AFC South team needs

Posted March 03, 2010 @ 9:59 a.m.
Posted By PFW staff

Fifth in a series of analyses of team needs, by division.

Updated April 17, 2010 @ 9:50 p.m. ET

Houston Texans

Quarterbacks: No. 2 QB Rex Grossman could depart in free agency; if he signs elsewhere, expect head coach Gary Kubiak to sign or draft someone to back up Dan Orlovsky, a disappointment in his first season in Houston.

Running backs: Big changes are likely coming here. The Texans are expected to draft a back, and perhaps early, which is out of character for them, but the running game was a major weakness a season ago, and Kubiak believes in the importance of a balanced offense. A shoulder injury ended Steve Slaton's season prematurely, and he experienced fumbling problems, leading Kubiak to conclude he might be better-utilized in a complementary role. UFA RBs Chris Brown and Ryan Moats could be back, but neither has a serious chance at the starting job.

Receivers: TE Owen Daniels is a restricted free agent who can be retained by a one-year tender offer; expect Houston to do just that. The Texans re-signed UFA WR Kevin Walter, keeping their strong WR depth in tact.

Offensive line: Owner Bob McNair said improving the depth along the "center" of the line was necessary, and the Texans moved to address that need with the signing of Chiefs OL Wade Smith, who could start at center or guard. OLG Chester Pitts, who's coming off a season-ending knee injury, could depart in free agency.

Defensive line: The Texans will be looking to bolster their ranks at defensive tackle and would be open to adding a young, disruptive interior lineman in the draft or free agency. The versatility of DE Antonio Smith might give the Texans some options; he also can play inside effectively.

Linebackers: MLB DeMeco Ryans will be a restricted free agent in an uncapped year and likely will be given the highest tender. With Ryans and SLB Brian Cushing top-caliber playmakers, linebacker isn't a need early in the draft or in free agency, but the Texans might want to improve their depth.

Defensive backs: Adding a cornerback in free agency or the draft is a priority after Dunta Robinson signed with Atlanta. They also could use a playmaking free safety.

Special teams: The Texans have a lot to think about here. They will bring in competition for PK Kris Brown, who struggled last season. The Texans did re-sign P Matt Turk, who comes off a very good '09 season.

Summary: The Texans' most pressing need is at running back, but there is a gaping hole at cornerback, too. The good news: The Texans have fewer glaring problems to fix than in past seasons.

 

Indianapolis Colts

Quarterbacks: Four-time league MVP Peyton Manning has gone out of his way to remain in tip-top shape, but he turns 34 in late March, and the clock is ticking on his illustrious career. Curtis Painter, who struggled mightily late last season when given the opportunity to start, seems like anything more than a serviceable career backup at best. Fellow backup Jim Sorgi was released.  

Running backs: The Colts appear satisfied with hardworking Joseph Addai and promising Donald Brown, from whom they expect a lot more in his second season. But while the blocking of the offensive line might have had a lot to do with it, the team ranked last in rushing yards and 30th in average gain per rush last season, and a promising back who consistently can get to the second level might be hard to resist.

Receivers: The Colts always have believed that the more inviting targets for Manning, the merrier in their highly successful pass-happy offense, and there could be some concerns regarding former first-rounder Anthony Gonzalez, who went down for the count with a season-ending knee injury in Week One last season. The Colts would no doubt love to pick up a few more quality pass catchers like '09 rookie Austin Collie and second-year pro Pierre Garcon, who combined to do a terrific job compensating for the loss of Gonzalez in '09. The Colts are quite comfortable with their TE trio led by Pro Bowler Dallas Clark.

Offensive line: Team president Bill Polian singled out the offensive line as a major reason behind the Colts' loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. Considering the Colts' continued problems running the ball, especially in short-yardage situations, it's believed the team might begin to put more of an emphasis on drafting bigger, stronger linemen who can do a better job of run blocking. A move that nobody saw coming was the March 8 release of 2009 starting OLG Ryan Lilja. Charlie Johnson did a commendable job taking over the starting OLT role last season, but he is not considered a natural left tackle. C Jeff Saturday remains solid but will turn 35 in June. Ex-Raven OT Adam Terry certainly adds size (6-8, 335), but he never filled expectations in Baltimore. Free-agent addition Andy Alleman (6-4, 310) adds size at guard.   

Defensive line: Starting DTs Antonio Johnson and Dan Muir were both surprisingly consistent up front last season, providing an inside push that helped free up Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to make sacks from the edges, as well as doing a nice job against the run. But the Colts still could use another big, athletic tackle. It could be less of a problem if Fili Moala gets more comfortable with the team's defensive system in his second season, but there are no guarantees that will happen.The line could also use some more depth with versatile Raheem Brock not returning in 2010.

Linebackers: Polian said the re-signing of underrated UFA MLB Gary Brackett was a top priority this offseason and made good on his word, signing the Colts' defensive captain to a new five-year deal. But the Colts decided not to tender RFA LBs Tyjuan Hagler, who was the starting SLB last season before suffering a season-ending injury, and reserve Freddy Keiaho, thus making a few reinforcements who could also fortify special teams a pretty strong bet.

Defensive backs: The Colts had six RFAs in their secondary entering the offseason (starting FS Antoine Bethea; CBs Marlin Jackson, Tim Jennings and T.J. Rushing; and safeties Aaron Francisco and Melvin Bullitt) and might would have found it difficult to keep all of them (Jackson, Rushing, Jennings and Francisco were not issued tenders; Bullitt signed his one-year tender April 14). In addition, the unit has had trouble staying healthy, with starting SS Bob Sanders, who could be looking at a restructured contract, and Jackson ending the '09 season on injured reserve.

Special teams: With Adam Vinatieri failing to stay healthy in '09 and UFA Matt Stover's future looking cloudy at the age of 42, the Colts very well could consider drafting a placekicker, The team also could go out of its way to draft replacements for mediocre kick returners Chad Simpson and Rushing.

Summary: It would appear that one of the league's more solid teams needs only some tweaking here and there, with primary emphasis expected to be put on upgrading the offensive and defensive lines. But a new contract for Manning could make it more difficult for the Colts to hang on to all of their free agents — a factor that could have a direct bearing on their 2010 draft strategy.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Quarterbacks:
Jack Del Rio called David Garrard a "middle-tier quarterback" following Garrard's up-and-down 2009 campaign. The Jaguars have not drafted a QB since Byron Leftwich in '03 and likely will be on the lookout for Garrard's eventual replacement.

Running backs: Maurice Jones-Drew was electric in his first year as the club's bell-cow back, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Second-year RB Rashad Jennings should see more touches, and FB Greg Jones is one of the league's better blockers.

Receivers: This group was much improved in '09. Mike Sims-Walker had a breakout year, and Mike Thomas made strong contributions as a rookie. Torry Holt was released, but Troy Williamson and Jarett Dillard return from injury. Marcedes Lewis is a very good blocking tight end.

Offensive line: OTs Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton will only get better. Vince Manuwai's knee should be back to 100 percent, and Uche Nwaneri continues to impress. The team may start to look for C Brad Meester's replacement after Meester struggled in '09.

Defensive line: DT Terrance Knighton and DT John Henderson are stout in the middle. Lack of production at defensive end is the team's biggest weakness. The 14 sacks the team totaled in '09 ranked 32nd. Jacksonville doesn't currently have a legitimate pass rusher on the roster.

Linebackers: WLB Daryl Smith and MLB Justin Durant were two of the more consistent performers on defense last season. Strong-side 'backer Clint Ingram was disappointing, however, and the team will look to improve at OLB.

Defensive backs: Cornerback should be a strength if Rashean Mathis can stay healthy. Derek Cox was impressive as a rookie. Free safety is an area of concern, with Reggie Nelson having been benched toward the end of the year for poor tackling.

Special teams: PK Josh Scobee and P Adam Podlesh are both reliable performers despite down years in '09. Thomas showed nice flashes in the return game.

Summary: After improving the talent level on offense in the '09 draft, Jacksonville must upgrade personnel in several areas on "D." A dynamic pass rusher at end is the No. 1 priority, but improvements also must be made at outside linebacker and safety.

 

Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks: The Titans will have to decide whether to pay Kerry Collins starter's money to be their No. 2 quarterback. If that doesn't appeal to them, they will have to find a veteran passer to back up Vince Young, who has yet to prove he can string two good seasons together on the professional level.

Running backs: The Titans are set here in an uncapped year. Top backup LenDale White likely will be retained with a restricted free-agent tender, third-string back Javon Ringer is waiting in the wings to eventually replace White, and first-stringer Chris Johnson is coming off a record-breaking season.

Receivers: The Titans could add a receiver in free agency or the draft. They looked at ex-Jaguars WR Matt Jones before he signed with the Bengals, and the WR corps, while much improved over past seasons, still needs some playmaking punch. The Titans have good TE depth.

Offensive line: At age 39, Pro Bowl C Kevin Mawae is poised to test free agency, and the Titans appear set to move Leroy Harris or Eugene Amano into his starting spot. The Titans re-signed Amano, their starter at left guard the last two seasons, before the start of free agency.

Defensive line: The Titans are looking for better play out of their defensive ends after a disappointing 2009 season. UFA DE Kyle Vanden Bosch signed with Detroit and UFA DE Jevon Kearse will not be retained. The Titans have good DT depth. RFA Tony Brown will likely be retained.

Linebackers: The big question is whether the Titans will re-sign OLB Keith Bulluck, who is coming off a knee injury. While Bulluck is getting up in age, he's still an effective starter when healthy. The addition of ex-Eagles OLB Will Witherspoon bolsters Tennessee's LB depth; he'll likely play outside, but he can also play inside.

Defensive backs: The lack of quality CB depth hurt the Titans early last season, and Tennessee must consider adding at least one corner, if not more, to the existing group. UFA Nick Harper will test free agency; if he signs elsewhere, the Titans may need to find another starter-caliber corner to play opposite of Cortland Finnegan. The Titans re-signed UFA CB Rod Hood, who's capable ofstarting.

Special teams: The Titans got little out of their return game in 2009 and must address the problem in the offseason. Longtime P Craig Hentrich elected to retire, and ex-Bronco Brett Kern is the favorite to replace him.

Summary: The Titans' major needs are on the defensive side of the ball, and adding playmakers throughout the front seven should be a priority. However, cornerback is also a position needing to be bolstered, too — the Titans simply couldn't match up with dynamic passing games when their reserve corners were pressed into service because of injuries last season.

 

NFC South team needs | AFC North team needs | NFC West team needs | AFC East team needs

 

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