If Tennessee doesn't feel it can play McCourty and get effective work without risking further injury, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh would start.
Rookie Marqueston Huff was the next guy in against Dallas, and Brandon Harris was a waiver pickup after he was cut by the Houston Texans.
Both spoke this week about their learning curves and preparedness.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is ready to call on each of them.
"If you have a hat on, you have to be accountable," Horton said. "Marqueston is practicing hard. I know he's a rookie, but I have complete faith in him and it's great to throw these guys in there and get them tested.
" ... They are different, probably in their skill set. One is smaller and quicker, one is bigger and probably more explosive at the point. We will give them all playing time."
The Titans are certainly unproven beyond McCourty and Sensabaugh as the nickel.
Some were highly critical that the team didn't re-sign Alterraun Verner, who had an excellent year for the Titans in 2013 before jumping to Tampa Bay as a free agent.
It's worth noting that in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 56-14 thrashing Thursday night at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, Verner didn't do a lot to help.
On Friday, it was University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan’s turn, and he spoke about the players developing a deeper relationship with teammates.
"His message was about trust and really a deep love for your teammate," Bradley said. "I think that is something that resonated with our players. I think that our players really are connected and are close and I think he challenged them to take it to another level."
"We come in here and we always say, ‘I trust my guy next to me,’ but he said, ‘How far does that trust go?’" Gerhart said. "’Do you really know intimate details about that person? Do you know about his family life? Do you know if he’s having any type of issues?’ He said everybody is a broken and fractured individual on some level and he said, ‘Can you be there for that person and they can trust you on that level?’ It was a really interesting conversation.
"It’s definitely a bigger challenge when you have 53, 63 guys on a team, but I think you can break it down into units. You could be running back or offense or whatever it may be, and I think it’s something that we can take into consideration and listen and see, get to know people a little better."
Safety Josh Evans has heard Donovan speak before. Donovan addressed the UF football team several times during Evans’ four years with the Gators. Donovan’s message on Friday was similar and it stuck with the Jaguars players the way it suck with him, Evans said.
"As a matter of fact we just kind of talked about some of those things in our last meeting as a team, pretty much building on that and finding a way to being [connected] to one another and play hard for each other,” Evans said.
Foster has rushed for 241 yards in the first two games of the season on 55 carries. Texans coach Bill O'Brien talked earlier in the week about limiting Foster's practice reps during the week to keep him as healthy as possible for games. If a player is listed as questionable, that is supposed to mean there is a 50 percent chance that player won't play.
The Texans also listed safety D.J. Swearinger and guard Ben Jones as questionable for Sunday's game. Jones missed Friday's practice, but was having extra treatment. I'm expecting Jones to play.
The good news for the Texans is that tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is listed as probable.
Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and safety Shiloh Keo are out for Sunday's game.
The Giants declared linebacker Jon Beason, receiver Odell Beckham and linebacker Devon Kennard out against the Texans. Tackles James Brewer and Charles Brown and punter Steve Weatherford are questionable.
Center Khaled Holmes, who has been out since Aug. 7 with a high ankle sprain, is healthy enough to play, but coach Chuck Pagano said A.Q. Shipley will start against Jacksonville on Sunday. Pagano didn’t even guarantee Holmes will be on the active roster against the Jaguars. Shipley has played well in the two games he has started in place of Holmes.
“Like anybody else coming off an injury, whatever it is, I’m not going to just throw a kid to the wolves if he’s not 100 percent and ready to play,” Pagano said about Holmes. “Mentally it’s not an issue. He’s knows exactly what to do, but physically he hasn’t played for a while. We’re going make sure that ankle is 100 percent before we throw him back out there.”
Here’s the rest of the Colts’ injury list for Sunday’s game:
Out: Freeman, DL Arthur Jones (ankle)
Questionable: DL Ricky Jean Francois (ankle), WR Hakeem Nicks (illness), OL Joe Reitz (ankle)
Probable: CB Darius Butler, WR T.Y. Hilton, CB Greg Toler, Holmes
Only Jared Cook (169 against Jacksonville in 2011) and Dave Casper (150 against Cleveland in 1980) have topped Walker’s 142.
He’s averaging 4.3 catches per game with the Titans, surpassing Frank Wycheck’s 3.5 career mark. And his 44.1 receiving yards per game is second only to Casper's 46.1.
walker's stat line Sunday -- 10 catches for 140 yds and a TD -- made him the first Titan to hit those marks since Drew Bennett in 2004, per ESPN Stats and Info.
Walker’s start to the season has been big for the Titans. It’s also helped him get into first place in a league he’s in in Fantasy Fundraising, where people can create teams and compete with him and others week to week.
Players can challenge celebrity participants who represent charities. Walker is playing to raise money and awareness for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, while singer Kelly Clarkson represents St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Others involved include Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies, Troy Daniels of the Houston Rockets, actress Tiffani Thiessen and the band Montgomery Gentry.
Walker said he’s in first with a mish-mash of players, as much of his team was auto-drafted. His quarterback is teammate Jake Locker and he’s got the 49ers defense.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien isn't.
"I think it’s important to note that it’s only two games into the season and we need to keep that going, keep that trend going," O'Brien said.
Indeed, it's been a good trend for Houston so far. In their first two games, they've converted 55.2 percent of their third downs offensively, fourth-best in the league. Their opponents, meanwhile, have only converted 23.8 percent of their third downs, the second-lowest percentage in the league behind only the Philadelphia Eagles.
How a team plays on third down has a lot to do with whether or not they win games. It's no coincidence that this week the Texans are facing an 0-2 team whose defense struggles to get off the field on third downs, allowing conversions 53.6 percent of the time.
"It makes the drives longer; it wears the defense down over time," Texans receiver Andre Johnson said. "Hopefully we can keep that going. ... Probably later on during the game you can see it. You know, when you have those long drives, defenses are trying to get off the field, they always preach that. We just try to convert.”
Jake Locker is facing the biggest game of his career, writes David Climer of The Tennessean. “As the Titans attempt to break the cycle of mediocrity, Locker is counted upon to become a franchise quarterback. And true franchise quarterbacks respond to adversity. They respond to a poor game with a strong performance.”
Jason McCourty did more Thursday than he did Wednesday, but his fate for Sunday in Cincinnati is questionable, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Justin Hunter’s still working on chemistry with Jake Locker, writes John Glennon.
Tennessee's good and bad through two games, from Glennon of The Tennessean.
Locker was happy for a chance to talk about his chicken coop, writes Wyatt.
The run-pass ratio should improve in Cincinnati, writes Titans radio play-by-play man Mike Keith.
Sunday's Indianapolis Colts-Jacksonville Jaguars game at EverBank Field isn't exactly a Super Bowl rematch, but there's still something pretty significant at stake: the first victory of the season.
Both teams enter the game 0-2, though the Colts have at least kept things close. Indianapolis lost its first two games to Denver and Philadelphia by a combined 10 points. The Jaguars lost games to Philadelphia and Washington by a combined 48 points, including a 31-point loss to the Redskins last Sunday.
This is a must-win game for the Colts, who risk falling behind the surprisingly undefeated Houston Texans in the AFC South. The Jaguars could use a victory if only to get some good vibes going, which was something the franchise had plenty of during the offseason with the new video boards, pools in the stadium and the excitement over rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup.
DiRocco: The Colts' pass rush obviously isn't the same with Robert Mathis done for the season. How are they compensating and are they licking their chops because they are preparing to face a Jaguars team that just gave up 10 sacks?
Wells: They’re licking their chops, not because Chad Henne has been sacked 13 times in two games, but because they simply want to get some sacks. The Mathis-less Colts have only one sack this season. Remember Eagles quarterback Nick Foles from Week 1, the one the Jaguars sacked five times? The Colts didn’t sack him once on Monday night. In fact, they hit Foles only four times the entire game. I’m not sure who’s slower, Foles or Peyton Manning. I thought the Colts would be able to get to Foles. I was wrong. I’d like to think they’ll be able to get to Henne, especially with two new starters on the offensive line for Jacksonville this weekend.
The Jaguars looked like they were on their way to gaining some momentum. They scored the first 17 points against Philadelphia in Week 1, but they’ve been outscored 75-10 since. Was Jacksonville teasing everybody in the first 30 minutes against the Eagles?
DiRocco: That’s what it’s beginning to look like, because in the six quarters since those first 30 minutes the Jaguars have looked as bad as they did last season. Actually, they’ve looked worse in spots, especially the offensive line. The way the offense has played isn’t that surprising, though. With a rebuilt offensive line and three rookie receivers, plus the limitations that Henne brings to the table, it was clear before the season began that the offense wasn’t exactly going to be explosive. However, the way the defense has performed since the first half of the season opener is befuddling. The unit was supposed to be significantly better than 2013 after adding ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and tackle Ziggy Hood. Those three, along with a healthy Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks, were supposed to form a solid defensive front that would stop the run, rush the passer well and keep the team in games into the second half. They’ve played poorly the past six quarters, giving up 191 yards rushing to the Washington Redskins. Guys are getting out of position, not making plays when in position to make them and are missing tackles.
It looked like Trent Richardson was pairing with Ahmad Bradshaw to give the Colts a pretty good one-two punch. But after fumbling twice against Philadelphia, are we going to see less of Richardson this week and the rest of the season?
Wells: Not starting Richardson would be admitting that the trade with Cleveland was a complete bust. Richardson will continue to be the starter, but Bradshaw will get his fair amount of carries with his load continuing to increase if Richardson can’t hold onto the ball. Richardson was going to be one of the most talked-about players in the Philly game if the Colts had won because he had his best rushing game (79 yards) since coming to Indianapolis in September 2013. Richardson was talked about a lot after the game, but not in a good way. The Colts recovered his first fumble, but his second one led to an Eagles touchdown and played a significant factor in why they lost the game.
How long will the Jags stick with Henne before giving the ball to the player they hope will be the face of their franchise for years to come in Bortles?
DiRocco: At least one more week. Though coach Gus Bradley left a little wiggle room in his statement earlier in the week that Henne was still the starter, he reaffirmed it Wednesday morning. Henne is an average quarterback who holds onto the ball too long at times and doesn’t throw down the field as much as he should, but he’s not the reason the Jaguars are 4-16 since the start of 2013. He’s not losing games. The Jaguars aren’t going to play Bortles until they believe he’s completely ready, and nobody is sure when that will happen. Plus, the Jaguars' offensive line is a mess and has two new starters this week, including rookie center Luke Bowanko. The Jaguars also are without tight end Marcedes Lewis (high ankle sprain) and have had to rely on three rookie receivers. That's not exactly a great environment in which to drop a rookie quarterback. Henne will continue to take those lumps but if things don't improve, the Jaguars might turn to Bortles for a spark within the next few weeks.
How effective has Reggie Wayne been since coming back from the torn ACL? He's obviously not the same player he was two years ago when he caught 106 balls -- what can he still give the Colts?
Wells: You’re right, Wayne isn’t the same player he was two years ago. But what he’s shown through the first two games is that he’s still quarterback Andrew Luck’s security blanket. Luck will look to Wayne first when he needs to get a first down or when he’s under pressure and needs to get rid of the ball quickly. Wayne leads the Colts with 12 catches for 126 yards. He had no problem admitting that he wanted to prove the doubters wrong about his ability to come back from the torn ACL. He’s proven -- so far -- that he can still be an effective player.
By the look of things it appears the Jaguars don’t have an identity. They’ve given up 75 points, scored only 27 and given up 13 sacks in two games. Does this franchise have an identity as either an offensive- or defensive-dominant team?
DiRocco: It was supposed to have an identity as a physical, hard-nosed defensive team, and that’s exactly what it was in the first half against Philadelphia. After that, the Jaguars have been wandering aimlessly. Players have talked about getting punched in the mouth the last six quarters and not responding. That has to change against Indianapolis. It’s the perfect scenario, too: the home opener against a team coming off a Monday night game and a team against which they've traditionally played well.
Fiedorowicz missed last week's game in Oakland. Earlier this week, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said it looked like Fiedorowicz would probably be ok to play, but they haven't made any final determinations yet.
Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), guard Ben Jones (ankle/knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger (elbow) were limited today, as they were yesterday.
Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (illness) and safety Shiloh Keo (calf) did not practice. Clowney actually made a brief appearance in the locker room during the open period today. He had a sleeve on his surgically repaired knee, but no brace, and didn't appear to have a limp. Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago. Hopkins caught a bug, but is expected to play Sunday.
For the New York Giants, punter Steve Weatherford, who didn't practice yesterday, returned to practice on a limited basis. Linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle), receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring) and linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) did not practice. In addition to Weatherford, offensive tackles James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) were limited.
Freeman, who missed Monday’s game against Philadelphia because of a hamstring injury, did not practice again Thursday, but defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is remaining optimistic that he will play.
"I don’t know the status of each guy, what it’s going to be on Sunday," Manusky said. "I’m expecting him and all the guys to be up who are banged up right now. I know Arthur (Jones) is down for a little bit, that’s a little bit different."
Josh McNary will likely start again if Freeman doesn’t play.
Here’s the rest of the practice report
Did not practice: CB Vontae Davis (rest), DL Jones (ankle), WR Hakeem Nicks (illness).
Limited practice: DL Ricky Jean Francois (ankle), OL Joe Reitz (ankle), CB Greg Toler (ribs).
So the Jacksonville Jaguars may have to go with a second-year player, a rookie who missed most of training camp and all of the preseason, and a guy who just joined the team Tuesday as their primary receivers in Sunday’s home opener against Indianapolis.
It’s not that Lee is the offensive MVP. It’s just that it’s the latest in a string of setbacks and events that are giving the offense very little chance to be successful. Remember, the Jaguars have produced just 10 points, 266 yards and converted just 4 of 20 third downs over the past six quarters WITH Lee and Lewis in the lineup.
If Hurns doesn’t play because of an ankle injury and Shorts misses his third game because of hamstring tightness -- both of which are more likely than not -- the Jaguars will have to rely on rookie Allen Robinson, Mike Brown and Tavarres King as their top three receivers. If they decide to raid the practice squad, they could add second-year player Kerry Taylor and/or undrafted rookie Tony Washington. To do that, though, the Jaguars would have to cut players from the active roster to make room.
Regardless, the combined experience of the five healthy wide receivers (including those on the practice squad) who could play Sunday isn’t much: Twenty-seven games played and 62 receptions.
This is where not having Ace Sanders, who has two more games to serve in his suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, hurts the most. He caught 51 passes as a rookie in 2013.
Jaguars receivers have been beset by injuries since OTAs began in May and the team has no idea why. They’ve all been soft-tissue injuries, too: calf strains, hamstring strains (or in Shorts’ case, tightness), ankle sprains. The hamstring strains, which felled at one time or another Lee, Shorts, Robinson and Brown, are the most disconcerting because they tend to linger. It’s an injury that players are reluctant to try to return too quickly from because that often leads to further damage and a longer absence.
It’s a tough injury to play through as well, because it limits explosiveness and leaping. Sudden movements, such as cutting or firing off the line of scrimmage, are risky as well.
So Lee will sit against the Colts, and there’s a good chance Hurns will, too. As for Shorts, it’s questionable. With what’s available at receiver, rookie quarterback Blake Bortles might be thanking coach Gus Bradley’s decision not to put him on the field.
That led me to consider whether the Titans' starters inside, Wesley Woodyard and Zaviar Gooden, are good enough to make up for their lack of size.
“I don’t think size and getting off blocks is a problem for Jurrell Casey or Ropati Pitoitua at end or either starting outside linebacker,” ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, said. “But it would worry me very much with both of those two smaller athletic inside linebackers.”
Gooden replaced Zach Brown, who suffered a pectoral injury in the opener and is on IR. Brown is 6-1, 248. A 17-pound difference with the move from Brown to Gooden is significant.
Ken Whisenhunt has been dismissive of size questions.
“I think it’s based on what they do well,” he said. “You look at London Fletcher, he played a long time in this league. How much did he weigh? To me, if they’re needed to fill a gap and they can do it, they’ll do it. We have physical characteristics for each position, and we try to place those guys in those positions, but it’s still about playing the defense.”
Now retired, Fletcher was listed at 5-10, 242 by Washington in his most recent bio.
I asked Williamson to list the top 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL.
Here’s that list with their sizes:
* -- injured
Kamerion Wimbley qualified as a small defensive end the last couple years in the Titans' 4-3. Now back as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, he’s a better fit at 6-4, 258.
“If you’re not big, you definitely better be able to run and hit like a big guy,” said Wimbley said. “I think whoever we put out there, we have confidence they’ll be able to do their job and we don’t worry about size.”
The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback has dropped back 63 times in two wins this season and hasn’t been hit or sacked.
The Titans' ability to maintain the pressure at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday could be a big factor in their chances to pull what would be regarded as an upset.
“I think we’re doing good, to be ranked among the top teams in the NFL,” Titans outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said.
Jurrell Casey spoke of the need to get Dalton off his first read, which will force him to hold the ball a beat longer.
If Dalton is in that quick rhythm, the Titans need to bat down some balls at the line. End Ropati Pitoitua has two batted balls this season, outside linebacker Derrick Morgan has two (one of which was in coverage) and Wimbley has one.
Nose tackle Sammie Hill said getting a hand on a pass at the line qualifies as a big play.
“You’ve just got to come off the ball real tough and get your hands up,” Hill said. “We know he throws the ball real quick. So our biggest thing is when we know that’s a part of their game, we’ve got to work to get the push and then get our hands up so we can get batted balls.
“For us, batted balls are just as good as hit and sacks, too.”
The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran writes that the Jaguars could potentially start six rookies on offense in Sunday's home opener against Indianapolis: center Luke Bowanko, right guard Brandon Linder, tight end Marcel Jensen, and receivers Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
O'Halloran also writes that quarterback Chad Henne knows what he has to do to quiet the calls for rookie Blake Bortles: win.
Here's an interesting read on the jet sweep, a play that seems to be taking the NFL by storm.
Safety Johnathan Cyprien talks to Jaguars.com about returning from his concussion and getting the defense back on track.
In case you missed it, here's my story on the fact that Henne's job apparently was not in jeopardy this week.
You figured the Colts were acquiring a running back after Vick Ballard was recently lost for the season with a torn ACL. But it was anybody’s guess who that player would be.
Then at 6:19 p.m. -- 57 minutes and three tweets after his initial one -- the Colts announced that they had acquired Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns for a first-round pick.
OMG...the Earth is SHAKING!!!!! Shock and AWE is coming VERY SOON!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Colts Nation...are you sitting DOWN!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Announcement coming SOON!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
This day of MONSTER TRADE,The Tidal Wave Of Deal making...Shocks the system of "..Didn't see THIS ONE COMING!!!!!!" Grig's Rollin' Dice!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 18, 2013
Building a MONSTER for the BEST fans in the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) September 19, 2013
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had pulled off the biggest trade of the 2013 season.
You immediately thought that the Colts had just acquired their running back of the future to go with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
The No. 1 overall pick and the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft teamed together for years to come. They'd go hand-in-hand. They were the perfect match.
That’s what you thought, at least.
The trade has been anything but perfect for the Colts. You can argue that the Browns are winning the trade so far. The Colts gave up a first-round pick that they could have used to try and fix a hole on their roster. The Browns used Indianapolis’ No. 26 pick and moved up to No. 22, where they selected quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel and LeBron James’ return to Cleveland have made that city a focal point in the NFL and NBA again, even if Johnny Football is on the sideline waiting his turn to be the team’s starting quarterback.
They got a running back who was uncomfortable his entire first season in Indianapolis. He was indecisive with his running and he eventually lost his starting job to Donald Brown. Richardson averaged only 2.9 yards a carry last season.
Grigson did not respond to a message seeking comment for the story, but he said several times during the offseason that he would do the trade again if the opportunity presented itself. He referred to Richardson as their 2014 first-round draft pick, while also not shying away from the expectations he has for Richardson this season.
"Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability," Grigson said in training camp. "We’re all accountable here. ... He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53."
Richardson has been a different player after having an offseason to learn the playbook. He’s running with more force and he has gotten better at picking which holes to run through. If not for a fumble that later cost the Colts seven points, Richardson would have been one of the positive storylines against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday -- he rushed for 79 yards, his highest total since joining the team, and he’s averaging 3.7 yards a carry through the first two games.
Richardson may never live up to the expectations of being the No. 3 overall pick. The Colts would simply be happy if he at least played like he was worth the No. 26 pick they gave up in this year’s draft.
The clock is ticking as they wait for that to happen.