Boasting two playoffs teams in 2012, the AFC South has some high expectations at the top of the division. Both the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts have reason to believe they could be competitive, playoff-level teams in 2013. In the parity-driven NFL, though, no team can be written off. The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are each looking to break through and end playoff droughts.
The Texans had to rely on youth in the starting lineup along the offensive line in 2012, as rookie Ben Jones started several games at right guard for the team. While it's still very early in the offseason workout program, a different young player on the roster may be able to fill the void at right guard for the team.
Brandon Brooks, a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, struggled with conditioning in the Texas heat as a rookie, but has stepped into the starting role in his second season. Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle said that Brooks "may be the early, happy surprise" of the offseason, as the huge offensive lineman is in better shape in 2013 and ready to take over as a starter.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak spoke with reporters after the third day of OTAs on Friday and complimented young players like Brooks on their ability to "all of a sudden become pros at a very young age."
Turning a 2-14 team in 2011 into a 11-5 team in 2012 was an impressive feat that earned general manager Ryan Grigson the NFL Executive of the Year award, but with a defense that still ranked in the bottom 10 of the NFL in 2012, there was more work to be done. One player brought in to help fix the defense was cornerback Greg Toler, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals.
For me, Toler's early impact does not surprise. I do not think this guy is another "shorts and helmet" guy. He can play, and play well. I spent a lot of my free time in March watching tape of Toler, and I came away very impressed.
In fact, of the 13 free agents Ryan Grigson has signed since the new league year began, the Toler signing was one of his best in terms of talent-for-cost.
A fourth-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Toler played mostly in a reserve role for the Cardinals, with the exception of 2010 when he started 13 games.
On Wednesday, the Titans will officially begin their 2013 OTAs and will do so with high expectations. With upgraded talent at safety and defensive tackle, SuperHorn of Music City Miracles expects the defense to be a versatile group in 2013 under defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.
Also on Music City Miracles, jlomas did a breakdown of numbers from Pro Football Focus that shows the Titans as one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. With so much talent and such high expectations, all eyes will be on one player to make things work: quarterback Jake Locker.
Entering his third season since being selected eighth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, Locker hasn't lived up to the expectations that come with being a top-10 pick. His 74.0 quarterback rating was one of the worst in the NFL, but with one of the NFL's best offensive lines, all eyes will be on Locker to turn the corner. That'll begin with OTAs on Wednesday.
Possibly the worst team in 2012, the Jaguars have about as much optimism as any team with a complete rebuild on their hands could have. With new head coach Gus Bradley leading high-energy practices with music blaring, the team has plenty of youth on the defensive side of the ball that is drawing most of the attention so far in OTAs.
The biggest difference for the team in 2013, though, could be the addition of some quick players. On Friday, Jaguars.com's John Oehser talked about the amount of speed that was added to the roster. With running back Denard Robinson and wide receiver Ace Sanders added in the 2013 NFL Draft, it could be the offense that is most intriguing to watch for the Jaguars.
Big Cat Country's Eric Stoner did a two-part breakdown of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's offense during his time with the Miami Hurricanes. The offense highlights speed and uses running backs creatively in the passing game, making Robinson and Sanders two players that will be interesting to watch in OTAs and the ensuing season.