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Roster Roundouts: A Houston Texans Preseason Report

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How cool would it have been if the Texans had been the ones to sign Michael Vick?  Now that the Shanahan-era Broncos are no more, Michael Vick would have been the one backup up Matt Schaub (oh, irony!) in an offense that fit both of their skill sets better than the Greg Knapp west coast did.

This is just about the only thing the Texans could have done to quick boost their offense.  In the long run, Schaub need to show more patience, especially outside of the pocket, where he had a tendency to commit the big turnovers.  Patience is the key because, otherwise, the Texans offense is both efficient and explosive.  Schaub’s reads will improve with time, but the per pass efficiency and the gashing running game are already present.  The offense is Gary Kubiak’s baby, and the Texans are on the verge of delivering this year.

Here’s your problem: we’ve been waiting for the Texans defense to break through based on the amount of talent they’ve added since 2004.  Last year, it looked like everything was in place for the explosive breakout.  We predicted, projected, and prognosticated, and four weeks in, nothing looked any different.  You want points against from the first five games?  How about 38, 31, 30, 31, 28.  Of course, we can blame the defense all we want for the slow start, but the offense wasn’t making them look good.  Turnover differentials of -2, -1, 0, -2, -3 in those first five games against Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Miami.  Record: 1-4.

The offense fixed itself from that point on, or at least their turnovers became more contextually explainable and less maddening.  The defense, it never improved.

We got a glimpse of what the Texans defense COULD be when the 13-1 Tennessee Titans came to town, and the Texans defense held them to 12 points.  Even in that game, first and second down efforts were lacking throughout, but some tough stands on third and fourth down, as well as deep in their own territory in an otherwise impressive and completely shocking one run victory.

But the defense never got back to that level in the final two games, which included a loss in the Oakland Coliseum before returning home to knock the Bears from the playoffs.

No one here thinks the Texans are a bad team, but where was the defensive improvement?  If you squint really hard, it’s still not there.  This unit is no better or worse than it was in 2007, 2006, 0r 2005.  Remember the collapse of the defense that caused Dom Capers to get fired at the end of the 2005 season when his team lost 14 games?  Yeah, uh, the defense has not improved one iota under Kubiak and his multiple coordinators.  The Texans have defended 2nd receivers and tight ends well each of the last three years, while struggling against 1st and 3rd receiving options, as well as running backs.

The Texans are changing the defensive scheme this year, and while this would normally be cause for concern, it’s hard to fathom that anyone could use the Texans defensive personnel worse than it was used last year.  All the offseason additions did was set the run defense up for absolute failure; it was never all that bad in the two years prior.  Combine that with the fact that there was no trade-off in the passing game or on the pass rush, and the scheme was in big need of an upgrade.  At the end of the year, the Texans fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and hired Frank Bush.



The first step will be to transition to more of a run focused defense, with the LE position now serving as an anchor for the line, and one of the DT positions being turned over to second year undrafted rookie DelJuan Robinson.  It’s impossible to overstate his importance to a defensive recovery this year.  The replacement of completely unhelpful players like Anthony Weaver and first round bust DT Travis Johnson should help.  Johnson may even settle in nicely as a part time player in the rotation.

One of the few things on the defense that Texans fans don’t have to freak out about is the “decline” in the sack production of DT phenom 22-year old Amobi Okoye from 5.5 as a rookie to 1.0 as a sophomore.  He did not have the peripheral passer “hurries” as a rookie to support a five and a half sack season, recording only 5 of those, but that number skyrocketed to 14 in 2008, with two fewer games played.  Look at it this way:

  • Okoye, sacks plus hurries in 2007 = 10
  • Okoye, sacks plus hurries in 2008 = 15

He’s still on pace to be a superstar in this league, and the Texans will have one of the best lines in the league.  He was also much improved against the run last year on a team that endured overall decline.  Here’s why DelJuan Robinson is critical: someone needs to take on the double teams against the run.  The Texans think he can do that.

Once again, the Texans think they have the right mix in the front seven, but even they have to be concerned about the secondary.  Dunta Robinson is the star, but he’s going to show up a few days before the first week of the NFL season, simply because he’s not obligated (contractually) to be there before.  His performance is critical, because Jacque Reeves is out, and Fred Bennett is best suited for a No. 2 role at this point in his career.  And, oh yeah, this team has nothing in terms of safeties, and hasn’t since the franchises’ first season in 2002.

A team with a lockdown corner on one side of the field can survive this situation, a team with two mediocre corners cannot.  And despite the clear improvement in the front seven, this is probably the story that will define the team.  If the right balance in the front seven gives the Texans a fighting chance, then this unit’s performance will decide if the Texans breakthrough or not.

It’s hard to determine what Gary Kubiak’s job security is like in Houston.  This will be his fourth year, he’s provided measurable improvement on one side of the ball, and absolutely no improvement on the other.  The good news is that it’s not like the Texans haven’t been adding pieces to their 4-3 scheme the whole time, but you’d have to think if there’s no defensive improvement, it’s going to be difficult for Kubiak to win 8 games for the third straight year.  He’s beaten the odds twice, now he needs to see some overall returns.

Texans Camp, Houston, TX

The camp battles here are all for depth.  Last year, the Texans started every player on it’s offensive line for 16 games and returns all five players.  And to think, that was the one unit in the league that was always good for one-liners.

Backup Fullback: Cecil Sapp vs. James Casey

Casey, who may not be able to make the roster at tight end because of an overload of players at the position, could slide in as a backup fullback, and play special teams while he works his way onto the field in packages, first on the goal line.

3rd Tight End: Joel Dressen vs. James Casey

Casey, who may make the roster at tight end if he can prove more valuable THIS year than the veteran Dressen, could see instant playing time on offense, and also on special teams.  Whoever is waived to make room for him, I think that will go a long way towards establishing his role this year.

Defensive Line: Stanley McClover vs. Travis Johnson

Johnson blew another chance to start last year, contributing to the collapse of the run defense.  That’s the part of the game that always has limited McClover, but as a situational pass rusher, having him makes more sense than having Johnson, in my opinion at least.

Linebacker: Buster Davis vs. Cato June

These guys were signed by the Texans for depth on the same day, but it looks like it’s coming down to one or the other for the last roster spot at linebacker.  June has the experience, but I think Davis is the favorite.  June doesn’t seem like a good scheme fit, and while both of these guys can run, June has historically struggled mightily against the run.

Surprise Cuts?

  • QB Rex Grossman
  • FB Vonta Leach
  • LB Chaun Thompson
  • LB Kevin Bentley
  • S Nick Ferguson
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