Presenting the AFC South Blog’s postseason awards:
Peyton Manning, Colts quarterback: He had a bad stretch with 11 picks in three games that did a lot to take him out of the overall NFL MVP conversation. But in many ways he had a remarkable year, and it’s hard to argue the case that anyone in the division approached Manning’s value.
Working with fill-ins like Jacob Tamme and Blair White, he held extra meetings and put in extra work and had a big role in the continued production of the offense despite missing premier targets who suffered injuries and missed significant stretches: Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai.
Defensive player of the year
Dwight Freeney, Colts defensive end: I regard him as the most feared defensive player in the division. He drew major game-planning attention and still posted 10 sacks, 19 pressures, five forced fumbles and had two passes defensed.
Rookie of the year
Tyson Alualu, Jaguars defensive tackle: He fought through dings and played increasingly well as the season went on. He was explosive and proved to be worthy of the division's highest pick in the 2010 NFL draft. I thought he was the third-best defensive tackle in the division. He’s going to be very well-regarded for a very long time.
Breakout player of the year
Arian Foster, Texans running back: For all of Houston’s faults, the Texans made the right judgment on a small sample size with Foster, challenged him in the offseason and got huge returns. He was spectacular despite playing for a team that was consistently trailing, tallying eight 100-yard games and winning the NFL rushing title.
Disappointment of the year
Gerald McRath, Titans outside linebacker: He was supposed to be a real playmaker in his first season as a starter. He sat out the first four games as the result of a league suspension, then posted three tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two passes defensed, one quarterback pressure, zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries and zero interceptions.
Worst strategy of the year
Gary Kubiak, Texans coach, and Rick Smith, Texans general manager: Thinking they had enough in the defensive backfield and didn’t need some sort of veteran presence at cornerback proved terrible thinking for fielding a defense with the potential to be effective. Quarterbacks not named Rusty Smith and Trent Edwards had field days against an overmatched secondary that simply couldn’t cover.
Comeback player of the year
Jason Babin, Titans defensive end: Expected to be a pass-rush specialist at best by most of us, he finally found a team that was able to use his strengths. He responded to a great situation and great opportunity with 93 tackles, 12.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He wasn’t coming back from injury but from a point where many had come to think he was done.
Assistant coach of the year
Dirk Koetter, Jaguars offensive coordinator: Jacksonville still had limitations on offense, and David Garrard was still a quarterback who could put up a major dud on any given Sunday. But I was impressed with Koetter’s work given the circumstances. So was Denver, which interviewed him for its head coaching job, and St. Louis, which wanted him as its coordinator.
Executive of the year
Gene Smith, Jacksonville general manager: His foundation-building approach continued to look smart, particularly as Terrance Knighton and Alualu gave the team a defensive identity as an interior line duo. Other Smith picks like Mike Thomas and Derek Cox have become solid players. And that he could get anything at all back in trades of Reggie Nelson and Anthony Smith was remarkable.