September 18, 2006
The Revolving Door Spins Again
by Bob Hulsey
Maybe if they changed David Carr’s uniform number to something that didn’t resemble a bullseye.
Or maybe if they could find a left tackle for David Carr that didn’t have to learn the position from scratch he could be sacked less often than marked-down six-packs of light beer at the 7-11.
It’s not like the Texans have ignored the most important job on the offensive line, the one charged with protecting Carr’s blindside from the nastiest rushers on the block. Heck, the very first choice in the 2002 expansion draft was a left tackle, a Pro Bowler at that. Too bad Tony Boselli never got onto the field.
Pressed into duty was rookie Chester Pitts, a guy earmarked to play guard who had some tackle experience at San Diego State even though he didn’t go out for football until college. Pitts performed admirably his first two seasons although plagued by false starts and lacking the measurables coaches want for the position.
That’s why the old regime spent a third-round pick in 2003 on the practically unknown Seth Wand who had the measurables to be a left tackle – height, weight, dancing bear feet – but the scouting combines don’t yet have a Wonderlic test for toughness and apparently Wand came up short there.
Wand was a gamble coming from a small Missouri school that had never faced big-time college competition. Now, he was being asked to block the likes of Dwight Freeney. Multiple chances were given to him but Wand just wasn’t up to the challenge.
It was obvious Wand wasn’t the answer when former General Manager Charley Casserly courted free agent Orlando Pace, the Ram tackle who some consider the best in the game. They signed Pace to an offer sheet and it was up to the Rams to match the offer, which they did.
Apparently, Casserly wasn’t as underhanded as the Vikings were in signing Steve Hutchinson away from the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikes put a poison pill in his contract offer last spring that raised Hutchinson’s salary significantly if he had to play for any NFL team located in the state of Washington. Imagine if Charley could have put a clause in Pace’s contract that would have called for a monster pay raise if Orlando were to be employed by any NFL team from the state of Missouri. The left tackle merry-go-round would have ended that day.
The Texans got so desperate they signed Victor Riley last year to play left tackle. Riley, at least, was a veteran but one that was on his last legs and spent most of his career at right tackle. Ugh. After Wand didn’t hold up, again, the Texans went back to starting Pitts.
While not deserving all the blame for Carr’s pinball-like sack totals, the left tackle position has been the poster child for everything wrong with Houston’s offensive line. Personally, I think the right tackles haven’t been much better. Or the guards. Or the center.
Passing up on my advice to draft D’Brickashaw Ferguson with the first round pick, the Gary Kubiak era began with two defensive choices. Only in the third round did they address their position of greatest need, although they addressed it twice.
Using the 65th and 66th picks, the Texans chose Charles Spencer from the University of Pittsburgh and Eric Winston from the University of Miami. Kubiak was quick to say that Spencer, not Winston, would be their new project at left tackle.
Spencer began his college career playing on defense, then switched to tackle for his senior season after a year at guard. He has the requisite large frame and quick feet, actually slimming to a svelte 350 pounds that still makes him the heaviest hoss the Texans have ever seen on the line.
Like Pitts and Wand before him, Spencer is a raw project that needs a lot of work but his preseason convinced the coaches that he was already a better option than Wand, who was cut. Veteran Ephraim Salaam was signed as his backup and unofficial mentor.
Spencer is Kubiak’s Wand, the left tackle project who has to learn on the job. Now the job is Salaam’s as Spencer broke a bone against Indianapolis and is done for the season. Unfortunately, Spencer’s development must wait until the 2007 training camp.
A starter for the Super Bowl champion Broncos almost a decade ago, Salaam played sparingly for Atlanta last year as the backup. Who knows if he can still hold up for 14 games if forced to start.
Carr may eventually get used to the revolving door that keeps hitting him in the back. It must get tiresome. David Carr is likely the oldest 27-year-old quarterback in pro football history. Hard to imagine anyone else withstanding such abuse.
How important is it to find a quality left tackle for Carr? He lost confidence in his blocking the past two seasons, rushing throws and missing receivers. He’s never going to realize his potential until he can rely on his blockers to keep him upright the way Peyton Manning’s line does for their quarterback. It’s very difficult to have confidence in your line when it keeps changing from week-to-week by necessity.
Let’s hope Salaam shakes off the rust and holds down the position, if for no other reason than to allow the rest of the offense to continue its development. Otherwise, 2006 is going to look like a re-run of the 2005 season. Nobody wants that.
Bob Hulsey wishes Charles Spencer a speedy recovery and some delicious recipes from Weight Watchers. Don’t eat your way out of a job, son.
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