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By Les Barnhart | August 31st, 2003


Houston Texans

Head Coach: Dom Capers
2003 Strength of Schedule: 7th (.533)

In 2002, football returned to Houston as the Texans played their inaugurual season in Reliant Stadium. Even though the team only posted 4 victories against 12 losses, it could have been worse. The Texans did however show that they are the team to beat in Texas as they handed the Cowboys an embarrassing 19-10 loss to open the season. Much of the season was played like was expected from a new franchise. The veteran defense allow the Texans to be competive in games but the offense was lacking despite having franchise QB David Carr in there for the entire campaign. The problems with the offense shouldnt laid at the feet of Carr. He wasnt given many weapons nor was he given an offensive line to protect him. The offense was very young and patchwork offensive line combined to help set an NFL record of 76 sacks allowed. Needless to say, in his rookie season Carr spent a great deal more time running for his life rather than reading defenses.

The 2003 Texans should be a better team if for no other reason than to learned from their mistakes. They will return six rookie offensive starters for their second year in Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer’s system. David Carr showed a great deal of character, heart and durability to his teammates in 2002. Combine that with his mobility, strong arm and ability to throw on the run and it is easy to see why the Texans drafted him as their franchise quarterback. Carr will have RB Stacey Mack in the backfield to help and balance the offense. Mack will be looking to prove to his former team, the Jaguars, that he can handle the resposibilities of a feature back. Mack’s presence is an immediate upgrade in the short yardage offense and should see a great deal of action catching passes out of the backfield. They have the option of a “backfield by committee” with both Jonathan Wells and James Allen returning for another tour of duty. David Carr was quoted as saying it was like Christmas in April when the Texans drafted WR Andre Johnson out of the University of Miami and TE Bennie Joppru out of University of Michigan. They will join WR’s Corey Bradford, Jabar Gaffney and TE Billy Miller in the recieving corps. The offensive line remains a major concern as they did add veteran free agent lineman Zach Wiegert and Todd Washington and in the draft they took two linemen, one in the 3rd and in the 7th round. It remains to be seen if Carr will have to spend another season on the run but he will at least have some weapons at his disposable.

The defense will return as pretty much the same unit that ended the 2002 season. Under the creative schemes of Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Texans will again use the same base 3-4 defense that helped the team stay in more than three quarters of their games. They would like to be more aggressive and blitz more often but their secondary is weak and teams have been able to exploit that fact. The Texans will especially need to stay healthy as their depth is lacking throughout the defensive side of the ball.

The Texans should field a better team in 2003. It may may show in terms of victories but if the team shows the improvement they did in their first year, this team could surprise some teams as the year moves along. This is still only the teams second year so they will continue to show their growing pains and with the NFL’s 7th strongest schedule staring them in the face, it could prove to be a long football season for the fans of Texas’s favorite football team.

Key re-signings – RFA TE Billy Miller, June 19 (one year, $610,600, base salary $605,000, offseason workout bonus of $5,600); RFA P Chad Stanley, June 1 (one year, $605,000); RFA WR Avion Black, May 30 (one year, $605,000); UFA OL Jimmy Herndon; RFA DB Pat Dennis; UFA RB James Allen, May 13 (one year, $730,000, $200,000 SB); UFA OG Ryan Schau, April 25; UFA CB Kenny Wright, April 2; EFA LB Troy Evans, April 1; UFA QB Tony Banks, March 31 (one year); RFA WR JaJuan Dawson, March 25; EFA C Chris Lorenti, March 25; S Matt Stevens, March 21 (had been cut Feb. 27); UFA CB Jason Simmons, March 21; UFA QB Mike Quinn, March 18; RFA CB Pat Dennis, March 18; EFA CB Jason Bell, March 18 (one year, $375,000); UFA S Eric Brown, March 17 (five years, $10.5 million, $1.5 million SB); UFA DT Corey Sears, March 11 (one year, $570,000, $25,000 SB); UFA LB Jay Foreman, March 3 (five years, $12.1 million, $2.2 million SB).

Key arrivals – RFA TE Justin Swift/ex-49er, June 1; G Zach Wiegert (five years, $17 million, $3.5 million SB); UFA RB Stacey Mack/ex-Jaguar, April 2 (one year, $705,000, $175,000 SB); UFA LB Charlie Clemons/ex-Saint, April 2 (four years, $6.7 million, $1.3 million SB); RFA LB Shannon Taylor/ex-Raven, April 1; UFA C-OG Todd Washington/ex-Buccaneer, March 24; LB Antonio Wilson/ex-Viking, March 24; OT Greg Randall/ex-Patriot, March 6 (acquired in trade with Patriots in exchange for fifth-round draft pick in 2003); UFA OT-OG Zach Wiegert/ex-Jaguar, March 1; LB Patrick Chukwurah/ex-Viking, March 1 (claimed off waivers).

Key departures – TE Rod Rutledge, June 11 (cut); UFA OG DeMingo Graham, June 2 (to 49ers); OT Tarlos Thomas, May 8 (cut); FS Kevin Williams, May 8 (cut); UFA OG-OT Cameron Spikes, March 28 (to Cardinals); UFA LB Keith Mitchell, March 14 (to Jaguars); S Kevin Williams, March 14 (cut); UFA OT Ryan Young, March 4 (to Cowboys); UFA LB Jeff Posey, Feb. 28 (to Bills); WR-RS Jermaine Lewis, Feb 20 (cut).

Notes – Restructured contract of OLT Tony Boselli, Feb. 11. His $4.5 million base salary for 2003 was reduced to league minimum of $650,000. Playing 20 percent of the snaps will earn him a bonus of $500,000, with similar increments due for every 10 percent more he plays. He will be paid the $2 million roster bonus due in March. Cap number reduced by $3.85 million.

2003 Draft results

1(3) Andre Johnson, WR, Miami, Fl.
2 (41) Bennie Joppru, TE, Michigan
3 (67) Antwan Peek, LB, Cincinnati
3 (75) Seth Wand, T, NW Missouri State
3 (88) Dave Ragone, QB, Louisville
4 (101) Domanick Davis, RB, Louisiana State
6 (192) Drew Henson, QB, Michigan
6 (214) Keith Wright, DT, Missouri
7 (217) Curry Burns, S, Louisville
7 (233) Chance Pearce, C, Texas A&M

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Tony Dungy
2003 Strength of Schedule: 14th (.518)

The Colts welcomed new Head Coach Tony Dungy into Peyton Manning’s playoff nightmare. Despite a season that saw Marvin Harrison rewrite the NFL record for receptions in a season, Peyton Manning became the first QB in league history to throw for at least 3,000 yards in each of his first five seasons and the running game pounded out yardage without Edgerrin James. Unfortunately this was not enough however to get Manning his first career playoff victory as they were bombed by the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, 41-0.

It is expected that the Colts should be able to pick up where the 2002 regular season ended. They posted a 10-6 record and grabbed the a Wild Card spot where they met the Jets. The Colts fully expect to contend for the AFC South and with the offensive firepower as well as defense working under the “Gulf Coast” defense for a second season they is no reason to think otherwise. Peyton Manning will again be barking the signals for the offense and will be complimented by a healthy Edgerrin James at running back. James will be returning from injury and after spending more time in Indianapolis during the offseason, has an improved relationship with his head coach. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to return to the top of the heap of AFC running backs. If he should struggle with the injury bug, the Colts will have several horses in the stable such as Ricky A. Williams and James Mungro. Both backs filled in admirably in 2002 when James was injured. Marvin Harrison will again lead the recieving corps into battle. He will be joined by Reggie Wayne and newly acquired Brandon Stokely. Stokely brings speed to the wideout position and could prove to be quite effective in the slot. They have a strong relationship as Stokely has worked with him in Manning’s passing camp in the south so that relationship and familiarity could grow into something special for the Colts offense. The tight end spot was made stronger as Dallas Clark was drafted out of Iowa and will join the dangerous Marcus Pollard. The offensive line will return all the starters from the 2002 campaign but is lacking in depth so injuries are especially a concern.

Head Coach Tony Dungy wasted little time in starting to implement his “Gulf Coast” defense. Unfortunately, the system takes a few years to learn and it relies on speed, the latter of which the Colts are still trying to add. The Colts were able to finish the season with impressive stats against the pass but that was due to the Colts inability to stop the run, allowing opponents to abandon the pass and run almost at will (see the playoff debacle in which Jets’ backup RB ripped off 100+ yards). This season’s main objective was to shore up the line and concentrate on stopping the run. The Colts went out and signed DT Montae Reagor but in turn lost DT’s James Cannida and Chukie Nwokorie. Count on Dungy and DC Ron Meeks to have the defense ready for the running attack that they are bound to face. The secondary is solid with Walt Harris and David Macklin as well as Rich Coady. They have nice depth in this area and will be called on to provide more run support if the d-line again struggles.

The Colts should be considered early favorites to take the AFC South crown with their only real opposition coming from the Titans. The Colts did a good job of dousing the flames lit by K Mike Vanderjagt (an act that cost him in the wallet; see re-signings) during the Pro Bowl weekend and all seems to well in the Colt family. The offense will put up their share of points, the question is will the defense come around the way Dungy coached defenses eventually do. Or will they need more seasoning? The level of success that this team has will depend on whether or not they can stop the run. If they struggle against the run like they did for much of 2002, another short playoff run could be in the offering.

Key re-signings – RFA SS David Gibson, May 9 (one year, $605,000); RFA CB David Macklin, May 9 (one year, $605,000); RFA DT Josh Williams, May 9 (one year, $605,000); EFA RB Ricky Williams, April 15 (one year, $300,000); LB Donnel Thompson, March 27 (one year; had not been tendered as potential RFA); UFA P Hunter Smith, March 15 (six years, $4.78 million, $500,000 SB, $500,000 guaranteed option in 2005); UFA DT-DE Brad Scioli, March 9 (six years, $15.7 million, $1 million SB, $1.5 million guaranteed in 2005); potential UFA C Jeff Saturday, Feb. 27 (six years, $20 million, $5 million SB); potential UFA FB Detron Smith, Feb. 27 (four years, $3.1 million, $200,000 SB); potential UFA Brian Nugent, Feb. 27.

Key arrivals – UFA QB Jim Kubiak/ex-AFL, June 5; UFA QB Jim Druckenmiller (two years, $985,000); UFA PK Brett Conway/ex-Redskin (two years, $1.115 million, $50,000 SB); UFA WR Brandon Stokley/ex-Ravens, March 12 (two years, $2.9 million); UFA S Rich Coady/ex-Titan, March 6 (one year, $570,000, $25,000 SB); UFA DT Montae Reagor/ex-Bronco, Feb. 28 (six years, $17.23 million, $2 million SB).

Key departures – WR Joey Getherall, June 5 (cut); UFA DT Chukie Nwokorie, April 8 (to Packers); UFA LB Mike Peterson, March 13 (to Jaguars); RFA FB Jim Finn, March 11 (to Giants); WR Qadry Ismail, DT James Cannida and DB Brian Leigeb, Feb. 27 (all cut); OL Waverly Jackson, S Jermaine Hampton, S Joe Walker, C Curt McGill, Feb. 26 (all cut).

Notes – Restructured the contract of PK Mike Vanderjagt, Feb. 14 (Base salary will drop to $530,000 from the $1.4 million it was scheduled to be under his original five-year, $7.75 million deal he signed in November of 2000. The difference was made up in an $870,000 SB). … Restructured the contract of DE Chad Bratzke, Feb. 15 (agreed to lower his 2003 base salary from $4.25 million to $655,000 and forgo a $1 million March roster bonus in exchange for a $4.595 million SB).

2003 Draft results

1 (24) Dallas Clark, TE, Iowa
2 (58) Michael Doss, S, Ohio State
3 (90) Donald Strickland, CB, Colorado
4 (122) Steve Sciullo, T, Marshall
5 (138) Robert Mathis, DE, Alabama A&M
5 (162) Keyoni Whiteside, LB, Tennessee
6 (198) Cato June, S, Michigan
6 (208) Makoa Freitas, T, Arizona

Jacksonville Jaguars

Head Coach: Jack Del Rio
2003 Strength of Schedule: 5th (.537)

The old adage “out with the old and in with the new” has never been more applicable than in Jacksonville. Tom Coughlin and his military-esque approach to both the team and his players are gone. Taking over the reins is rookie head coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio, 39, is the leagues second-youngest coach and he bringing a youthful approach with him to a team that was growing stale under the Coughlin regime.

While Del Rio is a defensive minded coach, he will be forced to deal with an offense that is approaching a crossroads at the quarterback. Mark Brunell remains the starter at QB but his time is running out. The Jags drafted Heisman candidate, QB Byron Leftwich out of Marshall with their first pick in the 2002 draft. Many inside the Jaguars camp say that if Leftwich would not have been a hold-out from the start of training camp, he would likely have opened the season as the starter. The Jaguars will again have RB Fred Taylor to help balance the offense. The team is hoping that he can stay healthy like in 2002, when he played in all 16 games for the first time in his career. If he can stay healthy the Jags have a great runner with great vision, quickness and is primed for the breakout season that many have been expecting. The loss of Stacey Mack leaves the backfield lacking in depth so Taylor’s health is critical to the running game. Jimmy Smith will miss the opening weeks of the season due to . In his absence, the team will turn to Donald Hayes, Kevin Lockett and Jermaine Lewis to fill the void. Hayes and Lewis were brought in during the offseason and will help take some pressure of Smith when he returns. Kyle Brady will grab some passes too but his age is slowly becoming an issue as is his salary.

The defense should be a strength for the Jaguars given the fact that Del Rio helped mold the Panthers into defense that ranked second in 2002. He will bring that magic with him to this unit. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith will work closely with Del Rio on this defense and they will have some weapons at their disposal. The pass rush was upgraded with the free agent signing of Hugh Douglas and add to that Tony Brackens renegotiating his contract to remain a Jag. Brackens may serve as a backup to Douglas or slide over to the left side. The linebackers will be in decent shape despite losing their leading tackler MLB Wali Rainer as they turned aound and grabbed the Colts’ leading tackler, Mike Peterson. The team also brought in Keith Mitchell who with T.J. Slaughter will provide versatility as well as a nice addition to the pass rush. The secondary will continue to improve under the Del Rio influenced defense. The defensive backfield is manned by two undersized overachievers, Fernando Bryant and Jason Craft (both are 5″10″).

The Jaguars will be interesting to watch this season as they welcome in the new philosophy of Jack Del Rio and how the players respond to not having the pressures that came from playing for Tom Coughlin. The Jags are in a tough division as they are looking up at both the Titans and the Colts, not to mention having the fifth strongest NFL schedule on the table. The playoffs are probably not in the mix for the Jags this season but if this team clicks and can continue to improve week to week, they could ruin some other teams playoff plans late in the season.

Key re-signings – RFA S Ainsley Battles (one year, $605,000); RFA LB Danny Clark (one year, $605,000); RFA DE Paul Spicer (one year, $605,000); RFA CB Kiwaukee Thomas (one year, $605,000); UFA DT Larry Smith, May 13 (one year, $630,000, $100,000 SB); EFA RB Elvis Joseph, April 10 (one year, $375,00); Franchise UFA S Donovin Darius, March 25 (one year, approx. $3.043 million per “franchise” status); RFA LB Bobby Brooks, March 25; EFAs FB Patrick Washington and DE Chris Combs, March 12; RFA CB Robert Bean, March 7; EFA LB Joe Tuipala, March 7; UFA WR Kevin Lockett, March 2 (one year, $570,000, $25,000 SB); UFA C Joe Zelenka, Feb. 28 (one year, $570,000, $25,000 SB).

Key arrivals – UFA OT Sammy Williams/ex-Charger, June 20; UFA WR J.J. Stokes/ex-49er, June 16 (one year, $805,000, $150,000 SB; up to $300,000 in incentives is possible as well); UFA S Johndale Carty/ex-Falcon, May 27; UFA DT Reggie McGrew/ex-49er (one year, $530,000); UFA OG Jamar Nesbit/ex-Panther; UFA CB James Trapp/ex-Raven; UFA QB Jonathan Beasley (Packers training camp 2002), May 12; UFA TE Johnny Mitchell (out of football since 1996), April 13 (one year, $540,000); UFA PK James Tuthill/ex-Redskin, April 10; RS-WR Jermaine Lewis/ex-Texan, March 19 (three years, $2.9 million, $875,000 SB); UFA LB Mike Peterson/ex-Colt, March 15 (six years, $20.4 million, $2 million SB, $2 million roster bonus); UFA DE Hugh Douglas, March 15 (five years, $27.11 million, $6 million SB; base salaries of $665,000 in 2003, $3.345 million in ’04, $5 million in ’05, $5 million in ’06 and $6 million in ’07; roster bonuses of $500,000 for ’06 and ’07); UFA LB Keith Mitchell/ex-Texan, March 14 (one year, $1 million, $250,000 SB); UFA FB Marc Edwards/ex-Patriot, March 15 (three years, $3 million, $875,000 SB); WR Donald Hayes/ex-Patriot, March 10 (one year, up to $1 million with incentives).

Key departures – S James Boyd, May 20 (cut); CB Steve Smith (cut); WR Francis St. Paul, May 20 (cut); OG Aaron Koch (cut); CB Robert Bean (cut); OT Derrick Chambers (cut); OG Daryl Terrell (subsequently re-signed to one year, $570,000, including a $25,000 SB); UFA RB Stacey Mack, April 2 (to Texans); UFA LB Wali Rainer, April 2 (to Lions); UFA OT Todd Fordham, March 18 (to Steelers); UFA WR Bobby Shaw, March 17 (to Bills); UFA WR Patrick Johnson, March 10 (to Redskins); UFA C John Wade, March 10 (to Bucs); UFA OT-OG Zach Wiegert, March 1 (to Texans).

Notes – Restructured the contract of DE Tony Brackens, reducing his base salary for 2003 from $5.5 million to less than $1.5 million but including various incentives, May 1; Re-signed RB Fred Taylor to four-year, $20 million extension that includes $8 million SB, March 28. Taylor can earn additional $640,000 per year in active roster bonuses ($40,000 per game) and more than $2 million a year in possible performance incentives. Base salaries are $1.63 million in 2004, $1.55 million in ’05, $2.55 million in ’06 and $2.55 million in ’07. In final year of contract he signed as a rookie, Taylor’s base salary in ’03 is $530,000.

2003 Draft results

1 (7) Bryon Leftwich, QB, Marshall
2 (39) Rashean Mathis, S, Bethune-Cookman
3 (72) Vincent Manuwai, G, Hawaii
4 (104) George Wrighster, TE, Oregon
4 (132) LaBrandon Toefield, RB, LSU
6 (176) Brandon Green, DE, Rice
6 (179) David Young, S, Georgia Southern
6 (193) Marques Ogden, T, Howard
7 (218) Malaefou MacKenzie, RB, USC

Tennessee Titans

Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
2003 Strength of Schedule: 9th (.523)

The 2002 season was a tale of two seasons for the Titans. They opened the season at 1-4 and two of those four losses were embarrassing. They lost on the road 52-25 to the Raiders and 31-14 at home against the Redskins. Then Steve McNair rallied the troops and turned their season around by ripping off a 10-1 record the rest of the way and carried that momentum all the way to the AFC Title game where they fell short to the Raiders, 41-24.

The Titans offense will again rely heavily on QB Steve McNair. His health always seems to be a question. Not whether he will play, but what all is hurt. He proved last year that you could hit him with the team bus but it won’t keep him out of the lineup. McNair posted a great season and continues to improve with each season. The Titans will be in good shape if McNair can duplicate his 2002 totals when he set career highs in passing yards and touchdown passes. That with another dubious season high number of injuries played through. One of these seasons, the NFL will acknowledge McNair as one of the league’s best, until then he will continue to be underrated. 2003 could be the season for McNair to showcase his talents as he will have a good corps of receivers returning. Derrick Mason heads this group and he is joined by speedy youngsters Tyrone Calico, Justin McCareins and Drew Bennett. Add to that the formidable tandem at tight end, Frank Wycheck and Erron Kinney and it is easy to why the Titans are comfortable with their passing attack. The running game will again feature Eddie George but after struggling through last season with injuries the Titans have stocked up on running backs. Most notably they drafted Chris Brown, whose style has often been compared to George. While George certainly has something left in the tank, but after taking more than 300 carries in his first seven seasons (he is the only back in NFL history to do so), the question is ‘how much is left’? Both Brown as well as Robert Holcombe and John Simon should see time in the Titan backfield as George will not see the load he has carried in years past.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans will have “The Freak”, Jevon Kearse back on the defensive line. He will be joining Kevin Carter and widebodies, Robaire Smith and Albert Haynesworth. The Titans added some depth through the draft in Rien Long. Long has the chance to make an immediate impact as he has shown great strength and quickness. He is still raw and lacks maturity. Kearse’s return is huge. After his injury on the second play of the season opener, the defense lacked the intensity that he brings to the entire unit. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz used some creative schemes to create havoc for the opposing offenses. This unit will be a force to be dealt with as Kearse will make an immediate impact. The secondary has Lance Schulters and Tank Williams back and rookie Andre Woolfolk has the potential to make some big plays in his limited role.

It is worth mentioning that K Joe Nedney decided to forego his acting career and chose to stick to kicking. Steeler fans will be sure to welcome him to Heinz Field when the Titans visit on September 28th.

The Titans will field a good football team this season. Unfortunately, they are facing the problems of the salary cap (as are many other teams) as well as a secondary that cant stop the pass (25th in NFL in 2002). The latter is especially a problem considering that their first five games come against some potent pass offenses in the Raiders, Colts, Steelers, Saints and Patriots. The impact of the return of Jevon Kearse remains to seen but if the team offense can’t put points on the board, the return trip to the playoffs could be a bumpy one.

Key re-signings – RFA DT Robaire Smith, May 13 (one year, $605,000); TE Erron Kinney, May 13 (one year, $605,000); RFA LB Peter Sirmon, April 17 (four years, $8.45 million, $1 million SB, $1.4 million option bonus in 2004); RFA LB Frank Chamberlin, March 7; RFA RB Mike Green, March 6; UFA OG Zach Piller, March 3 (seven years, $21.28 million, $4 million SB; base salaries of $530,000 in 2003, $1 million in ’04, $1.5 million in ’05, $2.5 million in ’06, $3 million in ’07, $3.5 million in ’08 and $4 million in ’09; roster bonuses of $250,000 from 2006 through ’08 and $500,000 in ’09).

Key arrivals – None.

Key departures – LB Randall Godfrey, June 18 (cut); RFA S Aric Morris, May 9 (to Patriots); UFA CB Dainon Sidney, April 10 (to Bills); FB Mike Green, April 2 (cut); UFA CB Donald Mitchell, March 20 (to Cowboys); UFA WR Kevin Dyson, March 19 (to Panthers); UFA DT John Thornton, March 7 (to Bengals); UFA S Rich Coady, March 6 (to Colts); C Gennaro DiNapoli and DT Henry Ford, Feb. 27 (both cut); QB Neil O’Donnell, Feb. 20 (cut – subsequently re-signed, June 24 to a two-year deal worth $1.7 million, including a $90,000 SB and base salaries of $755,000 and $855,000).

Notes – Restructured the contract of MLB Randall Godfrey, reducing his salary-cap value for 2003 from just over $8 million to $5.586 million, including a $2 million base salary for ’03, Feb. 27. … Removed the transition tag from P Craig Hentrich, Feb. 27. … Restructured the contracts of CB Samari Rolle and WR Derrick Mason, Feb. 25. … Restructured the contracts of QB Steve McNair, LB Keith Bulluck and OG Benji Olson, Feb. 24.

2003 Draft results

1 (28) Andre Woolfolk, CB, Oklahoma
2 (60) Tyrone Calico,WR, Middle Tennessee St.
3 (93) Chris Brown, RB, Colorado
4 (126) Rien Long, DT, Wash. State
5 (154) Donnie Nickey, S, Ohio State
7 (225) Todd Williams, G, Florida State

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Les Barnhart

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