Upside guys to watch this fall

Four guys with upside I think we can see show itself this fall in the AFC South.

Houston Texans

Maybe Wade Phillips’ lasting love for veteran addition Bradie James puts a damper on the opportunity for inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton. Sharpton was lost for the season at the end of October last year with a right knee/quadriceps injury. He’s out of action until training camp as the quad heals.

I think James, who played for Phillips in Dallas, probably will wind up with the edge in system smarts. But when he’s healthy, Sharpton should be a better option physically than James. James is 31 and Sharpton is 24.

Outside of health issues, I’ve not heard a bad thing out of Texans’ headquarters about Sharpton as a football player. Brian Cushing isn’t leaving the field when he’s healthy, so Sharpton will have to beat out James for chances to be part of the base 3-4, where whoever plays alongside Cushing will leave the field when the team goes to nickel.

Indianapolis Colts

Donald Brown had chances under the previous Colts’ regime to earn a bigger role, but he landed himself in the doghouse. It’s too early to say the first-round pick from the team’s 2009 draft is not a good back. After all, he owns a 4.2-yard per carry average.

He’s at the head of the line now, in front of Delone Carter and rookie fifth-rounder Vick Ballard. Brown will need to show offensive coordinator Bruce Arians that he can reliably pick up a blitzer and contribute in pass protection.

But Chuck Pagano is going to be a coach who’s more reliant on the run, and I suspect he’ll give Brown a significant chance to show the Colts he can be decisive, which will maximize his chances to break off big runs and be the team’s lead back.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The time is now for G Eben Britton, who returns from a herniated disk in his back that needed surgery and cost him all but four games last season. The Jaguars loved Britton as a second-round pick out of Arizona in 2009.

He’s a bright guy who will have no problem understanding what it is the new Jaguars offense calls on him to do. Britton moves well, which should allow him to steer defenders out of the way of the spot where Blaine Gabbert intends to throw from and the lane where Maurice Jones-Drew intends to run.

The question may concern how much strength the Jaguars' right tackle has gained and how well he can hold up after missing 22 of 48 possible starts in his first three years.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans thought they were getting a guy who could have a quick impact in 2010 when they drafted Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan in the first round. An explosive edge player who’s 6-foot-3 and 278 pounds, they expected him to be a key pass-rusher.

But after just four games in his rookie season, he suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the year. And in his second year he was playing for a new coordinator and defensive line coach who asked the ends to line up over the tackle and concentrate on stopping the run rather than lining up wide and attempting to stop the run on the way to the quarterback.

With Keith Millard added to the staff specifically to coach pass-rushers, Morgan has an additional resource. The team didn’t draft at his position the way many expected, and he’ll have plenty of chances to show the Titans he can produce like they expected him to when they drafted him.