- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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What I think they are thinking (or should be) in the four headquarters of the teams from the AFC South ...
There is a big element of the fan base and the city that think we’ve got the division in the bag before training camp even starts. We can’t buy into any of that and need to remember that ever year starts from zero and we need to build into a successful team all over again. That said, we’re confident and there is nothing wrong with that. The mindset is important, and we need to keep each other in check if it starts to slide places it shouldn’t go. During this down time, it would be gigantic if we could open negotiations with left tackle Duane Brown or outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Because if we go into the season with no extension done for Brown, Barwin or quarterback Matt Schaub, we face some serious free-agent issues when the 2012 season ends.
Maybe we lack some building blocks, but what good does it do for us to say so out loud or spend any real time lamenting it? The predictions from the outside expecting us to be terrible set us up to surprise people. On both side of the ball we will be different than we’ve been, so there is plenty of room for us to surprise. There is only so much you can do in offseason work, and we did the biggest thing: We got players to buy into the new coaching staff, the new systems and the idea of “Building the Monster.” The cornerbacks and the offensive line are our major question marks. We could be tinkering with a lot of areas of the roster through the remainder of the offseason, camp and into the season.
Outsiders looking in think our offseason has been all about the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew and the DUI for our top pick, Justin Blackmon. While we certainly would have preferred neither of those thing to happen, it’s not as if either one had a direct impact on what we did on the field and in the meeting rooms in our offseason time. We weren’t thinking about contract issues or off-the-field problems when we were learning Mike Mularkey’s methods and offense or refining Mel Tucker’s defense. The progress Blaine Gabbert’s made is very real, and if he can show it on Sundays, we’re poised to surprise a lot of people. It will be a lot of fun to do so considering how we’re perceived.
We spent an offseason dissecting what we did well and what we didn’t do so well last year in the first season of the Mike Munchak regime. And we got to spend the time installing a lot of stuff offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray didn’t even get to show us last year when everything was a post-lockout rush. We may not have added a ton to address our primary issues, but pass-rush coach Keith Millard is going to improve what we do have and Steve Hutchinson will influence the entire offensive line. The quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will energize the entire team and set a healthy tone for training camp. Beyond quarterback, it will be interesting to watch leadership emerge.