Breaking Down the Houston Texans Defense Without Ed Reed

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Breaking Down the Houston Texans Defense Without Ed Reed
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As the offseason drags on, it's appearing more and more likely that the Houston Texans will be playing meaningful games without safety Ed Reed to start the 2013 season. 

Signed in late March from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Reed underwent unexpected hip surgery in April and is now admitting that he might miss games next season. 

If he does, a few members of the Texans defense—namely veteran Shiloh Keo and rookie D.J. Swearinger—will get a crash course on playing safety alongside Danieal Manning early in 2013. 

On Wednesday, Reed sounded like a veteran ready to sit out as long as it takes to get back to 100 percent. 

After visiting the White House for the Super Bowl ceremony, the 34-year-old Reed told Ryan Mink of the Ravens official website that he'll make his return jibe with the important weeks. 

I plan on being back for Week 1. But as you’ve known me for the longest time, I’m going to be smart about my injuries and make sure I’m there for the later part of the season when the team really needs me.

The start of training camp aligns roughly three months after the arthroscopic surgery Reed underwent on his hip, which has always been the expected recovery time. 

However, Reed is no stranger to taking his time to return to the playing field. 

A similar—yet much less serious—surgery performed on Reed's hip in early May of 2010 resulted in the safety missing seven games after landing on the physically unable to perform list to begin the following season. 

Such a scenario is hard to envision this time around, but the Texans still need to be prepared for short-term life without Reed manning the back of the secondary. 

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Might Keo start at safety if Reed has to miss time in 2013?

Keo, a former fifth-round pick of the Texans in 2011, might just get the first crack at replacing Reed, should he miss any time in 2013. 

Ideally sized at 5'11" and 202 pounds, Keo has been mostly a special teams asset for Houston over his first two years. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Keo received a plus-1.1 pass coverage grade over just 110 defensive snaps at safety in 2012. 

Keo only has limited experience in two years in Houston.

The majority of his snaps (nearly 75 percent) came late in the season, including in the postseason, which means the Texans wouldn't be completely blindsided by change if Keo has to play important snaps in 2013. 

But if Keo, who is more suited to be a backup and core special teamer than a defensive starter, isn't ready to handle the new role, the Texans might have to lean on a rookie to fill in for Reed to start next season. 

A second-round pick out of South Carolina, Swearinger enters the NFL as a big hitter with experience playing both safety spots and some at corner. He started four years and was a defensive captain.

Such a combination is reminiscent of departed safety Glover Quin, who left Houston for the Detroit Lions this offseason. Swearinger might be asked to pick up some of slack without Reed available. 

According to PFF, Quin played nearly 1,200 total snaps in the Texans defense last season. Only Manning played more for Houston in 2012, but Quin graded out as just the 40th best safety in the NFL.

If reviews from rookie minicamps are any indication—and typically they don't mean much—Swearinger will have every opportunity to start if Reed is on the shelf. 

Both defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and head coach Gary Kubiak had nothing but good things to say about the rookie in early May. 

Phillips called Swearinger a "really good athlete" and "instinctive," according to Nick Scurfield of the Texans official site, while Kubiak said he "handled himself like he'd been out here a couple of years."

Kubiak also reiterated that Reed's injury issues provided "an opportunity for him [Swearinger] to get a lot of reps and help this team very early."

So far, the Texans have stuck with that thinking. 

Who would start at safety for the Texans defense if Ed Reed has to miss time to start the 2013 season?

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According to a late May report from Scurfield, Swearinger has been running with the first-team dime defense during OTAs. And the rave reviews from the coaching staff keep coming. 

Kubiak praised Swearinger's confidence. Defensive backs coach Vance Joseph went on and on about his football smarts. It's still early in the summer, but Swearinger appears to be doing everything needed to take on a big role as a rookie. 

And with Reed's recovery shaking up the Texans defense, there's suddenly a need for him to be ready. 

The Texans obviously signed Reed with the understanding that the veteran safety would provide a steadying force with turnover-causing ability at the back end of the defense. Reed will eventually return and provide such services, but it may take longer than originally believed. 

If Reed does in fact stick to the script and sit out until he's completely recovered from offseason hip surgery, the Texans may have to call on a pair of unproven players to man Reed's spot. 

While Keo should be expected to get the first crack at a starting job, the Texans didn't use a second-round pick on Swearinger without the belief that he had starting ability. 

So far, he's made good on the investment. Now, time will tell if Reed's injury ensures Swearinger is a bigger part of the Texans plan to start the 2013 season. 

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