NFL Nation: Rashad Butler

Steelers sign another offensive lineman

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive linemen get together every Thursday night to build camaraderie. They may need name tags this week, given what the latest wave of injuries has done.

Snow
The Steelers signed their third offensive lineman since Saturday when they agreed to terms with David Snow, who started two games at center last season for the Buffalo Bills. Snow, who was released by the Bills at the end of August, takes the place of offensive tackle Rashad Butler on the 53-man roster.

Butler left the Steelers for personal reasons before ever practicing with the team, and Pittsburgh used a roster exemption it was granted on Snow.

Snow and Eric Olsen, who signed with the Steelers on Saturday, are the newest members of an offensive line that has lost centers Maurkice Pouncey and Fernando Velasco to season-ending injuries.

Olsen is likely to dress Sunday against the Miami Dolphins and provide depth for the interior of the line.

Snow shuttled between the practice squad and 53-man roster last season in Buffalo after signing as an undrafted free agent. The University of Texas product played in five games for the Bills in 2012.

OT Rashad Butler leaves Steelers

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost another offensive tackle before he played a game for them.

Butler
Rashad Butler has left the team for personal reasons, two days after the Steelers signed him to provide depth for their battered offensive line.

Butler is still listed on the 53-man roster, but it appears as if he is gone before even practicing with the Steelers.

The Steelers lost offensive tackle Levi Brown this season before he played in a game. Brown suffered a triceps injury while warming up for a game against the Jets, and the Steelers placed the seventh-year veteran on injured reserve.

The Steelers signed center Eric Olsen and Butler last Saturday after placing center Fernando Velasco on injured reserve because of an Achilles injury. Depth at tackle might still be an issue with Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams dealing with knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

The Steelers returned to work today, practicing in preparation for their Sunday game against the visiting Dolphins.

Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Houston Texans' roster moves.

Most significant move: Backup free safety Troy Nolan was a surprising cut, and won’t be on the market for very long. Shiloh Keo stuck. While he’s a willing special-teamer and can hit, he strikes me as too slow and I certainly wouldn’t want him on the field on defense. The Texans traded cornerback Sherrick McManis to the Chicago Bears for fullback Tyler Clutts, who’s expected to back up James Casey. The Texans are a tricky team at fullback, as the lead blocker is important in the zone-run scheme, but they use Casey, who’s more of an H-back with excellent hands. Clutts looks to be an upgrade from Moran Norris, who was cut. Clutts has pro experience, playing in the UFL, AFL and CFL.

Onward and upward: Nose tackle Hebron Fangupo was released, but he is surely a guy the Texans would like to sign to the practice squad, where they could nurture and develop him. Houston doesn't have great depth at the spot, which is generally shared by Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. Antonio Smith shifts inside in the nickel package, when the outside linebackers creep forward and it’s basically a four- or five-man line. Undrafted out of BYU, Hebron is listed as 6-feet and 324 pounds -- more than 20 pounds more than the Texans’ heaviest lineman. While Wade Phillips is fine with smaller nose tackles, having a big one who can develop is a welcome change.

What’s next: John Beck is on the roster as a third quarterback a year after the Texans got a real feel for the importance of depth when they lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart inside two games. They like undrafted rookie Case Keenum, who was cut, as well; he could head for the practice squad. But how many snaps can the Texans get him during the week if he’s fourth in line? Generally, the backup and/or a veteran runs the scout team, so that work will be done by T.J. Yates or Beck. Whatever snaps Schaub doesn’t take in a practice week will go to Yates. Perhaps they feel OK about Andrew Gardner as their swing tackle now that Rashad Butler is lost for the season with a torn triceps, but they could be looking for a guy to provide tackle depth.
Chris Myers Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireCenter Chris Myers will take on more responsibility this season as the Texans' quiet O-line leader.
Offensive linemen are often some of the most fun, funny and smart players in an NFL locker room.

Reporters -- and fans -- tend to rely on at least one as a key team spokesman who can address issues that extend well beyond pass protection or room for the running backs.

But some lines are intentionally quiet, believing that any voice that emerges as louder than the others in a group of five can dent the cohesion necessary for five guys -- maybe not literally, but certainly in a symbolic way.

Eric Winston’s tenure with the Houston Texans dated back to 2006, and he never shied away from a microphone or a tape recorder. The team cut him at the start of the offseason in a cost-cutting move, and he’s now with Kansas City.

The line’s personality changed a little with the move.

Center Chris Myers signed a four-year, $25 million contract to stay in Houston including $14 million guaranteed. While left tackle Duane Brown landed a monster deal during training camp and rates as one of the best in the league at his position, it’s Myers who was the group’s quiet leader even with Winston around.

And it’s Myers who will be looked to more to explain things going forward.

“That’s not really Myers’ personality,” Rashad Butler, who lost the right tackle job to Derek Newton in camp, told me during the offseason. “Now since Eric’s gone, and this is not a knock against Eric, I just think we don’t have that type of guy on the offensive line now. Eric was that guy, he loved that, he loved to talk, to debate and things of that nature, not in a bad way. I don’t really see us having any guy now on the offensive line that has that personality that Eric had.”

I feel like I’ve gotten a better sense of Myers over the last couple years. He’s smart, gritty and intensely focused. Those are qualities you want in any player and certainly in a center. Chatting with the likes of me is part of his job and he’ll do it, but it certainly wouldn’t make the list of his favorite duties.

In July, he said he treated training camp like it was his first and his last. He learned the offense all over again and took detailed notes during install as a rookie would while also being paranoid that he was a veteran whose job was on the line and it could be his last time.

“I’ve never been a big media guy,” he said. “If there are things going wrong in the season, I view it as there is nothing to talk about. Spend your time getting better as an offensive line. You’re a unit, there shouldn’t be one or two guys out there kind of doing the whole media thing.

“I’m a firm believer in that, but I do understand the business side of it and the media side of it. Somebody has to speak. I don’t like it, I’m not a huge fan of it. I will do it for the time being. The offensive line just needs to go out there and work. Whatever perceptions positive or negative come out of it, that we don’t talk, we don’t care.”

I respect that stance and explanation.

But I think team accountability is reflected, at least to a degree, in public accountability.

If a guy is reluctant to talk during the week, that's one thing. A player’s willingness to talk after a game is what people should be most concerned with, as fans are eager to know what happened and why. There are big egos in the business, no matter how one unit on one team may try to suppress that. And part of what wins the continued respect of teammates is the way a guy might step out to accept blame for errors or spread credit for success.

“I’ll talk after a game,” Myers said, before shifting to the bigger picture. “Last season and the season before when Arian Foster was blowing up, everyone wanted to talk about the offensive line. So there was a lot more media attention on the offensive line and I’m not a big fan of that.

"Obviously the attention’s great. But with us having to talk and do interviews and personal type of things, appear on the coverage of programs and those type of things, obviously I’m not a huge fan of that. I think we should just get the whole accolades as an offensive line. But me, Duane and Wade Smith being vets, we do understand the process.”

Last year's line made the Texans go, and nothing schematically has changed so that should be the case again, even with new starters Antoine Caldwell and Newton on the right side. Hopefully for Houston, Myers and crew will be in position to decline interview requests often.

It'll mean they're playing great.
Quick storylines and thoughts from the three preseason games I didn’t attend Thursday night.

Houston beat Minnesota 28-24


  • Trindon Holliday had his third return touchdown in four preseason games. He’s surely locked up a spot by now. If the Texans were to let him go, he’d get snatched up in a second by someone looking for a big boost to the return game. Maybe he’s finally got it all together.
  • Rashad Butler, who lost out on the starting right tackle job, is done for the year with a torn triceps, which could mean the Texans are in the market for a backup swing tackle in case something happens to left tackle Duane Brown or right tackle Derek Newton.
  • DeVier Posey impressively bounced off a couple tackles on his impressive 80-yard catch and run touchdown, a nice play from the guy who had the quietest preseason of the team’s three young receivers.
Indianapolis beat Cincinnati 20-16


  • Per Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star: They are 2-2 in preseason for first time since 2004. “Since 2005, they are 7-27 in games that don't count and are hard on the eyes.”
  • The leading passer, rusher and receiver for the Colts from this game will all likely be cut Friday. Chandler Harnish would have to prompt the Colts to keep a third quarterback. Deji Karim is the fifth running back. And Kris Adams seems more like a practice squad candidate.
  • Semi-alarming stats if it was a meaningful game: Ten penalties for 80 yards, something the Colts won’t be able to afford very often. Three fumbles, which are too many. A total of 36:47 on defense, which is too much. Eight punts in 14 possessions, also too many.
  • Will the two guys who missed tackles for the Bengals on the 42-yard TD by Dominique Jones that provided the winning margin even be in the league this year? Who know? Jones is going to be the Colts third tight end, at least at the start.
Jacksonville beat Atlanta 24-14


  • The Jaguars ran 45 times for 225 yards and got especially big nights from Keith Toston and Jalen Parmele accounted for 127 of the yards. How much credit they get for their yards against lower ranking Falcons defenders is hard to know. That helped the Jaguars hold the ball for 35:30, a great possession advantage.
  • Blaine Gabbert finished the preseason 36-for-59 for 355 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks. That adds up to a 95.0 passer rating. He had a clumsy fumble in the first game and a toss off the fullback at the start of this one. But the killer mistakes were way down.
  • Why did Laurent Robinson slow down when he was open and Gabbert put a good deep ball on him early? The two still have timing to work out. But that looked to be more about the receiver than thrower to me.
When the Houston Texans set up a scenario with two-man competitions for right guard and right tackle on their offensive line, I suspected one of the two veteran favorites would lose out.

But I picked the wrong spot.

It’s not rookie Brandon Brooks who’s taken right guard away from Antoine Caldwell. Rather it’s Derek Newton who’s beaten Rashad Butler at right tackle.

“Looking at the body of work, I think it was very, very close, as I told y’all all along,” Gary Kubiak told the Houston press. “I think the thing that has moved this toward Newton is watching his progress, watching where he was the end of last year going to the offseason, going through camp, watching him get better and better and better. Did a good job the other night. Young player that we think’s ascending. We know that there’s a lot of things he’s got to clean up, but we think he’s definitely committed to doing that, just like the way he’s progressed. So we’ll give him an opportunity to do it. Big responsibility but we think he’s ready for it.”

Newton is listed as 2 inches and 11 pounds bigger than Butler, and I think he’s got a chance to fill out even more. I think he’ will wind up more physical than Butler, who told me during OTAs that while he’s comfortable on the right side, he felt more natural at left tackle.

He will be ready should Newton slip, but will otherwise serve to back up left tackle Duane Brown and Newton.

Caldwell is in line to be right guard, but that could be Brooks’ job in a year.

Thoughts on Saints 34, Texans 27

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
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There isn’t a coach in the league who’s OK with fumbling. There may not be a coach in the league who’s less OK with it than Gary Kubiak.

So while Keshawn Martin is assuredly part of the Texans, the rookie receiver might have hurt his chances to be on the field early in the season with two lost fumbles over the course of the Houston’s 34-27 loss in New Orleans on Saturday night.

Return man Trindon Holliday was having a great preseason. But he comes out of Week 3 of the preseason as no sure thing after losing one fumble that was scooped for a touchdown return and dropping another return chance which he managed to recover as he went out of bounds. Those will be measured against an electric 64-yard kickoff return later in the game.

A few other notes out of the game:
  • Quarterback Matt Schaub was great (15-of-18, 194 yards and a TD) and the Texans rolled to touchdowns on their first two drives with efficient and effective play. The offense would appear ready to roll.
  • Tight end Garrett Graham looks fully capable of replacing departed free agent Joel Dreessen as the No. 2 tight end in a way that won’t leave much of a hole. (He certainly was the lesser of the two TE Grahams in this game, however. Jimmy Graham is simply something to behold.)
  • Cornerback Kareem Jackson was right with Devery Henderson on a deep completion from Drew Brees up the left side and was right with Lance Moore on a touchdown catch, even without the pass interference that was declined. Jackson will probably be getting ripped in Houston, but I was actually encouraged by the good position against top receivers taking throws from a top quarterback.
  • Right tackle Derek Newton did well at steering some pressure real wide and past Schaub. I know the Texans were seeking to get all four of the guys in competition for the two open spots on the line equal quantities of work. And Rashad Butler was mixed in early, too. But seeing him on the field late in the fourth quarter of the third preseason game didn’t leave me feeling great about his chances to claim the spot as his and his alone for opening day.
  • Sherrick McManis made a great special-teams play, stopping at the goal line to field the ball and tossing Donnie Jones’ punt back into the field, where Roc Carmichael downed it.

Three things: Texans at Saints

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
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Three things to look for tonight as the Texans go against the Saints in their third preseason game of the summer tonight (8 ET) in New Orleans.

The three young receivers: Heading into the biggest preseason game, it seems Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean and DeVier Posey rank in that order, but there is still a chance for some jockeying for roles and snaps. When they are on the field, any success they can have with quarterback Matt Schaub will help their cause. A good outing for Martin would likely solidify his standing, but Jean may be more explosive. Gary Kubiak can find roles for both at the start of the year if he feels they are worthy.

Rotating tackles: When Duane Brown became the Texans left tackle, the Texans eased him in his first few games by rotating him with veteran Ephraim Salaam. They are now at least considering doing the same with the two guys competing for the right tackle job now, veteran Rashad Butler and youngster Derek Newton. I wonder about the chemistry and rhythm such a platoon can get in the way of. But if one of them doesn’t distinguish himself, then they could both be in line for time in the season opener Sept. 9 against Miami.

Nose tackle: Shaun Cody (back) and Sunny Harris (done for the year with a torn triceps) won’t play, so Earl Mitchell and undrafted rookie Hebron Fangupo are the lone nose tackles available for the Texans. Ends Jared Crick and Tim Jamison are also rated by coaches as being able to play the nose in the Texans’ defense as well. The position isn’t generally part of the nickel package and barring an injury, it should be a problem. Also out on defense, inside linebacker Brian Cushing (ribs) isn’t with the team.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 16, 2012
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HOUSTON -- For a long time, the Texans were a popular pick to break through.

Coming off the season in which they finally did, they now rank as a favorite to repeat as AFC South champs.

But the tone in Houston hasn’t changed a bit.

Steady coach Gary Kubiak’s talked about starting from zero again, and though salary cap issues and free agency dented them a bit, this confident team knows it will need to show some grit to build off of last year’s experience.

“The window is open,” said quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed the team’s final six games and the playoffs after suffering a serious foot injury. “We have the talent, we have the people, we’ve got to go out and do it. It’s the next link in the chain…

“We’ve got the right mindset to keep everyone focused. If we see someone not focusing on the next job, we make sure he gets it right.”

Camp carried a confident vibe and the team was fortunate to dodge long-term issues when receiver Andre Johnson (groin) and defensive end J.J. Watt (elbow) suffered injuries.

There’s been some Super Bowl-or-bust talk, and this season will present the Texans with a chance to measure themselves against the teams they could see in the AFC playoff bracket: New England, Baltimore and Denver.

If the right side of the offensive line was not being replaced and if Schaub was a little bit more of a sure thing, they’d be a popular pick to represent the AFC in New Orleans.

Even with those issues, it doesn’t take much imagination to see them there.

THREE HOT ISSUES

The offensive line: The franchise’s zone-blocking scheme is really what the whole franchise is built on, and last year’s offensive line was among the league’s very best, producing the NFL’s No. 2 rush offense.

Right tackle Eric Winston was let go to save some serious salary cap money and right guard Mike Brisiel left for Oakland when the Raiders offered an above-market deal. The favorites to replace them, Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, have significant time in the system, and everyone seems to think it can be a seamless transition.

Rookie Brandon Brooks, a third-round pick, brings uncommon size and could challenge Caldwell. Derek Newton, a seventh-rounder from a year ago, is on Butler’s heels. They won’t both win, but one could.

The Texans did allow 33 sacks, ranking 20th in sacks per pass play. There is room for improvement there no matter who's playing.

The receivers: Johnson dealt with separate injuries to each hamstring last season, then needed offseason knee surgery, then lost camp time to a groin strain. If he’s on the field, the team has enough at receiver to supplement him. If he’s not, then it’s a question.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Andre Johnson
Brett Davis/US PRESSWIREThe Texans need Andre Johnson on the field for the rest of their receiving corps to be effective.
Kevin Walter is a fine No. 2 if Johnson is on the other side of the field, which allows Walter to run precise, shorter routes and throw quality blocks. If Johnson’s out, Walter isn’t as dynamic, and the three youngsters vying for the third spot become more important. Keshawn Martin's had the best camp to this point, but DeVier Posey and Lestar Jean are also in the mix.

Johnson missed nine games in 2011. The Texans couldn’t really rely on Jacoby Jones week-to-week (and released him in the offseason). With tight end Owen Daniels and running back Arian Foster playing big pass-catching roles, they still did fine.

Coverage: Johnathan Joseph is an excellent corner who will be asked to track the top wideouts on the other teams. The list will likely include Demaryius Thomas, Kenny Britt, Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson, Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne and Percy Harvin.

The combination of their quality pass rush, Joseph’s good work and some help may often get the job done.

But on the other side, Kareem Jackson has been more comfortable in zone coverage than man, and had a security blanket platoon system in place with Jason Allen. Allen’s now in Cincinnati, and early indications suggested the new veteran, Alan Ball, won’t be as much of a help.

There is good depth in the secondary. Brice McCain is a solid nickel and Brandon Harris is an improving backup for him. Troy Nolan is a capable third safety after Glover Quin and Danieal Manning.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This team has firepower and star power, which make it tough for plan for, tough to stop and difficult to move against.

Johnson and Foster rank in the top three in the NFL at their positions and Daniels remains a very effective weapon. The defense is loaded with stars who’ve produced: Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, Joseph, Brooks Reed and Watt. The third outside linebacker, Whitney Mercilus, is a first-round pick.

There isn’t a bad egg or an out-of-control ego on the list.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Outside of the division, the Texans road games are at Denver, at the Jets, at Chicago, at Detroit, at New England. I don’t think the Jets are going to rate as one of the league’s best teams, but those other four may well be in the top 10.

I don’t think expectations are going to be a problem. But a year ago they played 13 of 16 games at noon CT and just once outside of Sunday. This time they’ve got four night games and a Thanksgiving Day game, and four of those five are away from home.

That’s a different deal that could prove a test.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Johnathan Joseph
AP Photo/Pat SullivanJohnathan Joseph is getting more comfortable with the Texans.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Joseph is far more outspoken on the field than he was last year. It’s a testament to his comfort level and confidence. That people on both sides of the ball listen shows how respected he is.
  • Defenses and nickelbacks won’t be able to come into a game against the Texans anticipating one particular receiver in the slot. Different plays, different motions and different matchups will mean Walter, Johnson and Martin all get looks there.
  • Something will really have to go wrong for Justin Forsett not to be the third running back behind Foster and Ben Tate. He’s really shifty and Forsett could easily be part of a committee elsewhere. In a red zone period I watched him catch a short pass in the flat, slam on the brakes and allow Reed to fly past, then accelerate to the end zone.
  • Brooks, the rookie guard, impressed me. He can really hold his ground, and while speed gave him problems a few times, he’s mature beyond his years. I think he’s got a real shot at nudging Caldwell out of the right guard spot.
  • I’d like to see the Texans throw to James Casey more. He’s not really a fullback, though he is capable of doing what they ask and need. He’s got great hands and can make more plays that he gets called for him.
  • It’s hard to envision Trindon Holliday holding up based on his history and size. If he can, and he can master ball security, he’ll be a nice weapon as a returner. If being able to contribute as a receiver in a pinch is a requirement of the job, I can’t see it. Defensive backs will relish a chance to muscle a 5-foot-5 player at the line, rendering his speed largely irrelevant on any route that involves timing -- and don’t they all?
  • Houston gets enough out of the Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell defensive tackle combination. But it still seems like one of maybe only two spots in the base defense where the Texans could actually benefit from an upgrade.
  • There are not a lot of depth questions on this roster, and it’s a team that saw the value of quality depth last season, over and over. Inside linebacker’s an issue with Darryl Sharpton (hip) out. Cushing is close to indispensible. Left tackle Duane Brown is a guy the team might struggle without. But the Texans have won minus Schaub and without Johnson, and can win without Foster. The defensive line wouldn’t be the same minus Watt (out for the preseason with an elbow injury) or Antonio Smith. That said, what would the reaction have been last year at this time if we hypothesized Mario Williams would miss all but five games?
  • Rookie kicker Randy Bullock has plenty of leg. Considering they picked him in the fifth round, he’d have to fall flat on his face the rest of the way for the team to choose Shayne Graham over him, right?
Any injury that forces a key cog off the field in a training camp practice is reason for concern.

It’s always best to wait and see before making the ultimate assessment.

Wallace
Brown
So we await word from the Texans on the status of left tackle Duane Brown, who injured his left ankle Wednesday, but stayed on the field for a few additional plays before stepping out.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports the team flipped Rashad Butler, the favorite for the open right tackle job, to the left side, and put Derek Newton in on the right side.

Per tweets from Mark Berman, Gary Kubiak said:
"He got rolled up. It's always a scare. He did walk off on his own."

"We'll hold our breath. Hopefully he's okay. He did play a couple of plays after he did it.”

Hopefully X-rays will be negative and Brown won’t be gone for long.

He’s emerged as one of the league’s better left tackles. He’s perfectly suited for the Texans’ system. And he’s heading into a contract year.
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

HOUSTON TEXANS

Right tackle: Rashad Butler versus Derek Newton

Right guard: Antoine Caldwell versus Brandon Brooks

The Texans are reshaping the right side of their offensive line after releasing right tackle Eric Winston to save money and watching right guard Mike Brisiel take a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders.

Butler and Caldwell have experience in the system and go into training camp as favorites to win the starting jobs. But it won’t be a giant upset if one of them loses out to the promising kid in position to make a push. The team is high on Newton, who appeared in 14 games as a rookie in 2011, and Brooks, a third-round pick who was listed at 343 pounds when he was drafted and would be the team’s biggest lineman even if he slims down. We won't see Newton and Brooks as starters, but we could see one of them pull an upset.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Cornerback: Kevin Thomas versus all comers at left cornerback

The secondary is the Colts’ biggest issue, and depth beyond starting right cornerback Jerraud Powers is very questionable at corner. Thomas lined up as the second starter during spring and summer work. But the team did a lot to give itself other options for that slot as well as nickel and dime.

The Colts traded for Cassius Vaughn, claimed Korey Lindsey off waivers and signed free agent Justin King, previously of St. Louis. Those three plus holdovers Chris Rucker, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King will look to earn roles during training camp. The team could continue to seek help at corner, too.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Cornerback: Rashean Mathis vs. Aaron Ross

While Derek Cox will man right cornerback, veterans Mathis and Ross will compete for the starting job on the left side.

Mathis is a true pro who’s been a good leader for the Jaguars for nine seasons. He’s made great progress in a comeback from a shredded knee suffered in November. Ross was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams with the New York Giants and will also offer leadership. The guy who doesn’t get the starting job will still be an important player on defense, lining up in the slot in the nickel package.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck versus Jake Locker

It’s experience versus potential in what will be one of the most watched training camp battles in the NFL. Don’t believe Hasselbeck can’t lose the job. Coach Mike Munchak wouldn’t be setting it up as a competition for show.

To me, the question is whether Locker can be accurate enough to make his mobility too appealing to pass up. If so, he’s got a chance. If not, then Hasselbeck should retain the job. In the long run, it would be far easier to pull Hasselbeck along the way than it would be to take Locker out of the lineup. That could be a factor in what the Titans say will likely boil down to a gut feeling on whom they are better off with under center.

AFC South draft notes

April, 28, 2012
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The big draft review file will arrive shortly, but a few quick thoughts in the meantime:

Houston Texans

Three offensive linemen should help the team sort through options at right guard and right tackle. Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler are the guys moving up the depth chart, but now their challengers will include Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones at guard and Nick Mondek at tackle.

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck will come in at the head of a class that also includes two tight ends, two receivers, a running back and an offensive tackle. That change to a 3-4 defense will be in hybrid mode a lot in its first season, as only defensive tackle Josh Chapman and defensive end/outside linebacker Tim Fugger arrived to help. The Colts still get the draft’s final pick.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars stayed with big school guys most of the way. Their first five selections came from Oklahoma State, Clemson, Cal, Nevada and Florida State. But Gene Smith got his small school guy in the seventh round, with defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton from Ashland.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans didn’t have a pass rusher and were out of picks, but traded a sixth rounder in 2013 to Minnesota in order to select Rice defensive end Scott Solomon. The team sees a relentless pass rusher who fits in their mix and thought it could afford to sacrifice a sixth next year since it expects a compensatory pick or two.
Blogger Mock Draft Live has concluded.

The AFC South made one trade and four picks as we unrolled our final mock draft during a well-attended chat.

You can see how it all unfolded in the chat, and we’ve got the full mock draft here.

The Jaguars could well stay put at No. 7. They may have no choice as we hear that the trade market is largely non-existent.

I hardly got a haul from NFC East blogger Dan Graziano, who made a deal with me as the Eagles representative.

As the Jaguars, I got No. 15, No. 88 in the third round and gave up 176th in the sixth round in exchange for No. 153 in the fifth. That’s not a win on the trade value chart, but I think it’s outdated. I got an extra pick and an upgrade. Maybe I should have stayed put and taken defensive end Melvin Ingram. But at 15, I got the Gamecocks cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who could have gone inside the top 10. This would give the Jaguars nice depth at corner, with Derek Cox, Aaron Ross, Rashean Mathis if healthy, Gilmore and nickel specialist Drew Coleman.

Oh, I forgot my first pick, didn’t I? So unsurprising was the Colts selection of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

At 20, the Titans passed on Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in favor of USC defensive end Nick Perry. Tennessee could go corner, but they are hardly corner desperate. They aren’t desperate at end, either, I suppose, since they signed Kamerion Wimbley. But Perry’s got a combination of size and speed that can help the rush and make life easier on the corners the Titans already have.

At 26, my choice for the Texans was not especially well received by the masses. Prevailing wisdom says receiver, and that’s where I have gone in past mocks. But with Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston gone, that strong offensive line suffered two major dents. Antoine Caldwell or Rashad Butler will probably be good. But to bank on both seems risky. Put Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler in the mix, let him win one of those spots and the odds the line can be good again go up.

ESPN.com kindly provides space below for you to destroy me for these picks.

At least I hit on Luck, right?

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got – starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold onto players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?

Free agency so far ...

July, 31, 2011
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Are teams addressing needs? We can’t say if they’ve picked the right guys until we see how they all play. But we can assess how our four franchises have done in terms of filling holes or attempting to upgrade to this point.

Houston Texans

Old needs: The Texans were in desperate need of defensive backs and landed the second-best available cornerback in Johnathan Joseph and a safety better than any they have in Danieal Manning. They re-signed receiver Jacoby Jones, third tackle Rashad Butler and backup quarterback Matt Leinart. Matt Turk was a free agent who departed, so a punter is a need.

New needs: Fullback Vonta Leach was a huge part of Arian Foster’s rushing title but went to Baltimore. It seems likely the Texans will turn to versatile tight end James Casey as a lead blocker, but there are some quality free-agent options out there.

Don’t think they need: They’ve said from the time Wade Phillips evaluated personnel that Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell will be a capable combo at nose tackle. It’s a spot they may well be overestimating.

Indianapolis Colts

Old needs: A contract for quarterback Peyton Manning was No. 1, even though he was not technically a free agent, and they’ve gotten that done. They prevented safety and kicker from becoming issues with quick moves to retain Melvin Bullitt and Adam Vinatieri.

New needs: Kavell Conner is likely the third linebacker with Clint Session now a member of the Jaguars. But the linebacking depth is hardly great, and even a late veteran addition at the position might be significant.

Don’t think they need: I’m sure they’d love to find the next Reggie Wayne or a run-stuffing defensive tackle, but they either don’t see those guys out there or, more likely, aren’t changing their philosophy about chasing significant outsiders.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Old needs: Very aggressively address linebacker (with Paul Posluszny and Session), safety (with Dawan Landry) and nickelback (with Drew Coleman). That’s four quality players added to their top 12 on defense

New needs: Punter Adam Podlesh bolted for a big contract in Chicago. But the Jaguars quickly adjusted, signing Turk to replace him.

Don’t think they need: They’ve tried and failed with veteran wideouts to varying degrees -- from the bust of Jerry Porter, to the more affordable non-contributions of Troy Williamson, to the stopgap year from Torry Holt. They appear comfortable with a top three of Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Jarett Dillard or Cecil Shorts. They won’t likely be shopping.

Tennessee Titans

Old needs: They’ve addressed quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck), middle linebacker (Barrett Ruud), defensive tackle (Shaun Smith), and guard (re-signing Leroy Harris). Safety has gone unaddressed, so it appears Chris Hope remains in place. With Ahmard Hall a free agent, they could use a fullback, but may just go with tight ends or an undrafted if he departs.

New needs: Stephen Tulloch didn’t officially leave until after the Titans signed Ruud. They lost Jason Babin to Philadelphia, but never really planned to pursue him hard, and the move of Jason Jones to end helps offset it.

Don’t think they need: Wide receiver is always an issue for the Titans, but they don’t feel the desperation outsiders do. They’re content with their group, though an experienced, low-cost free agent could eventually arrive.

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