thought it worth fiddling with.

Notables are players who played significantly, even if it’s been with another team, or recent picks who appear on track to contribute.

Houston Texans

WRs, RBs. CBs: 9

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 14

Most: Six safeties, four receivers, corners and defensive tackle

Notables: Colts

WRs, RBs. CBs: 7

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 13

Most: 13 offensive linemen

Notables: Jaguars

WRs, RBs. CBs: 12

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 9

Most: Five receivers, four offensive linemen

Notables: Titans

WRs, RBs. CBs: 14

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 16

Most: Seven offensive linemen, six wide receivers

Notables:
Of the notables from the division drafted since 2002, 73 percent (19) have been from the positions Sundquist says teams should concentrate on late while 27 percent (seven) play positions he believes should generally be avoided.

I'd be fine with the Titans not wasting yet another late pick on a receiver and with the Texans using late-rounders on something other than corners and receivers for sure. But it's not like Houston's spending late picks on safeties or the Colts use of such selections on offensive linemen have paid huge dividends either.

I'd love to read your thoughts.
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 NFLDraftScout.com 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.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
4:18
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Jaguars will rely heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew against Houston.
Roll with him: Both the Texans and Jaguars will look to their primary backs -- Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew, respectively -- early. It’s more important for Jacksonville to gain some control over time of possession and to get a lead that will allow for MJD to run often. The Jaguars will be adjusting to playing defense without injured Aaron Kampman. Minus their primary pass-rush threat, the Jaguars likely will allow Matt Schaub more time to throw. Yes, the Texans have the league’s worst pass defense. But Jacksonville’s is 28th and also super-susceptible to big plays. And Houston has more big-play threats.

Old connection: Kerry Collins and Randy Moss have history, even if it’s ancient history. Vince Young was limited Friday, and while he’s technically a game-time decision it appears increasingly likely that Collins will sub for Young (ankle) on Sunday in Miami. No matter who's playing quarterback, how much of an impact can the Titans get from Moss after a week’s work? And will the Dolphins' coverage immediately create space for Chris Johnson in the run game? That’s what the team was expecting by making the move.

Jason Allen beyond special teams: He was a late waiver claim this week, but the Texans' pass defense is struggling. Allen’s likely to have a role on special teams right away in light of the loss of Dominique Barber. Gary Kubiak has completely backed rookie cornerback Kareem Jackson and I don’t anticipate a change. But if David Garrard is getting good protection and throwing well, will the Texans stick with a troubled group or look to change something up, at least in a nickel package?

Slowing Owens: The Colts have gotten better play from Kelvin Hayden recently, but their second corner and nickel corner have been question marks. Deshea Townsend, who’s been filling in as nickel, was cut this week. The Bengals will try to keep Terrell Owens hot, as the Colts continue to recover from injuries in the defensive backfield. Jacob Lacey should be better his second week back. Jerraud Powers said he expects to be back. Justin Tryon is questionable. If it’s Hayden, Powers and Lacey as the top three, Indianapolis should be able to keep things in front of them.

Minus Daniels: The Texans will be without Owen Daniels (hamstring) but that doesn’t mean they cannot be effective throwing to tight ends. Joel Dreessen and James Casey accounted for nine of the team’s 21 catches and 105 of their 267 passing yards last week in a loss to San Diego. Houston should have Schaub keep targeting the duo and look to expand Casey’s role. He’s a guy that can do some damage, and they should see what he can do with increased opportunity.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
4:03
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeAaron Kampman
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Kampman has 1.5 sacks in his first season in Jacksonville and could cause the Colts some problems.
Containing Kampman: I believe the Colts loved what they got from offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach in Denver last week. But I am not sure if they are ready to go with an undrafted rookie against crafty and explosive veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman or if they want to get Charlie Johnson (foot) back in the lineup to deal with Kampman. If it’s Johnson, we know they are bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing Johnson more time to heal. If it’s Linkenbach, it says they love him and he’s better than a banged-up Johnson, or has better upside than Johnson, or both.

Deep speed: Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner had a wonderful training camp and preseason, making a ton of plays. The question about him is his deep speed. And so I’d expect the Broncos to work quickly to test his deep speed in his first start in place of Jason McCourty, and to find out how well Verner and the Titans’ scheme can cover for it. The Titans are one corner injury from trouble now. The next guy up, Ryan Mouton, struggled as a rookie in 2009 and watched McCourty and Verner sprint past him in the preseason when the open job was supposed to be a three-way battle.

Survivable: The Texans aren’t getting sufficient pass rush and their defensive backfield isn’t making plays. They shouldn’t be relaxing because Bruce Gradkowski isn’t Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. But you’d think they’d be able to survive their deficiencies a bit better against Oakland than against their three previous opponents. If Troy Nolan can make the most of his work at free safety -- he and Dominique Barber are expected to split time -- he could stake a claim to the fulltime job.

Back or benched? Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox lost the team’s faith after what the coaches lauded as a great rookie season. Surely they can play better pass defense against Manning with Cox involved than without him. Cox picked off Manning to end the Colts’ first drive in the season opener in Indy last year. Jacksonville has the sort of secondary issues that would suggest a quarterback who has been practically perfect so far can carve things up.

Quick out of the gate: The Texans' defense has played OK in the first quarter, and then far worse after that, according to Aaron Schatz and Football Outsiders. To give the defense the best chance, a hot start by the offense would really be big. Get Matt Schaub in a rhythm, get Arian Foster going and get multiple scores on the board and the Raiders will have to chuck it. Given that scenario, Houston could pick off its first pass of the season just by accident.
The Texans need a turnover.

Through three games the defense has one takeaways, and takeaways can do wonders to offset the sort of passing yardage they are giving up.

The Texans are tied for 27th in the NFL at minus-four in giveaway-takeaway ratio. They’ve recovered one fumble, but are one of just three teams with no interceptions. The others are Buffalo and Baltimore.

“[We’re] very hungry,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “I think we’ve dropped three in three games, and I think as a secondary guy, you want to get your hands on the ball. I think when we’re playing the way we’re playing, you really don’t have an opportunity to get picks like you want to because, what, we’re giving up almost 400 yards passing a game, all they’ve got to do is just back up and throw the ball right down the field.

“You’ve got a one-on-one with a cornerback, you’ve got to hope your free safety gets over the top or your strong safety if we’re in Cover 2, so we’ve got to get better; we really do. We’ve got to get better. We understand what we’ve got to do and we’re ready to do that.”

The free safety at the start will be Dominique Barber instead of the dinged Eugene Wilson. We could see some of second-year man Troy Nolan too.

Wilson’s a problem. I’m not sure Barber is the solution. But the Raiders passing offense could be -- Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell have thrown two picks each.

But Oakland has fast receivers as always, and being overly anxious for a pick could mean trouble over the top. The Texans can’t force it.

Houston will be thinking turnover all game.

“Yeah, we’re all talking about turnovers,” DeMeco Ryans said. “… I think now, guys are more conscious of it during the week, so I feel like it will carry over on Sunday and I feel like we’ll definitely get a couple out.”

Notes from Texans-Saints practice

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
12:50
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- The Texans-Saints practice this morning was poorly attended, relatively short and pretty uneventful.
  • New Orleans dropped more passes than you’d expect from a defending Super Bowl champ, which made life easier on rookie corner Kareem Jackson in seven-on-seven work than it should have been.
  • In a team period I saw Jackson break well on a ball aimed for Lance Moore and he made it difficult for the receiver to pull in the 12-yard pass which wound up on the turf.
  • The other most notable pass play I saw exposed an area that I see as a great concern -- depth at free safety. Dominique Barber went for a sideline pick against tight end Tory Humphrey, whiffed and allowed the reception and significant yards after the catch.
  • Trindon Holliday’s had some issues, but looked very comfortable to me fielding punts. His lateral movement and ability to skip and hop into space can be hard to believe. I hope he can earn the role so we can see some of this in a meaningful setting.
  • Joel Dreessen made a great leaping catch of a John David Booty throw in a seam between four defenders, but it probably wasn’t as good as it looked since Chip Vaughn fell down.

I talked with Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Steve Slaton as well as Jacoby Jones for a project you’ll see down the road. They’ll practice again Wednesday afternoon. Stay tuned for more from Metairie.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Gijon Robinson, Colts tight end: Short yardage rushing has been an issue for the Colts, and while they didn’t spend a lot on the offensive line -- just fourth-rounder on Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon -- they did look to upgrade their blocking tight end.

Fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge out of Oklahoma is a stronger point-of-attack blocker than Robinson and could make a big difference for Joseph Addai or Donald Brown on plays aimed to get around the corner. Robinson's blown block that resulted in a Peyton Manning sack late in a 2008 season playoff loss at San Diego still stings.

Eldridge could prove a big help to incumbent tackles Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem or whoever replaces them, and his ability to help against pass rushers won’t make things any harder on Manning either.

Rising

Eugene Wilson, Texans free safety: The Texans feel better about Wilson, who was on IR with a foot injury for the last six games last year, than I do. Paired with the physical Bernard Pollard, Wilson needs to prove he can be a consistent and rangy free safety, and show better ball skills as he looks to set a tone for a group of young corners.

With nine draft picks, the Texans steered clear of selecting a safety, hitting cornerback in the first and fifth rounds. The Texans apparently are content with what they’ve got to cover the deep middle of the field against the likes of Peyton Manning (twice), Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.

The alternative at this point is Dominique Barber and perhaps Troy Nolan, who missed his rookie year with hand injury.
We’ll get some good stuff Tuesday morning out of Orlando, where AFC South coaches are having breakfast with reporters at the owners meetings. I’ll be monitoring what comes out through some of my colleagues who are there.

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:

Houston
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.

Jacksonville

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.

Tennessee

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.
Everyone wants their team to trade down.

[+] EnlargeGary Kubiak
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireTexans coach Gary Kubiak said that trading down in the draft is "a hell of a lot easier said than done."
I get more e-mails at this time of year asking me about the possibility of the Jaguars trading out of the No. 10 spot in the NFL draft in hopes of getting more. The same kinds of questions come from Titans fans hoping their team will opt out of selecting 16th overall. Texans fans (No. 20) and Colts followers (No. 31) aren’t averse to the idea of trading down, either.

So I am here to tell you, while trading up is often too expensive, trading down is often overrated.

For starters, to get down, you need a team that wants to move up.

“Sitting in the draft room for many years, I think those are conversations that always come up: 'Well, wouldn’t it be nice to move back and pick up a couple other picks?'" Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Well in that 10 minutes or whatever you have before that pick, if you’re not a hot commodity at that time and nobody wants to talk to you, you better be ready to do business.

“I think it’s probably a hell of a lot easier said than done.”

Said Jacksonville GM Gene Smith in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders: “My mindset is to acquire picks. If we’re able to do that, I’ll have a smile on my face.”

But even if you have a lot of needs, like Smith, is that the right route?

Let’s look at the recent trade-down history of our four teams and then assess. We’re considering just picks-for-picks trades, not moves that include veteran players.

In the last six years, with the help of Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information and prosportstransactions.com, here are first-round trade-downs in the division.

Houston

2008 -- Traded with Baltimore
Gave: No. 18 in first round (quarterback Joe Flacco)

[+] EnlargeDuane Brown
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesThe Texans drafted Duane Brown after trading down in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Got: No. 26 pick in first round (offensive tackle Duane Brown), a third-round pick (86th overall, running back Steve Slaton) and a sixth-round pick (173rd overall, defensive back Dominique Barber)

Value chart says: Ravens, 900-883.2 points

Assessment: Baltimore got its quarterback and Flacco is clearly the most valuable player of all of these. The Texans got their left tackle (Brown), a skill player who’s had one great year and one terrible season (Slaton) and some shaky secondary depth (Barber).

2005 -- Traded with New Orleans
Gave: No. 13 in first round (offensive tackle Jammal Brown)

Got: No. 16 in first round (defensive tackle Travis Johnson) and a third-round pick in 2006 (66th overall, offensive tackle Eric Winston)

Value chart: Texans, 1,260-1,150. (That link is to an NFL-style draft value chart like the ones teams use to measure trade values.)

Assessment: Brown has been a Pro Bowler twice and an All-Pro once. Johnson underachieved and was traded. Winston is a very solid starter, but the Saints got more bang here, I think.

Indianapolis

Sidenote: The Colts gave up their 2008 first-rounder and their 2007 fourth-rounder to get the 2007 second-rounder from San Francisco they used to draft offensive tackle Tony Ugoh. That can be classified in different ways. I see it more as the Colts going up to get Ugoh, so I don’t use it as a trade-down scenario here.

2004 --Traded with Atlanta
Gave: No. 29 in the first round (wide receiver Michael Jenkins) and a third-round pick (90th overall, quarterback Matt Schaub)

Got: No. 38 in the second round (traded to Steelers for a second-round pick, 44th overall, Bob Sanders and fourth-round pick, 107th overall, linebacker Kendyll Pope), a third-round pick (69th overall, linebacker Gilbert Gardner), and a fourth-round pick (125th overall, cornerback Jason David)

Value chart says: Colts, 845-780

Assessment: A double-trade down netted the Colts Sanders. He may miss way too many games due to injuries, but he won a defensive player of the year award and keyed a Super Bowl team. But Schaub sure proved to have value for Atlanta when Houston came calling a couple years later.

Jacksonville
2007 -- Traded with Denver

Gave: No. 17 in first round (defensive end Jarvis Moss)

[+] EnlargeReggie Nelson
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireThe Jaguars' Reggie Nelson had a disappointing sophomore season.
Got: No. 21 in first round (safety Reggie Nelson); a third-round pick (86th overall, traded to Baltimore for a fourth-round pick, 101st overall , a fifth-round pick, 166th overall, and a sixth-round pick 203rd overall); and a sixth-round pick (198th overall, traded to Atlanta as part of package for a fifth-rounder, 149th overall, guard Uche Nwaneri). Punter Adam Podlesh and defensive tackle Derek Landri came out of that trade with Baltimore, with the 203rd pick also going to Atlanta in the trade that got Jacksonville Nwaneri

Value chart says: Jaguars 973.2-950 (not factoring in trades of other picks involved)

Assessment: They did OK, but if Nelson continues on his current course, we'll remember them failing with another first-rounder.

Titans

2004 -- Traded with Houston
Gave: No. 27 in the first round (defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Babin) and a fifth-round pick (159th overall, traded to Jacksonville)

Got: No. 40 in the second round (tight end Ben Troupe), a third-round pick (71st overall, defensive tackle Randy Starks), a fourth-round pick (103rd overall, defensive end Bo Schobel), and a fifth-round pick (138th overall, guard Jacob Bell)

Value chart says: Titans, 860-708.8

Assessment: On draft day, it looked like a monster win for Tennessee and in time, because Babin busted, it still leaned their way. But for the Titans, only Bell was a consistent performer. It’s easy to look back on drafts and play what if, I know, but what if the Titans or the Texans had used No. 27 on Sanders or Karlos Dansby or Chris Snee?

Conclusions:

Let’s emphasize this is not scientific and it's not a very big sample size.

Still, these five deals produced just one player we’d rate as stellar, and Sanders has major injury issues. They also yielded AFC South teams a left tackle who still has to prove himself (Brown), a defensive tackle who busted (Johnson), a free safety whose second year was very poor (Nelson) and a tight end who’s out of the league (Troupe).

Trading down doesn’t always produce the yield everyone imagines. One very good player is better than a couple who rank a notch below. The chance at that player is typically better where you are, not lower than that.

So if the Jaguars see someone they like a lot at 10 or if the Titans see someone they like a lot at 16, they should jump, not dump.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Recent history.

Houston Texans

The best move the Texans made in the past three seasons was trading a second-round pick in 2007 and 2008 to Atlanta for Matt Schaub, a quarterback who’s the key to their offense and team. With so many teams in need of a quality starter, that trade seems like a steal now. They’ve taken four defensive backs with the 10 picks they’ve made in the fifth round or later, and out of Brandon Harrison, Dominique Barber, Brice McCain and Troy Nolan they’ve not found a guy who has been able to contribute consistently. It’s time to spend a big pick on a free safety or corner who has great ball skills.

Indianapolis Colts

Skill positions get attention early, with receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown grabbed with the two first-rounders in the past three years. The hits in the third round and later have become significant players: Clint Session, Pierre Garcon, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie, Pat McAfee. Trouble spot? Look to the five offensive linemen who haven’t really panned out. That’s understandable with Steve Justice (sixth in 2008), Jamey Richard (seventh in 2008) and Jaimie Thomas (seventh in 2009), but Tony Ugoh (second in 2007) and Mike Pollak (second in 2008) have left the team with holes and problems that need to be addressed in April. Out of five picks there has to be at least one starter, probably two.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Two first-round picks out of Florida have not met expectations, but the Jaguars still hope safety Reggie Nelson and defensive end Derrick Harvey can become consistent players. Of 25 picks, only one is established as a playmaker on offense, Mike Sims-Walker (third-rounder in 2007). That’s a big part of the reason the team’s not especially potent on offense beyond Maurice Jones-Drew. The top four from the 2009 draft got significant starting experience as rookies, and the 2010 class will have similar opportunities. While Harvey can be steady, he’s not an explosive pass-rusher, and Quentin Groves has struggled. Even with Aaron Kampman signed, they still need another pass-rusher.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have fared nicely with pass-rushers from lesser-known schools -- William Hayes of Winston-Salem State is on the brink of big things and Jacob Ford of Central Arkansas is a skilled rusher. Contributions from second-rounders have been minimal -- Chris Henry is already gone, Jason Jones hasn’t stayed healthy or consistent and Sen'Derrick Marks had no impact as a rookie. After hitting a home run with seventh-rounder Cortland Finnegan in 2006, late-round corners Ryan Smith, Cary Williams and, so far, Jason McCourty, haven’t panned out. A quality corner is a need early in this draft.
 
 Bob Levey/Getty Images
 Bernard Pollard has shored up the strong safety position for the Texans, who haven't had a steady presence at the position during Gary Kubiak's tenure.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Since Gary Kubiak became head coach of the Houston Texans in 2006, he’s deployed seven different starting strong safeties.

A secondary in need of a steady physical presence didn’t get great consistency out of Glenn Earl, Jason Simmons, C.C. Brown, Brandon Harrison, Nick Ferguson, Dominique Barber or John Busing. Injuries prompted some of the changes.

But in Bernard Pollard, whose insertion into the lineup has coincided with improved defensive play, perhaps Kubiak and the Texans finally have found their man.

In October, the Texans were the fifth-best defense in the league based on yardage surrendered, and 10th in scoring defense. The defensive improvements from the first three games to the last five are remarkable, as you can see in this handy chart the team provided.

Houston's defensive improvement, 2009
Category First 3 games Last 5 games Difference
Rush yards/game 205.0* 58.2** -146.8
Pass yards/game 231.7 202.2 -29.5
Total yards/game 436.7* 260.4 -176.3
Points per game 28.7 16.4 -12.3
* Worst in the NFL.
** Best in the NFL.

All these defensive developments are wonderful for a team with the third-ranked passing game and eighth-ranked offense. Defensive consistency is a major boon for any team keyed around a potent and efficient passing attack.

What has Pollard brought?

“I take pride with my tackling, I take pride in being in the right places,” he said. “I watch games around the league and you see guys get interceptions. I wish that could happen with me. But I don’t have time to try to bait quarterbacks, because when you try to bait, things happen. Some guys get away with it.

“I’m not that player. I am a player if you expect me to be wherever on the field, that’s where I am going to be. If that makes the quarterback go to another read, then that’s going to be a coverage sack or he’s going to go somewhere else. But I take pride in tackling, I take pride in coming in with high intensity and trying to get my teammates around me to get pumped up.”

Pollard was initially a 2006 second-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs out of Purdue, selected 54th overall. In 2008, he delivered the hit that ended Tom Brady's season, carrying himself with grace after the accident.

The Chiefs’ new regime made him part of its roster turnover and released him on Sept. 5. But David Gibbs, the Texans' new defensive backs coach, had come to Houston from K.C. He helped facilitate adding Pollard to Houston’s roster.

Pollard has not solved the Texans' troubles by himself. He has been a positive influence in exemplifying the theme that’s so popular around the league: Do your job while trusting that the guy to your right, to your left, in front of you, and behind you will do his. He said he’s seen that trust grow, and with success comes additional confidence.

Now he will try to help slow Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts' offense Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in a game that’s fair to rate as the biggest in the Texans’ history.

A win would put the Texans at 6-3, three games over .500 for the first time ever. A victory will keep them in range of the AFC South-leading Colts, who would be 7-1. A rematch at Reliant Stadium on Nov. 19 looms.

One of Manning’s biggest weapons, tight end Dallas Clark, said the Texans' defense starts up front, but that Pollard’s on his radar.

“Their two ends [Mario Williams and Antonio Smith] and their linebackers, that's the strength of their defense,” Clark said. “The safeties and the corners, a lot of the things they do is because of the pressure and [the ends] getting the quarterbacks to make bad decisions. Still, they're there to make the play, which is what their defense needs. But I think everything they do well starts up front …

“[Pollard] is a big safety. He's a guy who loves to hit and loves to make plays. As a receiver, you have to make sure you know where he is.”

Tackling was a major issue early this season, when, for example, Tennessee Titans halfback Chris Johnson accounted for 284 yards against Houston. Sixty-nine of them came when he lined up wide to the left uncovered. Kerry Collins got the ball to him immediately, and the Texans didn’t even have a chance to miss tackles. It was Barber’s mistake, and he was benched for it with Busing replacing him.

Now concerns over such matters are much smaller.

“He’s done a nice job of coming in and kind of taking up what we are teaching, our concepts, our program,” Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush said of Pollard. “He’s brought a physical presence to us first of all. The kid’s a big [6-foot-1, 224 pounds] and physical football player, he enjoys the contact. He seeks it. He’s the most physical presence in that secondary and all the guys try to emulate what he’s doing.”

“He’s smart, he takes good angles to the ball, he tries to keep himself out of harm’s way as far as angles on running backs and then he brings a load to the party when he hits you.”

That’s a pretty good addition when you sign a guy after the season’s under way and he quickly becomes a player others are looking to follow. Bush was surprised to get such a quality player at such a time.

Pollard appears to be a solution at what has been a questionable spot.

“He’s kind of shored it up for us and let us feel confident about what we want to call. He’ll go out and execute our program,” Bush said.

After being part of two miserable seasons in Kansas City where the Chiefs were 6-26, Pollard said he’s thrilled to be on a 5-3 team that’s got reasonable expectations of a playoff berth.

But he’s not yet sure he’s a long-term answer for a team who’s been searching for a solution at his spot.

“I hope I ended it,” he said. “Nothing’s settled until you actually sign a long-term deal and you know you are in this city for a certain amount of time. So no player gets that gratification until it’s actually done. I am very happy with what I am doing, where I am. And I hope that I prove myself. It’s still a long season and things can happen.

“Do I look for them to happen? No. I’m going to prepare myself to bring my A-game and to get my teammates, and for them to get me, hyped as can be to play football at a high level every Sunday from here on out.”
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Houston’s Dunta Robinson and the rest of the Texans quieted their critics, for now, in a win over Tennessee.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Texans hooted and hollered for Hall of Fame Oilers-Titans lineman Bruce Matthews, now a Texans assistant, when he got a game ball and an official welcome to the other side.

Beyond that, Houston’s locker room was nearly as somber as Tennessee’s after an intense and entertaining 34-31 win for the Texans at LP Field. The two reporters who cover the Texans most closely tried everything in their arsenal to get Gary Kubiak to smile and say something uplifting when he spoke at the podium after the game. But he found it exceedingly difficult.

Nice win? Sure. Too many lingering issues to list? Yup.

“I don’t think this game answers anything,” said Kubiak, who was dead serious, not working to spin. “I’m concerned about our inconsistency as a football team. Very concerned.”

Even so, the Texans did many of the things they spent their offseason saying needed to be necessary to make a jump to playoff contention. They won turnovers, 2-0. They grabbed 17 of a possible 21 points in the red zone. They won on the road. They won in the division.

We’ll try to limit ourselves to five compartments to examine in the wake of the somewhat surprising result.

1. The Texans showed some toughness: After they got pushed around in their opener by the Jets, I didn’t think they were pushovers. After standing toe-to-toe with the Titans, I don’t think they are Ali or Frazier. But Houston showed it can be tough as a situation warrants it.

The league will surely look at the film and may find more culprits than Jason Jones, who threw a punch and got ejected, and David Anderson, who got a personal foul for the Texans, from the fourth-quarter play that spilled into the Texans bench and featured a lot of shoving.

But it gave the Texans their best chance to illustrate a balance of toughness and poise at a time when it seemed like the Titans were about to boil over.

“When you get in those scraps, it’s such a tricky spot, it’s such a tricky thing,” right tackle Eric Winston said. “You don’t want to hurt the team, you don’t want to do anything bad. But at the same time, you don’t want to get pushed around.

“You get pushed around in this league and you’re going to be marked, and it’s so hard to get a stigma like that off. We’re going to go out there and fight you for 60 minutes and figure it out. That’s what we’ve got to be and that’s who we are I think, we finally proved that.”

There was a good degree of resolve too. This team won’t do well if it doesn’t throw well. Last year here, Andre Johnson had drops, failed to make plays and was upset with himself after a two-catch game for opportunities missed.

This time he started less than great again, but rebounded and wound up with 10 catches for 149 yards and two scores. More on him in our next category.

2. Johnson and Johnson ran wild: Memo to both defensive coordinators -- hard as it is to believe, your messages about the danger factors of Chris Johnson and Andre Johnson did not get through.

The Titans' running back had 16 carries for 197 yards, two scores and a team-high nine catches for 87 more, including a 69-yard uncovered touchdown. That’s 11.36 yards a touch.

Word was strong safety Dominique Barber was supposed to line up wide right on Johnson on the busted TD pass. We didn’t see him much if at all after that, with Jon Busing in his place.

Johnson said he is Kerry Collins’ first read on the play. The back’s only decision was whether to run the fly pattern like he would have if a defender came with him as he went from the back field to the left sideline, or to jog off the ball to get the pass first, then do the running. He chose B with great effect.

“Of course, I was surprised,” Johnson said. “Kerry said he was trying to get the snap off quick enough and he eventually got it off and they still didn’t roll down to where I was.”

The Texans' run defense remains a big concern. Johnson converted a third-and-19 with a 57-yard touchdown draw, then topped it later with a 91-yard scoring run that tied the nearly 35-year old franchise record.

“He’s a great player. If we don’t line up right, if we leave him uncovered, what do we expect?” middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans asked.

On the other side, Andre Johnson broke free for a huge play of his own where he was under no pressure when the ball arrived.

In the second quarter, cornerback Nick Harper let him go and free safety Michael Griffin was next in line. But replays indicated he bit hard on a run fake. Even if Schaub had handed off, Griffin had plenty of help in front of him, none at all behind him, where Johnson turned the opportunity into a 72-yard score, his second.

(Did Griffin also bite on play-action when Jacoby Jones got free for a 44-yard catch at the start of the Texans’ go-ahead touchdown drive?)

The Titans left Nick Harper with Johnson too often while also allowing him to create things for other players like Jones and tight end Owen Daniels. Johnson scaled Harper for a lovely 19-yard score where he stopped the ball with one hand, then caught up to it and danced the sideline. Later he got Harper crossed up in the same exact area for a crucial pass-interference penalty.

While the Texans sort out their poor play against the run, the Titans will be examining pass defense.

Through two games, a team with three 2008 Pro Bowlers in the starting secondary has struggled at some key moments in coverage. Some of it is connected to the rush, some of it to communication issues, some of it to mistake-making.

“If the ball is in the air, we put it on ourselves,” nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “Everybody knows that the best pass coverage is of course the pass rush. But if the ball is in the air, us as a secondary we’re responsible for making those plays.

“Regardless of three-step, five-step, screen, if the ball goes from quarterback to running back, it’s the running game, if it goes in the air, we need to make plays.”

Johnson said he and Schaub are as good as ever at being in sync and that they saw nothing surprising from the familiar Titans.

“We pretty much know what they are going to give us,” Johnson said. “When they come out and do things, we try to adjust to it. We went out and made those adjustments and the plays worked for us.”

3. Could the two quarterbacks be heading in opposite directions? A lot of Titans critics doubted Collins’ potential to piece together a second strong season in a row based on the fact he’s never gone to the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Titans QB Kerry Collins was outplayed his counterpart, Matt Shaub.

He played well enough to win, just as he did in Pittsburgh. But the game’s most crucial play came with the ball in his hands, and could portend bad things. In position to move the Titans to a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win at the end, he stepped up in the pocket with 1:42 left in the game.

Amobi Okoye was bearing down, Collins took off and just dropped the ball. Then 39-year old Texans defensive lineman Jeff Zgonina beat the 36-year old quarterback to it, effectively ending the game.

Collins’ counterpart played about as well as could be asked, especially considering how skittish he appeared just seven days earlier. Schaub made a wide variety of throws, aiming for Johnson twice as often as anyone else but still effectively spreading it around on an afternoon where the run game got him 2.2 yards a carry.

Schaub finished with 357 yards, four TDs and no turnovers.

“We just kind of went back to some of our base stuff and things that our players were comfortable with because we were making too many mistakes,” Kubiak said of offensive changes from last weeks’ ugly loss to the Jets. “I think tempo and just how we play, speed of how we practiced made us play a little better.”

Schaub had solid protection after things settled down. The Titans had seven hits, no sacks and didn’t harass him into mistakes the way they have at times in the past.

“If we get good pressure, guys don’t catch balls, if we get sacks, they don’t make big plays,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “When you come out of a game when they are throwing the ball with the success they had and you have no sacks, you’ve got to do more in our department.”

4. Houston was willing to rely on a role player in a huge situation: With 4:12 left in the third quarter, I didn’t feel like the Texans had to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Titans’ 37. They could have pinned the Titans deep and taken their chances, still down seven.

But after a timeout, they came out and went with an empty backfield with three receivers and two tight ends on the field. Schaub dropped back and fired to the least likely guy of the five eligible targets -- tight end Joel Dreessen.

He caught the 4-yard pass in front of Keith Bulluck with Fuller bearing down.

I was struck that a team with a lot of big names went to the one most NFL followers can’t spell as such a time.

“You’re saying it’s unexpected?” Dreessen said with a laugh. “Empty backfield, I saw the leverage I had so I knew I had to break it off quick and Matt saw the same thing and put it on me.”

Five plays later Daniels caught a 1-yard touchdown pass and it was 31-31.

“Coach Kubiak hit on it [Saturday] night,” Dreessen said. “We have to become a team, we have to have each others’ backs, especially playing an awesome, physical team like Tennessee that tries to intimidate you. It’s going to take everybody, that’s the message he sent to us, and I think we came through with that.”

5. A transformational result: I’m not going there. Anyone who follows the Texans has seen a wins they felt sure denoted some shift in the franchise’s DNA.

Players were reluctant to make such seismic statements, either.

“We went out and got it done,” Ryans said. “I’m not going to say it’s transformational or anything. We just got a win. We fought for four quarters. There have been times in the past where we would let up and kind of let guys off the hook.”

Said Winston: “It could be, if we make it that way. Last year we beat Tennessee and then went and laid an egg in Oakland. It can be everything we want it to be if we’re willing to go work for it. It’s about us.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Were you expecting a shootout at LP Field? I’ll admit I wasn’t. At the half we’ve got a 24-24 deadlock.

Some thoughts at intermission:
  • Here’s the other side of Matt Schaub. Skittish under pressure last week, he’s got three touchdown passes in 30 minutes this week and has made some excellent throws, even without No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter (hamstring) again. And that’s with a handful of drops working against him, too.
  • Know how you bemoan a draw on third-and-long every time? The Titans gave everyone in the league film they can show for why it’s worth a crack. Chris Johnson converted a third-and-19 with a 57-yard touchdown run.
  • The team that cleans up better may win. Way too many penalties, particularly from jumpy linemen on both sides. Four for each team doesn’t tell the whole story, because we’ve had plays made and penalties declined.
  • I am sure we’ll revisit this again, but I can’t help but watch the Texans use more than two safeties when they are healthy and think it’s evidence of how they don’t have two guys worth playing start to finish like other teams want to do. Nice pick for Eugene Wilson. But if Dominique Barber is leaving the field for John Busing at times, what does it say?
  • Don’t know who made the biggest mistake on leaving Johnson alone on the 69-yard touchdown. It sure looked like Titans free safety Michael Griffin carelessly bit on play action that resulted in Andre Johnson running alone for a 72-yard TD.

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