AFC South Capsules

By United Press International  |  Sept. 3, 2002 at 5:56 PM
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Capsule summaries from the AFC South

Houston Texans

Coach: Dom Capers has been through the whole expansion thing before. He was the first coach of the Carolina Panthers and led them to the NFC championship game in their second year of existence in 1996. A defensive-minded coach, Capers had plenty of input into building the roster. Chris Palmer, who was the first coach of the new Cleveland Browns, will serve as offensive coordinator and Vic Fangio will be the defensive coordinator, the same role he occupied under Capers in Carolina.

Key players: RB James Allen, OT Tony Boselli, WR Corey Bradford, QB David Carr, CB Marcus Coleman, CB Aaron Glenn, C Steve McKinney, LB Jamie Sharper, DT Gary Walker, LB Kailee Wong, OT Ryan Young.

Quarterback: Used the first pick in the draft to take David Carr, who they hope will be the franchise quarterback for years to come. His delivery is a little sidearm, but he has great arm strength and showed the ability to use touch in college. Carr will be the opening day starter and may face some tough days, but veteran Kent Graham was signed as a mentor for Carr and could step in if needed.

Running backs: James Allen, a former 1,000-yard rusher for Chicago, should open the season as the starter. Allen lacks speed, but has good vision and can catch the ball out of the backfield. However, he is more of a stopgap option than a franchise back. Rookie Jonathan Wells could see some significant time in the backfield at some point during the season.

Receivers: Jabar Gaffney was the first pick in the second round and the Texans hope he and Carr will develop chemistry. Gaffney has good size and speed, but will need to learn a pro-style offense and try to change the luck of recent receivers from Florida. Ex-Packer Cory Bradford should start on the other side and Ron Rutledge will be the tight end.

Offensive line: The key will be the health of Tony Boselli and Ryan Young - the bookend tackles taken in the expansion draft to protect Carr. However, both will not be ready for the start of the season. Boselli is recovering from shoulder surgery and Young underwent groin surgery. Jimmy Herndon and rookie Chester Pitts will fill in at the tackle positions. Steve McKinney starts at center after spending four years with Indianapolis at guard. McKinney will be flanked by guards Ryan Schau and Fred Weary.

Defensive line: The Texans got two starting defensive tackles in former Jaguars Gary Walker and Seth Payne in the expansion draft. Walker played well last year, but suffered an injury in the offseason which he needs to recover from. Payne is versatile and can make some plays in the 3-4 scheme. Jerry DeLoach will occupy the middle, while rookies Charles Hill and Howard Green battle for playing time.

Linebackers: Jamie Sharper had been looked at as the other linebacker in Baltimore, but has a ton of ability and will be the key to the Texans' run defense. Kailee Wong, Jay Foreman and Greg Jones will round out the linebacking corps. Keith Mitchell came over from New Orleans and could make an impact with this group.

Secondary: Aaron Glenn is a premier cover corner because of his tremendous speed, but does not have great size. Marcus Coleman has the size that Glenn lacks, but needs to rebound after looking a bit disinterested last season. At safety, Matt Stevens is smart while Kevin Williams will look to stick with his fourth team.

Special teams: Kicker Kris Brown comes to Houston after a nightmarish season in Pittsburgh where he missed 14 field goal attempts. Jermaine Lewis may be one of the team's best weapons on kick and punt returns.

Prediction: Capers won seven games in his inaugural season in Carolina, but five wins seems to be a realistic goal with Houston. Carr's progress will be more important than wins and losses.

Indianapolis Colts

Coach: Tony Dungy joins Indianapolis after six years as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he led them to four playoff appearances while compiling a 54-42 regular season record. Dungy was the most successful coach in Tampa Bay history, guiding the Bucs to the NFC championship game in 1999. Ron Meeks was brought over from St. Louis to serve as defensive coordinator, but will get input from the defensive minded Dungy. Tom Moore will be the offensive coordinator for the fourth straight season.

2001 season: Finished fourth in the AFC East with a 6-10 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Major adds: DT James Cannida, CB Walt Harris, QB Brock Huard, WR Qadry Ismail.

Major losses: CB Jeff Burris, TE Ken Dilger, G Steve McKinney, G Larry Moore.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, combining a strong, accurate arm with great touch, vision, play-faking ability, and intelligence. Threw for over 4,000 yards for the third straight season with 26 touchdown passes, and he even ran for four scores. However, Manning also threw a career-high 23 interceptions and tried to do too much on his own. He will look to cut down on his number of interceptions while utilizing all the weapons at his disposal. Brock Huard will assume the role as Manning's backup, but may not see much work. Manning has not missed a start in his four year career.

Running backs: Two-time NFL rushing leader Edgerrin James will return after playing in only six games last season before being forced to the sideline by a torn ACL in his left knee. James had rushed for over 1,500 yards in his first two seasons and fits in well with Moore's offense as a pass catcher, evidenced by his two seasons of over 60 receptions. If James should be slow to recover, the Colts could be in trouble. Dominic Rhodes filled in admirably for James last season, rushing for 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. Benjamin Gay will now back up James.

Receivers: Marvin Harrison is one of the NFL's top five receivers and is Manning's security blanket. Over the past three seasons, Harrison has caught 326 passes for 4,600 yards and 41 touchdowns. He should continue to flourish this season and will be helped by the addition of veteran Qadry Ismail at the other wide receiver spot. Second-year player Reggie Wayne will be used in three wideout sets. After a career year last season in which he had eight touchdowns, Marcus Pollard will become the full-time tight end with the departure of Ken Dilger and will have to do more blocking than he has in the past.

Offensive line: The anchor of this unit is left tackle Tarik Glenn, who is a strong protector of Manning's blind side. Adam Meadows occupies the other tackle position and veteran Jeff Saturday remains at center. Both guard spots were left vacant after free agent departures of Steve McKinney and Larry Moore. Drafted Ryan Diem to take one spot and veteran Waverly Jackson will fill the other. Jim Pyne was brought in as a fallback option at either guard position or center.

Defensive line: Last season the Colts defense ranked last in the league and surrendered over 30 points per game. Dungy hopes to change the face of this unit with speed. First-round pick Dwight Freeney has just that and will use it to rush the passer from one end while Chad Bratzke starts at the other end. In the middle, rookie Larry Tripplett and veteran Ellis Johnson are undersized, but have the speed which Dungy wants. The hope is more pressure from the line will take pressure off the inexperienced secondary.

Linebackers: Mike Peterson was the team's leading tackler last season before an injury ended his season. If he comes back strong, his nose for the ball should allow him to once again use his speed to make a lot of tackles. Rob Morris patrols the middle but needs to stay healthy and develop more quickly than he has so far or Sam Sword may take the job. Marcus Washington can rush the passer, but needs to improve his coverage ability.

Secondary: Very weak last season as the defense allowed a league-high 486 points. Walt Harris should be an upgrade over Jeff Burris at one corner spot, but David Macklin needs to improve on the other side. The safeties, Idrees Bashir and Cory Bird, are young and very quick. Bashir started as a rookie and should improve now that he has a year under his belt. The new "Cover 2" scheme should help cut down on big plays allowed.

Special teams: Mike Vanderjagt is the most accurate kicker in NFL history and can make kicks from outside 50 yards. Hunter Smith had a 44.5 gross punting average last year and should be helped with improved coverage. Smith has a strong leg, but in the past has outkicked his coverage.

Prediction: With Dungy on board to help the defense and an already potent offense, the Colts should at least make the playoffs and a trip to the Super Bowl is not out of the question.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach: Tom Coughlin was the first coach of the Jaguars and led the team to the AFC championship game in the franchise's second season. Since then, Jacksonville has made one other appearance in the AFC title game and four playoff appearences in all. Coughlin has compiled a 62-50 record in his time with Jacksonville and also serves as the team's offensive coordinator. John Pease takes over as defensive coordinator and will have to rebuild a unit that lost six starters from last year's squad.

2001 season: Finished with a 6-10 record and tied for last place in the AFC Central.

Major adds: TE Pete Mitchell, G Chris Naeole, WR Darnay Scott, WR Bobby Shaw.

Major losses: CB Aaron Beasley, OT Tony Boselli, LB Kevin Hardy, WR Keenan McCardell.

Quarterback: Mark Brunell has been the starting quarterback for the Jaguars since he joined the expansion franchise and, except for injury, is the only starter the team has ever known. Very mobile and has a strong arm, but a lack of protection led to 57 sacks last season. Rookie David Garrard is athletic and has a strong arm, but will need time to develop as a backup.

Running back: Fred Taylor is one of the most productive backs in the NFL when healthy. However, he has a history of injuries and needs to stay healthy in order for Jacksonville to have any

hope of success this season. Stacey Mack ran well filling in, but didn't provide the big play ability of Taylor. Detron Smith will start at fullback and is a powerful blocker.

Receivers: In the brief history of the franchise, the Jaguars had two of the better starting receivers in the NFL with Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, but McCardell is now in Tampa Bay and Smith is threatening to sit out the entire season unless he and the team can agree to a deal. Darney Scott has a ton of talent, but has never proven to be a first option receiver. Bobby Shaw comes over from Pittsburgh and has shown the ability to make some big plays. Patrick Johnson will start on the other side until Smith comes back, but has not shown any consistency in his first four years in the league. Kyle Brady will be at tight end, but is needed to block to cover up some deficiencies on the offensive line.

Offensive line: Last season the Jaguars allowed 57 sacks. This year, the Jaguars have shaken up the line and moved players around. John Wade will start in the middle and try to avoid the injuries which have slowed his progress thus far. Chris Naeole will try to play to the level of a former first-round pick at one guard and Brad Meester will be at the other. Maurice Williams played well last season at tackle. Zach Weigert moves to tackle from guard if rookie Mike Pearson, the team's second-round pick, is unable to win a starting job.

Defensive line: The only starter to return from last season is defensive end Tony Brackens, but he may miss the season due to injury. If that is the case, defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and rookie John Henderson will need to step up and provide some pressure up the middle. Veteran Marco Coleman will provide some pass rush off the end, but is not a Brackens type of playmaker. Stalin Colinet and Paul Spicer provide depth.

Linebackers: Will start three unproven commodities at linebacker this season. T.J. Slaughter is a promising hitter, but suffered an injury in the preseason and is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season. Middle linebacker Wali Rainer was acquired from Cleveland and is known more for his toughness than his speed. On the other side, Danny Clark and Eric Westmoreland will battle for the starting job.

Secondary: Need consistent play from cornerback Fernando Bryant and have to have someone step up on the other side. Jason Craft and Kilwaukee Thomas have speed, but lack size, while Ike Charlton needs to stay healthy. At safety, Donovin Darius is a big hitter and supports the run, but coverage is not his strong suit. Either Ainsley Battles or Marlon McCree will start at free safety.

Special teams: The Jaguars hope that rookie kicker Hayden Epstein can be as consistent as Mike Hollis was before last season. Chris Hansen has a strong enough leg and will not hurt the team in the punting game. None of the return teams have any gamebreakers.

Prediction: Jacksonville is going through a rebuilding period after having to fix its salary cap problems. The best that can be expected is 8-8, but the Jaguars will probably finish with a losing record.

Tennessee Titans

Coach: Jeff Fisher enters his eighth season as coach and is the franchise leader in wins, 68, and has the second longest tenure of any NFL head coach. His teams are known for their toughness and his defense is always solid. Tennessee plays the "46" defense under Fisher and has ranked in the top 10 in rush defense for seven consecutive seasons, however the defense ranked 25th overall and last against the pass in 2001. Mike Heimerdinger enters his third season as offensive coordinator. Jim Schwartz will be the defensive coordinator for the fourth straight year, but Fisher has a lot of input.

2001 season: Finished in a tied for third in the AFC Central with a 7-9 record.

Major adds: FB Greg Comella, RB Robert Holcombe, S Lance Schulters, C Jeff Smith.

Major losses: S Blaine Bishop, LB Greg Favors, C-G Bruce Matthews, LB Eddie Robinson.

Quarterback: Steve McNair enters his eighth season after having his best year in 2001. McNair set career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and yards gained per pass. Without a typical year by Eddie George, McNair showed more leadership and took a more aggressive role in the offense. Dangerous as both a passer and a rusher, registering 414 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Veteran Neil O'Donnell is a reliable backup.

Running backs: Last season was Eddie George's worst since coming into the NFL in 1996. Fought a nagging toe injury all season and lacked his usual power and big-play ability. His long rush for the year was only 27 yards. Failed to gain 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Greg Comella takes over at fullback and should provide some catches out of the backfield.

Receivers: Derrick Mason has quickly become a very reliable target with career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Kevin Dyson will be two years removed from a major knee injury and should build on the flashes he showed last season. Frank Wycheck is one of the more dependable tight ends in the league and will be joined by Erron Kinney to make up a formidable duo down the seam.

Offensive line: With the retirement of Bruce Matthews, other players will need to step up to fill the leadership void. Brad Hopkins and Fred Miller will start at the tackle positions and each need to improve on their 2001 performance. Zach Piller and Benji Olson start at the guards with Gennaro DiNapoli occupying the center spot. Journeyman Jeff Smith was brought in as a second option at center.

Defensive line: Jevon Kearse has the talent to be one of the most dominant defensive ends in the NFL which he showed his rookie season, but last year he struggled as offensive coordinators schemed around him. Kevin Carter was brought in last year to make up one of the better end tandems in the league, but he did not play anywhere near his potential and has not played well since 1999 with St. Louis. John Thornton is coming off a shoulder injury and will be joined by veteran Henry Ford at defensive tackle until rookie first-round draft pick Albert Haynesworth is ready to step in.

Linebackers: Randall Godfrey played through injury last season and struggled at some points. Keith Bulluck takes over at one starting outside spot after seeing a lot of playing time last year. Peter Simon is on the other outside position, but rookie Rocky Calmus will see more time as the year goes on.

Secondary: Samari Rolle will now be the leader of the Tennessee secondary after the loss of safety Blaine Bishop, who was one of the better run support players in the NFL. Rolle can be a shutdown corner, but needs to play more consistently. Andre Dyson has speed, but lacks size at the other corner. Lance Schulters came over from San Francisco and replaces Bishop. Aric Morris and rookie Tank Williams compete for the starting free safety position.

Special teams: Craig Hentrich is consistently one of the better punters in the league. Kicker Joe Nedney has a strong leg, but sometimes lacks accuracy. Derrick Mason is one of the best return men in the game.

Prediction: A lot depends on the health of George and the improvement of the pass defense. The Titans should be helped by the move to an easier division and could make a serious run at the Super Bowl.

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