Houston Texans: How James Casey's Utility Role Will Keep Them Moving Forward

Ryan Huff@CaptRyanHuffContributor IIIMay 16, 2012

HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 07:  Tight-end James Casey #86 runs  in the open field agaisnt the San Diego Chargers at Reliant Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Houston Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak announced last week that James Casey will be playing multiple roles in the 2012 season, especially at tight end and fullback.

He’s going to play everywhere. He’s our starting fullback today; he’s our starting Tiger [second tight end] today if we go to two tights, so James is going to play all over the place. It’s still about versatility with James, so that really hasn't changed.

Casey is no stranger to this kind of versatility, either. He spent his time at Rice University on both sides of the ball and proved to be a tremendous runner with good hands. When he entered the draft in 2009 as a sophomore, Casey was lauded as an all-around athlete with a professional sports resume (he’d already been drafted by the Chicago White Sox out of high school). Furthermore, Casey also proved he could return punts and throw.

But that kind of collegiate utility was one of the greater concerns scouts had about Casey. His atypical football career kept many wondering if he’d actually find a position that would allow him to develop into a professional talent.

Since his joining the Texans in 2009 as a fifth-round draft pick, it seemed Casey was doomed to that prediction. He began learning both tight end and fullback while the team decided what to do with him. But the Texans had already invested in tight ends Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen and fullback Vonta Leach.

Now, Casey steps in as the starting fullback, replacing FB Lawrence Vickers whom the Texans released to free up cap space. As Kubiak explained, though, Casey’s listed position doesn’t fully describe his actual role on offense in the upcoming season.

The Texans also lost Dreessen to the Denver Broncos, and while Casey will compete with Garrett Graham for the No. 2 tight end spot behind Daniels, his utility role means the Texans can stay versatile as they realize the potential in their depth.

James Casey's breakout performance against the New Orleans Saints in 2011 put him in the record books as the Texans' back with the most receiving yards.
James Casey's breakout performance against the New Orleans Saints in 2011 put him in the record books as the Texans' back with the most receiving yards.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

This solves another question mark the Texans face in 2012: moving linebacker Derrell Smith to fullback. The team will likely spend quality time developing Smith and UDFA Jason Ford at the fullback position, and Casey’s mobility will provide both time for these players to develop and, perhaps, opportunities to prove themselves on the field.

Despite using Casey’s utility role as an umbrella for developing depth, the Texans will likely find him a strong candidate on whom they can pivot their offense. Perhaps the scouts were right; it will be hard for Casey to land in a certain role. What the Texans seem to be figuring out, however, is that for Casey to shine, he doesn’t need to.

This is welcome news for a team that lost so much talent to their cap-space woes. They can allow Casey to be versatile while developing young talent and, in the meantime, save money to develop their offense further after watching their performance in 2012.

Given Casey’s performance history and its measure of his potential, my guess is that some of that money could go to re-signing Casey in 2013. Casey still has a lot to prove, but when he’s been given the opportunity in the past, he’s done just that.

Moreover, Casey’s presence on the field as fullback allows the Texans more opportunities in their play-calling. Casey can run and catch well, making him dangerous from the backfield. Even better, he has the size and the athleticism to be a lead blocker and likely has the instincts to pick up the blitz if he stays back.

It’s this kind of versatility—the kind that extends way beyond the ability to simply run and catch—that makes Casey a player to watch. He can strike a balance between playmaker and the player who allows plays to be made. The Texans desperately need this kind of capacity as they rebuild for a season in which there are huge expectations.

And as Casey enters his last year under contract, how this relationship develops may be the most important thing for the futures of both the player and the team.