JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (12-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Jacksonville
LAST YEAR: Earned first postseason berth since 2007 and made surprising run to AFC championship game, when Jaguars led New England by 10 points in fourth quarter before losing 24-20. Rode one of league’s top defenses – featuring Pro Bowlers A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey – to most successful season in nearly two decades. RB Leonard Fournette and LT Cam Robinson, both rookies, helped Jacksonville lead league in rushing.
CAMP NEEDS: Stay healthy. Develop chemistry between QB Blake Bortles and revamped receiving corps that features newcomers Moncrief, Chark and Seferian-Jenkins. Bolster running game – Norwell should help – that faltered late last season, especially in playoffs. Stout defense returns 10 of 11 starters, which should allow coordinator Todd Wash to make seamless tweaks to stunts, blitzes and coverages to become more diverse.
EXPECTATIONS: With nearly every key starter and entire coaching staff back, Jaguars expect to be AFC contenders in Doug Marrone’s second season. They surely will be trendy pick to win AFC South and make consecutive postseason appearances for first time since 1998-99.
TENNESSEE TITANS (10-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Nashville, Tennessee
LAST YEAR: Titans swept Jacksonville but missed AFC South title after losing three straight in December. Winning first postseason game in 14 years with amazing comeback in Kansas City didn’t save coach Mike Mularkey, not when he stuck with OC Terry Robiskie following ugly rout in New England.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: First-time head coach Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis, QB Blaine Gabbert, LB Rashaan Evans, LB Harold Landry.
CAMP NEEDS: Sign Pro Bowl LT Taylor Lewan to contract extension. Lewan stayed away from mandatory minicamp to make clear he wants new deal instead of fifth-year option at $9.3 million. QB Marcus Mariota mastering another offense with third head coach. Develop WR Corey Davis and rest of young receiving group.
EXPECTATIONS: For so long, Vrabel was seen as future coaching star, and former Patriots linebacker gets no honeymoon period with franchise coming off consecutive 9-7 seasons. Mariota is going into fourth season and GM Jon Robinson has assembled this franchise’s most talented roster in decade, leaving division title and long playoff run as Titans’ next step.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Westfield, Indiana
LAST YEAR: Andrew Luck missed entire season and Colts never recovered. They blew seven halftime leads, one short of NFL record. They scored 46 fourth-quarter points. Those numbers almost certainly wouldn’t have been same with Luck. But there were other major problems. Indy allowed league-high 56 sacks and produced second-fewest sacks in league (25). Not surprisingly, Colts missed playoffs for third straight season, wound up with first losing record since Peyton Manning missed entire 2011 season, and made coaching change.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Luck’s anticipated return from shoulder injury as well as returns of 2016 and 2017 first-round picks C Ryan Kelly and S Malik Hooker from injuries. Coach Frank Reich, rookie G Quenton Nelson, TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, OL Matt Slauson, DL Denico Autry, DE Kemoko Turay, LB Darius Leonard, OG Braden Smith, DE Tyquan Lewis, RB Nyheim Hines.
CAMP NEEDS: LB, WR, pass rushers.
EXPECTATIONS: Luck has been throwing for more than one month and if he’s healthy enough to start Sept. 9 opener against Bengals, team’s outlook changes completely. Sure Colts have many other holes to fill and it will take more than one offseason to fill them. But if Luck gets back to old form, don’t expect Indy to suffer same fate as 2017.
HOUSTON TEXANS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Greenbrier, West Virginia
LAST YEAR: Texans had first losing record since 2013 as they dealt with numerous injuries, including to rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson and superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. Watson was bright spot in disappointing season for his play in seven games before he tore anterior cruciate ligament in right knee in practice. He threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns, giving Texans hope they’ve finally found franchise quarterback after years of misfires and disappointment. Another positive was continued improvement of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Defensive end finished second in NFL with career-high 21 tackles for losses and his 9 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles were also career bests. He had career-high 59 tackles and started all 16 games for first time in career after struggling with injuries in first two NFL seasons before playing 14 games in 2016
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Tyrann Mathieu, G Senio Kelemete, G Zach Fulton, OT Seantrel Henderson, CB Aaron Colvin, QB Brandon Weeden.
CAMP NEEDS: Texans will have eye on two of their biggest stars who are returning to field after sustaining season-ending injuries last season. Watson must show surgically repaired right knee has healed and that he still has same burst and playmaking ability he showed as rookie last season. After Watt played eight games over last two seasons because of injuries, including broken left leg last season, Houston must see if Watt can return to Defensive Player of Year form. Texans will also use camp to see how offensive line fits together and hope revamped group protects QB much better than last season, when team allowed second-most sacks in NFL.
EXPECTATIONS: If Watson is healthy and can build on limited work as rookie, Houston’s offense will be much better. Defensive front will get boost if Watt can stay on field to play with Clowney, and secondary should be much improved with addition of Mathieu and Colvin. With Watson and Watt leading team, Texans should shake off last season’s struggles to contend for third AFC South title in four years.
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