A Look Around The AFC South: 2.2.17

Intro: Colts.com’s Andrew Walker offers a comprehensive look at the latest offseason action around the AFC South Division.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The top two teams in the AFC South Division from the 2016 season are heading into their offseason with not too much change, hoping to build upon the positives that they saw last year and get even better in 2017 and beyond.

The other two teams, meanwhile, have made some significant changes in order to, as they hope, get back into the playoff picture and continue competing for that ever-elusive Super Bowl title.

The Indianapolis Colts find themselves in the latter category. After finishing with an 8-8 record — and missing the playoffs — for a second straight season, the team parted ways with general manager Ryan Grigson, and replaced him with Chris Ballard, who has played a key role in building the Kansas City Chiefs into a perennial contender — particularly on defense — the past few seasons.

It's certainly been an active week for the Colts, who not only hired Ballard to lead the personnel department, but saw All-Pro punter Pat McAfee decide to retire from the NFL at the age of 29 to pursue a career with Barstool Sports.

So will the other three AFC South teams match what the Colts brought to the table the past week news-wise? Well, no. But let's take a look around the division just to keep our weekly tabs on everyone:

Houston Texans
J.J. Watt is healthy after missing most of the season following back surgery, and the Houston Texans star is eager to show that he can be even better than he was before.

"Just to know that there's new levels to reach that I haven't even reached yet is exciting, and I think that's one of the biggest things for me is knowing that," he said Wednesday. "It's not like I'm just out here trying to come back and be a football player again. I'm still trying to continue to capitalize on what I was before and be even better than I was before ... if I'm not trying to be the best player ever then I'm doing everyone a disservice."

Watt, who has named the defensive player of the year for the past two seasons, missed training camp and Houston's four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk. The defensive end started the team's first three regular-season games before re-injuring his back and undergoing season-ending surgery.

It was the first time in his career that he'd missed a regular-season game after starting all 16 in each of his first five NFL seasons. The two back surgeries came after offseason surgery to repair a groin injury.

Sitting out for the first time in his career was difficult for the ultra-competitive Watt.

"You go through three major surgeries in one year, you're going to have some very down days — and there were," he said. "There were some days where it's just very, very tough, but that's what you learn a lot about yourself. That's when you learn what's important to you — who's important to you. You learn, really, what you want to do — what is important to you."

And for Watt, that reminded him why he started playing the game in the first place.

"You know, fame is cool," he said. "You get to do all these different things, but at the end of the day what's really important, what makes you happy (is) competing, being around my teammates, playing the game of football. Training ... just being able to be like a kid out there. Just being able to go on that field and play a kid's game on the biggest stages is a blast for me."

He also learned that it was more important to get completely healthy than to rush back to try to prove something.

"I finally kind of realized like: 'OK, do what you need to do to make sure that you're getting back 100 percent healthy,'" he said. "'Don't try to impress anyone even if it's yourself. Don't try and impress yourself how fast you can get back. Don't try and impress yourself with how much weight you can lift so early. Just do everything the right way.'"

Watt is finished with rehabilitation after his back surgery and said he'll be ready to practice when the Texans begin offseason training later this year. He feels great but knows it's way too early to say if he'll be the same player who piled up 76 sacks in his career.

"At this point of the offseason it's very premature to say something like that," he said. "I think that I feel very good about where we are in the process right now, and I feel very good knowing that I have many months ahead until next season to be able to continue to grow and build."

Jacksonville Jaguars
Scott Milanovich stepped down as head coach of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts on Friday to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterbacks coach.

The move came three days after Jim Barker was fired as Toronto's general manager.

Barker hired Milanovich in December 2011, giving him his first CFL head coaching job. He led the Argos to a Grey Cup victory in 2012, but the club finished last in the East Division in 2016 with a 5-13 record and missed the playoffs.

Milanovich was a quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-1999) and spent 10 seasons coaching in the CFL. He served as an assistant with the Montreal Alouettes (2007-2011) before joining the Argos.

Milanovich posted a 43-47 record with Toronto and was the CFL's coach of the year in 2012.

"We are pleased to welcome Scott and his family to the Jaguars organization,' Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said. "He will be a great asset to our coaching staff, as his professional playing and coaching experience will be vital in the improvement of our quarterbacks."

Tennessee Titans
Warren Moon is a legend in these parts, thanks to the work he did as quarterback of the Houston Oilers.

Moon broke countless records during his playing days, and his body of work earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here on Monday night, he was a part of Super Bowl LI Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. He's been a big hit on Radio Row.

Moon believes the Titans have a special player in quarterback Marcus Mariota, and he thinks he's just going to keep getting better.

"I was impressed with Marcus in Year 1,'' said Moon, who threw for 49,325 yards in 17 NFL seasons with the Oilers, Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs, "and I saw so many positive things from him this past year until the injury.

"His future is really bright, because I know how he works on and off the field, putting the time in. And I've heard about how he is in the meeting rooms, and working on his body. He'll continue to do that, and that will help him take the pounding NFL quarterbacks take.

"But he has a great temperament, he doesn't get too high or too low. And I always look at that in quarterbacks, just to see how they handle themselves, whether they are having prosperity or dealing with tough times. And you really can't tell the difference with him, and that is a great sign not only for him, but also for his teammates. They don't need to see a guy who is going to be erratic. You want your quarterback to be a steady influence, and that's what Marcus is.

"So he has everything to be a great one in this league,'' Moon continued, "and he has progressed even faster than I thought he would."

Mariota completed 276-of-451 passes for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 95.6 passer rating in 2016 before suffering a fractured fibula in Week 16 contest at Jacksonville. He added 60 rushing attempts for 349 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.

Mariota's 95.6 passer rating ranks third in franchise history for a single season, behind only Moon's 96.8 in 1990, when he was the Associ­ated Press Offensive Player of the Year, and Steve McNair's 100.4 in 2003, when he was the NFL's Co-MVP.

Mariota's 26 touchdown passes in 2016 rank fourth in franchise history behind only George Blanda's 36 in 1961, Moon's 33 in 1990 and Blanda's 27 in 1962.

Moon, who spent some time with Mariota when he won the 2014 Davey O'Brien, said the Titans did a good job of building the offense around the quarterback to make him more comfortable. Mariota was the No.2 overall pick by the Titans in the 2015 NFL draft after winning the Heisman Trophy at Oregon.

"He is well on his way and is definitely doing better than most people expected because of the talent that is now around him,'' Moon said. "Getting the two running backs – DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry – was good for him, and then drafting the big tackle out of Michigan State in Jack Conklin. They've really rebuilt that offensive line to protect him and keep him from getting hit so much."

(Story via TitansOnline.com senior writer/editor Jim Wyatt)

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