Houston Texans: 2012 Team Needs
February 9th, 2012 By Corey Chavous
Houston Texans' GM Rick Smith has quietly built a team capable of contending for a championship year in and year out in the AFC South. After handily defeating the Cincinnati Bengals and winning a playoff game for the first time in their short history, the Texans will now set their sights on an AFC Championship.
Houston Texans: 2012 Team Needs
Positions of Need: WR, Interior OL
Potential Free Agents: Jake Delhomme, QB, Arian Foster, RB *Restricted*, Derrick Ward, RB, Bryant Johnson, WR, Derrick Mason, WR Retired, Joel Dreessen, TE, Neil Rackers, PK, Matt Turk, P, Mike Brisiel, OG, Chris Myers, C, Jonathon Weeks, C *Exclusive Rights FA*
The squad enjoyed perhaps its most dominant year ever running the football, in large part due to cohesive line play. The emergence of pending free agent OC Chris Myers –a Pro Bowler in 2011- provided more justification for his acquisition in 2008. He will get strong consideration for a pay raise. As will OG Mike Brisiel.
Brisiel is one of those players who’s good for your football team. He’ll do whatever it takes. He’s likely to have surgery on Monday yet still be on the field for the team the next Sunday. It’s hard to replace people with his toughness, but his injury history (two season-ending injuries (09-10) rates as a legitimate concern.
Initially, people wondered about the Texans ‘reaching’ on LT Duane Brown in the 2008 NFL Draft. Some reach. Despite finishing 2nd in the NFL in rushing, Texan QBs also threw for nearly 3,700 yards with just nine interceptions. Brown and RT Eric Winston both played a huge role in the process. Despite not having elite length, rookie OT Derek Newton used his nimble footwork to earn the third OT spot. He’s a player that should continue to progress.
This has traditionally been a position that the Texans have relied on a combination of parts to make successful. Andre Johnson has been with the team since its’ inception, and he is still capable of a 1,200-to-1,400-yard season if healthy. He wasn’t in 2011, but he came back with two strong playoff performances.
It was evident throughout the year that neither Jacoby Jones or #2 starter Kevin Walter could excel for long stretches without Johnson in the lineup. In all reality, they’re both probably better in the #3 role, although the blocking skill each possesses is of use on 1st and 2nd Downs.
If the Texans are to pursue a receiver in the first couple of rounds, it’s important to understand the types of wide receivers the team likes to employ in its stable. They have to be big, strong, block and generally exhibit good footwork at 6-foot-2, 210 or more pounds. If they feel like they have too many wideouts on their roster currently, they could target an outside smaller threat like NY Giants' WR Mario Manningham in free agency. But does he block well enough?
Don’t anticipate a dramatic move to pursue a wide receiver early like Atlanta did in the 2011 NFL Draft with Alabama wideout Julio Jones. Instead, the Texans may simply seek another bigger, developmental vertical threat to open up the short-to intermediate horizontal passing game for Johnson and the strong corps of TEs, RB/FBs (FBs, RBs, TEs-Combined for 172 catches, 2,064 yards and 12 receiving TDs in 2011). FB James Casey rates as an H-Back-type and he averaged 14.4 yds/catch in 2011, while backup TE Joel Dreesen averaged 12.6 yds/catch with 6 TDs.
Someone such as LSU’s Reuben Randle could get looks late in the second or early in the third round if available. He’s far from a finished product, but he has a feel for setting up defenders on the perimeter to stretch defense outside the hashmarks. His size fits the receiving corps and his field speed could provide another unique element. The Texans have the type of veteran receiving corps that could provide good mentorship for a wideout who’s yet to reach his vast potential.
Positions of Need: DB, Backup DL
Potential Free Agents: Tim Bulman, DL, Tim Dobbins, LB, Mario Williams, LB, Jason Allen, CB, Dominique Barber, SS-IR, Quintin Demps, SS-Restricted
This is an area that probably endured the biggest transformation in 2011. The team’s best cover guy in 2010 –Grover Quin- moved inside to safety and tackled relatively well. He needs to make more plays on the football with a year of experience under his belt, but he expands the defense's coverage options on first and second down. Daniel Manning proved to be a very valuable free agent find at the other safety spot, but the team will have to decide whether a legitimate kickoff returner (Demps-33.8 yd/KR-when healthy) is worth saving him reps.
The cornerback spot is sealed with All-Pro Jonathan Joseph manning one side, but if current backup and occasional starting CB Jason Allen (4 INTs, 16 PDs) leaves in free agency, then moves would need to be made to ensure quality depth. Kareem Jackson made progress in Year Two, but he still doesn’t consistently track balls with his back turned to the QB. It seems as if he’s often in recovery mode, but he did jam receivers with his hands at the LOS more in 2011. This is a spot the Texans can strengthen on their team if budding 2nd year CB/nickel Brandon Harris turns on the switch. The question as to why he could not earn more playing time as a rookie may be answered with the team’s decision on Allen.
Obviously, the Texans got quality play from this position. Brian Cushing returned to his rookie year form after missing four games due to a performance-enhancing related suspension in 2010. DeMeco Ryans remains the team’s defensive leader, but he would probably prefer to be covered up even more to make the plays he did as a rookie.
At OLB, Connor Barwin justified his 2nd round status from 2009 with a breakout season. When he came out of school as a combo TE/DE/Rush OLB prospect, the question was whether he’d be able to use his tremendous physical gifts (40” VJ, 4.6 speed) defensively full-time. His 11.5 sacks suggest he may have found a home in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 system. Last year’s 2nd round selection Brooks Reed got better as the season progressed (6 sacks). This duo may allow OLB-DE Mario Williams to walk in free agency. Depending on who gets paid first (RB Arian Foster or Williams), this could be the OLB tandem in Houston for the foreseeable future.
With that said, Williams had 5 sacks in just 5 starts last season to the surprise of those who questioned whether he would be a fit as a stand-up edge rusher. His incredible skill set would be a welcome fit back in the defense, particularly on 3rd Downs.
DE Antonio Smith proved that he’s one of the best at his position today and it resulted in a Pro Bowl berth. Opposite him, rookie JJ Watt may have been the Texans’ best player during the playoffs. He was extremely active in each of the team’s postseason outings (2.5 sacks vs. Baltimore, 1 INT TD vs. Cincinnati).
The possible departure of backup DE Tim Bulman would be a bigger blow than many anticipate because he was reliable when aligned over the offensive tackle on run downs. Without him, the onus would be on Mitchell to perhaps move outside, where he may or may not be as effective. If that move were made, then a viable rotation player for NT Shaun Cody would become a priority. Even if they re-sign Bulman, this is a position that the team will look to add depth at during the draft and free agent process.
Veteran Pro Bowl and Super Bowl veteran Neil Rackers has kicked in his share of pressure moments during his career. He missed just six field goals last season. The Texans would miss his kickoff ability if he left in free agency. But, he’s done it before, so look out.
It will be interesting to see if P Brett Hartmann returns to form after a late season injury. This could be a spot that the team brings in competition for during training camp. Veteran P Matt Turk (started 4 games) is unlikely to return.
Jacoby Jones struggled fielding the ball in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, but he's been a reliable returner for the most part during his career. A viable PR prospect with positional flexibility-UCF CB/PR Josh Robinson-could be a possibility in the mid-rounds.
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Posted by Mahirul on May 21st, 2012That was sad to see the Colts lose! I think they will come back and be able to have their usual presence in the palfoyfs and be able to go out and take wins wherever they can in the Reg. However, I recall that when Home Field Advantage wasn't the go for them to win the Super Bowl; They had to pack up and go on the road in 2007 Playoffs. I see them looking their usualselves soon. Texans did get a nice win and can't be slept on. Good to see a team with hope win but sorry who the opponent was!
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