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AFC South Training Camp Previews

Sigmund Bloom runs down injuries, position battles, and offensive changes to watch for AFC South and gives his view on the direction the team is headed.

Training camp openings are coming, so it's time to focus our attention on the changes, injury recoveries, and position battles that will inform our last tweaks to our draft boards before we draft. It's also good to record our thoughts on the direction of the offense as it affects fantasy bottom lines before camp and preseason twists and turns make us doubt what we have spent months mulling over waiting for football to come back. I'll try to give insight into where I think the puck is going with these teams, because like Wayne Gretzky said, we should skate there instead of where the puck has been, i.e. last year's results.

Houston

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The Texans have a new (and expensive) quarterback. Brock Osweiler can’t be worse than Brian Hoyer - at least in the playoffs - but the offense should be more conservative and lean even more on a backfield that added Lamar Miller and jettisoned Arian Foster. Miller should be more able to hold up than Foster was the last two seasons, and keep the offense leaning run heavy. Jaelen Strong showed up a new man this offseason after an arrest, and he needs to elevate his game because the team took a deep threat #2 receiver (Notre Dame’s Will Fuller) in the first round. Scatback Tyler Ervin was added in the fourth round to bolster a so-so backup running back group.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Left tackle Duane Brown has been the anchor of this line for a long time. He suffered a severe quad injury that ended his 2015 campaign in Week 17, and while he said he aims to be ready for Week 1 this year, the fact that the injury happened so late in the season could throw his September availability into question if his rehab isn’t smooth in camp. We might not see him play in the preseason.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: The #2 wide receiver role in this offense isn’t exactly fantasy gold, but the renewed dedication and new body showed by Strong is worth more investigation because he had outstanding measurables that could be unlocked by his great offseason. Fuller is more of a deep threat with the ability to create separation by taking advantage of a big cushion, so he’ll play a role even if he can’t win a starting job as a rookie. If Ervin has a dynamic camp and preseason, he could force his way into a backup RBBC and significant fantasy value in the event of a Lamar Miller injury.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: This offense is going to look more like the second half of 2015, when pass attempts and game scripts took DeAndre Hopkins out of the elite WR1 ranks. Cecil Shorts is still viable from the slot, and this team will remain among the league leaders in rush attempts. The chance to profit from this offense in fantasy drafts is taking Miller’s top 3 RB upside in the second round.

Indianapolis

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The Colts chose Dwayne Allen over Coby Fleener, so look for more three wide receiver sets and a larger role for second-year wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, whose rookie year was marred by injuries and a morose offense. The offensive line was bolstered by first-round pick C Ryan Kelly, who could help keep Andrew Luck on the field this year.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: The Colts offense is healthy entering camp after Luck’s full recovery from a lacerated kidney. A healthy camp and preseason would go a long way toward building confidence in Dwayne Allen, who clearly has top 10-12 TE opportunity, but has to stay on the field to seize it.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Frank Gore will lead this backfield, but the team needs someone else to take some touches, and that player could be very valuable if Gore breaks down in his age 33 season. UDFA Josh Ferguson is more of a passing down back, cheap veteran free agent signing Robert Turbin had an offseason arrest, Trey Williams is more of a scatback, and Jordan Todman is a journeyman. Third-year UDFA tight end Erik Swoope is a basketball convert, and if he makes the team, he could be in a position to have fantasy relevance if Allen goes down.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: It’s too easy to write off the 2015 offensive disaster as a by-product of Luck’s injuries. He and the offense were mostly ineffective before the injuries, and the Colts don’t seem to have a clue how to keep him out of harm’s way behind a porous offensive line. Kelly could stop the bleeding, but Luck seemed to take too much on his own shoulders. Look for signs in the preseason that the unit has a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Gore, and a healthy Allen could all present great values if this offense rights the ship.

Jacksonville

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: The Jaguars paid Chris Ivory like a starting running back in free agency. He won’t be a true lead back, but somewhere around half of the backfield work should be his, and if the team improves, it could signal a shift to a more balanced offense. The defense has basically added three first-round talents (DE Dante Fowler, DB Jalen Ramsey, LB Myles Jack), in addition to free agent starters DL Malik Jackson and S Tashuan Gipson, so that could contribute to more run-heavy game scripts and less barnstorming by Blake Bortles.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Everyone is healthy right now, but the history of players like Chris Ivory, Marqise Lee, and Julius Thomas makes them more important to monitor for early signs of another campaign marred by injuries.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Ivory and 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon will battle for the ceremonial starts, but both will be used heavily. Still, the outcome of the starting battle will be a clue to which back we should target in the mid-rounds if we want to dabble in the Jaguars running game this year.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Jags nation, I want to believe. I want to believe this team can win 8 or 9 games, which is enough to contend for the division title. I want to believe they can be competitive enough to rise from their 2015 ranking of 30th in rush attempts. A deeper and healthier wide receiver corps and Julius Thomas have the potential to divide a smaller passing pie even further. Or they could be terrible again and fuel Bortles, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns to reproduce big 2015’s. This is one of the biggest questions to answer in your draft prep.

Tennessee

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Hello, exotic smashmouth! New offensive braintrust head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie’s coaching careers peaked in 2004, but they are back to leverage Marcus Mariota and a middling at best set of skill talents into something calling exotic smashmouth football. The team paid Demarco Murray a lot of money and the Philadelphia Eagles pocket lint to add Murray’s services, and then promptly took oversized back Derrick Henry in the second round. Rishard Matthews was added in free agency to muddy a wide receiver group that will probably use five passcatchers on game day and may start a fifth-round rookie. There’s a lot to sift through here, but I’m not sure it will yield any fantasy goodness.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: The Titans offense is healthy heading into training camp. Kendall Wright did shed some weight as he is trying to hang on to a role as the slot receiver, so take note of whether he looks faster or quicker in our limited looks this summer.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: 2016 Fifth-round rookie WR Tajae Sharpe is steady, if unspectacular, and 2015 second-round WR Dorial Green-Beckham is unsteady, if spectacular. All outward signs indicate that Green-Beckham needs motivation and the team is using Sharpe’s place above him on the depth chart to publicly push him to work harder and smarter. If he can’t use this to overtake Sharpe in camp and preseason, Green-Beckham’s early career will start to look too much like another high ceiling second-round wide receiver, Justin Hunter, who is battling for his Titans life this summer. Henry is unlikely to displace Murray atop the depth chart this summer, but he could impress enough to put the thought in most folks’ heads entering the season.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Exactly which part of this offense inspires confidence? The coaches? The backs? The receivers? The line? Maybe Marcus Mariota, but he will need some stability and consistency around him to be a help to our fantasy teams. I’m not afraid of missing much by avoiding the Titans offense altogether in drafts.