NFL Divisional Breakdown AFC South

One team was a contender last year, one team has been near the top every year this decade, one team has never done anything…ever, and one team is bipolar in regards to wins and losses. This is always a fun division to watch.

Indianapolis Colts
Is the window finally closing?

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Moore
Defensive Coordinator: Larry Coyer
Special Teams Coordinator: Ray Rychieski
Owner: James Irsay

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Peyton Manning
HB: Joseph Addai
FB: Jacob Tamme
WR: Reggie Wayne
WR: Anthony Gonzalez
LT: Charlie Johnson
LG: Ryan Lilja
C: Jeff Saturday
RG: Mike Pollak
RT: Ryan Diem
TE: Dallas Clark

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Robert Mathis
DE: Dwight Freeney
DT: Antonio Johnson
DT: Ed Johnson
LB: Phillip Wheeler
LB: Gary Brackett
LB: Clint Session
CB: Kelvin Hayden
CB: Marlin Jackson
FS: Antoine Bethea
SS: Bob Sanders

Special Teams
K: Adam Vinatieri
P: Pat McAfee

Position Battles:
RB: Addai will lead the RBBC until he gets hurt where the battle between rookie Donald Brown and Mike Hart will be for the starting job. Both are solid ball carriers and will fill in well.
OT: Tony Ugoh was a high round draft pick who was supposed to slide in and protect a valuable assest. He hasn’t done as promised yet, but he’s a big body with quick feet and should make a run at one of the starting tackle positions.
CB: Both spots are pretty much up for grabs as the Colts have a history of throwing whoever is healthy into the starting role. With injuries already affecting the secondary, it will probably be the same thing this year.

Rookies to Watch:
Donald Brown might end the year as the Colts starting Running Back. Joseph Addai has been good when he’s healthy, but he also gets injured every other game. Brown put up great numbers in college and is a good back with great vision. I also liked the Curtis Painter pick. He threw the ball all over the field at Purdue, he’s got an NFL arm and Peyton Manning is not exactly a spring chicken. Painter needs a couple years to learn the system and Manning still has a couple years left. This might play out along the same lines as the Aaron Rodgers/Brett Favre change over in Green Bay, except without the constant mind changing.

Season Expectations:
The offense can still be good. Peyton is still Peyton and he has weapons to throw to. Reggie Wayne is one of the best WRs in the league and Dallas Clark is one of the best TEs. Anthony Gonzalez is a good Wes Welker type receiver and a healthy Addai and Brown will give them a decent running game. The O-Line needs Saturday to stay healthy because without him, they’re not the same team and they have protection issues. The defense on the other hand is littered with holes. They don’t have a lot of depth at any position. They have the great DEs with Mathis and Freeney, but the interior line is lacking that disruptive presence. The linebacking corps lacks a standout. Clint Session made a big step forward last year and the Colts need Philip Wheeler to do the same this year. Then there is the much injured secondary. Bob Sanders is recovering from Knee surgery and not playing in the preseason and he is the key to this defense. If he’s not out there, they have trouble doing much of anything. Like most teams, the Colts have to stay healthy to be competitive. They have plenty of depth at a few positions, but are woefully short of depth at others. If they don’t make the playoffs, it’s not Caldwell’s fault.

Houston Texans
Is this the year they make the next step?

Head Coach: Gary Kubiak
Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Shanahan
Defensive Coordinator: Frank Bush
Special Teams Coordinator: Joe Marciano
Chairman/CEO: Robert C. McNair

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Matt Schaub
HB: Steve Slayton
FB: Vonta Leach
WR: Andre Johnson
WR: Kevin Walter
LT: Duane Brown
LG: Chester Pitts
C: Chris Myers
RG: Mike Brisiel
RT: Eric Winston
TE: Owen Daniels

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Mario Williams
DE: Antonio Smith
DT: Amobi Okoye
DT: DelJuan Robinson
LB: Brian Cushing
LB: DeMeco Ryans
LB: Xavier Adibi
CB: Jacques Reeves
CB: Dunta Robinson
FS: Eugene Wilson
SS: Dominique Barber

Special Teams
K: Kris Brown
P: Matt Turk

Position Battles:
O-line: They’ve got talent on the line, but they need to have battles at every position to make sure the best talent makes it on the field.
DT: Okoye is starting, the other spot is up for grabs. Robinson, Okam, and Johnson will all be fighting for playing time and each of them have attributes that gives them an advantage in the battle.
CB: Dunta Robinson isn’t in camp yet, he hasn’t signed his franchise tag tender, so the battle for the starting jobs is wide open. The Texans are hinting that Robinson isn’t guaranteed a spot when he comes into camp, but when you look at the roster, it’s hard to see anyone else starting.

Rookies to Watch:
Brian Cushing will be a beast in that linebacking group. He’s got sideline to sideline speed, a smart player inside of him keeping his head on straight and talent in front and around him. He will make this front 7 even better.

Season Expectations:
The offense is ok and will be ok. The defense remains a bit suspect. The front 7 is solid but the back side is pretty much awful and you saw that when the Saints offense marched right through them. Mario Williams has proved he was the right choice at number 1 overall, Amobi Okoye is one of the best young DTs in the league and the linebackers are some of my favorite players in the league. DeMeco Ryans is a stud at MLB and I’ve been following Xavier Adibi since before he signed to play with Virginia Tech. But as good at the front 7 is, they need help on the back side. Dunta Robinson coming back will be a big help whenever he gets back. But it won’t be enough. They are still going to have to win games on offense, which this team can do. Matt Schaub is solid at the QB position and Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter are standouts at the WR position. Steve Slaton has a great rookie year and the Texans need him to duplicate that. They have depth at the RB position with Chris Brown and Ryan Moats, but Slaton is the homerun hitter out of the backfield. The AFC South is turning back into a running back heavy division, and the Texans are pretty well equipped to handle that, so they could be a surprise in the division.

Tennessee Titans
They took some big hits this offseason.

Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Heimerdinger
Defensive Coordinator: Chuck Cecil
Special Teams Coordinator: Alan Lowry
Owner: K.S. Adams, Jr.

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Kerry Collins
HB: Chris Johnson
FB: Ahmard Hall
WR: Nate Washington
WR: Justin Gage
LT: Michael Roos
LG: Eugene Amano
C: Kevin Mawae
RG: Jake Scott
RT: David Steward
TE: Bo Scaife

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Jevon Kearse
DE: Kyle Vanden Bosch
DT: Tony Brown
DT: Jason Jones
LB: David Thornton
LB: Stephen Tulloch
LB: Keith Bulluck
CB: Nick Harper
CB: Cortland Finnegan
FS: Chris Hope
SS: Michael Griffin

Special Teams
K: Rob Bironas
P: Craig Hentrich

Position Battles:
WR: They need someone from this position to step up. They brought in Nate Washington to add some speed to the position, but he’s never been “the guy” so it remains to be seen if anyone from this group can step up.
DT: Whoever wins this job won’t be expected to replace Albert Haynesworth who when healthy and motivated is a beast. They’ve got some talent there, but someone needs to step up to solidify the middle of this defense.

Rookies to Watch:
The Titans had a really good draft. Kenny Britt is an explosive player on the outside and will fight for a starting job week 1. His size and speed create problems for defenses and he should be able to open up the running game for Johnson and White. Sen’Derrick Marks is a talented DT who could fill in as the replacement for Albert Haynesworth. He’s got good feet to pressure the QB and good size to clog the middle. Jared Cook is a good receiving TE and forms a dynamic duo with Bo Scaife. And as if the rich needed to get richer, Javon Ringer is yet another very good running back in the stable for the Titans.

Season Expectations:
They came out of nowhere last year to be one of the best teams in the AFC. They don’t have the big name players, but they play very well together. The recipe is going to have to be the same this year. They don’t have much in the way of big names, Chris Johnson and Kerry Collins are the biggest names on the offense and Jevon Kearse is the biggest defensive name and he’s close to living on borrowed time. The defense was very good last year, and the only player they lose is Hanyesworth, so it’s still a big loss. Finnegan is one of the better corners in the league and definitely one of the most physical. The running game hasn’t looked good early in the preseason, but it was great last year and will have to be very good again this year. Kenny Britt and Nate Washington give the Titans some hope of having a passing game this year and beyond which is greatly needed in Nashville. It’s going to be another hard fought year for the Titans and I don’t know that the breaks are going to go their way this year.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Their first year without Fred Taylor, how will they recover.

Head Coach: Jack Del Rio
Offensive Coordinator: Dirk Koetter
Defensive Coordinator: Mel Tucker
Special Teams Coordinator: Russ Purnell
Chairman/CEO: Wayne Weaver

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: David Garrard
HB: Maurice Jones-Drew
FB: Greg Jones
WR: Torry Holt
WR: Troy Williamson
LT: Tra Thomas
LG: Vince Manuwai
C: Brad Meester
RG: Uche Nwaneri
RT: Tony Pashos
TE: Marcedes Lewis

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Reggie Hayward
DE: Derrick Harvey
DT: Terrance Knighton
DT: John Henderson
LB: Daryl Smith
LB: Justin Durant
LB: Clint Ingram
CB: Brian Williams
CB: Rashean Mathis
FS: Reggie Nelson
SS: Sean Considine

Special Teams
K: Josh Scobee
P: Adam Podlesh

Position Battles:
WR: Troy Williamson cannot be a starter and a good WR. To many Vikings fans will injure themselves. Someone has to step up and take that job from him.
DT: John Henderson is a great DT. The other DT is still up for grabs. Terrance Knighton is a rookie they are pretty high on and really, it’s not like there is anyone else.
Rookies to Watch:
P: They’ve got two punters in camp. Podlesh is hitting almost everything inside the 20, Steve Weatherford has hit some bombs of punts, so it’s still up for grabs.

Rookies to Watch:
Eugene Monroe finally signed and is in camp. That should help the offensive line and in turn Mo-Jo. He’s a big, road clearing OT who can really help the entire running game. It will take him time to get the pass protection down so don’t expect immediate returns. Terrance Knighton could develop into a dominate force on the inside playing alongside John Henderson.

Season Expectations:
They’ve got some talent at some key positions. Garrard is a solid QB who won’t wow anyone. Mo-Jo is one of the better backs in the league, but it will be interesting to see how he holds up over a full year as the primary back. The WRs are a big question as they have been for a few years, Torry Holt is a step forward, Troy Williamson shouldn’t be, but this wouldn’t be the first time the Vikings did something stupid. The defense should still be good. Henderson is a force on the inside, Harvey and Hayward can bring pressure from the outside. The linebackers are some of the best in league and the secondary can cover people. If the offense can be consistent this year shouldn’t be a complete waste for the Jags, but they are going to have their struggles.

So that’s the AFC South, next week AFC West, then the NFC West, then the season starts. Yay!

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