AFC South training camp preview: Matt Ryan’s Colts honeymoon

Can Matt Ryan make the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl contenders? Can Dameon Pierce make Houston Texans camp bearable? Is Derrick Henry the last man standing for the Tennessee Titans? Will the Jacksonville Jaguars make Travis Etienne run around on a high school field? The answer to these questions and more are here in Walkthrough’s 2022 AFC South training camp previews!

Houston Texans 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading into Camp: The Team That Auto-Draft Built is back and less relevant than ever.

Camp Battles to Watch: The Texans upgraded a pass rush that ranked 23rd in adjusted sack rate last year the same way they have upgraded all of their units during the Jack Easterby/Nick Caserio epoch: by signing veterans that successful teams slough off. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison arrive from the Bills with about 25 snaps of pass-rush sizzle left in them each. Rasheem Green quietly cobbled 6.5 sacks together for the Seahawks in 2021. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo looked good in spurts when Rams opponents were worried about Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd. All four of them would look great coming off the bench on 3rd-and-10. Two of them will be asked to play regularly on 1st-and-10.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: Dameon “Three Pitbulls” Pierce is a bruising runner with an upbeat personality that is sure to make him a fan favorite. Caserio juiced Pierce’s fourth-round rookie contract with a $25,000 bonus for 2023, which may have slowed down midround rookie signings for other teams, because NFL general managers are exactly the sort of people who max their credit cards on the cabin cruiser and end up serving their guests drugstore-brand beer. Anyway, Pierce is the power back on a depth chart loaded with typical Texans rummage-sale-acquisition speed backs (Rex the Chargers Killer Burkhead, Marlon Mack), and his alpha pitbull mentality could help him emerge as a fantasy sleeper.

Circle-It Date: No idea. When web searching for Texans news in early July, articles about the Rams, Patriots and Supreme Court rulings kept popping up. Will someone please check on the Texans press pool and make sure that, like, Easterby didn’t serve them any special Kool-Aid? Anyway, if you are really dialed in to the Lovie Smith/Davis Mills experience, Walkthrough ain’t gonna yuck your yum, but you’re on your own when it comes to camp coverage.

Indianapolis Colts 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading into Camp: The Colts’ slogan over the past five years has been “We’re Doing Our Best Under the Circumstances!” Indeed, Chris Ballard did a fine job pulling the team out of the Carson Wentz impact crater, liberating Matt Ryan from the Falcons and snaring Stephon Gilmore just before free-agency closing time. Now if Ballard could just figure out who keeps making all these messes he’s forced to clean up every year…

Camp Battles to Watch: Former Eagles utility lineman Matt Pryor looked decent in spot starts at left and right tackle in 2021, making him the front-runner for the left tackle job. Third-round pick Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan) “made a strong first impression” in minicamp, according to Frank Reich, but he’s a mid-major project who was playing tight end as recently as 2019. Ryan is more or less deadbolted to his spot in the pocket these days (Walkthrough knows that Derrik Klassen disagrees with this assessment but ain’t budging), so Reich is hoping Pryor and Raimann can develop suddenly into above-average blindside protectors.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: Ryan brings leadership, maturity, professionalism and self-confidence, attributes the Colts lacked at the quarterback position last season. (Walkthrough isn’t gratuitously ripping Wentz! That’s practically a Ballard press conference transcript!) At the same time, Ryan’s 2016 MVP season was a long time ago, and his DVOA and DYAR have been in steady decline since. Ryan should bounce back modestly from a 2021 season when the Falcons surrounded him with temps and interns, but it’s hard to imagine Ryan making the Colts more than wild-card fodder in a conference full of rising star quarterbacks. For now, enjoy the summer honeymoon.

Circle-It Date: The Colts host joint practices with the Lions on Aug. 17 and 18, the latter of which will be Fan Appreciation Day. It will be a great opportunity for fans to watch two franchises procrastinate indefinitely about finding a long-term quarterback solution.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading into Camp: The Jaguars bought Trevor Lawrence an Ikea receiving corps at Ethan Allen prices in free agency, made one of the top five players on the Georgia defense the first overall pick in the draft and skipped mandatory minicamp so they could fumigate team headquarters for Urban Meyer cooties. Now it’s time for Doug Pederson to finally get started turning this ragtag collection of rookies, newcomers and Urban survivors into something team-shaped.

Camp Battles to Watch: Laviska Shenault is what a team gets when they throw themselves at Deebo Samuel and miss: a big gadget guy whose “intriguing potential” is still his primary selling point entering his third season. Shenault is one of the few veterans who stuck around for minicamp-turned-rookie-camp, perhaps realizing that he was drafted two regimes ago and does many of the same things overcompensated newcomer Christian Kirk excels at. Shenault is worth watching. If he cannot claim an offensive role, the Jaguars could polish him up for a trade.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: Carlos Sanchez does an outstanding job covering the Jaguars for the Black and Teal Report at FanSided, but he has been trapped in a temporal causality loop over the last few months.

Step One: Some tastemaker outlet criticizes the Travon Walker draft selection in a listicle.

Step Two: Sanchez dutifully notes the criticism.

Step Three: Sanchez affirms that Walker indeed has boom-or-bust potential, but the Jaguars knew what they were getting and it’s best to wait and see.

Step Four: Some editor somewhere demands another Each Team’s Riskiest Offseaon Move article to get through the summer, and history resets itself.

As someone who has written my share of offseason listicles and has been doing the same Minnesota Vikings shtick for four years, I can relate with what Jaguars writers/bloggers are dealing with. Let’s hope they’re ready for the Walker debate to rage on for the rest of the summer/2022/until he’s traded in 2025.

Returnee to Obsess Over: Missing last season may have been a disguised blessing for Travis Etienne. Meyer would probably have forced Etienne into a 30-touch role, then bitten off his pinkie or something. Etienne is back from his 2021 foot injury and looking pretty spry. His fantasy ADP was hovering around 46th overall (22nd among running backs) as of mid-July. Look for it to leap up when the fantasy sharps see him in pads and realize that the Jaguars offense is gonna look downright electrifying compared to teams like the Giants and Bears. (This was complicated this weekend by news that James Robinson will surprisingly be ready for the beginning of camp instead of going on PUP.)

Circle-It Date: It’s more like a circle-it location for the Jaguars, which are holding training camp at Episcopal High School, two miles from TIAA Field, while a new practice facility is being built. Nothing says, “forget the past, we’re professionals now!” like sharing facilities with the local 15-year-olds!

Come to think of it, maybe the Jaguars should wait a while before debuting Etienne in full-contract drills.

Tennessee Titans 2022 Training Camp Preview

Heading into Camp: It’s Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill and Mike Vrabel versus the world! Among the challenges they face: a depleted receiver corps, a roster short of big-name talent, the Curse of 370 and a conference where several teams got significantly better in the offseason while the Titans couldn’t quite break even.

Camp Battles to Watch: Dillon Radunz was drafted to play right tackle in 2021 but wasn’t ready. Third-round pick Nicholas Petit-Frere (Ohio State) isn’t a superior athlete or technician, but he’s a huge, high-effort, high-character guy who should be able to flatten some defenders for Henry. If Petit-Frere wins a starting job, Radunz may move inside to compete at left guard with newcomer Jamarco Jones.

Also, Justin Melo of Music City Miracles reports that there could be a Titans kicker battle emerging between Randy Bullock and Iowa State undrafted free agent Caleb Shudak. It’s a long shot because Bullock just signed a two-year deal and Shudak suffered a minor injury during OTAs, but there’s a reason Walkthrough loves Titans kicker battles: You can always expect the unexpected.

Newcomer to Obsess Over: First-round pick Treylon Burks missed chunks of rookie camp while dealing with asthma and then missed a pair of minicamp practices for unspecified reasons. Eh, it’s not like the Titans are counting on him to immediately replace A.J. Brown as their WR1 while competing for a Super Bowl or anything.

The good news is that tight end Austin Hooper emerged as Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target during minicamp. Of course, Tannehill really didn’t have anyone else to throw to.

Circle-It Date: The Titans-Ravens preseason game scheduled for Aug. 11 would be a snooze except for one man: Malik Willis. Preseason is going to be Willis Szn in Tennessee, and while the third-round pick from Liberty will probably spend that Ravens exhibition running for his life (that’s what rookies usually do in the preseason, and if Tannehill has no one to throw to, imagine who Willis’ receivers will be), it will probably be most fans’ first real look at a quarterback who was rarely on television in college.

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