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Preseason Watch List: AFC South

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

Houston Texans

The Texans continued their upward trajectory last season, finishing 12-4 and winning a playoff game for the second consecutive season. Unfortunately the Texans lost in the Divisional round again and will strive this year to get over that final hump.  The Texans return most of the key contributors from a team that ranked in the Top 10 on both sides of the ball. Above all else, training camp will be about integrating the new faces (i.e., Ed Reed, DeAndre Hopkins) while keeping everyone healthy. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/9 -- @Minnesota (8:00 ET)
  • 8/17 -- Miami (8:00 ET)
  • 8/25 -- New Orleans (4:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Dallas (8:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • DeAndre Hopkins' learning curve -- The Texans have been on a perennial search for a receiver worthy of pairing with All Pro Andre Johnson, and may have finally found their man with rookie DeAndre Hopkins. If the former Clemson Tiger earns a starting role in the preseason, he could be one of the more compelling young sleepers to target in drafts this year. 
  • Keeping Arian Foster healthy -- Foster led the NFL with 17 touchdowns last year and garnered 1,641 yards from scrimmage, yet Foster's effectiveness on a per carry basis continued a multi-year decline (4.1 yards per rush). The Texans need to decide whether Foster's declining productivity was a byproduct of the offensive line or his workload (or both). 
  • Stablizing the right side of the offensive line -- The Texans replaced the right side of the line last year and it had a material impact on their ability to run the ball. Right tackle (Derek Newton and Brennan Williams) and right guard (Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones) are both up for grabs in camp. 
  • What does Ed Reed have left in the tank? -- Ed Reed will coast into the Hall of Fame in a few years, but for now he's being asked to replace Glover Quin at free safety. In spite of Reed's reputation, he's no longer an elite player and is likely a step down from Quin. Can Reed stay on the practice field and aclimate himself to Wade Phillips defense? If not, will the Texans turn Reed into a backup and hand the job to rookie D.J. Swearinger

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were the feel good story of 2012, as a team everyone thought was rebuilding from the ground up ended up riding an emotional wave of support for their ill head coach, The Colts finished 11-5 and Andrew Luck put the league on notice that he's going to be one of the league's top quarterbacks for years to come. In spite of the strong 11-5 finish, the Colts have a lot of work to do when they head back to Anderson University on July 28th. The Colts were actually outscored 387-357 by opponents last season, and neither the offense (18th) nor the defense (21st) finished in the top half of the league standings. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/11 -- Buffalo (1:30 ET)
  • 8/18 -- @New York Giants (7:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- Cleveland (7:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Cincinnati (7:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Installing Pep Hamilton's offense -- Hamilton is a West Coast offense disciple, and his schemes will call for more efficient short- and intermediate throws with an eye toward dramatically improving Luck's completion rate and TD-to-INT ratio. The adjustment should come easy for Andrew Luck -- who played for Hamilton at Stanford -- but the rest of the team will need to adjust to a much different style than Bruce Arian's downfield attack. 
  • T.Y. Hilton vs. Darrius Heyward-Bey -- Hilton showed promise as a rookie (50 receptions for 861 yard and 7 TDs) but doesn't have the route-running precision necessary to thrive in the WCO. Heyward-Bey is not a great route runner either, but the coaches seem ready to give him a chance to start. Whoever wins the job offers solid fantasy value as Luck will assuredly be throwing early and often. 
  • Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Vick Ballard -- Newly signed Ahmad Bradshaw presumably enters camp as the starter, but Vick Ballard isn't going to hand over the role easily. Expect both players to make a case for the job during the preseason. 
  • Dwayne Allen vs. Coby Fleener -- Dwayne Allen (45 for 521 yards and 3 TDs) got the best of fellow rookie Coby Fleener (26 for 281 yards and 2 TDs) last year, but 2013 is a whole new ballgame. Fleener played for new OC Pep Hamilton at Stanford and is a natural fit for the West Coast offense. Head coach Chuck Pagano recently said he thinks Fleener should "at least" double last year's numbers, which begs the question of whether there are enough balls to go around for both sophomore tight ends to have fantasy relevance. 
  • Bolstering the offensive line -- The Colts allowed 41 sacks last year and are hoping the additions of LG Donald Thomas, RT Gosder Cherilus and rookies Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton are enough to turn the line into an asset. 
  • Were the defensive additions money well spent? -- The Colts spent freely this offseason on a host of free agents, but it's unclear whether they amount to a significant improvement. DT Aubrayo Franklin is well past his prime, DT Ricky Jean-Francois was a part-time player for the 49ers, and LB Erik Walden didn't play much in Green Bay. At least S LaRon Landry is coming off a Pro Bowl season and rookie 1st rounder Bjoern Werner should provide instant pass rush. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Few teams have as much to prove as the Jaguars. After a dismal 2-14 season that saw the offense (30th in points, 29th in yards) and defense (29th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed) both struggle mightily, the Jaguars cleaned house and brought in an entirely new coaching staff. Gus Bradley is the only defensive-minded head coach of the 2013 rookie class, and he and DC Bob Babich will attempt to instill a sense of purpose on a defense that was listless a year ago. On offense, Bradley is counting on first time OC Jedd Fisch to work wonders on a passing attack in desperate need of better quarterbacking. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/9 -- Miami (7:30 ET)
  • 8/17 -- @New York Jets (7:30 ET)
  • 8/24 -- Philadelphia (7:30 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Atlanta (7:30 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Is there a quarterback on the roster? -- Blaine Gabbert is guaranteed nothing under the new coaching staff, but then again it's hard to imagine Chad Henne, Matt Scott or Mike Kafka are legitimate long-term solutions. This could be a case of throwing a bunch of guys at the huddle and hoping someone sticks. 
  • Maurice Jones-Drew's health -- Jones-Drew suffered a Lisfranc injury in October but waited until December to have surgery, making his readiness for training camp unclear. It's imperative that Jones-Drew gets back soon to work his way into game shape, and learn the new offense. Without a healthy Jones-Drew, the Jaguars will be hard pressed to improve offensively. 
  • Finding Justin Blackmon's stand in -- Cecil Shorts emerged as a legitimate #1 receiver last year, but the Jaguars will need someone to step into the starting lineup for at least four games as Justin Blackmon serves his suspension. Will it be Mohamed Massaquoi, Jordan Shipley or perhaps rookie Ace Sanders?
  • Luke Joeckel taking over right tackle -- The Jaguars used the 2nd overall pick on Luke Joeckel -- whose future is at left tackle -- but plan on playing the star rookie at right tackle for a season or two in order to stablize the line. 
  • Finding Bradley's 'Leo' -- Gus Bradley's defense relies on the weak side defensive end to be the key play-maker (dubbed the 'Leo'), and the top order of business in camp will be figuring out whether Jason Babin or Andre Branch are up to the challenge. 
  • Putting the pieces together on defense -- The Jaguars could have as many as six new defensive starters this year, including both defensive tackle positions (Kyle Love, Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller all competing for roles), linebacker (Geno Hayes), both cornerback positions (Marcus Trufant and Dwayne Gratz), and strong safety (Jonathan Cyprien). 

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have to be feeling the pressure to take a step forward this season after finishing 6-10 a season ago while ranking near the bottom of the league defensively (32nd in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed) and faring just slightly better on offense (23rd in points, 26th in yards). Both head coach Mike Munchak and quarterback Jake Locker must convince the ownership not to consider a new direction in 2014, and that starts with a strong training camp beginning on July 26th at the Baptist Sports Park. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- Washington (8:00 ET)
  • 8/17 -- @Cincinnati (7:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- Atlanta (8:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Minnesota (8:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • What does Dowell Loggains bring to the table? -- Loggains has torn up his predecessor's playbook in favor of a conservative, ball-control offense that looks to win time of possession, minimize turnovers, and set up downfield passing off play action. Loggains is an unknown commodity as both a game-planner and play-caller. 
  • Jake Locker's progression -- This is a make-or-break season for Jake Locker. Entering his third season, Locker has won just four games and completed less than 56% of his passes, and his 3.7% TD rate is among the worst in the league. If Locker can't take a step forward, it's going to be a long year in Tennessee. 
  • Who starts at receiver? -- Kenny Britt is a starter so long as he's healthy, but will Kendall Wright push Nate Washington out of the lineup? Fantasy owners are hoping for that given Wright's upside potential. 
  • Do the offensive line additions fix the problem? -- The Titans made improving the offensive line a priority this offseason, adding 1st round road grader Chance Warmack, future starting center Brian Schwenke, high priced free agent OG Andy Levitre and blocking tight end Delanie Walker
  • What role will Gregg Williams play in shaping the defense? -- Jerry Gray remains the defensive coordinator, but the Titans added Gregg Williams as a defensive assistant. Williams has been acting like he may call the plays on game day, which would signify a much more aggressive, blitz happy style. 

More from Jason Wood:

On Second Thought: Defenses and Kickers - August 28
On Second Thought: Running Backs - August 28
On Second Thought: Tight Ends - August 28
On Second Thought: Quarterbacks - August 28
On Second Thought: Wide Receivers - August 28
What If Roddy White or Julio Jones Are Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Robert Griffin III Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Cecil Shorts Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 8
Player Spotlight: Jordan Cameron - August 7