INDIANAPOLIS —By late tomorrow night, the Indianapolis Colts' preseason schedule will be half over.
Hard to believe, right?
But here we are, just 23 days until the Colts open up their regular season on the road against the Los Angeles Rams.
And while the team officially wrapped up training camp on Thursday, two days prior to Saturday night's preseason matchup on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, head coach Chuck Pagano has emphasized that everything beneficial about camp — the competitiveness, the productiveness, the cohesive nature — will still be the theme and the goal come Monday, when the Colts return to the team facility to begin preparations for preseason Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 26.
But how are things shaping up across the rest of the AFC South Division? Let's take a look:
Mike Vrabel isn't making any drastic changes in his first season as the Houston Texans' defensive coordinator.
After what the unit did last year he knows that isn't necessary. The defense was the strength of the team in 2016 and finished the season allowing the fewest yards per game in the league despite defensive end J.J. Watt missing all but three games because of back surgery.
"I'm not really trying to put my stamp on our defense," Vrabel said. "I'm just trying to coordinate a group of professional athletes that were successful last year as a group ... our guys play hard and I appreciate that. So, I don't know if that's my stamp or that's their stamp, but we try to have a culture that is built around competitiveness and winning."
Vrabel spent three seasons as Houston's linebackers coach before he was promoted to coordinator when Romeo Crennel became the assistant head coach. As the Texans prepare for their second preseason game Saturday night against the New England Patriots, coach Bill O'Brien has already been impressed with the work he's done in his new role.
"They're doing a good job over there mixing it up. We're mixing it up," O'Brien said. "I think he's doing a good job. He's very organized, detailed, works very hard. He's got a great way with the players, so I think so far, so good."
Before becoming a coach, Vrabel spent 14 seasons as a linebacker for Pittsburgh, New England and Kansas City, where he piled up 511 tackles and 57 sacks. His extensive playing experience is a big reason why the players have taken to him so well as a coach.
"He brings (enthusiasm) every day and we just kind of feed off of his energy," cornerback Kareem Jackson said. "He's been in the situations that we've been in and some big-time ball games. So, we're definitely going to follow him. He's going to be our leader and he's a great leader for us."
Blake Bortles' career in Jacksonville could be nearing an end.
Coach Doug Marrone opened up the team's quarterback job after Bortles' latest inconsistent performance Thursday night, giving Chad Henne a chance to start.
"I'm looking for someone who is going to lead this offense," Marrone said. "I'm not happy with the performance. I'm not going to sit here and BS anyone. Everyone saw it out there. Whatever you want to call it, I'm still trying to evaluate who the best person is at that position."
Bortles completed 8 of 13 passes for 65 yards in a 12-8 preseason loss to Tampa Bay and headed to the sideline after four possessions that ended with punts. He missed Allen Robinson on two plays, including a woefully underthrown ball down the seam.
"Just didn't make a whole lot of plays," Bortles said. "Missed a couple of throws down the field, and we were very stagnant as an offense."
Henne got some work with the first-team offense, fueling speculation that Bortles had lost his grasp on the job. Even though the move had been planned beforehand, it gave the appearance that Marrone and football czar Tom Coughlin had wavered in their commitment to Bortles. Marrone confirmed it after the game.
"We're going to figure this thing out," Marrone said. "It's just simple. I'm not going to try to make this thing complicated. I'm looking for the best person to lead our offense."
Marrone and Coughlin had publicly supported Bortles all year, even picking up the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. But Marrone pulled the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft last week following two interceptions. Marrone said Bortles' "arm looked tired." Bortles denied having any issues.
Bortles doesn't have a touchdown or a turnover in two preseason games.
"It's hard to not hear people booing," Bortles said. "But if they're cheering or booing, it's kind of irrelevant, at least for me it is. I think you've got to treat adversity and prosperity the same way. They're not booing for no reason. They're booing because you didn't do your job."
Marcus Mariota got out on the field, ran a handful of plays and then watched the rest of the game from the sideline.
It was a nice, simple night for the franchise quarterback.
Mariota played in his first game since breaking his right leg late last season, easily the most important development for the Tennessee Titans in their 7-3 loss to the New York Jets on Saturday in the exhibition opener for each team.
"I enjoyed the moment," he said. "You kind of create those moments when you're going through the rehab process. You keep telling yourself 'This is what you're working for' and that's the way I approached it."
Mariota, who had 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2016 before his injury on Dec. 24, played two series in the first quarter.
"The recovery process was a long one," Mariota said. "To be able to be out there today with the guys, I enjoyed it."
On his first attempt, he scrambled to his right and completed a 15-yard pass to Rishard Matthews . He finished 2 of 3 for 15 yards.
"Instincts kind of took over," he said. "It felt good to get out of the pocket and make a play."
Unlike the Titans, the Jets' quarterback situation is more muddled. Well-traveled veteran Josh McCown got the start for New York. He was 3 of 4 for 72 yards and a touchdown in his one series, which was enough for the win because the Jets defense had eight sacks and was dominant throughout.
Christian Hackenberg, a second-round pick in 2016, took over for McCown and played until late in the third quarter. Hackenberg was 18 of 25 for 127 yards.
"He has some things to build off," Jets coach Todd Bowles said of Hackenberg. "He has some positives that we can look at and he can build from. He's got some negatives that we've got to correct. That's to be expected in the first game."
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