NFL Nation: Wade Smith

The Houston Texans have four starters, and two more players who spent most of the season starting due to injuries, hitting the market this afternoon.

Smith
Yesterday I reported nose tackle Earl Mitchell was moving on from the Texans, having better financial options elsewhere with six teams interested. Defensive end Antonio Smith already had two visits lined up for later in the week as of Monday morning. Starting inside linebacker Joe Mays, and backup running back Ben Tate and backup tight end Garrett Graham are also set to become free agents at 4 p.m. EST.

And finally, starting left guard Wade Smith will join the free-agent offensive line pool.

When I talked to Smith after the season ended, he said he had no idea what his future held because a new coaching staff meant all kinds of uncertainty.

Now it's clear Smith will enter the market and he's doing it healthy. I'm told, having healed from the nicks he played through during the 2013 season, Smith wants to continue a career that's already lasted 11 seasons. According to a source, the Texans have urged Smith to test the market, which is a sign they're not exactly planning to re-sign him, but aren't necessarily closing the door, either.

Smith's durability and versatility will help his quest to stick around the league in some role. I've documented the injuries he's played through, which included broken ribs during the 2012 season. He also had a knee scope, also known as arthroscopic knee surgery, shortly before the 2013 season started and didn't miss a regular-season game despite it.

Without Smith, here are some scenarios I could see playing out for the Texans offensive line. Three positions are solidly set: Duane Brown at left tackle, Chris Myers at center and Brandon Brooks at right guard. This is purely my speculation, but I could see a scenario next season in which David Quessenberry is moved to guard and Brennan Williams, or a rookie draft pick, plays right tackle. Alternately, you could see Ben Jones at left guard and Quessenberry at right tackle.

The picture of what the roster will look like next season only starts its process today.

What Texans players play for now

December, 17, 2013
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The Houston Texans can't make the 2013 NFL playoffs and they can't save their head coach's job. And after last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it's less likely they can help their defensive coordinator move from interim head coach to regular head coach, despite his winning record as a head coach.

I asked several players Sunday evening: What do you play for now?

WR Andre Johnson, 11th season: "I'm just trying to win. Trying to end this streak. That's pretty much it. I only play the game for one reason and that's to win and hopefully one day win the Super Bowl. So other than that, I don't really set any personal goals or anything like that."

RB Ben Tate, 4th season: "I'm playing to get a W. I play because I love the game, I love doing this."

TE Ryan Griffin, 1st season: "Anytime you play, it's on film. So at this point we're playing for pride right now. You've got to put the right stuff on film. Everybody sees that, everybody in the NFL. It doesn't matter what your record is it is each play. So that's what we're playing for."

CB Johnathan Joseph, 8th season: "My pride. That's what I play for each and every week. My pride overrides everything else because I just want to go out there and play good, winning football from the beginning of the whistle to the end of the whistle. So I think it's about pride. Going out there and putting winning football on tape."

LG Wade Smith, 11th season: "I play for the fact that I love playing football. I want to win. I know if I play well, it's contributing to helping us get a win. If the offensive line plays well, then it's contributing to us getting a win. And we just go from there."

RT Derek Newton, 3rd season: "For my team. Myself. We're trying to get Ws each week."

OLB Brooks Reed, 3rd season: "Play for? Pride. Self respect."

ILB Darryl Sharpton, 4th season: "I play for my teammates. I play for my coaches. I play for Bryan Braman, Joe Mays, all the guys in the linebacker room. Reggie Herring, all my coaches. I mean, that's what you play for. It's your job. It's an unbelievable opportunity that people would kill for no matter what situation. I don't take it for granted. I've been through a lot of ups and downs and having this opportunity to play professional football in a great city like Houston, I'm going to take full advantage of my opportunity and give it my all."
Arian Foster and Frank GoreGetty ImagesTwo of the NFL's top rushers, Arian Foster and Frank Gore, will try to carry their teams Sunday night.

The Houston Texans are not pleased with themselves, and neither is their Week 5 opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.

After starting off Week 4 the right way with a big win at St. Louis, the 49ers bitterly watched the Texans blow a huge fourth-quarter lead at home in an eventual overtime loss to Seattle, allowing the Seahawks to maintain their two-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West.

San Francisco will try not to fall further behind when it welcomes the shell-shocked Texans to Candlestick Park on Sunday night. Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and I discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: What changed for the 49ers between Weeks 3 and 4? Is it as simple as playing a weaker opponent, or did they rediscover their identity?

Williamson: Easier competition may have had something to do with it. Against Seattle and Indianapolis, the 49ers were outscored by a combined 56-10. Against the Rams, the 49ers had their way in a 35-11 victory. I truly think the 49ers’ struggles this season have been more because of themselves than their opponent. The trouble in Weeks 2 and 3 started on offense. The 49ers badly miss injured receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham; they don’t have much beyond Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, who has been injured. Fortunately, the rushing game got going in Week 4. If the 49ers can keep the run game hot and if quarterback Colin Kaepernick can get the ball to Boldin and Davis, the 49ers will be fine. That will take pressure off a good defense that wasn’t the main problem against the Seahawks or the Colts.

Tania, do you believe the Texans are up to the task of staying with the 49ers, especially after the heartbreak of the Seattle loss?

Ganguli: They were angry about that loss, especially J.J. Watt, who held a menacing news conference (menacing in general, not menacing toward reporters) after the game. They have taken steps to regroup mentally, holding a players-only meeting that allowed for venting, but I think their ability to bounce back will depend on being able to fix some of the problems they had in their first game. Those problems go well beyond quarterback Matt Schaub, who made the most costly and talked-about error this past Sunday in throwing a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. The Texans gave up a crucial fumble, dropped a couple of passes and committed a 15-yard penalty that helped set up the game-winning field goal. You’re right that the Texans’ defense hasn’t been the team's biggest problem this season, but Houston has given up drives of 99 and 98 yards this season, and it would like to change that.

How has losing Aldon Smith affected San Francisco’s defense?

Williamson: It would be inaccurate and na´ve to think the 49ers don’t miss Smith. He will be away from the team for about a month as he seeks treatment for alcohol abuse. Smith had 4.5 sacks in the first three games this season, and he has an NFL-high 38 sacks since 2011. Last week, the 49ers dominated the Rams’ offense without Smith and star inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who was out with a groin injury, and recorded five sacks. Rookie Corey Lemonier and special-teamer Dan Skuta both played well in place of Smith, and linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks led the way with big games. Still, Smith is such a presence. The 49ers will be hard-pressed to have sustained dominance without him.

Tania, do you think the Texans can take advantage of Smith's absence?

Ganguli: The Texans have had their own issues in the trenches lately. Left tackle Duane Brown has missed the past two games with turf toe and is still considered day-to-day. Left guard Wade Smith rotated with second-year guard Ben Jones last weekend. Coach Gary Kubiak said that was to preserve Smith for the long term; Smith had knee surgery during the preseason and returned from it after three weeks. Meanwhile, right tackle Derek Newton, another young player, has really struggled. In fact, Brown’s replacement, Ryan Harris, has played far better than Newton, Houston's regular starter on the other side. Now right guard Brandon Brooks is hurt with a toe injury that’s got his foot booted. The most consistent player, in terms of health and production, on the offensive line has been center Chris Myers, but Schaub has faced a lot of pressure this season.

Speaking of Schaub, he had a rough weekend against the best secondary in the NFL. What challenges will he face against the 49ers?

Williamson: I think Schaub’s struggles start with him, and I think the 49ers will try to pressure him quickly to see if he crumbles again. You know better than I do, but from seeing replays, Schaub looked broken after the Richard Sherman pick-six. The 49ers are well aware that Schaub has thrown interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns in the past three games, and they will be looking to add to the list. A player to watch is rookie safety Eric Reid. He has proven to be a ballhawk already. I could see him benefiting from Schaub’s issues.

This is a huge key to the game, Tania. Do you think Schaub can bounce back and be effective?

Ganguli: That will be the most important factor in this game. While I don’t blame the entire collapse on Schaub, you’re absolutely right that he looked broken after Sherman’s interception. By contrast, in Week 2, Schaub threw a late pick-six against Tennessee that put the Texans in an eight-point hole, but he recovered quickly enough to lead a game-tying drive that forced overtime. He didn’t bounce back as well against the Seahawks. He made a few nice throws, including a 17-yard pass to Andre Johnson, but overall, looked rattled. If he can’t recover, the Texans have no chance. But if he can rediscover the guy who led that comeback effort you and I watched live against San Diego in Week 1, I think the Texans are in good shape.

 

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 4

September, 30, 2013
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Analyzing four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 23-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsRichard Sherman had a season full of clutch plays, including this interception in Houston.
Was the play call wrong on the pick-six? The play on which Richard Sherman intercepted Matt Schaub was a short pass on third-and-4 with just under three minutes left in the game. The Texans were up seven points and ran four straight run plays on which Arian Foster had gains of 6, 5, 5 and 1 yard immediately before that play. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said it was the wrong call.

"I believe we've got to just run the ball, but we run the plays that are called, and we have to make good decisions," Texans tight end Owen Daniels said.

I say both the play call and the execution were wrong. A run play eats the clock and doesn't have as dramatic a floor as a pass play does. Fumble returns for touchdowns are possible, but much less likely than a pick-six, especially against Seattle's transcendent secondary. If they hadn't picked up the 4 yards necessary, so what? Punt the ball, let your defense do what it did for all but one drive. Further, the Seahawks had that play well-scouted, running it in practice all week. Then again, in the situation in which he found himself, there's no excuse for Schaub to have tried to force the ball to Daniels. Up seven with so little time left in the game, he didn't need the first down.

Is it time to panic? The panic that followed this game was tremendously predictable. Those panicking should remind themselves that the Texans have played only four games and this most recent loss was to what might be the best team in the NFL.

Wilson vs. blitzes: Russell Wilson has been good against blitzes, but he hadn't faced a team yet this season that brings extra pressure quite as much as the Texans do. Wilson was successful against five or more rushers in his first three games, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. The Texans were much more effective at containing him: He averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt on Sunday in Houston. When Wilson finally got going it was because he used his legs, which he would rather not do.

Rotating guards: The Texans fidgeted with their left guard position on Sunday. Starter Wade Smith rotated with second-year guard/center Ben Jones, who started 10 games at right guard last season. Smith had knee surgery before this season, and last week I asked Kubiak if Smith's knee was still bothering him after he had some rest during the week's practices. Kubiak said it was not, but added that getting Smith ready between games has been a more involved process because of how quickly he returned. Smith didn't appreciate my asking if his knee felt OK. "Why does that matter?" he replied. I said I wondered if the knee was part of why he rotated with Jones and asked what he was told about the rotation. "I felt fine," Smith said, to both questions.
The Houston Texans' injury report provided two new names Wednesday.

Watt
Watt
Defensive end J.J. Watt was listed as limited with a quad injury, and tight end Owen Daniels was limited with a back/groin injury.

Left guard Wade Smith, who played the entire game Monday night, was listed as limited with the knee injury he suffered during training camp. And of course, safety Ed Reed was limited as he recovers from his hip injury.

Players have to be on the injury report if they miss anything, but coach Gary Kubiak said during his press conference that he wasn't concerned about anybody's injury.

The Texans' opponent on Sunday, Tennessee, had four players miss practice due to injury: running back Shonn Greene (knee), punter Brett Kern (left calf), tight end David Stewart (calf) and receiver Damian Williams (hamstring).
Reed
HOUSTON -- I got a chance to speak with Houston Texans safety Ed Reed for the first time since training camp on Friday.

Reed, who was limited in practice, gave a pretty thorough update on his condition, explaining he's still working through some scar tissue and he also explained what exactly those injections he got in Vail, Colo., were. As Reed put it, the injections take two weeks to really kick in, and he'll hit that two-week mark on Monday.

I'm going to check in with our resident medical expert Stephania Bell to try and better explain what Reed's injections were. More on that later.

Some good news for the Texans on their latest injury report: left guard Wade Smith went from limited to full participant. I'd bet Smith is listed as probable on tomorrow's final injury report.

Little by little, the Houston Texans are getting healthier at key spots.

Safety Ed Reed will have a major say in whether or not he plays in the Sept. 9 season opener in San Diego. He won't begin the season on the PUP list, where he spent all of the preseason and training camp.

Left guard Wade Smith told me Thursday he has a "really good chance" of playing in the opener. And tight end Garrett Graham told me Thursday that if the game versus the Cowboys had been a regular-season game, his hip injury wouldn't have kept him out.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak says running back Arian Foster will benefit from the extra day that comes with a Monday night opener. And while Kubiak expects Foster to carry a lighter load to start, that's a reaction to his skipping most of the preseason.

Receiver DeVier Posey will get a similar gradual introduction, having played in only one preseason game after a speedy recovery from a torn Achilles.

When other teams suffered through a rash of season-ending injuries, some as part of the torn ACL epidemic that struck weeks ago, Kubiak noted his own frustrations with the plethora of more minor injuries winding through his team. He also noted his relief that these were injuries that wouldn't linger too long.

Some of that is coming together for the Texans now. They of course have players with frustrating recurrences (such as rookie tackle Brennan Williams, whose knee swelling has returned). And they're still waiting on rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins' concussion symptoms to fully subside.

But overall the health arrow is pointing up, and that's a good place to be as the regular season nears.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 14, 2013
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HOUSTON -- At 12-4 last season, the Houston Texans had the best record in the young franchise's history, won their second consecutive AFC South championship, became the first professional football team in Houston to win a home playoff game in consecutive years and finished the regular season as one of only two teams to be ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense.

Doesn't sound like a failed season, does it? But as the franchise has grown and checked off accomplishments, failure has begun to mean anything other than a Super Bowl win.

“We weren’t the last team standing last year, so ultimately we all failed,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “We all didn’t accomplish our goals.”

This year's Texans are more businesslike. Most of this year's team was around for the slide at the end of last season, which coincided with a linebacking corps that took one hit after another even after taking its biggest hit in early October, when it lost Brian Cushing. They shook their heads at three losses in the last four games of the season. The offense mustered only 12 points per game in those three losses -- less than half its season average.

“Everybody was so excited and couldn’t wait for the next season to come around,” receiver Andre Johnson said. “As you can see, we came out of the gate smoking, but at the end we just didn’t finish it the right way. At times, maybe we could have been feeling ourselves or something. I think, I’ve told people this before, I think the game in New England, our last playoff game, it just showed you what kind of team you have to be in order to accomplish that ultimate goal. That was definitely a humbling experience, and we’ll be looking forward to the challenge again.”

Now they return with Cushing back and an additional offensive weapon in first-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins -- the receiver with the massive, red-gloved hands. They should have more stability on the offensive line and more depth at safety with the additions of a future Hall of Famer (Ed Reed) and a college enforcer (D.J. Swearinger). They have healthy cornerbacks and the reigning defensive player of the year in J.J. Watt, who is sure he can play better than his unreal 2012 season.

They return with an edge they didn't have last year.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Hopkins' impact: It is impossible not to be impressed by Hopkins' skill and athleticism, owed in part to his unusually large hands. Particularly adept at scoring in the red zone while he was at Clemson, Hopkins is expected to help the Texans, who didn't struggle scoring in the red zone last season but did struggle at scoring touchdowns in the red zone relative to the best offenses in the NFL. Hopkins provides a dimension the Texans didn't have in 2012 -- a second receiver defenses should fear, taking some attention from Johnson. The rookie is at his best on contested catches and spends his practices learning from cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Hopkins struggled early in organized team activities, but as training camp has progressed, he has grown more comfortable with just about everything. If he plays in regular-season games like he has in camp, the Texans' offense will improve significantly.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
AP Photo/Pat SullivanWhen linebacker Brian Cushing went down for the season in Week 5, the loss was felt across the Texans' defense.
2. Cushing's return: When Cushing was lost to a torn ACL in Week 5 against the New York Jets, a line of Texans greeted the fallen inside linebacker at the door to the locker room, shaking his hand and offering condolences. Losing Cushing hurt the Texans' safeties and outside linebackers as much as it changed their inside linebacker rotation. The pass rush suffered too.

“When Cush rushes, which we try to rush him a lot from the inside, if they have to pick up a back on him they are in trouble,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “We got a big advantage, so they try and pick him up with a lineman. Well, if they do that then the outside guys get a chance to get a back or a better matchup.”

Cushing's return brings back a maniacal, focused intensity that intimidates opponents.

“Brian Cushing is back,” outside linebacker Brooks Reed said. “He's going to bring the attitude back.”

3. When will Reed be healthy? Reed signed with the Texans amid great fanfare. The owner sent his team plane to Atlanta to collect the future Hall of Famer, and the team's official Twitter provided updates along the way. Reed met with coaches, underwent a lengthy physical and then left Houston for a family engagement before returning to sign a three-year deal worth $5 million a year. About a month later, Reed had arthroscopic hip surgery to repair a torn labrum that he thinks he suffered during the Ravens' AFC Championship Game win.

This week, Reed was out of town rehabilitating with a specialist after having spent training camp in Houston working with Texans trainers.

“No, absolutely not,” coach Gary Kubiak said when asked if that meant Reed had a setback. “It’s just something that we’ve made our progress here for a couple of weeks. [Head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan] has been in contact with this guy. He’s worked with us before, so we wanted him to go see him for a couple of days and basically make sure we’re doing the right things. We’re going to do that for a couple of days each week.”

So far there hasn't been any clarity on when Reed will be available to the Texans or whether he will be able to play in the season opener.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/Andy KingRookie DeAndre Hopkins gives Houston a scoring threat in the red zone and a second receiver whom opposing defense should fear.
The Texans have the best defensive player in the NFL in Watt, who in 2012 had, according to his well-traveled defensive coordinator, the best season any defensive lineman has ever had. This was a good team last year that needed some cracks filled. Injuries had a lot to do with the Texans' defensive holes at the end of the season, and those injuries aren't an issue for Houston anymore. Watt also will be healthier this year. Offensively, the Texans have Johnson coming off a career year in receiving yards, running back Arian Foster and a quarterback who will benefit from a more stable offensive line and an extra receiving weapon.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about Schaub, but I expect him to be a lot better this season with the changing personnel around him.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The abundance of linebacker injuries last season hurt the defense and special teams. The Texans still are vulnerable there. A rash of linebacker injuries in training camp has caused players to miss some time. Though none of these injuries were significant, a collection of linebacker injuries that keep players out for even two or three games at a time could be damaging.

Reed's health also could be troubling. Swearinger isn't ready yet, and safety Shiloh Keo has started in Reed's place during camp. Keo has improved since last season and has had a good camp, but he would be a downgrade from departed safety Glover Quin.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Earl Mitchell had about the loudest debut as the Texans' starting nose tackle as one could have. Sure, it was a preseason game, but in 10 snaps Friday against Minnesota, Mitchell had four tackles, three of them for loss, including one sack. He also had one quarterback hit. Mitchell is quick on his feet, powerful and has a new confidence this season. The Houston native says that comes from knowing he entered this season as the starter -- a position well earned.
  • Foster remains on the physically unable to perform list. He initially landed on the list with a calf injury, but that has healed. Now, the Texans are being cautious because of a back injury. I wrote it before and will again: There's no sense in pushing Foster too much right now, especially given the load he takes on during the season.
  • With one full NFL season accrued, receiver Keshawn Martin has made a dramatic improvement on both offense and special teams. It has caught the eye of teammates. Last season, Lestar Jean joined Martin on the active roster. Jean is an incredibly hard worker, but he finds himself back on the bubble two years removed from being an undrafted rookie.
  • The Texans' third-string running back battle took an interesting turn Friday in Minnesota when Cierre Wood, who progressed more slowly at first, seemed to have a better night than fellow undrafted rookie Dennis Johnson. It's far too early to determine a winner in that battle, but those two are ahead, with veteran pickup Deji Karim threatening from a special-teams standpoint.
  • There were times last season when starting cornerback Joseph didn't feel like himself. He had two sports hernias that he didn't even properly identify until after playing in the Pro Bowl. Joseph had surgeries to repair both, and feels healthier than he did all last season. That is great news for the Texans, who pair him opposite the constantly improving Kareem Jackson.
  • It's unclear exactly how long left guard Wade Smith will be out after having his knee scoped Tuesday morning. What's certain, however, is that Smith's absence will give the Texans a chance to test the versatility of sixth-round draft pick David Quessenberry, who started out the offseason playing mostly tackle. Quessenberry made news during the summer because his truck was stolen, then recovered in East Texas with police saying it was being used for human trafficking. More relevant to our purpose is that Quessenberry has been really impressive in camp and willing to learn. Kubiak said he expects both Ben Jones and Quessenberry to see time there with Smith out.

AFC South wrap: The division in 2012

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

Five things to know and my all-division team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

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

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

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

AFC South Pro Bowl analysis

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | SouthAFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: J.J. Watt, the presumed front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is starting the Pro Bowl, as are left tackle Duane Brown, receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. They’ve all been stars for the Texans, who are in position to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win at Indianapolis on Sunday. Chris Myers, the Texans' wily veteran center, is a backup behind Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne ranks behind Johnson and A.J. Green, who are the starters, but is part of the four-receiver unit along with New England’s Wes Welker. Wayne's been excellent for a team that shed a lot of veterans and has been a great and productive leader amid a youth movement. Foster’s yards per carry are down nearly half a yard since last year, but with two-fifths of his offensive line replaced, that’s not so bad, and his team is better than Ray Rice's or Jamaal Charles'.

Made it on rep: Johnathan Joseph was fantastic last year and went to his first Pro Bowl. This one is on the coattails of that one. He has dealt with groin and hamstring injuries. He missed two games and struggled badly in several others. Kareem Jackson blossomed on the other side of the Texans’ defense and was more deserving, in my eyes. I can’t say Texans guard Wade Smith made it on reputation. His reputation is for being a workmanlike piece of a line that plays better than the sum of its parts. Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis was good, but not spectacular. I won’t argue against him being in, but I don’t think it would have been a huge insult if he didn’t make it.

Got robbed: Matt Schaub has done a lot of good things this year, including throwing for a remarkable 527 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 18 in an overtime win. But I would have put Colts rookie Andrew Luck ahead of Schaub as the AFC’s third quarterback, behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. I’m not offended that it didn’t break that way. To me, however, Luck’s year has been more impressive. His offense pushes the ball downfield more than any other in the NFL. He has thrown too many picks, for sure. But seven comeback wins out of 10 team wins just a year after the franchise won only two games is remarkable. Schaub has got a load of talent around him, and you can’t punish him for that. At the same time, Luck has helped make several rookies around him, a patchwork offensive line and even the below-average defense all better than they really are. There are no Titans or Jaguars on the AFC team, and I’m not sure a case can be made that there is anything wrong with that.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

All-AFC South midseason team

November, 7, 2012
11/07/12
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NFC Midseason Teams: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

Don’t look down.

First let me explain. The 2012 All-AFC South midseason team is built on an undulating foundation. Over on the left of the offense, for example, left tackle Duane Brown is on super solid footing even though the division’s three other left tackles -- Michael Roos, Eugene Monroe and Anthony Castonzo -- are all quite good.

Reggie Wayne, Arian Foster, J.J. Watt, Paul Posluszny and Danieal Manning all made it here without much debate from this panel of one.

Barring two awful games clearly impacted by a groin injury, Johnathan Joseph would be a no-brainer, too.

Others position were much tougher.

Winston Justice has pass-protected well, but the Colts' right tackle wins by default because David Stewart has had penalty problems, the Texans are playing two guys and Cameron Bradfield in Jacksonville has not impressed me.

The ground beneath some other spots is significantly lower. Overall four teams provide a small pool and ours includes one very bad and one pretty bad team.

I expect the quarterback choice will produce objections from Texans. Matt Schaub is having a fine and efficient season. But Andrew Luck has been extraordinary, leading a much less talented offense and team to improbable playoff contention.

Executive decisions:

I was tempted to run a three-wide offense, but I went two-tight. I’m not a big fullback guy. Craig Stevens is a legitimate blocking tight end who’s helped sparked the Titans’ run-game revival.

I like to use a 12-man defense to account for two 4-3s and two 3-4s, but finding it thin at defensive tackle, I went where the talent took me. Jurrell Casey is a good player who's been stunted by injuries.

Joe Flacco, JJ WattUS Presswire, AP ImagesHow Baltimore's Joe Flacco, left, fares against Houston's explosive J.J. Watt could be key Sunday.


The last time we saw the Texans and Ravens square off, we were watching a divisional-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Terrell Suggs had six tackles and a pass defended as the Ravens' rush linebacker. Houston featured third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, and his three interceptions -- paired with multiple special-teams gaffes by Texans returner Jacoby Jones -- were big factors in a 20-13 Baltimore victory.

The Texans returned home to rave reviews for their first playoff season but also couldn’t help wonder what might have been if they'd had injured starting quarterback Matt Schaub and played a cleaner game. Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game in New England, where it lost to the Patriots, but a near-catch for a touchdown by Lee Evans could have won it with 27 seconds left and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff could have forced overtime.

This rematch doesn’t carry the same stakes but could have big implications. The winner will have the AFC’s best record at 6-1.

AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky will be watching closely.

HENSLEY: I think it's easy to say this is a battle of the two best teams in the AFC. Not really going out on a limb here because the Ravens and Texans are the only teams with winning records in this mediocre conference. I know there are going to be nine games after this one, but this is shaping up to be the Ravens' most important game of the regular season.

The result of this game could become a tiebreaker for home-field advantage or a first-round bye at the end of the season. The Ravens, who have won a league-best 14 consecutive games at home, don't want to go on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens' mindset is that they won't have to come back to Houston this year if they win there Sunday. What's the mindset of the Texans after what happened in Houston last Sunday night?

KUHARSKY: Because the Texans are so young, they've played a lot of "biggest games in franchise history." This is certainly the newest one to top the list. Their critics look at the 5-1 record and see wins over mostly softies and a pasting by the Packers on Sunday night. A victory over the Ravens validates everything they've done and regains a firm hold on Best in the AFC. A loss would create some serious concerns. They do have the cushion of playing in a terrible division they simply can't lose. But Baltimore has been an obstacle and ended the Texans' last season in the playoffs. If they meet again with such high stakes, they don't want to be traveling.

It might be a good time to draw the Ravens, too, right? I know Ray Lewis wasn't what he has been, but their first game without a leader like that and without an underrated, great corner like Lardarius Webb may make them a bit more susceptible, no?

HENSLEY: This is the most vulnerable I've seen the Ravens' defense in 13 seasons. Lewis wasn't playing like the Lewis from 10 years ago, but he was still an above-average linebacker in this league. The Ravens have given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, and losing Lewis only makes that run defense shakier. Dannell Ellerbe, who has made seven starts since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, will take Lewis' spot.

Though the Ravens will miss Lewis' leadership, the bigger loss is Webb. He was emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. His nine interceptions since the start of the 2011 season was tied for the league lead. So, the Ravens have taken shots to both their run and pass defenses this week. How do you see the Texans attacking the Ravens' defense Sunday?

KUHARSKY: Although they might not run first chronologically Sunday, the Texans are a run-first team. Everything they do offensively is keyed on the one-cut-and-go running of Arian Foster, who did great work running for 132 yards in that playoff game on Jan. 15. They send him left most often now, because Duane Brown and Wade Smith are steadier blockers than the guys on the right side, where they have two new starters who aren't even full time.

Spinning off that run game, we'll see play-action heavy with bootlegs and rollouts. It's always remarkable to see Owen Daniels out in space awaiting a Matt Schaub pass. Andre Johnson is certainly dangerous too, though they've not been able to feed him the ball as much as usual. He hates the talk that he's getting older and slowing down, but he hasn't looked like the same player so far this season. Two weeks ago, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie really smothered Johnson. I figured Webb would be a guy who could do similar work. If AJ sees someone like Cary Williams instead, it could be a different story.

Speaking of Schaub, let's turn to quarterbacks. He has been quite efficient this year, doing what Houston needs and not getting caught up at all in his numbers. I came into the season not sold on Joe Flacco and thinking the Ravens didn't have the right guy under center to become an offensive team. But he has done some very good work in the games I've seen and started to change my opinion. Even minus Brian Cushing, the Texans' front throws a lot at a quarterback. Green Bay might have exposed some coverage deficiencies. How's Flacco at assessing such things on the fly and taking advantage?

HENSLEY: Flacco's biggest improvement this season has been his ability to audible at the line. The Ravens are using the no-huddle more than any other time in Flacco's five seasons. It's not to the point of being Peyton Manning, but Flacco is constantly changing the play at the line. Flacco, who ran the no-huddle during his college days, is comfortable with this. He has wanted to have more control of the offense and he's now getting it.

A lot of credit goes to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who is familiar with this style from his days with the Colts. Flacco makes his mistakes when he gets pressured. His pocket awareness has improved and he can scramble for yards. But Flacco will rush and make poor throws when a defender is in his face. Left tackle Michael Oher (four sacks) and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele (three sacks) have struggled at times keeping rushers away from Flacco. Is there any chance the Ravens slow down J.J. Watt and Houston's pass rush?

KUHARSKY: It sure seems like the key to the game for me. Watt is going to get his at some point, and it's not just sacks. Watch how he'll stop rushing when he knows he's not getting there and time his jump to bat down, or even pick off, a pass.

And although the numbers of the other guys aren't in his stratosphere, Brooks Reed, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin are very effective rushers who will have a bearing on Flacco's pocket comfort. Force some mistakes with that rush, and I like Houston's chances. Get stonewalled and fall victim to the ball coming out super-fast, and I feel differently.

One note about the quicker Ravens offense: With Cushing out, Brice McCain, the nickelback, will have a bigger role in covering players such as Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta on routes. If the Ravens run hurry-up or no-huddle, they can potentially trap the Texans in base if they want McCain off the field. I am eager to see whether they try that. The Texans are obviously are familiar with Jim Caldwell's no-huddling.

How about special teams? Tell me how Jacoby Jones is now reliably explosive? The Texans have some serious special-teams issues.

HENSLEY: Jacoby Jones has been one of the bigger surprises this season for Baltimore. The Ravens were looking to upgrade the return game this offseason and failed to sign Eddie Royal or Ted Ginn in free agency. That's why they jumped on Jones when he was cut by the Texans. He has been average as a punt returner (9 yards per return), but he really keyed the win over the Cowboys on Sunday. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which tied an NFL record, was the big play in that game.

The only reason the Ravens turned to Jones on kickoffs was because rookie Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff the week before. If you think about it, it's kind of funny that Jones got his chance to be explosive because another player couldn't hold onto the ball, especially after Jones' problems fielding kicks in the past. But that really hasn't surfaced so far with the Ravens.

Baltimore's coverage teams are both ranked in the top half of the league, which is a big improvement from last year. In 2012, the Ravens allowed three touchdowns on returns. Another improvement is at kicker. Rookie Justin Tucker has made 12 of 13 field goals this season and has hit both attempts beyond 50 yards. If this game is close, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in Tucker to make a pressure kick. So, what are the issues with the Texans' special teams?

KUHARSKY: Well, Trindon Holliday was absolutely electric as their returner in the preseason. But it didn’t carry over and they gave up on him. You saw Holliday playing for the Broncos on Monday night. Keshawn Martin is the man now. The team averages only 9.8 yards a punt return and 18.5 yards a kick return.

Their average start after a kickoff is the league’s worst -- the 17.7-yard line. Their coverage isn’t that bad -- it’s 31st in the league instead of 32nd. Opponents start at the 26.9-yard line.

Donnie Jones is a middle-of-the-pack punter in net average. Shayne Graham has been good on field goals, hitting 11 of 12, but is tied for 24th in touchbacks playing at home in what amounts to a domed stadium.

It’s gambler’s logic that the Texans are due to break through against the Ravens. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If they don’t and Jacoby Jones has something to do with it, it’ll hurt a little bit extra.

It’s certainly no stretch to predict we’ll see these teams facing off again in the playoffs. In what round and where is the question, and Sunday’s winner will lead the race to be in position to host.
Chris Myers Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireCenter Chris Myers will take on more responsibility this season as the Texans' quiet O-line leader.
Offensive linemen are often some of the most fun, funny and smart players in an NFL locker room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I respect that stance and explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

It'll mean they're playing great.
HOUSTON -- Even the regulars who stay late had disappeared from the Texans’ practice fields after Tuesday morning’s practice.

But at the far end were Jared Crick, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, David Hunter and Hebron Fangupo, four defensive linemen who collectively account for one regular-season NFL game appearance.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Smith
Brett Davis/US PresswireAntonio Smith, a nine-year veteran, is not shy when it comes to teaching inexperienced players some of his rushing techniques.
They stayed after practice to work with veteran lineman Antonio Smith, who patiently talked with them and showed off tips against a tackling dummy. There were pointers about technique, hand placement, swipes, lean, leverage, balance, reading blockers and more. And everybody took a turn working against the dummy after each little lesson.

Smith said he just re-started the sessions, which he’s done before but had faded during the daily grind of camp.

“Now that practices are starting to lighten up, we’ve got time to work on technique,” Smith said. “A guy named Chike Okeafor used to work with me in Arizona, before and after practice.

"When someone who’s been in the game awhile and has some knowledge could see what I was doing, was paying attention to what I was doing and could tell me how to do it better, I think it helped me a lot.”

Now as he looks to pay it forward, Smith said he keeps no secrets.

“If there is something I can do that they want to know about, I’m an open book," he said.

It’s one of the subtly striking things about being teammates in football. While a guy will fight like hell to keep his job, he’s also expected to assist a guy who plays his position and may ultimately take his spot. Veterans who don't offer such help or respond well to questions are typically not regarded as team guys.

Smith’s hardly at risk now, and among today’s pupil’s Crick may be the only one to stick. The rookie end was a fourth-round draft pick.

“If you can see a guy like Antonio who’s been in the league coming on a decade, putting in all the little work, you realize why he’s been in the league that long, why he’s been that successful,” Crick said. “You’ve just got to follow that lead. Hopefully down the road I can be as good as him some day and do that for somebody else.”

Smith’s versatility is a key piece of the Texans’ successful front. He’s an end in the base defense, but moves inside and plays tackle in nickel.

The post-practice period was not the only impressive work I saw by Smith.

Tuesday during a pass rush period of practice, with Connor Barwin outside him, the two rushers worked in tandem, often against starting left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Wade Smith. I thought the defenders looked just about unstoppable in that setting.

“Me and Connor have got to the point where we basically know how each other is going to rush, whether it’s a designated game or we both are doing our own rush,” Smith said. “We know how we’ll end up and can work off each other.”

Smith said he likes both end and tackle, but has always liked rushing the three-technique the best.

“I think it’s more banging, grimy on the inside,” he said. “And it’s the quickest pathway to the quarterback. It’s the hardest to rush, but the quickest path.”

Your All-AFC South offense

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
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Brown-MyersGetty ImagesDuane Brown (left) and Chris Myers anchored one of the best offensive lines in the league.
At long last, we start to unveil ESPN.com’s All-AFC South Team.

We’ll start with the offense.

It’s a tough assignment.

The second guy at some spots -- like Houston running back Arian Foster -- is superb, while the top guy at other spots was hardly as good and was not so clearly better than his competition.

But we forge ahead.

WRs: Wide receivers were not great this season, with Andre Johnson missing too much time to be eligible and not one Jacksonville player at the position worth a look. Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne remained productive on a team that played three bad quarterbacks and was unable to have many offensive days of note. Tennessee’s Nate Washington topped 1,000 yards and was a prime third-down target. He blossomed in a season when the Titans were desperate after Kenny Britt was lost early on.

LT: Houston’s Duane Brown gets the nod after a fine season. He was probably the second-best guy (to center Chris Myers) on one of the very best lines in the NFL. But Tennessee’s Michael Roos was very steady again and Jacksonville’s Eugene Monroe emerged as a player closer to the kind the Jaguars expected and need him to be. Both deserve mention.

LG: I struggled to find a left guard that was worthy of a spot here, so I reluctantly leave the spot open. The second-best guard in the division was Houston’s Mike Brisiel and, like Jacksonville’s Uche Nwaneri, he plays on the right. One film-watcher I spoke with said I should just go with the entire Texans group, but others thought left guard Wade Smith dropped off from his 2010 performance. Tennessee’s Leroy Harris pass-blocked well like all the Titans, but was part of the team’s run struggles.

C: Myers led Houston’s line, perhaps the best in the NFL. He’s super smart, efficient and effective. He’s also very much the group’s tone-setter and leader. Considering how much the team's scheme relies on the unit working together with lateral movements and cutting, Myers' leadership is incredibly valuable.

RG: A lot of Jaguars linemen were in and out of the lineup as the team had to shuffle and leaned on one rookie, Will Rackley. Nwaneri may have even outranked Monroe as the steadiest guy on a line that help spring Maurice Jones-Drew for a league-high 1,606 yards on a team that could hardly throw the ball.

RT: Tennessee’s David Stewart was very good, but Eric Winston had a very strong season. Winston wins out over Stewart because he was more balanced and the Texans were far more balanced.

TE: Not a great year for guys at a position that could be stacked if everyone was healthy for the full season and producing as they are capable of doing. I was leaning toward Tennessee’s Jared Cook based on a solid finish. But Cook didn't do enough early and scouting associates steered me to Owen Daniels, who was not at his best but was still a threat who helped offset the stretches without Johnson.

QB: Matt Schaub didn’t play enough for the Texans to offset Matt Hasselbeck's season. While Hasselbeck didn’t maintain the high level of play he showed early on, he was the most consistent and productive guy in the division and the only quarterback not named Warren Moon to pass for 3,500 yards for the Titans/Oilers.

FB: Greg Jones of the Jaguars blocked for the best running game in the division and the most productive running back in the division. Case closed.

RB: If we weren’t in a quarterback-dominated era and if running well translated to winning more, then Jones-Drew of the Jaguars would be in the running for offensive player of the year. Such things are not happening in today’s NFL. That does not detract from his remarkable season, which is what took to win this spot over Foster.

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