Free agency, however, may have knocked the Texans off their predicted course. The Texans have lost DE/OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, RT Eric Winston, CB Jason Allen, MLB Demeco Ryans and FB Lawrence Vickers.
Although these losses have certainly hurt the Texans, they have not killed the Texans chances to win a Super Bowl.
There are four players on the Texans who can step up their game, and ensure that the Texans will not even notice their free agent losses when they take the field in September.
The Houston Texans have had one of the most efficient offensive lines in the NFL the past two seasons. They have perfected the zone-blocking scheme, and they have helped Arian Foster to become one of the best running backs in the NFL.
The Texans offensive line took a major hit this offseason when they lost their starting right guard to the Oakland Raiders. Luckily for the Texans, they have an extremely competent replacement in Antoine Caldwell.
In 2010, Brisiel and Caldwell shared playing, and it was difficult at times to distinguish which lineman was better than the other. Caldwell started seven games that season, and he helped contribute to Arian Foster's rushing title.
In 2011, Caldwell was given the opportunity to compete for the starting job in the preseason. Caldwell, however, was hindered by a high-ankle sprain in the first preseason game, and Brisiel easily took the job as the starter.
Brisiel suffered an injury in Week 14, and Caldwell was given the chance to show he could start in the NFL. Brisiel was inactive for the next three weeks, and this time period showed that the Texans offensive line could be just as effective without Brisiel as it could be with him. Caldwell showed that he could help the offensive line maintain its elite status in his three starts last season, helping Arian Foster to rush for 109 yards in Week 15 and 158 yards in Week 16.
Nevertheless, Caldwell still has to prove that his presence will not hurt the Texans offensive line. Caldwell is going to be a key player going into the 2012 season, and he has the ability to keep the Texans offensive line just as competitive this season as they were last season.
Rashad Butler is faced with the same task as Antoine Caldwell of replacing a player on the offensive line. Butler will take Eric Winston's spot at right tackle in the 2012 season.
Winston was a surprise cut for the Texans this offseason, but it was not without reason. Winston had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2010, but he had a severe drop-off in production last season. Winston was the weak link of the Texans line last season, so he is not irreplaceable.
Butler, however, is very inexperienced, and there is no telling if he will be a viable replacement for Winston. Butler has only started four games in his six-year career in the NFL, and he certainly did not play great in those four starts for suspended left tackle Duane Brown.
While Butler might not inspire confidence in Texans fans, his teammates definitely believe in his ability to play at a high level. When Center Chris Myers was asked if he believed Butler and Caldwell could effectively fill in for Winston and Brisiel, he responded with, “I think they’ve both played tremendous when they get in, and I think that they’re ready for the challenge. I’m anxious to see how it’s going to pan out. I’ve got the utmost faith and confidence in ‘em.”
Butler has also dedicated himself to become an effective starter for the Texans this season. Ever since the day Winston was cut, Butler has been reporting to the Texans training facility nearly every day.
Butler absolutely has the dedication to become a suitable replacement for Winston; it remains to be seen if he can gain the skill and ability to help lead the Texans to a Super Bowl season.
Kareem Jackson was the weak link on the Texans stingy defense in 2011. Every since he was drafted in the first round in 2010, Jackson has been the bane of the Texans defense.
In 2010, Jackson was the leading contributor to the Texans historically bad pass-defense. Jackson improved significantly in 2011, but he was still not playing at the same level as a typical starting cornerback. Jackson has trouble rotating his head and locating the ball, making it easy for opposing offenses to throw the ball deep to whoever he is covering.
Jackson should only improve with a full offseason this year of working with the cornerback coach, Vance Joseph. Jackson will also have the opportunity to learn from veteran cornerback Jonathan Joseph this offseason.
If Jackson does not improve and play at the same level he did last year, the Texans defense will take a severe hit. Last season, Jackson split playing time with Jared Allen, who was tied for the team lead with four interceptions. If Jackson was ever struggling in a game last year, Allen was able to fill in and play just as well as Jackson or better.
Now that Allen has left the Texans, Jackson does not have a proven backup behind him. Jackson will have to shoulder the load at the No. 2 cornerback slot, and there will be no viable backup to replace him if he starts to struggle.
The success of Jackson as a player might determine the success of the Texans defense this upcoming season.
Contrary to the rest of the players on this list, Brooks Reed is a player who proved he can play last season. After starting in 11 games last season, the rookie recorded a total of seven sacks. Reed also had 3.5 sacks in two playoff games.
Reed played so well last season that the absence of star DE/OLB Mario Williams was hardly noticed. In order for the Texans to keep up the amount of pressure that they had on the quarterback last season, Reed cannot have a drop-off in production.
If Reed does not have a sophomore slump, the Texans will be able to effectively get at the quarterback.