CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies report July 25; veterans report July 30; first practice July 31; practice with San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 11 to Aug. 13; practice with New Orleans Saints on Aug. 18; camp breaks Aug. 21.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
--Solidify an offensive line with new starters at center (Nick Martin or Tony Bergstrom) and right guard (Jeff Allen): The Texans need to have a consistent starting lineup after frequently having a makeshift line last year. That affected pass protection and timing in the run blocking. A lot hinges on the healthy return of left tackle Duane Brown.
--Get rookie wide receiver Will Fuller up to speed: Fuller is the fastest player on the team, but needs work at getting off press coverage and catching the ball with his hands. He had some issues with drops at Notre Dame and needs to cure that problem. So far, he's caught the football well since being drafted in the first round.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Brock Osweiler. Backups - Brandon Weeden, Tom Savage.
Signed to a $72 million deal, Osweiler has the size and arm strength as he replaces Brian Hoyer as the Texans' starter. Weeden is a capable backup who won two games last season. Savage spent last season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and will compete with Weeden.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Lamar Miller, FB Jay Prosch. Backups - Akeem Hunt, Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Tyler Ervin.
Miller has speed and power working in his favor. Blue is a tall power back who figures into short-yardage situations. Grimes is a good third-down back. Ervin has been compared to Jamaal Charles and Darren Sproles. He's short, strong and shifty. Prosch is a big lead blocker.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter: C.J. Fiedorowicz. Backups - Anthony Denham, Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson.
Fieodrowicz is more of a blocking tight end, but has good hands. Griffin has good size and athleticism, but needs to be more consistent with his hands. Anderson is a potential find as an undrafted free agent.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong. Backups - Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Cecil Shorts, Keith Mumphery.
Hopkins is one of the top receivers in the game and coming off a Pro-Bowl season. Strong is a big possession receiver who is primed to start. Fuller is the fastest player on the roster. Miller is an intriguing converted quarterback. Shorts is productive when healthy. Mumphery is in a battle for a roster spot.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su'a-Filo, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, RT Derek Newton. Backups - LT Chris Clark, LG Oday Aboushi, RT Jeff Adams, C Tony Bergstrom, RT Kendall Lamm.
Brown is a Pro-Bowl alternate coming off a torn quadriceps. He's expected back for the first game. Su'a-Filo is entering his second season as a starter and should hold down the job despite some competition. Martin is a sure-fire rookie starter who has the early edge over Bergstrom. Allen is a gritty newcomer. Newton needs to be more consistent as a pass blocker.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: DLE J.J. Watt, NT Vince Wilfork, RDE Devon Still. Backups - LDE Jeoffrey Pagan, RDE Brandon Dunn, NT D.J. Reader, RDE Christian Covington.
Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year underwent back surgery last week and doctors say he could be ready for the season opener. No guarantees. Earlier in the year he had groin surgery and a broken hand last season. He led the NFL with 17.5 sacks, 29 tackles for losses and 50 quarterback hits. Still is a former Bengals second-round pick who has the size and strength the Texans want from a 3-4 end. Wilfork is a massive veteran nose tackle who is showing signs of slowing down, but still adds leadership and bulk as a five-time Pro-Bowl selection. Covington flashes pass-rushing skills.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB John Simon, MLB Brian Cushing, WLB Benardrick McKinney, OLB Whitney Mercilus. Backups - Jadeveon Clowney, Max Bullough, Reshard Cliett, Akeem Dent, Brian Peters.
Cushing led the team in tackles as his health and instincts improved. He's fully healthy now. McKinney flashed potential as a rookie and will start again. Simon is a hard-nosed competitor who had five sacks last season. Mercilus had a career breakthrough with a dozen sacks last season. Clowney is an enigma as a gifted former top overall pick who is frequently injured.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Johnathan Joseph, RCB Kareem Jackson, FS Andre Hal, SS Quintin Demps. Backups - CB Kevin Johnson, CB A.J. Bouye, CB Charles James, S K.J. Dillon, S Eddie Pleasant, S Lonny Ballentine, S Kenny Drummond, S Corey Moore, S Antonio Allen.
Joseph is a proven veteran who has recovered well from arthroscopic knee surgery. Jackson dealt with an ankle injury last year, but is healthy now and has put on some muscle. Johnson is an athletic, tough young corner who played well as a rookie, but is coming off offseason wrist and foot surgeries. Hal is instinctive and led the team with four interceptions. Demps is a tough tackler, but faces competition for his job from Dillon.
SPECIALISTS: K Nick Novak, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Weeks, KOR Tyler Ervin, PR Keith Mumphrey.
Lechler has the top career gross average in NFL history (47.5), and is seven-time Pro-Bowl selection. Novak is accurate, especially at shorter distance field goals, making 18 of 21 overall in his first season with the team. Weeks is a reliable Pro-Bowl long snapper who has never missed a game and was rewarded with a contract extension last year. Ervin could energize the return game.
CAMP CALENDAR: Full squad reports July 26. There will be no joint team practices this year for training camp due to Hall of Fame Game participation vs. Green Bay on Aug. 7. The lone evening practice is Aug. 2. Training camp will break on Aug. 11.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
--Consistency with the offensive line: It looks like things are shaping up at center and on the left side of the offensive line with the addition of first-round draft pick Ryan Kelly at center and the return of Jack Mewhort at left guard and Anthony Castonzo at left tackle. Kelly impressed during OTAs and minicamps. Mewhort appears to be settled in at guard after seeing some action as a right tackle earlier in his NFL career. Castonzo has been Indianapolis' best offensive lineman in recent years, but he struggled at times in 2015. As for the right side, it's a tossup right now between Hugh Thornton, Jonotthan Harrison and Denzelle Good at guard and either Joe Reitz, rookie Le'Raven Clark and Good at tackle.
--Become more aggressive on defense: New defensive coordinator Ted Monachino was brought in from Baltimore during the offseason to provide a much-needed spark to the Colts' inconsistent defensive effort. Monachino worked with head coach Chuck Pagano with the Ravens and knows that Pagano wants more production out of Indianapolis' hybrid 3-4 defensive package. A big key in that hoped-for improvement is finding more ways to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well as doing a better job of forcing turnovers and being more stingy in third-down situations.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Andrew Luck. Backups - Stephen Morris, Scott Tolzien.
Luck returns for the 2016 season and is hoping for a much healthier year than he experienced in 2015. Tolzien takes over as the primary backup with the retirement of Matt Hasselbeck and looked good during offseason workouts. He had been Aaron Rodgers' top backup in Green Bay the last couple of years.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Frank Gore. Backups - Josh Ferguson, Jordan Todman, Robert Turbin, Tyler Varga, Trey Williams.
Gore will be 33 when the 2016 season begins, but there is still plenty of gas left in the tank. He ran for 967 yards in 2015 and squeezed every possible yard out of the Colts' inconsistent offensive line. Todman and Turbin figure to be the top backups. Varga is returning after missing most of his rookie season to concussion-related issues. Ferguson is an undrafted free agent who impressed last spring.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Dwayne Allen. Backups - Jack Doyle, Darion Griswold, Mike Miller, Erik Swoope, Emil Igwenagu.
With Coby Fleener now in New Orleans, Allen is the Colts' primary tight end. He needs to stay healthy this year as injuries have slowed his development in the team's offense. When healthy, Allen can be a very productive player. Doyle should be his top backup, but could get tested by Swoope, a former college basketball player who has been on the practice squad the last two seasons.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - T.Y. Hilton, Donte' Moncrief. Backups - Daniel Althrop, Josh Boyce, Quan Bray, Phillip Dorsett, Marcus Leak, MeKale McKay, Chester Rogers, Tevaun Smith, Joshua Stangby, Brian Tyms.
The top three of Hilton, Moncrief and Dorsett could be a pretty impressive trio of receivers. Hilton has been a major force for the Colts' offense since being drafted in 2012. Moncrief continues to develop and Dorsett flashed a lot of skills as a rookie last season. He needs to come back from injury issues. After those three, though, there will be a real dogfight to see who makes the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, C Ryan Kelly, RG Hugh Thornton, RT Joe Reitz. Backups - C/G Austin Blythe, T Le'Raven Clark, G/T Denzelle Good, T Kevin Graf, G/T Joe Haeg, C/G Jonatthan Harrison, G Kitt O'Brien, G Adam Redmond, T Mitchell Van Dyk, T Jeremy Vujnovich.
The Colts should be strong on the left side of the offensive line with the return of Castonzo and Mewhort along with the addition of Kelly. Thornton missed all of the OTAs and minicamp work last spring as he rehabbed from offseason surgery. He has lost weight since last season and could wind up earning the starting job. Reitz should be set at right tackle. Good and Harrison will push for playing time as backups along with impressive rookies Haeg and Clark. Blythe, another rookie, could also get a long look as a top backup.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Kendall Langford, DT Arthur Jones, NT David Parry. Backups - T Henry Anderson, E Sterling Bailey, NT Zach Kerr, T Ricky Lumpkin, T T.Y. McGill, T Kelcy Quarles, T Hassan Ridgeway, T Delvon Simmons.
Langford and Perry are the sure bets to be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins. Jones has battled injuries since coming to Indianapolis and has yet to play a full season with the team. Anderson was impressive as a rookie starter last year, but is recovering from a knee injury suffered against Denver last year. Kerr, McGill, and Quarles all saw extensive playing time in 2015. Ridgeway is a rookie who could push for playing time.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Robert Mathis, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, ILB Sio Moore, OLB Erik Walden. Backups - OLB Trevor Bates, OLB Trent Cole, ILB Amarlo Herrera, ILB Nate Irving, ILB Edwin Jackson, OLB Curt Maggitt, ILB Antonio Morrison, OLB Earl Okine, ILB Junior Sylvestre, OLB Ron Thompson.
Lots of questions for the Colts linebackers heading into training camp. Mathis started to show his old form towards the end of last season as he returned from a torn Achilles. Jackson had a good year in 2015, but age is a major factor. Moore is expected to take over for Jerrell Freeman, now with the Bears. Walden probably had his best season with Indianapolis last year. Cole and Irving are both battle-tested veterans who can step in and play. Okine is a project, but could surprise a lot of people. Bates and Morrison are rookies who will get a look.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Vontae Davis, S Mike Adams, S Clayton Geathers, CB Patrick Robinson. Backups - CB Jalil Brown, CB Darius Butler, CB Daniel Davie, CB Tay Glover-Wright, S T.J. Green, S Winston Guy, S Stefan McClure, CB Christopher Milton, CB Tevin Mitchel, CB Winston Rose, CB D'Joun Smith, S Dezmen Southward, S Andrew Williamson.
Pro Bowlers Davis and Adams are back, but there will be new starters with Geathers and Robinson. Geathers impressed as a rookie last year once he got things figured out. Robinson was signed in the offseason after playing in San Diego last year. Butler is Mr. Dependable as a nickel back. Smith could end up supplanting either Robinson or Butler if he can stay healthy and play with more consistency. Green is a rookie who will get a chance to impress. Brown, Glover-Wright and Guy all have a chance to earn roster spots.
Vinatieri remains one of the best placekickers in the NFL. And there is no sign that he is anywhere the end of his pro career. Vinatieri signed a contract extension in the offseason and has said that he would like to end his NFL career with Indianapolis. McAfee is the Colts' two-way kicker, handling punting and kickoff duties. He is also the holder for Vinatieri. Overton has developed into one of the best long snappers in the league. Bray will get first dibs as the kickoff and punt returner, but the Colts will look at several players before the regular season gets underway.
CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies report July 25; veterans report July 27; practice with Buccaneers Aug. 17-18; camp breaks Aug. 14.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
--Stabilize the offensive line: Most teams have locked in their offensive line starting unit by the time they start training camp, but not the Jaguars. They have two positions open. They are at the all-important left-tackle spot where the starter must adequately protect Blake Bortles' blind side, and the other at left guard. To further complicate the issue along the line is the fact that Brandon Linder will be moved from guard to center where he's never started a game in the NFL. It's a trio of players - Kelvin Beachum, Luke Joeckel and Mackenzy Bernadeau who are competing for the two openings. Whoever loses the tackle job between Beachum and Joeckel then challenges Bernadeau for the guard spot. Fortunately, the team appears set on the right side of the line with guard A.J. Cann and tackle Jermey Parnell returning as starters.
--Determine the playing time for Dante Fowler Jr., Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey: There's no denying the playing talent of the trio; it's just that all three have endured some type of surgical repair to their knee within the last 12 months. Fowler's injury might have been the most severe, but it's the furthest removed from now which means he's had the most healing time. Jack missed all but a handful of games at UCLA last year with his knee issue but the Jaguars were confident enough in his recovery and potential to trade up in the second round of this year's draft to select him. Ramsey hurt his knee during the Jaguars' OTAs, shortly after the team selected him as the No. 5 overall pick in the draft. Fowler and Ramsey are already penciled in as starters and Jack is destined to see plenty of action at linebacker. But fans and team officials will be holding their breath the entire season that all three players hold up and can play an entire season without having a setback to their previous knee injury.
Bortles is secure as the starter and is coming off a stellar season in which he threw for 35 touchdown passes, second most in the league behind only Tom Brady. But with the high number of TD passes came a league-high 18 interceptions, a number that must be shaved if the Jaguars are to become a contender. Bortles has the benefit of working with offensive coordinator Greg Olson a second consecutive season and that's a plus. A year ago, Bortles was seventh in the league in passing yards (4,428) and ninth in completions (355). He also tied Aaron Rodgers for the most completions of 25 yards or longer (39). But the negatives must be corrected such as the interceptions, turnovers (23), lack of first-quarter points (35), fewer sacks (51) and a higher completion percentage (58.6). Henne lost his job to Bortles in the third game of the 2014 season and hasn't appeared in a game since then. The team really likes Allen and he'll either land a roster spot or practice-squad position.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Chris Ivory. Backups - T.J. Yeldon, Denard Robinson, Jonas Gray, Corey Grant, Joe Banyard
It's likely to be a training camp-length battle between Ivory and Yeldon. Ivory may hold the upper hand right now because of his experience. He was a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago as a starter for the Jets. Yeldon started as a rookie, but didn't show the flash that the Jaguars were looking for which is why they made a run at Ivory in free agency. Yeldon would be a solid third-down back, but obviously wants more than that. That will likely be determined in camp, but for now Ivory is likely to get 55-60 percent of the snaps. The competition to back up the Ivory/Yeldon combo is likely to be fierce with Robinson trying to hold off Gray and Grant for the No.3 spot. Whoever emerges as a kick returner will increase their stock and chances of making the final roster.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Julius Thomas. Backups - Marcedes Lewis, Nic Jacobs, Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling, Braedon Bowman.
Thomas is looking to continue the strong play he exhibited in the second half of the season after missing the first four games of the 2015 season recovering from a thumb injury and then catching just 15 passes in his first five games back. He went on to make 31 catches over the team's final seven games even though he had just two receptions each in three of those seven contests. Bortles continues to rave about Thomas' talent and the pair looked exceptionally efficient during this year's OTAs in the spring. Lewis returns for his 11th and likely final season with the Jaguars. He's caught less than 20 passes in each of his last two years as the Jaguars continue to use him as an efficient blocking tight end. Sterling could be the surprise of the rest of the group, having made a successful conversion from wide receiver to tight end.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Rashad Greene. Backups - Marqise Lee, Arrelious Benn, Shaq Evans, Bryan Walters, Rashad Lawrence, Jamal Robinson, Tony Washington, Shane Wood, Rasheed Bailey.
Possibly the deepest unit on the team after the way Robinson and Hurns developed into top-notch receivers. They were both over 1,000 yards in receptions a year ago including 1,400 on 80 grabs by Robinson. They now give the Jaguars and Bortles in particular two elite receivers to throw to, with both possessing good speed and outstanding hands. Greene looks ready to handle the slot position if the injury-prone Lee doesn't stay healthy. Greene missed seven games during his rookie season with an injury, but came back strong to play in the team's final seven games. He only caught 10 passes during those last seven games but showed enough there and as a punt returner (16.7-yard average) that he'll be counted on for a bigger role in 2016. Lee has been besieged with injuries since joining the Jaguars as a second-round pick in the 2014 draft. But he stayed healthy throughout the team's OTAs and could emerge as an effective deep threat this year with his speed. The Jaguars are likely to keep at least five receivers on the roster meaning the final spot is up for grabs among a number of remaining players. Benn, Walters and Washington are the front-runners to grab the final spot.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Kelvin Beachum, LG Mackenzy Bernadeau, C Brandon Linder, RG A.J. Cann, RT Jermey Parnell. Backups - T/G Luke Joeckel, RT Josh Wells, T Pearce Slater, T Rashod Hill, T Jeff Linkenbach, C Luke Bowanko, G Tyler Shatley, G Kadeem Edwards, G Patrick Omameh, G Chris Reed.
Possibly the most unsettled unit on the team entering training camp. Not that the talent isn't there because it is. It's just that the Jaguars have yet to name starters at left tackle and left guard and will employ a starting center who has never played the position in the NFL. It's a two-man battle for starting honors at left tackle though if Beachum has fully recovered from the ACL surgery that he endured a year ago, it may not be a battle at all. That would push incumbent Joeckel to a guard position where he'll compete with the veteran Mackenzy for a starting spot. Joeckel has started all 35 games that he's played in for the Jaguars since midway through his rookie season in 2013. That includes 35 starts the past two seasons where he was a fixture at left tackle. But after allowing a season-high 10 sacks a year ago, half of which came in the team's final game in Houston, that left a bad taste in the minds of Jaguars brass which is why they pursued Beachum in free agency. The final two spots, assuming the Jaguars keep eight linemen on the roster, will likely go to incumbents Wells, Shatley or Bowanko, though veterans Linkenbach and Omameh will make a strong push after joining the Jaguars during the offseason.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Dante Fowler Jr., LDT Malik Jackson, RDT Roy Miller, RDE Jared Odrick. Backups -- DE Tyson Alualu, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DE Chris Smith, DE Jonathan Woodard, DT Arby Jones, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, DT Sheldon Day, DT Michael Bennett, DT Richard Ash.
There are several reasons for optimism about the defensive line from a year ago. The acquisition of free agent Jackson from Denver was the Jaguars' biggest offseason move. He should provide the push from the inside that the Jaguars have lacked in recent years. Marks showed signs of emerging as a talent at that position, but injuries have hampered his growth. He should be at full strength for the opener but the team wants to limit his total plays to 30-35 a game, feeling he'll be more effective with a lower number. With the addition of Jackson, they'll be able to do that. Fowler was last year's first-round pick who missed the entire season after tearing an ACL during the team's first offseason practice. He looks stronger than ever and could be an impact player as a pass-rusher in his first playing season with the club. Miller and Odrick are returning veterans who were solid but not elite a year ago. With the attention that Jackson and Fowler are likely to get, this could open up some doors for Miller and Odrick to shine. Depth is good along the line with Jones, Alualu and Bennett providing solid backup. They'll have to fight off two promising rookies in Ngakoue and Day who looked good during the offseason drills.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Telvin Smith, MLB Paul Posluszny, SLB Dan Skuta. Backups - WLB Jordan Tripp, MLB Myles Jack, MLB Hayes Pullard, MLB Joplo Bartu, SLB Ryan Davis, SLB Thurston Armbrister, OLB Sean Porter.
This is still an area of concern for the Jaguars even though they've improved it with the drafting of Jack and the play of the veteran Davis. Smith has the talent to join the league's best outside linebackers though he'll always be fighting the notion that he's not heavy enough to play the position. Posluszny is in his 10th season in the league but doesn't appear to be slowing down. His best contribution this year may be to assist in the development of his successor, Jack. The highly touted linebacker out of UCLA could develop into one of the league's elite players in future years after he replaces Posluszny in the middle. For his rookie season, he'll see time at each of the three linebacker spots, probably sharing time with Skuta on the outside. Davis had been used more as an end, but he's made a successful conversion to linebacker to give the Jaguars more depth. It's up for grabs who might grab the likely sixth and final spot at this position. Pullard and Armbrister may have a slight lead over the others.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Jalen Ramsey, CB Prince Amukamara, SS Johnathan Cyprien, FS Tashaun Gipson. Backups - CB Aaron Colvin, CB Davon House, CB Dwayne Gratz, CB Demetrius McCray, CB Nick Marshall, CB Josh Johnson, CB Mike Hilton, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, FS Peyton Thompson, FS Jarrod Wilson, SS James Sample, S Josh Evans, SS Earl Wolff.
Three fourths of the secondary will likely have a new look for the Jaguars in 2016 and that's good. The defensive backfield was not good in 2016 nor has it been above average in recent years. With the Jaguars lack of rushing the passer, it's put an increased load on this unit and they haven't responded well. But 2016 could be a different story. Their best draft pick and one of their top free-agent signings both play for this unit. Ramsey is a versatile sort who has the talent to play either corner or safety. He'll likely just concentrate on the cornerback spot this first season. That's OK because the signing of Gipson should provide the Jaguars with the type of player they've been looking for. Gipson will have the freedom to roam the secondary providing help where needed. The signing of Amukamara will also give the secondary a lift. That leaves Cyprien as the lone holdover from 2015. He's had to shoulder the burden of this unit in the past, but with the arrival of the other three starters, it should take the pressure off Cyprien and allow him to utilize his talents closer to the line of scrimmage, including that as a pass rusher. Good depth remains with Colvin, though he'll miss the first four games due to a league imposed sentence for substance abuse, Sample, House and McCray. The others will be fighting to make the team.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Brad Nortman, P Ryan Quigley, K Jason Myers, LS Carson Tinker, PR Rashad Greene, KOR Denard Robinson, KOR Corey Grant.
The Jaguars feel good about their kicking game. Myers showed last year that he ranks among the league's elite field-goal kickers after hitting on 26 of 30 field-goal attempts. His problem came with extra points where he missed a league-high seven. The team will likely bring in another kicker to challenge him during training camp, but Myers looks on solid ground and it would take a huge collapse by him not to be the Jaguars' kicker in 2016. Nortman was signed as a free agent from the Carolina Panthers after the Jaguars admitted their mistake on former third-round draft pick Bryan Anger. Still, Anger has a better gross average (46.8 - 45.2) and net average (40.5 - 38.9) than Nortman with both players having been four-year starters for their previous team. Anger, who had 360 career kicks including three years of more than 90 punts in a season, has had more kicks inside the 20 (113-91) and forced more fair catches (93-72) than Nortman. The former Panthers kicker has a total of 288 career kicks but never more than 76 in any one season. He'll compete with Quigley for the punting job, but is likely to be the Jaguars' punter for the next several years. Tinker returns as a dependable long snapper who has excelled at his job since joining the team in 2013. Greene solved the Jaguars' punt return dilemma when he rejoined the team for the second half of the season after missing seven games due to injury. He finished with a 16.7-yard return average, one of the best marks in the league. Robinson and Grant will battle not only for the kickoff return job, but also as the team's backup running back. Whoever excels in the two areas combined will make the roster, the other won't.
CAMP CALENDAR: Full squad reports July 29. Camp breaks Aug. 15.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
--Stabilize the offensive line. The Titans are hoping that the offensive line will click this season with two new additions and creating competition at another spot. The Titans signed center Ben Jones to solidify the middle of the line and drafted tackle Jack Conklin in the first round. The left guard position, manned by rookie Quinton Spain late last season, is open for competition in camp, though Spain holds the upper hand as the Titans try to find the right combination to better protect Marcus Mariota and open holes for the running game.
--Establish a power running game. The Titans traded for DeMarco Murray and drafted Derrick Henry this off-season with the intent of becoming a run between the tackles power team. For a team that has struggled to run the football over the last two seasons -- their only 100-yard rushing game the past two years came from QB Marcus Mariota -- that is a drastic step and one that the Titans will have to establish from the outset of camp in order to accomplish this goal. Some of rushing the football is a mindset that carries over from the offensive line to the backs and then to the entire team, and it is something that has been sorely missing in Tennessee the last few seasons.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Marcus Mariota. Backups -- Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney.
Mariota was impressive at times as a rookie making the transition from a spread offense at Oregon to a pro-style set with the Titans. Year two should make for even more progress for Mariota, as he works to improve his command in the huddle and being more accurate with deep throws, along with ball security. Matt Cassel replaces Zach Mettenberger as the primary backup and the veteran should also mentor Mariota as well. Tanney will try to show enough in camp to force the Titans to keep three quarterbacks on the roster.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- DeMarco Murray, FB Jalston Fowler. Backups -- Derrick Henry, Antonio Andrews, Dexter McCluster, David Cobb, Bishop Sankey, David Fluellen, FB Sam Bergen.
Murray comes to the Titans in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles looking to restart his career after a big drop-off under Chip Kelly a year ago. Henry should help fortify that one-two punch as well, as the reigning Heisman winner's build and style reminds some Titans fans of Eddie George. McCluster probably hangs on as a returner and change-of-pace back, and Fowler will be the fullback. Beyond that, all the others, who were the primary backs a year ago (Andrews, Cobb, Sankey) are probably battling for one spot, if that.
TIGHT END: Starter -- Delanie Walker. Backups -- Craig Stevens, Anthony Fasano, Phillip Supernaw, Jerome Cunningham, Alex Ellis.
Walker continues to be the brightest spot in the Titans' offense, as he had 94 catches for 1,088 yards in 2015. Look for him to continue to be a go-to guy in the offense for Mariota. Stevens has long been valued for his blocking ability, while Fasano can play either the on-line tight end spot or work as the H-back. Supernaw brings a nastiness to special teams and that will be his role again, provided he can hold off a camp challenge from waiver pickup Cunningham.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe. Backups -- Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas, Dorial Green-Beckham, Kendall Wright, Tre McBride, Andrew Turzilli, Ben Roberts, Reece Horn.
Matthews, a free agent signee from Miami, and Sharpe a fifth-round rookie, emerged from OTAs as the starting receivers, thanks to their sure hands and solid route-running. All of that should be a major message to holdovers from as year ago like Wright, Green-Beckham and Hunter that nothing will be given to them in the way of starting. Wright probably will slide into a slot role, while Green-Beckham has to show that he has mastered the playbook and is in top shape in order to crack the starting lineup. Hunter enters the final year of his contract and has yet to blossom, while Douglas tries to show there is still some gas in the tank.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Taylor Lewan, LG Quinton Spain, C Ben Jones, RG Chance Warmack, RT Jack Conklin. Backups -- G Jeremiah Poutasi, C/G Brian Schwenke, G Sebastian Tretola, C Andy Gallik, T Will Poehls, T Tyler Marz, T Sam Carlson, G/T Josue Matias, T Nick Ritcher.
Conklin moves in at right tackle after being the eighth overall pick in the draft, while Jones comes on board to not only solidify the middle of the line, but be a leader of this group. Lewan is showing signs of growing up a bit after a rocky 2015 season, while Warmack is in the final year of his contract and needs to make good as a former first-round pick. Spain will try to hold off Schwenke (the former starter at center) and Poutasi (a brief starter at right tackle) to claim the left guard position.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE DaQuan Jones, NT Al Woods, DRE Jurrell Casey. Backups -- DE Angelo Blackson, DE Ropati Pitoitua, NT Austin Johnson, DE Karl Klug, DE Terrell Lathan, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, DT Mike Smith, NT Antwuan Woods.
This is probably the strongest unit on the team, with Casey a Pro Bowl pick, leading the way. The Titans have emerging Jones on the other end and re-signed Woods to man the middle. Tennessee is excited about rookie nose tackle Johnson. Blackson did well as a rookie and now should provide more in his second season. Klug has found a niche as a rusher on passing downs, while Pitoitua was moved to the back of the line last year after being a starter in 2014.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Derrick Morgan, LILB Wesley Woodyard, RILB Avery Williamson, ROLB Brian Orakpo. Backups -- OLB Kevin Dodd, OLB Deiontrez Mount, OLB David Bass, ILB Sean Spence, OLB Justin Staples, OLB J.R. Tavai, ILB Nate Palmer, OLB Aaron Wallace, ILB Curtis Grant.
This group got a makeover in the off-season, not so much for starters, as the same four from last year are likely to hold those spots, but from a depth perspective. Once Morgan went down with a shoulder injury, the Titans pass rush struggled as Orakpo was often double teamed.
To remedy that, the Titans drafted Dodd in the second round and added Wallace in the seventh. Mount returns from a knee injury and could help as well. Woodyard and Williamson were solid inside and the Titans added Spence and Palmer to provide veteran depth there.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Jason McCourty, FS Rashad Johnson, SS Da'Norris Searcy, RCB Perrish Cox. Backups -- CB/NB Brice McCain, CB/NB Cody Riggs, CB Antwon Blake, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S Marqueston Huff, S Daimion Stafford, S Josh Aubrey, S LaMarcus Brutus, CB B.W. Webb, CB/S Curtis Riley, CB Kalan Reed, S Kevin Byard, CB LeShaun Sims, CB Bennett Okotcha, S Josh Aubrey.
McCourty returns after missing 12 games because of a groin injury last year, and will start on one side, while Cox finds himself in a battle with McCain for the other spot. The loser probably ends up as the nickel back.
Johnson replaces long-time starter Michael Griffin, who was released, and will start alongside Searcy, though rookie Byard could challenge to start. Stafford is solid as a backup safety, while Huff needs to do more beyond special teams. The backup corner situation will be settled in camp with Blake, Riggs, Wreh-Wilson, Webb and rookies Sims and Reed all vying to earn backup spots.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Ryan Succop, P Brett Kern, KOR Tre McBride, PR Dexter McCluster, LS Beau Brinkley.
The kicking portion of the special teams with Succop, Kern and Brinkley is all set for the Titans. It is in the return game where a number of players could get a look beyond McCluster and McBride, who needs to earn the return job to secure a roster spot. Other possibilities include veterans Harry Douglas and Perrish Cox on punts and rookies Kalan Reed and Tajae Sharpe on kickoffs.