AFC South: Three things

Three things: Titans at Seahawks

August, 11, 2012
Three things to pay special attention to in Titans at Seahawks tonight:

The quarterbacks, of course: In my thinking, Matt Hasselbeck won’t alter his standing much unless he’s bad in his starting stint against his former team. It’s Jake Locker who has more to gain in this circumstance -- he needs to show huddle command, accuracy and move the team well if he finds the offense in the red zone or a two-minute drill situation. Watch if he’s able to deliver short stuff to maximize the chances of the pass-catcher to turn and go, and if he throws as well to the left as to the right.

Tommie Campbell: He’s kind of in place and unquestioned as the third cornerback so far, and it’s good that the team feels confident in him. But we need to see the Titans in nickel, with Alterraun Verner shifted inside and Campbell taking his place playing with confidence, making good decisions and sticking with receivers or following his zone rules. Tied to that, do we see any of the guys behind him -- Terrence Wheatley, Coty Sensabaugh, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Mouton -- play well enough to be considered to be putting pressure on him.

Who rushes well? Coaches have downplayed the meaning of Pannel Egboh working ahead of Derrick Morgan with the starters. Morgan needs to play well in preseason chances and show he should be an unquestioned starter. Egboh’s in good shape, but translating practice success into games is a significant jump. Dave Ball won’t play, so rookie Scott Solomon and veterans Leger Douzable and Keyunta Dawson have chances to separate themselves for the fourth spot at defensive end.

Three things: Bears-Titans

August, 27, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Titans against the Bears at LP Field, where kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT.

The Titans need some plays from receivers. Through two games they’ve been without Kenny Britt and he won’t play tonight either. Their other top four -- Nate Washington, Justin Gage, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani -- don’t have a play of more than 28 yards. Gage doesn’t have a catch and Washington has only one. Kevin Curtis was just added yesterday, so odds are he doesn’t play. Matt Hasselbeck may key on Jared Cook, but he’s got to develop some feel with receivers too. Playing beyond the half will afford that chance. Red zone efficiency is an area that can improve.

The running backs will be led, again, by Jamie Harper. With Chris Johnson holding out and Javon Ringer (hip) hurt, the Titans will still be looking to run. Harper made great strides from his first game to his second. Now he’s got a great chance to give the team even further assurance that if Johnson’s not around, he can be the alternative to Ringer on offense.

Defensive end depth will have a chance to make an impression. The Titans want to be bigger there, but with the injured Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones they lose their top big ends. Pannel Egboh (6-6, 287) will have a tough time making the roster because there is little room. But he was good last week and will probably have a chance to impress again. If you don’t see him much it means they hope to get him on the practice squad.

Three things: Texans-49ers

August, 27, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Texans against the 49ers at Candlestick Park, where kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Mario Williams’ giant preseason spotlight will glare again. People are being a little crazy in wanting to give a thumbs down so quickly to his transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4. He’s still getting used to standing up. Look to see if he can be disruptive against Alex Smith and the 49ers, not just with sacks, pressures and hits, but with tackles of running backs and batted balls. Even a zero of a night won’t mean it’s time for panic. But it’d be good if it’s not a zero of a night.

Run defense, particularly up the middle, was an issue a week ago against New Orleans. Houston needs to show its new defensive front can stop a back like Frank Gore as he attempts to find yards between the tackles. Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans might not be on the field, but Daryl Sharpton is a talented replacement and if he’s in the lineup it won’t be a sufficient excuse for any failures against the run.

The offense moved the ball very well last week and will simply be looking to sustain things. Arian Foster should get a fair share of carries, with Derrick Ward or Ben Tate also getting a few touches with the first team as it works into the third quarter. Matt Schaub will continue to work the Texans play-action and bootleg passing game. But my biggest issue would be making sure the front liners make it out of California healthy.

Three things: Jaguars-Bills

August, 27, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s Jaguars-Bills preseason game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.

Jack Del Rio has said David Garrard’s his starter at quarterback. But if he’s bad in this game and rookie Blaine Gabbert is good, there is still room for mind-changing and it will give added volume to Garrard’s critics. Garrard has said he and the Jaguars need to drive to touchdowns and show some rhythm and tempo on offense. He won’t have Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield, Zach Miller available to catch passes or Eben Britton to block for him at right tackle. It’s a situation where a reliable veteran should ease any concerns. Can he?

The pass rush did OK last week but has only one sack in the preseason. Now one of the most effective rushers, Jeremy Mincey, is out with a concussion and Aaron Kampman also stayed home. If the front can get Buffalo quarterbacks off their spot, great. It would be good to see them get a QB to the ground as well, helping kill drives and possessions.

Young receivers will get chances. The team cut Tiquan Underwood to ensure guys like Jarett Dillard, Armon Binns, Jamar Newsome and Dontrelle Inman will get a solid look. Even if the team is set in going with Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts as the top three, it needs to see what it has beyond that.

Three things: Falcons-Jaguars

August, 19, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Jaguars against Atlanta at EverBank Field, where kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.

1. QB competition: David Garrard is set for his first preseason action, and it’s become clear that he is in a competition for the starting job with rookie Blaine Gabbert. The Falcons have an established cornerback in Dunta Robinson, but he will be out with a knee injury. Atlanta will deploy the very good up-and-comer Brent Grimes and, probably, Chris Owens. Can Garrard make some plays to Mike Thomas and Jason Hill against them? What the veteran quarterback does here won’t make or break him, but a solid performance could go a long way toward quieting demands for Gabbert.

2. What’s the pass defense look like? Aaron Kampman won’t play, but can they get a rush on Matt Ryan without him? And can the secondary, particularly corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, hold up against receivers including Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones? We’ve been wondering about Courtney Greene and Dawan Landry both being more strong safeties than free safeties. It would be good if they were challenged in coverage so we could see their skills in space.

3. Offensive line depth. It is a question mark. Right tackle Eben Britton is out. Will we see Guy Whimper or Daniel Baldridge in his place? Whoever is there may be spared going against Ray Edwards (knee) as he will be a game-time decision. Can Britton’s fill-in show himself a capable backup, or will Jacksonville come away with concerns and take a look at some veteran free agent help?

Three things: Jets-Texans

August, 15, 2011
Three things to watch for in Houston’s preseason opener against the visiting New York Jets on Monday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN.

The new 3-4 front will be on display in a game situation for the first time. Coach Gary Kubiak said starters will only go 10 to 12 plays, but it should be enough to give us a sense of how things are different in the Wade Phillips-coordinated defense. Mario Williams will stand up as a “linebacker” for the first time, but he’s still going to be at or near the line of scrimmage. Look for him to regularly find his way to the weak side and to go heavy with the bull rush from the start against D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Wayne Hunter.

Matt Leinart was labeled a “special” in the last week by Kubiak. Matt Schaub’s backup will play a lot against the Jets. Leinart looks great in practice, with solid command and a nice ball. But critics who’ve watched him regularly from close range believe he’s just a beat off in game situations. The Jets intend to play starters for the entire first quarter, so while Leinart will work with mostly second-stringers, he will get some good work against some top defensive personnel.

Meet Chris Ogbonnaya. With Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and Ben Tate all dealing with hamstring injuries, expect Derrick Ward to get the carries with the first team and Ogbonnaya to be the running back who gets the most work on the night. The team really likes him, but the four guys in front of him all have loftier pedigrees, so it will be very difficult for him to make the team.

Three things: Titans-Vikings

August, 13, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason opener for the Titans against the Vikings at LP Field, where kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Javon Ringer will work as the lead back. He’s a powerful runner the team likes and his preseason performance starting tonight could conceivably impact the leverage in the Titans vs. Chris Johnson lockout drama. The Titans are built to run it, and the passing game is typically supplementary. Can the first team run it effectively without Johnson in the backfield?

Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will be the first two quarterbacks. Does Hasselbeck smoothly run the offense and look to be in control? And how does Locker do in his first NFL game setting? His play will be heavily scrutinized to see if his accuracy and poise translate from practice to a game.

A bigger defensive front has been constructed to stop the run. So if Adrian Peterson gets some early work will we see the Titans able to slow him down? There is a lot of change on defense, so it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Jerry Gray calls the game and how middle linebacker Barrett Ruud gets the team lined up.

Three things: Colts-Rams

August, 13, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason opener for the Colts against the Rams in St. Louis, where kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

The quarterbacks will have a big opportunity starting tonight to vie for the great job of working as Peyton Manning's backup. Manning has not yet returned from May neck surgery. Curtis Painter has gotten strong reviews for his progress, and the team likes Dan Orlovsky. Can they run an efficient offense and string together any drives after failing to do much in the scrimmage last week?

Local undrafted running backs Chad Spann and Darren Evans are roster long shots. But they will likely get plenty of action against the Rams and those carries will give the team a chance to evaluate them and see if they should be in the running for a fourth slot behind Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Delone Carter.

Pat McAfee has said he expects to put roughly 80 percent of his kickoffs deep enough that they won’t be returned. Playing inside the Edward Jones Dome, does the Colts' kickoff coverage unit get any work? Or do we see the beginning of an era where not being good at it won’t matter nearly as much?