AFC South: 2012 NFL combine primer

AFC South combine primer

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
7:11
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS — With the NFL scouting combine under way, a look at some storylines that will develop at Lucas Oil Stadium and the meeting rooms in the Indiana Convention Center.

Hello Mr. Luck: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was here briefly during Super Bowl week for a Gatorade promotion. But his podium session Friday will be viewed as the first of many times he will dissect his play at LOS, which everyone expects will become his home stadium when the Colts draft him first overall at the end of April.

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Defensive end Quinton Coples cemented his status as an elite draft prospect at the Senior Bowl.
Will the Jaguars fall in love with Quinton Coples? A year ago, virtually every analyst had the Jaguars taking defensive end Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. And that’s what they would have done if they had not jumped up with a trade to take Blaine Gabbert. Now it looks like the team will be paired with North Carolina defensive end Couples. Do the Jags develop the same affection for him that they did for Kerrigan a year ago?

Barron’s health: Mark Barron is recovering from double hernia surgery. Does the lack of field work here and at the Crimson Tide’s pro day affect his draft stock? And can that be a positive thing for the safety-needy Titans, who pick 20th and would have to consider him if he lasted that long? After Barron, the position doesn't offer a great deal in the draft.

Houston’s needs: The Texans are the least likely team in the division to add a significant outsider in free agency, because they have salary-cap issues. Their draft needs could be shaped by what happens with their own pending free agents. If Mario Williams leaves, they’ll need another outside linebacker for their 3-4. If Chris Myers gets away, center becomes an issue. But more than anyone in the division, the Texans should set up to be able to draft the best players they see. Being unpressured by a giant need is always somewhat of a relief.

Learning philosophies: Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano have been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get their house in order and lay the groundwork for their plans. We should start to learn more about their philosophy and intentions in the coming days. How far can they take a hybrid 3-4 in the first year? What will an offense under a new staff look like? And what kind of players here can make those schemes go?

The influence of Khan: Jacksonville general manager Gene Smith is now preparing for his first draft with a new boss. Shahid Khan has said he’s all in, so the Jaguars could do some significant spending in free agency before the draft arrives. If Smith was lacking in any resources before, such things should not be an issue now.

Webster’s influence: A year ago, Ruston Webster had a big influence over the Titans' draft, and it produced a very good looking class. Now Webster has been promoted to general manager. So this draft won’t only have his fingerprints on it, it’ll have his signature on it. He’s a highly respected personnel man who appears to be a steady, methodical guy who can find productive people who fit what Mike Munchak and his staff want to do.

Phillips’ opinions: In his first year as the Texans' defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips had a big influence on the Texans' draft. End J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed were giant contributors in their rookie seasons. The Texans showed great defensive depth, but can still stock up help at every level of the defense. Can Phillips help general manager Rick Smith and the front office tab a few more top-flight contributors?

Thin spots: Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says he sees safety as the thinnest overall position and offensive line as less than stellar. That’s bad for Tennessee and Indianapolis as both teams need help at both spots. That’s good for Houston and Jacksonville, which did good work filling safety spots in 2011 and won’t have a lot of offensive line work, though the Jaguars' pass protection needs to improve.

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