NFL Nation: Roy Hall

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's been a gorgeous day in Indy and the Colts-Vikings game will unfold beneath an open roof and window at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Three pregame thoughts/questions:

1) Sage Rosenfels is starting for the Vikings against a team that is not playing any of its starting secondary. On the one hand, Minnesota fans should feel confident the candidate for the starting job will be able to complete some passes. On the other hand, take a look at the picture atop this post from last October and revisit, if you will, a game famous for the "Rosencopter fumble" in an appearance against the Colts.

While we are touching on the Indianapolis secondary, let's take note of where cornerback Dante Hughes lines up. Is he second team (and thus starting)? Third? I don't get the sense the team is big on him right now, but what does playing a lot in a Colts' preseason game mean for a non-starter? That they like you? That they don't? That they need film to decide? It's harder to tell with them than with a lot of other teams.

2) Roy Hall is already gone, and I think Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie are both in line for roles as contributors at third receiver. Here we get our first game-pressure looks at them with big expectations. Peyton Manning won't play long. We shouldn't read much into it if he throws to one a bunch and the other not at all or hardly to either or a lot to each. But provided he aims for them a couple of times, do they look poised and comfortable and is it clear they are getting to their spots or are there hints of any hesitation?

3) Is there a discernable difference on special teams? I had a chance to talk with new coach Ray Rychleski, a very interesting guy with great passion for his job. Will we be able to see a difference in his charges? And how does rookie Pat McAfee fare punting and holding for Shane Andrus, who's keeping Adam Vinatieri's seat warm?

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  Bill Baptist/Getty Images
  A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.

Houston Texans

Training camp site: Houston, Texas

Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson

The safety position remains an issue, with Nick Ferguson and Eugene Wilson in line to start now. But the team will allow for the possibility of Dominique Barber to nudge his way into the lineup.

Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.

Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.

Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.

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Schedule: Training camp dates
With new coaches overseeing the defensive line and the defensive backs, there is a real chance for new messages and approaches to have a  bearing on players and units.

The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.

Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.

Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.


Indianapolis Colts

Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.

 
  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.
Campfires: Targets for Peyton Manning are crucial, of course, and that's why there is such a large focus on the three-way fight for the No. 3 receiver spot. Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall will draw a lot of attention as that's sorted out. Garcon seemed to be getting a lot of positive reviews in OTAs and min
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.

Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.

The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.

Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.

With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.

Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.

It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.

Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.

The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.


(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- The offensive and defensive lines need some sorting out, but the most intriguing competition for a prominent role with the 2009 Indianapolis Colts might be for the No. 3 wide receiver slot.

 
  AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  Pierre Garcon is one candidate for the Colts' No. 3 receiver spot.

The prime candidates: Pierre Garcon, rookie Austin Collie and Roy Hall.

"I've been throwing with them a lot during this offseason," Peyton Manning said. "I try to take them all individually and work with them one-on-one. Sometimes, I think you get out there in a big group session and you throw one route to Pierre and one route to Austin, you get pretty good at a bunch of them instead of trying to master all of the routes. We do these private sessions in the morning. We started it a couple of years ago. I think it really does make a difference. I get really comfortable with the timing on all of them.

"Pierre can really run. He's made big strides since last year. He's made some tough catches so far in the OTAs. Collie is a guy, it's still early, and you're kind of evaluating him and getting a feel for him, but you can tell he knows how to catch the ball. He's caught so many balls in practice. You have Roy Hall who's competing in there, Sam Giguere, who's injured right now, who was making some strides. It's going to be good, healthy competition. I think Taj [Smith] is in there. Competition will be a good thing all the way leading up to the first game of the regular season."

Manning had more to say there about Garcon and Collie than Hall, and the buzz among people who cover the team on a daily basis is that it follows a trend. Generally, players and coaches don't talk about Hall unless specifically asked about him. Maybe we over interpret, but that would seem to suggest he's not at the front of the group.

Garcon catches the ball very well, Hall is the biggest receiver at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds.  Collie seems to be a crafty player -- he's drawn a lot of comparisons to Brandon Stokley.

"Everybody knows the playbook, you've just got to step out and do something great," Garcon said.

Team president Bill Polian said he's confident one from the group will emerge and be the clear-cut No. 3. He doesn't expect any sort of committee, but he doesn't expect a verdict before the team is well into training camp, either.

Reggie Wayne, who trains in Miami and only has been around for a few days, said he doesn't know much about Collie yet. But Garcon and Hall have been asking him a lot of questions and leaning on him as the team looks to sort out the position beyond Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez in the post-Marvin Harrison era.

"We've got something in store for you, you are going to see," Wayne said. "As a receiving corps, I think we are going to surprise a lot of people."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

FRANKLIN, Ind. -- Some observations and thoughts from Saturday afternoon's public minicamp practice at Franklin College's Faught Stadium:

Outreach: Bill Polian spoke to the crowd before things started and told those in attendance that owner Jim Irsay had charged the team to create more outreach and more interaction with fans, which was the impetus for a practice like this one.

Boomer: New special teams coach Ray Rychleski has a booming voice that carries. He's got some enthusiasm for sure and offered critiques and compliments with equal fervor. Rookie punter Pat McAfee bombed a couple, but was inconsistent.

Stumble: Tyjuan Hagler provided some comic relief, tripping over his own feet during a linebacker drill where players zigzagged in a back pedal before breaking on a ball.

Third wide: I tried to read into how the receivers deployed, but there is no telling at this stage how the candidates for the No. 3 job -- Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall -- stack up. My eye -- which has no experience training receivers, just lots watching them -- puts them in that order right now.

It got even harder to gauge Garcon against Collie when Anthony Gonzalez dropped out, seemingly with a right thigh issue. Those two worked in three-wide with Reggie Wayne. That might tell us something about Hall, though.

Clyde Christensen is working as the offensive coordinator now, but is still with the receivers as their position coach. The Colts are creative in some of the drills they use when the wideouts work alone. I don't recall seeing other teams, for example, run short stuff where they cut behind a blocking bag that interrupts their view as they angle back to collect a pass. But it seems a smart way to recreate some real-world experience in this sort of mild setting. I saw Collie, Hall and Taj Smith drop short passes in that segment.

Details: While special teams work went on at one point, quarterbacks worked alone. Peyton Manning lined up in the spot where he imagined a defender would be on a specific play and looked to offer detailed commentary/advice/coaching to Curtis Painter before he took a few drops envisioning the full 11 that could be opposite him.

Protection: The first offensive line that worked in front of Manning in a team drill was, left to right: Tony Ugoh, Jamey Richard, Jeff Saturday, Dan Federkeil and Ryan Diem. (Charlie Johnson and Mike Pollak didn't work and Ryan Lilja didn't work that deep into the session.)

Scrambled backers: I tried to look at linebackers the same way, but it seemed like there was a lot of mix and match going on. One early group had Jordan Senn and Philip Wheeler bracketing Adam Seward. Of all the things not to read much into -- which is virtually everything here -- I'd rank this first.

Coming back: Watched Lilja, who's coming off a season lost to a knee injury, a little bit. He wore sleeves on both knees and seemed comfortable firing off the line and cutting down a blocking bag/tackling dummy as the O-line concentrated on some individual technique.

Off day: Among those who sat out at spots other than the O-line: Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, defensive end Dwight Freeney, cornerback Marlin Jackson, safety Bob Sanders and linebacker Gary Brackett.

Catches: In work with just quarterbacks and wide receivers, Gonzalez ran on to a nice line drive post from Manning, stopping it with one hand and then catching up to it as he accelerated. In the same period, Austin went to the ground to collect a pass from Chris Crane.

The break-up: Third-round cornerback Jerraud Powers made what I thought was the standout defensive play of the afternoon. In the team period, matched up with Wayne and with Manning, Powers broke well on mid-range pass to the left side, got a hand in front of Wayne and broke it up.

 
  Thomas E. Witte/Getty Images
  The Colts seemingly showed faith in Anthony Gonzalez by not taking a receiver in the first three rounds of last weekend's draft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Anthony Gonzalez is typecast.

As I considered the possibility of the Indianapolis Colts using the 27th pick in the draft on a receiver, I kept hearing the same thing about Gonzalez: He's a nice slot guy for Peyton Manning; the Colts showed a willingness to draft a player for a narrow role when they took him out of Ohio State with their 2007 first-round pick, 32nd overall.

But now, moving forward without Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis needed another top-flight receiver to line up across from Reggie Wayne.

The Colts, I knew, viewed Gonzalez differently than many others in the league. After all, they have tight end Dallas Clark working out of the slot in a lot of formations and last year they threw a wrinkle at defenses where Wayne lined up in the slot with Gonzalez outside.

"I've never thought of myself as a slot or an outside guy necessarily. I think of myself as a receiver," Gonzalez said in a phone interview this week. "For example, the drills I do, the routes I run, the fundamentals are the same whether you are inside or outside, so they are all geared toward being a complete receiver. Now there are some different challenges as to how a defense plays a guy on the inside and what he's looking at as opposed to when he's outside.

"This is a guess, but I would say if you looked at all my snaps that I've had with the Colts since I've been here, I'd bet that I've had more snaps outside than inside."

Not only did the Colts not use their top pick on another receiver, they didn't address the position until the fourth round, when they took BYU's Austin Collie, a player who's compared by some to the slot receiver Gonzalez was drafted to help replace, Brandon Stokley. The Colts may see him as more, but Mel Kiper Jr. was hardly alone when he wrote that Collie won't be too much of a vertical threat against NFL corners but could be good as a "possession type, underneath receiver."

Anthony Gonzalez
#11 WR
Indianapolis Colts

2008 STATS
REC YDS TD AVG LNG
57 664 4 11.6 58

Wayne and Gonzalez now head a corps that also includes Roy Hall, Pierre Garcon and Collie. With Harrison gone and Jim Caldwell taking over for Tony Dungy as coach, Wayne is No. 1, Gonzalez should be No. 2 and Clark will continue to be a primary target. Forecasting how the others receivers will be deployed is a guessing game.

Coming from some, the "slot guy" label suggests restricted skills. Gonzalez may still be accurately described as crafty, quick and shifty. But those are qualities he can -- and has -- just as easily put to use outside.

His numbers don't look particularly slot-like. Consider that in two years of working mostly in the slot in New England, Wes Welker has averaged 10.5 yards a catch while Gonzalez's average in the same period was 13.2 yards.

One AFC personnel man said he still envisions Gonzalez as best used when shifted inside in three-wide formations. The inexperienced Hall, Garcon and even Collie will have an easier time breaking out on the perimeter, while Gonzalez can be at his best in the middle of the field handling more blitz-related responsibilities.

"I think of Gonzalez as a slot guy, because that's kind of the reason that they took him," he said. "I think they took him to be primarily their slot guy. ... He is a heck of a receiver. He's super quick, he can catch the ball, he can run after the catch, he's a tough kid, he has all those attributes. He can be a No. 2 and he is going to be a No. 2 and I think he's going to be a pretty good one. I think ideally his skills are suited to play in the slot."

 
  Ron Schwane/US PRESSWIRE
  As a senior, Anthony Gonzalez was used primarily in the slot at Ohio State.

As a senior at Ohio State, Gonzalez said he pressed the coaches to give him more work outside, for variety if nothing else. But the reality was the Buckeyes had quality receivers like Ted Ginn Jr. and Brian Robiskie to split out, and the experienced Gonzalez was told he was the most trustworthy at picking up on blitz situations.

As he and his staff studied the 2007 draft class, Colts president Bill Polian saw Gonzalez as an excellent fit.

"This guy's a Colt," Polian said after drafting him. "He's got the horseshoe stamped all over him from the minute that you saw him."

With the Colts there is not much difference between lining up inside or out, according to Gonzalez. Outside he's reading three defenders -- the cornerback, the safety to his side and the closest linebacker. Inside, he looks largely at the same three guys from a different perspective. But based on the protection he knows who's accounted for and who isn't. Most of the time he turns into a hot receiver for Manning when one of those three opponents blitzes, he said, but sometimes it's any of two or three that can prompt him to break off his route to be ready for an extra quick delivery.

Gonzalez has no interest in talking about the strengths and weaknesses of his game -- he's only half joking when he calls them trade secrets. But his offseason work is all designed to address the weaknesses and he said he has great faith in his plan.

Odds are as the post-Harrison Colts get started, Gonzalez is going to be a super-popular pick as a breakout guy.

"I really like the kid," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Very smart. Excellent work ethic. Much faster and quicker out of his breaks than many tend to realize. Soft hands. Should be an ideal guy with Manning, as he will study defenses and work real hard to get open, find the soft spots in zones and present a good target for Manning to hit. Also very competitive with the ball in his hands after the catch.

"He isn't weak, but he also isn't an overpowering physical player by any means. Better when he doesn't have to fight off a jam and might still project best to the slot. However, I expect that to change going forward and I see him as a very productive player going forward. Should have a huge year."

Two years of work with Manning have Gonzalez feeling comfortable, but he referred questions about their chemistry to the quarterback. (Stars of Manning's stature are not readily available and I was unable to attend his round of golf with Tiger Woods Wednesday -- I'll have to check in on that at minicamp in early June.)

 
  Icon SMI
  The chemistry Manning and Gonzalez have developed over the past two seasons will be vital as the team enters the post-Marvin Harrison era.

"Are we at the point that him and Marvin were at their peak? Absolutely not," Gonzalez said. "You're talking about the No. 1 quarterback-receiver tandem in the history of the game. Are we there? No sir. But it's one of those things where there is no substitute for experience, so the more game situations and practice situations we can get into, it'll benefit our chemistry."

Out wide, Gonzalez is not lacking, the personnel man said. It's just that his best qualities serve him best inside.

"Because of his quickness and his ability to change directions, it's a matchup deal and he gets much more favorable matchups when you move him into the slot," the personnel man said. "When you're playing with two receivers, he's with Wayne. When you bring in your third, then ideally you take Gonzalez from outside to inside to have more favorable matchups. Then you bring your third in and let him play outside."

Gonzalez said he doesn't know the team's early plan for how he or the other receivers will be used. Harrison regularly lined up on the right. Without him, the Colts may move people around more to be unpredictable and search for the most favorable matchups.

Gonzalez has no prediction or expectation.

"I don't really know what to expect," he said. "I don't anticipate being handed anything, I will tell you that. I'm going into minicamp and training camp with the idea that I've got a lot to prove and I've got to earn whatever reps, snaps, throws I get."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The first wave of free agency has come and gone. While Round 2 hasn't played out yet -- the draft is still six weeks away and offseason programs are in the offing -- the AFC South blog pauses to assess our four teams.

What's the overriding issue that remains to be addressed for each team? How might the franchises take them on?

Houston Texans

 
  Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images
  Defensive end Antonio Smith gives the Texans some help on their defensive line.

The team's 2006 draft was the last with Charley Casserly as GM and coach Gary Kubiak signed off on all seven picks. Three of them -- Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels -- already have been to the Pro Bowl, and a fourth -- Eric Winston -- is a very solid starter.

If the Texans can come close to matching that with a defense-heavy draft, they could position themselves to challenge Tennessee and Indianapolis atop the division.

They need an infusion of defensive playmakers for new coordinator Frank Bush to work with: A sturdy linebacker, a stout defensive tackle, a safety or corner to challenge for a big role.

Never mind their standing as the league's 22nd-ranked defense in 2008. If the Texans can improve in scoring defense (24.6 points, 27th) and third-down defense (39.4 percent, 16th), that can make a huge difference. Defensive stinginess would help a team that's got an offensive head coach in Kubiak and an attack that should be able to score with a quality skill trio of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton.

They believe they answered the question at defensive end by signing free agent Antonio Smith to play opposite Williams. But more additions to the front seven are needed, as they have to produce more pressure on quarterbacks. Only five teams had fewer than the Texans' 25 sacks last year, 12 of which came from Williams. Each of the 12 playoff teams last season recorded more sacks than it allowed. Houston was minus-seven.

Above all else, the pass rush needs to remain the focus. The Texans need a pocket-collapsing tackle, a linebacker who could contribute to the rush and/or a defensive back who can help keep the ball in a QB's hand for an extra beat. A running back to go with Slaton will be tempting, but the Texans should wait to grab one until after they've spent at least a couple of value picks on defense.

Indianapolis Colts

Bill Polian got deals done with cornerback Kelvin Hayden and center Jeff Saturday before they became free agents, both big moves.

 Hayden
 Saturday

The Colts like Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon, but they are unproven and it would be asking for and expecting a lot for one of them to emerge as the third receiver on a team that needs dependable pass catchers for Peyton Manning. That's why it won't be a surprise at all if the Colts use the 27th pick in the draft on a wideout if there is one they believe fits what they do and can contribute right away.

But even if they go that direction early, their bigger issue is on defense, where the front seven needs restocking. The Colts need at least one big, run-stuffing defensive tackle and they need a new weakside linebacker with Freddy Keiaho (not given a qualifying offer when he could have been a restricted free agent) and Tyjuan Hagler (unrestricted) apparently out of the picture.

New defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is expected to be more complex, and Polian needs to give him more pieces to work with. The Colts like to choose "the best player available" in at least the first two rounds. It would be great for them if those players happened to be interior linemen or outside linebackers. Without boosts there, we'll be discussing a lot of the same issues in 2009 we covered in 2008.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have sent the message loud and clear: They are looking to rebuild by improving their foundation first, and they are big believers that the offensive and defensive lines are that foundation.

 
  Howard Smith/US Presswire
  While providing stability on the offensive line, Tra Thomas knows he needs work on his run blocking.

The addition of veteran left tackle Tra Thomas alleviates the pressure on the team to find a left tackle at No. 8 in the
draft, but Thomas himself said he needs work as a run blocker. With a team looking to spring Maurice Jones-Drew, that's the big priority.

At their peak, Jack Del Rio's Jaguars were known as one of the league's most physical teams. For a long time, the interior defensive line tandem of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were primary reasons for that reputation.

The 2008 Jaguars never really replaced Stroud effectively after he was traded to Buffalo, and finding someone like him who could eat space and blockers and help boost Henderson back to his old form is important.

As usual, Jacksonville needs a playmaker outside. Their failures with receivers are well documented, but if David Garrard has insufficient protection and the defense can't get off the field on third down better, the next Jerry Rice won't win them too many games.

Re-establishing a physical identity remains priority No. 1, and will be a big focus in the draft.

Tennessee Titans

With Jason Jones poised to make a second-season jump and Jovan Haye added to the interior defensive line mix, the Titans are not desperate to replace Albert Haynesworth as many seem to believe.

 Haynesworth
 Washington

Beyond Haynesworth, the Titans have lost little and should be in position to be a contender again. The big issue is the lack of playmakers.

When Chris Johnson left the Baltimore playoff game hurt, Tennessee didn't have an alternative and became far less threatening. Adding a field-stretching receiver can improve the Titans' quick-strike ability. A burner would help keep defenses honest so they can't focus on Johnson as much.

Is free-agent acquisition Nate Washington that guy? Perhaps.

If the Titans can bring back Chris Carr or sign one of the veteran corners they've looked at -- Justin Miller, Eric Green or Jarrett Bush -- they won't be in dire need of anything in the draft. That's a liberating idea for a team that needs to line up heirs at some spots like outside linebacker and corner.

But it also gives the Titans the option of grabbing a receiver they think can help add a dynamic like Johnson did a year ago. The question is, will they finally do it?

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