Introducing Your Houver Texcos

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June 11, 2006
Introducing Your Houver Texcos

by Bob Hulsey

The Houston episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Team Edition" has laid the new foundation, and the architecture seems to have a flavor like rocky mountain oysters – ballsy.

Gone is the old head coach, the old offensive coordinator, the old defensive coordinator, the old general manager, the old defense and the old offense. The only recognizable constant to most fans will be the bull logo on the helmets and the trio of David Carr, Domanick Davis and Andre Johnson making plays on offense.

Because the Astros are doing their best impersonation of the Kansas City Royals this summer, I’m forced to contemplate all these changes sooner than I would have liked. But there can be something compelling about watching a structure rebuilt from ruins, and that is what the Texans are attempting to do.

Owner Bob McNair swept house this off-season. He hired a rookie head coach, Gary Kubiak, who helped recruit a rookie general manager, Rick Smith. Somehow, I don’t think McNair has taken Dan Reeves’ phone number off of his speed dial just yet. Not that these hirings were bad moves, but they are risky – riskier than handing off to a known quantity like Jimmy Johnson or even Jim Haslett.

While I initially thought that Kubiak would be given little control, based on the fact that part of Dom Capers’ coaching staff was retained, that assessment appears to be way off base. Kubiak brought in a new OC and a DC who don’t have previous NFL experience at their present posts although Richard Smith (no relation to Rick Smith) was co-defensive coordinator last year in Miami. The original blueprint, I surmised, was to have a tandem running the defense here but that plan was scuttled when the Cardinals would not release Frank Bush for an interview. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Richard Smith who was an assistant for the Oilers from 1988-1992.

As a security blanket, the Texans wisely hired Mike Sherman as their assistant head coach whose emphasis will be our leaky offensive line. Sherman had recently been fired by Green Bay as their head coach, but he has the experience and credentials to tell the new guys when they are getting too far off course.

Now some (you know who you are) will say McNair hired these rookies because he’s cheap. You should be reminded that McNair just went through a 2-14 nightmare with an established NFL head coach and an established NFL general manager. Who’s to say bringing in fresh faces with new ideas isn’t a bad move? If it works, you could potentially have a Belichick-Pioli tandem like New England enjoys which could serve them for the next decade or more. Tom Landry was once considered too young to be a head coach too. He stayed on the job a long time and won a few Super Bowls as I recall.

Others have expressed concern that most of the new hires have ties to Denver. Think of it this way: The Patriots’ cupboard has been pretty much picked clean, having lost Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis and Eric Mangini to other head coaching gigs. After that, what other franchise would you want to see us pattern ourselves after? The Raiders? The Lions? Under Mike Shanahan, Bronco fans expect a winning team every year, and Shanahan has rarely disappointed them. It’s one of the NFL’s most stable franchises from top to bottom. Houstonians could get used to that.

If those personnel moves weren’t risky enough, Kubiak’s first pick in the draft was neither the can’t-miss running back with the Heisman Trophy, nor the quarterback who set all orange hearts a-twitter just up the road in Austin. Either one would have been a PR no-brainer.

Instead, Kubiak wanted a big ugly from a basketball school best known locally for stealing a title away from Houston’s beloved Phi Slamma Jamma (a lowlight I have to revisit every friggin’ March thanks to CBS). Let me shed some light on that.

Ever since their Super Bowl years of the late 1990s, the Broncos have not been able to generate a credible pass rush from their front four. Not since Neil Smith and Alfred Williams have the Broncos had a pair of ends that could put pressure on an offense without having to constantly blitz linebackers and safeties.

Thousand-yard rushers are a dime-a-dozen in Denver and Kubiak was hired with the belief he could get quarterback David Carr to realize his potential as a former overall number one choice. With that in mind, you can see how Kubiak might have preferred Mario Williams to Reggie Bush or Vince Young.

While little about the new Texans defense has taken shape, it seems as if they will be lighter and more aggressive up front, similar to Smith’s defense in Miami. That could be bad news for holdovers like Seth Payne and Robaire Smith (no relation to Richard Smith or Rick Smith) who could be squeezed for playing time.

If there is a Denver influence, it may be a great deal more safety blitzing. That leaves the linebackers with the job of staying home and making tackles. Additions like Sam Cowart and DeMeco Ryans seem to fit this formula, although Cowart is likely a short-term solution. Corners, too, will be left on an island a lot, meaning this is a sink-or-swim year for Phillip Buchanon.

The Bronco safeties have been known around the league as headhunters (Steve Atwater, Kenoy Kennedy, John Lynch) who must regularly get out their checkbooks for Gene Washington and the league offices. You might expect Glenn Earl and C.C. Brown to become better known around the league if that trend follows to Houston.

On offense, we can all see the prototype. The lineage from Kubiak to Shanahan to Bill Walsh is very evident. This will be a West Coast offense with an emphasis on zone blocking, one-cut running, quarterback rollouts and occasional home run balls to the "x" receiver (likely Johnson). The Texans actually tried this approach early in 2004. I thought it looked good but injuries along the offensive line seemed to scuttle that plan. I’m not totally sure Carr is a good thrower on the run but he has shown flashes in the past. Kubiak will need to teach Carr when the sidelines are his friend and when they are his enemy.

While Kubiak has lassoed some ex-Broncos to help show the Texans how the new offense gets done, I don’t think it will be long before Kubiak sees opportunities to do things with Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds that he never had the chance to do in Denver because they never found the right compliment to Rod Smith (no relation to Robaire Smith, Richard Smith or Rick Smith).

Another pair of newcomers to watch are tight ends Jeb Putzier and Owen Daniels. The tight end has been a busy part of the Bronco passing game since the days of Shannon Sharpe and there’s no reason not to think Kubiak would like to do the same here. Watch for a lot of tight end drag patterns rolling to the same side as the quarterback, usually as the second receiving option but sometimes the first option in short-yardage situations.

Along the offensive line, several new pieces, including a pair of third-round offensive tackles, have been added to the mix. It remains to be seen how they’ll mesh and how well they pick up the cut blocking and zone blocking techniques coached by Kubiak and Sherman.

I think the Texans are anxious to find another running back to team with Davis. Keep an eye on second-day pick Wali Lundy who fits the Mike Anderson role that Kubiak has used in the past. Another short-term possibility is free agent Antowain Smith (no relation to Robaire, Richard, Rick or Rod).

As everyone knows, the 800-pound gorillas of this division are the Indianapolis Colts. The proven formula to beating them is to get after Peyton Manning and control the clock with ball possession. If you let the Colts turn the game into a track meet, you’ll get embarrassed. Kubiak has ended two of his past three seasons watching his Broncos get waxed just like that. He’s probably as eager to end the Texans’ eight-game losing streak against Indy as the Texan holdovers are. I think several offseason moves were done with that in mind as much as overall improving the team.

Don’t expect an overnight success with Kubiak’s new Texans. It will probably take a second off-season and a second training camp to fix all the holes left in the wake of Hurricane Capers. Championships will take a little longer. But the foundation is down and the frames are going up. The finished product won’t be pre-fab. It’s going to have some imagination and risk-taking. One hopes we are seeing a dynasty being built but, for now, a few wins would be nice enough.

Bob Hulsey is no relation to Rick Smith, Richard Smith, Robaire Smith, Antowain Smith or Rod Smith. No Smiths were harmed in the making of this column.

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