Turning the Page

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August 31, 2004
Turning the Page

by Bob Hulsey

It’s always exciting to see a child take their first steps, say their first words, use the potty for the first time without anyone’s help and other milestones of infancy. There’s a time for that and a time to celebrate such things. Then, soon enough, such things are taken for granted and you are ready to watch the child learn more things, take more responsibilities and gain more self-sufficiency.

Watching the Houston Texans grow up is like observing that process on fast forward. We cheered and will never forget their first win. We celebrated the first 100-yard rushing performance. We’re still looking for the first back-to-back wins but it will no doubt be worth the wait.

Now the Texans are ready to shed the "expansion" motif and accept the same expectations and challenges as the other 31 clubs. This year, they have the real chance of reaching or breaking the .500 barrier. If they stay healthy, they have a real shot at making the playoffs. There’s no reason now to shy away from this goal.

Take a look at their roster and tell me if you see any glaring weaknesses. Houston has a quarterback poised to justify his selection as the #1 overall choice in 2002. He has a stable of receiving weapons that comprise short, medium and deep threats that can strike from anywhere on the field. He has a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield and a backup that could become a lethal weapon with added experience. The blocking looks a little shaky at times but they have also shown the explosiveness and mobility that can make them a terror, particularly against finesse defenses.

On the other side of the ball, the front line should be sturdy and productive if it can stay healthy. That is probably the biggest "if" this team faces. The front three take quite a pounding over the course of the season and how well they function in December and January may be critical to Houston’s playoff hopes.

The other major question is over the pass rushing of the linebackers. With rookie Jason Babin on one end and sophomore Antwan Peek on the other, the potential is there to pressure quarterbacks in a way Texan fans haven’t seen in steel blue before. But one won’t be nearly as effective without the other and Kailee Wong lacks the speed to cause the same havoc in the backfield.

Houston’s secondary is very deep but there are still signs of concern. Will Dunta Robinson’s debut season look more like he did against the Cowboys or like he did against the Broncos? Will Marcus Coleman adjust to free safety and also keep himself out of jail? Can Aaron Glenn stay healthy? Kenny Wright, Demarcus Faggins and Marlon McCree provide solid depth.

Kris Brown and Chad Stanley have been steady performers in the kicking chores. While the names may or may not change in the kick return game, whoever wins out is apt to serve well. As much as Head Coach Dom Capers emphasizes special teams, there’s no doubt they will help the Texans stay in games although I don’t think he was thrilled with some of the long returns that have happened this preseason.

In 2002, the Texans lost primarily because of a rookie-laden offense and a porous offensive line. In 2003, the Texans lost primarily because of injuries to their best defenders and the growing pains of establishing a consistent running game and passing game. This year, the pieces are in place to take a big step forward.

I probably sound like a stuck record about this but I continue to take courage from the fact that the Texans beat one of last year’s Super Bowl teams and took the other Super Bowl team to overtime (and probably should have won that one too). They lost nailbiters to both Indianapolis and Tennessee, forcing both to win in the final seconds. Nobody in the NFL should think they can just show up and bury the Texans, particularly not at Reliant Stadium.
The schedule is challenging but not insurmountable. The NFC Central is a bastion of mediocrity. The AFC West is in a down cycle. Indianapolis will probably win the division while Tennessee must adjust to the free agent losses of Eddie George and Jevon Kearse. Jacksonville, like the Texans, are building around a talented young quarterback and are probably a year or two away from competing for a division title.

Whether the Texans can win the close ones and fulfill their potential this year remains to be seen. For the first time in their short history, the personnel is there to make it happen. Staying healthy and executing late in games will determine whether this is a five-win team or a nine-win team. I won’t be surprised if the latter happens.

Dom Capers has done it before. Remember?

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