Mel Kiper’s summer audits of the AFC South give us a lot to consider. Here’s a sampling with some of my thoughts.
Kiper: “… (The) zone-blocking scheme the Texans have made the centerpiece of this offense -- so much emanates from them executing well here -- keeping (Chris) Myers around means a lot. No, he wasn't "added" per se, but he will add to the stability. If this team can't run the ball, the play-action, easy-read system it runs takes a big hit, so retaining Myers might be one of the more underrated moves in the division …
“Last year, Brooks Reed stepped in for the injured Mario Williams and showed some things, but (Whitney) Mercilus has even more talent and athleticism. Elsewhere, DeVier Posey could go either way as a third-round pick, but he can get down the field and make plays. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him get first-team reps. Keshawn Martin is another receiver to watch. He simply knows how to create space.”
“Is the offense actually showing signs of cracking just as the defense really comes into its own? My guess is teams will stack hard this year against the run and show less fear of the play-action. It'll be up to (Matt) Schaub and personnel to prove they can still be dangerous.”
Next year's help, now: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington St.
Kuharsky: The question about the offense keeping pace with the defense is a good one. Gary Kubiak can be a great play-caller, and will need to really show an understanding of what his young guys can, and cannot, do as contributors.
If Posey and Martin pan out, the Texans could be in position to look for something other than another receiver in the draft. Offensive line and outside linebacker could be positions of need based on what they could lose in free agency.
Kiper: “The Colts didn't just wait to see what they had in (Andrew) Luck, they went for every possible option to help him transition quickly, and build chemistry with guys he could be throwing the ball to for years …
“(Bruce Arians’) tenure in Pittsburgh was defined by flexibility. The Steelers would pound the ball if they liked the numbers game up front, and they would turn into a spread-out attack if they liked the matchups in the passing game. In Luck, Arians has a QB capable of executing anything he wants to do. I'd expect the Colts not to be vanilla, but actually to come out and show a lot of looks, and be flexible …
“Expect a ton of sub packages and different looks as they try to create pressure to hide a weak secondary.”
Next year's help, now: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Kuharsky: The question about a flexible offense that shows a lot of looks is how a patchwork offensive line will function as part of it all. The team is counting on three veteran additions -- center Samson Satele, guard Mike McGlynn, and right tackle Winston Justice to jell and help make the Colts a more physical team.
We must resist getting carried away with the 3-4 talk and concentrate more on the hybrid talk on defense. In nickel situations, I expect the Colts will typically look like a 4-3.
Kiper: “Justin Blackmon arrives from Oklahoma State with a reputation as a sterling route-runner and the kind of player who can make a QB look good from the way he can both get down the field and also work back to the ball and fight for it when it's in the air. From Dallas, Laurent Robinson comes over with some question marks, but also the hope that the breakout we saw in the second half of 2011 was reflective of talent, not just opportunity …”
“On defense, Andre Branch could be a decent find at defensive end. He has the size to hold up in the 4-3, and could start immediately. And we know the punting game is secure -- after all, the Jags went with a punter in the third round …
“No way around it; this is all about the development of (Blaine) Gabbert. Again, with Gabbert, it's not a question of arm talent, or even the ability to make the reads. He simply has to be able to manipulate the pocket and get more out of plays when there's even a hint of pressure. Too often last year, any kind of disruption along the line of scrimmage simply destroyed his down-the-field focus. He'd lose his vision and the play would break down.
Next year's help, now: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Kuharsky: Gabbert and the Jaguars are likely sick of hearing the pocket presence question. But there is no way to look back on his rookie season and not ask questions about his ability to handle what’s going on around him as he tries to assess what’s going on downfield.
Expect a lot of safe, short stuff early in games to help build his confidence and develop some rhythm.
Kiper: “Will (Chris) Johnson dance less and get up the field and to the hole quicker? He better, because given what the Titans have, there's no way this team should be the 31st-ranked run offense like they were in 2011. In some ways, it's amazing they accomplished what they did given how little they got from the run game …
“A healthy (Matt) Hasselbeck actually guarantees you a certain level of return on offense, and if you feel like you can be the best team in your division, why take a chance? Locker isn't going anywhere, and as much as him not starting may not bode well for his NFL ceiling, it's not a huge surprise based on how I viewed him coming out of Washington. He has a ton of talent, a big arm and a lot of athletic ability, but he really does need time and certainly a lot of work on accuracy.
“Tennessee should make a decision based on winning now, not on proving how smart it was in the draft. Because the Titans have a chance to be a playoff team.”
Next year's help, now: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi St.
Kuharsky: Kiper takes an uncommon stance with his praise of the defensive line. The Wimbley addition looks good, and Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey were great rookies. Can they duplicate or build on their first-year performances? Derrick Morgan, Sen’Derrick Marks and Shaun Smith all carry big question marks into camp.
The winning now idea is significant and will be a factor in sorting out the quarterback decision. It’s simply too difficult to decide to let a kid take his lumps if you don’t think he’ll offer the best chance to win.