Eight in the Box: Returning from injury

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at key players for each AFC South team who are coming back from injuries:

Houston Texans: There isn’t an easy, obvious fit here. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing is crucial, but all indications are he’s already largely back from the torn ACL he suffered early last season and will be good to go for training camp. Receiver DeVier Posey will be lucky if he makes it back by midseason from a torn Achilles, and they aren’t counting on him for 2013. Brooks Reed had groin surgery and Daryl Sharpton is still recovering from a hip operation. But the most uncertainty seems to involve right tackle Derek Newton. The Texans drafted Brennan Williams in the third round to have a viable alternative to a guy who had serious knee surgery after the season.

Indianapolis Colts: Josh Chapman was a fifth-round pick in 2012, available there because he was recovering from a serious knee injury. Some Colts fans, while they clearly wanted Chapman healthy and on the field, turned his absence into a bit of a punch line regarding the degree of hope being pinned on the nose tackle by some optimists: “Oh, Josh Chapman will fix that when he’s back.” Well he’s back now, working as the starting nose tackle, a position where the team has some depth with guys who have played the spot in a 3-4 front. Chapman can offer a nice boost to a defensive front if he is recovered and durable.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is likely to be the team’s top offensive weapon again, provided he makes it all the way back from a serious Lisfranc injury in his right foot that cost him 10 games last season and ultimately required surgery. His extensive rehabilitation is ongoing. This week at OTAs, The Florida Times-Union reported he was running 30-yard dashes at three-quarter speed. "Lately it's been one day on, a day off, two days on, a day off -- it's part of the process," he said. "I'm closer than I think. I just want to take my time and make sure we do it the right way." The Jags need his production. He needs a big year because he's in the final year of his deal.

Tennessee Titans: Right tackle David Stewart broke his right leg in Week 13 against Houston. He’s expected to be fine for camp, and perhaps even the team’s June OTAs and minicamp, but he said recently at a team event that he still had a little bit to go. He’s been a durable guy for them. But they took a look at Eric Winston after the draft. Such a visit can mean nothing, or it can mean they would be willing to put Stewart into a competitive situation. I rank Stewart ahead of middle linebacker Colin McCarthy because the team can be OK with Greg Jones or Moise Fokou as a run-down middle linebacker. If Mike Otto and Byron Stingily wound up the right tackle on a largely rebuilt offensive line, it would create a bigger question mark.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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