The more educated ones know Johnson is holding out over the loss of his workout bonus, Watt is supposed to help mold Clowney into something special and Foster is excited to become an integral part of a multi-dimensional offense.
Only the most knowledgeable are aware of Brandon Brooks, the most consistent player on an inconsistent offensive line in 2013. Brooks had a better year than former Pro Bowl center Chris Myers or former All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown.
Confirmation is provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required for Premium Stats). Their rankings for offensive guards rated Brooks ahead of three-time Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda, five-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans and six-time Pro Bowler Logan Mankins.
In just his second season, Brooks had taken a giant step toward mastering the complex and demanding techniques of the zone-blocking system. A player the size of Brooks (6’5”, 335 pounds) is not the prototypical zone-blocker.
He split time with Ben Jones at right guard in 2012, quickly developing his technique along the way. By the start of the 2013 season, he was prepared to man the position full time.
The majority of zone-blocking concepts are centered on engaging the opposing player and moving him laterally in the direction of the sideline. The entire offensive line must move as a unit in a coordinated fashion toward the direction of the play.
As described by Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report in his NFL 101 series, zone-blocking has “offensive linemen taking a ‘zone step’ in unison to the play-side in order to block an ‘area’ or the first defender to show in their gap.”
The scheme is highly choreographed and requires athletes who have nimble footwork and the determination to stick with their block as long as the play demands it.
Here are two examples of how far Brooks will go to finish off a defender:
In the top image, defensive tackle Kendall Langford of the St. Louis Rams is forced to the other side of the formation to make sure Ben Tate gets into the end zone. The bottom image shows Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Fili Moala being blockaded for almost 10 yards so that Arian Foster can turn the corner to the outside.
The next two plays put the agility and power of Brooks on display:
Kendall Reyes of the San Diego Chargers is trying to slip past Brooks, who is not squared up but maintains his block long enough so that Arian Foster advances to the one-yard line. The next one is nothing fancy, just Brooks pancaking Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans on a simple inside zone run by Foster.
If Brooks has already come this far, what makes him a potential breakout star in 2014? The Texans offense is switching to a power running game that is less dependent on the zone-blocking scheme used for the entirety of the Gary Kubiak regime. This change will put his physique to even better use.
The companion to the zone installment in Bowen’s NFL 101 series is the power-running game. Take a close look at the diagram of the Power O play and picture how Bill O’Brien might utilize the concept:
Notice the role the pulling right guard, Brooks, would have in sealing off the inside linebacker.
Also notice the Tank, offensive guard Adam Snyder, lined up next to Vernon Davis as the second tight end in “22” personnel package. That would more likely be two tight ends such as Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fedorowicz lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in the Texans’ version of this play.
Now imagine a muscle-bound bowling ball like fullback Jay Prosch staring down the cornerback with Brooks trailing behind him.
Bowen describes the Power O as “the most physical and violent play in the game with linebackers and safeties tracking the fullback and pulling guard to create a train wreck at the point of attack.” With nearly 600-pounds leading the way, the wreck would be whoever stepped in front of this train.
If this looks vaguely familiar, it recalls the Green Bay Power Sweep as coached by Vince Lombardi.
In this blurry video, you might be able to make out both guards in the diagram pulling instead of just the backside guard in Bowen’s version. When run out of a “Tank” or “jumbo” package, having two pulling guards is unnecessary.
The furthest a guard might pull in a Kubiak-style zone-blocking play would be to slide over to the opposite “A” gap. Here is Brooks taking a bead on Indianapolis Colts linebacker Pat Angerer before taking him out with a cross-body block.
An offense conceived by Bill O’Brien should run a variety of power options, including the One-Back Power (another pulling-guard play), Lead Open or “Iso,” and the self-descriptive “Wham” among others detailed by Bowen in his in-depth article.
That does not mean all the zone plays that Brooks is familiar with will get thrown out the window.
Zone runs are effective out of one-back sets, particularly stretch runs where the pulling guard keys off the force defender on the outside.
The regular season will show whether O’Brien’s offense makes the best use of Brooks' quickness and starts putting him out in front of the play.
The next star of the Texans offensive line has shown he can handle a steady diet of defensive lineman. Now let’s see what happens when he is fed more linebackers and defensive backs.