AFC South Preview 2015

June 26, 2015

So if the COLTS are serious Super Bowl contenders does that pretty much relegate the rest of the teams in their division to also ran status? In a word YES! The other three teams are all trying to establish/identify their Franchise QB to lead them out of perennial double digit Loss status. The best anyone in this threesome can do is hope for a sniff of a Wild Card berth. But don’t hold your breath on that account either.

The TEXANS might have the strongest overall roster in this group, but are the weakest at the QB slot. Their current idea is that bringing in BRIAN HOYER/VFA to compete with RYAN MALLETT will provide an adequate answer at the key position. I guess there is some logic that parading guys in who HC BILL O’BRIEN is familiar with will somehow help. But a real starting QB talent is a more viable option, IMO. Does TOM SAVAGE, really have pro potential? If anyone can find it O’BRIEN may be the guy, but how long might it take? Lots of questions here, but few positive, definitive answers. Clearly, for this Offense to succeed the team may need to lead the NFL again in rushing attempts as it did in 2014. ARIAN FOSTER is still a top talent, but his injury history, combined with wear on his tires could lead to a quick demise of his running skills any time now. The team had such good luck with bringing in ALFRED BLUE/RB from LSU last year that KENNY HILLIARD is this year’s RB group addition. The OL group is solid, but paper thin. URFA/GREG MANCZ/T is the major addition to this group, but he’s coming off an injury at the Shrine Game and may not be 100% for Training Camp. Look for the TEXANS to be busy claiming a few Training Camp cuts to add depth to this group. Despite the loss of ANDRE JOHNSON/WR the receiving corps is solid should a QB emerge to run the offense. Solid VFA additions were CECIL SHORTS (if he ever stays healthy) and seasoned vet NATE WASHINGTON. They also added 3 Rookies who could develop into NFL receivers in JAELEN STRONG, KEITH MUMPHERY & CAM WORTHY. DEANDRE HOPKINS/WR caught 76 balls in his second season and can be a 100-catch No.1 receiver with a good QB. Their TE corps is solid, though nothing special. Don’t hold your breath for this team to improve, or even hold onto their No. 13 rank in team scoring from last year’s 23.3 ppg.
The heart and soul of this team and only chance it has for respectability lies in the defense, which will have to dominate as its No. 7 2014 ranking indicated. Speaking of dominating, let’s mention J.J. WATT, the All-World DE, who also dabbles as a TE in the Red Zone. The biggest addition to the D could be JADEVEON CLOWNEY, who missed most of his Rookie season after requiring micro-fracture surgery. Even though his best fit would still seem to be as an Edge Rusher in a 4-3 base scheme, it’s a given that if he’s healthy DC ROMEO CRENNEL will surely find a way to get max impact from him. The team went heavy in the Draft on this side of the ball. KEVIN JOHNSON/CB should be allowed to compete for a starting job soon, and should be Nickel Corner at the very least as a Rookie. BENARDRICK McKINNEY/ILB/R could get an early shot to start next to BRIAN CUSHING, who looks formidable again barring another injury. Watch for DL/CHRIS COVINGTON/R to make some noise as he adds rotational depth to the DL unit. CRENNEL will be united with old friend VINVE WILFORK/NT/VFA whom the PATS cut the umbilical cord with after a decade. All he’ll be asked to do on the field this season is stuff the middle against the run on early downs. In the locker room he may be asked to light a professional fire under NT/LOUIS NIX who was a flat-out bust last year as a Rookie. STEVIE BROWN & RAHIM MOORE, both S, were brought in as VFA to compete in the secondary, where the waiving of trash-talking, cheap shot artist D.J. SWEARINGER was cut, in an addition by subtraction roster move. It’s a lot to ask but this unit clearly must carry the bulk of the load for he team to approach a .500 record.

GUS BRADLEY, the energetic/positive vibe HC of the JAGUARS needs to show some definitive progress in the Win column this season in his 3rd year at the helm. The team led the League in new players on their 2014 roster, and could come close again in 2015. It appears that the team had a solid Draft and was fairly aggressive in bringing in some veteran help as well.
GREG OLSON is the new OC, and he has got to find a way to produce more points on a team that finished dead last in the League scoring with measly average of 15.6 points per game. It is assumed that QB/BLAKE BORTLES will show marked improvement in his second season as a pro. The first step would be reversing his TD/INT numbers of 11/17. A healthy maturing WR group would help greatly. His 3 leading receivers last season were Rookies who all missed some time with injuries. The team clearly believes they are a viable group as evidenced by the failure to re-sign CECEL SHORTS and not signing any VFA themselves. R/RASHAD GREENE out of FSU was drafted to supplement the group. He’s neither big nor fast, but now holds just about every Seminoles receiving record up in the panhandle. The big new weapon here is at TE where JULIUS THOMAS/VFA was shown the big bucks to leave Denver. Vet TE MARCEDES LEWIS has pretty much become a blocker only at this stage of his career, though a very good one. Another key to helping BORTLES development would be to establish a more effective running game. 2014 VFA/TOBY GERHART could not find big enough holes to run through to be a difference maker. Former QB/WR DENARD ROBINSON converted to RB last season and showed flashes with 2 100+-yard running efforts. Look for R/TJ YELDON/RB to make his mark with more speed and quickness than GERHART and more power than ROBINSON. BORTLES was sacked a League high 55 times last season and lest he become the next DAVID CARR, that has to change. Yes, he held onto the ball too long many times, but the OL has to get better. GM DAVID CALDWELL demonstrated he realizes some urgency in this group by signing VFAs JERMEY PARNELL/T & STEFAN WISNEWSKI/C, as well as drafting A.J. CANN/OG in Round 3. OLSON and LUKE BUTKUS will have a fairly young OL group to work with and must get better results in 2015 for BORTLES to show development into a Franchise QB.
Defense is BRADLEY’s bailiwick and he needs to jack this unit up another notch. He was dealt a major blow when R1 Pick ER/DANTE FOWLER blew out his knee the first day of Mini-Camp in May. But all is not lost, even short term. The JAGS were the 26th Ranked Defense in most statistical categories in 2014. Some of that is clearly tied into the fact that the team gave up the ball more times (26) than it took it away (20). That minus-6 left them ranked as 25th on the League’s turnover table. See the pattern here? But even with the loss of FOWLER the team could have 4-5 new defensive starters on board. JARED ODRICK/DT, DAVON HOUSE/CB, DAN SKUTA/LB & SERGIO BROWN are VFA who will all push for starting jobs. Rookies MICHAEL BENNETT/DL & JAMES SAMPLE/S both have potential starting ability as well. There is enough talent overall to compete with the TEXANS for runner-up in the division. JAGS fans may still be skeptical but it looks like progress is being made in the talent base here, after too many years of non-productuive drafts under previous GMs.

The TITANS look like the tail of the dog this year. But if it is any consolation I like the look of this roster for a couple of seasons down the road. The big task for HC KEN WHISENHUNT is clearly to develop MARCUS MARIOTA/R/QB into a top level pro player. The tools appear to be all in place, but adjustment to an NFL playbook compared to the Oregon scheme will take some time and lots of work. MARIOTA is just the kid for the job. In the meantime it is the organization’s task to put enough talent into place around him to allow the winning to start when their new QB is ready. The other 8 draftees all look like they could find roles within the roster structure. DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM/WR/R looks to be the special project (with huge upside) for Receivers Coach SHAWN JEFFERSON while the HC works on MARIOTA. TRE McBRIDE/WR/R also looks like a nice project in the short term coming from small school program WM & MARY. His return skills may help right away. RB/DAVID COBB & FB/JALSTON FOWLER could be the starting backfield of the future as well. VFA/ANTHONY FASANO/TE looks to be a nice short term Red Zone option as does vet HAKEEM NICKS/WR who is still only 27 years old and may rebound form a lost 2014 season in Indy. JEREMIAH POUTASI/R/OL is believed to have a starting future either at G or T. OL Coach BOB BOSTAD will be charged with developing POUTASI and fellow R/C/ANDY GALLIK.
Only two Draft Picks were used in the Defense. ANGELO BLACKSON/DL had a break-out senior season at Auburn and looks like a solid fit for the DL rotation, while OLB/DEIONTREZ MOUNT flashed some serious edge-rush potential in part time duty on last season’s dominant Louisville college D. More importantly the D should be helped by VFA acquisitions like BRIAN ORAKPO/OLB, PERRISH COX/CB & Da’NORRIS SEARCY/SS. Of significance to me is the fact that all of the VFA acquisitions except FASANO and HARRRY DOUGLAS/WR are under the age of 30. That bodes well for the long term and also tells me that GM RUSTON WEBSTER understands that the future is 2016 and beyond and is acquiring talent accordingly. Patience TITANS fans and don’t give up your season ticket options when they lose 10+ games again this season. The resurgence for this team could come quite quickly, if MARIOTA is indeed the best QB prospect since a guy named LUCK, as yours truly thinks he is.