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AFC South training-camp reports

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By PFW staff

Third in a series of training-camp reports.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Training-camp site: Methodist Training Center, Houston.

Training-camp report date: July 30.

Key veteran arrivals: LB Danny Clark, TE Derek Fine, FB Justin Griffith, PK Neil Rackers, OL Wade Smith.

Key veteran departures: QB Rex Grossman, RB Ryan Moats, CB Dunta Robinson.

Drafted rookies: (1) CB Kareem Jackson; (2) Ben Tate; (3) DT Earl Mitchell; (4) LB Darryl Sharpton, Garrett Graham; (5) CB Sherrick McManis; (6) OG Shelley Smith, RS-WR Trindon Holliday; (7) WR Dorin Dickerson.

Offensive overview: The Texans' passing game is loaded with talent. QB Matt Schaub earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time in 2009 and led the NFL in passing yards (4,770). WR Andre Johnson, the NFL's receiving-yardage leader in '09 (1,569), may be the game's most complete receiver. TE Owen Daniels has very good speed but comes off a season-ending knee injury. The big concern on offense is the running game, which was ineffective in 2009. Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and rookie Ben Tate will compete for the starting RB job. The offensive line is no longer the total liability it was earlier in the franchise's early days but must improve in the run game and surrender less pass-rush pressure off the edges.

Defensive overview: After an awful start to the '09 season, the Texans' defense showed steady improvement in the final three months of the campaign. The defensive line is solid vs. the run and features a legitimate blue-chip end in Mario Williams. The LB corps is a strength, too, though it won't be as much so in the first four weeks as Brian Cushing serves a four-game for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. The secondary is the most volatile part of the defense. The Texans are very young at cornerback, with rookie Kareem Jackson starting opposite second-year pro Glover Quin. SS Bernard Pollard was a playmaker and leader after signing with Houston following the start of the '09 campaign.

Battle to watch: Foster, Slaton and Tate all will have chances to win the starting job. Foster, who impressed in OTAs, will be the first-team back to begin training camp. However, Slaton, who was limited in OTAs after neck surgery, looms as a big threat to win the job if he can stay healthy. He is the best pass catcher of the group and likely will get the most playing time in passing situations of all of the backs even if he doesn't win the starting job. Tate is third in the pecking order, but the Texans liked him enough to select him in Round Two, and a strong summer will put him in the mix for playing time.

Injury update: Daniels (knee) will be limited in training camp and the preseason. He should be ready for the season opener, however. Tate (hamstring) returned for the latter portion of offseason workouts but has some work to do to catch up to Foster and Slaton (neck), who likely will be ready for contact drills in training camp. TE-LS Joel Dreessen (shoulder, ankle) participated in offseason workouts. TE Anthony Hill (knee) is a candidate to begin the season on the PUP list.

Fantasy sleeper: WR Jacoby Jones doesn't figure to beat out Kevin Walter for a starting job, but he could be tough to keep off the field if he continues to develop. Jones, who had six of his 27 catches go for touchdowns in 2009, has very good speed and will get good matchups with opposing defenses having to contend with Johnson outside and TE Owen Daniels over the middle.

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Training-camp site: Anderson University, Anderson, Ind.

Training-camp report date: Aug. 1.

Key veteran arrivals: OG Andy Alleman, OT Adam Terry.

Key veteran departures:
DL Raheem Brock, SLB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, OG Ryan Lilja, RB Chad Simpson, QB Jim Sorgi.

Drafted rookies:
(1) DE Jerry Hughes; (2) MLB Pat Angerer; (3) CB Kevin Thomas; (4) OG Jacques McClendon; (5) TE Brody Eldridge; (7) DT Ricardo Mathews, OLB Kavell Conner, CB Ray Fisher.

Offensive overview: The Colts' time-tested, three-WR base offense under the masterful direction of four-time league MVP Peyton Manning could be more potent than ever if WR Anthony Gonzalez is able to stage a successful comeback from the knee injury that shut him down in Week One last season. Manning is on record as saying the Colts' projected WR corps featuring Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Gonzalez could be as good as the Colts' 2004 WR group that featured Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Troy Walters and helped Manning register a career-high 4,557 passing yards along with an exceptional 49-10 TD-interception ratio. There will, however, be some significant offensive changes. Clyde Christensen replaces the venerable Tom Moore as the primary play-caller; Pete Metzelaars replaces the retired Howard Mudd as the O-line coach; and former Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner replaces Christensen as the WR coach. In addition, a concerted effort will be made to feature bigger, stronger run blockers in short-yardage situations, with only C Jeff Saturday and ORT Ryan Diem assured of starting jobs on the offensive line entering training camp.

Defensive overview: Under cerebral new coordinator Larry Coyer, the Colts went from being a bend-but-don't-break defense to much more of an attacking unit that challenged offenses to make plays in '09. Coyer constantly alternated fronts and coverages to create more blitz opportunities for Pro Bowl DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and plans are in the offing to become even more diversified moving forward with packages designed to get Freeney, Mathis and 2010 first-round draft pick Jerry Hughes all on the field at the same time. The Colts' run defense is underrated, having effectively put the clamps on the Jets' and Ravens' well-regarded ground games in last year's playoffs. A major boost could come from SS Bob Sanders, the NFL Defensive MVP in 2007 who has played in only eight games the past two seasons due to injuries. Newly re-signed MLB Gary Brackett does a great job of directing traffic on defense and spearheading an improving LB corps also featuring Clint Session and Philip Wheeler on the flanks.  

Battle to watch: Both starting guard spots appear to be wide open entering training camp with a host of players in the mix, including incumbent ORG Kyle DeVan, former second-round draft picks Tony Ugoh and Mike Pollak, free-agent addition Andy Alleman, burly 2010 fourth-rounder Jacques McClendon and former seventh-rounders Jaime Thomas and Jamey Richard.

Injury update: Gonzalez was sidelined in the Colts' final OTA with an unspecified muscular ailment that the team said was not related to his season-ending knee injury last year, and he is expected to be ready for training camp. Freeney continues to gradually recover from his ankle injury that was so well-documented in advance of last year's Super Bowl and is not anticipating any setbacks. Surgery in early March took care of a nagging pain in Manning's neck. The biggest injury it appears the team has to worry about is the right knee injury suffered very early this offseason by third-round CB Kevin Thomas. While the Colts have yet to make it official, Thomas is expected to miss the entire season. Seventh-round DT Ricardo Mathews spent some time wearing an ankle boot in early OTAs but he is not believed to be seriously injured.

Fantasy sleeper: Don't be shocked if RB Donald Brown, a first-round draft pick in 2009 who was college football's lone 2,000-yard rusher in '08, makes a big leap after being limited by injuries as a rookie. Brown will be sharing time with Joseph Addai, but his big-play ability — he had a 72-yard catch that helped set up a TD in an early-season victory at Arizona last season — is certainly worth noting.

 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Training-camp site: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

Training-camp report date: July 29.

Key veteran arrivals: DE Aaron Kampman, LB Freddy Keiaho, LB Kirk Morrison, WR Kassim Osgood, OG Justin Smiley.

Key veteran departures: DE Reggie Hayward, DT John Henderson, WR Torry Holt, LB Clint Ingram, DT Rob Meier, OT Tra Thomas.

Drafted rookies:
(1) Tyson Alualu; (3) D'Anthony Smith; (5) Larry Hart, Austen Lane; (6) Deji Karim, Scotty McGee.

Offensive overview:
The Jaguars have lacked an identity the past two seasons under coordinator Dirk Koetter. Known for his vertical passing attacks, Koetter has not had the right personnel to air it out as much as he would like. Maurice Jones-Drew was dynamite in his first season as the featured back and remains the team's best player, but an improved supporting cast, specifically at receiver and along the offensive line, should allow Koetter the freedom to stretch the field vertically more this season. Mike Sims-Walker leads a young, talented receiving unit that shows more promise than the Jags have seen in years. Second-year pass catchers Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard are the front-runners to win the job opposite Walker. OLT Eugene Monroe and ORT Eben Britton, the club's first- and second-round picks in 2009, have a full year under their belts and give the Jaguars two athletic bookends to anchor a line that allowed QB David Garrard to be sacked 84 times the past two seasons. The interior of the line will be upgraded if OG Justin Smiley, acquired via trade with Miami, can stay healthy. In the end, though, the success of the offense ultimately depends on QB David Garrard. Garrard is coming off his second straight lackluster season, but has shown a renewed dedication this spring.

Defensive overview: After a failed experiment with a 3-4 scheme and a league-worst 14 sacks in '09, the No. 1 priority for the Jaguars this spring was to improve the personnel up front and regain the nasty reputation they once possessed. The club completely rebuilt the D-line, signing UFA DE Aaron Kampman to a multi-year deal and using its first four draft picks on linemen — DT Tyson Alualu, DT D'Anthony Smith, DE Larry Hart and DE Austen Lane. GM Gene Smith sent veteran defensive linemen John Henderson and Reggie Hayward packing, further demonstrating the team's desire to get younger and faster. The Jaguars will operate in a 4-3 base defensive package, with an emphasis on penetration off the edge, tighter coverage and more of a one-gap philosophy. Justin Durant and Russell Allen will battle for the starting weak-side linebacker job, and both safety positions — FS Reggie Nelson and SS Gerald Alexander were the two best safeties this spring — are up for grabs. In addition to their porous pass defense, which ranked 27th in yards allowed, tackling was a huge issue last season and coordinator Mel Tucker already has indicated that training camp will include live tackling drills, which have become uncommon around the league in recent years.

Battle to watch: The interior of the offensive line is in a state of flux. ORG Vince Manuwai, who the Jaguars hoped would have a big season since he's now two years removed from major knee surgery, disappointed during OTAs and was demoted to the second team. Smiley and veteran OG Kynan Forney, who along with C Brad Meester were the most impressive linemen of the spring, will fight for the starting right guard job. If Meester stumbles, however — he did not have a particularly strong '09 campaign — OLG Uche Nwaneri can move inside, with Smiley, Forney and Manuwai all competing for two starting guard spots.

Injury update: The Jaguars expect to be very healthy heading into training camp. DE Aaron Kampman will not participate fully, but that is expected as his focus is being ready for the start of the season — Kampman is recovering from a torn left ACL suffered last November when he was playing for Green Bay. Second-year TE Zach Miller spent the entire spring riding the stationary bike rehabbing a foot injury, but the Jaguars believe he will be ready by the time camp begins.

Fantasy sleeper: If Miller shows no ill effects from the foot injury that slowed him in May and June, he could become an integral part of the offense. Koetter wants to involve his tight ends more this season, and Miller is by far the biggest threat as a receiver. Some have compared his speed and athleticism to Colts TE Dallas Clark.

 

TENNESSEE TITANS

Training-camp site: Baptist Sports Park, Nashville, Tenn.

Training-camp report date: July 31.

Key veteran arrivals: DE Jason Babin, CB Tye Hill, TE Sean Ryan, QB Chris Simms, LB Will Witherspoon.

Key veteran departures: TE Alge Crumpler, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Drafted rookies: (1) DE Derrick Morgan; (3) WR Damian Williams, LB Rennie Curran; (4) CB Alterraun Verner; (5) S Robert Johnson; (6) QB Rusty Smith, S Myron Rolle; (7) WR Marc Mariani, DT David Howard.

Offensive overview: The Titans have the NFL's most explosive running game. RB Chris Johnson, who became the sixth player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season in 2009, has rare speed and can handle a heavy workload. Johnson was unhappy with his contract for much of the offseason but the Titans worked out a compromise with their star back that will give him future salary escalators up front this season. QB Vince Young, who recaptured his starting job by leading Tennessee to eight wins in 10 games to end the '09 season, is an improved, but still erratic, passer. The Titans have the ability to stretch the field, with WRs Kenny Britt and Nate Washington and TE Jared Cook all big-play threats.

Defensive overview: The Titans' defense was a major disappointment in 2009 and was porous vs. the pass. The defensive line is young and talented, but it sorely missed DT Albert Haynesworth last season. Rookie DE Derrick Morgan could start early but was limited in the offseason because of hamstring and calf injuries. Questions abound at linebacker, where longtime starting OLB Keith Bulluck remains unsigned after suffering  a knee injury in December and second-year pro Gerald McRath — expected to be one of the starters outside — will miss the first four games of the season after violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. The secondary desperately needs FS Michael Griffin to rebound after a tough '09 season and for a steady starter to emerge at left cornerback.

Battle to watch: Second-year CBs Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton, rookie Alterraun Verner and fifth-year pro Tye Hill are all competing to start on the left side. McCourty was the first-team starter for most of the offseason and could have the edge to start. Mouton has good athleticism and might have the next-best shot at starting. Verner, who has good ball skills, played well after joining the club for offseason workouts.

Injury update: Morgan (hamstring, calf) figures to be available for the beginning of training camp but needs to get up to speed quickly. Britt (knee) missed some time in offseason workouts but was practicing at the end of OTAs. OLB David Thornton (pectoral, shoulder) missed offseason workouts but is expected to be ready for camp. Hill suffered a hamstring injury in June, but the injury is not regarded as serious. CB Rod Hood, who intercepted three passes in limited work for Tennessee last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury in June.

Fantasy sleeper: Cook caught just nine passes as a rookie, but he could significantly improve in his second season. Owners in bigger leagues that must have two tight ends on the roster should consider Cook late in their drafts.

 

Other training-camp reports: AFC North | AFC East

 

You can learn even more about each team in the Volume XXV, Issue 6 print edition, with training-camp previews that address additional topics, such as juiciest story line, burning questions and fearless prediction for every team. The Issue 6 print edition goes on sale this week at retail outlets, or you can buy a PDF or print copy online at PFWstore.com.

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