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Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Ten starting battles still to be decided

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

A check in on unresolved starting position battles in the division as teams prepare for preseason finales on Thursday and the cut down to 53 on Saturday.

Houston Texans

Right guard: It’s third-year man Mike Brisiel, who missed all but the opener last season with an injury, trying to hold off second-year man Antoine Caldwell. I’d think they view Caldwell as having more upside and being more suited to the system, but it seems too close to call still.

Kicker: Kris Brown could be limited with a bit of a foot injury, but it doesn’t sound like it will factor into the decision. He and Neil Rackers have been quite even, so the question becomes does Gary Kubiak stay loyal to Brown or decide a change of scenery will be healthier and go with Rackers?

Outside linebacker: While Brian Cushing sits the first four games to serve his suspension, it's still unclear what the Texans will do. There was a lot of talk about Zac Diles playing strongside while rookie Daryl Sharpton took Diles' spot. Now the local media is talking as if Kevin Bentley is the front-runner.

Indianapolis Colts

Left guard: The offensive line’s been a complete scramble in the preseason because of injuries. Presuming Charlie Johnson is set to return as left tackle for opening day in Houston, this spot looks like the one most up in the air. Tony Ugoh was plugged in at the start of camp, but then wound up at tackle when Johnson was hurt. Jamey Richard could also win it, and if the Colts are being secretive, rookie Jacques McClendon could factor in.

Return man: Three newcomers -- Brandon James, Devin Moore and Ray Fisher -- have all gotten looks in games. Moore had the best results with the ball in his hands. But he's been dinged and the other two have made fielding errors with Fisher booting one against Buffalo and James doing the same at Green Bay. How they stack up in-house right now is unknown, and Thursday could certainly still factor into things.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Right guard: Has Vince Manuwai, an incumbent starter, held on to the one open spot on the line? If so he should play on the right. If not, Uche Nwaneri will probably play on the right with Kynan Forney on the left. It seems Jack Del Rio’s decided, but just isn’t sharing yet.

Safety: Both spots are hardly cemented, and it will be a bigger surprise if the team doesn’t add a safety from waivers than if it does. Anthony Smith looks to lead at strong with Gerald Alexander at free, but they have Sean Considine and Reggie Nelson and even Courtney Greene and Tyron Brackenridge in the mix too. None of them has stepped forward and made a huge push so far.

Tennessee Titans

Right cornerback: Jason McCourty is steadier and faster, rookie Alterraun Verner is a bigger playmaker. Jeff Fisher’s left open the possibility of playing them both, but that’s a difficult juggling act that could slow the progress of both. It’s also a good way for the coach to keep quiet on the starter in the opener until just before kickoff.

Returner: Damian Williams is the guy they’d like to win it, but he’s been a little timid and lost a fumble during a return in Carolina. Another rookie, Marc Mariani, is the primary alternative.

Outside linebacker: While Gerald McRath serves his four-game suspension, who lines up with Stephen Tulloch and Will Witherspoon? Colin Allred would appear the leader, with Jamie Winborn the other possibility. Activating David Thornton off PUP and using him is an outside option. I don’t see it considering his scheduled salary of around $5 million, his propensity for getting hurt and his current physical status.