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TITANS, COLTS MUST LOOK WITHIN FOR ANY IMPROVEMENT

This is the third of eight stories examin-
ing NFL teams by division as they prepare for training camp. Today's installment focuses on the AFC South.
The AFC South looks like a status quo division in 2003.

The division's two playoff teams, Tennessee and Indianapolis, didn't have enough salary cap room to make major changes in the offseason and will be counting largely on improvement from within this year.

The Titans and Colts still look far superior to South rivals Jacksonville and Houston.

The Texans also played it conservatively in free agency, even though they had plenty of money to spend. Quarterback David Carr leads a corps of young talent in Houston, and the Texans' brain trust appears secure in its three- to four-year building plan as those young players mature.

Jacksonville has undergone dramatic changes since last year, with a new front office, a new coach and a new franchise quarterback in Byron Leftwich. But the Jaguars are a team in transition now that Tom Coughlin's eight-year tenure is over, and it's unrealistic to expect much of a change in the bottom line (6-10 last year).

Here's a review of the offseason moves by each club:

Tennessee Titans (11-5)

What's new: The Titans weren't in a financial position to add much to their AFC runner-up squad, so the draft was key. First-round pick Andre Woolfolk (Oklahoma) fills a huge need at cornerback. But he's green, having converted from receiver as a junior in college. Second-round pick Tyrone Calico (Middle Tennessee) must step in at receiver, where the Titans lost Kevin Dyson (Panthers). The defense may miss DT John Thornton (Bengals).

Key issues: The Titans need their big stars (Steve McNair, Eddie George and Jevon Kearse) to be back to full health. George averaged just 3.4 yards a carry last year. A new center must emerge. Young Albert Haynesworth and Robaire Smith must produce at defensive tackle.

Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

What's new: There was no major shake-up after the 41-0 playoff loss to the Jets. The front seven lost a pretty good linebacker in Mike Peterson but gained defensive tackle Montae Reagor (Broncos), an up-and-coming talent. Ohio State's Mike Doss, the second-round draftee, should be a good strong safety. The two-tight-end set looks tough now that first-round pick Dallas Clark (Iowa) joins underrated Marcus Pollard at the position.

Key issues: Can David Thornton, a fourth-round pick last year, take Peterson's weak-side linebacker job? Will Idress Bashir and Doss form a standout safety duo? Is third-round pick Donald Strickland (Colorado) good enough to help at cornerback? Has enough been done to improve a defense that ranked eighth last year but flamed out in the playoffs?

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)

What's new: Rookie head coach Jack Del Rio, 40, takes over after one season as defensive coordinator in Carolina. He has a young staff and a first-year personnel chief in James Harris, hired from Baltimore. Leftwich creates great hope for the future. The defense was bolstered by the signing of defensive end Hugh Douglas (Eagles) and Peterson (Colts). Cornerback Rashean Mathis is making the jump from Bethune-Cookman but has the talent to eventually team with Fernando Bryant. Third-round pick Vince Manuwai (Hawaii) could be a good guard.

Key issues: How long before Leftwich replaces Mark Brunell at quarterback? Receiver is a worry with Jimmy Smith coming off a sub-par showing. Center John Wade (Tampa) left in free agency but guard Brad Meester could fill that role. Is Del Rio ready to hit the ground running?

Houston Texans (4-12)

What's new: No. 1 pick Andre Johnson (Miami) could be a superstar receiver. He gives Carr a premier weapon. The Texans re-signed 23 of their own players. Veteran guard-tackle Zach Wiegert (Jaguars) gives some insurance on the line. Average tackle Greg Robinson-Randall (Patriots) was acquired via trade. Charlie Clemons (Saints) helps at linebacker.

Key issues: Can tackle Tony Boselli return from serious shoulder injuries? Will a running back be added in June to help a running game that ranked 32nd? Can unknown linebacker Patrick Chukwurah (Vikings) take Jeff Posey's place?
Next: AFC West.
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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