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Old 05-07-2004   #1
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Default Closing the gap in the AFC South (PFW)

Good article on the AFC South on PFW's website about how this division is getting tighter and tighter. The Colts and Titans better watch out, because those foot prints are about to squash them!

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Texans, Jaguars making push, closing gap on Titans, Colts

The Jaguars and Texans believe they have made adequate personnel maneuvers to bolster their rosters and make a run at Indianapolis and Tennessee atop the AFC South.

PFW: Two months before training camp, how would you handicap this division?

Reynolds: The free world seems to be choosing the Colts as the favorite in the AFC South. They are the defending champions and did win 14 games last season with an average defense. But, for our money, the Colts must first answer a groundswell of defensive questions before we pencil them in for the Super Bowl in Jacksonville. They did little to quell concern about a lack of talent at strong-side linebacker, the position Marcus Washington vacated to bolt for Washington. Two of the Colts’ top three cornerbacks — David Macklin and Walt Harris — also are gone. Nick Harper played well in spots, but either Donald Strickland (he played mostly safety in 2003) or Joe Jefferson, a small-school product yet to catch up to NFL speed because of injuries, has to perform. Rookie Jason David, a 5-foot-8 speed merchant, could be the best of the lot by midseason. We like the Colts’ offense — who wouldn’t? — and can see them rolling up 10 or more wins without much help from the defense.

The Titans did a fine job restocking in the draft. Travis LaBoy or Antwan Odom will step right in and start, and with Kevin Carter moving inside, there should be little concern about the NFL’s top run defense showing up again this year. The Titans still don’t have a proven commodity at nickel cornerback. Andre Woolfolk, who missed most of his rookie season with a dislocated ankle, is back on the field, but he’s not at full strength. Tony Beckham is out with another injury, and rookies Rich Gardner (Penn State, third round) and Michael Waddell (North Carolina, fourth round) are raw. Beyond that, the Titans must prove they can run the football. Eddie George remains a candidate to be cut post-June 1. With George, the Titans are likely to throw the ball 500 times this season rather than get 2.9 yards per pop out of their 31-year-old back.

Jacksonville, even according to Jeff Fisher, is a team to watch. Its defense was the best in the league against the run (average gain per rush) and second in rush yards allowed per game. The Jaguars also ranked 12th in total offense — this with a rookie quarterback. RB Fred Taylor is emerging as a perennial Pro Bowl performer and shaken the “soft” label he earned early in his career. Jacksonville has an underrated offensive line, and WR Jimmy Smith showed up at minicamp ready to compete for the No. 1 WR job — Smith was down almost 10 pounds and “as fast as I’ve seen him,” according to one coach. As per norm with young teams, the Jaguars must learn to win on the road. They open the season with a rough four-game stretch that will tell us just how far Del Rio’s bunch has progressed — at Buffalo, vs. Denver, at Tennessee and vs. Indianapolis. We’re not sure the secondary is that much better with Juran Bolden instead of Fernando Bryant at left cornerback and FS Deke Cooper replaced by Deon Grant. In addition, the special teams will improve under veteran Pete Rodriguez, but will they improve enough?

The Texans, quietly, had a fine offseason. Early free-agent scores of DT Robaire Smith and ORT Todd Wade improve Houston on both sides of the ball. Smith played defensive end at Michigan State and, along with first-round draft choices Dunta Robinson and Jason Babin, improve the defense and its versatility (head coach Dom Capers wants to mix defensive fronts, from 3-4 to 4-3, at times, and Babin and Smith are keys to making the change on the fly). On offense, QB David Carr is in his third year and finally has a stonewall offensive line to protect him along with a potent running game. We have our doubts that Domanick Davis can hold up for a full season, as do the Texans, but Tony Hollings and Jonathan Wells are good depth, and insurance, should Davis break down. WR Andre Johnson has an extremely bright future and could easily be in the Pro Bowl in February. Johnson has the speed, size and drive to become the second-best wide receiver in the division (behind Marvin Harrison) by season’s end.

In the long run, it may be too much to ask upstarts like Jacksonville and Houston to overtake heavily talented veteran favorites like Indianapolis and Tennessee this season, but both "young" clubs are headed in the right direction. We've seen rapid turnarounds before; Capers took Carolina to the NFC title game in his second season as head coach, and John Fox (Panthers), Bill Belichick (New England) and Joe Gibbs (Washington, 1982) are examples of coaches who took their teams to the Super Bowl in their second seasons as head coaches, giving Del Rio something to strive toward.
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Old 05-07-2004   #2
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Good read. Gives me some hope.
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Old 05-07-2004   #3
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Yep, good read, but nothing we didn't already believe. This division could concievably be a 4 horse race. Although the pros might still think of the Colts and Tutones as the powerhouses and division winners, I feel secure in at least a wild card spot, even at this early date.
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Old 05-07-2004   #4
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I was with him until he classed Jonathan Wells as good Depth
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Old 05-07-2004   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Porky
WR Andre Johnson has an extremely bright future and could easily be in the Pro Bowl in February. Johnson has the speed, size and drive to become the second-best wide receiver in the division (behind Marvin Harrison) by season’s end.
He WILL become the 2nd best WR in the division
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Old 05-07-2004   #6
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I for one think we should be very cautious of Jacksonville. I feel like they pretty much spanked our behinds in Jacksonville. It seemed their defense physically manhandled us..............and that Leftwich guy is just irritating enough to come along very quickly. I hope we can stand toe to toe with them this coming season............they worry me.
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Old 06-12-2004   #7
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By adding 3 young starters on defense we will have some growing pains but we will gain great experience this year and be a top team by 2005.
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Old 06-12-2004   #8
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Toward the end of last year half our D was on injured reserve and our third string quarterback was leading the offense. Granted that's no excuse for getting whipped like that but I GUARANTEE you it won't happen again. This years two games will be close like the first three games we played against them. Whoever has the ball last wins.
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Old 06-12-2004   #9
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Quote:
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I was with him until he classed Jonathan Wells as good Depth
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Old 06-12-2004   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sabbat00
I for one think we should be very cautious of Jacksonville. I feel like they pretty much spanked our behinds in Jacksonville. It seemed their defense physically manhandled us..............and that Leftwich guy is just irritating enough to come along very quickly. I hope we can stand toe to toe with them this coming season............they worry me.

sabbat00 - I agree with you, Jack Del Rio is a heck of Defensive Coach ... We cannot take them to lightly.
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Old 06-13-2004   #11
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I think this organization will have taken a significant step forward when we finally get a breakthrough win over the Titans and the Colts. Would hope we could at least split the series with all three AFC South rivals this season and find at least another 4 - 5 wins during the course of the season...right now I would guess we will finish with a 7/9 or 8/8 season.
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Old 06-13-2004   #12
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The Texans will make Leftwhich look like a second year quarterback. We got no pressure on them and when we get back Seth Payne and Gary Walker I guarantee Byron will feel the heat. I am not worried about Jacksonville. In fact, they should be worried about us.
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Old 06-14-2004   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cap1
I was with him until he classed Jonathan Wells as good Depth
He is good depth. He's as good as most teams third or fourth string running back who never sees the field but gets to pretend he's the other teams starter every day in practice.

Ok, I apologize to Jonathan. That was off said and mean spirited. I promise to stop if you'll just show a spark. Just one. C'mon Jonathan, you can do it. Read this kind of stuff, get mad, and get into camp on a mission to take that starting spot.

(Hey, it's worth a try)
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