NFL Nation: Sam Montgomery

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Vance Walker practiced Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion at the New York Jets on Dec. 8 and is listed as being questionable to play Sunday at the San Diego Chargers.

“He’s close,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said of Walker, who has started a career-high 13 games after starting a combined 11 in his first four NFL seasons.

Walker
“He’s still got another (concussion protocol) step that he’s got to go through, so we’ll evaluate him tomorrow. He’ll be a game-time decision.”

Also, running back Darren McFadden practiced in a full capacity after being limited the previous two days, increasing the likelihood he will play for the first time since Thanksgiving Day. He was listed as probable.

And in a minor roster move, the Raiders put rookie linebacker Sam Montgomery, who was signed to the practice squad on Wednesday, on the team’s practice squad injured reserve list with a knee issue.

“He got hurt the first day of practice,” Allen said.

“He’s a talented player, and we wanted to get him in here and take a look at him to see if he’s somebody that we could work into the future. Obviously, he had the injury, so we weren’t able to get very much of an evaluation on him.”

Following, then, is the Raiders’ status report for Sunday:

Out: RB Jeremy Stewart (ankle/knee)

Questionable: LB Miles Burris (ankle), DT Vance Walker (concussion)

Probable: TE Jeron Mastrud (wrist), Darren McFadden (knee/ankle), G Lucas Nix (illness), FS Charles Woodson (ribs), LB Sio Moore (illness)
HOUSTON -- Thursday night the Texans take on the Dallas Cowboys in their final preseason game.

Montgomery
In keeping with tradition, this game will feature mostly players low on the depth chart. Starters will get the night off.

One guy who knows just how important this game can be is outside linebacker Sam Montgomery.

"It's probably the biggest game of my life so far," Montgomery told me after Sunday's game against the Saints.

The former LSU defensive end shouldn't be in this position, given that he's one of the team's third-round draft picks. But he came into camp out of shape, had to work past that, and then had to work past injuries which set him behind his teammates including some talented undrafted rookies. The Texans have made his position clear, waiting until late to give Montgomery snaps.

"It doesn't mess with me," Montgomery said. "It's just a great opportunity for someone else. ... I know what I can do for this team, and I know whenever it's the last time I step on the field, whether it's show team or anything, I give good looks to the offense."

Montgomery will be one player to watch for the Texans on Thursday. Four more follow. I've excluded undrafted rookies for this post. Gary Kubiak has been so glowingly positive about this class of rookie free agents that they deserve their own post.

WR DeVier Posey: A rare guy playing in the fourth game who isn't fighting for his roster spot. This will be Posey's first chance at game action since he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in January. He's confident, but getting some actual football snaps is necessary to for both him and the team to make sure he's ready.

OLB Trevardo Williams: Williams has also slid despite being a fourth-round draft pick. He'll get more time this weekend to try and improve his status.

QB Case Keenum: He'll be the starter in Dallas with T.J. Yates coming in second. Kubiak insists he's withholding his decision until the end of the preseason. Right now Kubiak's biggest decision will be whether or not to keep three quarterbacks on his roster. Keenum's play could force that.

RB Deji Karim: This is Karim's third stop in the AFC South and he's vying for a role that saw plenty of action last season for the Texans -- the third running back. Karim's competition for the job includes former Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood and former Arkansas running back Dennis Johnson.

HOUSTON -- Last season it was against Miami that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had his swat-ridden coming-out party.

Sure, Watt had already started to become a star as a rookie, when he returned that interception for a touchdown against the Bengals in the 2011 playoffs. But he tipped three of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's passes in the 2012 season opener and completely changed the complexion of the game.

It seemed like a series of flukey plays. We all learned shortly thereafter that tipped passes by Watt were no fluke.

This time around, in their preseason meeting, the Texans opted to limit Watt, who departed the game much earlier than most of his defensive teammates. Watt said that was the Texans' plan heading into the game. He played two snaps.

"I like not showing everything I'll have during the season," Watt said.

He also said he felt like a caged animal.

"I missed the whole preseason last year," Watt said. "So I'm not worried about missing a couple snaps here and there."

Here are a few more observations from Saturday night's game, which the Texans won 24-17:
  • I've gone as long as I can without mentioning the backup-quarterback battle. Case Keenum played first after starter Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates played next. Keenum had a solid outing. Statistically, he threw 18 passes, completed 11 and threw a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean midway through the second quarter. Deep balls have been one of Keenum's strengths this preseason. He finished with a respectable 150 yards and a 106.2 passer rating. Yates looked better when he came in next. The Texans ran the ball a little more with Yates in at quarterback. He threw half as many passes but completed 7 of his 9 attempts. He was smooth under pressure and played like a guy with more experience. Yates finished with 84 yards, a touchdown and a 142.6 passer rating.
  • DeAndre Hopkins caught two passes for 22 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. Texans coach Gary Kubiak doesn't seem overly concerned about Hopkins. "I don't know exactly what play it happened on, but I thought something was wrong," Kubiak said. "I told [receivers coach Larry Kirksey] to get him out of there and then we checked him out. He's fine now, he's doing fine. But we're obviously going to put him through the protocol."
  • An underrated matchup in this game from an entertainment standpoint was Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito vs. Texans defensive end Antonio Smith. Last year when the two faced each other, Smith complained about Incognito's tactics; he said Incognito twisted his ankle. The film supported the fact that Incognito was doing something to Smith's ankle. The league responded by fining Smith, not Incognito, a hefty $21,000 for kicking Incognito. The fine was later reduced after Smith appealed, contending he had no choice in order to get Incognito off his leg. Tonight they met again and grappled a bit. Incognito grabbed Smith's facemask during one play and held on, then at one point appeared to swing his arm at Smith. Smith, clearly frustrated, ripped off Incognito's helmet and swung it at him. Asked about the meeting after the game, Smith said, "Next question. I kind of took a blow to the head. I can't remember."
  • The Texans have a strange attraction to tight ends from the University of Wisconsin. And it's working out pretty well for them. "It's great, it's great," said Owen Daniels, the elder statesman of the Wisconsin tight ends. "We've got three on the roster right now. Myself, G and Byrnie. It's great having those guys contribute." G, of course, is Garrett Graham. Byrnie (and I have no idea how that nickname is spelled) is Jake Byrne, a first-year tight end. Graham had a fantastic game and is going to be a really good player for the Texans this year. "Oh, he's picked up where he left off last year," Daniels said. "He helped us out a lot last year. This year he's going to get more opportunities to make plays without James [Casey] being here. He's grown a lot the last couple years. You see what he's doing out there, he's working really hard."
  • After a disappointing training camp, fourth-round draft pick Trevardo Williams seemed to release some frustration in the fourth quarter when he notched sacks on consecutive plays. Williams and fellow outside linebacker, third-round pick Sam Montgomery both fell behind during camp. Two undrafted rookies, Justin Tuggle and Willie Jefferson, jumped ahead of them on the depth chart. Tuggle started and played nearly the entire game. Kubiak talked after the game about Williams needing something to regain confidence. "Sometimes as a rookie you are just swimming in information. When you just throw them out there, sometimes their talents take over."
  • This quote from Kubiak stood out to me and is not good news for cornerback Brandon Harris, who was a second-round draft pick in 2011: "I would say Bouye, Roc and Brandon, that is a very competitive environment going on right there." Harris played a little bit of safety Saturday night after the Texans lost safeties Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant. Now he's apparently competing with A.J. Bouye, a standout undrafted rookie, and Roc Carmichael, who was inactive for the first 10 games of last season.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one offseason move each team in the AFC South needed to make but didn't.

Houston Texans: They still have time to extend Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith, so I can’t say they regret not having done so yet. I think they will be OK at linebacker. They aren’t going to be eight-deep the way owner Bob McNair naively suggested they should have been last year when injuries thinned the group. They are counting on two college defensive ends converting to outside linebackers (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams). A veteran addition like Daryl Smith or Karlos Dansby could have offered assurances, but such a player could have overstuffed the group.

Indianapolis Colts: Sean Smith got roughly $2 million more over three years in Kansas City than the Colts gave to Greg Toler. Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have made largely solid personnel choices, so they get the benefit of the doubt on Toler at the start. But Smith is roughly 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, and he has been more durable than Toler. I’ll be comparing the two going forward. If not that move, how about Brent Grimes over Darius Butler? Grimes would have been more expensive but could have been a second or third cornerback if he fully recovers from his Achilles injury. I fear they could regret not doing more at cornerback.

Jacksonville Jaguars: For a team that moved on from Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis and Aaron Ross, the Jaguars had a lot of work to do to restock at cornerback. Alan Ball and Marcus Trufant are not good enough veteran answers to surround and supplement three draft picks. Sean Smith is the sort of bigger corner the Jags like and could have upgraded the position. And he’s just 26, so he would have fit the team’s desire to be young. He got a three-year, $16.5 million deal, which is probably a bit rich, and the Jags would have had to go further. But they’ve got a ton of money and could have spent more while still being very fiscally responsible.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans will rush the passer better with some new people and the influence of Gregg Williams. But defensive end Michael Bennett could have been had at a reasonable price and, as a bigger defensive end, he would have been a better addition than Ropati Pitoitua. Bennett went to Seattle for a one-year, $4.8 million deal. The Titans wouldn’t have been as attractive a destination as Seattle, but they could have gotten Bennett with a multiyear deal. Are Pitoitua and fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards enough to boost the pass-rush production and fortify the run-stopping at end?
When the Houston Texans drafted Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, they talked of giving both a chance to win the strongside linebacker spot.

The team needs to sort through candidates for two of its four starting linebacking spots -- an outside linebacker to replace Connor Barwin, who went to Philadelphia as a free agent, and an inside guy to play beside Brian Cushing, with the team moving on from Bradie James.

In his second year, Whitney Mercilus is in line to start at weakside linebacker, where Barwin played. Brooks Reed can remain the strongside starter if an inside guy like Darryl Sharpton or Tim Dobbins seizes the inside job. Or Reed can go inside if Montgomery or Williams has a strong camp and the Texans feel best about starting one of them.

I found one twist in that, however, when I spoke to Williams last week.

I asked him about simultaneously becoming friends with and competing against Montgomery.

“He’s playing a different position now, he’s on the Will, I’m on the Sam,” Williams said. “We both compete in pass rushing, but other than that he’s basically working on honing his skills on that side of the field while I’m working on dropping back.”

Williams doesn’t know how much the team will ask him to drop into coverage, but plans on being ready when asked.

“I believe it will be more of a pass-rush deal, setting the edge at times,” he said.

Williams said he and Montgomery get along very well, that they kind of have the same personality.

“Whatever comes to our minds, we pretty much say and do,” he said.

Like Montgomery, Williams is a college defensive end shifting to 3-4 linebacker. That transition will be something to watch in the middle of the linebacker competition during training camp.

"It’s taking some time, a gradual change,” Williams said of starting plays off the line of scrimmage, standing up. “I don’t think it’s completely different than a three-point stance. It takes a lot of balance and building habits. I don’t feel it’ll be a problem, I’ll be practicing it over the next several weeks …

“The big difference is the initial attack. Usually in a three-point stance you have a more explosive attack. In a two-point stance you’re required to use a little more technique, using your arms and your footwork. It needs to be more coordinated. It’s not difficult.”
Wade PhilipsAP Photo/Patric SchneiderWade Phillips will have a lot of options when putting together Houston's linebacking unit.

The Houston Texans have uncertainty at linebacker. But they also have flexibility and time.

Two things are certain: Brian Cushing will be back from a torn ACL and manning the weak inside spot, and second-year man Whitney Mercilus will graduate to the starter on the weak side.

Two things are uncertain: Who mans the inside spot next to Cushing, and who will line up on the strong side?

There are two primary scenarios.

  • One of the team’s rookie outside linebackers, Sam Montgomery or Trevardo Williams, shows up big from the beginning and starts on the strong side, nudging Brooks Reed to the inside.
  • One of the team’s injury-prone inside options, Darryl Sharpton or Tim Dobbins, earns the spot alongside Cushing, allowing Reed to remain on the strong side.

Either scenario could be fine on a defense looking to replace Connor Barwin, the weakside linebacker who had a disappointing 2012 and left for Philadelphia as a free agent, and needing to find the right guy to play inside with Cushing.

"The one thing I've learned about Wade Phillips is he knows exactly what he's doing when he drafts a player," Cushing said. "He sees things in people and prospects other coaches and scouts don't. He will always play the best players and we have a lot to pick from now."

Reed can key a lot of the flexibility.

“Brooks can do it [inside], he played inside some last year and he played real well,” said Phillips, Houston's defensive coordinator. “It’s not something foreign. He’s played inside enough where we can say, ‘Wow, he can play inside, too.’ And we’d still rush him on third downs outside. You’d still get the rush factor with him. It’s a possibility.

“But right now, we’re just looking at those two rookies to see how they do. It just depends on how good our young players are, and what they can do.”

Sharpton isn’t part of the Texans' organized team activities right now, still recovering from a hip issue that landed him on injured reserve at the end of the regular season.

For Montgomery and Williams, who were 4-3 defensive ends at LSU and UConn, respectively, the big transition might be about dropping into coverage.

That’s nowhere near as complicated as some people make it out to be, Phillips said. The Texans' defense can drop the strongside linebacker into the flat, but “he doesn’t ever cover the tight end,” Phillips said.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Phillips said. “I think people can go overboard on what kind of drop guy you have to have, because he doesn’t drop all that much.”

Rushing the passer remains the primary job, and the defense rushes five players almost all the time -- typically three linemen and both outside backers.

“This is what we normally get, guys who played defensive end in college," Phillips said. “We’re excited about both of them, we think both of them can do it. I’ve had a lot of them in the past who’ve done it, and these guys both have the ability. We’ll see what happens. Both of them can rush the passer No. 1, and that’s what we look for in outside backers.”

Phillips and the Texans want to have three outside linebackers they can rotate. But in 2011 they lost Mario Williams early, and Barwin and Reed played virtually all the time. Last season, Mercilus wasn’t ready to contribute early, then Reed missed four games because of injury.

If both Montgomery and Williams pan out, and both Sharpton and Dobbins stay healthy, the Texans could have serious depth and actually be able to rotate more on the outside.

But Phillips won’t set any playing-time goals. He said it depends on how good guys are, and what kind of stamina they have. He’s had starters who have played 94 percent and guys who have played 80.

Cushing was lost when he tore up his knee in the Texans' fifth game last season. He looks very good now, Phillips said, and Houston expects him to be on the field on opening day with no issues.

That will be the biggest, and best, change to the linebacking corps.

“He’s running around, he’s running fast and moving well right now," Phillips said. "So I think three months from now he’ll really be ready to go. … He’s a fantastic player, he’s a difference-maker.”

“The type of energy that he brings out there,” Mercilus said of Cushing, “it’s unreal.”

[+] EnlargeWhitney Mercilus
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireWhitney Mercilus says he is ready to assume a starting role.
Even without Cushing, and with eight players starting at linebacker at some point, the Texans were seventh against the run in 2012.

Owner Bob McNair said after the season that the team needed better linebacker depth, but it’s silly to think any team can have better depth than the Texans did. Any team needing to play that many guys at one position will have problems.

Moving forward, with defensive tackle J.J. Watt, Cushing and safety Ed Reed, the Texans' defense will be strong up the middle with star players. That is the reigning defensive player of the year in front of Cushing, and a future Hall of Famer behind him.

The team’s 2012 first-round pick, Mercilus, will take over Barwin’s spot, and expectations are high for his second season. He got on the field more late last season when Brooks Reed was hurt and had a bigger role once Reed returned from his groin injury.

Mercilus had six sacks, the third most on a team that relied heavily on Watt, who notched 20.5.

“In Year 2 I can do a lot more, especially coming into a starting role,” Mercilus said. “Run techniques are something I’ll be focusing on a lot more so that I’m a more well-balanced player than I was last year.”

“The position they put me at plays a lot to my strengths. I’m pretty good at rushing the passer, getting after the quarterback. There’s not really a whole lot of thinking, it’s just getting out there and playing ball.”
Nothing has changed since Dave Caldwell was introduced as the Jacksonville Jaguars' general manager on Jan. 10.

He was pro-active and quite aggressive when the inevitable Tim Tebow question arrived.

"I can't imagine a scenario where he'd be a Jaguar, even if he's released,” Caldwell said.

Nothing has happened since then that would change the organization's stance.

They have a big question mark at quarterback with Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne and two undrafted rookies, Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers. And there is nothing Tebow could do to settle the question instead of expanding it.

I understand it is beyond the comprehension of some nationally, who write out a simple equation -- bad team plus local hero equals automatic fit -- that it's not going to happen.

But it's not going to happen.

Owner Shad Khan's spokesperson, Jim Woodcock, reiterated it in an email message to Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars’ plans do not include Tim Tebow," he wrote.

AFC South draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
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NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South


The AFC South’s two 3-4 teams spent first-, third- and fourth-round picks on pass-rushing outside linebackers, trying to amp up the pressure they can put on opposing quarterbacks.

The Colts will be converting first-rounder Bjoern Werner of Florida State from a college defensive end to an outside linebacker, where he probably will compete for time on the strong side with free-agent acquisition Erik Walden. Walden is a solid run player, so if Werner can get into the backfield, they might complement each other well.

Werner has drawn comparisons to Paul Kruger, who left the Ravens after the Super Bowl to join the Cleveland Browns.

In Houston, the pass rush was overly reliant on J.J. Watt last season and lost Connor Barwin to Philadelphia in free agency. Enter third-rounder Sam Montgomery from LSU and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams from UConn.

The two college ends will move back a unit in Wade Phillips’ defense. If they pan out on the strong side, Brooks Reed probably will move inside and work there with Brian Cushing.

BEST MOVE

The Jaguars steered clear of a quarterback.

They had the second pick overall and flip-flopped between first and second in each subsequent round. It’s a great landscape to add a lot of talent to a team that needs an influx and chose not to spend a lot in free agency.

Jacksonville added cheaper veterans who it thinks might blossom and be more productive in its systems.

A team that wants to be draft-centric wasn’t tempted by EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson or Landry Jones.

Meanwhile the Jaguars grabbed a cornerstone lineman in Luke Joeckel, probable starting strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, big corner Dwayne Gratz, receiver/punt returner Ace Sanders, running back/kick returner Denard Robinson and free safety Josh Evans with their first six picks.

They dealt away the first pick of the fourth round and let Philadelphia draft Barkley.

I don’t believe Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne will prove to be a long-term answer for the franchise. But I don’t believe any of the alternatives available through six rounds of this draft would have either. So I like the focus and determination to add pieces elsewhere.

When the time comes, probably next year, to add the quarterback, he’ll be joining a better roster.

RISKIEST MOVE

Indianapolis fifth-round defensive tackle Montori Hughes had issues at the University of Tennessee that got him thrown off the team. He told Indianapolis reporters that the Colts were the only team he would be talking to.

There are indications that he matured as he finished up at UT-Martin, but if his previous troubles are a predictor of future troubles, the Colts could be bringing a headache onto themselves.

“I went through some academic troubles and I went through some team issues and then I transferred down to UT-Martin,” Hughes said. “I had a new coach, so I transferred down, and I felt like it was a good fit at the time. Everything from when I first went on the campus at UT-Martin had a good feeling about it.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJacksonville draftee Denard Robinson rushed for 4,495 yards and had 42 rushing TDs in four years at Michigan, but as a quarterback.
“So when I went down there, I just went to work and knew I had to prove to myself and others that I was a better person than what was out there and just go to work every day, go hard, go hard on the field, on and off, and just learn to play football, the passion for the game. I just love being out there, so just taking it one day at a time.”

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

Outside of the first round, the biggest name to come into the AFC South was Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback. Jacksonville drafted him in the fifth round, 135th overall, as a running back and kick returner.

The Jaguars need playmakers for sure, but it feels like there is a bit of danger connected to a guy drafted to play running back who has never played running back. Robinson is regarded as a high-character guy with great drive. He wants to succeed and is willing to do whatever is asked of him.

If he pans out, it could be a real boom pick, offering hard-to-defend, hard-to-predict chunks of yardage.

FILE IT AWAY

Jaguars corner Gratz, Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and two Texans -- outside linebacker Williams and tight end Ryan Griffin -- all played together for the UConn Huskies.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni spent six years in the NFL coaching ranks, including terms as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.

The Titans said they had Gratz (5-11, 201) and Wreh-Wilson (6-1, 195) rated close to each other on their board. As teams look for corners with more size who can press, hit and hold up, they’ll be an interesting duo to watch grow up in the same division.
It took until the fifth round, but the Titans finally added a defensive end.

At LSU, Lavar Edwards worked largely behind Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Mingo was the fifth pick in the draft by the Browns and Montgomery went to Houston in the third round.

Edwards lasted until the 142nd overall pick, but will find opportunity to be the third end in Tennessee. After starters Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, the Titans have no established pass-rusher in a group composed of Keyunta Dawson, Ropati Pitoitua, Scott Solomon and Thaddeus Gibson.

The Titans are expecting senior assistant defensive coach Gregg Williams will help the rush, and they will blitz more with outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown.

But Morgan and Wimbley each played 80 percent of the Titans' defensive snaps next year, and that’s too much.

Edwards is 6-foot-4, 277 pounds and might be able to start off by playing on some run-defense downs, easing the workload of the two starters.
Sam MontgomeryBrett Davis/USA TODAY Sports"I'm sure with the right coaching I will be fine," Sam Montgomery said of questions about his effort.

During his time at the NFL scouting combine, Sam Montgomery addressed concerns about the consistency of his effort as a college player.

The problem is that he admitted there were concerns about his effort as a college player.

He’s now a member of the Houston Texans, who Friday used their second third-round pick, 95th overall, on Montgomery, the LSU defensive end.

If there is an effort issue, it will fall on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and linebackers coach Reggie Herring to get week-to-week and snap-to-snap effort from Montgomery. He seems to be a more complex character than they discussed.

At the combine, Montgomery said he didn’t play all-out because weak opponents allowed for some respite.

“You know, some weeks when we didn't have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed,” Montgomery said in Indianapolis. “But when we had the big boys coming in, the Bamas or the South Carolinas, I grabbed close to those guys and went all-out.

“Of course, this is a new league, the NFL, and there are no small teams, small divisions. It is all Alabamas and LSUs every week. It's definitely something I have to get adjusted to, but I'm sure with the right coaching I will be fine.”

In a conference call with Houston media, Montgomery said his best quality is his relentlessness -- contradicting the idea that he didn’t give his all against teams like North Texas, Idaho and Towson.

Herring suggested that Montgomery got caught up in entertaining the media, given that he likes to talk, and that his film didn’t show a lack of effort -- something general manager Rick Smith has said he cannot accept from a player.

“If anything, the young man is guilty of being a bit na´ve," Herring said.

A scout I asked about Montgomery didn’t reply with an effort question.

“He plays very hard,” he said. “Good pick.”

The Texans plan to start Montgomery out as a strongside linebacker, so their first four picks have addressed three areas of concern.

DeAndre Hopkins should be the No. 2 receiver, D.J. Swearinger could play a lot as a nickel or dime safety, tackle Brennan Williams could win the right-side job from the recovering Derek Newton and Montgomery should be part of a rotation.

Houston hopes he’ll be part of a three-man gang, along with Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus, that splits up the work at outside linebacker.

Last season, when the Texans drafted Mercilus in the first round, they said the same thing about using him with Connor Barwin and Reed.

But Reed’s playing time only really dipped when he missed four games hurt. Barwin, who’s since gone to Philadelphia as a free agent, played 93.8 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Even with four starts, Mercilus was on the field only 46.6 percent of the time.

The Texans will have to learn how well Montgomery can drop and cover, something he wasn’t doing as a college defensive end in a 4-3 scheme under LSU coordinator John Chavis.

“He’s big, strong, powerful, explosive individual,” Herring said. “The one thing that he will have to learn is that he will have to learn to drop a little bit and things that he hasn’t done as a defensive end at LSU -- understanding that they don’t cultivate OLBs in college, so we have to pull from the defensive end position.

“Basically, you have to give and take with their ability to drop out in space, something they haven’t done. That remains to be seen. That’s something we’ll have to work on. As far as playing the run and having pass rush skills and having the play strength that’s above average in college, he has a foundation to be a good outside backer for us.”

One thing that might have hastened the draft drop by Montgomery, once rated as a first-round prospect, was his inclusion on a list of 10 players by LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt.

Moffitt posted the names for scouts and said they were athletes who “miss workouts and always have an excuse.”

“They lack the self discipline and motivation to take care of their responsibilities,” the sign on an office door in the Tigers' facility said. “I will not answer questions regarding their performance numbers or character, as they care only about themselves.”

ESPN.com scout Matt Williamson said he likes the idea of Montgomery as a strongside linebacker in Phillips’ system.

“They really play a 5-2, so strongside 5-2 defensive end/outside linebacker,” Williamson said. “Supposedly had some awful interviews at combine, though.”

Williamson is the second person in one night who mentioned that to me.

Clearly, Montgomery’s interview with Houston was fine, but a guy who bombed in multiple other opportunities seems concerning.

Perhaps what Montgomery said about playing with Antonio Smith hints that he can qualify as wacky to some, wacko to others.

Montgomery said he knows Smith, the Texans defensive end who calls himself the "ninja assassin."

"I'm willing to take the ninja's teaching," Montgomery said, “and make ninjasonic out of it."
Expect the Denver Broncos to add a pass-rusher to their list of draft needs.

Elvis Dumervil moved on after the infamous fax-machine fiasco. The team is looking for a replacement, but talks with Dwight Freeney and John Abraham are reportedly not going well. Still, I can see Freeney backing off on big contract demands because he very likely won’t get what he wants.

Assuming then that the Broncos look for a complement to star pass-rusher Von Miller in the early rounds, let’s look at some potential fits:

Tank Carradine, Florida State: He is coming off a major knee injury. He should be available when Denver picks at No. 28. He has great film.

Margus Hunt, SMU: He is raw and will be 26 when the NFL season starts. More likely a second- or third-round prospect. He does have strong pass-rush ability.

Sam Montgomery, LSU: Probably more of a second-round pick. He has a chance to be a complete player.

Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: Moore has been falling down some boards after a poor showing at the NFL combine and in interviews. But he is only 20 and has produced on the field -- so falling to No. 28 might be a stretch. He’d be a great value there and I’m sure he’d love to reunite with Miller.

Alex Okafor, Texas: He might be more of a second-round pick. He has a chance to develop into a good pass-rusher.
There are lots of reports out there that the Atlanta Falcons are close to signing defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

But nothing official has come yet. Even if it does, the Falcons might be wise to continue looking for help for the pass rush.

In theory, Umenyiora would take the place of John Abraham as the team’s pass-rusher. Umenyiora, 31, is a slightly younger version of Abraham. Umenyiora had just six sacks for the New York Giants last season, but he’s had several seasons of double-digit sacks scattered throughout his career.

The Falcons apparently think Umenyiora still can produce double-digit sacks. But even if he signs with Atlanta and puts up more than 10 sacks, the Falcons still need more of a pass rush. Kroy Biermann, the other starter, is a versatile defensive end, but not the kind of guy who's going to put up 10 sacks. Backups Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are projects.

Assuming the Falcons sign Umenyiora, they still need to get pressure from somewhere else and it wouldn’t hurt to get a guy who can be a long-term answer. The way to do that is the draft.

Even if the Falcons sign Umenyiora, they still should consider taking a defensive end in the first round. Defensive ends like Bjoern Werner, Sam Montgomery and Margus Hunt could be available when Atlanta picks at No. 30 and the Falcons might be wise to get one of them.

Mocking NFC South with McShay

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
2:03
PM ET

Todd McShay has the latest edition of his Insider mock draft up and he’s going heavily with defense for most of the NFC South.

At No. 13, McShay has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. This seems to go hand in hand with the growing sentiment that veteran Ronde Barber won’t be back (either by his choice or the team’s choice). I’d like to see the Bucs get a cornerback in the first round, but there’s no one available with good value in this scenario. Drafting Vaccaro a year after drafting safety Mark Barron might be a little unusual, but it would put the Bucs in good shape at safety for the long term.

At No. 14, McShay has Carolina taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. If Richardson is indeed available at No. 14, I think this would be a great pick for Carolina. The defense improved last year and solidifying the middle of the line could turn the defense into an elite unit.

At No. 15, McShay has New Orleans taking Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. He’s athletic and quick and that’s what the Saints need at linebacker.

The only NFC South team McShay doesn’t have going with a defensive player in the first round is Atlanta. He has the Falcons taking Stanford tight end Zach Ertz at No. 30. That makes plenty of sense if you believe Tony Gonzalez is going to retire. But I’m not convinced that’s going to happen. I’d rather see the Falcons go with a defensive end here and take Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, LSU’s Sam Montgomery or SMU’s Margus Hunt.

Video: Day 3 NFL combine takeaways

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
7:25
PM ET


Paul Kuharsky, Kevin Seifert and Bill Williamson deliver the top stories from day 3 of the 2013 NFL combine.

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