April 15, 2003
by Warren DeLuca
Impact players, playmakers, difference makers, gamebreakers, super stars. Whatever you call them, the Texans need as many as possible on the roster regardless of position. As any second year team would, the Texans could use an overall upgrade in talent. Charley Casserly hopes that he will not be drafting this high for very much longer, so he needs to grab as many great prospects while he can without concentrating as much as most other franchises would on where these players may fit in for 2003.
While "best player available" will no doubt be an oft-repeated phrase in Houston on draft day, the Texans do have some definite holes to fill:
1. Wide Receiver Corey Bradford led the Texan wideouts in catches with 45, but only five players in the NFL dropped more passes than the 11 that went off or through Bradford’s hands. The Texans have high hopes for Jabar Gaffney, and he may still develop into a fine receiver, but even so, David Carr needs more than one weapon at his disposal. As a group, the Texans’ wide receivers struggled to consistently get open. Chris Palmer would love a big, strong receiver who can challenge defenses deep and make big plays down the field. Carr would love one with sure hands, the leaping ability to go up after the alley oop pass, and the toughness and aggressiveness to battle defensive backs for the ball when it is in the air.
2. Running Back Stacey Mack joins the Texans for 2003, but the fact that he was only offered a one-year contract speaks to Casserly’s faith in Mack’s future as the team’s feature back. Jonathan Wells should contribute again, but he lacks the skills to be a special runner. The Texans want a durable running back that can get yards after contact and, when he gets a seam, break off a big gainer.
3. Free Safety This position was the weakest spot on the defense and the Texans need an upgrade over Matt Stevens and Kevin Williams. Since Eric Brown re-signed at strong safety, Ramon Walker could move over and challenge for the starting free safety job. Walker would have to show more than he did in 2002, though. Quality safeties can be found in the middle rounds.
4. Left Tackle Two of the Texans’ most notable additions this off season have been offensive tackles Zach Wiegert and Greg Randall, but they are both better on the right side of the line than protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Unless Casserly, Dom Cpaers, and Palmer plan on leaving Chester Pitts at left tackle, these moves indicate that the team has faith that Tony Boselli will return to the lineup after missing the 2002 season. Even if that optimism proves to be well founded, Boselli is on the wrong side of 30 and cannot play forever. Left tackle is the most challenging position on the line, as Pitts can attest, and the most important, as Carr can attest. The Texans would like to be able to groom a replacement for Boselli rather than having to overspend for a free agent or throw a green youngster into the fire (again).
5. Defensive End Gary Walker is currently the only defensive end signed with the Texans past the 2003 season. Jerry DeLoach, the starter on the right side, was merely serviceable last year, with only 2.5 tackles behind the line, including one sack. A Texan defensive end must be able to "eat" blocks in order to free up the linebackers to make plays. The abilities to shut down the run and collapse the pocket are definitely in demand as well. The Texans may look to add some more height to their d-line, since all of the ends that played a significant amount of time last year were 6’3" or under.
6. Outside Linebacker The Texans signed Charlie Clemons to man the right outside linebacker position and put some more pressure on the quarterback. However, Clemons will be 31 when the season starts and is coming off a season in which he recorded only half a sack. Otherwise, the team hopes that another Jeff Posey emerges from Shannon Taylor, Antonio Wilson, Patrick Chukwurah, and Erik Flowers. The Texans need a ‘tweener who can rush the passer and wreak havoc in opposing backfields.
7. Tight End Billy Miller became Carr’s favorite target, but his size limitations prevent him from becoming more than an H-back or receiving tight end. Jabari Holloway and Rod Rutledge are better blockers but do not contribute much as receivers. The Texans would like to add a dual-purpose tight end that can seal off the corner against defensive ends and linebackers and who has enough speed and quickness to create some coverage mismatches (too big to be covered by a defensive back, but too fast to be covered by a linebacker).
8. Cornerback Marcus Coleman will be 29 by the start of the season and is only signed through the 2004 season. Aaron Glenn signed a contract extension through 2007, but he turns 31 this year. Behind them on the depth chart is a group on players who have shown more potential as special teamers than as covermen. Since multiple receiver sets are now commonplace in the NFL, a team can never have enough quality cornerbacks, and a top nickelback can be more valuable than a player at another position who may be listed as a starter.
9. Backup Quarterback Carr is clearly going to be "The Man" and showed to be very durable as a rookie, but in all likelihood, there will come a time when the team will need another quarterback to fill in for a stretch. At 30 years old, Tony Banks is still young for a backup signalcaller and both he and the Texans appear comfortable with his current situation. However, Casserly would probably not pass on a target of opportunity, a quarterback available on the second day that he feels has potential. The Texans would like to find someone to compete with Mike Quinn this summer and Banks in a year or two, and possibly even show enough to bring some value in a trade at some point. In Jacksonville, Palmer helped build 1995 fourth-rounder Rob Johnson into a player that the Bills deemed worthy of first- and fourth-round picks in 1998, despite Johnson only throwing 35 regular season passes with the Jags. Buy low, sell high. Andre Johnson Return to Houston Pro Football