AFC South: 2012 Camp Watch AFC

Titans Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:30
PM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Although their personnel are not dramatically different, the Titans should look a lot different from last year. A new staff came out of the lockout in hurry-up mode and didn’t overhaul things to the degree it wanted to because it didn’t want to overload players.

Now, with a full offseason, position coaches have been able to pick apart film with guys and instill additional technique and habits. Although Mike Munchak’s overriding philosophy -- know what to do and do it -- is significant, all those other specifics are important, too. We’ll see more of the mindset of coordinators Chris Palmer and Jerry Gray as they install throughout camp. That should mean a more wide-open offense from Palmer and a defense from Gray with more variations in scheme, alignments and pressure.

One thing that might happen: If he does what the Titans expect him to do, first-round pick Kendall Wright could work his way into the starting lineup for opening day against New England. It would be best if he didn’t rank higher than third in the receiving corps. But Kenny Britt is recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right knee after three games last season and scopes on each knee in the offseason. He also could be suspended as a result of a recent DUI charge, as commissioner Roger Goodell put him on notice after the lockout when his interactions with police continued to mount.

Wright gives the Titans an explosive, outside option who also can threaten from the slot. It would be ideal if he were third and drew the corresponding coverage. But if he ranks higher among the receivers earlier in the season, he still can help Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker as well as take some attention away from guys such as Chris Johnson and Jared Cook.

One thing we won't see: A rout in the quarterback competition. I’ll be hugely surprised if both Hasselbeck and Locker don’t put together good bodies of work in camp and the preseason. Don’t buy that there isn’t a real competition here. Although the veteran incumbent certainly has at least a slight advantage at the start based on experience, Munchak wouldn’t be advertising a QB competition strictly for show.

Ultimately, they’ve said they’ll make the call on gut feeling. I know a lot of people don’t want to believe that will be the case. I do. Hasselbeck likely will be more consistent but Locker’s peaks might be higher. No matter the winner, odds are the Titans will need them both at some point this season. If you don’t have an absolute star at the spot, having a capable veteran and an up-and-comer is the next best thing.

Texans Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Gary Kubiak’s not going to hammer his guys even in one-a-day practice situations. Hard-core two-a-days are a thing of the past in the year-old CBA, but it’s not as though the Texans were getting ground down during Kubiak’s camps in the past. Houston’s summer heat is brutal. The Texans will get what Kubiak considers sufficient work in an early-morning practice, then pack the practice bubble for their afternoon walk-throughs.

They’ll be in pads enough to get the work they need, but Kubiak isn’t a coach who will prove a point by loading up on the hitting. He treats his guys like men and expects they will do what’s necessary to be mentally ready while heading into the season fresh. It’s part of what has made him a players’ coach. And, as of last year, it worked.

One thing that might happen: Because he’s not well-rounded, Kareem Jackson could prove to be the weak link on defense. The left cornerback has been talked up and talked up by the Texans since they drafted him 20th overall in 2010, and he has made progress. But he doesn’t head into this camp with nearly the stature of the other recent first-round picks in Houston: end J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing and left tackle Duane Brown.

According to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, although Jackson has gotten better at playing press/man-to-man, he’s a better zone defender. Jason Allen often took Jackson’s place when the Texans were playing more man coverage. Now, with Allen gone, Alan Ball is the extra veteran cornerback who could be platooning with Jackson. But if a first-round pick cannot earn a full-time spot in his third year, that will qualify as a disappointment. I see Jackson as a guy under pressure to graduate to a higher level of play in all situations.

One thing we won't see: Core guys on this team panicking in the face of being the division favorite and a team expected to advance in the playoffs. An injured team broke through last season, but it wasn’t carrying big expectations and benefited from Peyton Manning’s injury and the Colts’ collapse. The time around, the Texans aren’t a team people think might break through.

This time around, a great deal of people expect the Texans to win the division -- perhaps by a wide margin. Even a best-case scenario for the Titans or Jaguars might not be enough for one of them to make up the talent gap. I expect Cushing, Connor Barwin, Watt, Antonio Smith, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Chris Myers to set a tone early on and pull people along through camp and into the season.

Jaguars Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:30
AM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Mike Mularkey and his staff will provide more consistent leadership than Jack Del Rio and his staff did -- especially at the end. Del Rio liked to ride waves, but Mularkey will be level and measured in a way that lines up with general manager Gene Smith better. Del Rio had people everyone regarded as his guys -- in the locker room and even in the staff.

Mularkey is far more likely to not play favorites, to reward production and to privately reprimand guys who might not be doing things the way he wants them done. I think players will be more likely to rally around this coach as they see him avoiding the types of things that were sometimes interpreted as JDR throwing people under the bus.

One thing that might happen: Maurice Jones-Drew could be ready for a prolonged holdout. That’s what his old backfield mate, Fred Taylor, has predicted. Mularkey said this week that he doesn’t know whether the Jaguars’ star player and the NFL’s leading rusher from 2011 will show up for camp.

Although Jones-Drew has two years left on his current deal, he feels his production last season warrants more. I can understand his position because, when he finishes this contract, the team will be much more wary of his age and wear and tear. However, the team is not unreasonable to steer clear of setting such a precedent and running backs aren’t so valuable these days. Jacksonville was 5-11 with him, and I’d expect it could do the same without him. Hopefully, things will be resolved quickly. In the meantime, we’ll get a better sense of backup Rashad Jennings, who missed last year because of injuries. I think he can run effectively.

One thing we won't see: Chad Henne in line to start at quarterback. Maybe they'll end up there at some point, but the Jaguars are taking the long view with Blaine Gabbert, and one season in which the team was sold, the coach was fired, the receivers were terrible and the protection was sometimes shaky was hardly enough to make a judgment on the No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft.

The Jaguars feel Henne gives them a better backup situation. But they don’t head into camp with a sense that Henne will wind up running the huddle. It’s Gabbert’s job. Mularkey, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson were hired to effectively build Gabbert into the quarterback the team envisioned when it drafted him. Their offense and teaching methods will be geared at maximizing his chances at success.

Colts Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:00
AM ET
» NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Andrew Luck is going to draw huge interest. After the big 2011 rookie season for Cam Newton in Carolina and a solid showing by Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, expectations for highly regarded, first-year quarterbacks are likely to soar. And Luck wasn’t just the No. 1 pick in the draft, he was the guy who made the Colts move forward with a divorce from Peyton Manning and an organizational reset.

Luck is a smart, athletic quarterback who will be working under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the same coach who was in Indianapolis at the start of Manning’s career. The organization has done a lot of work trying to ensure Luck has the best possible chance at early success. Newcomers should fill at least three of the starting offensive line spots. Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne was re-signed and should be available to Luck on a lot of third downs while two new tight ends, second- and third-round picks Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, will give Luck prime options and assist in protection. Those relationships will have to develop quickly.

One thing that might happen: Special teams could make a big improvement. Although kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee are good at their jobs, the previous regime didn’t put much emphasis on special teams beyond those two legs. The top-heavy salary structure of the team didn’t allow for many veteran backups, so the core of the special teams was not as strong as those of much of the Colts’ competition.

To oversee his team’s special teams, Chuck Pagano hired Marwan Maaloof, who was a special-teams assistant in Baltimore, where both worked last season. He replaced Ray Rychleski, who didn’t fare well as Jim Caldwell’s hand-picked guy for the Colts. Bad field position was something Manning couldn't overcome. It would be nice if Luck doesn’t have to overcome it often in his first trip through the league. Constructing better special teams will be a big preseason project.

One thing we won't see: I’m not expecting top-flight coverage. The Colts' best cornerback, Jerraud Powers, will be supplemented by a cast of guys with minimal résumés. Kevin Thomas was the No. 2 guy in offseason work. Other holdovers as the team converts to more of a man scheme include Chris Rucker, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King. None of them was brought in by the previous regime as a Cover 2 guy, a player who would play a lot of man.

The team also has brought in several low-cost outsiders: Cassius Vaughn (via trade with Denver), DJ Johnson (in a trade from Philadelphia), Justin King (as a veteran free agent), Korey Lindsey (as a waiver claim), and Antonio Fenelus and Buddy Jackson (undrafted rookies).

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider