Putting together a defense which will compliment an explosive offense leading up to the 2005 may be the biggest challenge for the Colts. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans are closing the distance of superiority between them and Indianapolis, with the retooling Titans expected to struggle through a season of change.
After a season of improvement in Jacksonville, the Jaguars have begun the off-season tooling necessary to take the team to the next level. Gone are offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and his dink-and-dunk offense, being replaced by the more diversified, vertical challenging scheme expected with Carl Smith.
If anything, it may be the unknown which holds back these Jaguars.
The Jaguars have been offensively challenged for years, with this being the root cause which prohibited the team from making the playoffs after the 2004 season. The Jaguars offense will sport the same players for the most part, but the team continues to seek an explosive wide receiver to team with veteran Jimmy Smith. The Jaguars missed out on wide receiver Derrick Mason in free agency, but did land the pass-rushing defensive end the team needed.
Signing a five-year deal with the Jaguars, former Denver Broncos’ end Reggie Hayward should supply plenty of punch to already solid Jacksonville defense. While not displaying the offensive explosiveness of a team such as the Colts, the Jacksonville defense is the class-act of the AFC South and with an improved offense this Jaguars team could be on the cusp of dethroning the mighty Colts.
Coming off a 7-9 season in 2004, the Houston Texans can finally believe they have arrived. Despite issues on both sides of the ball in Houston, the Texans are clearly on the rise and are working to add the component players around a solid cast. Over the second-half of the 2004 season, Houston played very good football, especially at home.
A lack of a pass rush has been an ongoing issue for the Texans. With many potential free agent players pricing themselves out of the Texans price-range, Houston will depend on the draft and scheme to get to the quarterback. Additionally, the Texans will focus on improving the linebackers and cornerbacks as a means to offset a deficient attack on the quarterback.
With the signing of linebacker Morlon Greenwood (Miami), the Texans are serious about improving the speed and quickness within the defensive front-seven. Sporting good range and quickness, along with solid coverage skills, Greenwood is expected to provide the Texans a different look heading into the 2005 season.
While improving the defense has been an ongoing process in Houston, the offense still needs a few tools to compliment the talents of quarterback David Carr and wide receiver Andre Johnson. The Houston offensive line has been a work in process for three-seasons, with Carr taking the brunt of the inexperience, marginal talent, and inconsistency the line has offered. To take the Houston offense to the next level, a wide receiver opposite Johnson is a necessity to take some pressure off the budding star.
The Texans may not be in the same class of the Colts and Jaguars in the AFC South division, but this team is building its foundation for years of strength and prosperity. While the Texans may not win the division, they are going to be competitive and with a little luck, they will be in the race throughout the 2005 season.
The same shouldn’t be expected from the Tennessee Titans in the 2005 season. Strapped by salary-cap restraints over the past couple seasons, the Titans decided to purge some 27-million dollars worth of salary to sit below the league mandated 85-million dollar mark. The release of veterans Kevin Carter, Samari Rolle, Fred Miller, Robert Holcombe, Joe Nedney, along with starting cornerback Kevin Dyson as a free agent has cleared the space on the roster, as well create numerous voids within the roster.
The once mighty Titans shouldn’t be expected to improve upon its 5-11 record of 2004 with this type of talent turnover. Inexperience, youth, and a lack of quality and depth mar the Tennessee roster from top to bottom and throughout. The defensive backfield is in shambles with the changes. Much of the same should be said in regards of the situation at the right tackle position once filled by the reliable Miller. At receiver, Drew Bennett will team with the inexperienced, but potentially explosive Tyrone Calico.
Steve McNair appears to be willing to play another season, but with the rash of changes in Tennessee, he may choose to retire following off-season sternum surgery. Should McNair retire, Billy Volek will step in to start, with limited depth behind him to rely upon in the event of injury.
The 2005 season does not appear to be the ideal time for the Titans, but removing themselves from the serious cap situation they faced will re-establish Tennessee as a team of the future. With general manager Floyd Reese and head coach Jeff Fisher heading up the personnel side of this organization, the rebuilding of the Titans shouldn’t take long.
When looking at the AFC South division, the Indianapolis Colts remain the team to beat, in what is becoming a much improved battle-ground. With an explosive offense and an opportunistic defense, Indianapolis has the skill players in place to be a dangerous foe for any opponent.
Heading into the off-season and onto the 2005 season, the Colts have to address numerous questions within its team roster and ongoing efforts of improvement. One of the major questions heading into the off-season is the status of running back Edgerrin James. The Colts have placed the franchise tag on the standout back, and Indianapolis is exploring the potential to trade James, if successful the Colts will have a void to fill at running back, with Dominic Rhodes getting the first opportunity to fill the role of starting running back.
The Indianapolis defense has been the thorn in the side of their run in the playoffs. Despite their league leading offense, the Colts have not been able to win a championship. While the offense has led this team into the playoffs, its defense has been the critical component missing from making this a balanced team. On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts sport a budding star in defensive end Dwight Freeney, but the defense still ranked 29th in the league.
Head coach Tony Dungy is a defensive minded coach, which makes the inability of Indianapolis to field a respectable defense puzzling. Again in the 2004 season, the Colts were void of overall talent, as well as playmakers. The Colts will start the 2005 season with a new starting safety, a new starting cornerback, as well as potentially two new starting linebackers.
As the Colts seek to improve their overall speed and quickness, they have stumbled on the defensive side of the ball due to salary-cap restraints, which is due to their commitment to players on the roster. With an enormous amount of the salary-cap wrapped up on the offensive side of the ball, the defense hasn’t received the immediate focus over the past couple seasons.
In spite of their questionable defense, the Indianapolis Colts remain the team to beat in the AFC South division, but the distance is closing. The Colts will need to improve their defense to hold off the up and coming Jaguars and Texans, potentially as soon as in the 2005 season.