Starting with Tennessee Titans, the AFC South is changing fast in 2023

Starting with Tennessee Titans, the AFC South is changing fast in 2023

No NFL division figures to mutate more in the 2023 offseason than the AFC South.

After the Jacksonville Jaguars surprised the NFL by going worst-to-first in the AFC South in 2022, change is coming.

The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts have new coaches, and the Tennessee Titans have a new general manager and offensive coordinator. The Colts, Texans and Titans have four of the first 12 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft and seven of the first 42. All three teams could be involved in the offseason quarterback market and, with a new GM in Nashville, the Titans are one of the most unpredictable teams when it comes to what they’ll target in free agency and trades.

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The coaching changes that have been made, though, are fascinating. All three teams are heading in new directions while not veering too far from their pasts.

The Titans promoted Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator and hired Charles London as quarterbacks coach; London, Kelly and Mike Vrabel all worked together from 2014-17 and Kelly was with the Titans as passing game coordinator in 2022.

The Texans hired San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who played for the Texans from 2016-11. And the Colts hired Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who spent the last two years in Philadelphia working for former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.

All three hires were familiar, understandable choices. The Titans are betting that Kelly, who coordinated dominant Houston offenses in 2019-20 and led rookie quarterback Davis Mills to significantly more success in 2021 than he had in 2022 without Kelly, can reawaken an offense with talented pieces that went dormant last season.

The Texans are hoping an icon from their past can bring San Francisco’s team-building model to a franchise that needs a reboot. And the Colts are hoping Steichen’s experience with Siranni, and with young quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts, can revitalize a team that hasn’t found quarterback consistency since Andrew Luck retired in 2019.

Ryans is bringing 49ers assistant Bobby Slowik with him to run his offense, making the Texans the latest team to snag a head coach or offensive coordinator from the Sean McVay-Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. The Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings turned hires from the Shanahan-McVay tree into playoff berths this season, but the Texans aren’t nearly as far along in their rebuilds as the Dolphins or Vikings were, as they’ll likely be starting a rookie quarterback.

Steichen might also be training a rookie quarterback, but unlike Ryans and Slowik, Steichen’s lineage comes from more than one place. Working under Sirianni connects him to coaches like Andy Reid, Doug Pederson and Frank Reich, but he’s also worked for offensive-minded coaches like Mike McCoy and Anthony Lynn, giving him a wider base of ideas to pull from.

Realistically, all three teams positioned themselves to be better. The big question is whether they’ll be able to take advantage of that positioning. For the Titans, it’s a question of how a new GM can evaluate the kinds of players the existing coaching staff wants. For the Colts and Texans, it’s a question of how the existing front office structures can adapt to the demands of the new coaches.

All three teams are in uncharted territory and will continue to change throughout free agency and the draft. But right now, given that the Titans still have the strongest roster to go along with the staff changes, they’re still in a better position to win in 2023 than the Colts or Texans.

How that changes in March and April, and whether those changes are enough for any team to catch up with the ascendant Jaguars, is yet to be seen.

Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.