NFL Nation: Sherrick McManis

Bears Camp Report: Day 12

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
8:10
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BOURBONAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Several players injured earlier in camp returned to action on Sunday, while safeties Chris Conte and Craig Steltz came off the physically unable to perform list. Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) practiced along with Kyle Long (ankle), after both missed the preseason opener Friday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive end Jared Allen also returned to practice after missing multiple days to be with family for the birth of his daughter. Conte took some repetitions with the starters, but spent the majority of the day working with the backups.
  • Obviously the time spent watching Charles Tillman is helping Sherrick McManis, who executed a perfect punch to knock the ball out of the arms of Micheal Spurlock after he made a catch on an intermediate pass.
  • Non-participants at the workout Sunday included right tackle Jordan Mills, who was wearing a walking boot on his right foot, along with Eben Britton (hamstring), Chris Williams (hamstring), Isaiah Frey (hamstring), and Brian De La Puente (knee).
  • Having returned from an indefinite suspension earlier in the day, tight end Martellus Bennett drew loud applause from the crowd after he caught a pass near the sideline. Bennett stayed after practice to run extra springs with Conte, Steltz, Jennings, Alshon Jeffery, Josh Bellamy, Matt Forte, Armanti Edwards and Josh Morgan. Bennett and rookie quarterback David Fales continued to run after everyone else had left the field.
  • Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray continue to work with the starters at safety. Both starting positions remain up for grabs.
  • The practice on Sunday attracted the largest crowd so far at camp. There were 18,500 in attendance at the workout on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University.
  • The Bears practiced in shorts, helmet and shoulder pads, and the workout was one of the most lively sessions of camp, which is somewhat impressive considering the team had just played in a preseason game two days prior.

Bears Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
4:09
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
  • Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
  • Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
  • Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
  • The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Even with temperatures in the low 70s, the Bears momentarily lost their cool for the second consecutive day.

Friday’s brief shoving match between wide receiver Eric Weems and cornerback Sherrick McManis lasted only a couple seconds, but Saturday morning’s dustup involved multiple players and took several members of the team to restore order.

The main combatants appeared to be defensive lineman Lamarr Houston and right tackle Jordan Mills, along with defensive end Willie Young. At one point guard Kyle Long tried to play peacemaker and separate the players, even though Long is still not practicing due to a viral infection. Multiple players from both sides then jumped in to quiet down the situation.

There were no further problems, and all the parties involved downplayed the incident after practice, as expected.

Shoving matches and minor fights are commonplace at NFL training camps, but Bears head coach Marc Trestman prefers that his players avoid engaging in that type of behavior, and for good reason.

“We know that there are times in practice where a player may lose his mind,” Trestman said. “The bottom line is when we talk about it in meetings: fighting is a disciplinary issue. We would have lost both players. If we’re practicing like it’s a game, we would have lost both players today.

“Not only that but it’s a major safety issue. The guys involved are remorseful about it. They don’t want it to happen and they know it hurts the football team. The thing you like to see is that it didn’t linger. The team got back to work and there were no other altercations. But one play can hurt a football team. That’s how we sell it to each and every guy. On one play we can lose players. And it’s a safety issue. We have to continue to move forward with that and I know we will.”

Bears Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
5:20
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Here is a quick recap of highlights from Chicago Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University:
  • Welcome-to-the-NFL moments generally aren’t favorable, but rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller bucked that trend with a pair of interceptions during his first training camp workout.During the first session of full team work, Fuller broke on a pass from Jordan Palmer intended for Terrence Toliver, diving just before the ball arrived to make an interception worthy of a highlight reel. Later in the practice, Fuller picked off a throw by Jimmy Clausen on a play when Terrence Toliver ran the wrong route according to Bears coach Marc Trestman.“Just playing my technique and fundamentals, and when the ball is in the air [I’m] just trying to go in and make a play,” Fuller said of his first interception.Positivity didn’t rule the day for Fuller, however. Chris Williams pulled in a bomb from Palmer, who dropped the ball right in between the bracket coverage of Fuller and safety M.D. Jennings for a touchdown.
  • Trestman introduced one new wrinkle the fans and players could appreciate at practice, as the team pumped music over the loudspeakers during warm-ups and individual periods. Trestman pointed out that during pregame at stadiums, music blares over the loud speakers during warm-ups, and the coach wants to simulate real situations as much as possible.Perhaps more interesting is the eclectic selection that included songs from Bon Jovi, Guns & Roses, T.I., Bob Marley and AC/DC. Trestman said the players pick the music.“It translates to games because there’s music before games,” Trestman said. “I just wanted to bring just a little more energy to practice.”
  • Chicago’s revamped defense definitely came out of Day 1 as winners, compared to the offense. But let’s remember, it was only the first day. In addition to Fuller’s pair of interceptions, cornerback Sherrick McManis picked off a Jay Cutler pass, and later stripped Marquess Wilson near the sideline before recovering the loose ball.There were also several instances in which the rush affected the quarterbacks enough for them to abort plays. Cornelius Washington also batted down a Cutler pass.“We looked great, came out here, got a few turnovers,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “Defense came out with a lot of energy. I know some of the offensive coaches wish they could’ve had some plays back. We’re not at all disappointed with this first day.”
  • Non-participants at practice included guard Kyle Long (viral infection), and safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). Conte started camp on the active physically unable to perform list. But the club decided late Thursday to add Steltz to the active PUP list and put Long on the active non-football injury list.Long is considered day to day, according to Trestman, who said, “We don’t anticipate it will be too long” before he’s released to practice.
  • Receiver Eric Weems and McManis became involved in a brief shoving match near the end of practice that was quickly broken up by teammates.

Devin Hester: I can cover anybody

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Return specialist Devin Hester grinned Friday when approached by reporters to explain the cameo appearance he made at practice this week with the club’s defensive backs.

“If I go line up at quarterback and take a couple of snaps, you are all going to say we are running the option or running the Wildcat,” Hester said. “That’s your job.”

Hester
Hester, a former collegiate and NFL cornerback and nickelback, participated with members of the secondary in individual drills open to the media twice this week (Wednesday and Friday), and even spent roughly 10 minutes after Wednesday’s session working one-on-one with Bears’ defensive backs coach Jon Hoke.

“I did it to have fun,” Hester said. “Being a special-teamer now, I really don’t get as many reps as the normal guys do in practice since I’m a specialist now with the returns. That’s pretty much all I do now. To keep myself busy, I jump in every now and again to play around.

“We all hang out off the field, so whenever I come over there and play around with those guys, it gives them a little more energy and a little more excitement to go out there and work hard. When they see me in their group, it sparks them up a little bit. You have to make practice fun. You just can’t go through the same routine every day. When you joke around and have some fun, it goes by quick.”

While Hester seemed to enjoy the attention, he got serious for a moment when asked if he could cover Tavon Austin, the Rams' speedy rookie wide receiver, if the situation called for it.

“I can cover anybody,” Hester said before cracking a smile. “Just put a safety over the top, and I can shut anybody down. I need a safety over the top; I’m a Cover 2 man.”

Hester is likely an emergency option for the Bears if they suffer more injuries in the secondary Sunday. Cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps) has already been ruled out, while safety Craig Steltz is questionable with a concussion and starting nickelback Isaiah Frey is dealing with a fractured right hand that will require him to wear a cast during the game. The Bears also have reserve cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin on the depth chart, and could theoretically elevate another defensive back from the practice squad before Sunday since the active roster stands at 52 (the max is 53).
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman returned to practice Friday after missing the first two days of preparation for Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Lions due to a sore right knee and a strained groin, and is officially listed as questionable.

Tillman
Tillman participated during Friday's session in a limited capacity.

“He worked today, looked good,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. But I still would have to say he’s questionable. We’re reasonably optimistic that he’ll be playing. He’ll work out the next couple of days and continue to get treatment.”

In addition, cornerback Sherrick McManis missed his third workout due to a quadriceps injury, and is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game.

Trestman called Tillman “day-to-day” earlier in the week, but stressed on Friday there’s no need to rush the cornerback into action if he’s not ready to play.

Tillman, 32, has fought through multiple issues over the first three weeks of the season, playing with the knee injury in the first two contests, before missing time last week against the Steelers to rest the sore groin.

“It’s all up to trainers and to the doctors. If the doctors and the trainers say he’s ready to go, then he’s ready to go. I won’t be making this decision,” Trestman said. “It’ll be made with Charles’ best interests at heart. This game isn’t the most important game if he’s not ready to play for him. I expect that he will. I’m optimistic that he will.”

In other injury news, cornerback Zack Bowman practiced fully on Friday and is officially listed as probable.

Tillman (groin) held out of practice

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
4:22
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was held out of practice Wednesday as he deals with a groin issue that cropped up late in Sunday night's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tillman
In addition, cornerback Sherrick McManis was also held out of practice with a quadriceps injury.

Bears coach Marc Trestman categorized both players as "day to day" after practice Wednesday.

The 32-year-old Tillman has already dealt with a number of issues during the first three weeks of the season. During the first two weeks he was playing with a knee injury, while also missing time during the Sept. 8 season opener because of dehydration.

Trestman deduced that the groin issue was probably the result of overcompensating for the knee problem.

Tillman did not play late in Sunday's game as a precaution, and the injury is not deemed to be serious and he could play Sunday at Detroit.

"We moved some people around today," Trestman said about his defense. "C.J. [Wilson] got some work today, obviously. And Zach [Minter] will continue to work over there [on the defensive line] as well."

Packers-Bears II: Special-teams hit

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
2:02
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A bit later Tuesday, we'll take a look at the big-picture implications of Sunday's matchup at Soldier Field. In the meantime, however, let's note that the Chicago Bears won't have three of their top special-teams players when they host the Green Bay Packers.

Gould
Gould
Place-kicker Robbie Gould (calf), safety Craig Steltz (chest) and safety Sherrick McManis (knee) were all placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Among other roster moves, the Bears signed 39-year-old veteran Olindo Mare to kick in Sunday's game and presumably for the rest of the season.

Gould has been the Bears' place-kicker for 122 consecutive games, dating back to Week 5 of the 2005 season. But he strained his left calf during pregame warmups last Sunday at the Metrodome and apparently won't recover in time to kick freely again for at least three weeks. Sunday, he managed two extra points but ceded kickoffs to punter Adam Podlesh and didn't attempt a field goal.

Mare hasn't played in the NFL this season but was the Carolina Panthers' regular place-kicker in 2011. He could have some winter weather to adjust to Sunday at Soldier Field, but the Bears' final two regular-season games -- at the Arizona Cardinals and at the Detroit Lions -- shouldn't be impacted by the elements.

Meanwhile, McManis ranked third on the Bears with 10 special-teams tackles entering last Sunday's game. Steltz had five and was also getting turns in the Bears' rotation at safety. As the world turns. ...

Fraying Titans overmatched by Bears

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
9:06
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Mike MunchakAP Photo/Wade PayneMike Munchak and the Titans have a lot of work to do after Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches warned players all week about how Charles Tillman strips the ball, offering specifics of his techniques.

Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?

Not anything good.

Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans game-planned for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.

It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.

“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...

“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”

Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.

But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?

“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”

Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.

“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”

He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.

“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”

The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.

“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesChicago's Charles Tillman made an impact right from the start of Sunday's game.
The log for the first 15 minutes:
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”

Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.

“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.

I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special teams coach, Alan Lowry.

The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.

“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”

“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”

Where do they go from here?

A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.

Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.

What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?

Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.

That didn’t happen.

After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.

Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.

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Lions-Bears: Saturday injury report

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
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We have the final injury report for Monday night's game at Soldier Field, and it indicates that one of the contestants will be thin at cornerback. The details:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) had already been ruled out of this game, and otherwise the Bears are healthy. The only player whose availability is in question is safety Sherrick McManis (hip). Receiver Devin Hester (quadriceps) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb) are probable.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback Jacob Lacey (concussion) was ruled out and cornerback Bill Bentley (shoulder) is doubtful, which likely means the Lions' top three cornerbacks Monday night will be Chris Houston, rookie Jonte Green and the just-resigned Alphonso Smith. On paper, that's not a great matchup. We'll see if the Lions' front four can protect the secondary with a strong pass rush. The only other player whose availability is in question is defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee), who didn't practice Saturday and is listed as questionable. There is some hope he will be able to play a role Monday night, however.

Chicago Bears cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Most significant move: The most significant move of the final cut-down, and the entire offseason, is how aggressive the Bears were in trying to upgrade special teams. In free agency, they signed Eric Weems to help Devin Hester with returns. They kept undrafted safety Jeremy Jones to help on special teams, then traded fullback Tyler Clutts to Houston to acquire cornerback Sherrick McManis. They also kept linebacker Patrick Trahan to help out on special teams. Figuring the team will have a better offense, the Bears wanted to shore up special teams to keep their offense in good field position.

Onward and upward: With only three draft choices making the 53-man roster -- third-round pick Brandon Hardin ended up on injured reserve -- the Bears need to see if they can slide released draft choices Isaiah Frey (sixth round) or Greg McCoy (seventh round) to the practice squad. The Bears may only keep one on the practice squad because both are cornerbacks. They also hope to get undrafted tackle James Brown through waivers to get him on the practice squad. The Bears kept the predicted eight offensive linemen on the active roster, so they need a tackle (Brown, A.J. Greene or Cory Brandon) and an inside prospect to fill out the practice squad.

What’s next: The Bears aren’t standing pat. They ended up adding 16 new players to the roster and are in the process of signing defensive tackle Amobi Okoye as a backup. It wouldn’t be surprising if they look at Antonio Dixon, a defensive tackle released by the Philadelphia Eagles. A decision still has to be made on a punter. Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor injury, so the Bears kept undrafted punter Ryan Quigley on the active roster. It’s not out of the question for them to look for another punter who was released.

Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
8:54
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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.

Thoughts on Saints 34, Texans 27

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
11:18
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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.
Johnathan JosephAP Photo/Steve RuarThe Texans say that CB Johnathan Joseph's work ethic has been as important as his cover skills.
Make a case for New Orleans running back Darren Sproles if you'd like. Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin has been a sack machine. Matt Hasselbeck could get some votes for his work as a culture changer and quarterback in Tennessee.

But my vote for the best free-agent addition in 2011 goes to Johnathan Joseph, the Houston cornerback who’s been the key component in a transformation of the Texans’ secondary.

A miserable pass defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last season now stands tied for second, a ridiculous jump that could only happen with multiple ingredients:

New coordinator Wade Phillips and his new 3-4 scheme.

A consistent rush from a swarming defensive front, bolstered by the team’s top two rookies, end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed.

And the addition of Joseph and safety Danieal Manning to a young secondary.

“Joseph has been exactly what they needed,” a scout told me this week. “After a horrible first-round draft pick in 2010 in Kareem Jackson, they made up for it with Joseph. He is fast, athletic and can match up with most receivers in the AFC. He plays bigger than his size (5-foot-11, 191 pounds), because he has good functional strength.

“The added pass rush has helped him, but he is a good player versus run and pass. He was added to the top of the group which allowed players like Jackson and others to play more of a role instead of trying to get things out of them that they were not capable of doing.”


Joseph has regularly matched up with the opponent’s best wide receiver, and his work earned him a Pro Bowl spot.

Sunday, when the Titans are in their base offense and Nate Washington lines up outside, Joseph will track him. In his first two years in the league after he was the 24th pick out of South Carolina in the 2006 draft, Joseph played on the right. The three years after that he was on the left.

Flipping around hasn’t been a problem and he’s happy to be looked at to slow an opponent’s best guy.

“It was something new that I had to adjust to,” Joseph said. “If that gives us our best chance to win, that’s what I am up for. Covering the top guy, you’ve got to go out each week and try to win your battle. We have a saying here about going out and being 1-0, whether it’s one play at a time or one game at a time. If you’re on the top guy, you’re going to get some balls thrown your way.”

The Colts’ Reggie Wayne, the Raiders’ Darrius Heyward-Bey and the Ravens’ Anquan Boldin had big games against the Texans. (Joseph covered Pierre Garcon in both games against Indianapolis.) But in their past nine games, no receiver has accounted for more than 82 yards against them. That was Carolina’s Steve Smith.

The Texans have played 75 percent man coverage, according to defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. He said his top corner has been a fantastic example for the Texans' stable of young, contributing defensive backs: safeties Glover Quin, who’s been excellent as a starter converted from corner, and Troy Nolan, and corners Jackson, Brice McCain and Sherrick McManis.

“He’s practiced every day,” Vance Joseph said. “That was important for our young secondary to see. Every day he was out there working whether he was sore from the game, sore from previous injuries. He worked every day. Those guys take his lead. Every day was game mode, every ball was contested, every ball they could pick off they picked off.

“So that’s the foundation of what we’ve been here on the back end. Johnathan wants to be the best and he’s worked to be the best every day. That’s been amazing for a veteran player of his caliber to come in and practice every day.”

Houston grabbed Joseph from the Bengals with a five-year, $48.75 million contract with $23.5 guaranteed. The Texans were players for Nnamdi Asomugha, the cornerback who was viewed as a singular prize player in free agency. But Asomugha moved slowly, and the Texans feared winding up without either Asomugha or Joseph. Plus, Joseph’s price meant the team could also add Manning at safety.

They were lauded for the strategy and it panned out perfectly.

Pro Football Focus rates Joseph as just the 10th best cornerback in the league at this point. The website can’t always know coverage assignments, but it says he’s given up three touchdowns, catches against him have averaged 12.3 yards, the passer rating on throws into his coverage is 71.3 and quarterbacks have completed 57.9 percent of balls thrown against him.

Those numbers aren’t worthy of being posted in neon lights. But in the context of the Texans’ defense and the Texans’ season, his play has been excellent.

The team and a lot of NFL people agree with Joseph that, so far, things could not have turned out any better. He’s got four interceptions, 15 passes defensed, a forced fumble and rave reviews.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say it’s been a 10,” Joseph said. “It’s been an awesome experience coming in here, being with the guys, adjusting to the different way things are done here. It’s been tremendous all together. There is not one bad thing I can say about the experience that I’ve had.”
T.J. YatesJerome Miron/US PresswireThird-string quarterback T.J. Yates will likely take the reins in Houston after an injury to Matt Leinart.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Texans third-string quarterback Sunday felt compelled to take some snaps from center Chris Myers during intermission.

Tight end Owen Daniels sure hoped he wasn’t needed, but with Matt Leinart out and rookie T.J. Yates the only other active quarterback dressed for the game, he knew he was one play away from potential action.

“I was just trying to stay focused on my job at the current time,” Daniels said after the Texans beat the Jaguars 20-13 at EverBank Stadium. “But if the worst-case scenario came along, our coaches make sure we know the game plan pretty well. I had confidence that I could go in there and hand the ball off or maybe make a simple throw.”

The Texans were conservative with Leinart in his first start in place of injured starter Matt Schaub. They were even more conservative when they had to turn to Yates, who was in uniform for his first NFL regular-season game.

The fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina hit 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards and played well enough to help his team turn a 20-10 lead, built while Leinart was in the game, into the win.

Now they are prepared to go forward with Yates as their starter. Multiple reports quickly surfaced that Leinart was finished for the year with a left collarbone injury, one he suffered in 2007 with Arizona. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported "all indications are it's broken."

Gary Kubiak was unwilling to share details of Leinart's injury, suffered as he was hit by Jeremy Mincey. The coach said the X-rays from EverBank Stadium were unclear, which sounded a little like a dog-ate-my-homework deal once Leinart spoke.

“I think there is a pretty strong possibility that I won’t be coming back this season,” Leinart said. “But we’ll see what the doctor says.”

So the Texans will likely move on with their third starting quarterback in three games.

“It’s why we drafted him,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said of Yates. “He’s a calm guy, he’s a smart guy and he knows what we do. We’ll see how it goes the next couple days, the next week. If that’s what we have, that’s what we’ll get done.”

The Texans signed Kellen Clemens to be their third quarterback after Schaub went on IR last week. Now they will shop again, and a newcomer will have a chance to challenge Clemens to be Yates’ backup. (Clemens was inactive Sunday as the Houston suited up two quarterbacks, just as it has all year.)

Barring a clean X-ray from Houston that overrides what Leinart was feeling, it will be Yates who gets the call next week against Atlanta and beyond. The Texans prefer a quarterback who’s spent time studying their system and understanding its nuances. They believe such a guy can fit in well with a team that can win by featuring the run game and strong defense. They believe that’s better than a big-name quarterback outsider who is unfamiliar with what Kubiak, Dennison and quarterback coach Gregg Knapp do.

So don’t expect any trips to Mississippi by Texans officials to talk to Brett Favre or any phone calls to check on the health of David Garrard.

Instead, expect a more open game plan for Yates.

Right tackle Eric Winston said the Texans were wary of anything against the Jaguars that could get Yates hurt because they didn’t want to test Daniels’ quarterbacking skills. It’s a mistake, Winston emphasized, to put too much in to what the rookie did, or didn’t do.

“I think next week you’ll see a much different T.J. because he can make some huge throws,” Winston said. “He’s much more athletic than Schaub or Leinart. That will work well with some of what we do. He can get out of the pocket, he can make some throws. I am not worried at all. I think that he'll meld well with what we’re doing in the play-action game.”

They Texans can’t oversimplify game plans. Those plans don’t have to be 100-plays deep, and the Texans don’t need 100 plays to win.

Yates has been a sit-and-learn, third-string guy until Sunday. He’s unlikely to be Cam Newton or Andy Dalton as a starter.

But he is surrounded by a better team. He spent a good share of the summer during the lockout working with Schaub and Dan Orlovsky in Houston. And he has run the scout team for the bulk of the season.

“T.J. man, he’s a professional NFL quarterback,” defensive back Sherrick McManis said. “He’s definitely got room for improvement and needs time to grow like most of us. But on scout team he’s done exactly what he’s supposed to do.”

Yates said while that work is intended to mimic the opponent of the week, the Texans do their best to shape it for him in a way that translates to their own scheme.

“Every week we try to get the same things from our offense into other offenses,” he said. “Kind of tie it into our offense as much as possible.”

After running eight plays at the end of the second quarter, Yates returned to the field after the half with Schaub.

Schaub, who’s wearing a protective boot on his right foot and will soon have surgery, told Yates that a lot of people will tell him how to move forward. Houston’s starting quarterback told him: Stay calm, be confident in yourself, you’re ready to play, don’t think too much.

He did well enough.

Now the expectation is he will step into the spotlight and be under far greater scrutiny.

Next week against the Falcons is a game the Texans might have lost even with Schaub. A trip to Cincinnati the week after won’t be easy either.

Then, however, the team that would be the AFC’s top seed if the playoffs started today finishes with Carolina at home, a trip to Indianapolis, and Tennessee at home.

Houston might still win 10 or 11 games with Yates at quarterback.

What it can do if it wins the AFC South and goes to the playoffs will be a much different question.

“They have a big-time offensive line and a great running game, but in our league you’ve got to be able to do both,” Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “They are a good team. They’ve scored a lot of points in the past.

“But a lot of that, I think, was because Schaub does a great job managing that offense. That’ll be a challenge for them for sure.”

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