When you talk about the new faces in the AFC South, Indianapolis dominates. That’s what happens when the team goes 2-14 after a decade of dominance, signaling a new era. Houston, meanwhile, is the favorite and did not to make many moves, adding depth. Jacksonville had major issues in the passing game, so their additions focused on getting players to help Blaine Gabbert. Here are the top ten new faces in the AFC South.
10. Steve Hutchinson, OG, Tennessee Titans. Hutchinson turns 35 this year, and was released in the offseason by Minnesota. Tennessee is hoping that the potential Hall of Famer still has something left.
9. Randy Bullock, PK, Houston Texans. The Lou Groza award winner takes over at place kicker in Houston for Shayne Graham, and will likely face some crucial kicks as a rookie for the division favorite.
8. Bradie James, ILB, Houston Texans. Houston is replacing both Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans internally, though James should compete with the frequently injured Darryl Sharpton to play the inside linebacker position opposite Brian Cushing.
7. The Colts Offensive Line. At least 3 of the 5 starters this year will be newcomers, with Samson Satele slated at center, Mike McGlynn at guard, and Winston Justice at right tackle. The offense in front of Luck will be very much a work in progress as the season begins.
6. Laurent Robinson, Jacksonville. The 27 year old Robinson parlayed a big year in Dallas with 11 touchdowns into a free agent contract with the wide receiver needy Jaguars. Will he be able to handle an increased role on a less proficient passing attack?
5. Baltimore to Indianapolis (minus the Mayflower vans): The Baltimore to Indianapolis pipeline was opened when the team hired Chuck Pagano, the Ravens defensive coordinator. He then added veterans Corey Redding and Tom Zbikowski on defense to help with the transition to the 3-4 defense he prefers.
4. Kamerion Wimbley, Tennessee. Wimbley was released by the Raiders in a cap move in the offseason, and signed with Tennessee. The Titans desperately need a better pass rush, as no defensive ends had more than 4 sacks last year. In the past, we’ve seen veteran acquisitions like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jason Babin achieve double digit sack success in Tennessee, and Wimbley will try to be the latest to find success after being cast off by a franchise.
3. Rookie Pass Catchers: Every team in the AFC South has at least one rookie who could play a big role in 2012. Jacksonville added Justin Blackmon, who needs to keep out of trouble after a rocky first offseason. Tennessee drafted Kendall Wright, who may get an opportunity as a rookie with Kenny Britt’s drama and return from injury. Coby Fleener joins his college teammate in Indianapolis and should start right away. Two third round selections, DeVier Posey in Houston and T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis, could find themselves in the mix as the season progresses, given the injury history of the starters for those teams.
2. Indianapolis Front Office: The Polians are out, and Ryan Grigson is in, along with head coach Chuck Pagano. After being one of the most stable franchises since 1998, things in Indianapolis will look much different in 2012.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis. The chosen one, Luck has all the pedigree to be a star in the league. He’s also replacing a legend, and doing so with a roster very much in transition. There is no Marvin Harrison in place, and no star running back like Faulk, as was the case when Peyton Manning started as a rookie.
[photo via US Presswire]