Players You Should Watch In 2009; The AFC South

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Players You Should Watch In 2009; The AFC South
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

The story here is obvious so I won’t dabble on it too long… Manning has significant change for the first time in his career. The Tony Dungy transition wasn’t a very drastic one, but this one is due to the simple fact that his mentors are now no longer provided in the way that they usually were.

It’s Peyton Manning and therefore he’s obviously going to have a tremendous season, but last year Manning looked human for the first time since capturing his first MVP trophy. Dare I say that Manning could show more signs of mediocrity next season due to Tom Moore and Howard Mudd’s new positions as consultants?

Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts

Rumor has it around Colts fan circuits that Joseph Addai could be on his way out at the end of this season. I even heard one Colt fan say that Addai sealed his fate when he refused to fight for extra yardage, but instead ran out of bounds late during the post-season game last year. If the aforementioend is true than it’s quite sad.

When the Colts drafted Addai I expected success, but nothing like what he produced in his first two years. Last year he was clearly injured, and if Donald Brown is truly going to be his replacement rather than a tandem runner, something is wrong in Indianapolis. Watch for Addai as he’s running for a payday next year, as well as running to get back some overdue respect from the Colts’ front office and fan base.

Melvin Bullitt, Indianapolis Colts

We can sit here all day and talk about Bob Sanders’ ill-gotten “Defensive Player of The Year award, but that would be an insult to Bullitt. Melvin Bullitt may not be quite as inspirational as Bob Sanders to the Colts’ defense, nor is he as good in the box as Sanders is, but he is no slouch and is more of a threat in the passing game than Sanders will ever be.

Bullitt has a knack for turnovers, unlike Sanders. With Sanders almost guaranteed to get injured again look for this pretty underrated guy next year to try and take away Sanders’ spot on the team as unbelievable as it sounds.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

The bag seems to be mixed on MJD. A lot of people, especially those in the fantasy football world, believe that he will produce like a top five halfback now that he is no longer sharing carries. Conversely, a seemingly equal amount of people believe that he cannot carry the load and will fail next year. I happen to be a member of the former camp, but either way it should be interesting to watch MJD play next year. He always plays well above his height, and should do so next year, but will that be enough? Only way to find out is to watch.

David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars

It was just two seasons ago that the Jacksonville Jaguars were 12-4 and considered as the premier team to upset the undefeated Patriots in the post-season. My how the mighty have fallen. Perhaps it’s because of the vastly contrasting seasons by quarterback David Garrard. During that season he had an unheralded 6 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio, tossing 18 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions in a mere 12 games.

Many Jaguars fans believed he should’ve received a Pro Bowl bid as well as consideration as a top 10 quarterback. Last year, however, he lost much of his offensive line early on, and played completely average. So now with a strong offensive line in front of him which Garrard will the world see? “Pro Bowl” Garrard or the average guy?

Brad Meester/Vince Manuwai, Jacksonville Jaguars

I’m telling you to watch these two to watch the best interior offensive line play from a duo in the NFL. I have Meester as the league’s second best center and Manuwai as the sixth best guard; that’s a deadly combination and it shows in the Jaguar running game.

It doesn’t matter who plays right guard, the Jaguars will have success running between the tackles because of these two guys and the push that they get up the middle. Manuwai is a mauler and Meester is just incredibly intelligent and when you combine the two you have some amazing play that carries the team as far as it has gone these past four seasons.

 

Steve Slaton, Houston Texans

It’s no secret that a considerable amount of Slaton’s rookie success was due to the orientation of the Texans’ offense. Being predicated on the pass teams chose to attempt to defend the pass and try and nullify those talented receivers - Johnson, Walter, and Daniels - through extra coverage from cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers.

So this year, with Slaton as a “proven” 1,000-yard rusher, the question is whether or not teams will respect him enough to make him a factor in playing the Texans by factoring for him prior to Walter and Daniels. If they do so, how will it affect his sophomore year production? Hence you should watch…

Brian Cushing, Houston Texans

During the draft many fans felt that is the Texans got the correct piece to the puzzle known as their front seven that they would push their defense to competitive status to join their good young draft picks in Williams, Akoye and Ryans.

Well, unfortunately they drafted Brian Cushing who seems as if he’ll be out of place as an NFL Sam or Will linebacker in a 4-3. Sure he was part of an all world corps at the University of Southern California, but he was arguably the least impressive of the four, and never truly shined in my humble opinion.

To be honest, however, I don’t claim to be an NCAA Football expert and many linebackers have been criticized prior to playing an NFL down for the same reasons I’m criticizing Cushing. But at the end of the day, I feel that Cushing will fail next year and will look lost… a lot, but he could be the complete opposite.

 

Nick Harper, Tennessee Titans

Why watch Harper next season? Well it’s quite simple; Nick Harper is pretty darn underrated. Coming from the Colts Tampa 2 under Tony Dungy for five seasons to Jeff Fisher’s press-heavy man scheme many felt as if Harper would struggle, but the fact of the matter is over the past two seasons his metrics are almost identical to All-Pro caliber teammate, Cortland Finnegan.

Sure Harper is the number two cornerback, but he’s one of the five best second corners in the NFL, and has shown he can succeed in both man and zone systems. I think it’s time Harper gets his due as a pretty good cornerback, who may not be the best, but he is what a lot of teams could use.

Lendale White, Tennessee Titans

The saddest moment of my off-season was when White was on the radio and my girlfriend, knowing my disgust for him, said “Ha… It’s Landwhale White”. This moment was sad because I had to inform her that White had lost a rather large amount of weight and was actually looking good for this upcoming season. Good enough for me to pick him up in my friend’s way to early fantasy league as my 2nd halfback.

White will be more than the guy that “steals goal-line carries away from Chris Johnson” next season. He will be the guy that compliments Johnson as the two possibly run for 1,000-yard seasons. It seems as if, for the first time in his professional career, that White is motivated by something other than a cheeseburger.

Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans

Titans fans are very high on Jones. They believe that the departure of Haynesworth was a minimal one due to Jones waiting in the wings. Perhaps they believe this because Jones had a very solid season as a backup and was dominant in the Week 16 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

However, those of us that aren’t members of the Tennessee fan base know that a player like Haynesworth isn’t simple to replace and hence is the reason to watch Jones.

Can a second year player be a true replacement for an All-Pro?

Was the Pittsburgh game a fluke?

Can he actually make splashes against the run or is he more suited to be a stereotypical 3-technique under tackle?

There are so many questions surrounding Jones that if you don’t watch him than you’re crazy.

Kevin Mawae, Tennessee Titans

I just think people need to watch Kevin Mawae in order to get a realistic grip of his capabilities. Mawae being a three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler is kind of a joke. It proves that reputation and, in the case of the offensive line, halfback success can deliver undue merit to a lineman.

Mawae has been the biggest benefactor from halfback success this decade. Last year was the first year in his career in which he was truly anything other than average and yet he was the 4th best lineman on his own team. Watch Mawae when you get a chance next season and you’ll see a guy with a mean streak, but you’ll also see a guy who isn’t a dominant blocker and has to compensate for it with his smarts and mean streak.

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