AFC South: Big Question

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How do the AFC South safety tandems rank?

[+] EnlargeBob Sanders
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireBob Sanders helps form the AFC South's most formidable safety tandem.
In a division with Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, pass defense is at a premium, and division teams need pass rush and coverage to beat those two quarterbacks.

Beyond the Colts, who are three deep with Antoine Bethea, Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt -- there are far too many questions about the safety tandems than teams can afford.

Houston is second-best, though it’s hardly cause for celebration. The Texans got excellent production and leadership out of strong safety Bernard Pollard when he joined the team and settled things down. But Eugene Wilson didn’t make it through the season. He seems less than an ideal match for Pollard, but the Texans don't have any good alternatives unless Troy Nolan, a draft pick from last year who was hurt, can step up.

Tennessee’s Chris Hope and Michael Griffin were Pro Bowlers two years ago. Last year they were quite shaky. Hope is aging and often seemed indecisive in 2009. He took some blame for not getting on Griffin enough, allowing their friendship to get in the way. Griffin admitted personal stuff was getting in the way last year. Can he compartmentalize better? That may be the biggest question for the defense.

Jacksonville has no real idea if Reggie Nelson will bounce back -- he also played some bad corner and nickel last season. Presuming he starts, Gerald Alexander is most likely the other guy, but Sean Considine and Anthony Smith are in the mix. Some scouts say all four are merely “guys,” a way of saying the team can do better. Second-year man Courtney Greene could earn a chance.

I stack them in that order, but after the Colts, it’s moveable ground based on camp and preseason performance. If things don’t get better, however, look for Manning and Schaub to shred the deep middle.
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With a lot of veterans gone, who will emerge as the Titans' leaders?

It’s been out with the old and in with the new for the Titans, which creates a lot of leadership questions for me.

[+] EnlargeAhmard Hall
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesAhmard Hall is a likely candidate to help fill the leadership void in Nashville.
Jeff Fisher has said he’s not concerned. He's confident that leadership will emerge from a locker room he likes.

But look at the group that’s gone: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Mawae and Alge Crumpler.

That’s a ton of veteran leadership. Young players regularly watched and followed those guys, who were proven over time.

There are fewer remaining candidates who are qualified to say “follow me” now.

Vince Young has said he intends to do more, and the quarterback certainly has to be among the top leaders. Chris Johnson's production makes him a leader too, except he’s not around because he’s upset about his contract.

Ahmard Hall, the Marine who’s the fullback, has an excellent work ethic and can be a spokesperson for the offense. Bo Scaife has said he wants to assume Bulluck’s mantle. The offensive line, for the first time I can remember, lacks a thoughtful veteran who can speak on all subjects and be a resource to everyone.

Defensively, Chris Hope can take on more of a leadership role, but only if his play gets back to standards. Cortland Finnegan is a guy people will follow, but he still has some maturing to do. He can get overly fired up in response to criticism. I look for the talkative and spunky linebacker Gerald McRath to be a guy who will develop a following.

None of them can force it -- they have to let it come. It’s kind of a complicated thing to develop and it has to happen naturally. So leadership will be a big story we monitor with this team this season.

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