Outside linebacker for the Houston Texans is in pretty good shape.
But inside linebacker is another question.
Many including myself thought the Texans would add an inside linebacker during the draft, but they didn't pick up a player at the position until signing Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough as an undrafted free agent.
I think Max Bullough has a chance to be a solid contributor on this team as a two-down defender against the run. Bullough is a physical run-defender who led Michigan State in tackles in 2012, but as scouts like Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com point out, he lacks the athleticism to play coverage on third down in the NFL.
Average athlete. Not explosive. Tight hips (exposed in space). Limited foot speed, lateral agility and range. Can be late to the perimeter. Struggles in man coverage and is stiff dropping/turning in coverage.
Terrific football intelligence. Keys and diagnoses quickly, understands run fits and spills willingly. Physical -- good take-on/tackle strengh between the tackles. Pursues hard. Good tackler when he's able to square up ball carriers.
The Texans lost Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton as free agents, depleting a position that was already a question mark. Making matters worse, the Texans star at the position is coming off a season-ending knee injury for the second year in a row. If Brian Cushing is healthy he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but his health is not something the team can take for granted.
With the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans could improve their situation at inside linebacker by moving Brooks Reed over next to Cushing. This move has been talked about by fans for over a year, and Patrick Starr of State of the Texans thinks the change would be beneficial for the team—and for Brooks Reed:
A defensive end at Arizona and an outside linebacker for the Texans 3-4 defense, Reed has really struggled to be more than edge setter in the run game. He has been non-existent as a pass rusher and for a defense that needed a real edge presence, Reed was not the player the Texans hoped he would be.
The Patriots had Teddy Bruschi who had the same issues as Reed. Went from defensive end at Arizona to inside linebacker for the Patriots, while Romeo Crennel was there as the defensive coordinator. Reed could be in a good spot this coming season to make the transition, and this could be the season to do it. The Texans played with the idea in 2013 with Reed in the middle next to Brian Cushing, but the failures of Trevardo Williams, Willie Jefferson and Sam Montgomery left the Texans no choice but to leave Reed on the outside.
Reed has done spot duty as an inside linebacker in short yardage situations, and he has the size and speed to play that position in a 3-4 defense.
If Whitney Mercilus takes a big step in year three and reaches his potential, the Texans could have the best duo in the league at outside linebacker. Mercilus has shown flashes of potential as a pass-rusher with 13 sacks over his first two seasons, but he too often looked lost against screen plays and was out of position in run defense.
In my opinion he looks like he's thinking instead of just reacting, which is causing him to be a step slow. If it clicks with Mercilus, and he becomes the player who racked up 16 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss during his last season at Illinois, the Texans pass rush will be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Then there's Jadeveon Clowney. What else can I say about him that hasn't already been said at this point?
In my opinion Clowney is the best pass-rushing prospect to come into the league since Julius Peppers in 2002. If Clowney hits his potential he'll be a guy who averages 15 sacks a year and makes the All-Pro team every season.
He'll spend the majority of his time as the Texans rush linebacker but will also put his hand on the ground as a defensive end when the Texans go to a sub-nickel package on third down.