10 Early Winners and Losers of the Houston Texans' Offseason
The Houston Texans concluded their mandatory minicamp on June 13. The team now has six weeks off before they strap on the pads for training camp, which starts on July 26.
In the interim, there will be speculation on which players are rising or falling. There were 10 OTA sessions and three days in the minicamp for players to put their skills on display.
To keeps things in balance, the assumption will be that for every winner, there is a loser. Here are five in each category and why they belong there.
Winner: D.J. Swearinger
The second-round draft choice was bound to get a long look. He was selected as the eventual replacement for Glover Quin and would sit at the feet of sensei Ed Reed to absorb his vast knowledge of the position.
This plan went awry when Reed turned out to be damaged goods and needed hip surgery soon after signing with the Texans. Swearinger had to adjust by taking more first-team reps that anyone expected.
He is unfazed by the adjustment, believing the volume of what he has to learn is overstated:
A lot of people have said a lot, but I don’t think it’s a lot because I think I have a high IQ. Once you study and do the extra work it’s not a lot. You have to put in the extra hours and make sure you master everything they throw at you.
Veteran safety Danieal Manning likes what he has seen:
Every day he comes out here and does something amazing. We put in a goal line that is usually difficult to put in and he picked it up really well.
Loser: Tim Dobbins
Note to Tim Dobbins: You can build a house or build a career, but you cannot do both at the same time.
The way Dobbins sees it, his status in the game is already established:
My first goal here on this team is special teams, and I hope they know I know how to do that. As far as being a starter or a backup, I feel like that’s (secondary). I feel like my role on this team is special teams. It’d be a positive thing for me to play on defense, but I have no control of that.
When the Texans failed to draft or sign any inside linebackers, Dobbins knew he could afford to skip OTAs. They are voluntary, after all.
There are similarities between the NFL and the military, one being that you never refuse an assignment. To the extent that football tries to simulate combat, the same culture applies to the field of play.
Dobbins will suffer some loss of support from his teammates. Once the hitting starts for real, all that will matter is how well he plays. And he better bring it.
Winner: Ben Tate
The second-string running back has also been an injury beneficiary. Arian Foster looked like he was down for the count with a strained calf that occurred during OTAs.
That means most of the work this offseason has gone to Tate. It could not have come at a better time for an inconsistent player who is in a contract year.
Even-numbered years have seen him been either completely sidelined (2010) or hampered by a variety of bumps and bruises (2012). His best season was 2011, when the 942 rushing yards he gained made him the most effective backup in the league.
If the pattern repeats itself, Tate will have a 2013 comeback that starts during training camp. Foster will be handled with special care, and his partner in the backfield will continue to receive the lion’s share of the preseason work.
Loser: Derek Newton
Everything was falling into place for Derek Newton last season.
His main competition in training camp, Rashad Butler, was lost for the season with a torn triceps. Butler’s replacement was an occasional starter from the Denver Broncos, Ryan Harris, and not much of a threat. Newton was on his way from being drafted in the seventh round to being a starter on a Super Bowl contender.
Someone on the coaching staff decided the best way to deal with his up-and-down play was to rotate snaps with Harris. That did not prove to be the solution, and an injury followed in Week 12 that caused him to miss the next two games.
Newton played the rest of the season in the same yo-yo fashion, nursing a torn patellar tendon along the way. It required surgery in the offseason and kept him out for all of OTAs and the minicamp.
The only development in his favor is the top rookie competing for his spot, Brennan Williams, has also missed the majority of the workouts. If Newton makes it back by training camp, he will be looking up at Harris on the first team and rookie David Quessenberry on the second team.
That makes three challengers for the spot that was once his. A lot can change in a year.
Winner: Jared Crick
What combination of defensive linemen will be on the final roster for Houston? Four defensive ends and two nose tackles are the probable arrangement.
How valuable would a player be that could fill both roles? Crick is that versatile and strong enough to tie up two blockers at a time.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips happens to be more concerned with getting past blockers than keeping them occupied, which could make Crick the nominee for a supporting role at nose tackle.
Antonio Smith does not play the run effectively and Crick could take some of his reps against read-option offenses like Seattle and San Francisco. Without a host of pass-rushing moves, he may be limited to two downs.
But Lance Zierlein thought enough of the former Cornhusker to place him at No. 23 in his ranking of the top 40 Texans. In effect, Zierlein rates him the top reserve on the team.
Loser: Ben Jones
Right guard Antoine Caldwell rotated with Jones for most of the 2012 season until being forced out of the lineup in Week 12. Jones then had to share the position with Brandon Brooks for the rest of the year.
His reward for moving from center, where he earned All-SEC honors at Georgia, is to go from playing to watching in his sophomore campaign.
Brooks will probably be named the starting right guard, and center Chris Myers has not missed a snap since being named the starter in 2007. Jones will be reduced to being the backup at both guard spots and center.
It represents something of a demotion, but the team is fortunate to have quality depth at three offensive line positions.
Winner: Trevardo Williams
The condition of the Texans’ outside linebacker position is so thin it could be called anorexic.
Brooks Reed is going into his third year, which makes him the wily old veteran of the bunch. Whitney Mercilus is starting at the weak side, but Reed may be moving to the inside on passing downs.
Someone has to take over the strong side, and the battle so far is between Williams and Sam Montgomery. Both played defensive end in college, so who has the edge right now?
If you ask Paul Pasqualoni, William’s head coach at Connecticut, his former DE should get first shot. During an interview on the Fred & Ted Show on Sports Radio 610 in Houston, Pasqualoni thinks it will work if the Texans keep it simple.
He used his experience working with DeMarcus Ware as an example. Gary Kubiak has his own opinion on who is in the lead:
I think it’s been good. I think Trevardo is a little bit ahead of (Montgomery) just from the standpoint of playing the position, the true position. Sam is trying to go from hand down to standing up, so that’s different for him. The talent is there for both of them.
It looks to be a fight to the finish.
Loser: Sam Montgomery
Montgomery’s entrance into professional football was accompanied by some unflattering publicity.
He had the nerve to admit what most players will not. During the combine, the defensive end from LSU confessed that against the weaker teams “there were some times when effort was not needed.”
The larger issue is how long will it take for Montgomery to convert from defensive end to outside linebacker. Houston Texans linebackers coach Reggie Herring described what he faces:
The one thing that he will have to learn is that he will have to learn to drop a little bit and things that he hasn’t done as a defensive end at LSU -- understanding that they don’t cultivate OLBs in college, so we have to pull from the defensive end position.
Trevardo Williams has a better change of direction due to his size (6’1”, 241 pounds) and quicker feet. Montgomery (6'3", 262 pounds) could have been a 4-3 DE in the pros with some extra weight. Now he has to run backwards and cover running backs, tight ends and whoever is in his zone.
Winner: Ryan Griffin
When James Casey took the money and ran to Philadelphia, the Texans lost their No. 3 tight end. He was labeled a fullback, mostly because his place on the field was in close proximity to the running back.
Casey was closer to the 2.5 TE on the depth chart since his reception and touchdowns were in the ballpark of the No. 2 man, Garrett Graham. The point is the Texans put a high priority on the position and carry three tight ends by design.
Griffin was not highly rated prior to the draft, which is why he was taken in the sixth round. But you can’t coach height, and he used 6’6” frame during OTAs to post up D.J. Swearinger.
Phillip Supernaw was brought back from the 2012 practice squad but was hurt early on in OTAs. Since Gary Kubiak wants to run two tight-end sets on both the first and second teams, Adam Shiltz was signed to replace Supernaw.
Loser: DeVier Posey
While Derek Newton faces the prospect of making up ground in training camp, the recovering Posey has to worry about the first six games of the regular season.
He will be on the Physically Unable to Perform or “PUP” list to start the 2013 season. This gives the backup receivers on the team a six-week head start on him. NFL rules state PUP members have to sit out at least that long.
Every pass catcher behind Andre Johnson and No.1 draft pick DeAndre Hopkins will have that much time to strut their stuff. Maybe Keshawn Martin will start to exploit his speed advantage or Lestar Jean his size advantage while Posey sits in street clothes on the sideline.
The sad truth is none of these three young wide receivers distinguished themselves in 2012. Pro Football Focus (subscription required for Premium Stats) showed they had 50 combined targets last season.
Who would be the No. 3 receiver was anyone’s guess coming into this season. Posey could have gone to the head of the class. He has been running for a couple of weeks now but has miles to go before he can compete.