NFL Nation: Joe Cullen

TAMPA, Fla. -- The previous Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff basically gave up on defensive end Da'Quan Bowers last season.

But the new coaching staff sees some hope for Bowers. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen said Wednesday that he sees potential in Bowers.

Bowers
“Some guys blossom early and some blossom late, and I studied Da'Quan really hard when he was coming out of college, and so I’m really excited to work with him and see what we can do there," Cullen said.

Through three seasons, Bowers’ career has been disappointing. A second-round pick in 2011, Bowers has been held back by injuries and inconsistency. The previous regime made a huge mistake by letting Michael Bennett leave as a free agent last year, because the belief was that Bowers was ready to be a full-time player.

That never came close to happening.

“I can’t comment on what he’s done prior to me getting here, but I think he has the qualities to be a dominant defensive lineman," Cullen said. “He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s strong, and those are all great qualities.

“He really does have all the qualities you look for, but he’s been injured, missed some time, and like I said, some guys come in right away and have a major impact. Other guys, it takes time."

Here’s the reality: Maybe there is some hope for Bowers. Maybe this coaching staff can get something out of him. But the Bucs can’t afford to assume that Bowers is going to have a breakout season. If he does, it’s icing on the cake.

But Bowers has disappointed before, and it’s possible he’ll do it again. The Bucs need to look for an alternative in free agency or the draft.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Very quickly, Lovie Smith is putting together his coaching staff for the Buccaneers.

We already knew Jeff Tedford was the offensive coordinator and Leslie Frazier the defensive coordinator. But the Bucs announced 11 more hires Thursday evening. In some cases, the names have already been reported. But let's run through the complete list.

The Bucs hired Marcus Arroyo as quarterbacks coach, Joe Cullen as defensive line coach, Andrew Hayes-Stoker as wide receivers coach, Dave Kennedy as strength and conditioning coach, Larry Marmie as a senior defensive assistant, Hardy Nickerson as linebackers coach, Kevin O'Dea as special teams coordinator, Mikal Smith as safeties coach, Tim Spencer as running backs coach, Ben Steele as an offensive quality control coach and Matt Wiegand as assistant offensive line coach.

The most interesting names on the list are Nickerson, Marmie and Mikal Smith. Nickerson was a linebacker for the Buccaneers when Lovie Smith was the linebackers coach in the 1990s. Marmie coached Lovie Smith when he was a college player at Tulsa. Mikal Smith is Lovie Smith's son.

AFC South wrap: The division in 2012

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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NFC Season Wraps: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five things to know and my all-division team.

Division MVP: J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans. I’ve never seen someone so disruptive up front. The guy’s got the complete package. He’s incredibly instinctive, knowing when to stop rushing and pull up, looking to bat down a pass. He also understands the lane into which a quarterback might be looking to throw. He simply manhandles some blockers -- swimming past them, bowling them backward, speeding around them or knifing between two guys. Some blockers have had absolutely no answer for him, and even if a team tried to take plays as far away from him as possible, he often tracked those plays and got involved in stopping them.

[+] EnlargeJJ Watt
Brett Davis/US PresswireJ.J. Watt needs two more sacks to tie Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks in a season.
Early in the season he talked about wanting to redefine the 3-4 end position, which hasn’t traditionally been a stat position. Later Antonio Smith pointed out how often Watt is really lining up at tackle. He’s not likely to win MVP based on what the league’s best quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson (despite my thinking that the running back is not worthy of the award) are doing. But his ability to push an offense backward so often has been a tremendous factor in an excellent season for the Texans. The other three teams would be wise to reinforce their offensive lines, because it’s reasonable to expect Watt will be a handful for protections and run blocking for years to come.

Biggest disappointment: The pass rushes of the Jaguars and the Titans required offseason attention. Neither team did enough to find a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks consistently. The Jaguars go into the final game of the season with the worst sacks-per-play average in the NFL and a total of only 18 sacks. Jacksonville’s big addition was second-round pick Andre Branch, who couldn’t hold onto a starting job and finished with one sack in 12 games and is on IR. The Jags played nine games in which they produced either one sack or no sacks. Tennessee has 32 sacks and is close to the middle of the pack. But it’s not enough for a defense with a lot of kids in the back seven and bad safety play. Tennessee got better results than Jacksonville from its newcomer, free-agent signee Kamerion Wimbley (five sacks), but he didn’t offer the game-to-game and play-to-play threat Tennessee so desperately needed.

Joe Cullen’s been in place for three seasons as Jacksonville’s defensive line coach. He’s a good coach and motivator, but he did not get the production the defense had to have. His counterpart in Nashville, Tracy Rocker, came from Auburn in 2011 and hasn’t proved to be an effective NFL position coach. Pass-rush coach Keith Millard was brought in to help the rush and the blitz, but it’s hard to see a major difference as a result of his presence. The Titans got shredded by the best quarterbacks they faced, from Tom Brady on opening day to Aaron Rodgers last week.

Offensive player of the year, rookie of the year, fourth-quarter player of the year: Andrew Luck has thrown too many interceptions in his rookie season. His stat line is hardly cause for a parade. He dug himself some holes. But leading his team to 10 wins, seven of them in comeback fashion, and getting into the playoffs does a lot to reduce the importance of those turnovers. He showed a great talent for climbing out of those holes. He was capable of digesting everything the first time around, handling Bruce Arians’ very vertical offense, the absence of coach Chuck Pagano, an often ineffective defense and a less-than-watertight offensive line with aplomb.

Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have strong cases for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which may never have been so hotly contested. We may see all three rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs. In the AFC South, Luck is the quarterback who was asked to do the most from the start, and he was the quarterback who did the most. Rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton is already a good player for the Colts. If you took Hilton and put him on the Titans or the Jaguars, how would he fare? Nowhere near as well as he fared playing with Luck in their first years in the NFL, I feel certain.

Worst injuries: The Jaguars really suffered because Daryl Smith and Clint Session were absent from the linebacking corps. Smith just returned last week from a groin injury and Session never made it back from multiple concussions suffered in 2011, his first season in Jacksonville. The corners all took turns missing time, and safety Dwight Lowery played only nine games. The loss of playmakers really dented a defense that plummeted in the rankings from 2011 to 2012.

Tennessee’s offensive line was not good enough, and revamping the interior needs to be a major offseason priority. The Titans lost starting center Eugene Amano in the preseason and right guard Leroy Harris halfway through the year. For the last quarter of the season, they were also down left guard Steve Hutchinson and right tackle David Stewart. It’s hard for them to give Jake Locker a real chance playing behind a line with four reserves. Still, he could have shown far more in his chances when he was healthy.

The division’s two worst teams lost a lot of time with their young quarterbacks, too. Locker missed five games with a shoulder injury, and Blaine Gabbert played through a shoulder injury before adding a forearm issue that ended his season after 10 games. Looking ahead to 2013, the status of each as a long-term answer is not what it once was.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Bruce Arians stepped in for coach Chuck Pagano and led a team coming off a two-win season to the playoffs.
Coaches of the year: Pagano and Arians of the Colts. It's been a storybook season for Indianapolis, which rallied around Pagano. He learned he had leukemia after just three games and handed the team to Arians while he underwent treatment. His fight gave the team a purpose, and it responded by playing better than the sum of its parts. Behind the scenes, Pagano was more involved than many might imagine.

But it was Arians conveying the messages, overseeing the game-planning, leading and, as offensive coordinator, calling the plays. He did a masterful job in overseeing the team, the offense and the rookie quarterback. Now, with Pagano back in place, he’ll drift into the background. He’s 60, which will work against his getting a head-coaching job. His work, however, should earn him consideration for some of the jobs that are about to open. That was quite an audition. And just about every team hiring a coach will need a quarterback developer.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

I want to emphasize one thing about this All-AFC South Team. Wade Smith is measured against the division’s left guards, not against the rest of the selections. There are miles between Smith as a player and Watt as a player, and if we measure a guard against a defensive end who’s the division MVP, things look askew.

One I’ll get crushed for: Many of you argued with me on Twitter when I wrote that I would take Luck over Matt Schaub as the third Pro Bowl quarterback, so I am sure you won’t like the choice of quarterback here. Luck struggled more than Schaub, for sure. But he was asked to do far more than Schaub and produced seven comeback wins, leading a team that’s really lacking in talent to an improbable playoff spot. There were no expectations for the Colts, and Luck and the team delivered. There were huge expectations on the Texans, and Schaub and the team delivered. My gut continues to prefer Luck’s year. That doesn’t mean I dislike what Schaub’s done.

Just misses: Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan, Texans outside linebacker Brooks Reed, Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

The Jaguars have claimed Jason Babin off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles, Adam Schefter reports.

Eight teams claimed him, but the Jaguars won his rights because they were second to Kansas City in the waiver order which is based on current records.

I like it. I like it a lot.

Babin has been an effective 4-3 end in Tennessee and Philadelphia for high-energy, vinegary defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

The man who holds the same post in Jacksonville, Joe Cullen, is a lot like Washburn. He isn’t getting nearly the rush he needs out of the guys he’s got. Adding Babin to the mix should help.

Jacksonville is 32nd in the NFL in sacks per play and has taken the quarterback down just 13 times, tied with the Raiders for the fewest sacks in the league.

Originally drafted by Houston 27th overall in 2004 in to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, Babin didn’t pan out. After three seasons, he turned into a journeyman, with stops in Seattle, Kansas City and Philadelphia over the next three seasons.

The Titans took him on as a $1 million reclamation project in 2010 and, spurred by Washburn, he produced 12.5 sacks.

But the team changed coaches and defensive schemes in 2011, looking to get bigger and asking ends to play over offensive tackles instead of way out wide. It didn’t bid to re-sign him and he wound up following Washburn to Philadelphia for a second term with the Eagles.

After 18.5 sacks in 2011, he was part of a crumbling team this year and the Eagles released him Monday in order to give some younger guys a chance.

If Cullen allows him to line up wide and use his speed to take on tackles, he should provide a pass-rush boost.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you care to think the Jaguars are a mess and going to be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, they’re fine with that.

As they worked through the early days of Mike Mularkey’s first training camp, they repeated the new coach’s mantras (like, “we just want to get a little bit better every day”), fell in line with his policies (like potential $10,000 fines for answering media inquiries about injuries) and gave team-first answers to questions about the absence of their two biggest names -- Maurice Jones-Drew (holding out for a new contract) and Justin Blackmon (unable to strike a rookie deal).

Sure, they don’t have much choice but to buy in, but there is an undertone that suggests they have a secret to spring on the league in a couple of weeks.

Every team at this stage of camp thinks it can be good. In Jacksonville, a significant improvement from 5-11 is certainly possible, no matter what the popular storylines are. Honest.

Theirs is a defense loaded with quality, front-line talent. Beyond middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, most of it remains largely unknown. But if you don’t know linebacker Daryl Smith or cornerback Derek Cox or defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, that’s not the Jaguars' concern.

“If anyone feels we are not in a proper place or we have problems, that’s OK,” Posluszny said. “We feel like inside these walls we’re doing everything that we can to be a very successful team.

“Mularkey’s done a great job for us. He’s a former player who’s been through it. To me, that all means a ton, because he knows exactly what we are going through and what it takes to be successful.”

While the offense is being revamped, and Mularkey and his assistants are trying to reformat quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a horrific rookie season, the defensive system and bulk of the staff have been in place for a while now.

Gabbert has nice moments, but his overall inconsistency at practice halts any proclamations that he made a significant offseason jump.

No matter how much players and coaches talk about his gains in leadership, no matter how much faith the organization has in him, no matter how patient they are, it comes down to making throws under pressure.

The early snapshot says the defense can be really good, but that a limited offense could be the obstacle to the surprise the Jaguars would so like to produce. There is a lot of time to work on what’s been installed, to find what works and to run it better than it’s been run so far.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Phil Sears/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert finished his first season with 12 TD passes, 11 interceptions and a 50.8 completion percentage.
1. Is Gabbert good enough? He folded under pressure too often last season, but the rush wasn’t all he was facing. The team drafted him 10th overall intending for him to sit and learn for a season, but that plan didn’t pan out and Gabbert was hurried into the starting role for 14 games during which he had poor pass protection and very limited receivers.

There were big distractions off the field, too: Jack Del Rio got fired and the team was sold.

Mularkey was hired in large part because he’s developed quarterbacks, and he, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson have to get steadier play from Gabbert and get his arrow pointing up. His good moments look very nice, but there are still too many bad ones that leave you shaking your head. A kneel-down would seem less disheartening in many of those instances.

It’s a slow process, installing a new offense and rebuilding a quarterback’s confidence. Exactly how slow is the question we need answered.

Mentions of mechanical or technical adjustments by his coaches have been well-received, and he acts on them quickly. That’s great, but when the rush turns live and the pocket starts collapsing, will he have open people he can stand in and find? We simply can’t know yet.

2. The missing pieces. Jones-Drew is demanding a new contract. The Jaguars have said they won’t give him one with two years left on the old one. Boom -- a stalemate. I can’t see the team altering its stance unless he holds out into the season and it struggles horribly without him. He’s got an ego that will make it hard for him to return without any contract alteration, so this could drag on.

Blackmon is a rangy target who can go get the ball, and missing early camp is helping no one. He got a DUI after being drafted fifth overall, and the team wants insurance against any further troubles. Blackmon's unwilling to give the Jaguars what they are looking for, though.

So we’re seeing second-year man Cecil Shorts work in the Z spot where Blackmon will eventually be, with veteran addition Laurent Robinson at the X. Rashad Jennings is the lead back without Jones-Drew in camp, and is a bigger guy who also ranks as a power runner. I liked what I saw and heard from him.

3. Will there be enough of a pass rush? The Jaguars had 31 sacks last season, and to reach their potential on defense they need more in 2012. More consistent pressure and more sacks will come with improved coordination from the defensive linemen.

Their line coach, Joe Cullen, said they just missed on a bunch of chances last season, and another season together and the work they are doing now will result in better communication. The Jags face Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton in addition to two games against Matt Schaub and two against hotshot rookie Andrew Luck this season, and they won't win many of those without consistent pressure.

The relentless Jeremy Mincey promises the production will increase. Andre Branch was drafted in the second round to help, and looks like a quality player. Depth off the edge remains a concern. Austen Lane suffered yet another injury while I watched practices, during which John Chick walked the width of a practice field dragging heavy weight as he rehabilitated his knee.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeMike Mularkey
AP Photo/John RaouxNew head coach Mike Mularkey and his staff have made a positive impression on the players.
Mularkey and his staff. There is planning and logic to everything going on here, and the new staff has genuine concern for players on and off the field. Players are being told what the plan is and the right way to execute it. They felt that was lacking with the previous regime, and welcome it.

Position coaches like Olson, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and one of the key holdovers, linebackers coach Mark Duffner, are true teachers, and they have guys under them who want to learn. That leadership and teaching faltered in many areas at the end of Del Rio’s tenure. It’s present in full force now. If guys follow and doing so produces results, it’ll snowball.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

A lot more is in place for Gabbert, and everyone has a stake in his performance: the GM who traded up to draft him needs him to succeed; the new coach who was hired to polish him needs him to succeed; the high-priced free-agent receiver and first-round draft pick receiver need him to succeed; the talented defense needs him to succeed.

Gabbert’s saying the right things and working hard, and you can see improvement on some drop backs. But there are still enough dud plays sprinkled into practices to make you wonder if he can succeed. The team wants him to avoid turning the ball over -- staying away from the worst-case scenarios -- and it's a smart goal, but will it make Gabbert too cautious?

Can you ask him to be careful and function as a game-manager type when the best attribute he has is a big arm that can get the ball into tight windows? It might turn out to be complicated.

Also, there is not great roster depth. I have particular concerns about the offensive line, defensive end and safety if someone goes down.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The team appears to be high on undrafted rookie linebacker Julian Stanford out of Wagner. With Clint Session’s future in doubt because of post-concussion issues, Russell Allen is likely to start opposite Daryl Smith outside. Stanford could make the team as a special-teamer who can provide depth. Brandon Marshall, a fifth-round pick, also has what looks to be an NFL-ready linebacker frame.
  • Mike Thomas needs Blackmon signed, in camp and taking the bulk of the snaps at one of the two outside receiver spots. I’m convinced that to get his head right, Thomas needs to be given the slot role and allowed to focus on it exclusively. His snaps were cut down during my visit, with Shorts working at the front of the line in Blackmon’s Z spot. The slot is what Thomas is best suited for, and his performance has slipped when he’s been expected to do more. He had a lot of drops early in camp, and Mularkey agrees with the potential for less to be more with Thomas.
  • Josh Scobee has the leg to get a lot of touchbacks and Bryan Anger has the leg to force a lot of fair catches. The Jaguars obviously still have to work on covering kicks and punts, but how often will they actually be covering kicks and punts? If the offense can produce some first downs, we should see more scoring, and more scoring will mean more kickoffs from Scobee and less work for Anger.
  • The depth at tight end is interesting after No. 1 Marcedes Lewis. Colin Cloherty got a lot of work as the No. 2 early on, and Zach Miller is another move guy who’s very intriguing, though Miller is rarely healthy. Zach Potter is giant, but hasn’t earned a lot of time, and undrafted rookie Matt Veldman is also extra large.
  • Posluszny is the centerpiece of this defense. He covers a ton of ground and makes big hits. He’s a model for doing things the right way, which is a major point of emphasis for Mularkey and his staff. Posluszny was a solid signing last season, and continues to deliver just what the team hoped for. That helps offset the fact Session, who also came to Jacksonville for a big contract in 2011, might not be on the field any time soon, or ever again.
  • The cornerbacks look good. Cox is really solid, and Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis will be effective as the Nos. 2 and 3. The depth grew with last season's injury onslaught, and William Middleton and Kevin Rutland can play, too.
  • Branch, the rookie pass-rusher, came into the league facing questions from many teams about his ability to stand up against the run. The Jaguars have no such concern at this point. He’s got to be an effective part of a four-man group at end with Mincey, Lane and Chick. Branch certainly looks the part, but so did former Jaguars bust Derrick Harvey, so we can’t put much on the early eyeball test.
  • Along with Stanford, running back Jalen Parmele caught my eye. He’s spent time with Miami and Baltimore.

Two games, zero sacks for Jaguars

August, 21, 2011
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Through two games, a defensive line that Jacksonville is hoping will emerge as a strength has produced zero sacks.

The Jaguars defense is one of two without a quarterback takedown, and the other, Cincinnati, plays its second preseason game tonight.

End Aaron Kampman, coming off an ACL repair, has yet to play while free-agent addition Matt Roth is still adjusting to his new team.

So the team’s faith in its ability to rush the passer is not wavering. And Jack Del Rio said Sunday he was not displeased with the pass pressure in the Jaguars’ Friday night win over Atlanta.

“Those guys are working hard, the whole group is working hard,” he said of the defensive linemen in a conversation with the Jacksonville press. “Joe Cullen does a good job working those guys. He works them with a lot of passion, he’s hard on them but they all know he loves them.

“We feel that the defensive line can be a real strength for us this year in terms of a wave of guys that are going to be relentless trying to stuff the run and get after the quarterback. To this point there’s not a whole lot on the stat sheet to reflect the effort and the energy that we got.

“But I think we all saw some positive signs in the last ballgame in terms of the quarterback wasn’t sitting back there looking real comfortable. I know the numbers will come over time, but I think the energy and the effort and the way they’re getting after people is the right way.”

Energy and effort are certainly necessities. But so are sacks. Jacksonville had only 14 in 2010 and 26 in 2011. Last year included four games with none and five games with one, and Jacksonville was 2-7 in those games.

The Jaguars need more, and more at big moments to get where they want to go.

Midseason Stock Watch: Jaguars

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
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Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 25. This week: No. 20.

2010 schedule/results

Marcedes Lewis
AP Photo/Mike FuentesMarcedes Lewis is second in the league in touchdown catches for tight ends with seven.
Where they stand: At 4-4 the Jaguars have the same record as the Texans but one fewer conference win. Jacksonville has been the division’s most erratic team, with a minus-61 point differential. At their worst, they’ve had fans calling for coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard to be replaced. At their best, they’ve taken down Indianapolis and buried Dallas. Pass defense has been a big issue, and they’ve now got kids Courtney Greene and Don Carey manning the safety slots and learning as they go. The pass rush is better but the protection’s still an issue. The offensive line’s not been as good as hoped, and the Jaguars have absorbed 18 sacks.

Falling: Derrick Harvey, defensive end. The Jaguars spent far too much to go up and get him in the 2008 draft. Last year they tried to sell that although Harvey wasn't the pass-rusher the team had hoped for, he was developing into a rugged left end who could defend the run and demand some attention. Recently the team has conceded, however, that he’s regressed and he lost his starting job.

Rising: Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, defensive tackles. The interior duo looks to be ahead of the Eugene Monroe-Eben Britton offensive tackle duo in terms of becoming cornerstones. (Britton’s on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.) Knighton is more than a handful and Alualu has great quickness. They’ve been aided by Cullen and Aaron Kampman, a quality veteran defensive end who signed as a big-ticket free agent. The Knighton-Alualu up arrow extends beyond this season.

Midseason MVP: Marcedes Lewis, tight end. He’s been their biggest threat on offense, with a 13-yard per-catch average that’s less than 2 yards off the pace of the teams’ speed receiver (Tiquan Underwood). Lewis has scored seven of the Jaguars’ 18 touchdowns. Maurice Jones-Drew has scored just three and Del Rio has talked of how some scoring chances have simply shifted from MJD to Lewis. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter deserves credit for getting Lewis, who’s been better known for his blocking to this point in his career, involved. And Lewis is likely to reap serious financial benefits as he’s in the final year of his deal.

Outlook: Some of those games down the home stretch that looked like the Jaguars would be clear favorites in don’t stack up that way now. Outside the division, Jacksonville hosts Cleveland, Oakland and Washington. The Jags still have four division games, too: two against Houston, at Indianapolis and at Tennessee. Looks like tough sledding for a team that’s been far too hot and cold.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

September, 22, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Titans offense: That was a pitiful display against Pittsburgh. And it wasn’t just the poor quarterback play. Or the seven turnovers. Jeff Fisher admitted the game plan included too much. Nate Washington wasn’t sharp on routes. A top offensive line got pushed around. Etc., etc., etc.

2. Vince Young and David Garrard: A week ago they shared a rising slot. In Week 2, they each got pulled in favor of his backup. Their inconsistent play is a big part of the issues their teams have and the Titans and Jaguars cannot endure those type of drop-offs at quarterback.

3. Jaguars rushmen: Position coach Joe Cullen calls his guys rushmen, and their opening day effort was good. In San Diego, Philip Rivers simply had too much time. He was sacked once by Daryl Smith and hit once by Aaron Kampman. Beyond that things weren’t good enough as he threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns, more than enough to offset two picks. The secondary needed to do better on Antonio Gates.

RISING

[+] EnlargeKevin Walter
AP Photo/Nick WassKevin Walter has shown he's still a potent part of Houston's offense.
1. Kevin Walter, Houston wide receiver: Jacoby Jones is getting his chances and is a big part of the offense, but people who thought he’d displace Walter as the No. 2 can look to Walter’s performance in Washington to see why he maintains his standing. For Matt Schaub to have a guy he can connect with 11 times on top of a dozen completions to Andre Johnson is really something.

2. Colts offensive line: They may still have banged up guys up front, but they sure did a lot better against the Giants in pass protection and run blocking than they did a week earlier in Houston. Props too, to Brody Eldridge, as mentioned here.

3. David Jones, Jaguars cornerback: Acquired in a trade with Cincinnati on Sept. 4 for Reggie Nelson, he played 24 snaps on opening day, then replaced Derek Cox in the starting lineup in San Diego. Against the Chargers he played 54 of the team’s 61 defensive snaps and snatched an interception in the end zone off the hands of Antonio Gates. He’s still learning, but is a smart guy who looks like he can maintain a prominent role.

Thoughts from Eagles 28, Jaguars 27

August, 14, 2010
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Some bullet-point thoughts on the Jaguars’ 28-27 preseason loss at Philadelphia on Friday night.

Impressive:
  • Luke McCown made some big throws as he completed 11 of 15 for 244 yards and three touchdowns -- a 73-yard touchdown to Troy Williamson, a 55-yaerder to Tiquan Underwood and a 30-yarder to John Matthews. It was good for a near-perfect 154.9 passer rating. But it wasn’t against the Eagles starters, and out of one game it shouldn’t fuel a quarterback debate.
  • Scoring defense by the frontliners. While Philly had huge advantages in yardage and time of possession with its starting offense, it managed only six points with them.
  • Deji Karim had a 68-yard kickoff return. More importantly, on his first couple against better players in coverage, he looked poised and got the Jags reasonably good field position.
  • Two take-aways.
Unimpressive:
  • Fourteen total rushing yards.
  • Six penalties for 121 yards.
  • Derek Cox flailing on a couple tackle attempts, including one on DeSean Jackson’s end-around.
  • Philly quarterback Kevin Kolb finding enough time to allow Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to break free. The rush was without Aaron Kampman, Tyson Alualu and Austen Lane, who did not play. But still, Joe Cullen surely would have liked to see more from his rush men early.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 26

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars were a fourth-place team that lost its final four games.

Seems to me the logical goal would be trying to move out of the basement and establish some upward mobility in a tough division. But Jack Del Rio and his troops aren’t thinking that way, and who does, really?

They are thinking bigger.

Jack Del Rio has talked to them about contending for a championship.

“I kind of cut my teeth in Baltimore on the same staff with Rex Ryan [under] Brian Billick,” Del Rio said. “You can’t tiptoe in and hope you don’t wake the guy up and you’re going to sneak up on somebody and, ‘Oh, shh, here we come and be quiet.’ In many respects in the NFL, you’ve got to take what you want. You’ve got to set some goals and then go after them. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a goal of being champs.”

“Now the reality is, we’ve got to cover a lot of ground. I’m not unrealistic with that. But I’m not going to concede anything. We’re going to work our tails off to maximize our potential. We can say this is our goal, this is our mission to do these things, but our focus has to be on squeezing what we can out of every day.”

Or as Maurice Jones-Drew said, you never run a race you once lost aiming to finish second-to-last.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rix
AP Photo/John RaouxJack Del Rio will need to keep his eyes on the safety position this season.
1. Are the safeties enough? They have faith in Gerald Alexander at strong safety, though he’s not a guarantee to lock down a spot all season. But free safety is a huge issue. Reggie Nelson struggled badly last season with botched coverages and missed tackles and Anthony Smith didn’t do a lot to displace Nelson last year. Word is Nelson has been better, but neither guy has made a big impression in practices I’ve seen so far.

They need the free safety to consistently play a reliable center field. And if he can’t make a tackle, he at least has to hold the ball carrier up long enough for help to arrive.

With two games against Peyton Manning and two against Matt Schaub, if one of those guys can’t provide help to corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox -- even if there is a vastly better pass rush -- the Jaguars could have some long AFC South afternoons.

They could look for an additional option on waivers.

2. Is there enough weaponry to go with Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker? Jones-Drew is a top-flight weapon taking handoffs or running under short passes and Sims-Walker did well establishing himself as a go-to guy for David Garrard. But beyond them, do the Jaguars have the playmakers to take the next step?

They certainly have a large pool of candidates. Marcedes Lewis averaged 16.2 yards per catch last season, the best number in the league for a tight end, and another tight end, Zach Miller, is a potential big-play option.

Troy Williamson hasn’t created buzz yet as he did last camp, but I still think they’d like him to secure the starting role opposite Sims-Walker because of his field-stretching speed. The three receivers from the 2009 draft -- Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood -- are an intriguing pool. I anticipate Thomas can really grow into a nifty slot option.

They also like sixth-round pick Deji Karim from Southern Illinois, a quick back who could earn some touches and can win the kick return job. He’ll probably have to get past Rashad Jennings to be a factor on offense, and I feel like they still like Jennings plenty too.

[+] EnlargeKirk Morrison
AP Photo/John RaouxThe Jaguars will need linebacker Kirk Morrison to lead.
3. Do they have sufficient leadership? While they are relying on a load of young talent, particularly on defense, the two significant veteran imports -- free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman and trade-acquisition middle linebacker Kirk Morrison -- need to lead the way.

“You want to give the young guys everything that you’ve seen in the league,” Morrison said. “I’ve been in the league five years already. I’ve seen what losing can do, how it can separate a team. I’m saying this is what needs to be done, if you want to go out and win games, you’ve got to work like this. Losing was not fun. There are things I can bring over here like my toughness. I’ve never missed a game in the National Football League.”

The best way to lead is to produce. Morrison can be a tackling machine, and if Kampman returns healthy to a 4-3 defense a year after major knee surgery, he’s a constant threat to the quarterback.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey has been productive on a daily basis so far. With a crowd at defensive end including Kampman, Derrick Harvey and rookies Austen Lane and Larry Hart, can Mincey stay healthy and wedge himself onto the roster? The line overall is a young bunch, but its new position coach, Joe Cullen, has the group absolutely flying around and setting a tone the entire team would be wise to follow.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Knighton
AP Photo/Stephen MortonThere have been concerns about defensive tackle Terrance Knighton's weight.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton’s got a good head on his shoulders and has time to get where he needs to be. But he was 346 pounds on Monday, and the team would like him close to 330. If his play drops off, they could be in trouble in the middle no matter how good first-round pick Tyson Alualu is, and he’s been real good from what I’ve seen of him at OTAs and in his debut camp practice. The team can’t move into Knighton’s house and feed him, but how did his weight get so out of hand?

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Vince Manuwai’s flipped from left to right guard and the Jaguars will make that their power side for the run game. But if he doesn’t bounce back from a poor 2009, when he was coming off reconstructive right knee surgery, the team could look to Kynan Forney as the next best interior run blocker.
  • Undrafted running back Chad Kackert catches everything and can turn and go… Are there too many guys on this team who can play good to great special teams but not contribute on offense or defense?
  • I like the way Ted Monken teaches receivers on the field -- with pointed-but-encouraging detail. I watched him spell out to Roren Thomas how and why he needed to be patient and allow a play to develop for his quarterback after he'd run a short route way too quickly.
  • Harvey and Hart have created some buzz. Are they off to really good starts, or is a slow start by right tackle Eben Britton contributing?
  • The Jaguars really like second-year corner Don Carey, and it would seem he’d make sense to be the nickel. But Del Rio left the door open that Carey could even earn a starting spot. Left unsaid is whether Del Rio thinks that would impact veteran Mathis or second-year man Cox, whom they loved as a rookie. Or perhaps he’s just looking to light fires.
  • I hope offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter runs some option with tight end Zach Miller taking snaps. It’d create excitement and a wrinkle for a team that can be limited on offense and wouldn’t suffer for taking some snaps from Garrard.
  • An early Achilles injury to third-round defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith already puts a dent in the depth there. Walter Curry will be a beneficiary.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When last I saw Terrance Knighton, I was discussing with other reporters how ginormous he was at OTAs in early May. The guy affectionately known as Pot Roast wasn’t going to let extra pounds throw him off track, was he?

He’s working at it, but still has some pounds to shed. And so he’s not been with the first team as much as you’d expect for a guy who made an impressive NFL debut last year, when he was especially good at stuffing the run.

“Coach [Joe] Cullen is working that group hard and rewarding guys that are doing things exactly the way we want it, and I’m sure [Knighton] will continue to fight his way and be where we need him when it’s all said and done,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “Right now he’s just rotating in and that should continue to develop and as far as I am concerned he’s just here working like everybody else.”

Gene Frenette touches on Knighton's being lethargic in early practices here.

Knighton admits he was a bit distracted this offseason after a successful debut. He moved his mom, cousin and two brothers to a Jacksonville-area home and enjoyed too much steak and potatoes while addressing non-football matters.

Monday night he said he was at 346, within two or three pounds of getting into the rotation with the ones. He started the 2009 season in the 335 range. But this offseason he ballooned, big time. I have to say he still looks to be around 346.

“Just hanging out, eating things you’re not supposed to, eating grandma’s cooking every day,” he said. “But I’m back in it… There was a correlation. It was my first time handling a lot of things, with a lot of people depending on me. Now that’s out of the way. I’m focusing on football. I’m used to it now. My priorities were a little messed up but I’m on the right track now.”

Knighton is a likeable guy who rings sincere and I can’t imagine he’d let his weight get in the way now, knowing he can be an effective player so long as he stays within in the parameters the team has set.

With John Henderson gone and four rookie defensive linemen in the draft class, he said he’s a now a middle man who can be a tone-setter and a resource.

Knighton said ultimately he and first-round pick Tyson Alualu, who’s expected to join the team today, should line up side-by-side as the starting defensive tackles when the lineups are set after camp.

“The D-line wants to be seen as a whole group, try to get 40-plus sacks,” he said. “We have to emerge as a group.”

AFC South training camp preview

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
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We see teams go first-to-worst or worst-to-first all the time in the NFL -- except in the AFC South, where the Colts have won the division crown in six of eight chances since realignment and have won 12 games or more seven years running.

Indianapolis’ successes, and its four-time MVP quarterback, make it hard to predict a dramatic, upside-down season in the division.

The question is more about who can close the gap on Manning and the Colts; how the Texans, Titans and Jaguars stack up; and if one of them can find a door into the playoffs as a wild card.

The Texans and Jaguars begin their push with camp practices Friday. The Titans open Saturday, and the Colts are on the field Monday.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Kevin Terrell/Getty ImagesMario Williams has 35 sacks the past three seasons.
Houston Texans: How does the defense better defend the pass?

Veteran corner Dunta Robinson is gone, first-round pick Kareem Jackson is in as the team’s top corner. Is a secondary of Jackson and Glover Quin at corner, Eugene Wilson at free safety and Bernard Pollard at strong safety enough to slow down opposing offenses? Not without two other major developments.

The defensive front must apply more consistent and effective pass pressure. A monster season from Mario Williams, a big second year from Connor Barwin and more toughness from Amobi Okoye could do the trick. Okoye in particular needs a big camp or he could lose reps to rookie Earl Mitchell. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and a better run game could help a great deal, too -- if Houston is able to put up big points, some opponents won’t be able to take advantage of that secondary enough to keep up.

Indianapolis Colts: How do the receivers shake out?

If Anthony Gonzalez is healthy and back to form, the Colts could be stacked at receiver. Provided Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie can build on what they did with Gonzalez out for all but the first game last season, the Colts should be four-deep at receiver with those three behind Reggie Wayne. With Wayne leading the way and tight end Dallas Clark also coming off a 100-reception season, Peyton Manning could have his best group of pass-catchers ever.

I think if everyone is healthy, everyone will get chances. Perhaps certain games and certain matchups will call for certain guys to be used more. But I can’t see Gonzalez, Garcon or Collie with a significantly minimized role unless one of them plays his way to the bench or is injured.

Tyson Alualu
AP Photo/John RaouxTyson Alualu was the first of four defensive linemen the Jaguars drafted in 2010.
Jacksonville Jaguars: How will the defensive line rotation develop?

New line coach Joe Cullen will want his best guys on the field the most, but he’s also going to have to get them some rest so they can play fresh. Presuming Aaron Kampman and Derrick Harvey start at end and Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu start at tackle, who will be the guys behind them that ensure minimal drop-off?

Rookie ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane and rookie tackle D'Anthony Smith will all have opportunities as the Jaguars try to get to the quarterback a lot more often a year after collecting just 14 sacks. If the rush is better, watch the linebackers and secondary become better, too.

Tennessee Titans: Have the Titans cured their return game woes?

Things were so bad a year ago that when the Titans found guys who could fair catch punts while backing inside the 10-yard line it was considered a moral victory. Coach Jeff Fisher considers himself a return expert because of his own experience as a player. To his credit, he confessed he botched it last year by being overly reliant on unproven rookies. The solution? The Titans hope it’s unproven rookie Damian Williams, a third-round receiver out of USC.

If he’s muffing punts and kicks in camp, we should also see rookie Marc Mariani fielding punts, and we could see Kenny Britt back to fetching kickoffs. Merely being able to avoid mistakes shouldn’t be good enough. The Titans should expect to make plays in the return games.

HOTTEST SEATS

Colts: Offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars: He’s got the confidence and full backing of president Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell. But replacing legendary coach Howard Mudd is a large charge. And it’s widely held that the group he’s working with isn’t composed of great run-blockers and benefits a great deal in the passing game from Manning’s propensity for getting the ball out quickly. During summer workouts, players said that Metzelaars had already tinkered with some technique and re-energized the group.

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
AP Photo/Wade PayneA Pro Bowler in 2008, Michael Griffin had a subpar season in 2009.
Jaguars: David Garrard. Jacksonville’s quarterback is 32 years old, and while his term as a starter began relatively late, he’s at a point where a lot of people give him the underwhelming description of “he is what he is.” If things unfold according to how a play is drawn up, he can be good. But things rarely unfold like that. He can be too inaccurate and doesn’t execute in the clutch often enough. Good season or not, the Jaguars are expected to look to draft a first-round quarterback in 2011.

Texans: Kareem Jackson. You hate to be overly reliant on a rookie, but the Texans have put themselves in that spot. First-rounder Jackson has to be able to cover tightly and find the ball if Houston stands a chance to so much as split with the Colts while Manning is dropping back and looking into the Texans’ secondary. They could have eased the pressure on their new No. 1 corner with an option beyond Eugene Wilson at free safety, but failed to address the position at all.

Titans: Michael Griffin. Tennessee is counting on a lot of young guys who are taking on bigger roles to be productive. But even if they are all good, it may not matter if Griffin, a Pro Bowl safety in his second season, plays as poorly as he did in his third. Distracted by off-the-field personal issues, he bit on play-action, took terrible angles and missed tackles he has to make while the Titans' pass defense fell apart. That won’t work with two games against Manning, two against Matt Schaub and matchups against Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Donovan McNabb.

[+] EnlargeBrody Eldridge
WD/Icon SMIThe Colts are hoping fifth-round pick Brody Eldridge can make a difference in the running game.
SECRET WEAPON

Colts TE Brody Eldridge. The Colts did not make a major addition to their offensive line mix after Bill Polian called the group out for its Super Bowl performance. The stretch play, once a staple of their run game, has largely disappeared without edge blockers who can lead it effectively. But fifth-round pick Eldridge can be a big influence in this department. Expect him to displace Gijon Robinson. And watch him work effectively as a pass-catcher as well.

INTERIOR DESIGNS

All four AFC South teams could look different on the interior offensive line on opening day. The Colts are looking at busted left tackle Tony Ugoh as a guard. The Jaguars brought in Justin Smiley, could be finished with aging Brad Meester and haven’t been wild about Vince Manuwai’s play since he returned from a 2008 knee injury. The Texans added veteran Wade Smith and would like second-year man Antoine Caldwell to seize a spot. Those three lines need sorting out.

The Titans, who had a 2,000-yard rusher and gave up only 15 sacks, have also made changes, shifting left guard Eugene Amano to center to replace Kevin Mawae, an unsigned free agent, while inserting Leroy Harris in Amano’s old spot.

It’s possible all four teams run better up the middle and shield their signal-callers from the inside rush better than they did a year ago.

Derek Cox and Terrance KnightonGetty ImagesDerek Cox (left) and Terrance Knighton will have to continue the success from their breakout rookie seasons if Jacksonville's defense is going to improve.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Do little as a rookie, and the expectation is a second-year jump.

Produce, and the talk is of the potential for a sophomore slump.

I’m not sure I get that. But when I look at the Jacksonville Jaguars' continued effort to remake their defense, I look to two second-year players as key components.

If cornerback Derek Cox and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, third-rounder picks last year, get better, so will Jacksonville.

Now how do they make it happen?

“That’s the one thing that our first-year guys coming back as second-year guys have to understand is, what they did last year is not good enough,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “In this league you’ve got to continue to improve or people are going to pass you by.

"Those guys got off to a good start in their careers by playing 16 games, but we’re going to need more from them and the rest of that group. They can’t rest on their laurels and think that they’ve figured it out. That’s what leads to that sophomore problem that we don’t want to see.”

Cox was a solid pass defender as a rookie, ending the first drive of his career with an end-zone pick of Peyton Manning. He usually stepped up to make tackles when needed, though he is working to improve that area. Generally, he drew strong reviews.

He played with poise and his body language made him seem more like a fearless veteran than a rookie out of a smaller program like William & Mary.

Jacksonville is counting on a revamped defensive line to produce a far better pass rush, but it didn't add any help at safety. So top quarterbacks like Manning and Matt Schaub, who face the Jaguars twice a year, will feel they have room to work if they have time to do so. That increases the pressure on Cox and Rashean Mathis.

“Now, I have experience, I’m more aware and it’s not new territory for me,” Cox said. “Now my biggest thing is I want to be more football savvy and be more a student of the game -- learning offenses, their habits, their tendencies, what somebody is trying to do to you.”

There is only so much a quarterback, receiver and passing offense can do, it’s just that they find different ways to do them. Cox said he's determined to boil it down to the basic parts so he can recognize them when they’re used as pieces of bigger, more complicated scenarios.

He is used to relying on his athleticism and reacting to what he sees, he said.

“But I want to make plays by actually processing, having the game slow down and having my vision go from being in a tunnel to being broad and opening up,” he said.

Said general manager Gene Smith during the team’s recent minicamp: “I think Derek Cox out here has been outstanding. You see a guy who’s bigger physically. He’s trusting his eyes a little bit better, I think. He’s a little bit more technique-conscious.”

Knighton was a hard-to-move run-stuffer who persevered through what could have been a difficult season despite a high ankle sprain. His upside is also big, though there may also be a concern about him getting too big.

Smith said he expects Knight to be better, and to regularly draw the sort of double teams that allow for the other tackles to have one-on-one matchups with guards who should be beaten.

Knighton is focusing more on block recognition and the sort of maneuvering he will see from players like Colts center Jeff Saturday. He’s studying film and formations and concentrating on what an offensive lineman’s initial hand placement and eye location means.

Veteran defensive end Reggie Hayward had talked to Knighton about the extra attention he will face in his second go-round.

“The first few weeks those double teams may not make a difference,” Hayward said. “But the season is long. It’s going to take its toll on him. He has to be mentally strong. They can’t double team you every single play. So if you don’t take a play off, when you don’t get double teamed you are going to make some plays.”

Four rookie linemen will look to Knighton as a leader, and he is trying to bring the constant energy that new defensive line coach Joe Cullen demands.

“Nobody wants to have the sophomore slump,” he said. “I played good against the run, I wasn’t so good against the pass as I wanted to be, so that’s something I am focusing on. I want to develop that high motor. Even though Tyson [Alualu] is a rookie, he brings that energy to the D-line because he’s one of those non-stop guys.”

The Jaguars hope that while Cox and Knighton will stay on a good growth curve, the members of their rookie class can emerge as big contributors from the start the way those two did. It's fair to say that as players drafted in Smith's first year, Cox and Knighton created a standard for first-year defenders.

Now, perhaps, they’ll create another for second-year members of Del Rio’s D.

Hayward said he’s talked to Knighton about Year 2, and what he’s had to say certainly can apply to Cox as well.

“I try to tell him, your second year is always your hardest year,” Hayward said. “Because you’ve had some success, you’re not going to be surprising anyone. They’re ready for you. So you’re going to have to work extra hard to make the plays that you made. So be ready.

“Don’t let it go to your head. Stay humble. And just know you’re someone that they are going to talk about when they do their scouting report. You’re someone that they have their eyes on."

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJoe Cullen is back in the NFL, bringing energy and high-decibel levels to the defensive coaching staff.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The volume’s been turned up to 11 over at the defensive line area of the Jaguars’ practice.

Joe Cullen prowls and hollers, prods and hoorays as he pushes a revamped group that’s expected to revitalize Jacksonville’s defense.

Last year’s 14 sacks were the fifth-worst total in the league since it started keeping sack stats in 1982. Enter Cullen, a once successful coach in Detroit who made national headlines for passing through a drive-through naked, a stunt that ultimately landed him out of the league.

Now he’s been given a second chance as well as the first four picks of the Jaguars’ draft and a veteran rusher in free-agent addition Aaron Kampman.

The Jaguars didn’t do much behind that line. Veteran linebacker Kirk Morrison, acquired in a trade with Oakland, is the only real notable addition. A better pass rush, they say repeatedly, will do much to cure other ills like those at safety.

As Cullen had each lineman weave through four tackling dummies at minicamp practices that wrap up Monday, clubbing and ripping each one before turning left and flattening a fake quarterback, he left little unsaid.

“It’s time to get double-digit sacks around here Harv,” he bellowed to end Derrick Harvey, the team’s top draft pick in 2008. “Not four sacks. That’s what you were brought here to do: Rush.”

He urged “tempo, tempo” and his assistant, Ben Albert reminded the troops: “We’ve got to reclaim the line of scrimmage.”

“I think this is a great group they’ve given me to work with,” Cullen said. “…It all starts up front. Basically the organization and the team is depending on us to lead the team, to lead the troops.”

Two veteran linemen, newcomer Kampman and Reggie Hayward who came here in 2005, both love Cullen so far.

“I love his passion,” said Kampman, the former Green Bay star. “The position is so much about relentlessness, tenacity and obviously those are some of his strong characteristics as a coach. He knows a lot about rushing the quarterback. He’s learned from a lot of great guys in his career and one thing I’ve learned is you always look at the pedigree.”

Those influences include Chicago defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Indianapolis defensive line coach John Teerlinck.

Said Hayward: “[Cullen’s] whole motto is to work hard, to go after it. He’s an intense little guy from upper New York or Jersey or somewhere. He says ‘tonic’ and not ‘soda’ and he’s a little fireball. That’s what you need, man. I think he’s perfect for what we’ve got going on.”

“The identity of the D-line is going to be hard work. We may not be as big as John Henderson or Marcus Stroud. But most of the time making plays is just effort. Do you give up? Or do you continue to work?”

The Jaguars hired Cullen in January with the blessing of commissioner Roger Goodell.

The quick recap of his fall: Cullen drove through a suburban Detroit Wendy’s naked in 2006 -- a scene later revisited through a Jon Kitna Halloween costume. Cullen was arrested for that and separately for a DUI, incidents that led to a suspension for one game by the team, another game by the league and a fine of $20,000 for conduct detrimental to the league.

The two cases resulted in fines and 10 days of community service as well as a judge's order to attend outpatient treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“Motivated guys are great, right?” asked head coach Jack Del Rio. “Players or coaches, that’s what you want… I know Joe’s very hungry for an opportunity, when he’s been in the league and the line’s he’s worked with he’s done a nice job with and I think he’s very thankful for a second shot.”

“All I know is that there isn’t a single one of us that’s perfect, I know I’m not,” Kampman said. “This profession obviously puts you in a fishbowl and the great thing is that I know he’s addressed it with the group and is moving forward. Each and every one of us needs to be about redemption.”

Cullen started off our chat with an emphasis on how grateful he is to owner Wayne Weaver, GM Gene Smith and Del Rio for the second chance.

In three seasons in the same post in Detroit, he had pretty good line play on pretty bad teams. In 2007 the Lions jumped from 24th to ninth in the NFL in sacks, and the defensive line accounted for 28.5, seventh-most in the league.

But he was exiled in 2009 when the Lions started over with a new coaching staff. He spent the year as an assistant at Idaho State.

He and his 2010 draft class will get a lot of attention this year. His rookie pupils include tackle Tyson Alualu, the 10th overall pick from Cal, third-round tackle D’Anthony Smith and fifth-round ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane.

“They’re very talented, they’re very gifted,” Hayward said. “This is the time for someone to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot at stake here. Now do you want to mess it up by being a goof off or do something special?’”

Cullen isn’t so much worried about quantity as quality in the sack department. He said he craves “impact sacks,” the kind that come with strips or turn field position at a crucial spot in a game.

The defensive line won’t be judged on sacks and can affect games in many more ways, Smith said.

“I think it’s about making the quarterback move,” Smith said. “You’d like to get him down a lot. But you make him move, most quarterbacks who can’t set their feet to throw, cannot throw the ball accurately. So you get opportunities for more pass break-ups, for interceptions and you certainly get opportunities to get off the field with an incompletion.”

Cullen’s hardly set modest goals, especially considering it’s a team with one very big star in running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

“We’re going to be the face of the organization and really be the group that creates a relentless attitude about getting to where we want to be,” he said. “So we’ve got to not just be good, we’ve got to be great in everything we do.”
Joe Cullen’s background is as a defensive line coach.

Cullen
Jack Del Rio has a defensive line coach in Ted Monachino.

So it’s unclear just what is unfolding on Del Rio’s staff. But Cullen looks like he’s in line to join Jacksonville.

And before the punch lines start flying, the Jaguars did their due diligence on the former Lions assistant who once drove through a suburban Detroit Wendy’s naked -- a scene later revisited through a Jon Kitna Halloween costume.

Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote Wayne Weaver a letter saying Cullen has redeemed himself. This news story will cover that for you.

Perhaps JDR is looking to double up. Pass rush is the Jaguars biggest issue, at least on defense.

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