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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 opted to move training camp away from Houston for the first time in franchise history, heading to the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Houston is coming off an improbable division title (9-7, 1st in the AFC South) and playoff victory against the Raider. It's a testament to the coaching staff that Houston had a winning record in spite of losing 3-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt early in the season and having a moribund offense that scored just 279 points (17.4 per game). Watt is healthy, and the team has added competition at the quarterback position to go from playoff pretender to champion contender. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/25 (Rookies and Veterans)
  • Where: The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs, WV)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 9 -- @Carolina 7:30 pm EDT
  • Aug 19 -- New England 8:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- @New Orleans 8:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Dallas 8:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Finding a quarterback -- The Brock Osweiler signing was an abject disaster, as the free agent threw for 2,957 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games. The Texans traded Osweiler to Cleveland in the preseason and drafted Deshaun Watson in the 1st round. Watson, a two-way playmaker who won the national championship last season, will compete with returning veteran Tom Savage. Watson is the enticing prospect, but Savage has experience in the system. If Savage wins the job, fantasy owners need to temper expectations for a rebound. If Watson wins the job in the preseason, upside abounds for the offense. 
  • Lamar Miller's health and upside -- Lamar Miller signed a massive free agent contract to move from Miami to Houston, but failed to live up to preseason expectations. Miller barely cracked the Top 20 at his position and struggled to gain yards after contact. He missed the final two games with an ankle injury, and Miller insists his struggles were related to his injury. The Texans used a 3rd round pick on Donta Foreman as an insurance policy, but Miller will still be a workhorse if he has a strong preseason.  
  • Is DeAndre Hopkins set for a bounce-back season? -- DeAndre Hopkins suffered from Houston's lack of quality quarterbacking and set career lows in yards-per-reception (12.2) and catch rate (51.7%) in spite of another massive target share (151 targets). The Texans cannot afford to misuse Hopkins again as he is set to enter free agency after the season. 
  • J.J. Watt's health -- Watt missed 13 games last season and had back surgery, but appears healthy entering training camp. Watt's presence can turn an excellent defense into the league's best. 
  • Putting Mike Vrabel's stamp on the defense -- Romeo Crennel took a "promotion" to Assistant Head Coach so Houston could keep Mike Vrabel happy and hand over the reins as defensive coordinator. Vrabel is a star on the rise, and will probably be a head coach in a year or two, because of his intensity and attention to detail. The Texans won't change the system or terminology, but Vrabel will inevitably put his mark on the unit.  

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The Colts are five years into the Post-Manning Era, and neither head coach Chuck Pagano nor franchise quarterback Andrew Luck warrant more than an "Incomplete" on their report cards. After winning 11 games in each of their first three seasons, and making it to the AFC Championship game in 2014, the Colts have regressed to an 8-8 team in each of the last two seasons. Andrew Luck has been okay statistically but has dealt with lingering back issues, while Pagano has generated criticism for his team's stagnation. Offensively the Colts were a Top 10 unit last year (8th in points and 10th in yards), but the defense gave up a ton of yards (6,126) and points (392). Chris Ballard took over as general manager from the incompetent Ryan Grigson and oversaw wholesale changes on the defensive roster. If those changes make an impact, the Colts could vault back into title contention.

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/24 (Rookies) / 7/29 (Veterans)
  • Where: Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center (Indianapolis, IN)
  • Open to Public: No (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 13 -- Detroit 1:30 pm EDT
  • Aug 19 -- @Dallas 8:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- @Pittsburgh 7:30 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Cincinnati 7:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Is Andrew Luck healthy? -- Andrew Luck had offseason shoulder surgery after playing through the injury last year, but the Colts have been quiet about his recovery. This week news broke Luck would likely miss the entire preseason. If true, that poses a conundrum for fantasy owners who have to take on faith Luck will be able to play at his usual Pro Bowl level once the season gets underway.
  • When will Father Time catch up to Frank Gore? -- Last season Frank Gore became only the fourth man to run for 1,000 yards at age 33 or older, joining Franco Harris, John Riggins, and John Henry Johnson. The good news is both Riggins and Johnson had 1,000-yard seasons at age 35, as well. Gore appears set to lead the Colts rushing attack again, but history tells us that no athlete escapes age forever. If Gore does hit the wall, who takes over? Robert Turbin, Justin Forsett, Marlon Mack or some combination of the three?
  • Is Jack Doyle ready for a lead role? -- The Colts parted ways with Dwayne Allen and signed Jack Doyle to a 3-year, $19mm contract to be the new full-time starter. Doyle led all tight ends with a 79% catch rate last season and was particularly effective in the red zone. Can Doyle break into the Top 10 at his position this year?
  • Who wins the right side of the offensive line? -- Joe Haeg and Le'Raven Clark will compete with Denzelle Good and rookie Zach Banner for the right guard and tackle spots. 
  • How many new starters on defense? -- Depending on the way camp unfolds, the Colts could have nine new starters on defense. Only defensive end Kendall Langford and cornerback Vontae Davis are sure to start from last year's lineup. Free agent tackles Johnathan Hankins, and Margus Hunt are likely starters, as are free agent linebackers Sean Spence and John Simon. In the secondary, rookies Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson will be counted on immediately. 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Gus Bradley's tenure in Jacksonville was a disaster. He won 14 games in four seasons and was fired with two games remaining last year after a 2-12 start. Although the Jaguars offense has concerns (25th in yards, 23rd in points, 27th in turnover ratio), it was Bradley's inability to field a solid defense that ultimately sealed his fate. The former Seahawks defensive coordinator never managed better than 25th defensively in spite of a ton of high draft picks and free agent spending on the defensive side of the ball. Jacksonville hired Tom Coughlin to run football operations, and Coughlin surprised many by keeping interim head coach Doug Marrone in place. The Jaguars have talent up and down the roster; they've underachieved. Can Marrone and his staff turn the corner? 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/19 (Rookies) / 7/26 (Veterans)
  • Where: Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields (Jacksonville, FL)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 10 -- @New England 7:30 pm EDT
  • Aug 17 -- Tampa Bay 8:00 pm
  • Aug 24 -- Carolina 7:30 pm
  • Aug 31 -- @Atlanta 7:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Establishing the Doug Marrone era -- Marrone went 15-17 in two seasons as the Bills head coach, but his win-loss record belies the respect he commands throughout the league. Marrone didn't get fired in Buffalo; he opted out of his contract when the team went through an ownership transition. What will Marrone do to change the culture? 
  • Can Blake Bortles get back on track? -- Blake Bortles is a turnover machine, and his play regressed in every facet last season. Can Marrone, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich fix what ails Bortles? If not, will the team consider alternatives?
  • Does Leonard Fournette become the bell cow immediately? -- Teams don't use a Top 5 pick on a running back without giving him an immediate role, but is Fournette set to be a 20+ touch bell cow? Veterans T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory leave much to be desired, but they do know how to pass protect. Fournette needs to prove he can keep Bortles safe on blitz pickups in camp. If Fournette figures out pass protection, the sky is the limit for the rookie from LSU.
  • Can Allen Robinson return to form? -- Allen Robinson dominated in 2015 when Blake Bortles was in the groove, and Robinson predictably fell back to Earth when Bortles regressed. Can Robinson rebound this season? A strong preseason will vault Robinson back into late 1st round consideration on draft day.
  • Who starts at tight end? -- Julius Thomas didn't work out in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars are going to let a handful of incumbents battle for snaps along with free agent Mychal Rivera. Rivera isn't a household name, but he's an aggressive, athletic pass catcher who could win a starting job with a solid preseason. If not, Ben Koyack has sleeper potential in an offense that should rely on the tight end for key short and intermediate completions. 
  • Can the new staff take advantage of an embarrassment of defensive riches? -- The decision to keep Todd Wash as defensive coordinator was curious given how poorly the Jaguars defense has played under his (and Gus Bradley's) watch. Tom Coughlin believes Wash will be more effective calling plays now that he's not beholden to Bradley's system. In any event, Wash has a short leash because the Jaguars have an impressive roster of defensive talent. 

TENNESSEE TITANS

When ownership opted to keep Mike Mularkey in place as head coach last offseason, eyebrows were raised. When Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie spoke of "exotic smash mouth," analysts snickered. 12 months later Mularkey and his staff had the last laugh. The Titans won nine games and were in the playoff hunt until the final snap of the season. Tennessee's "exotic smash mouth" translated into 2,187 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns while 2nd-year quarterback Marcus Mariota took a step forward and looked like a potential future MVP. The defense was league average and has room for improvement, particularly against the pass. Excitement abounds after an offseason that plugged several of 2016's holes. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/28 (Rookies and Veterans)
  • Where: Saint Thomas Sports Park (Nashville, TN)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 12 -- @New YorK Jets 7:30 pm EDT
  • Aug 19 -- Carolina 3:00 pm
  • Aug 27 -- Chicago 1:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- @Kansas City 8:30 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Marcus Mariota's health -- Mariota has a 93.8 career passer rating and threw 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions last season in 15 games. When healthy, he's everything the team hoped for when they drafted him second overall. The issue is Mariota has ended both seasons on the injured list, including a broken leg last season. By all accounts, Mariota is healthy and will be 100% in the preseason, but he's also chosen to play at a lighter weight (215 lbs.) which invites worries about further injury.
  • Can Derrick Henry force a running back committee? -- Fantasy owners overvalued Derrick Henry's role last season, and as a result, DeMarco Murray was one of the better values on draft day. Murray played 861 snaps in 2016 versus just 270 snaps for Henry. Can the former Alabama star force a true committee this preseason? 
  • Figuring out the receiving depth chart -- The Titans completely revamped the receiving corps this offseason with a pair of rookies -- Corey Davis (1st round) and Taywan Taylor (3rd round) -- and a proven veteran in Eric Decker. It's not clear whether Davis and Decker will start or if Rishard Matthews has earned the right to remain a starter. There aren't enough targets to go around, so the starters will have more value than their current ADP suggests. 
  • Integrating the new pieces in the secondary -- Tennesee drafted Adoree' Jackson in the first round, and he'll be no worse than the nickel cornerback as a rookie. The team signed cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Jonathan Cyprien in free agency and they, too, will get starting opportunities.