Lonnie Johnson

AFC South Notes: Jaguars, Eifert, Colts, Texans

Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden knows what he’s getting – or what he’s potentially getting – in tight end Tyler Eifert. Gruden was Eifert’s OC for his rookie year in Cincinnati and watched him flash serious promise. From 2014-2018, Gruden watched from afar as Eifert struggled to stay healthy. Now, they’re reunited in Jacksonville, and Eifert believes big things are in store.

We get along great,” Eifert said (via John Reid of the Florida Times-Union). “I had a good understanding of the offense he runs. Just having that familiarity with the offense is nice. There’s some new stuff in here. But just being familiar with it and having a general idea of what’s going on makes it a lot easier to learn.”

Last year, Eifert caught 43 passes for 436 yards and three touchdowns for a sagging Bengals team. More importantly, he was on the field for all 16 games. This year, he’ll try to keep the streak going.

Here’s more from the AFC South:

  • There’s been lots of talk about a potential extension for Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, but he’s not the only player on the team with a re-up to consider. Stephen Holder of The Athletic ran down Indy’s top candidates, a list that includes center Ryan Kelly, linebacker Darius Leonard, running back Marlon Mack, safety Malik Hooker, and linebacker Anthony Walker. Hooker, of course, is unlikely to sign a new deal before the season starts – the Colts declined his fifth-year option earlier this month, a move that puzzled many and put him on course for free agency following the 2020 season.
  • At 6’2″ and 213 pounds, Lonnie Johnson Jr. seems like a natural for the safety position. However, Texans defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver plans to keep him at cornerback, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. “We got to get his confidence right, and I don’t think he lacks in that area,” Weaver said on a Zoom call. “That rookie year for a corner is difficult. I think he’s going to come in now with more knowledge not only of the system, but DB play in general. And I expect him to take a jump here in year two.” Johnson was inconsistent during the regular season, but he did get a good deal of starting experience. And, as Wilson notes, he made a key deflection on Travis Kelce to help the Texans upset the Chiefs in October (KC, of course, got their revenge in January). Johnson staying at CB, in theory, could improve the chances of Eric Reid joining his brother in the Texans’ secondary.
  • The Titans are said to have some degree of interest in Jadeveon Clowney, but former Texans colleague and current Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel says he hasn’t talked to him.

AFC Notes: McLaurin, Bolts, Steelers, Roby

Had the Raiders not traded for Antonio Brown (or had they known he wouldn’t last the summer with them), Vic Tafur of The Athletic notes they would have “definitely” drafted a wide receiver early (subscription required). The Raiders did not take a wideout until Hunter Renfrow in Round 5, but Tafur adds they were “in love” with Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin. Washington nabbed McLaurin in Round 3, and he’s quickly risen to the role of the team’s top aerial threat. In adding Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson and Ryan Grant, Oakland went the veteran route to patch up its receiver needs. It seems a good bet the Raiders will look to bring more rookie help at this position in 2020.

Here is the latest from the AFC:

  • It looks like the Chargers will be without their kicker for a third straight week. Los Angeles has listed Michael Badgley as doubtful to face the Texans. This will point to a third Ty Long kicking assignment. After being named AFC special teams player of the week in Week 1, the Bolts’ punter missed two field goals in their loss to the Lions.
  • When the Chargers face the Texans, they will see a reconfigured cornerback corps. After spending five years as a boundary corner with the Broncos, Bradley Roby is now the Texans’ slot defender. The Texans cut slot incumbent Aaron Colvin after Week 1 and have moved second-round pick Lonnie Johnson into the starting lineup at outside corner, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle notes. Houston gave Roby a one-year, $10MM deal. This slot assignment now serves as a critical component in another Roby contract year.
  • As Mason Rudolph makes his first start, the Steelers are going with their younger receivers. Pittsburgh’s Week 2 benching of Donte Moncrief will continue into Week 3, with Mark Kaboly of The Athletic indicating James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson will play ahead of the underperforming veteran against the 49ers (subscription required). Washington and Johnson will primarily play on the outside, with JuJu Smith-Schuster manning the slot. Given a two-year, $9MM deal, Moncrief has dropped five passes through two games.

Texans CBs Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson Jr. Dealing With Injuries

The Texans are still looking for a GM, they have no clarity on the Jadeveon Clowney situation, and they have some worrisome injury news concerning their cornerbacks. Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, new CBs Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson Jr. are both dealing with ailments that have largely kept them off the field over the past couple of months.

Roby, who signed a one-year, $10MM contract with Houston in March, struggled as a full-time player for the Broncos in 2018 after a strong run as Denver’s nickel man. Still, his track record was enough to merit a three-year, $30MM offer from the Steelers, though Roby elected to take a prove-it deal from Houston in the hopes of landing a top-of-the-market payout in 2020.

But Roby was sidelined for the majority of the spring with soft-tissue injuries, and the hope is that he will be back to full health by the time training camp opens next month. Head coach Bill O’Brien said, “[Roby] hasn’t done much, so we’ll just have to see in training camp.”

The Texans selected Johnson, a Kentucky product, in the second round of April’s draft, and he has all the physical tools one could want in a corner. At 6-2, 213 pounds, Johnson ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the Combine and showed flashes of potential with the Texans this spring, but his own soft-tissue injuries forced him to miss a lot of practice time.

Johnson, like Roby, is expected to be ready for training camp, though O’Brien was non-committal on that front. Given the injury issues, and given that Houston ranked 28th in pass defense in 2018, the Texans may turn to the free agent or trade market for CB help. Morris ClaiborneSam ShieldsDavon HouseCaptain MunnerlynCoty Sensabaugh, and Marcus Williams are among the best FA corners available.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Sign Tytus Howard

The Texans have signed offensive lineman Tytus Howard, their first-round draft choice, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Houston has also agreed to terms with second-round cornerback Lonnie Johnson, second-round offensive tackle Max Scharping, and seventh-round fullback Cullen Gillaspi, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

Houston selected Howard with the 23rd overall pick after the Eagles jumped one spot ahead of the Texans to draft fellow offensive tackle Andre Dillard. Howard has his own strengths, but Dillard was widely viewed as the superior prospect after spending his collegiate career at Washington State. Howard, meanwhile, is coming from the FCS’ Alabama State.

The Texans had a dire need for offensive line reinforcements heading into the draft after ranking dead last in sacks allowed, adjusted sack rate, and pressure rate in 2018. But it’s unclear just how soon Howard or Scharping (a Northern Illinois product) will be able to adjust to the NFL game.

After ranking just 19th in pass defense DVOA a season ago, the Texans have spent the offseason addressing their cornerback crew. Free agent additions Bradley Roby and Briean Boddy-Calhoun are in line for playing time alongside holdovers Johnathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, and Kayvon Webster, and Johnson becomes the latest defensive back added to the mix.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.