On July 27, 2012, I took a team-by-team look at preseason storylines for the AFC South.
It’s always fun to go back and see just how some of the storylines panned out. So away we go.
New coach Mike Mularkey is very much in control. He’s got a clear plan and a staff he will keep on message. Players will see consistency from the coach and the staff. The messages will be easy to understand and often repeated. It will be on the players to buy in to them and put them in to practice. Early indications are they will do so.
I say now:
Little did I know that a big piece of the message that was easy to understand was the idea that a 2-14 team was close, a Mularkey stance that owner Shad Khan basically called delusional after Mularkey was fired by new general manager David Caldwell. Mularkey was partially a victim in this situation, but his low-key demeanor didn't serve a bad team well enough.
Cornerback development: With Cortland Finnegan gone, Jason McCourty takes over as the team’s top corner. His twin brother, Devin, has gotten more attention in New England. But Jason was the better McCourty in 2011. The Titans are counting on Alterraun Verner as the second starter and he will kick into the slot in the nickel package. Can the super athletic but raw Tommie Campbell succeed as the No. 3 guy, taking Verner’s outside spot when three corners are on the field?
I say now:
The answer to the Campbell was a resounding no. The Titans went into the regular season keeping Verner outside in nickel and inserting with Ryan Mouton inside. Rookie Coty Sensabaugh eventually took over the nickel job covering the slot receiver and showed signs of being a capable NFL cornerback. Campbell’s only real impact came on special teams, where he was good at drawing penalties.
The offensive line as tone-setters: The Colts patchworked as they added pieces who will help them be bigger and more physical than they were under the previous regime. Can a group that will likely include at least three new starters coalesce? Keeping (Andrew) Luck safe is priority one, and creating some room for backs who have not yet proven they can carry the load is also vital.
I say now:
I wouldn’t say the line set the tone. It’s a weakness coming out of the first season of the new regime, and it allowed Luck to get hit far too often, though he bears some responsibility for holding the ball too long too often. I do think they got more than they could have reasonably expected from some guys who probably don’t qualify as NFL starters.
Matt Schaub’s return: The perception is he gets hurt a lot. I thought he got past it with complete 2009 and 2010 seasons, but bad luck knocked him out with a serious foot injury last season. Critics wonder if he’s clutch. We do need to see him in situations with a lot at stake. It’s a contract year. It’s a good team. The table is set for him to excel. The spotlight will shine on his play brighter than ever before.
I say now:
The team’s downfall was hardly on Schaub and Schaub alone. But the peak of his play in 2012 hardly came when things were most important. He didn’t lose faith and the team, which signed him to a long-term deal before the season started, hasn’t lost faith in him. But he certainly didn’t do what he needed to to silence his critics.