Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. With camps opening later this month, Jeremy Bergman, Herbie Teope, Nick Shook and Marc Sessler are examining the key issues for each team in this division-by-division series. Here's the AFC South camp primer:
Training camp report date: rookies and veterans (July 25).
Location: The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Most important position battle: Offensive line. After allowing 54 sacks in 2017, the Texans made upgrading the front five a priority during free agency. Houston signed offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson to a one-year deal; Zach Fulton, who can play guard and center, signed a four-year deal; and Senio Kelemete, who can play all five spots on the offensive line, signed a three-year deal. Other offseason moves affecting the offensive line include the Texansrecently parting ways with guard Jeff Allen and allowing guard Xavier Su'a-Filo to sign with the Tennessee Titans. Houston still has center Nick Martin and offensive tackle Julie'n Davenport, among others, and used a third-round pick on Martinas Rankin in the 2018 NFL Draft. But there could be four new starters on the offensive line when the dust settles after training camp.
Newcomers to watch: OLs Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete. The Texans have a pair of versatile offensive linemen with Fulton and Kelemete. Both players also provide game experience, as Fulton appeared in 63 games (with 46 starts) in four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, while Kelemete appeared in 57 games (with 22 starts) over the past four seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Kelemete's ability to be a plug-and-play offensive lineman in 2017 prompted Saints starting left tackle Terron Armstead to call Kelemete the team's MVP. The Texans are likely to continue the evaluation process throughout training camp, but how quickly Fulton and Kelemete can secure starting jobs will go a long way in determining Houston's success in 2018.
Looming camp question: How is Deshaun Watson's knee? So far, so good for Watson's projected return by training camp. The second-year quarterback did some work during the offseason workout program, including individual position drills and 7-on-7 activities, but the Texans have always eyed camp for his full return from an ACL injury. A healthy Watson took the league by storm in 2017 before the early-November injury, totaling 1,699 yards passing and 19 touchdowns in seven games, while adding 269 yards rushing and two more scores on 36 carries. If Watson is indeed 100 percent healthy for the regular season, the Texans have plenty of reasons to believe a rebound campaign is in store after finishing the 2017 season with a 4-12 record.
Training camp report dates: rookies (July 22) and veterans (July 25).
Location: Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana.
Most important position battle: Running back. The Colts transition from Frank Gore, now with the Miami Dolphins, to a new unnamed starter ahead of the 2018 season. Indianapolis has a backfield crowd to choose from, as Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Josh Ferguson and Robert Turbin, who will serve a four-game suspension to start the regular season, return from last year's roster. The Colts also used a pair of picks on Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in the 2018 NFL Draft. While the starting job is up for grabs, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Colts leaned on a committee approach. Hines, in particular, provides 4.38 40-yard dash speed, and the Colts could look for creative ways to get the rookie involved out of the backfield as a receiver.
Newcomer to watch: TE Eric Ebron. The Colts already had a capable tight end with Jack Doyle, who's fresh off a Pro Bowl season. But now the team has a formidable duo for opponents to contend with, thanks to the arrival of Ebron, who joined the Colts on a two-year deal during free agency. It's no secret first-year coach Frank Reich enjoys utilizing tight ends, as evidenced by his time as an offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Reich is primed to unleash an effective 1-2 punch at the position in 2018. For his part, Ebron, who averages 11.1 yards per catch on his career, looks forward to playing the role of Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.
Looming camp question: Is Andrew Luck's throwing shoulder ready? This is the only question that really matters when it comes to the future of the Colts. By now, Luck's recovery and rehabilitation from a shoulder injury has arguably drawn more coverage than Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice in his prime. But by all accounts throughout the offseason, Luck appears on track to be a full-go by training camp, and he recently said there is no pain in his throwing shoulder. Of course, the verdict remains out until Luck is observed as a full participant while throwing a real football in 11-on-11 drills at Grand Park. But the optimism for the Colts to re-emerge in the AFC South will only rise if Luck is indeed 100 percent healthy.
Training camp report dates: rookies (July 18) and veterans (July 25).
Location: TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
Most important position battle: Wide receivers. The Jaguars possess a talent-rich roster, which combines a blend of veterans and emerging young stars. And for the first time in a long time, the team enters training camp in tweak mode in lieu of all-out position-battle madness. Still, the one spot that requires attention is the wide receiver corps, considering the departure of Allen Robinson, who signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Bears during free agency, and release of Allen Hurns, who eventually signed with the Dallas Cowboys. The Jaguars, however, shouldn't have too many issues filling the holes. Jacksonville re-signed Marqise Lee to a four-year deal, signed Donte Moncrief to a one-year pact, and then used a second-round pick (61st overall) on D.J. Chark. The Jaguars also have Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole, among others, on the roster heading to camp.
Newcomer to watch: OG Andrew Norwell. The prized free-agent signing made an already-good Jaguars offensive line even better. Norwell, who inked an eye-popping five-year, $66.5 million deal with $30 million guaranteed, immediately upgrades the left side of the offensive line. Norwell comes from the Carolina Panthers' run-oriented offense, and his presence at left guard provides a boost for running back Leonard Fournette, who grinded out 1,040 rushing yards while averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt in 2017.
Looming camp question: Can the Jaguars show last season wasn't a fluke? In past years, the biggest question hanging over Jacksonville surrounded the development of Blake Bortles, who enters his fifth season. But the signal-caller silenced some of his critics in 2017 by helping guide the Jaguars to an AFC South division title (with a 10-6 record) and the AFC Championship Game. Now, all eyes are on a potential encore, and the Jaguars know they won't sneak up on opponents in 2018. The challenge for Jacksonville going forward is to show the rest of the league the 2017 season wasn't a mirage, and Bortles embraces the opportunity to prove he and his teammates can build on the success.
Training camp report dates: rookies (July 22) and veterans (July 25).
Location: Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, Tennessee.
Most important position battle: Inside linebacker. The Titans lost Avery Williamson, who signed a three-year deal with the New York Jets during free agency, and his production won't be easy to replace. In four seasons with the Titans, Williamson led the team in tackles twice and provided defensive leadership while playing next to Wesley Woodyard at the inside linebacker position. The Titans addressed Williamson's departure by using a first-round pick (22nd overall) on Rashaan Evans. But there will be competition among Evans, Woodyard, Jayon Brown, Nate Palmer and veteran Will Compton, who signed a one-year deal during free agency after spending five seasons in Washington. One thing is certain when it comes to this looming camp battle: First-year head coach Mike Vrabel, a former NFL linebacker, will know exactly what he's looking for.
Newcomer to watch: RB Dion Lewis. The arrival of Lewis, who signed in the wake of the Titans opting to not bring back the now-retired DeMarco Murray, signals the team is looking at a committee approach between the elusive 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis and physical Derrick Henry, who is listed at 6-3 and 247 pounds. Lewis provides versatility out of the backfield, as he totaled 1,110 yards (896 rushing) and eight touchdowns with the New England Patriots last season. Henry, who is capable of handling the traditional role as a featured rusher, totaled 744 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 176 carries (4.2 yards per attempt) in 2017. The two running backs complement each other's skill sets, and Lewis believes he and Henry could eventually develop into the top backfield duo in the league.
Looming camp question: Is defense the new calling card in Tennessee?Marcus Mariota is the face of the franchise, but Tennessee appears on track to be shaped by its defensive-minded head coach. While the Titans ranked a respectable 13th in total defense last season, Vrabel and the team's decision makers didn't maintain the status quo during the offseason, bolstering the unit with key additions. During the first wave of free agency, the Titans signed cornerback Malcolm Butler and now boast a quality trio of pass defenders in Butler, Adoree' Jackson and Logan Ryan. The Titans also signed defensive tackle Bennie Logan to a one-year deal in April, and then used draft picks on Evans in the first round and outside linebacker Harold Landry in the second (41st overall). Vrabel's reputation as a fierce competitor and the pieces he's added to an already-good Titans defense should help the unit shine going forward.