Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Today, we take a look at the AFC South.
Camp report date: Rookies: July 25; Veterans: July 30.
Camp location: NRG Park, Houston
Offseason in a nutshell: The Texans came out this March and loudly declared what the rest of the NFL had known for the past two seasons: Our offense is the problem, and we need to fix it. Flash forward three months and the Texans have a new quarterback -- Brock Osweiler -- and theoretically two new starting wide receivers alongside DeAndre Hopkins in Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. The team went younger in the running game with Lamar Miller and gobbled up one of the best interior linemen in the NFL draft, taking Notre Dame's Nick Martin in the second round and slotting him to start at center. On paper, this is a team markedly better than the one that finished 9-7 last season, although some of the teams they beat within the division are markedly better as well.
Player to watch in camp: Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney: Watching Clowney and J.J. Watt crashing Cam Newton from both sides of the line during a Week 2 Panthers victory (24-17), I became convinced that Carolina could be defeated by a team with good enough speed on the edges. It took Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, of course, but I don't think Clowney/Watt is that far away assuming Clowney can stay on the field for 16 games. Clowney has been ravaged by injuries so far, and it should be fairly easy to tell how his body is recovering early on in training camp. If a veteran is struggling with issues in camp, these are typically ailments that do not get better during the regular season. Clowney is supposedly more determined than ever to earn his No. 1 overall draft status and maybe that means treating or conditioning his body differently during the five-week dark period before training camp started. We are hoping that he does, because this defense could be extremely fun to watch in 2016.
Three burning questions
The team had nothing but good things to say about tight ends Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson during camp this spring, which is a positive for Brock Osweiler. We're treating Osweiler like a rookie quarterback because based on his in-game experience, he still is. That means we should be focusing as much on his intermediate wide receivers that will help ease the tension early as much as the barn burners that are lining up on the outside.
By association, we can say that Osweiler is in the Peyton Manning mold, but what does that really mean? Sure, Osweiler had a first-row seat to Manning's maniacal preparation and all indications are that Osweiler was very well prepared mentally for the early stages of Texans camp. But our best guess is that he will try to be a much more vertical quarterback during his first full year as a starter, which isn't always easy to do. The Texans surrounded Osweiler with great deep-ball receivers despite the fact that some scouts worry about his mechanics when throwing deep. His deep ball accuracy over seven starts was debatable in Denver and, while that can improve over time, can it be good enough to push Houston into the playoffs again during his first season there?
There were few offensive linemen I liked more in the 2014 draft than the guard out of UCLA, but his college tape did not immediately translate into the NFL. The Texans are pumping up their former second-round pick this summer after Su'a-Filo started the final eight games of the season last year to moderate success. Should Su'a-Filo play average to slightly above-average football, this Texans team could be a force to be reckoned with up front. Of course, that also means hoping that Nick Martin has a similar developmental arc to his older brother Zack in Dallas.
Way too early season prediction: So much of this depends on Osweiler. The Texans have one of the biggest potential variances in win-loss total out of almost any team I've looked at this offseason. Houston could be 10-6 or 6-10 depending on how it handles a pretty brutal schedule and a division in which the Colts and Jaguars aren't going to lay down.
Camp report date: July 26.
Camp location: Anderson University, Anderson, Ind.
Offseason in a nutshell: Sometimes a team can get better simply by eliminating the clutter. Indianapolis began last season with a tremendous weight on its shoulders -- most of which dumped onto the back of quarterback Andrew Luck. The 'dream team' offense, loaded with young stars and big-play veterans, was primed to break records but could not protect its quarterback. The defense, a brainchild of its head coach, faltered due to injuries and a lack of stable core talent. This year has a different feel. Luck is supposedly healthy, Andre Johnson is gone and the Colts settled on a choice for offensive coordinator -- Rob Chudzinski -- who always seemed to make more sense for this offense in the first place. We must be careful: After pegging Indianapolis as a shoo-in for the Super Bowl this year, some of us are just as quick to label them the no-doubt comeback of the year front runner. There is good reason to believe this is a safe bet, but what if it isn't?
Player to watch in camp: Quarterback Andrew Luck: We have heard the words "practicing fully" and "without limitation" to describe Luck this offseason, but those phrases can still be blurry from time to time. What, exactly, can Luck do? Is there really no discomfort after missing half a season with a lacerated kidney? If so, is Luck still forcing passes after the routes have peaked? Has he developed a smoother and quicker draw on his open-field slide? The NFL's richest player will be analyzed to death this offseason and for good reason. He could take this team to a Super Bowl.
Three burning questions
As the great Stephen Holder pointed out this offseason, the Colts drained the well to pay for rookie running back Josh Ferguson as an undrafted free agent. His $35,000 in guarantees were pretty significant given the minute pool of cash teams have to lure players that weren't drafted. Per Holder, the Colts had a fourth-round grade on the running back. Picturing Luck with a shifty, catch-first third-down back gives fantasy nuts the chills and defensive coordinators headaches. So often we get caught up in the hype of undrafted free agents who flash during the spring where athleticism is picked up on above-game intelligence and knowledge of the playbook. But with Ferguson, we're allowing ourselves to dream a bit. This offense could be fun to watch with a blazing counterpart to Frank Gore.
From center to left tackle, the team has three first or second-round picks. While that might not mean much, the Colts overhauled parts of their offensive coaching staff this offseason in an effort to get more out of players who should have been playing better. Enter former Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, who has been one of the better offensive line position coaches in the country for the past 20 years before moving up the ladder into coordinator and head coaching roles. This job is the potential springboard for Philbin to jump back into the higher rungs of NFL coaching, and the talent is there to make it an easy transition.
Last year's first-round pick was set to be the final piece of Indy's puzzle last season -- an underneath and over-the-top speed threat who could clear out a defensive backfield with ease. That didn't happen, though not much did as a confused Colts offense muddled its way through an 8-8 season. Early indications out of camp are that Dorsett will settle in as a modified Tavon Austin-type. Despite the mound of hype-train pieces proclaiming that this is his comeback year, there is a higher likelihood that he'll be sprinkled into the offense and used more organically. The best part about camp is that we should get to see all of those possibilities, even the ones that will be left on the cutting room floor.
Training camp report dates: Rookies: July 25; Veterans: July 27
Training camp location: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Player to watch: Linebacker Myles Jack. Due to the NFL's graduation rule, Jack missed a significant portion of the team's offseason workouts. With so much curiosity looming, Jack could do little but tread water during his first minicamp and acclimate to the little things -- like the Florida sun. Jack kept the right attitude, hustling to every corner of the field if all else failed. His sideline-to-sideline athleticism might have made him a top-five draft selection had it not been for the noise surrounding his knee issue, which, according to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, does not require surgery. Traits that made Jack special during his college career, like his ball-hawking instinct and physicality, will be tough to gage in training camp. However, we will see exactly what coach Gus Bradley plans on doing with Jack and if he projects him as a middle linebacker in his rangy 4-3 defense. Bradley's OTTO or hybrid SAM position doesn't seem to make much sense, as he has bigger bodies elsewhere, and placing Jack in the middle will force him to learn the defense quicker. He is expected to be the type of player that never leaves the field, but that is up to him this August to prove he can be trusted that way.
Three burning questions
Conventional wisdom leads us to believe that protecting the quarterback from the backfield was a big reason why the Jaguars picked up Chris Ivory this offseason -- more than the enticing draw of a three-headed monster at running back. We'll get a more definitive look at the offensive rotation during camp, but our best guess is a mix of Ivory on early downs with Yeldon squeezed in on third. That leads us to a second question on Ivory, who is a phenomenal power back in bursts, but is 28 and is coming off seasons where he carried the ball 198 and 247 times, respectively. Camp can also give us a window into how the backs will be managed physically, and whether or not Ivory will be entitled to some veteran days off.
2. Do any of Jacksonville's former first-round fliers take hold?
The Jaguars made a splash in free agency, but they also took some of the smarter risks when it comes to low-cost, high-upside talent. Prince Amukamara was an ascending corner in New York despite injuries and Björn Werner was played woefully out of position for a number of seasons in Indianapolis. This team has been built the right way -- core, drafted talent followed by top-end free agent purchases -- but playoff-bound franchises also have to get lucky and strike it rich from time to time. We would love to see Amukamara give Jalen Ramsey a run for his money early in camp even if Ramsey will get all the chances he needs to be successful with the Jaguars.
Unfortunately, we don't have an All or Nothing or Hard Knocks to gain an all-access window into the Jaguars (and we don't expect to unless the team makes a run deep into the playoffs). Blake Bortles is doing something right -- he smashed franchise records for completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns in a single season and has developed the kind of relationship with budding star wideouts Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns that most coaches can only hope for. Sadly, we don't get to see much of the why. By all accounts, Bortles has the makeup of a franchise quarterback and is a season away from being paid handsomely like one. If he can rally the troops this August, we would not be surprised to see this team in the playoffs.
Way too early season prediction: All the planning, all the patience and all the saving has led to this moment. Fans of good football should root for the Jaguars because if they succeed, more owners will take notice and realize that there is a light at the end of the patience and process tunnel. For that to work, the team needs to win at least nine games and push for a wild-card spot. We think that will happen, despite the fact that Jacksonville has had five straight seasons with five or fewer wins.
Training camp report dates:Veterans and rookies July 29
Training camp location: Saint Thomas Sports Park, Nashville, Tennessee.
Player to watch: Guard Chance Warmack. This is really more of a way of talking about the entire Titans offensive line. But in looking at the Titans' depth chart right now, Warmack has the difficult task of working next to rookie right tackle Jack Conklin and being the messenger across an offensive line that could have more on its shoulders than any other team in football this season. Warmack, who reportedly has a six-pack, is currently bundled in with the rest of the disastrous 2013 draft class, but he has played at least 14 games in each of his first three seasons. Tennessee would like to see the dependable Warmack evolve into an every-down power, and perhaps this is the season it all comes together for the former Alabama road grader. Warmack has always been a better run blocker, and there's a good chance the Titans average more than 33 rushing attempts per game (possibly more if the team is interested in getting Marcus Mariota involved on the ground).
Three burning questions
1. What does the offense look like?
Simple enough, but the addition of DeMarco Murray leads us to believe that the Titans will look worlds different than they did a year ago. The phrase 'exotic smashmouth' was thrown around to our excitement and it leads us to believe the Titans might look like a cross between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles from a year ago. Run-heavy teams win Super Bowls and the Titans now have two bruising backs at their disposal.
The Green-Beckham hype train has been chugging this offseason which, if you've followed our exhaustive coverage of Cordarrelle Patterson, might not be excellent news. The Titans knew this would be a boom-or-bust pick and it was made before new general manager Jon Robinson took the reins. That means either Green-Beckham starts to soar -- his 32 catches and four touchdowns were a nice start, and the addition of Rishard Matthews should help free him from double coverage -- and is the focal point of Tennessee's passing game, or he's going to be handed a sled and taught how to block.
Sharpe, a fifth-round pick out of UMass, has a ton of potential but some scouts believe his frame lacked the proper bulk to handle the rigors of the NFL. Speed kills during organized team activities and minicamp, which might have been why Sharpe earned so many rave reviews thus far and took first-team snaps. In training camp, we should see if Sharpe can hold down the third wide receiver position, potentially edging out the likes of Matthews, Harry Douglas or Kendall Wright. That would be a stunner, but it would be another positive for Robinson, who needs to build depth across the board.
Way too early season prediction: We thought this team would do well to double their 2015 win total. This offseason they seem to have gotten three wins better but positive mojo and continued improvement from Marcus Mariota could bring this team into the conversation for seven or eight wins depending on how their division shakes out.