This offseason will be remembered in Tennessee as the one in which beloved franchise quarterback Steve McNair was first alienated and then sent packing from the only organization he had ever known. But amid that rather ugly denouement were many positive developments on the personnel front, indicating that the Titans are ready to emerge from their two-year, 9-23 tailspin of 2004-05.
The talent gap in the AFC South remains, with Indianapolis and Jacksonville in first class and Tennessee and Houston riding in coach. But it has narrowed from last season. The Titans added three proven players from winning programs in free agency: Colts linebacker DavidThornton, Patriots receiver David Givens and Steelers safety Chris Hope. Then they followed up by selecting two of the athletes with the most proven résumés in the draft, Texas quarterback Vince Young and USC running back LenDale White. Tennessee is likely in for a year of growing pains at quarterback, with Billy Volek handling the job until Young is ready, but the Titans now have the framework for their future in place.
Team in transition
With a new head coach in Gary Kubiak and a new general manager in Rick Smith, no other team in the division has undergone more of a transition this offseason than the five-year-old Texans. And it was clearly time to make changes, because the Dom Capers-Charley Casserly combination had gotten a fair shot and gone stale, bottoming out with last season's league-worst 2-14 finish. The Texans aren't ready to climb out of last place in the AFC South, but they put some pieces together this offseason and won't be the butt of quite so many jokes this year.
The team's decision to select defensive end Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush at the top of the draft may loom over the organization for a while, but you can't quibble with Houston's determination to get its offensive line problems fixed (drafting tackles Charles Spencer and Eric Winston with back-to-back picks in the third round) or the Texans' desire to ease the burden placed on AndreJohnson (adding veteran receiver Eric Moulds from Buffalo). Defensive end Anthony Weaver was another decent pickup, coming from Baltimore in free agency, and he'll play a key role in Houston's switch back to a 4-3 scheme.
Coach in the spotlight
TONY DUNGY, INDIANAPOLIS
It is by no means a make-or-break season for Dungy in Indy, but his work will be highly scrutinized this year as everyone watches how his talented Colts respond to the dejection of last January's hasty playoff exit. Will there be any hangover for the club that started 2005 13-0 but lost three of its last four? Or will Dungy's go-back-to-work mantra resonate with his team, steeling its resolve and making it even more inclined to keep its eyes on the prize? The Colts lost some talent this offseason (Edgerrin James, David Thornton and Larry Tripplett), but they're still the class of this division. If they can use last season's disappointment as fuel for this year's title drive, then the perfect season that wasn't will have served its purpose.