AFC South: Zach Diles
|Bill Baptist/Getty Images|
|A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.|
Training camp site: Houston, Texas
Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.
Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson
Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.
Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.
Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.
The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.
Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.
Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.
Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.
|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
|Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.|
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.
Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.
The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.
Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.
With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.
Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.
It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.
Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.
The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.
|AP Photo/David J. Phillip|
|The Texans' Xavier Adibi is putting on weight in a bid to beat out Zach Diles and Cato June for the starting weakside linebacker's job.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Weakside linebacker might be the most intriguing Houston Texans' training camp position battle.
Second-year man Xavier Adibi, recovering Zach Diles and newcomer Cato June are expected to slug it out for the third starting spot alongside middle man DeMeco Ryans and rookie strongside linebacker Brian Cushing.
"With Adibi and Zach and Cato, we're as strong at that position as we've been since I've been here," coach Gary Kubiak said.
"That position group will have a heck of a battle this training camp," GM Rick Smith said. "That's one I'm looking forward to watching."
Getting more rugged and durable at linebacker was one of the team's offseason priorities.
Adibi was slow to get involved last season and played in just seven games. Diles broke his left tibia in a practice halfway through the season and was lost for the year. Kevin Bentley, Morlon Greenwood and Chaun Thompson filled in. Greenwood's gone now.
At 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds, Cushing was drafted 15th overall to help beef up the Texans at linebacker. He's a versatile player who should be able to rush and cover.
When I heard about Adibi bulking up -- he said he's gone from 220 to 240 -- I recalled comments Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio made about steady weight gain for young players. Del Rio said when he was an assistant at Baltimore, the plan was for Ray Lewis to gain five pounds a year.
Maybe Adibi will be good to go with a 20-pound leap. Everyone in Houston said it's not a concern. But maybe it will be something we have to monitor.
"I was making sure I didn't put on too much, I didn't want to get to the 245, 250 range," Adibi said. "This is weight that I need just to get through the regular season playing 17 weeks of the NFL. That's one of my goals, make it through the season 100 percent, not miss any games.
"This is what I had to do and I feel good. I feel real good."
Two things that should benefit all the linebackers: A healthy Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle and the addition of veteran lineman Antonio Smith, who will start at end but could kick inside in certain situations.
"Sometimes a linebacker is only as good as his D tackles," Adibi said. "They're keeping blocks off you, they are shooting upfield, they are penetrating, they are causing havoc and that just lets the linebackers roam and make plays."