With the NFL lockout a thing of the past teams are going to be moving full-speed-ahead to get their teams ready for the preseason in three weeks. Each team has “keys” that will unlock success for the 2011 NFL season and for the Texans the four keys that are most important are: defense, salary cap room, Vonta Leach, and Wade Phillips.
Defense: It is no secret that the Texans’ secondary was lackluster last season. Gaping holes were exposed by every opposing quarterback that the defense faced and more than 2,400 yards were allowed through the air in the last 10 games of the season as the Texans went 2-10. In fact, the Texans allowed 4,280 yards through the air while only amassing 4,144 yards themselves.
The front seven of the Texans defense in 2011, most likely consisting of Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin, J.J. Watt, Shaun Cody, and Antonio Smith, will be one of the best in the league. Glover Quin will be making a move to the safety position and the Texans will be looking to add depth at CB. The free-agency, which will be fast-and-furious, should allow the Texans to accrue at least one veteran corner to support the weak secondary. Adding depth to the safety position would also make sense for the Texans.
Salary Cap Room: The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allows each NFL team about $120M for player salaries and bonuses for the 2011 season. If the Texans are to be successful in the free-agent market they will have to be creative in finding salary cap room. Cuts will have to be made in order to allow the team to bring in any additional help that will be of substantial value. Unfortunately, the new salary cap also means that the Texans will have to forfeit the likelihood of pursuing top CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
There are numerous players whose jobs could be on the line this season with the return of Ben Tate, Dorin Dickerson, and the move to the 3-4 defensive scheme. Players such as Steve Slaton, Jarvis Green, Kevin Bentley, and even Jacoby Jones could be playing for their lives in the preseason. Additionally, the rookies will be looking for roster spots which will challenge even more players such as Sherick McMannis and Stanford Keglar.
Vonta Leach: Arian Foster was a hidden weapon that was unleashed by the Texans last season. He played a majority of the season while injured and still set rookie rushing records. On the year he accumulated 1,616 yards on the ground, 604 yards receiving, and 18 total touchdowns. However, those rushing yards came, in part, because of his pro-bowl fullback Vonta Leach.
Leach is an unrestricted free-agent and is looking to get paid like a pro-bowl fullback. If the Texans want to keep him around, and help the running game, they will have to pay up. Vonta is an integral part of the Texans’ run game and, in my opinion, should be a no-brainer for the front office.
Wade Phillips: While Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak will be working diligently to accumulate more defensive players, it is Wade Phillips’ job to turn them into defensive machines. The Texans will have one of, if not the worst pre-seasons in the teams history. Not only are they operating on a much shorter time scale but they are also teaching completely new defensive scheme in a matter of less than two months. To say that they have their work cut out for them is an understatement.
However, history has proven that Wade Phillips has what it takes to make contenders out of pretenders. He has made the postseason 33% of the time he has been a coach and, with the defensive weapons he has at his disposal, he could do it again. Look for the Texans to struggle early with the 3-4 defense but begin to flourish under the defensive leadership of Wade Phillips.