Slow and steady could win the AFC South race for Colts

Frank Reich and the Colts have been able to concentrate on improvement over teaching during their offseason program. Darron Cummings/AP Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts strolled into the offseason some three months ago with the most salary-cap space in the NFL. But as each day, each week and eventually each month passed, they showed very little movement when it came to free agency while the other three teams in the AFC South each found a way to make headlines.

That's fine with the Colts because they're not about being talked about or showing up on the news ticker.

Taking the approach of having stability has the Colts in position to be the favorites to win the division for the first time since 2014. Change -- some for the good, some for the bad -- is expected for each NFL team during each offseason. Change for the Colts this offseason has been minimal. They return their head coach, special-teams coach and offensive and defensive coordinators, along with 21 of 22 starters from a team that went 10-6 and advanced to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

"You always lose guys to retirement, free agency," Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. "So this is a unique situation where we have all of our key players back, ready to go and build off what we did last year. So this is somewhat new territory for me."

Other teams in the AFC South can't say they have the same continuity.

The Jacksonville Jaguars hope they upgraded at quarterback by replacing Blake Bortles with Nick Foles. But can Foles be a successful quarterback in a system other than Philadelphia? Will Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey be more of a distraction because the Jaguars are not going to give him a contract extension? Will defensive end Yannick Ngakoue continue his holdout? Can the Jaguars get back on track after a disappointing 5-11 season in 2018?

The Tennessee Titans, who lost out on the final AFC playoff spot in a Week 17 loss to the Colts last season, added pass-rusher Cameron Wake, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The question has and will remain whether quarterback Marcus Mariota can stay healthy.

The Houston Texans, like the Colts, did very little on the free-agent market. The difference between the teams though, is that Houston lost some key players, such as safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Kareem Jackson. And the Texans fired general manager Brian Gaine last week and now are accused of tampering by the New England Patriots.

The biggest issue the Colts have dealt with this offseason is quarterback Andrew Luck's strained calf. The quarterback didn't take part in the three weeks of OTAs or the mandatory minicamp this week as all the parties involved are being cautious. Coach Frank Reich and Luck both said they expected him to be ready for the start of training camp in the last week of July, barring any setbacks.

"It's been great," Colts starting center Ryan Kelly said. "This is probably the most retained offensive line I've played with since I've been here. It makes it a lot easier. It just feels familiar, feels good. You're continuing to learn about each other and how we play. We have some new faces in there and guys rotating in, but for the most part we can keep that continuity and brotherhood together. It's been fun."

Having such good continuity meant the coaching staff didn't have to teach the offense, defense and special teams to a lot of players, which allowed them to get off to a faster start when they returned for offseason workouts earlier this spring. The Colts signed only three free agents outside of the undrafted rookies they signed to go along with their 10 draft picks. That wasn't the case last year, when the new coaching staff had to install a new system.

"Yeah, I think that first part of last year before we even got into fundamentals -- before you can start teaching fundamentals and technique, you have to teach them the offense, right? If they don't know what to do, then they are just going out running," Sirianni said. "So that first whole part of last year, we were installing the offense. We were talking about fundamentals, but not as much as we were talking about offense. So now, for everybody it's a refamiliarization with the offense and what we started with this year. It's quicker; everything was faster. So we were able to dive into that earlier on than what we did last year to this offseason to really preach that, to get ourselves better as football players."