AFC South training camp challenges
Indy's secondary concerns, Jags reach for next step
Posted: Thursday July 5, 2007 11:12AM; Updated: Tuesday July 10, 2007 1:29PM
Challenge No. 1: Make Matt Schaub comfortable in a new offense
After watching David Carr struggle in his first season running his offense, coach Gary Kubiak brought in highly regarded backup quarterback, Matt Schaub, to be the new face of the franchise. Schaub has been stellar in the past two preseasons, but he enters the season with only two careers starts. With so little playing experience, his performance in preseason games is critical. Not only does he have to work out the kinks of playing in a new offense, he has to perform at a high level during the preseason to earn the respect and confidence of his teammates. With so much pressure and focus on his play, it is important that the Texans make Schaub comfortable in Kubiak's version of the West Coast Offense. Schaub's experience running the system in college and with the Falcons will surely help him with the transition, and that knowledge of the basic concepts and principles should give him a chance to hit the ground running with the Texans. But with little game experience, he may need to log more snaps than usual to get comfortable.
Challenge No. 2: Find another threat in the passing game
Schaub and two-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson are the foundation for the Texans' passing game, but they'll need the presence of another receiving threat to truly keep a defense on its collective toes. Tight end Owen Daniels displayed potential with 34 receptions and five touchdowns during his rookie campaign last year. Though he is not the most athletic player, his emergence as a threat in the middle could alleviate some of the safety attention that Johnson garners and give Schaub a security blanket underneath. If Daniels does not become that alternate option, the Texans are hoping that promising rookie receiver Jacoby Jones can develop into a reliable threat on the other side of the field. Jones has the speed and quickness to take advantage of single coverage, but making the transition from small college star to productive NFL player typically takes time. Other options are available in veterans Kevin Walter and Andre Davis, but neither has been very productive during their careers. Don't rule out the additions of a veteran receiver.
Challenge No. 3: Get better play out of the defensive line
The Texans' defensive struggles start with the ineffectiveness of their defensive line. Despite repeatedly selecting defensive linemen in the first round of the draft, Houston has failed to find the right combination up front to create a consistent pass rush. But now with Mario Williams, Travis Johnson and '07 draftee Amobi Okoye slated to start, the onus is on this crew to produce some pressure on opposing signal-callers. That task has to be led by Williams, who possesses the size, speed and athleticism to be the dominant player on that unit. Toe injuries hampered plagued him last season, but he showed flashes with three-and-a-half sacks during a four-game span in October. Johnson's ineffectiveness as a rusher allowed teams to double Williams without fear. If Johnson can recover from his season-ending calf injury and provide a push inside, Williams should begin to see less of the double teams that he faced last season. And if Williams can be the difference maker off the edge, the rest of the defensive line will have an easier time getting to the quarterback.
Challenge No. 1: Replace key starters in the secondary
When the Colts open camp in less than a month, they will feature a secondary with three new starters. Opting not to overpay Nick Harper, Jason David and Mike Doss, the Colts chose to stick to their previosuly successful blueprint by plugging young draft picks into those positions. By cleverly drafting potential replacements a year or two before their starters depart for bigger contracts, the Colts have been able to groom young players for starting roles on defense. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, the most likely replacements for the starting corners, already have logged extensive time in the Colts' nickel and dime defenses. Doss' replacement, Antoine Bethea, started eight games as a rookie last season. With newcomers Daymeion Hughes and Michael Coe in the mix, the Colts will have as many six players with three years or less of experience in the back end. Though the simplicity of the Colts' Cover Two allows for young players to play early, working through their growing pains will be the goal of the preseason.
Challenge No. 2: Improve the league's worst run defense
After finishing the regular season ranked dead last versus the run, the Colts went on an unlikely Super Bowl run fueled in large part by their improved run defense. A defense that allowed opponents to average more than 160 rushing yards during the regular season stiffened considerably during the playoffs. Holding each of their four playoff opponents below 100 yards on the ground, the Colts showed a solid gap-control defense that eliminated the big plays that had plagued them throughout the regular season. Building on the momentum of that success is a starting point for their training camp objectives. But getting a Colts' defense with several new starters to fully understand the principles of the one-gap run defense presents a major challenge. Teaching those principles will occur in practice, but developing the chemistry to make the scheme come together will have to occur during the games.