Hungary for the Truth: the Lockout’s Effect on the AFC South

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The Texans have a very interesting situation, given that their offense is set for a while and they have a young, remodeled defense that

is switching to a 3-4 this season. With Arian Foster, Houston now has a powerful running element that they have lacked since 2002. The big question is if Foster can repeat his success, now that teams have a season’s worth of tape and will be gameplanning to stop him. Houston’s Achilles’ Heel has been the defense recently and have an especially weak secondary. After the ’10 season, the Texans hired Wade Philips as their new DC and committed to a switch from the 4-3 to 3-4, which left me scratching my head. The Texans had enough problems and all this move can do is create more chaos. But after the draft, I changed my mind – the Texans committed fully to the facelift and seem to have acquired some major talent in JJ Watt, Brooks Reed, Brandon Harris, and two new OLBs. I still have questions: who will play nose tackle, how will Mario Williams fare in the switch from DE to OLB, how will the secondary play in 2011 with so many new players and the safety issue still unsolved? But, their defense is mostly set for the future, unlike the Jaguars’ defense, which is currently far from “done”. The only problem for the Texans is the lack of time to make the switch to a new defensive scheme.  The pieces are there and in the long term, this is a team on the rise if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson keep playing at the level they have in the recent years. However, 20’11 could be another 8-8 year,  because of the toll the lockout and missed time will have on their defensive transition.

The Tennessee Titans are also in a curious position, with a roster that’s arguably the strongest in the AFC South, but in the midst of changes at two major positions – quarterback and head coach. 2010 O-line coach Mike Munchak will be replacing Jeff Fisher, Vince Young is out and Jake Locker is in, and Mike Heimerdinger is being replaced at offensive coordinator by Chris Palmer ; in other words, the Titans are starting a brand new chapter in franchise history and that means a lot of uncertainty.  As of now, it’s unknown who the starting QB will be on opening day versus Jacksonville – will it be the old veteran Kerry Collins, the fledgling rookie Jake Locker, or a veteran free agent to be determined later, such as Marc Bulger? I think if Jake Locker is chosen to start or earns the role in training camp, then preparation time will be a critical for the Titans. If Locker is unable to spend significant time with his new team, you can bet the Titans will have a rough 2011 campaign. With a new coordinator and new quarterback, the offense is completely unproven and may not achieve what Heimerdinger and his Chris Johnson-led offense did. The Titans’ defense was largely influenced by Jeff Fisher, so how will they operate in his absence? I liked the players they selected in the draft, especially Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy, Jurrel Casey, but will these rookies be able to deliver any impact the team with so little time to prepare? And let’s not forget that the Titans’ locker room may still be torn from the aftermath of the Vince Young-Jeff Fisher saga. With the new head coach that can change and Munchak may turn that negative into a positive, but the effect is not so small as to be ignored. How the new coaching staff handles this issue will set the tone, for better or for worse, in 2011 and beyond. The Titans have plenty of challenges before them even without the labor unrest, but faced with so many new beginnings within the franchise, Tennessee likely faces the toughest road ahead.

It appears that the winners of the lockout could be the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville and Tennessee the losers, because of the many questions these young, rebuilding franchises face. Houston is once again the dark horse, with plenty of upside and plenty of question marks. The change to the 3-4 will take time, with so many rookies in key roles and veterans playing new positions, but if Wade Philips can manage to put them together quicker than expected, watch out for the guys in Battle Red.

– Zoltan Paksa