Houston Texans: 5 Players with Increased Roles in 2012
The 2011 season was truly one to remember for the Texans franchise and its fans.
The following offseason, however, does not fit the description.
Losing free agent star linebacker Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills was not much of a surprise, but a huge setback nonetheless.
Eric Winston, Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and Jason Allen were all valuable free agents who ventured elsewhere in addition to "Super Mario," and the well-liked DeMeco Ryans was traded away to the Philadelphia Eagles as well.
Such is life in the NFL, where salary cap restraints and opportunities for expanded roles in another city can clean out a team's roster in less than a month's time.
But the defending AFC South champions are well prepared for the occasion, and have successfully built depth through the draft to prevent any major setbacks.
Here are five Texans who will need to step up in 2012 in order to remain atop the AFC South:
James Casey, FB
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
While Casey is listed on the Texans website as a fullback, he serves more of a hybrid role inside Gary Kubiak's offense.
The 6'3, 243-pounder was drafted as a tight end out of Rice, and showed off his more-than-capable hands in 2011, racking up 260 yards on 18 receptions.
But unless the Texans' front office decides to make a move in the draft, the release of veteran fullback Lawrence Vickers means Casey will be assuming a full-time role at the position.
Although Casey opened the 2011 season as the starting fullback, he lost the job to Vickers after a torn pectoral muscle in Week 5 and started just two games the rest of the season despite a quick recovery from the injury.
Unless this area is addressed prior to training camp, Casey has his work cut out for him in 2012.
Not to say Foster really needs blockers anyway.
Kareem Jackson, CB
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jackson rotated with Allen often in 2011, as the team struggled to find a consistent option alongside Jonathan Joseph as the No. 2 corner.
Although I believe longer-framed Allen actually outplayed the 5'10", 195-pound Jackson much of the season, the team is fond of the younger Jackson's physicality, and expects him to be a full-time starter from here on out.
Now entering his third season, Jackson will need to improve upon his disappointing numbers from a season ago (42 tackles and just one interception) if he's going to be the guy the Texans believe he can be.
Garrett Graham, TE
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The Texans starting tight end, Owen Daniels, and Dreessen—one of the Texans numerous free agent casualties—found plenty of playing time in Houston's tight end-friendly offense a season ago.
With Dreessen now in Denver, the former 2010 fourth-round draft pick must rise to the occasion.
Graham hasn't seen much action to this point in his career, with just one NFL reception to his credit.
But unless the team addresses this position via the draft (as I previously stated they should do), now is the time to shine for Graham in 2012.
Darryl Sharpton, ILB
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Sharpton started six of the 12 games he played in 2010, and altogether put forth a respectable campaign in what was his rookie season.
In 2011, he was playing well again prior to a season-ending injury.
While there has been much criticism in response to the team's trading of DeMeco Ryans—what's done is done—and Sharpton will now assume the starting role alongside Brian Cushing at inside linebacker.
A lot will now be asked of Sharpton while Houston attempts to repeat its stellar defensive performance from a season ago, and he'll need to stay healthy to remain effective.
Rashad Butler, OT
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Winston, the Texans' former right tackle, started 87 straight games for the Texans.
Now, Houston is handing Butler the starting spot—requiring the 6'4", 317-pounder to fill some pretty massive shoes.
But with only four career starts in six NFL seasons, can he handle the load?
You'd better hope he can.
Butler suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3 of the 2011 season and will need to regain his form quickly to keep the Texans' offense running like a well-oiled machine.
Follow me on Twitter: @B_Burnett49