There is a very real phenomenon that plagues NFL Players returning for their second season…the sophomore slump.
This common occurrence is attributed to many different factors from a simple jinx or bad luck, to a curse or even a deliberate hex.
These theories are romantic, and even fascinating yarns to spin to wide eyed youngsters of the strange events surrounding the decline of productivity during the second season of many of the outstanding rookies to enter the league.
However, the leading cause of a sophomore slump is nothing more mysterious than just plain apathy.
Before a rookie enters the league he is being driven harder than ever before, trying to impress at the combine, positioning to catch the eye of scouts on his pro-day, and scratching for the highest draft spot he can get.
Then rooks have to show up at organized team activities, minicamps, and training camps to fight for a spot on the roster either with a chip on their shoulder, or having to prove they deserve their newly acquired millions.
This process, aside a Presidential election, is the most intense competion and scrutiny that our current society has to offer.
From the first moment they step foot on a nationally televised practice of the senior bowl, to the final game of their first season they are being pushed. As a result of the work ethic it takes to survive the draft these young players are faster, stronger, and more committed then they have ever been before.
Once the season ends, after all the hard work to achieve a roster spot, starting job, and make a name for themselves, sophomore players tend to lighten up a bit on their work ethic during their first offseason. They tend to believe that they have arrived, and should deserve a little less rigorous training in the aftermath of their first professional season.
Compound this attitude with the fact that in their second season, organizations tend to adjust their returning sophomores to the teams systems, not the system to incorporate the rookies.
It is only natural that they experience a loss in productivity, sometimes dramatic, during their sophomore season.
If this anomaly is as prevalent with players as it is brought up in the media, then the Houston Texans are in deep water. With at least 5 of their major contributors in 2009 being rookies, a few sophomore slumps will kill their hopes of a franchise first run at the post season.
Just look at what happened last season when running back Steve Slaton experienced his.
How many games were lost by a few inches?
One? Two? No it was more like four loses where a 1,200 yard a season back could have changed the outcome.
Slaton only achieved a 437 yards on the ground, and the Texans started the season expecting him to be the feature back.
Let’s pray that the following rookies from 2009 don’t fall under the same sort of calamity.
First, the surprisingly solid third round draft pick Alabama’s interior offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell, who is expected to be competing for a starting job during the 2010 season.
Caldwell played in 10 games and started in 3 of the last 4 wins during the 2009 season. It took 14 games for the Texans to figure out how to run the ball, and Caldwell was on the field when they finally did.
Second, undrafted free agent Arian Foster, this big running back from Tennessee was a bright spot near the end of a dismal running assault during the 2009 season for the Houston Texans.
He came off the practice squad due to injuries and for the last four games of the season, had a chance to showcase his running ability. After getting benched for a fumble during his second game against the Rams, he came back the next week to route the Dolphins with 19 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The following week, what he did to the Patriots during the last game of regular season was borderline embarrassing. This rookie ran the ball 20 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns, right down their throats.
The 2010 season brings with it a running back controversy for the Texans, but as of right now, Foster is on the top of the depth chart.
Third, second round pick Connor Barwin, the tight end converted to defensive end before his 2008 season in college as a Cincinnati Bear Cat.
With his natural athletic ability, and high motor this man could be a game changer from Jump Street.
Last season he racked up more sacks than any other rookie defensive end in the league with 4.5, and had 18 total tackles while only playing about a third of the total downs in a game. Imagine what he could do after another year to learn the position and with more time on the field.
Fourth, the corner back taken in the fourth round, New Mexico stand out Glover Quin. Starting in 12 games of the 2009 season he amassed 68 tackles, and led the team in passes defended with 11.
Truly a come up and hit you corner with pretty good coverage skills. For a team that plays Payton Manning at least twice a year, corner is a very important position, and Quin is expected to start there for the Texans in the 2010 season.
Fifth, the controversial 15th pick of the 2009 draft Brian Cushing.
Where do we start, he was voted to the 2010 AFC Pro Bowl, he was the 2009 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he was the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Week for weeks six and eight, and he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in November 2009.
Those are some pretty impressive honors.
The real impact he made can be measured by his team leading 134 tackles, four interceptions and five sacks.
This one is already going to decline in productivity due to the four game suspension enforced by the league for testing positive for a banned substance. A slump here is impending.
Not to mention tight end James Casey, cornerback Brice McCain, and strong safety Troy Nolan, who is the only one guaranteed improvement as long as he steps on the field for at least one game.
All of these 2009 rookies contributed to the first winning season in Texans history, and at least five of them were major factors. This outcome is a testament to the work that General Manager Rick Smith and his team have done by “building from the draft."
Even if three of these players, who will be sophomores in 2010, experience a slump the impact could pull the rug out from under the Texans playoff hopes.
If Quin starts to get beat deep, if Barwin gets stood up every down, or if Cushing really does need PED’s to perform injured every week.
Well who will step up and fill the void?
The 2010 rookies?