NFL Nation: Ed Johnson
The Panthers just listed today’s inactives and Edwards is listed as the emergency third quarterback. That means, if he enters the game before the fourth quarter, starter Brian St. Pierre and backup Tony Pike can’t return. So I wouldn’t plan on seeing Edwards, unless the other two guys get hurt.
The rest of Carolina’s inactives are not surprising, with many of them tied to injuries. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, running backs Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton, guard Travelle Wharton, receiver Brandon LaFell, cornerback Marcus Hudson and defensive tackle Ed Johnson are all on the inactive list.
Center Jeff Faine, who is returning from injury, will start for the Bucs. There had been some thought that Jeremy Zuttah, who had played center in Faine’s absence, would move to left guard. But that’s not happening. Ted Larsen will start at left guard and James Lee will start at right tackle in place of Jeremy Trueblood, who had been injured, but is active today. Erik Lorig will start at fullback in place of the injured Earnest Graham.
On defense, Tim Crowder will start at end in place of the injured Kyle Moore. DeKoda Watson will start at strongside linebacker in place of Quincy Black.
For Carolina, Mike Goodson will get the start at running back because DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton all are out with injuries. Nick Hayden will start at defensive tackle in place of Ed Johnson.
What it means: A win is a win. But all three of New Orleans’ victories have been ugly. This team has some issues and injuries. You can survive that against the Panthers, but there are some tough games coming up later in the season and the Saints can’t win some of those unless they start playing a lot better. Despite playing better than they have all season, it’s over for the Panthers. They’re 0-4 and John Fox is a lame-duck coach. Injuries to receiver Steve Smith and defensive tackle Ed Johnson looked significant enough that Carolina could face a couple of games without those two players. The effort was there Sunday, but that’s tough to continue when you’re in a downhill spiral.
Hero: John Carney. The 46-year-old kicker was signed this week after Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in overtime last week. Carney connected on all three of his attempts, including the game winner.
Injuries of note: Carolina wide receiver Smith left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter. The Panthers went with rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis the rest of the game. New Orleans opened the game without starting strong safety Roman Harper, who was injured last week. Pierson Prioleau started in Harper’s place, but was injured in the first half. Chris Reis took Harper’s place, but suffered a shoulder injury. The Saints had to finish the game with Usama Young, their only remaining safety.
What’s next: The Saints will be on the road the next two games. First, they travel to Arizona. Then, on Oct. 17, they go to Tampa Bay. The Panthers host Chicago in a game that has a big subplot as Bears defensive end Julius Peppers returns to play against his former team for the first time. The Panthers have their bye the following week.
We looked at the defensive ends on Monday and saw that the list was topped by Will Smith and an aging John Abraham, and filled out with a bunch of prospects and role players. We’re looking at defensive tackles today and the pickings might be even more slender.
- Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons. This one was easy. Babineaux is by no means an All-Pro, but he’s proven over time he’s a very solid defensive tackle, which might make him the only one in the division. Babineaux should be helped by having Peria Jerry and Corey Peters joining the rotation this year. Last season, Babineaux led the Falcons with 6 sacks.[+] EnlargeDale Zanine/US PresswireJonathan Babineaux had 47 tackles, including six sacks for the Falcons last season.
- Sedrick Ellis, Saints. No, he hasn’t dominated like a lot of people thought he would coming into the league two years ago. But the main reasons for that have been injuries. When he’s healthy, Ellis isn’t far from the same level as Babineaux, and, eventually, could turn out to be better.
- Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers. Yep, I’m going with a rookie this high. Part of it is because there’s not a lot to choose from. But part of it is because I think McCoy’s going to be really good right from the start. Don’t be surprised if he’s at the top of this list a year from now. I’ve had two general managers from other teams with early picks that they had McCoy ranked ahead of Ndamukong Suh, who went one pick ahead of McCoy to Detroit.
- Anthony Hargrove, Saints. Like a lot of NFL teams, the Saints rotate their defensive tackles a lot and Hargrove technically might not be a starter. But Hargrove’s going to play a lot. He straightened his life around as he joined the Saints last year and it looks like the arrow continues to point up on this guy.
- Peria Jerry, Falcons. We’ll see if this one ends up being a reach or not. There are big questions about Jerry’s health as he comes back from a major knee injury that sidelined him for most of his rookie year. But the guy was a first-round pick. The Falcons are going to rotate their tackles heavily and may be a little cautious with Jerry at first, but they’re hoping he can emerge as a force as the season goes on.
- Roy Miller, Buccaneers. McCoy and second-round pick Brian Price are getting all the attention, but Miller’s another young defensive tackle the Bucs are expecting big things from. He’ll probably start next to McCoy. Miller’s not the kind of guy who will put up big stats, but he’s a “plugger’’ and should be a big boast for the run defense.
- Brian Price, Buccaneers. He’s more explosive than Miller and although McCoy’s been drawing all the comparisons to Warren Sapp, Price is the guy that actually is built like Sapp, and, theoretically, should be able to play like Sapp did. But a preseason injury set back Price just enough to probably keep him out of the starting lineup. That doesn’t really matter. He’ll rotate in a lot.
- Corey Peters, Falcons. If Jerry’s not healthy, the Falcons are going to have to rely on Peters a lot. Either way, Peters will have a prominent role in the rotation. He showed more polish in camp than the Falcons expected from a third-round choice.
- Louis Leonard, Panthers. His health remains a question. But, if Leonard is on the field, he’s the best defensive tackle the Panthers have.
- Remi Ayodele, Saints. Yeah, I know this guy started 13 games for the Super Bowl champions last year and he could start again. But Ayodele is more role player than anything else. He’s all right against the run, but doesn’t bring anything special to the table.
- Ed Johnson, Panthers. If he keeps dropping weight like he has throughout the preseason, Johnson probably will end up starting or getting significant playing time. The Panthers took a chance on this guy because he played under defensive coordinator Ron Meeks with the Colts before running into some trouble. But Johnson appears to be getting his career back on track.
- Trey Lewis, Falcons. Again, much will depend on Jerry’s health. But with Babineaux suspended for the first game, Lewis might have some role in a rotation.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In the kindest of terms, fans and media are referring to the Carolina Panthers as a team in a youth movement.
There’s some basis for that as they opened camp with the league’s third-youngest roster after saying farewell to popular veterans such as Julius Peppers, Jake Delhomme and Brad Hoover.
In the harshest of terms, fans and media have referred to those departures as a “bloodletting’’ and are talking about the Panthers as a team without an identity, a team that’s not going to be very good.
Now, let’s turn to two guys who beg to differ.
“How do you say we’re going through a youth movement, when we beat those teams late in the season using the same key components?’’ running back DeAngelo Williams said. “People can say what they want to say. But we know what it takes to win and we have what it takes to win.’’
“The way I look at it is, I like our core guys,’’ linebacker Jon Beason said. “I think we have a great nucleus. Now we’re looking for a few good men, a few young guys who are talented. For those young guys, it’s an opportunity to come in and do great things.’’
Maybe Beason and Williams have valid points. They’re two team leaders with a pretty good feel for the pulse of the locker room. They also have impressive résumés. Williams was one of two Carolina running backs (Jonathan Stewart was the other) to run for 1,100 yards last season. Scouts, coaches and players everywhere will tell you Beason is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
Can you really call the Panthers a team without a face?
That’s kind of a difficult statement to make when you look at Carolina’s roster and see Beason and Williams. Then, keep looking and you see Stewart, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, right tackle Jeff Otah, receiver Steve Smith and cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Those are all guys the Panthers view as core players. Look around the league and see how many teams have that many core players in place.
“There are question marks, sure,’’ coach John Fox said. “Anytime you have question marks, the expectations on the outside might not be that high. But on the inside, we know we’ve got some very good core players and those core players are going to have to have big seasons.
THREE HOT ISSUES
Sure, that’s not the longest of track records and the Panthers did draft Jimmy Clausen in the second round. But this isn’t the Carolina camp of 2001, where the Panthers were kind of expecting Jeff Lewis to fail and to hand the job to rookie Chris Weinke.
Williams’ point about the youth movement taking place last year might be right. Moore won this job with his play down the stretch and, so far in camp, the team’s confidence in him is only growing.
“Matt Moore is a gamer,’’ Williams said. “When he mentally locks in, the game comes easy for him. All quarterbacks in the league are pretty much the same. They can all throw the ball or they wouldn’t be here. The thing that separates the good ones from the bad ones is decision making. Matt Moore can make decisions. Matt’s going to be fine.’’
Let’s keep one other thing in mind. With an excellent offensive line, two very good running backs and Smith at wide receiver, Moore has a pretty strong supporting cast. He doesn’t need to be Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He just needs to keep mistakes to a minimum and the job can be his as long as he wants.
2. Can the defensive line be any good? For much of Fox’s tenure, the defensive line has been the foundation of the team. But Peppers was the last in a line of supernovas that used to include Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. There are no current stars on this defensive front.
But Fox and the Panthers don’t appear to view that as a bad thing. They’re not expecting any single guy to come in and replace Peppers. They believe they can get quality out of quantity and are hoping the defensive front can attack in waves. They’ve got high hopes for Charles Johnson and Everette Brown, and rookies Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy have been very impressive in camp. They brought back Tyler Brayton for a bit of continuity, but they feel they’ve got some pass-rushers who can emerge.
They also have a better feeling about defensive tackles Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Ed Johnson than a lot of people realize. This might not be the traditional Fox defensive front with a huge run-stuffer in the middle and a big name on the outside. But, keep in mind, the Panthers brought in Ron Meeks as defensive coordinator last year and his system is based more on speed than power up front.
“We were eighth in the league in defense a year ago with a new scheme,’’ Fox said. “It’s kind of early to tell, but we should be better with our scheme the second time around.’’
He’s a confident guy with a pretty solid résumé. He’s not losing sleep because he knows he can get another job if it comes to that. But he wants to make it work in Carolina, a place where his family has set down roots. Keep in mind, Fox never has had a truly bad season. There have been some disappointing years, but the record’s always been close to or above .500. He’s sometimes stumbled a bit when expectations were high, but he always has done his best job when people weren’t counting on much out of the Panthers.
Greg Hardy. The defensive end was a sixth-round draft pick because his college career didn’t end all that well. But the Panthers took a shot because they thought there was uncommon physical talent sitting out there late in the draft. So far, they feel as if they might have hit a home run. Hardy has looked great in camp. Coaches are noticing him and so are other players. There were some questions about Hardy’s ability to focus on football at the pro level. But so far, so good on that end. Brayton, Johnson and Brown are competing for the starting jobs, but Hardy appears to be carving out some playing time.
Dwayne Jarrett. As they’ve been doing for his entire career, the Panthers are hoping the light suddenly comes on for this wide receiver. He’s still running with the first team, but all indications are it’s just not happening for Jarrett. There’s still some work to be done and polish to be added, but the Panthers are starting to think rookie Brandon LaFell is their best option at the starting position opposite Smith. Jarrett basically is fighting for a roster spot at this point. The fact he’s still making mental mistakes this far into his career means there’s a good chance he’s gone before the preseason is over.
- As mentioned above, the Panthers are singing Moore’s praises and that’s all very legitimate. But behind the scenes, the Panthers also are thrilled with what they’ve seen from Clausen. His physical skills and mechanics are as solid as expected and Clausen’s doing everything right on and off the field. There’s not a sense of urgency to play him because Moore has looked so solid. But the Panthers believe they got a steal when they took Clausen in the second round.
- There’s been a lot of hype about third-round draft pick Armanti Edwards. Understandable because he was a college quarterback and came from Appalachian State, which automatically makes him popular in the Carolinas. The Panthers aren’t disappointed with Edwards by any means, but the reality is he’s just feeling his way as a receiver and a return man. Don’t look for him to be a huge contributor instantly. There’s big upside here because Edwards is so dynamic and he might be in a few packages early on. But it’s going to take some time for him to become a staple in this offense.
- The Panthers let go of Keydrick Vincent, who played every snap at right guard last season, for a reason. He was older and they had Duke Robinson waiting in the wings. Coaches, players and the front office believe Robinson can be a punishing run-blocker. Put him on the right side with Otah and the Panthers believe that side of the line can be just as good as the left, where Gross and Travelle Wharton are outstanding.
- If you’re looking for a long shot to make the roster, I’ll throw out Trent Guy’s name. This is a tiny wide receiver, but every time I looked up during my visit to Wofford College, Guy seemed to be making a play. He’s got rare speed and good hands, and also could be a factor in the return game.
- Thomas Davis, who had major knee surgery in June, has been hanging around at camp and working hard at his rehab. The Panthers haven’t ruled out a possible return for him later this season, but I don't see that happening for a guy who has torn his ACL twice in less than a year. The Panthers wouldn’t have moved Beason from the middle to the weak side unless they thought he’d stay there for the long haul. At the moment, they’re happy with what they’ve seen from Dan Connor in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. That better stay that way because, aside from Jamar Williams, there’s no real depth at linebacker.
- A lot of people have questioned why the Panthers would take Beason out of the middle where he’s been such a dominant player. The answer is simple. Under Meeks, the Panthers run the “Tampa 2’’ defense. In that scheme, everything goes through the Will linebacker. Think Derrick Brooks.
Item No. 1 on virtually every team's list of needs after the 2008 season was defensive tackle. A new head coach with a new defensive coordinator would still want quick interior linemen, but a little more beef would help the team better tamp down the run.
Thus, the Colts selected Fili Moala out of USC in the second round of the 2009 draft. They grabbed Terrance Taylor from Michigan in the fourth round. They recruited Adrian Grady from Louisville as an undrafted free agent. They ultimately brought back veteran Ed Johnson, who had been waived early in the 2008 season.
Things were going to appear a whole lot different between veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Months later, here stand the Colts, a game away from their second Super Bowl in four seasons. The three defensive tackles who will key the run-stopping efforts Sunday against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game are... the same three guys they intended to replace with upgrades.
New York has a Pro Bowl center in Nick Mangold and a Pro Bowl left guard in Alan Faneca, two key pieces of an offensive line that blocks for the NFL’s top rushing team. The Colts will counter with starting defensive tackles Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir and Eric Foster as the primary changeup.
Of all the "upgrades," only second-rounder Moala stuck -- and he's inactive when the guys ahead of him are healthy.
The three holdovers are used to beating long odds. Antonio Johnson was signed off the Tennessee Titans' practice squad in early November 2008 and played eight games with the Colts that season. Muir was a waiver claim from the Green Bay Packers in late August 2008. Foster was an undrafted free agent from Rutgers signed in 2008.
And so it’s no-names versus big-names in the trenches when the Jets have the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it could be the matchup most telling in who wins the AFC title and advances to the Super Bowl.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 6. This week: 2.
Where they stand: The Colts are the AFC’s lone unbeaten team and as they prepare for their showdown Sunday night against New England, they rate as the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl in Miami on February 7, 2010.
|Andy Lyons/Getty Images|
|Third-round draft pick Jerraud Powers has been a pleasant surprise at cornerback for the Colts.|
Disappointments: Incumbent left tackle Tony Ugoh lost his starting job to Charlie Johnson and currently rates so low among the team’s offensive linemen that he’s not even dressed for the Colts’ last three games. Another lineman drafted high and expected to be a long-term answer, guard Mike Pollak, has shared time with journeyman Kyle DeVan, who played in 2009 with the Boise Burn of ArenaFootball2. The run game continues to struggle, with only 85.4 yards a game and just 3.4 a carry from lead back Joseph Addai.
Defensive tackle Ed Johnson was supposed to spur a run defense revival on his second chance, but word is he was lazy and not in shape and the team surprised a lot of people by cutting him after five games.
Surprises: As a result of injuries, the Colts have gotten four starts from Kelvin Hayden and none from Marlin Jackson, the two players the team expected to be locked in as their top cornerbacks. That’s a scenario that would undo the season for virtually every team in the league. But the Colts have gotten great play from third-round draft pick Jerraud Powers and undrafted rookie Jacob Lacey, with veteran Tim Jennings working as the extra corner.
Indianapolis ranks an impressive ninth against the pass even without those two corners and with only two games from another secondary starter, strong safety Bob Sanders who’s now out for the season along with Jackson.
Outlook: The Colts have a tough stretch coming, with New England Sunday night followed by trips to Baltimore and Houston for a rematch with the Texans. Their first loss, or two, will likely arrive in that span, but they should still wind up with the top seed in the conference and line up for two home games in the playoffs.
The question is whether Caldwell can jolt them out of the first-round funk that’s seen them bow out of the postseason quickly to San Diego two years in a row after winning Super Bowl XLI.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
We know a lot about the AFC South after five weeks, and each team has at least one big question as Week 6 rolls around. Let’s examine each team, shall we?
|Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Steve Slaton is gaining just 3.2 yards per carry after averaging 4.8 ypc in 2008.|
But these Texans cannot run -- they rank 30th in the league with only 75.4 yards a game. After they struck out in their pursuit of free agent Cedric Benson -- who may have been perfect but certainly found a better situation in Cincinnati -- they failed to find the complementary back to go with Slaton. Their undrafted rookies didn’t earn the job and they turned to veteran Chris Brown. Unfortunately, Brown is completely miscast as a short-yardage specialist and has failed to score from close range when given the chance to tie two games late.
Left guard Chester Pitts was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in Week 2 and right guard Mike Brisiel is finished for the year with a foot injury. Take away 40 percent of a line that relies on continuity and it compounds the problem. With a 3.2-yard average, Slaton is not been nearly as explosive as he was last season when he averaged 4.8 yards a carry.
Maybe they tinker with the scheme based on how they are being defended. But they’re going to have to do their best to work through it, as a personnel change that would solve things doesn’t seem possible.
Cop-out alert: At 5-0 heading into their bye, the Colts aren’t perfect and run-blocking qualifies as a concern. But I am hard-pressed to call it an issue or to find another. I think they are the best team in the AFC.
I thought the waiving of Ed Johnson was going to amount to the team’s first adversity. But once the team said it was a result of performance, I think it became something that won’t linger long. Having the smallest section in this blog entry is a good thing, and the three others would happily trade spots.
The Jaguars have done all sort of tinkering with their defensive front, and they are now regarded as a 3-4 team that converts into a 4-3 on third down and clear-cut pass-rush situations. No matter how the linemen and linebackers are aligning, however, they fail to generate a consistent pass rush.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Derrick Harvey, a 2008 first-round pick, has yet to collect a sack this season.|
They will continue to try to find ways to collapse the pocket and hit the quarterback. But the Jags are downplaying expectations for second-year end-outside linebacker Derrick Harvey as a rusher. They traded up to draft him at No. 8 last season and took Quentin Groves in the second round. The two were supposed to be the next generation of pass-rushers. They’ve combined for no sacks, one fewer than defensive tackle Montavious Stanley, a player who’s been waived four times since 2006.
Guys on the roster can get better and stronger, but this group needs an influx of talent that won’t arrive until free agency and the draft.
The good news on the pass-rush front? Nine of the Jaguars’ remaining 11 opponents don’t have unflappable, high-quality quarterbacks. But those quarterbacks will be excited at the possibility of having their best days against Jacksonville because they could be harassed less against the Jags.
There isn’t a unit on the Titans that isn’t culpable for their 0-5 start. Out of 22 starters, I can only look at one -- middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch -- and conclude he’s doing better work this season than he did a year ago.
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|The Titans need Michael Griffin to step up in the secondary.|
Certainly a less effective, less consistent pass rush is a piece of the poor pass coverage. The defensive line is considered the team’s deepest position, and it’s a group that must play better to help those in coverage survive.
But what the Titans need to happen in the defensive backfield to provide some long-term comfort is for free safety Michael Griffin, who’s regressed, and Finnegan, once he’s healed up, to make leaps in maturity and accountability and show they can be guys to be built around the way Michael Roos and David Stewart are on the offensive line.
The young talent must return to form. We’ve talked about age as an issue, and it’s fair to presume there will be a lot of turnover after this season with or without a new collective bargaining agreement.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
The Colts did Ed Johnson a big disservice the way they handled his release.
|Don McPeak/US Presswire|
|Ed Johnson (92) had 11 tackles and no sacks through four games.|
Johnson was cut last season for violating a zero-tolerance policy in place for him regarding off-the-field issues. He was brought back this season with those same strict guidelines.
Considering the fanfare that greeted his return, that he was a starter since he was reinstated from his Week 1 suspension and that there had been no public questioning of his play, the team had to know a release without explanation was going to prompt suspicions he’d done something wrong off the field.
Coach Jim Caldwell admitted as much when he began to address it Wednesday.
“I know some might wonder whether or not it was a character issue,” he said.
If you knew, coach, why wouldn’t you seek to clarify that it was not as soon as possible? Isn’t that what you would have liked for someone to do for you if you were in a similar circumstance?
The team could have simply put out a statement Tuesday or have word passed down from on high that it was a production issue, not a behavioral one.
Here’s Caldwell’s entire explanation about how the move was tied to the addition of kicker Matt Stover.
“We released Ed Johnson. I know some might wonder whether or not it was a character issue. It was not. We had to take a real good look at our roster and see where we may be able to make an adjustment here or there to get another guy on it. (With) Ed (it) was more production than anything else.
On if rookie defensive tackle Fili Moala will now be in the rotation:
“Yes. Antonio Johnson is still there and Dan Muir along with Fili will rotate along with Eric Foster. We will still have a four-man rotation. I believe he [Moala] will do just like we expect him to do. There are a lot of young guys who come in and step up and are able to do the job, and we expect the same from him. He has shown, the last couple of weeks in particular, he has really come along. He has made some strides. We are going to have an opportunity to get him out there and see what he can do.”
On the reason for the Ed Johnson release:
“It was production or lack thereof.”
On when Adam Vinatieri’s knee injury came about:
“Last week is when the issue arose where it required a MRI and from that, we made a decision on what to do and how to go about it. He wanted to fight through it and continue to go, but we felt this was the best course of action.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Take Dwight Freeney out of the Colts lineup, and Indianapolis is obviously not as good. His four sacks are third in the league. He’s a pass rusher who keeps blockers and quarterbacks on edge.
He told reporters he “felt something pop” in his right quad during Sunday night’s win in Arizona.
Jim Caldwell gave the standard Monday response when asked about the injury during his Monday press conference:
“I know Dwight has spoken to a couple of you and expressed he had an injury in a particular area. We are going to reserve comments until after the MRI, which he had this morning. The results should come back a little later on.”
Freeney missed seven games after suffering a foot injury in 2007, but the team won six games in a row without him before a meaningless regular season finale. The Colts lost their first playoff game to San Diego.
He’s had double-digit sacks in five of his seven seasons, with only 3.5 in the injury year and 5.5 in 2006, when the Colts won the Super Bowl.
If he’s out, Indianapolis wouldn’t wave a white flag. They’d proceed as they have without many injured guys, with a next man up approach.
They’d turn to Raheem Brock, their high-quality third end and ask for more from Keyunta Dawson. He played tackle last year but was shifted to end this year as the Colts beefed up inside after bringing back Ed Johnson and drafting Fili Moala.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Titans’ secondary has been shaky and he’s not alone. But heading into his third year, he should be communicating better and not making gigantic mistakes.
2. Jaguars defense: Zero sacks and only one hit on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, who set a record with his completion percentage from a nearly spotless 24-of-26, 243-yard day with two touchdowns and a 131.2 passer rating.
If the Jaguars can’t generate any pressure, Matt Schaub will be the next signal-caller to pick them apart.
3. Colts interior defensive line: They were exhausted for how many snaps they had to play. But the Indianapolis tackles need to be more productive collapsing the pocket and stuffing the run when the ends draw attention as they did in Miami.
Ed Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock and Daniel Muir need to do more. The bulkier Johnson and Johnson are supposed to have more impact against the run.
Clark was spectacular in Miami as the Dolphins concentrated on limiting Reggie Wayne. With seven catches for 183 yards he produced the fourth biggest game for a tight end since 1970. His ability to run after the catch was fantastic.
He was a nightmare for the Titans’ secondary all day, and showed why the offense must flow thorough him. Schaub threw in his direction twice as much as anyone else, finding him 10 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
He did so much so fast that the quick production almost hurt the Titans’ chances to establish an offensive rhythm. If he keeps it up, they’ll happily adjust.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
The Texans need a lot from Brian Cushing and Dunta Robinson: The rookie linebacker and the veteran cornerback were not part of the preseason, when the defense was not good, particularly against the run. Can they provide the missing ingredients against the Jets, who will be determined to run it? I think they will be difference-makers, but fear that others think their mere presence will “fix” things.
|Drew Hallowell/Getty Images|
|How productive will Anthony Gonzalez be in a passing game already featuring Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark?|
Anthony Gonzalez can do a lot to quiet skeptics: I think he’s going to be a very productive player with an expanded role for the post-Marvin Harrison Colts. But there are plenty of people doubting just how much he will be able to do as the second or third option for Peyton Manning after Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. If he gets turns against rookie cornerback Derek Cox he needs to help Manning take advantage of Cox’s inexperience.
Mario Williams is bound to draw lots of attention: Whether he’s on the right where he starts out or flipped to the left in pass-rushing downs, the Texans stud defensive end will draw a lot of attention from the Jets. Here’s the first test as to whether the Texans can generate sufficient pass rush from elsewhere. Free-agent additions Antonio Smith and Shaun Cody and rookie Connor Barwin need to penetrate, hit and fluster rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to maximize Houston’s chances.
Some rookie will rank as a hero or a goat in Indy: We’ve mentioned Monroe, Britton and Cox. Jacksonville will also start defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. The Colts are expected to start rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers and will rely on contributions from receiver Austin Collie, running back Donald Brown and punter Pat McAfee. If one of those eight guys has a great or terrible game, he’s likely to be a big piece of the storyline at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Three quick hits on the Indianapolis Colts:
1. Jim Caldwell will be a steady leader. Sure, there is still some adjusting for a team led by Tony Dungy for so long. But Caldwell has a similar demeanor, and the first time this team faces a crisis and looks to him, I expect it'll like how he responds. Too much has been made of other changes on the coaching staff. Tom Moore and Howard Mudd are back in place leading the offense and offensive line, respectively, after retirements that helped with their pensions. And new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and special teams coach Ray Rychleski replaced coaches many thought Dungy had been loyal to for too long.
2. The defense is bigger and more physical. Philip Wheeler and Clint Session are more rugged as the outside backers. The interior defensive line is much bigger with Ed Johnson back and rookies Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor in the mix. That should mean the team fares better in run defense, but all these guys can run too, so the team hasn't sacrificed its dedication to speed. Look for more variety on defense, as indications are a Cover-2 team will play more man and do more blitzing. Whatever the new wrinkles to the scheme, the mindset is more aggressive. Safety Bob Sanders many not be ready for opening day but the team has an excellent fill-in with Melvin Bullitt.
3. Marvin Harrison was hardly himself last year, and while not having him makes things different for Peyton Manning, he's got a solid stable of weapons with Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. While protection and run blocking are issues at the start, firepower shouldn't be. Addai looks primed for a rebound after a second-year slow-down and Brown is a more dynamic second option out of the backfield.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|New coach Jim Caldwell has made a number of changes and the Colts appear happy with the alterations.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
But Freeney is content with new coach Jim Caldwell's changes at defensive coordinator and special teams coach. The Colts' star defensive end surveys a landscape that no longer includes Ron Meeks and Russ Purnell and feels just fine.
"I think that's one thing people need to understand: We had a lot of success in the years with Meeks and Purnell and, yeah, we are changing personnel as far as those coaching positions are concerned. But change is not always a bad thing," he said. "If you look at the end result, and I'm not saying it was their fault, but we only achieved the end goal once even though we were very successful.
"And I'm not saying it was because of them. But there is always room for improvement. You never know -- you change things around, it brings new energy, it brings new fire. We could see some bigger things."
That energy was palpable early in camp from a team that overcame a lot to go 12-4 last year, then botched a big opportunity in a playoff game in San Diego.
The Colts have had a smooth transition because they anticipated the change and had Caldwell serve as associate head coach under Dungy. Caldwell removed Meeks and Purnell, replacing them with Larry Coyer and Ray Rychleski, respectively.
But the other key people in the organization who provide major stability are still in place -- Bill Polian is still the team president and Peyton Manning is still the quarterback.
Like Freeney, Polian believes some change can be a good thing.
"Sometimes that's good -- you hear a different voice, you hear a different approach, it gets the message across in a different manner," Polian said. "Both are excellent coaches, both are terrific guys.
"They're both organized and they're both good teachers, so I don't think there is any real change there. But maybe the way the lesson is taught might be a little bit different and it's probably, in the end, good."
1. Can the third-down defense get Manning the ball back?
The Colts tied for second worst in the league in third-down conversion rate, allowing teams to convert on third down 47.4 percent of the time. Bend-but-don't-break is going out of fashion under Coyer, according to many of his players. And with third down as a focus, they hope to get the offense back on the field and allow their best people to spend more time working.
Only six teams fared worse in time of possession than the Colts (28:39) last year. No matter how opponents try to play keep-away, getting Manning and the offense on the field more must be a priority.
2. Does Manning have the weapons and protection?
Reggie Wayne has been the de facto No. 1 receiver for a while already. And Anthony Gonzalez is primed for a great year in his third season, with a lot more opportunities to come. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie were both impressive early in camp and appear primed to be steady contributors, and Donald Brown provided a second running back with dynamic possibilities.
The protection question may be a bigger conc
ern. Charlie Johnson has been inserted at left tackle. While he has been an effective fill-in, if he is the guy for 16 games, defensive ends named Mario Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch are going to find the holes in his game. Perhaps Tony Ugoh responds to the demotion and seizes the job back. Either way, could Manning have to worry more about getting hit from a blind side rusher than he has in the past?
3. Can special teams provide a boost?
Mediocre to poor special teams have been the norm for the Colts, and under Dungy there seemed to be a level of tacit acceptance. Enter Rychleski, a fiery and passionate special teams coach who Caldwell hired from South Carolina. As in many of the departments where the Colts ranked poorly in the past, just a moderate improvement can make a big difference.
The return games have been the worst element. T.J. Rushing is the leading candidate right now, but rookies Collie and Jerraud Powers could provide a boost. Another rookie, Pat McAfee is slated to be the new punter.
Working predominantly as the third receiver last season, Gonzalez had 664 receiving yards. Bumped up to No. 2, he should be poised to top 1,000 yards and improve on the four touchdown catches he totaled in 2008. He is typecast by too many as a slot guy, but in three wide receiver sets it appears more likely that Wayne or Collie will line up inside.
Gonzalez is a complete receiver who has established a great rapport with Manning -- so much so that Manning invited the receiver to serve as his caddy at a pro-am golf tournament in April.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|The Colts are counting on Donald Brown to have a big impact in his rookie season.|
Newcomer to watch
While most analysts figured the Colts would look wide receiver or defensive tackle late in the first round, Polian spent the 27th pick in the draft on highly productive UConn running back Brown. An indictment of Joseph Addai? Perhaps. An upgrade over Dominic Rhodes? Absolutely.
The Colts' plans for Brown and their opinion of Addai after an off year in which he struggled with with knee trouble are both unclear. But Caldwell has made it clear he anticipates significant work for his top two backs. Brown was effective in his first preseason action, even as it came against a mix of second- and third-string Minnesota defenders. High draft picks on offense are expected to help right away and rookie running backs regularly plug in and excel. It's what Addai did in 2006 as the league's leading rookie rusher and it's what Brown may well do in the same offense.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri (hip) isn't expected back until the very end of the preseason. When he's kicking again, he will work intensively with McAfee, his new holder, to get their rhythm and timing down. ... If everyone is healthy in the secondary, work as the dime won't be sufficient for safety Melvin Bullitt. Expect the Colts to creatively find other ways to get him on the field regularly. His development likely means Antoine Bethea won't be re-signed when he becomes a free agent. ... Ryan Lilja is the best run blocker on the line and will also help Jeff Saturday provide an additional veteran influence on the younger players in the offensive line meeting room. ... While Harrison was locked in to lining up in the right, Reggie Wayne will move from the left into the slot, making him tougher to predict and defend. ... Curtis Painter's preseason play could determine his fate. The team doesn't intend for the rookie quarterback to be Manning's backup this season -- that's still Jim Sorgi's job. But injuries and numbers at other spots could impact their ability to keep three signal-callers. Ideally they would have Painter on the practice squad, but what if someone else wants to sign him away? ... Gijon Robinson can block and catch and qualifies as a starter. Buy the development of two second-year right ends could cut into his time. Jacob Tamme runs good routes and has good hands, qualifying as more of a pass catcher while he's emerging as a better blocker. Tom Santi can be a combination guy but has had health issues. ... Because the Colts added three big bodies to the defensive tackle mix -- veteran Ed Johnson and rookies Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor -- two guys who contributed in the interior last year could see far less action. Keyunta Dawson has been moved to end and Eric Foster could get caught in a numbers crunch. ... If Philip Wheeler and Clint Session lock in the outside linebacker spots, then Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will give the Colts something they have not often had -- veteran linebackers available for a lot of special teams work. ... Dante Hughes looks to have fallen out of favor, which creates a lot of opportunity for Powers. ... Maybe I just caught him on a good couple days of practice, but receiver Taj Smith looks like a guy with real potential to develop. Look for him on the practice squad again.
How things sort themselves out at defensive tackle for the Colts will be a big training camp storyline once practices start Monday.
The team went into the offseason determined to get bigger in the middle and added three players who give them size but can also move the way they need their tackles to: veteran returnee Ed Johnson (6-foot-2, 296 pounds) and draft picks Fili Moala (6-4, 303) and Terrance Taylor (6-0, 319).
"It's designed specifically to get us back to where we were when we had Booger McFarland and Corey Simon," Colts president Bill Polian said. "Corey, I don't know what the hell he was, he might have been 320, Booger was between 307 and 310. And that's what you need to play; you can't play at 265.
"We're not looking for the space-eater, we're not looking for the guy who's just going to sit there and absorb blocks. The idea is not to keep blockers off the linebackers, that's not the design of our defense. But we needed to get people who could stand a gap over 16 games, and that's what we have when we were at our best."
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