NFL Nation: Greg Jones

METAIRIE, La. -- Austin Johnson went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2012, when he signed as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens.

So needless to say, it’s a bit of a surprise that Johnson now stands as the New Orleans Saints’ likely starting fullback heading into this season. But that is indeed the case after the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has taken advantage of his opportunity to replace injured starter Erik Lorig during training camp.

[+] EnlargeAustin Johnson
AP Photo/Sam RicheAustin Johnson helped his cause to start for the Saints with a TD in last Saturday's preseason game.
Johnson’s 3-yard touchdown reception last Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts showed off his versatility as an agile pass-catcher and a powerful hitter. Johnson drove through linebacker Erik Walden to reach the goal line.

"I like to show that I can do it all and that I'm not like a stiff, not-able-to-move fullback,” Johnson said. “You know, I can run, I can catch and I can also block. So I try to show that throughout my game."

Johnson played fullback early in his career at Tennessee before switching to linebacker. So teams looked at him in both roles as he came out of college. When he didn’t make the Ravens’ roster, the Saints later signed him the following January with the intention of switching him to fullback. He spent most of last season on New Orleans’ practice squad.

Johnson figured his best chance to crack the Saints’ roster this year would be through special teams. But when Lorig suffered a leg injury a week into practice, he became the No. 1 fullback.

The extent of Lorig’s injury is still unknown, though he hasn’t even appeared on the sidelines during practice yet. And Johnson will still have to fend off 13-year veteran fullback Greg Jones, whom the Saints signed in the wake of Lorig’s injury.

But so far, Johnson has done his best to make the decision easy for the Saints’ coaches.

"I knew nothing was going to be easy. I knew that I was going to have competition, and when they brought in Greg, I just knew I needed to keep playing well. I knew they weren’t just going to give me the starting spot,” Johnson said. “We’re still competing for that spot. And I’m just trying to go out there and show them what I can do and hopefully give them enough confidence that I can play.”

Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees certainly had enough trust in Johnson to target him on that touchdown play Saturday -- which is no small thing, considering it was Brees’ first drive of the preseason, and he was no doubt eager to cap it off with a touchdown.

"He’s done a great job all camp. Obviously Erik Lorig going down was tough, but Austin has stepped in and done a great job whenever called upon in whatever role, whether that be the fullback position or special teams, you name it," Brees said. "He's one of those lunch-pail guys, comes to work, ready to do whatever's asked of him. He’s done that very, very well."
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have never specified the nature of fullback Erik Lorig’s leg injury. But clearly it’s not a minor issue, since Lorig hasn’t even watched a practice in street clothes since first suffering the injury during a scrimmage on Aug. 2.

Jones
The fact that the Saints immediately went out and signed veteran fullback Greg Jones was another indicator that they didn’t expect Lorig back quickly.

It’s still unknown when or if Lorig is expected back this season. But coach Sean Payton said the team will prepare as if he’s not going to be ready for Week 1, with Jones and third-year pro Austin Johnson competing to serve as Lorig’s replacement.

"Our preparation's got to be with the idea that, as Erik's rehabbing, we've got to be ready to have a fullback Week 1, with the chance it's not going to be Erik," Payton said. "And so both of those guys are competing.

“Greg’s a veteran player. Austin's been with us now for the better part of a year and a half. And so I think, No. 1, Austin's had a good camp. Greg's been here for two weeks. Both of them will play a lot again this weekend [Saturday night at Indianapolis].”

Payton later added that Johnson is “doing real well.” The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder spent most of last season on the Saints’ practice squad after signing with the team in January 2013. Johnson was actually a linebacker in college at Tennessee, and he signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012. But he didn’t find a permanent home that season.

Johnson has shown potential as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield, and he could also be used on special teams.

Meanwhile Jones, 33, is a 10-year veteran who spent last season with the Houston Texans and his first nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 6-1, 251-pounder has primarily served as a lead blocker in 131 career games played. He also has a total of 272 carries for 913 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, plus 73 receptions for 471 yards and three touchdowns.

Last season, Jones played in all 16 games for the Texans with five starts, with a total of two rushes for 2 yards and five receptions for 34 yards.

The Saints could also use their tight ends as fullbacks in certain situations. Second-year tight end Josh Hill has made some cameos in that role.
The Atlanta Falcons needed depth at the tight end position, and they actually found one before next week's NFL draft.

As announced Thursday afternoon, the team signed veteran tight end Bear Pascoe, last with the New York Giants. He entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers out of Fresno State in 2009.

The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Pascoe saw time at fullback with the Giants, which makes you wonder if the Falcons might use him primarily in a blocking role. He has played in 66 career games with 32 starts, catching 38 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown.

With Tony Gonzalez retiring and Chase Coffman not re-signed, the Falcons needed another body alongside likely starter Levine Toilolo. The only other tight around is Mickey Shuler, since the Falcons recently parted ways with the often-injured Adam Nissley.

At some point next week, the Falcons should reveal their intentions with Pascoe. The move is unlikely to keep them from drafting a tight end, with 10 draft picks presently in their possession.

The tight end spot might not be a focal point in the offense, anyhow, with the return of top receiver Julio Jones the starting point of more multiple-receiver sets. But the team's desire to be tougher up front and stronger in the run game could lead to a role for Pascoe as a blocker.

The Falcons seem to like Patrick DiMarco as a fullback, but maybe the versatile Pascoe could add more to the competition. The Falcons did look into veteran fullback Greg Jones, but nothing materialized after his workout.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three of the Jaguars who participated in this NFL Nation confidential survey are probably a bit disappointed today. The survey asked which NFL coach other than their own they’d most like to play for .

Their choice is unemployed.

Those three players picked Gary Kubiak, who at the time of the survey was still the Houston Texans' coach. He was fired on Dec. 6, one day after the Jaguars beat the Texans for the second time in 2013.

Kubiak received the most votes of any coach among the 10 players surveyed. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin was the only other coach to receive multiple votes. He was named twice. San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, and New England’s Bill Belichick each got one vote.

It’s understandable why Kubiak received more votes than anyone else. He coached a division rival so the players are familiar with him. Several players also are friends with Texans fullback Greg Jones, who spent the first nine season of his career with the Jaguars before signing with Houston as a free agent last March.

Carroll was the coach most named by the 320 players who participated in the survey. He got 72 votes. Tomlin received 44.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe it’s because the Jaguars used to face Peyton Manning twice a year, but he was the overwhelming favorite as the NFL’s most respected player among the 10 Jaguars players who participated in an NFL Nation confidential survey.

Five players voted for Manning, now with the Denver Broncos, and New England’s Tom Brady was the only other player to receive multiple votes (two). Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Houston’s Greg Jones also received votes.

That Jones received a vote wasn’t a surprise since he spent the first nine seasons of his career in Jacksonville before choosing to sign with the Texans after the 2012 season. Jones was one of the Jaguars’ most respected players.

Manning also was the overwhelming favorite in the survey of 320 players as well, earning 26.8 percent of the vote (86 votes). Brady and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson were the closest players, with each earning 7.5 percent of the vote (24 votes).
HOUSTON -- By the end of the first quarter, Houston Texans running back Ben Tate had 69 yards on eight carries with the help of a couple big runs. Led by offseason acquisition fullback Greg Jones, he scored to end a drive on which he'd accumulated 51 of the Texans' 69 yards.

Things cooled off a bit for Tate in the second quarter as it did for the Texans' offense overall against the New Orleans Saints.

Tate is in an interesting position right now. With starter Arian Foster not taking preseason snaps this week, having just come off the physically unable to perform list, Tate is getting the chance to show what he can do with the first-team offensive line.

And he's not just showing the Texans. With a contract that expires at the end of this season, Tate is likely to garner a lot of interest in free agency.

The Texans like Tate and probably would have re-signed him but for their tight salary cap situation.
He's 24-years old and is without too much mileage, given his status as a backup so far. As long as Tate can stay healthy, he'll prove to be a solid starter somewhere else. Health was his main problem last season.

It's halftime here at Reliant Stadium and the Texans trail 17-16. The Texans kept their starting offense and a lot of their starting defense in for the entire half. The Saints meanwhile, pulled Drew Brees in the second quarter and replaced him with Luke McCown, who led a seven-play 90-yard drive that featured big catches by rookie receiver Kenny Stills on both of Houston's starting corners.

Back after the game.
If the Houston Texans move forward with their interest in Vonta Leach, their old fullback, it’ll send a terrible message to late-career veterans the team looks to recruit in the future.

The Texans let Leach walk for big money two years ago.

When James Casey, an H-back miscast as a fullback, bolted for Philadelphia this offseason, the Texans signed Greg Jones.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
AP Photo/David J. PhillipIn Greg Jones, the Texans have a fullback capable of doing more than just block out of the backfield.
The former Jaguar is a quality blocker. He’s 32 and heading into his 10th season. He’s not a long-term piece, but he’s a pro who can do what the Texans need done from a lead blocker for Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

Now both Mark Berman of Fox in Houston and Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle report the Texans are interested in a return engagement for Leach.

If the Texans were to sign Leach, would they be asking him to come in and compete for the fullback job? Or would they be giving up on Jones?

If it’s the former scenario, I guess it’s fine. Though why you need a competition of that level between two very good veterans is a good question and you’re basically holding one hostage when he could be entrenching himself elsewhere now instead of when you cut him later. (It would be monstrously silly to keep both as Casey played just 53.3 percent of the Texans' offensive snaps last year.)

If it’s the latter scenario, I’ve got huge objections.

It would mean the Texans swallow $400,000 guaranteed of Jones’ one-year, $1 million contract. A team that’s tight against the cap can’t be throwing $400,000 away on a guy they don’t ever let take the field and have no complaint with. (How could they have a complaint about a fullback in June, when a fullback’s performance is based on physical play and physical play doesn’t start until late July?)

Jones would have every right to be upset and feel mistreated.

Teams make decisions all the time based on what’s available at the time, then they move on.

Fullback is not a position of need, no matter the good feelings and sentimentality they may have for Leach. He’s only six months younger than Jones.

Circumstances change, sure. But as good as Leach is, he’s not so much better than Jones that it’s something they absolutely have to do.

I asked a scout if Leach is better than Jones.

“Not better, just different,” he said. “Jones is very versatile, can run with ball, solid hands, good athlete. Leach is a blocker first, can catch but not going to be a threat.”

How much better a blocker, I asked.

“Not enough,” he said. “I would rather have the versatile player.”

If the Texans make this move, the next late-career free agent whom the Texans court will have to ask himself whether the team really wants him, or if it would jump for a slightly better alternative in a matter of months.
Jake Locker and Blaine GabbertGetty Images, USA TODAY SportsFans should see quarterbacks Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert roll out more in the 2013 season.
Jake Locker will roll out. Uche Nwaneri will zone block. And, of course, Arian Foster will run plenty of stretch plays.

Under Gary Kubiak, the Texans have long run an offense centered around zone blocking, play-action, rollouts and bootlegs. A disciple of Mike Shanahan from his time playing for and working under him in Denver, Kubiak is a firm believer in many of the tenets Shanahan used with the Broncos.

In 2013, we’ll see many of the same offensive principles in play for both the Titans and Jaguars as well.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains worked extensively under the late Mike Heimerdinger, the former Titans coordinator who was one of Shanahan’s best friends. And Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was the receivers coach in 2008 in the final year of Shanahan’s 14-year tenure in Denver.

No, the Titans and Jaguars won’t be carbon copies of Houston when they have the ball. There is different personnel and there will be different wrinkles.

But there will be plenty of recognizable similarities among the Texans, Titans and Jaguars when they have the ball.

Kevin Walter, the receiver cut by Houston who signed with Tennessee, said in early April the Titans' offense is basically the same.

Said Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell: “I think you’ll see a lot of common threads with all three of those offenses."

Perhaps that bodes well for the Colts’ defense, which will address a lot of comparable philosophies and strategies in all six of its division games.

“If that’s truly the direction that those teams are heading, it’s obviously a system that’s proven and has won and won a lot and won Super Bowls when you are talking about Shanahan in Denver,” Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. “That stretch zone scheme, it’s worked, it’s tough.

“But then at the same time, if that’s the case, in the same division playing them twice a year, you can peel the decals off the helmets, put the new decal on and walk into your guys and say, ‘Hey, there is a ton of carryover from week-to-week in the division.’ You’re going to see the four or five same run plays. The bodies might be different, the personnel might be different, but from a scheme standpoint, it helps.”

To be effective and efficient on offense, there are big questions that need to be answered about the capabilities of the two teams from the AFC South that weren’t in the playoff field in 2012.

[+] EnlargeChuck Pagano
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsHead coach Chuck Pagano says thanks to similar offensive schemes of the Colts' divisional opponents, Indianapolis can gameplan on defense.
Putting Locker and Blaine Gabbert on the move more often should work in their favor.

“The appealing thing for us is it takes pressure off the quarterback,” Caldwell said. “It allows the quarterback to get out of the pocket, it allows us to utilize the athleticism of our offensive line and put them in position to succeed.”

But the scheme can also help a disciplined defense by pretty much cutting the field in half. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be throwing back across their bodies when they roll and boot. If a play-action fake doesn’t get defenders leaning the wrong way, they can find themselves with less room to patrol.

We have to see how Locker and Gabbert adjust to altered schemes. But given their struggles in their first two years, it’s hard to figure things could be worse in a scheme their coaches believe will suit them both better.

Titans RB Chris Johnson often seemed disinterested in catching passes last year, and that will have to change if he’s going to do work more similar to Foster's. Maurice Jones-Drew has run successfully on plays with zone blocking, but the Jaguars' identity has typically been that of a power-running team during his time as the lead back. That could be a big switch for him, and for a guard like Nwaneri, who’s known more for his strength than his agility.

The Colts aren’t the only defense that could benefit from the changes.

Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee will all see more of the what they will be defending from each other in OTAs, minicamp and training camp while working against their own offenses.

“A lot of people have played that offense, we’ve played against it before,” Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “When I was in San Diego we played against Denver all the time. They were leading the league in rushing every year. So you’ve got to be aware that they are going to try to run it well.

“It probably helps a little bit that you work against it, but all of them have different running backs and different offensive lines. Scheme-wise, at least you know something about it, which helps a little.”

One downside for Houston has been that it’s not a very good come-from-behind offense.

Houston is keyed around Foster and the play-action possibilities he creates. Fall behind by two scores and it’s difficult to continue to run and to convince defenses you’ll be handing the ball off.

Last season, the Texans faced first half-deficits of 14 against the Packers, 21 against the Patriots and 10 against the Vikings. The average margin of those three Houston losses wound up being three touchdowns. In the Texans' playoff ouster at New England, they were down 14 early and lost by 13.

Matt Schaub, Locker and Gabbert all need to be able to take over a game when necessary, knowing there are times when their run-based offense will not be able to run -- either because it’s getting stopped or because their team needs to gain more yards faster than their running back can likely get them.

Tracking just how similar the three teams are in their offensive approach will be an interesting storyline for us to track this season.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said he believes while it will be easy to see commonalities, there will be plenty of differences, too. The Titans will deploy Delanie Walker as an H-back, for example, while Houston is much more of a fullback team, now with Greg Jones.

“Our quarterback is a lot different than Schaub, they’re different guys with different strengths,” Munchak said. “On the offensive line, Houston is always looking for more athletic guys. We obviously went for some size and are a little bit of both athleticism and power. We run a lot of the plays we both think are good stuff, we like to pass off our base runs and things like that.

“But I think you’ll see enough difference that teams will have to prepare for us differently than Houston -- just enough of a percentage that gives defenses headaches when they have to prepare for us. There is still a lot to differentiate us.

“And the Texans are doing everything a lot better than we are now, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at key players for each AFC South team who are coming back from injuries:

Houston Texans: There isn’t an easy, obvious fit here. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing is crucial, but all indications are he’s already largely back from the torn ACL he suffered early last season and will be good to go for training camp. Receiver DeVier Posey will be lucky if he makes it back by midseason from a torn Achilles, and they aren’t counting on him for 2013. Brooks Reed had groin surgery and Daryl Sharpton is still recovering from a hip operation. But the most uncertainty seems to involve right tackle Derek Newton. The Texans drafted Brennan Williams in the third round to have a viable alternative to a guy who had serious knee surgery after the season.

Indianapolis Colts: Josh Chapman was a fifth-round pick in 2012, available there because he was recovering from a serious knee injury. Some Colts fans, while they clearly wanted Chapman healthy and on the field, turned his absence into a bit of a punch line regarding the degree of hope being pinned on the nose tackle by some optimists: “Oh, Josh Chapman will fix that when he’s back.” Well he’s back now, working as the starting nose tackle, a position where the team has some depth with guys who have played the spot in a 3-4 front. Chapman can offer a nice boost to a defensive front if he is recovered and durable.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is likely to be the team’s top offensive weapon again, provided he makes it all the way back from a serious Lisfranc injury in his right foot that cost him 10 games last season and ultimately required surgery. His extensive rehabilitation is ongoing. This week at OTAs, The Florida Times-Union reported he was running 30-yard dashes at three-quarter speed. "Lately it's been one day on, a day off, two days on, a day off -- it's part of the process," he said. "I'm closer than I think. I just want to take my time and make sure we do it the right way." The Jags need his production. He needs a big year because he's in the final year of his deal.

Tennessee Titans: Right tackle David Stewart broke his right leg in Week 13 against Houston. He’s expected to be fine for camp, and perhaps even the team’s June OTAs and minicamp, but he said recently at a team event that he still had a little bit to go. He’s been a durable guy for them. But they took a look at Eric Winston after the draft. Such a visit can mean nothing, or it can mean they would be willing to put Stewart into a competitive situation. I rank Stewart ahead of middle linebacker Colin McCarthy because the team can be OK with Greg Jones or Moise Fokou as a run-down middle linebacker. If Mike Otto and Byron Stingily wound up the right tackle on a largely rebuilt offensive line, it would create a bigger question mark.

Another Mel mock? You bet!

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
2:52
PM ET
Mel Kiper Jr. goes three rounds deep in a mock draft today, just eight days removed from the start of the real thing.

You can peruse the team-by-team resultsInsider or follow his draft in order.Insider

Jacksonville Jaguars

Rd. 1 (2) OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Rd. 2 (33) QB Matt Barkley, USC
Rd. 3 (64) CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi St.

Kiper’s analysis: I know this isn't the biggest need on the board, but given where Jacksonville is from a personnel standpoint, if the best player in the draft is available at the No. 2 pick -- and my current left tackle is potentially gone after this year -- I'm taking the guy. This is a franchise that has taken the guy it wants and eschewed great value too many times in recent years, but that's not the case here. Take Joeckel, get better at tackle, do a better job of protecting the QB and whether I stick with Blaine Gabbert or let the next guy take over, I've at least given him a reasonable chance to succeed. That next guy might be the second-round pick.

My thoughts: Kiper has Detroit moving up to No. 1 for cornerback Dee Milliner, which leaves Joeckel available for the Jaguars. The Jaguars need a sure thing, and this is a tackle rated as a sure thing, so I don't think you factor Eugene Monroe into it too much.


Tennessee Titans

Rd. 1 (10) G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Rd. 2 (40) WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Rd. 3 (70) DE Alex Okafor, Texas
Rd. 3 (97) DE John Simon, Ohio St.

Kiper’s analysis: The way the board breaks, Cooper becomes the best value at a need spot. With (Ezekiel) Ansah going to Buffalo at No. 8, I look to improve my other guard position. With Cooper and free-agent acquisition Andy Levitre, I could have one of the better guard tandems in the league. Shonn Greene is on the roster because there's going to be more of an emphasis on power running, and Cooper helps accomplish that.

My thoughts: I don’t believe they’d prefer Cooper to Chance Warmack if both are on the board as they are here. Cooper may rate as more athletic, but the Titans got their athletic, pulling guard in Levitre. If they go guard I think they’d like a power tandem in pairing Warmack with right tackle David Stewart. Hunter seems like good value and can help them get past Kenny Britt after his contract runs out. I don’t expect two of the four top picks to be spent on one position as Kiper does here in the third-round at defensive end.

Indianapolis Colts

Rd. 1 (24) CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
Rd. 3 (86) OLB Trevardo Williams, Connecticut

Kiper’s analysis: Vontae Davis is a decent starter at CB when he's playing up to his full capability, but Greg Toler is a fringy starter. If the board breaks this way, I'd be getting below average value at outside linebacker and guard right here, and Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin are off the board. (Also, wide receiver is a need, but not a desperate one.) Where I end up is with Trufant, a cornerback with a diverse skill set. He can work in man or zone and offers defenses some flexibility.

My thoughts: Versatility is good, but ultimately if they have sufficient man corners, the ability of their DBs to play zone shouldn’t matter a great deal in Chuck Pagano’s system. Davis, Toler and Darius Butler are not enough as the top three so if they can land a top corner at No. 24 that will be great. Kiper sees Williams as a guy who can help the pass rush quickly and they need that badly, too.

Houston Texans

Rd. 1 (27) OT Menelik Watson, Florida St.
Rd. 2 (57) WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Rd. 3 (89) LB Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
Rd. 3 (95) FB Lonnie Pryor, Florida St.

Kiper’s analysis: The Texans need a right tackle, and Watson's grade fits this draft range for me. He's a great athlete, and could certainly challenge to start early. I know some NFL personnel folks who think he could move inside, but in either instance I'm looking for help up front. This offensive system starts there, and you need a nimble guy for the scheme.

My thoughts: I wouldn’t object to these first three picks, though I do not expect the Texans to go offensive line in the first round. As for Pryor, Kiper says part of the rationale for putting him in Houston is that Greg Jones “isn’t a true fullback.” I respectively disagree with that so long as Jones is healthy.
Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he will work on the interior defensive line with Tyson Alualu and Roy Miller.

Marks is the seventh AFC South free agent to switch teams but stay in the division.

The other six:
  • Fullback Greg Jones went from the Jaguars to the Texans.
  • Running back Justin Forsett went from the Texans to the Jaguars.
  • Cornerback Alan Ball went from the Texans to the Jaguars.
  • Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck went from the Titans to the Colts.
  • Linebacker Moise Fokou went from the Colts to the Titans.
  • Receiver Kevin Walter went from the Texans to the Titans.

As for Marks, here's Scouts Inc.'s review of his game:
"Marks is a solid starting 3-technique with just adequate size, but he has excellent initial quickness, agility and body control. He is very quick off the ball and does a good job of hitting gaps and seams to get upfield and create problems in the backfield. He does a good job feeling and fighting through pressure and will use his hands to defeat and shed blocks. He is quick to locate the ball and takes good angles to get to the play, but he shows limited lateral range when the ball is run outside the numbers. He is not an effective pass-rusher because he lacks great upfield acceleration and does not bend to close on the quarterback with a burst."
Derek Cox and Terrance Knighton represented the best of Gene Smith.

The former Jaguars general manager went too far steering away from big conferences. He liked guys from off the beaten path with nice stories.

He missed on a lot of guys that fit that.

He didn’t miss on Cox from William & Mary and Knighton from Temple, though Cox was hurt too much and Knighton didn’t play well at the end of his rookie contract.

The two were seen as valuable by other teams, and won’t be part of the David Caldwell-Gus Bradley regime.

Despite his injury history, Cox signed with San Diego for four years, $20 million, with a $5.2 million signing bonus and $10.25 million fully guaranteed in the first two years, per Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Despite questions about a season where he was demoted from the starting lineup, Knighton got two years and $4.5 million from Denver, per Mike Klis of the Denver Post.

C.J. Mosely overtook Knighton and could start again for Bradley’s Jaguars. Cox’s replacement is not on the roster. The Jaguars like second-year cornerback Mike Harris, but three veteran corners from last season -- Cox, Rashean Mathis (not offered new deal) and Aaron Ross (released) -- are now gone.

Jacksonville needs corners, badly. Two guys who seemed to fit the sort of defense Bradley oversaw as coordinator in Seattle have already disappeared. Greg Toler signed with the Colts and Bradley Fletcher signed with the Eagles.

Alan Ball played poorly for the Texans last season, but was scheduled to visit the Jaguars. So were Washington right tackle Tyler Polumbus and Houston running back Justin Forsett, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Other Jaguars free agents have not been tied to any suitors yet in free agency.

Linebacker Daryl Smith is the best of the lot, but the lone addition the Jaguars have made so far is an outside linebacker, Geno Hayes. Does that tell us anything about the Jaguars' interest in retaining Smith?

Greg Jones is an aging fullback, and aging fullbacks aren’t generally going to be talked about early in free agency.

The team apparently wants center Brad Meester back, but he’s not yet happy with the money available. He turns 36 on March 23.
My plan for the Jacksonville Jaguars as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: The Jaguars have about $24 million in salary-cap room, so they don’t have a huge issue. But they are carrying several contracts that are too hefty. Laurent Robinson is overpaid, but a year into his deal they are unlikely to bail. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and guard Uche Nwaneri are too costly, both due base salaries of more than $4 million this season. Linebacker Paul Posluszny ($6.5 million base), Dawan Landry ($5.4 million) and cornerback Aaron Ross ($3.75 million) are also costly. I’d make no money moves until my coaches have time with the team on the field for a thorough assessment and see some of the alternatives brought in.

Continuity: Re-sign outside linebacker Daryl Smith. He’s been a very solid player for the franchise, and because he was hurt for 14 games last year, his price is going to be discounted. Re-sign cornerback Derek Cox, ideally to an incentive-laden deal tied to his availability. Hope he’ll give you a chance to match if someone else gives him a better offer. He’s a great player but it’s hard to invest in a guy who misses so much time.

Turnover: Allow the rest of the free-agent class to hit the market and wish it well. If a player like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton or fullback Greg Jones doesn’t find what he wants out there and remains available later, consider an offer down the road.

Additions: I’d shop more aggressively than I expect the Jaguars will based on how they’ve spoken about free agency, but I will try to stick to their parameters here. Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch was a key piece of the defense Gus Bradley ran for the Seahawks, and new coaches typically like bringing in a guy or two who know how they will operate. I want to make at least one statement signing that addresses a big area of concern. If Sebastian Vollmer’s back checks out, he’d be my guy. He’s a top right tackle who’s been part of a successful franchise in New England. From there, I’d pursue a few more affordable types: one of two cornerbacks, Greg Toler from Arizona or Bradley Fletcher of St. Louis and a defensive end who’s still young and has some versatility, St. Louis’ William Hayes.

Draft: The No. 2 spot is a toughie, because clear choices at the top of this draft have not emerged. There is defensive line talent, however, and the pass rush is a longstanding issue the new regime is inheriting. That first pick needs to be able to rush the passer or be a long-term fixture on the offensive line. Needs are so wide ranging, there are few spots the Jaguars need to avoid. Although I'm not happy with the quarterback situation, I would not feel I had to have one unless I felt I saw a real value in the second or third round.
This list was somewhat of a bear. The gap between No. 1 and No. 12 isn’t so big. There is a huge degree of subjectivity and personal preference.

I wanted my one overriding consideration as I pieced together the top 12 free agents in the AFC South to be production versus potential. If I’m shopping for a player, I want to feel like he’s got potential to produce for me, of course. But I want that feeling rooted in the fact that he already has produced. But few guys with expiring contracts in our division strike the right measure in the production versus potential debate.

You could reshape this in any number of ways and I likely wouldn’t object. So have at me in the comments. It seems quality fodder for some discussion.

My top 12 free agents-to-be in the AFC South:

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsLosing the coverage skills of safety Glover Quin would surely be a big blow to Houston.
1) Glover Quin, free safety, Texans. He’s versatile and can cover and hit. He may rank as only the fourth-best safety to get to free agency in the NFL, but he could be a strong addition to a secondary and losing him would hurt the Texans.

2) Dwight Freeney, defensive end, Colts. He’s aging, sure. But for a team needing a pass-rushing boost, he’s got to be intriguing. Put him back in a 4-3, ideally indoors on turf, and he’s going to get some sacks.

3) Daryl Smith, outside linebacker, Jaguars. A durable guy, the timing of his first serious injury was poor and he missed all but two games last year. A very solid player the Jaguars would probably do well to retain.

4) Jared Cook, tight end, Titans. He’s an intriguing physical specimen who’s quite a threat as a pass-catcher. While the Titans didn’t figure out best how to use him, he wasn’t very consistently productive and is limited as a blocker.

5) Derek Cox, cornerback, Jaguars. But for health concerns that have cost him 17 games over the past three seasons, he’d probably be atop this list. When he’s on the field, he can be a high-quality cover corner. Can he stay on the field?

6) Greg Jones, fullback, Jaguars. It’s a position that is increasingly devalued and de-emphasized. But if you need a lead back, he’s a quality guy who’s done some awfully good work paving the way for Maurice Jones-Drew.

7) Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle, Jaguars. He can show great feet for a giant man, and seemed to get his weight under better control. But his best play was early in his time with the Jaguars, not late. That was a big disappointment considering how much of a contract he could have earned.

8) Connor Barwin, outside linebacker, Texans. Had a big year in 2011 and passed on a contract extension before the 2012 season. What he’s going to get now, after a poor season, is unlikely to match up to the deal he passed on. Does he rebound or did he simply flash once?

9) Sen’Derrick Marks, defensive tackle, Titans. Has some ability to penetrate on early downs and has made some progress. But isn’t as far along as suitors would probably like for a second-round pick four years into his career.

10) Jerraud Powers, cornerback, Colts. A smart player who understands how to play. Didn’t have sufficient time to settle into Colts’ new system which has a thin secondary before he was sidelined by a toe injury. His inability to stay healthy is the big issue for him at this point.

11) Rob Bironas, kicker, Titans. Bironas has a strong leg and a clutch history, though he’s not coming off his best season. But in a league where analytics are carrying more weight, more teams will cap what they’ll pay a top guy at the position

12) James Casey, fullback, Texans. I think he’s been somewhat miscast as a lead blocker. He’s got excellent hands, so I think he could do more in an atmosphere where he has more chances to catch passes.

Polian on AFC South's top free agents

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
12:13
PM ET
ESPN’s Bill Polian has a major Insider file out ranking the upcoming class of free agents.

He divided them into three tiers:
  • A Players: Worth paying big, starter-caliber money.
  • B Players: Guys I would sign but only if the value made sense.
  • C Players: Guys I'd sign for low-salary, short-term (one or two years) value, with low bonuses.

Let’s look at how Polian views free-agents-to-be coming out of the AFC South. Obviously he's got some special insight, and regard, for the Colts on this list:

A Players:

Titans TE Jared Cook

Polian: “I think he'll command some money based on his potential.”

Kuharsky: Polian mentions Cook as a franchise possibility, and I suspect that is what will happen.

Jaguars FB Greg Jones

Polian: “Can he pass a physical? And is he affordable? He is one of the few FBs who can carry the ball and do it well.”

Kuharsky: Both Super Bowl teams used fullbacks, but it’s still a position that’s fading.

Colts OLB Dwight Freeney

Polian: “I see Freeney as a fit in a Wide-9 scheme or as a 4-3 DE. I believe he still has a lot of talent, but age is definitely a concern.”

Kuharsky: He’s going to want more years than he’s going to be able to get.

Texans S Glover Quin

Polian: “If you want a safety to play man, cover ground, and go up and play in the nickel on the line of scrimmage, this is a guy who does all of that well.”

Kuharsky: Like Polian, I think the Texans will make a big push to keep Quin in Houston.

B Players:

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