The 2009 AFC South – What Can We Expect?
Personally, I found the overall outcome of the 2008 AFC South’s season both interesting and disappointing.
Interesting to see the unexpected play of the Tennessee Titans that led to a 13-3 record and division championship, and disappointing to see the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were suppose to contend for the division title, fall apart from the start in week one and never recover, and ending in last place at 5-11.
Alas, I don’t foresee much improvement for the Jaguars since they are in major rebuilding mode; however, with the retirement of Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, the departure of Albert Haynesworth from the Titans, and other personnel and coaching changes, we need to analyze each team to best guess the outcome of this upcoming season.
The following is a review and prediction for the performance of each team in the AFC South for the 2009 season.
Tennessee Titans (13-3 in 2008)
The abovementioned departure of Albert Haynesworth was a serious blow to the Titans defense.
How much was he worth? Just ask the Washington Redskins, who made him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history with a seven-year/$100M deal.
The Titans will attempt to replace him with either Jovan Haye, a free agent pick-up from Tampa Bay, or 2009 second round draft pick Sen’Derrick Marks from Auburn.
Regardless, the Titans will have a serious challenge replacing Haynesworth’s production and on-field presence.
Also in need of attention is the aging Nick Harper. The cornerback is not getting any younger, so third rounder Ryan Mouton (Hawaii) and seventh-rounder Jason McCourty (Rutgers) were selected and will compete to eventually replace him. Cortland Finnegan should continue to lock down the right side of the field.
Offensively, a few changes were made in the pass-catching department. To address needs at the wide receiver position, the Titans reached out into free agency and picked up Nate Washington from Pittsburgh, and used their 2009 first round pick to select Kenny Britt.
Alge Crumpler did very little in 2008, so due to a third-round pick from the New England Patriots, the Titans picked up Jared Cook from South Carolina.
I expect the Titans to struggle on both sides of the ball; therefore, there is no way they come close to matching their 2008 record. If they win nine games in 2009, they should be very happy.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4 in 2008)
A major coaching transition could be a challenge for the Colts in 2009. First of all, Tony Dungy retired. Not only did the Colts lose their head coach, the NFL lost an ambassador.
There is no coach in any sport who can compare to Coach Dungy, and we can only hope he returns to the NFL in some capacity.
Then the Colts lost defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, and due to a change in the NFL’s pension program, offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd may soon retire.
Both have filed their retirement papers, according to owner Jim Irsay. Their departure would be a serious blow for the Colts.
Moore has been with Peyton Manning from day one, and Mudd formulated the offensive line scheme of constantly interchanging players, which led to the fewest sacks allowed over the last 12 seasons (218), and only 14 sacks in 585 pass attempts in 2008.
Other offensive losses include Marvin Harrison, who was given his outright release, Dominic Rhodes was also released, and it is rumored that the Colts are losing faith in Joseph Addai, so he will have to prove his worth in 2009.
So far, the Colts have been relatively quiet in 2009 free agency with no significant signings or losses. Center Jim Saturday was re-signed, and Anthony Gonzalez will be looked upon to fill Harrison’s shoes as Reggie Wayne continues on his All-World productive ways.
And then there is Peyton Manning; however, with the possible loss of Moore and Mudd, he could be looking at changes he hasn’t had to deal with in his NFL career. Who knows–he may even struggle a tad.
In the 2009 draft, the Colts selected Donald Brown, running back out of Connecticut in the first round. Are you paying attention, Joseph Addai? He may see action immediately sharing time with Addai.
All in all, the Colts may enter unchartered territory this upcoming season with all the coaching changes. Surely Reggie Wayne will see double and triple coverage, so Gonzalez must step up to keep the opposing defenses honest.
If Addai’s durability continues to be an issue, rookie Donald Brown will be given the opportunity to shine especially since Dominic Rhodes was again released. The offense may be strong enough to win 10 games, but I wouldn’t bet the bank on it.
Houston Texans (8-8 in 2008)
After losing the first four games, the Texans rallied to win five of their last six games to finish the 2008 season strong.
Remember Mario Williams, the defensive end that was chosen instead of Reggie Bush in the 2007 draft, which led to Houston being laughed at for supposedly not knowing what they were doing? Well, who’s laughing now?
Reggie Bush’s NFL career has been mediocre at best while Mario Williams has become a force for the Houston Texans. During the 2008 season, Williams had 12 sacks and caused four fumbles, and was identified as one of the best defensive ends in the NFL.
Also, we witnessed the arrival of Steve Slaton, the then rookie running back from West Virginia. In his rookie year, Slaton ran for 1,282 yards, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns, while averaging 4.8 yards/carry.
Moreover, Matt Schaub’s production was respectable. In 11 games, Schaub completed 66.1 percent of his passes, and throwing 15 touchdown passes. His QB rating was 92.7.
Furthermore, Andre Johnson, the superstar wide receiver, hauled in 115 receptions for 1,575 yards and eight touchdowns. Needless to say, the Texan’s offensive output was quite good.
The off-season for the Texans has been active. On defense, they acquired Cato June from Tampa Bay, and he will immediately add experience and production to their linebacker corp, and Brian Cushing, their 2009 first round draft pick out of USC will also add to defense.
I am predicting a strong showing from the Texans in 2009. Don’t be surprised if the Texans compete for the AFC South division championship, and a wild-card is definitely in reach. Eleven wins is a definite possibility.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11 in 2008)
Unfortunately, the Jaguars were the bottom dwellers of the AFC South in 2008, and I have a strong feeling they will find that slot once again in 2009.
Thankfully Wayne Weaver gave Shack Harris his walking papers, and Gene Smith has taken over as GM.
Mel Tucker replaces Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator (and the third defensive coordinator in as many seasons) where he was the defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns during the 2008 season.
It would be an understatement to simply say that the 2008 season was a disappointment for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The offensive line was decimated with injuries in week one, and free agents Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence were very lackluster.
Wide receivers Matt Jones and Reggie Williams solidified themselves as complete failures, and added to a history of bad first round choices of the Jacksonville Jaguars (anyone remember R. Jay Soward?)
Furthermore, veterans Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, and Paul Spicer were released.
So what do you do if you are Gene Smith? Easy–go with a conservative philosophy. Focusing on the offensive line, the Jaguars selected two offensive tackles, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, with their first two draft picks.
They addressed their need for defensive tackle, wide receivers, and cornerback in the middle and late rounds, so it is quite obvious that the Jaguars are in for a year or two of rebuilding with young talent.
They did, however, pick up Tra Thomas and Torry Holt in free agency to provide immediate relief at offensive tackle and wide receiver, respectively. Hopefully they will also act as mentors, too.
David Garrard will begin his third season as the starting quarterback, and with the departure of Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew will now be the feature back, and be called upon to carry the ball 20 to 25 times per game.
Torry Holt will lead the wide receivers along with Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker. Another question that has yet to be answered: Marcedes Lewis, the former first round pick at tight end. Will he show up and be noticed in 2009?
The defensive line is still a question mark. Big John Henderson is still the man in the middle, but Rob Meier proved unreliable as a replacement to Marcus Stroud.
The Jaguars did select DT Terrance Knighton in the third round, but surely he will not be able to simply step in and fill the void immediately.
Derrick Harvey will enter his second season at defensive end, and Reggie Hayward will continue to start opposite of Harvey. Who will replace Mike Peterson?
Good question that has not been answered. In the secondary, Reggie Nelson will continue to roam the field as a hunter while Rasheed Mathis continues covering opposing wide receivers.
Not unlike Mathis, the Jaguars looked to William & Mary, and traded up to snag Derek Cox also in the third round. Mathis is also from a small school, and many think that Cox is a Mathis clone.
It breaks my heart to write this, but if the Jaguars achieve a .500 record it will be considered a good season. However, if a few things fall in place for the Jaguars, it wouldn’t surprise me if they achieved a wild card in the playoffs.
In conclusion, the AFC South will not provide a Super Bowl contender, or the AFC Champion. Nevertheless, it will be a division that is hard fought, and very entertaining to watch in 2009.