Welcome to my two-part series on what to watch out for during the Texans 2009 training camp. For the first edition of this series I’ll examine five players that I believe need to improve their play this season. If they do it will go along way in making the Texans a more complete team and give them better shot at meeting the playoff expectations of Houston fans.
If not, we could spend another January speculating about what could have been. And some of the players below could be out of a job.
Travis Johnson tops my list because he’s been a perennial underachiever since being drafted 16th overall in the 2005 draft. Johnson simply hasn’t “brought it.” He’s posted only two sacks thus far, and hasn’t been the factor in the run game that the Texans were expecting. To date, he’s best remembered for the Trent Green episode and subsequent press conference debacle more than his play.
What’s so frustrating about Johnson’s lack of production is that he has the athleticism and aggression to be a quality player. But, according to rumblings within the Texans organization, he doesn’t have the best work ethic. Furthermore, he needs to get serious about off-season conditioning as he tends to tire out in some games. At times it seems as though he’s content with being a good player when he could be a great one.
If, indeed, poor work ethic is the reason for Johnson’s sub-standard play, he’s in for a rude awakening with newly hired defensive line coach Bill Kollar. Kollar is known for his intensity and in your face coaching style – he won’t tolerate slackers.
Certainly, Johnson knows this, and we hope he has already started a new approach to conditioning. His window of opportunity is closing, and I doubt the Texans coaching staff has much more patience.
Johnson also has more competition to worry about this year with the addition of Antonio Smith. Although Smith is a defensive end, the Texans will utilize him on the inside when Connor Barwin is on the field. Moreover, many expect Frank Okam to improve and at 6’5, 337 pounds he’s better suited better to run support than is Johnson. The Texans also signed Shaun Cody as a backup to Johnson.
It is imperative for Johnson to step up early and step up big to convince skeptical coaches and fans that he needs to be on the field. If he does, the Texans could have one of the better defensive lines in the league in Williams, Okoye, Smith, and Johnson.
Hopefully, the prospect of a big contract in the coming years (if nothing else) will push him to take his game to the next level.
Chris Brown is a six-year veteran out of Colorado whose career has read like a recent chart of the Dow Jones Index. Although he holds an above average 4.3 yards per carry and a solid 51.1 yards per game he’s been unable to stay on the field – having missed 38 games in his six years in the league.
In his second year he rushed for 1,000 yards in just 11 games for the Titans, and looked as though he had a bright future ahead. However he was unable to grab a firm hold of the starting spot due to injuries and poor play over the next three years in Tennessee, and was released by the team in 2007.
Following his departure from the Titans, Brown signed a two-year deal with the Texans in March. Unfortunately the injury bug found Brown again, and he spent the entire season on the disabled list. Had he been healthy, Brown would have given the Texans rushing attack a much-needed change of pace to Steve Slaton.
At 6’3, 220 pounds Brown has the size the Texans are looking for in a change of pace back. However he’s never run like a back his size, and shows a propensity to avoid contact. Brown has a habit of running too tall, not initiating contact, and running out of bounds rather then lowering his pads for the extra few yards. Some believe his “too tall” running style is the reason for the rash of injuries he’s sustained in his short career.
While the Texans were looking for a short-yardage compliment to Steve Slaton this off-season, they opted to pass opportunities in the draft – instead signing undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster.
The Texans are taking six running backs into camp, and they will surely cut down to no more than four by the start of the season. Steve Slaton is the only player at the position who’s guaranteed a roster spot.
Chris Brown will have the opportunity in training camp to fulfill his potential and play for the Texans in 2009. To do so he’ll have to prove to the Texans coaching staff that he can be an effective short yardage runner and change of pace back. With a relatively small contract and only one year remaining it’s now or never for Brown.
Andre Davis’s seven-year career has been that of a journeyman, having played for four teams. Injuries problems and inconsistency are largely why his production and tenures have been limited.
His skinny frame and average height have limited his ability as an every down receiver. Proving time and time again that he is more reliable in the slot than anywhere else. Although he has a great 16.1 yards per catch in his career, he’s never posted more than 40 catches in a season. However, he has top notch speed and has proven to be a legitimate vertical threat when healthy.
He needs to get off the line better because when given a clean release few people in the NFL can keep up with him.
As a kick returner Davis can be a dangerous weapon. In 2007 he totaled 968 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Texans. Overall, he put up 6 TDs that year and also recorded his career-high 583 yards receiving. This performance led to a four-year $16 million dollar contract. Unfortunately for the Texans, Davis regressed to his mean in 2008, and posted a paltry 213 yards receiving with zero total touchdowns.
Although he was hampered by injuries the Texans can ill afford to pay Davis that type of money with such meager production. Hopefully. Davis can turn it around and justify his contract, either as a vertical target or as the kick returning threat he was in 2007.
As a rookie in 2007 Jacoby Jones had a solid year as a returner, but saw limited action at the receiver position. Last year Jones turned into a dynamic punt returner totaling 386 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately he fell off as a receiver, grabbing only three catches all year.
Having been drafted out of Lane College the Texans expected somewhat of a raw player and a work in progress. However it’s now year three for Jacoby, and with it comes higher expectations along with less patience from the Texans coaching staff.
Jones has all the size, speed, and athleticism one could ask for in an NFL receiver, but needs to improve mentally. He is an unpolished route runner and tends to telegraph his moves. He also needs to work on reading coverages and avoiding the press. Last but not least, he needs to improve his hands as dropped balls plagued him last year.
As a returner Jones displayed electrifying speed and elusiveness. However he did show some poor decision making at times and needs to keep the ball inside his chest to avoid fumbles. If Jones can limit his occasional mental lapses and fumbles in the return game, he could become one of the game’s best in that regard.
So far this off-season, reports are that Jones is showing the improvement and maturation the Texans coaching staff is hoping for. If this continues he may become the starting slot receiver where his elusiveness and big play ability would pay big dividends.
At 19 years of age Amobi Okoye was the youngest player ever drafted in the NFL when the Texans chose him 10th overall in the 2007 draft. In his first year Okoye immediately burst onto the scene with four sacks in his first four games. He went on to be named defensive player of the month in September – the youngest player ever to do so.
However his production waned as the season wore on and he finished with 32 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
The Texans hoped for big things in 2008, but Okoye was slowed by injuries and proved relatively ineffective all year, recording 24 tackles and only one sack. Yet, Texans fans shouldn’t be too worried and Okoye will more than likely turn it around quickly. Let’s not forget that his learning curve is steeper given the fact that he’s only 22 years of age.
That’s younger than the majority of players that were drafted this year. Furthermore, at such a young age he’s yet to reach his physical peak as well.
So far in his life Okoye has proved he can succeed well beyond expectations – having played college ball at the age of 16 and testing into high school at age 12. There’s no doubt in my mind that Okoye will bounce back and become a Pro Bowl caliber player for years to come. If he does, the Texans will have a nightmarish defensive line for years to come. Let’s just hope it happens sooner than later.