Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak Doesn't See Colts Slipping
INDIANAPOLIS - As Houston Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak sees it, the power structure in the AFC South may be slow to change.
The division, he said, is very good, and likely will remain so.
And the Colts?
Well, Kubiak said this week, the Colts are the five-time defending division champions and won the NFL's toughest division this past season, which he said means entering the 2008 season they still may be the team to beat.
"I don't see them coming back at all," Kubiak said at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is ongoing this weekend at the RCA Dome in downtown Indianapolis.
"I think we're all going to have to go get them. They are a tremendous football team and organization. (Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) has done a great job. They have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game (eight-time Pro Bowl selection Peyton Manning) and it doesn't look like he's going anywhere any time soon."
While the Colts and the New England Patriots are the only two teams in the NFL to have won their respective divisions each of the past five seasons, the AFC South as a whole was one of the toughest divisions in NFL history this past season.
The South this past season was one of two divisions – the NFC East being the other – to qualify three teams for the postseason, and it became the first division since the NFL's 2002 realignment with three teams with 10 or more victories.
No team in the South finished worse than 8-8, and the four teams' combined 42 victories was the most by any division since the 2002 realignment.
The Colts finished 13-3, their NFL-record fifth consecutive season with at least 12 victories, followed by Jacksonville (11-5) and Tennessee (10-6), with Houston finishing with a franchise-record eight victories.
"I just worry about us," Kubiak said. "Gauging off those guys would be very difficult. I have to take a look at ourselves on a daily basis. I think we're making progress. We've got a lot of good young players and we obviously have a long way to go. But I like the direction we're headed. If we can keep having good drafts, good free agencies, and not make many mistakes, I think it gives us a chance. . . .
"We're trying to catch those guys. Tennessee had a tremendous football team this year. Jacksonville also. We're trying to gain some ground.
"It's a heck of a division, but I think it all starts with the Colts."
STILL THE SAME: A major change in the South this off-season has been the defensive coordinator position in Jacksonville.
Mike Smith, the Jaguars' coordinator the past five seasons, became the Atlanta Falcons' head coach. Gregg Williams, the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator and assistant head coach in Washington from 2004-2007.
"To be able to add a guy like Gregg to the mix, I'm excited about it," Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "We're very similar in what we believe in, in terms of an attacking four-man front, penetrating, disruptive defensive linemen, linebackers that run and hit behind it, a secondary that is aggressive and will attack the football, and come up and hit people. We really share a lot of similar beliefs in how we like to put together a defense and how we like to attack offenses.
"It will be a good opunity for us to take our system and really go back through it with a fine-tooth comb and listen to ideas he has, then take what we are in 2008, and come out of this spring, going forward, with what we're going to be.
"That's part of the process we're into right now. We will meet and get after that in the next few days and the coming weeks as we prepare for this offseason."
Del Rio said the addition of Williams won't likely alter how the Jaguars evaluate talent defensively.
"You're always looking for good-sized guys who can really run and hit," Del Rio said. "I think all us defensive guys, we like that. We all share a similar desire to have a physical defense that plays fast and will be aggressive."
POWER AREAS: Two of the position groups most often discussed this week around the RCA Dome have been offensive tackle and running backs.
The offensive tackle position is widely considered the best in several seasons at the spot, with Jake Long of Michigan, Ryan Clady of Boise State, Jeff Otah of Pittsburgh, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt and Sam Baker of Southern California considered potential first-round selections.
"It's the best group I've seen in 24 years collectively, and it was a good group before the
juniors were added to it," Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert said. "Those guys enhanced what we really think is a strong group. The majority of them can play on the left side or play both sides. It's unusual to have that many guys that big and that athletic and that productive. I think for the ones that are on the right (side) some of them have actually played on the left before and they probably have that flexibility.
"Just to be able to play the left (side) is such a premium. I think you can get a tackle in (first) three rounds."
Running back also is considered a deep position, with three players – Darren McFadden of Arkansas, Felix Jones of Arkansas and Jonathan Stewart of Oregon – considered first-round caliber players. Jones and Stewart also have return ability. Eight running backs declared for the draft early: the three aforementioned players and Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois, Steve Slaton of West Virginia, Ray Rice of Rutgers and Kevin Smith of Central Florida.
"On the surface and off tape, it looks like it's a pretty good group overall," Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said. "Certainly some of the juniors are very high-profile players. You don't really know the juniors at all because you haven't scouted them, you haven't asked coaches about them, you haven't met them, even when you go to the school, you don't even pay attention to those guys because you're so focused on doing the seniors.
"So this is the first opportunity we'll have had all the teams to get to know these guys, to see them and look at them and see how they react with other players. So this is hugely important for us to get to know these guys."
NO HARD FEELINGS: To Romeo Crennel, forgiveness was never necessary.
That's because Crennel, the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, said he always believed that the blame for the Browns missing the playoffs this past season laid for more with the Browns than with Indianapolis.
The Browns missed the playoffs this past season when the Tennessee Titans beat the Colts, 16-10, in the regular-season finale. Several Colts front-line players missed the game with injuries, and others – such as quarterback Peyton Manning – did not play in the second half.
The Browns lost control of their destiny the previous week when they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, but would have made the postseason had the Colts beaten Tennessee.
"I never blamed Tony (Dungy) for the Tennessee game because we had it in our hands in Cincinnati and we didn't get it done," Crennel said. "That's who I blame. I blame myself and us. If we take care of our business, then we don't have to depend on Tony.
"That's a good lesson for this young team to learn – you can't depend on anybody else, you've got to take care of your business yourself."