SCOUT'S HONOR: AFC's weak links

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As the regular season begins, each NFL team clearly knows where the weakest position is on their football team. After a series of several organizational meetings during training camp, here is what each team sees as its weakness. A little more emphasis will be placed on those weaknesses by each club's scouts during the fall. Last week:

AFC East

Buffalo — Defensive Line: The have some young talent that could still develop, but they remain a work in progress. The biggest question is whether they can generate enough of a pass rush to take their defense to another level. I don't think they have that one player who teams fear off the perimeter. Miami — Offensive Line: Injuries have really cut away at the offensive line, which wasn't overly talented in the first place. The are in trouble if can't hold his own at left tackle. The interior of , , and is suspect. This group has shown it can be solid at times during the preseason, but must hold that together throughout the season. New England — Cornerback: Can Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel cover the limitations within their defense again? Don't doubt these guys. is a legitimate starter, but how long can really continue to make timely plays? New York — Offensive Line: Believe or not, this could be the biggest question mark for the right now. will suffer through some inconsistency. holds his own at left tackle, but is better suited for the right side. And they also lost some stability at left guard during the off-season.

AFC North

Baltimore — Defensive Line: Don't criticize these guys for a lack of effort - , , and certainly have non-stop motors. But they are undersized and have some limitations. The biggest question is whether these guys can protect adequately. Cincinnati — Quarterback: is too streaky over the course of a season. simply makes too many mistakes. And hasn't proven himself yet. Smith could have another chance if the Frerotte-Kitna show becomes stale by November. The need to find a veteran who can get the ball to their young receivers without turning the ball over. Cleveland — Tight End: The have really wanted to make this a key area of their passing game over the last two years, but have gotten very little results. was a washout. could be a decent addition, but neither of their other tight ends are regarded as threats. The passing game would really be enhanced with a legitimate presence here. As grows into Cleveland's offense at running back - the will have the opportunity to design more play-action within the offense. That's where the tight end position comes into play. Pittsburgh — Safety: and are smart, blue-collar football players. Both have been very reliable for the , but they have limitations that teams can exploit in the passing game. They need to find the next to really take their defense to new heights.

AFC South

Houston — Running Back: All young quarterbacks need a strong running game to become the backbone of their development. But the ground game in Houston won't scare opponents. is just an average runner who takes whatever the offensive line opens up for him. But he's not going to make much else happen. Rookie will likely be given an opportunity to be evaluated for the future. But Wells is no certainly either. Indianapolis — Defensive Line: Expect to see improvement here this season. They'll be more active and more aggressive, but whether they have the tools yet to really succeed is another question. They could still use some front-line talent to really bolster the rest of this defense. The front four and its ability to gain penetration is the building block for Tony Dungy's defense. Jacksonville — Wide Receiver: There are a few areas that I am not crazy about regarding the , but the wide receiver position is a concern after . has a chance to become an adequate complement, but he hasn't shown enough consistency. And Patrick Johnson gives the passing game some needed speed, but he's very erratic. Tennessee — Offensive Line: This has been the rock of stability for the for years, but now they have question marks. Tackles and were inconsistent last season. And there's no to solidify the middle anymore. This group could have some problems in pass protection against quicker defensive fronts.

AFC West

Denver — Secondary: The had a lot of problems against the pass at times last season. They were prone towards mistakes that resulted in giving up big plays. must emerge at some point and must become more consistent. They should be better inside this season, but by no means have any definite long-term answers. Kansas City — Linebacker: The ' depth at wide receiver is certainly a concern, but their defense must rise to the occasion this season. offers veteran leadership in the middle. should be an active presence due to his motor. But the overall picture at linebacker is a concern. They lack speed and won't make many plays. Oakland — Tight End: The tight end position is generally a key weapon in this type of offensive attack. But doesn't really scare opponents and drops too many balls. He's also inconsistent as a blocker. And rookie remains unproven as a pro. San Diego — Offensive Line: The offensive front shouldn't be nearly as bad as it was last season, but they still remain a concern. Rookie Tonui Fonoti will have some growing pains, but has tremendous potential. must continue to make progress at left tackle. Brian DeLucia is a respected college and pro personnel consultant around the NFL. Formerly a consultant with, and currently an contributor for Pro Football, Brian heads into his third season with providing commentary around the NFL and NFL Draft.
Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Browns, Broncos, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Jaguars, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Jon Kitna, Akili Smith, Rickey Dudley, Willie Middlebrooks, Deltha O'Neal, Gus Frerotte, Brad Hopkins, Mike Maslowski, Roland Williams, Otis Smith, Ty Law, Kareem McKenzie, Bobby Shaw, Brent Alexander, Steve Heiden, Damion McIntosh, Jimmy Smith, Kelly Gregg, Ray Lewis, William Green, Jonathan Wells, Doug Jolley, James Allen

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