Keys to Training Camp: AFC South
Posted 7/24 by Jason Wood, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
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Location: Texans Practice Facility (Houston, TX)
Dates: July 29 - August 20
Open to the public? - Limited (see website for details)
- Will the Texans ever field a cohesive line? - Last year Seth Wand
was supposed to be the answer, this year the team appears ready to turn the
role back to Chester Pitts while Wand moves inside. Victor Riley was also
added, and could figure into the tackle battle. Will Steve McKinney start
at center or Todd Washington? Somehow, some way the team must find a starting
five capable of keeping David Carr off his back.
- Can the Texans find some help for Andre Johnson? - Andre Johnson
is capable of being an elite receiver, but his effectiveness was hampered
by the lack of another thread opposite him last season. Unfortunately the
team's only addition was Jerome Mathis, a raw but intriguing rookie.
- (IDP) Sorting through the revamped LB corps - Jamie Sharper, the
team's most productive linebacker, is now in Seattle. Jay Foreman, another
2004 starter has also departed. That leaves free agent Morlon Greenwood and
incumbent OLB Kailee Wong as the lead candidates to start at inside linebacker.
Wong's move inside means that both Jason Babin and Antwan Peek will be expected
to play larger roles this season as starters on the outside. Are they up to
- (IDP) Creating a pass rush - The team needs a pass rush, but starting
defensive ends Robaire Smith and Gary Walker are not particularly noted for
getting after the quarterback. Young OLBs Jason Babin and Antwan Peek are
expected to provide the consistent pass rush off the edge that characterizes
the most successful 3-4 defenses; but they're unproven and must show progress
- (IDP) Is Phil Buchanon the missing piece? - The Texans acquired Phillip
Buchanon from the Raiders and plan to start him alongside Dunta Robinson.
Robinson is a budding star and Buchanon will be asked to play second fiddle
to Robinson in the same way he did to Charles Woodson in Oakland. The Texans
secondary needs help, and consistent play from Buchanon would go a long way
toward fixing the situation.
Location: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN)
Dates: July 28 - August 19
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Will Edgerrin report to camp? - James, the team's franchise player,
signed his one-year tender and is thus under obligation to report to camp.
He and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has hinted that he may choose not to report
because of the lack of progress on a long-term contract. Despite Peyton Manning's
record setting season a year ago, James remains an essential part of the team's
- Can Dallas Clark fill Pollard's shoes? - Marcus Pollard has been
a fixture in Indianapolis for almost a decade, and was responsible for the
lion's share of the team's production at the tight end position. Dallas Clark
is expected to flourish in the #1 role but must shed a reputation for minor
injuries in order to do so. The Colts use 2-TE sets quite often, which means
either Ben Hartsock or Ben Utecht must emerge as a legitimate second option.
- (IDP) Brackett vs. Morris - Rob Morris, the incumbent middle linebacker,
was re-signed but only to a one-year deal after he found little to no interest
from other teams. Gary Brackett, expected to replace Morris, still has the
edge entering camp according to published reports.
- (IDP) And the starting cornerbacks are? - Rookies Marlin Jackson
and Kelvin Hayden will try to unseat Donald Strickland and Jason David for
playing time. Nick Harper, also in the mix, may miss part or all of the season
depending on the outcome of his legal battles.
Location: Alltel Stadium (Jacksonville, FL)
Dates: July 29 - August 12
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Can Carl Smith reinvigorate this offense? - New OC Carl Smith is
installing a new playbook, literally. Smith and his assistants actually created
an entirely new 600 page playbook this offseason in an attempt to better utilize
the team's personnel. Smith, best known for his days as Jim Mora's offensive
coordinator in New Orleans, promises a deep passing game predicated off play
action. Early reports have been positive as QB Byron Leftwich appears excited
to make better use of the deep ball, a non-existent component of the offense
under former OC Bill Musgrave.
- Assessing Fred Taylor's health - Fred Taylor had major knee surgery,
not minor arthroscopic surgery as was initially reported. The team has been
mum about Taylor's status and his availability for the start of training camp.
Without Taylor, the team's entire offensive game plan could be in trouble
as other backs on the roster are clearly less well rounded.
- Can Reggie Williams shake off a disappointing rookie season? - Reggie
Williams was handed the starting job from Day One as a rookie, and promptly
flopped. Williams couldn't gain separation and doesn't have the natural speed
to get deep without proper technique and route running. It would be unreasonable
to write Williams off after one subpar season, but he must make major strides
in camp if the team is to make good on its plan to be more dynamic offensively.
- Pearson vs. Barnes - Mike Pearson, the incumbent at left tackle,
will have a challenge holding off rookie Khalif Barnes. Barnes was a productive
multi-year starter at Washington and is technically sound enough to start
for the uneven Pearson with a good camp.
- (IDP) Is Hayward the answer? - Reggie Hayward parlayed a solid season
as situational pass rusher in Denver into the Jaguars projected starting right
defensive end and impact pass rusher. With arguably the league's best defensive
tackle tandem in the middle, Hayward can focus on getting at the quarterback
almost exclusively; but is he enough to solve the team's most troubling defensive
Location: Baptist Sports Park (Nashville, TN)
Dates: July 30 - August 26
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Getting to know one another - A salary cap purge and disappointing
2004 season led to massive turnover on the Titans roster and it will take
some time for everyone to get acclimated. As many as seven rookies could play
major roles, as will veteran additions RB Travis Henry and DE Kyle Vanden
Bosch. Add to that new offensive coordinator Norm Chow and the Titans likely
will use the first day of camp as a meet and greet.
- The Norm Chow era begins - Norm Chow has long been considered one
of college football's preeminent offensive minds; and now he's accepted the
challenge of making his schemes work in the NFL. Chow preaches simple terminology
and a spread offensive attack that's predicated on balance and identifying
defensive mismatches. Can Chow's system success in the NFL? And does he have
the horses to make his system in Year One?
- Is McNair healthy? - Years of playing through injuries made us callused
to Steve McNair being on the injury report, but last year it finally caught
up to him as he missed time primarily recovering from a sternum injury. After
contemplating retirement, he's back to face his toughest challenge in years;
guiding a very inexperienced offense back to respectability.
- How are Henry and Brown going to split the workload - The team acquired
Travis Henry from Buffalo, giving the Titans a pair of 1,000 yard rusher capable
of leading the team's rushing attack. In Brown, the question has been about
durability as he's been explosive and shown excellent vision when not sidelined.
In Henry, one wonders why he'll be OK sharing carries with Chris Brown when
he so adamantly opposed giving up touches to Willis McGahee. In any event,
the team would ideally like to see them both get heavy workloads, and it will
be up to OC Norm Chow to find a way to make that happen while keeping everyone's
egos in check.
- Are Bennett and Calico suited to their new roles? - Drew Bennett
exploded onto the scene last year, but did so as Derrick Mason commanded attention
on the other side of the field. With Mason gone, Bennett assumes the #1 role.
Is he up to the task? Equally uncertain is whether Tyron Calico is equipped
to start after catching 20 passes in his first two seasons.
- (IDP) Where to begin? - The team is going to rely on youth defensively.
DEs Travis LaBoy and Bo Schobel, DTs Rien Long and Al Hayneworth, CBs Pacman
Jones and Andre Woolfolk, and LBs Brad Kassell and Rocky Calmus are all going
to be big parts of the team's defensive game plan. With so much inexperience,
the unit is going to struggle but most of the starters project as good players
over time. How long will it take for this group to jell?