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Monday, June 27, 2011
Age issues: Clock ticking on these four

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Chris Hope will be 31 in Sept. and is facing that awkward time in a professional sports career that tends to make me cringe.

Chris Hope
Chris Hope, left, will likely start for the Titans at strong safety again this season.
At his best, he was very good. But he’s not at his best anymore, slowing down as he gets older. The confidence and swagger that helped make him good don’t allow him, or most players in that situation, to admit things are different. The sort of cheating he might try to make up for a lost step can hurt his team.

Teams deal with this all the time. Some are quick to move on, some show loyalty to a guy who has led well and been effective. The Titans don’t have great alternatives to challenge for Hope’s job. I expect he’ll be the starting strong safety on opening day, though the team would likely prefer to drop his salary which includes a $500,000 roster bonus and a $6 million base salary.

I don't see them chasing a free agent safety. The competition for the best guys will be fierce considering how many teams need safety help, including, potentially, the three other teams in the AFC South. And the Titans have other spots they need to address.

As constructed, the Titans don’t have great guys to challenge Hope.

Vincent Fuller was the nickelback until he was demoted last season, and is likely not durable enough to last 16 games. Nick Schommer, Robert Johnson and Myron Rolle are all unproven. Free agent Donnie Nickey has been a special teamer who’s never seriously challenged for a spot on the defense.

It’s a position that is likely to be an issue for Tennessee.

Where is age a pending issue for the rest of the division?

Houston Texans

Punter Matt Turk just turned 43, and while age is not a big deal for specialists, he hardly boomed it last season. He was 26th in the league with a 36.8 net average and only put 19 down inside the 20.

Even if the team is looking for placement over distance, an upgrade is a possibility.

Indianapolis Colts

Right tackle Ryan Diem was not good last season and turns 32 in July. The Colts drafted tackles with their first two picks, though Ben Ijalana could start off at guard.

Diem has a $5.4 million base salary, which is way high for his level of play at this stage. The Colts could part ways with him once they sort out their offensive line if they feel they have sufficient depth, or they could negotiate that number down. It would be difficult for them to pay him that, I imagine.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Center Brad Meester bounced back and played better in 2010 than he did in 2009, when there was a lot of talk about him slipping. GM Gene Smith indicated that Meester's 2009 performance had a lot to do with unsteady guard play.

Meester is a guy to watch, however. He provides good leadership for a line that has young tackles. Odds are he remains in place this season, but third-round draft pick Will Rackley could be the team’s center in 2012.