AFC South: 2012 One big question

Jaguars: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
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How much better can quarterback Blaine Gabbert be for the Jacksonville Jaguars?

The prevailing national opinion is that, because of how bad Gabbert looked for most of his rookie season, he can’t be a capable NFL quarterback.

But a slew of quality NFL signal-callers played poorly in their first seasons. Gabbert has all sort of new resources, starting with a new coaching staff hired largely because of experience developing young quarterbacks. He got one receiver, Laurent Robinson, in free agency and another, Justin Blackmon, with the fifth pick in the draft. The defense will be healthy, and second-round draft pick Andre Branch, an end from Clemson, could prove to be the final piece of a great group. A great defense is a good friend for a developing quarterback.

Gabbert was skittish at times for sure. But the jump to saying he played scared is too big for me. He’s got a great arm and can fire the ball to spots when he’s given time, and when his targets are in the right spots. He certainly can develop a better pocket presence. Will he?

General manager Gene Smith and many in the Jaguars organization have staked their reputations on Gabbert. The franchise traded up to the 10th spot in last year’s draft to select him out of Missouri. How much he can improve is likely to tell the Jaguars’ story in 2012.

Texans: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Is there sufficient leadership to replace what the Houston Texans lost?

Once they get in a huddle, the Texans won’t be looking around and thinking about how DeMeco Ryans and Eric Winston are not there. But the two players the team parted with to save money, Ryans in a trade to Philadelphia and Winston in a release, will be missed.

There was not a big enough role for Ryans in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, and the inside linebacker will move back to the middle in the Eagles’ 4-3. Even so, Ryans was probably the Texans’ best locker room voice and best example of doing things the way the team wanted things done.

Center Chris Myers re-signed with the team and is the quiet glue for the Texans’ offensive line, but Winston was the spokesman who was out front for a group that was among the best in the league last year.

Brian Cushing will need to assume more of a leadership role and Myers may need to step out front more. The Texans are a talented team that replenished the roster in the draft, but even a mostly veteran team needs quality leadership and there is no telling how that develops minus Ryans and Winston.

Colts: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Who’s playing pass defense for the Indianapolis Colts?

New coach Chuck Pagano will convert the Colts, a longtime 4-3 team, to a 3-4. He’s cited the Texans’ changeover a year ago as an example of how it can happen in one year and how the front actually gets scrambled up and can often still have the look of a 4-3.

In Year 1 for Pagano in Indianapolis, however, it’s the personnel that may dictate more of the old base front. The Colts signed a veteran nose tackle (Brandon McKinney) and a veteran end (Cory Redding), and drafted a nose tackle in fifth-rounder Josh Chapman. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be less predictable coming forward from outside linebacker positions.

The problem is in the secondary.

Indianapolis was 15th against the pass last year. But that ranking is misleading because offenses could run against the Colts and often handed off while trying to run time off the clock and preserve leads.

Antoine Bethea is a quality free safety and Jerraud Powers is a good corner. Beyond them, the Colts are thin and unproven in the defensive backfield.

They didn’t draft any defensive backs, though their initial undrafted rookie group of 15 includes five of them.

No matter how well the Colts rush out of the new front, the team needs people behind it who can cover, which is not the strong suit of the veteran addition to the group, strong safety Tom Zbikowski.

Titans: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Will the pass rush for the Tennessee Titans improve enough?

The Titans had just 28 sacks last season, and the lack of pass pressure was at the core of many of their problems.

Did they do enough to address it? They jumped to sign Kamerion Wimbley after he was let loose by the Raiders in a cost-cutting move. He should provide a boost, but I don’t know that he will single-handedly solve the problem. The Titans will start Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, who’s due to stay healthy and consistently produce. Dave Ball was re-signed to pitch in. Seventh-round pick Scott Solomon out of Rice will get chances to rush.

Tennessee is talking again about more pass rush from linebackers, particularly last year’s second-round pick, Akeem Ayers, the starter on the strong side. But the Titans have talked about linebackers in the pass rush on and off for years and never actually make it a reality.

Hopefully the coverage is good enough that the Titans are not afraid to send an extra rusher from the linebacking corps or secondary. Keith Millard was hired as a pass rush coach who will work with players from all three levels on technique for getting to the passer.

The Titans need Wimbley to be productive and Millard to be influential to make passers less comfortable against them.

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