- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC South team needs to address the quarterback position.
Matt Schaub didn’t finish the season with a high popularity rating among Texans fans. While he was part of a first-round playoff win over Cincinnati, he did not finish strong as the team lost three of its final four in the regular season and a divisional round game in New England. That did nothing to dent the franchise’s faith in him. Put simply, Gary Kubiak loves him. Schaub got a big contract extension before the 2012 season and is going nowhere. The backup is T.J. Yates, who played as a rookie in 2011 after injuries to Schaub and Matt Leinart. He’s a good system fit but not necessarily a dynamic player. The Texans could easily go into 2013 as is, though Kubiak said they are always on the lookout in the draft for a QB who can play 10 or 12 years.
Andrew Luck is coming off a excellent rookie year. While he threw too many picks and took too many hits, he effectively pushed the ball downfield the way coordinator Bruce Arians asked him to. The team will upgrade his protection and we’ll see a higher completion percentage as Pep Hamilton, Arians’ replacement, installs an offense with more West Coast principles. Drew Stanton was the backup in 2012 and is heading toward free agency. He could find a situation where he has a better chance to play, perhaps reuniting with Arians in Arizona. If he leaves, the Colts will be in the market for a veteran backup for Luck. It’s hard to imagine Chandler Harnish, the final pick of the 2012 draft, being ready for that role.
Blaine Gabbert is going to get a solid crack at winning the starting quarterback job. But the new regime is not married to him as the group that drafted him was. Chad Henne will be Gabbert’s primary competition. Both of them showed severe limitations during their turns as the starter in 2012. New coach Gus Bradley and new general manager David Caldwell both have been emphasizing how they want to create as much competition as possible. So a draft pick or a veteran -- or one of each -- is likely to be added to the mix as they look to sort out roles at a position where expectations are low. Jedd Fisch is the third cordinator in three years who will try to get Gabbert good.
Jake Locker is the starter heading into his third season, and the offseason will be spent crafting a team that is better equipped to take advantage of his strengths. The interior offensive line is a big rebuild project, and better play inside will help him. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who took over the post with five games left, will make things simpler for Locker. He was shaky in his first year as a starter, which included only 11 games because of a shoulder injury. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck is the backup heading into the third year of a three-year contract. With a $7.5 million cap number this season, the Titans could look to extend him to cut costs and hold on to an experienced guy they like. Rusty Smith is third in line but seems unlikely to have a chance to advance beyond that.