by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

it a “silent dynasty,” perhaps? A look at recent history would suggest as much for the Indianapolis Colts (2014 SUR 13-6, PSR 13-6, O/U 8-10; beat Bengals 26-10 in Wildcard Round; beat Broncos 24-13 in Division Round; lost to patriots 45-7 in AFC title game), especially within the AFC South division in which they have resided since 2002. Fact---the Colts have reached double-digit wins every year save one since 2002, a feat exceeded by no other NFL team (even the Patriots, who last won in the single digits in ‘02). The transition year of 2011 between the Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck eras (2011 was the season missed in entirety by Manning, recovering from neck surgery), when Indy collapsed to 2-14, has perhaps distorted some of the recollections about the Colts, but they have otherwise been a postseason regular, and playoff constant, for the past 13 years.

In recent campaigns, however, the inability to get past their longtime nemesis, the Patriots, has really proven an albatross for Indy. Four losses to New England during the three-year era of GM Ryan Grigson and HC Chuck Pagano have been by an average of 29 points...fully inflated footballs or not.

In those games, the Pats have scored a whopping 189 points, or 47.3 ppg. So, even as the Colts figure to continue dominating the South, if they want to advance to their first Super Bowl since the Manning era and 2009, they probably have to figure out a way to slow the Patriots.

In the meantime, however, it is fair to speculate on the Colts’ ceiling after advancing a step further in the playoffs during each year of the Grigson/Pagano/Luck era. After the debacle in 2011, and the franchise makeover the following offseason, Indy has advanced from the AFC Wildcard Round to the Division Round to the AFC title game in successive years. The presence of the wondrous Luck would figure to ensure that the Colts remain a serious contender for another decade. But the current lineup is also filled with longtime vets and aging contributors on the other side of 30...or 40, if wanting to include PK Adam Vinatieri. For the bulk of the current Indy roster, the championship window might not be staying open too much longer.

That angle, however, does not apply to Luck, already in an elite class of NFL QBs after improving each of his first three seasons, and having set franchise season records for passing yards (4761), TD passes(40), and consecutive 300-yard games thru the air (eight) a year ago. Offseason maneuvers by GM Grigson have now given Luck his best collection of weapons as a pro. Those would include ex-49er RB Frank Gore, still with some gas left in his tank and with the ability to pound the ball and open up more passing lanes for Luck. Another FA addition, longtime Texans All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, doesn’t have to carry the load as he did with the Texans, but will instead be a dangerous complement to 1400-yard WR T.Y. Hilton and perhaps mercurial Miami Hurricanes rookie wideout Phillip Dorsett. Johnson’s addition eases the departure of longtime star WR Reggie Wayne, nearing the end of his career and now inking with the Patriots for one more year. Meanwhile, the two-headed TE monster of Luck’s former Stanford teammate Coby Fleener and red-zone TD machine Dwayne Allen (8 of his 29 catches for touchdowns last season) might be the best in the AFC.

Last season also answered a few questions about o.c. Pep Hamilton, who was lured from Luck’s Stanford to take over the offense after Bruce Arians moved to the Cardinals as their HC in 2013. Hamilton, perhaps channeling his Stanford mentor David Shaw, seemed a bit hellbent to establish the run and inadvertently shackle Luck, who was being forced into too many predictable must-pass situations into early last season. Luck’s abilities, however, have allowed him to overcome any potential play-calling shortcomings from his coordinator, and Hamilton would eventually loosen the reins on Luck last season, resulting in his franchise records.

Pep Hamilton aside, however, keeping Gore healthy will be a key this fall, since the Colts infantry has proven mostly inadequate in recent years. The Trent Richardson experiment having failed, and Ahmad Bradshaw having departed in the offseason, it is now up to Gore to ignite the ground game, as holdovers Boom Herron and Vick Ballard are complementary weapons at best, though Mississippi State rookie slammer Josh Robinson has opened a few eyes in preseason. The OL, functional but not dominant, returns mostly in tact, and if drives stall in the red zone, there is always the reliable Vinatieri, who didn’t miss a FG last season until the regular-season finale against the Titans.

If not for the Patriots and their ability to run roughshod against the Indy defense the past few years, the stop unit might be held in higher regard, but the thought of New England backs trampling the Colt defenders is hard to dismiss. Thus, any upgrades for Pagano and coordinator Greg Manusky’s platoon must be measured against an ability to do a better job slowing the Patriot infantry. In that regard, it is hard to see where Indy made much upgrade in its rush defense, waiting until the fifth round of the draft before adding Stanford DT David Parry, who also provides needed depth in case DT Arthur Jones is saddled with injury problems as a year ago, when a bum ankle limited him to just three starts. Parry’s teammate on the Farm, DE Henry Anderson, is regarded as a potential pass-rush demon and was added in the third round. Ex-Bronco ILB Nate Irving was added in free agency, hopefully to bolster the run defense, though he has been slow to recover from offseason knee surgery.

The Manusky 3-4 alignments are designed to funnel action into the middle of the field, where ILBs D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman cleaned up last season with nearly 250 tackles between them, though that strategy has backfired lately vs. Tom Brady and the Patriots. What Manusky could also use is an upgraded pass rush, which prompted the drafting of Stanford’s Anderson and FA signings of Eagles OLB Trent Cole (expected to be an upgrade over disappointing ex-FSU Seminole Bjoern Werner, and Rams DE Kendall Langford. The LB corps will also be bolstered by vet OLB Robert Mathis, on the mend from an Achilles tendon tear and a suspension that kept him sidelined all of 2014. The absence of Mathis negatively impacted Indy’s ability to get to enemy QBs last year, which is why his recent return to practice has been warmly received. It is hoped he will be ready for the regular-season opener at Buffalo. Meanwhile, the secondary returns most of its pieces from 2013, including the CB trio of Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and nickel back Darius Butler, but extracting another Pro Bowl year from 34-year-old FS Mike Adams might be asking a bit much. Ex-Falcon FS Dwight Lowery was also added in the offseason and figures to crack the starting lineup.

As has been the case the past couple of years, the best thing Indy has going for it, aside from the transcendent Luck, is the AFC South, which has not proven much of a hurdle of late and looks very forgiving again this fall. And while predicting strength of schedules can be an inexact science, the 2015 slate seems unfairly easy, with all of those South rivals, crossover interconference games with the NFC South (with no above-.500 teams in 214), and a mere three teams that notched as many as 10 wins a year ago (Steelers, Patriots, and Broncos...and only the Steelers among those on the road). Barring an injury to Luck, that ought to pave the way for another South crown and playoff trip.

Though if Indy falls way short again vs. the Patriots, one might start to wonder about the job security of HC Pagano, who was strangely not offered a contract extension in the offseason.

Between the numerous f-bombs dropped by charming 2nd-year HC Bill O’Brien, the Houston Texans (2014 SUR 9-7, PSR 9-7, O/U 7-8-1) have been entertaining the masses as the featured team on this summer’s HBO edition of Hard Knocks. Although many were going to pay attention anyway to the Texans after their bounce-back season a year ago. O'Brien proved a shrewd hire by owner Bob McNair, keeping the Texans alive in the AFC playoff chase until the final weekend and forging a 7-win improvement from the 2-14 train wreck of 2013. O'Brien did so with plenty of help from MVP candidate DE J.J. Watt (who also caught three TD passes!) and four different QBs, ending the season winning twice with Case Keenum, released in the summer but signed in an emergency from the Rams' practice squad after fellow pilots Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tom Savage all went down in rapid-fire succession late in the season.

If the Texans could win nine games with that sort of merry-go-round at QB, imagine what they might be able to do if they could develop some stability at the position?

Fitzpatrick (to the Jets) and Keenum (to the Rams) were traded in the offseason, however, and took eight of last year’s nine Houston wins with them. Which left Mallett, who had played under then- o.c. O’Brien at New England, and Savage, along with FA signee Brian Hoyer, another former O’Brien pupil from his days with the Patriots and most-recently the starter at Cleveland, for whom Hoyer was 7-6 a year ago. After two preseason games, when both Hoyer and Mallett would get starting assignments, O’Brien, who did not want let the QB battle fester too much longer, named Hoyer the starter for the September 13 opener vs. Kansas City. Which apparently did not sit too well with Mallett, who was angered when O’Brien announced his decision on August 24 and would be absent from subsequent practice, with the catch-all “personal issues” as the excuse. Whether this becomes an internal distraction remains to be seen.

In the bigger picture, however, some are wondering when O’Brien and the Texans are going to address their QB situation longer-term. Hoyer would seem a short-term alternative, much as Fitzpatrick was a year ago. There were hopes within the organization that the rifle-armed Mallett might seize the job, but that option seems on hold until further notice.

Whatever, there is going to be a slightly different look on the attack end beyond the QB situation simply because Texans’ all-time leading receiver Andre Johnson has left the fold, moving to the Colts in free agency. A mainstay for 12 years in Houston, it will take some getting used to the thought of Johnson not wearing the Texans’ blue-and-red. But there should be plenty of receiving targets on hand for Hoyer, Mallett, or whomever at QB, especially since ex-Clemson star DeAndre Hopkins had already replaced Johnson as Houston’s best downfield threat, gaining a team-best 1210 receiving yards a year ago. Versatile ex-Jag FA Cecil Shorts can play all three receiving positions, and big-play Arizona State rookie Jaelen Strong , a third-round draft pick, has opened several eyes in the preseason. The TE position, however, has been a bit of a problem since Owen Daniels left after the 2013 campaign, and another ex-Wisconsin Badger like Daniels, Garrett Graham, needs to upgrade his production.

The change theme continues at RB, at least for a while, or until leading rusher Arian Foster (1246 YR last season) is beyond the groin strain that has kept him out of the entirety of the preseason and threatens to sideline him into October. In th meantime, O’Brien will be counting upon ex-LSU plugger Alfred Blue, who would gain only 3.1 ypc on 169 totes a year ago. At its best in recent years, the Texans offense has funneled through Foster (at least when he's healthy), so the sooner he gets back into the fold, the better. A functional line returns almost in tact after helping Houston rank fifth in rushing and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed a year ago.

Whatever lingering fears that Texans fans might have about their offense should be allayed by enthusiasm for a defense that has some real star power and looked to finally figure out the schemes of d.c. Romeo Crennel as last season progressed. After Thanksgiving, the “D” would key a 4-1 finish, ranking fourth in points allowed during that span, second in total defense, and first in third-down conversions. Houston would also set a franchise-record by forcing an NFL-high 34 turnovers, one year after causing only 11.

There are some new faces in the mix that could help further, but for the time being all are overshadowed by the presence of DE J.J. Watt, who followed his near-MVP 2014 season with appearances galore, and almost as visible on TV screens as the Kardashians. Texans fans won’t care as long as Watt continues to produce at recent levels that included 20.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups, and 50 QB hits, and five TDs a year ago. For an encore, Watt was said to be considering pinch-hit duty for the Astros, or sharing center duties with Dwight Howard for Kevin McHale’s Rockets, but has decided to focus his athletic endeavors on one sport.

(Just kidding, but with Watt, who knows?)

Last fall, Crennel used Watt a variety of ways, including moving him up and down the line as situations dictated, but J.J. (and Romeo) could use a bit more help from other potential big-play sources. Those may or may not include former top draft pick OLB Jadaveon Clowney, still recovering from last year’s microfracture surgery on his knee but reportedly on course to make his 2015 debut in the regular-season opener vs. the Chiefs. The other OLB, Whitney Mercilus, could also help with a bounce-back season after a career-low five sacks a year ago.

Help, however, looks to have arrived at the middle of Crennel’s 3-4 with 325-lb. NT Vince Wilfork, the anchor of many Patriots defenses over the past decade and the highest-cost FA addition of the offseason. If Wilfork, who has battled injury problems in recent years, can stay on the field and routinely tie up multiple blockers, there’s no telling what Watt, a healthy Clowney, and a rejuvenated Merclius might be able to accomplish in the fall. There are concerns, however, that longtime stalwart ILB Brian Cushing has lost a couple of steps after multiple knee surgeries.

The secondary will have a familiar look, where CBs Kareem Jackson and Johnathon Joseph (for the second year in a row not likely to be on the field for a preseason snap) will form a tandem for a fifth consecutive season, though Wake Forest first-round pick Kevin Johnson should see plenty of action, at the least in nickel packages, after impressing in early preseason work. Another high-priced FA addition is FS Rahim Moore, signed away from Denver.

In conclusion, we suspect that Houston will have a playoff-caliber defense, and that Watt will remain a serious MVP contender, but are less convinced about an offense that has a lower ceiling with whichever QB that O’Brien wants to use. As has been the case when the Texans have made the playoffs in the past, their best asset might be the neighborhood in which they reside. With ongoing rebuilds in Tennessee and Jacksonville, the South is one of the NFL’s most-forgiving divisions. Houston hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2012, but if it returns this season, those four games vs. the Titans and Jags could be a reason why.

About the best that fans of the Tennessee Titans (2014 SUR 2-14, PSR 3-13, O/U 5-11) could label last season was one of taking a step backward before taking two steps forward. That it felt more like taking two or three steps backward, however, might be a more apt description of the dissolution that was the Titans a year ago.

After a promising 26-10 win over the Chiefs in Week One, the Titans won only once more (a 16-14 squeaker over the Jags) in a massively disappointing season for first-year HC Ken Whisenhunt, whose stern, tough-love style apparently didn't resonate. It was the franchise's worst record since 1994 when the team was based in Houston. After giving up on injury-prone QB Jake Locker at midseason, Whisenhunt gave an audition to LSU rookie Zach Mettenberger, who showed some promise but only had a few weeks at the helm of the offense before going down with injury.

Predictably, the Titans didn’t stand pat in the offseason, starting at the QB spot. The oft-injured Locker, due to be a free agent, would retire, and given the second overall pick in the draft, Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster could not bypass Oregon Heisman winner QB Marcus Mariota, who would be anointed the starter by Whisenhunt even before training camp. The holdover Mettenberger, however, gives Whisenhunt a bit of flexbility, and some impressive early preseason efforts by the ex-LSU pilot have his name being floated in trade rumors involving any number of QB-hungry teams.

The makeover continued in free agency, where various upgrades were sought, though the biggest offseason addition in Nashville might be that of vet defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau, a longtime acquaintance of Whisenhunt from the days when they worked together on Bill Cowher’s staff in Pittsburgh. The patriarch of the zone blitz has a convoluted title (Assistant head Coach/Defense) in his new job, with Ray Horton retaining the defensive coordinator designation, but rest assured that the new-look Titan “D” will be a LeBeau production this fall, accelerating the transition to 3-4 alignments that began a year ago.

Most of the eyes, however, will be on an offense that ranked among the worst in the league a year ago, and thus Mariota, who is transitioning from Oregon’s hurry-up spread offense to a more-conventional pro scheme. Among other changes, Mariota will now be taking most (but not all) of his snaps under center, and calling plays in the huddle, not to mention more complex components such as throwing in progression. Whisenhunt, rigid in keeping Mariota predecessor Locker anchored in the pocket a year ago, will be more lenient with his rookie star, but don’t expect a pro version of the Ducks’ attack, either. The learning curve figures to last all of the way through 2015, with the possibility that Mettenberger (if not traded soon) could become a fall-back option if the adjustment phase gets particularly bumpy for Mariota.

The supporting cast is not filled with familiar names. The running back situation was still unsettled deep into the preseason, with another rookie, Minnesota’s David Cobb (a fifth-round pick), impressing in August action and threatening to take carries from Bishop Sankey, the former Washington Husky who had modest success (569 YR) as a rookie a year ago. Former FA signee Dexter McCluster, a feared weapon a few years ago with Kansas City but unable to find a role in the Whisenhunt offense last season, is now being mostly counted upon for help in the return game.

Similarly, the receiving corps fails to excite, especially after Kendall Wright, a revelation when catching 94 passes in 2013, dropped to 57 receptions a year ago. Wideout additions since last season include a couple of free agents, Hakeem Nicks (ex-Giants and Colts) and Harry Douglas (ex-Falcons), while Mizzou rookie Dorial Green-Beckham could also fit into the mix that might or might not include Justin Hunter, a touted second-round pick from the Tennessee Vols in 2013 but a disappointment to date on the field and involved in off-field trouble (a bar fight) this offseason. The most-reliable target for last year’s Titan QBs, TE Delanie Walker (team-best 63 catches in 2014), has been dealing with a hand injury in preseason and was not on the field for a snap in the first two exhibition tilts. Meanwhile, the OL, off of a disastrous 2014 when it allowed 50 sacks (sixth worst in the league) and opened holes for only six rushing TDs (tied for second0worst last year) , has endured a turbulent summer, as Whisenhunt benched former high-priced FA LG Andy Levitre after the preseason opener vs. Atlanta, with one of this year’s offseason additions, former Panther Byron Bell, moved from RT to LG as Utah rookie Jeremiah Poutasi (a third-round pick) now moves into the starting lineup sooner than expected at Bell’s old RT spot.

LeBeau was not the only high-profile addition to the “D” in the offseason. The Titans’ most-expensive FA signee was ex-Redskins OLB Brian Orapko, not long ago deemed enough of a star to be featured in a Geico commercial that ran nationwide, but having struggled (like many others) in Washington the past couple of years. Re-signing the other OLB, Derrick Morgan, does give LeBeau two potential impact performers on the edge. The secondary was also bolstered in free agency when adding ex-49er CB Perrish Cox and ex-Bill SS Da’Norris Seary, though there are questions about the availability of CB Jason McCourty, who has been limited by a groin injury this summer and whose status for the September 13 opener vs. the Bucs remains up in the air.

While the LB corps, featuring Orakpo and Morgan, figures to be the strong suit of the defense, the DL remains an issue, especially after ranking 31st vs. the run a year ago. Thick fourth-round draft pick Angelo Blackson, an Auburn product, will get a chance to plug holes up front from the NT spot, as the linemen hopefully tie up their offensive counterparts just enough for the big-play LBs to make their presence felt.

The collapse was complete last season, as beyond the 2-14 SU mark and ten SU losses in a row to conclude the season, the Titans failed to cover 13 of 16 on the board. Not good. This is also a franchise in flux after the 2013 death of original owner Bud Adams. Control of the Titans has bounced around Adams’ heirs the past couple of years, with Bud’s grandson, Kenneth Adams IV, now emerging as the likely figurehead after interim team president and CEO Steve Underwood has appeared to be on the outs. Hardly the most stable situation in the league.

In the meantime, Whisenhunt tries to make sense of the mess he inherited, and one that became worse a year ago under his watch. Various AFC sources believe anything close to a repeat of last year’s fiasco could result in a premature end to the Whisenhunt regime. With the fluctuation in the decision-making ranks upstairs at the now-named Nissan Stadium, Whisenhunt is best-advised to get the team moving in a positive direction...and soon. Which might not be easy if sticking with a rookie QB at the helm.

Forgive those who might have forgotten that the Jacksonville Jaguars (2014 SUR 3-13, PSR 7-9, O/U 6-8-2) are still in the NFL. It has been a long while (2007, to be exact) since the Jags were involved in the playoffs. Several coaching changes have ensued. As well as a switch in ownership, with original franchise owner Wayne Wheeler bowing out a couple of years ago and the colorful, mustachioed Pakistani Shad Khan taking charge.

What publicity the Jags have generated in recent years has had more to do with the rumors of a possible relocation overseas to London, fueled by Jacksonville sacrificing a home game making annual regular-season appearances at Wembley Stadium since 2013. Khan’s involvement with English soccer has further fueled the speculation, especially reports of his interest in selling his Fulham FC and acquiring EPL side Tottenham Hotspur, and Spurs’ new stadium in North London (and site of future “International Series” games), more conveniently located to the masses than the Wembley venue. But most insiders consider the move unlikely, as the Fulham-Tottenham swap is still only in the discussion stage, and Khan himself insists that he is not interested in moving the Jags abroad. Nonetheless, rumors continue, so stay tuned for further developments.

On the field, the Jags are a chic pick among some of the avant-garde gridiron set, who believe J'ville is about to make a bold move this season and perhaps get involved in the playoff mix for the first time in nearly a decade. We, however, have our reservations.

Though HC Gus Bradley continued to show promise in 2014, the Jags actually regressed in the W-L column (from 4-12 to 3-13) from Bradley’s maiden run in 2013. Some of that can be blamed on the growing pains of rookie QB Blake Bortles, who assumed the starting role a bit sooner than expected in what turned out to be an awkward transition from vet Chad Henne. The Jags would finish at or near the bottom of most offensive categories, but at least believe they finally have their franchise QB in place. And the "D" would keep the Jags in most of their games after September.

While there is still organizational support for Bradley, who appears to be building a stable foundation, a move toward .500 will nonetheless be expected in 2015.

Most AFC observers believe the Jags have improved their depth, with an enhanced haul of offseason FA additions contributing. But worryingly for J’ville fans, that assumption has been tested well beyond its means in August. The Jags have been besieged with injuries during the first two preseason games, and while only one player has been placed on injured reserve thus far, the list could start to grow.

Among early concerns is a broken hand suffered by key offseason addition TE Julius Thomas, one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets the past few years in Denver but whose status for the regular season remains a bit cloudy after his injury in the preseason opener vs. Pittsburgh. If the following game at Pittsburgh is any indication, when J’ville’s red zone offense would sputter in Thomas’ absence, the potential consequences could be serious. As they might be in the secondary after starting CB Johnathan Cyprien also went down in the Steelers game with his own broken hand. Cornerback Demetrius McCray would subsequently be lost to a knee injury in the following game vs. the Giants. McCray, in the starting lineup as Bradley opted for a nickel defense at the outset of the preseason opener, started 12 games a year ago.

Those were only a few of several injury concerns that have been exacerbated in August. The Jags had already entered training camp with a few lingering questions, such as when star DT Sen’Derrick Marks would be available after offseason ACL surgery. The target date for his return is the September 13 opener vs. Carolina, but that is also a best-case scenario. A couple of other starters along the DL, DT Roy Miller and DE Jared Odrick, have also missed practice and game time this summer due to nagging injuries, while first-round draft pick DE Dante Fowler is already out for the season due to a torn OCL suffered in a May minicamp.

There remain concerns about an offense that scored a league-low 15.6 ppg in 2014 and that featured one of the worst OLs in recent memory, allowing a whopping 71 sacks, causing QB Bortles to hit the deck almost as often as Floyd Patterson would against Ingemar Johansson in their 1959 title bout. Changes are evident across the platoon, including on staff, where much-traveled Greg Olson, most-recently with the Raiders but part of the Mike Mularkey regime at EverBank Field in 2012, is the new coordinator, with former Bills HC Doug Marrone enlisted to upgrade the OL. Beyond TE Thomas, GM Dave Caldwell would add more pieces in free agency, including RT Jeremy Parnell from Dallas and C Stefen Wisniewski from Oakland. The draft haul included Florida State WR Rahsad Greene, Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon, and South Carolina G A.J. Cann. All of the moves were designed to provide more help for Bortles as he enters his second season.

Given more time to throw, Bortles might be able to utilize wideout Marqise Lee (providing he recovers from hamstring pull that has kept him out of early preseason action) as a deep threat, while Allen Robinson (likely on his way to 75+ catches last year before being shut down after Game 10 due to a foot injury) and Allen Hurns remain as intermediate threats. FSU rookie Greene, who caught a whopping 270 passes as a collegian, is expected to operate out of the slot. And if Julius Thomas gets back on the field, Bortles , hopefully beyond any depression associated with his breakup from extremely photogenic former girlfriend Lindsey Duke, could operate more effectively with an upgraded squadron of targets. Improvement along the OL could also bolster aground game that uncovered a surprise weapon, ex-Michigan QB Denard Robinson, as the featured back. Bama rookie Yeldon would seem a good bet to get plenty of carries this fall.

As mentioned, Bradley’s defense occasionally kept the Jags within earshot a year ago, though could not camouflage the offensive shortcomings or consistently recover from Bortles’ many mistakes that included 17 picks. Jacksonville also failed to hold enemy attacks under 2000 yards rushing for the third straight season. General Manager Caldwell would react accordingly in the offseason and delve into the FA market to help his stop unit, adding several potential starters, including ex-Packers CB Davon House, ex-Colts FS Sergio Brown, ex-49ers LB Dan Skuta, and the aforementioned DE Jared Odrick from the Dolphins.

As mentioned previously, first-round draftee DE Dante Fowler from Florida, expected to provide Bradley and d.c. Bob Babich with a potential double-digit sacker, is already sidelined with the ACL tear suffered in minicamp. Bradley and Babich were reluctant to call blitzes a year ago, doing so less than 20% of the time, mostly relying instead upon the four-man line to generate pressure on opposing QBs. Fowler’s absence robs the defensive braintrust of a potentially-impactful weapon.

The preseason injuries in the secondary are an early concern, and health figures large at the LB spots that were not addressed in the draft. Including key MLB Paul Posluszny, who missed the final nine games of 2014 due to injury. FA addition OLB Skuta from the 49ers is also a formidable pass rusher on third downs, but this is a position group that cannot afford to take much attrition. As has already been the case this summer in the secondary.

We’re advising Jags fans to pump the brakes just a bit. Too many issues on both sides of the line of scrimmage to expect a playoff contender to emerge. The bigger question is if Bradley can forge enough of an improvement to give him a chance to stick around for a fourth year. A regime’s third season is usually prove-it-or-else time, as Bradley and GM Caldwell are certainly aware.

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