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Summer Questions: AFC South

Andrew Richardson/USA TODAY Sports


Houston Texans

Q: How are players reacting to new head coach Bill O'Brien's style?

A: It's a more confrontational style than that of former coach Gary Kubiak. Handled the wrong way, a coach's abrasiveness can cause players to bristle, but that hasn't been the case in Houston. Rather, Texans players have said they like O'Brien's style because while demanding, it's fair. In one breath, O'Brien will scream at someone who messed up and in another pull someone aside to explain how better to accomplish what he needs to do.

When O'Brien came to Houston, the expectation was that, like some other former New England assistants, he would be a Bill Belichick clone -- uncompromising, paranoid, meticulous and determined not to offer any glimpse of personality about him or his team. That hasn't been the case in front of cameras or behind the scenes with O'Brien. He laughs and tells sarcastic jokes at news conferences. He offers colorful anecdotes at times. He has a temper but also a keen understanding of how to get along with people. Behind the scenes, he makes players feel like their opinions matter to him. He meets with groups to hear what they have to say.

"To be honest with you, from the time we've arrived here, it's been really a neat experience to get to know these players and see what they're all about," O'Brien said.

Getting to know a player can be about getting to know him both on and off the field, to know his strengths and fit the scheme to those strengths. Players appreciate that, and they'll appreciate O'Brien's style as long as it works.

-- Tania Ganguli


Indianapolis Colts

Q: Has the Colts' offensive line improved enough to allow Andrew Luck to take better advantage of his weapons at receiver and tight end?

A: The Colts can be one of the highest-scoring teams in the league if -- a big "if" at this point -- the offensive line can do its job of blocking for the running backs and protecting Luck, who has been sacked 73 times in two seasons.

The Colts departed minicamp with questions remaining about the interior of the offensive line, which was the weakest link of the group last season.

Working with the first team at one guard spot was second-round pick Jack Mewhort, who played tackle during his final season at Ohio State. The starting center is Khaled Holmes, who got on the field for a total of 12 snaps as a rookie in 2013. The other guard spot was manned by Hugh Thornton, who struggled while starting 14 games as a rookie because of a season-ending injury to Donald Thomas in Week 2.

That's a scary scenario to think about if you're Luck, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton or head coach Chuck Pagano.

The Colts shied away from pursing a starting-caliber center in the offseason. They signed Phil Costa, only to have him abruptly retire.

Thomas is expected to be ready for training camp and will join Lance Louis in competing with Mewhort for a starting guard spot.

The easy way to look at things would be to say the line might not be better, but it can't be worse than last season's group. Thornton has a year of experience, and Thomas and Louis both have started at different points in their careers. Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson continue to defend their decision to go with Holmes. Grigson believes Holmes could have played last year if he didn't fall behind his teammates after missing most of training camp with an ankle injury.

Still, there's no reason -- not yet, at least -- to think Luck won't be sacked a lot again this season.

-- Mike Wells


Jacksonville Jaguars

Q: Jaguars GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have said rookie quarterback Blake Bortles isn't going to play this season. Is that the correct decision?

A: When a team drafts a player with the third overall pick, there's an expectation that the team is getting someone who can make an immediate impact -- not someone who might not even contribute for a year. But that was the book on Bortles throughout the draft process. Most draft experts agreed he was a player who needed more time to develop to become a quality NFL starter. His lower-body mechanics need to be improved, and he needs to become a full-body thrower, instead of relying on just his arm.

Still, there are plenty who believe quarterbacks should learn under fire. That has worked many times before (Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan, for example). But there also are players who sat or played minimal snaps and went on to have success (Aaron Rodgers, Daunte Culpepper and Philip Rivers).

An additional argument for keeping Bortles on the bench -- one most overlook -- is the lack of help he'd have around him. The Jaguars still have questions at center and right guard, and while tight end Marcedes Lewis is a former Pro Bowler, they have only two proven receivers: second-year pro Ace Sanders and Cecil Shorts, who has missed 11 games in three seasons because of injuries. The Jaguars drafted Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round, but depending on rookie receivers is a dicey proposition.

The Jaguars believe Toby Gerhart is capable of being a feature back, but he has never filled that role in the NFL, and there's little experience behind him. So it's uncertain whether the Jaguars can count on a running game to take pressure off Bortles.

The Jaguars still have one of the least talented rosters in the league. Bradley and Caldwell are in the second year of a rebuild and aren't under fire. There's no reason to play a not-quite-ready Bortles. Let him develop with an eye toward 2015 and beyond.

-- Michael DiRocco


Tennessee Titans

Q: The Titans have roughly $25 million in salary-cap room. What are they going to do with it?

A: With more than $25 million in space against their adjusted cap, the Titans have superb flexibility going forward.

The number will go down before the season starts, with all 53 players counting against the cap, as opposed to the most expensive 51 who count against it now. The Titans will be in position to add a veteran or follow through on other contingencies if they suffer an injury or feel they have a hole that can be filled.

They've already talked with Jurrell Casey about a contract extension, and the defensive tackle is the top priority among the 2015 free agents-to-be.

The Titans are also in good position to re-sign others heading toward free agency if they play well and are wanted back, with Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Jake Locker among them.

Many players around the league with expiring contracts will be re-signed before they hit the market. But the Titans could be in prime position to land a team-changing veteran. Among those currently slated to become unrestricted free agents after the season are receivers Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith and Denarius Moore, defensive end Greg Hardy, outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Jason Worilds, and safety Devin McCourty.

Financial freedom to make a big move -- or moves -- will also allow the Titans to steer their draft to a quarterback if they feel Locker isn't the answer for 2015 and if they don't feel Zach Mettenberger can be the guy to take over as the long-term starter.

-- Paul Kuharsky