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Monday, June 4, 2012
Unreasonable causes for optimism

By Paul Kuharsky

Outside of a guy who’s hurt or who gets in trouble, it’s hard to find anything that’s not thoroughly sugar-coated at this time of year.

As the NFL has turned itself into a year-round deal, I don’t think it calculated that OTA and minicamp season would be such a happy time. But the league and its teams certainly enjoy it.

How, then, can this cynic, find something to pick at?

Here’s how:

Our look at the most unreasonable causes for optimism around the division.

Houston: The young receivers

It’s great the Texans have replenished the unit, and it was time to move on from Jacoby Jones, who was released after the draft and is now in Baltimore.

But receiver might be the position that it’s easiest to look good at in June and be lost at in August. Lestar Jean was undrafted out of Florida Atlantic last year, then missed the season with a shoulder injury. He’s currently is drawing raves. Draft picks DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin will get a lot of opportunity now with Andre Johnson watching from the side rehabbing.

No matter how good any of those guys look now, I’m going to need to see them on the field with Matt Schaub (also out now) throwing to them before I become a believer on any level surpassing the usual for guys who have yet to play in real games.

Indianapolis: The offensive line

I was going to say the cornerbacks -- but I don’t know that there has been any great optimism about the group, which really says something at this time of year.

General manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano want to be bigger and more physical up front. Reshaping the line so far has meant the addition of right tackle Winston Justice, guard Mike McGlynn, center Samson Satele and, most recently, tackle George Foster.

As the Indianapolis Star recently wrote, there were reasons these guys were all available and affordable. Right now it seems holdovers Anthony Castonzo (left tackle) and Joe Reitz (left guard) will be joined on the starting line by Justice, McGlynn and Satele.

It’s a bit of a patchwork group, but for a team with financial restrictions and needs all over the place, it might not be bad. Grigson is leaning heavily on two guys he knew from his time with the Eagles in Justice and McGlynn. We’ll need to see if these guys are good enough and how they jell.

Jacksonville: The pass protection

I like right tackle Eben Britton a lot. And I understand why the team is optimistic about what his return from a back injury can mean for a group that run-blocked great, but didn’t fare nearly as well as pass protectors.

Still, is getting one guy back and changing scheme a guaranteed route for keeping Blaine Gabbert upright? I can be convinced, but I am not yet.

And they didn’t even add outside depth. Tackle Guy Whimper was very inconsistent last season and got a new deal. Cameron Bradfield, John Estes, Daniel Baldridge and Mike Brewster are an unproven lot as reserves.

Guard Uche Nwaneri said the running backs will be more involved in protecting the edges. When the top running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, is your best player, is that a good thing or a bad one?

Tennessee: The interior offensive line

It’s clear the Titans were not satisfied with the way center Eugene Amano played last season. They brought a parade of centers through Nashville during free agency, but failed to land any of them.

Now they appear content to go forward with Amano as the favorite to win the job over Kevin Matthews and, perhaps, Fernando Velasco. Amano is recovering from knee and ankle surgeries. He will be playing next to free agent addition Steve Hutchinson, who the team expects to have a very positive influence on him.

But Amano has never faced this kind of scrutiny and heat before, and I wonder if he will rise to meet it or melt. Leroy Harris, also out right now while he recovers from shoulder surgery, will move from left guard to right guard. Harris wasn’t great in 2011 either, and will have to hold off Velasco.