The Kids Are Alright

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October 25, 2006
The Kids Are Alright

by Bob Hulsey

Want a reason to be optimistic about your Houston Texans? Try this: The Texans had a really good draft. Yeah, I know. Saying it is the best draft in Texans history is like saying Rice is having one of their best football seasons in recent memory.

You couldn’t look at the upset victory over Jacksonville without seeing the large role played by the 2006 draft class. Even if the Texans draft was the bastard child of a novice head coach and a lame duck general manager, the early returns are very encouraging.

Let’s start with middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. He has assimilated so quickly that we don’t even notice how he leads the team in tackles. Ryans will be even better with a bit more NFL experience and a better supporting cast around him.

That’s our second round choice. So what about the first choice, defensive end Mario Williams? Is he ever going to live up to the lofty status of first overall pick? Well, probably not.

Williams is becoming more of the disruptor we hoped he’d be when he was drafted, but he still has a long way to go. If you review recent overall number one defensive linemen, you’ll see more failures than successes. For every Bruce Smith, there are Steve Emtmans and Courtney Browns. Some, like Russell Maryland and Dan Wilkinson, have had solid but not spectacular careers, and this is where I suspect Mario Williams will eventually be. He is not so fast as to demand double teams, and he is not so strong as to consistently overpower offensive tackles.

Perhaps with better technique and more experience, Mario will become a Pro Bowler, but I don’t see him becoming the next Reggie White. There’s no shame in that. He will hopefully be a productive player in Houston for a long time. I’m sure most of us would be thrilled with a sack and a fumble recovery every week from Mario, even if both were the case of being in the right place at the right time.

The pair of third round offensive tackles, Charles Spencer and Eric Winston, have had the slowest road to success, but I still have hope they will outperform their draft status. Spencer earned a starting role at the critical left tackle position but broke his leg in Week Two. "Big Nasty" had won praise for his rapid advancement at a new position, enough to allow the Texans to jettison their last third-round left tackle project, Seth Wand.

Winston’s progress has been more Wand-like, which is surprising since he came from a top program at the University of Miami instead of some Division II school. He was hyped as first-round material prior to his knee injury, and I’m still hopeful he will prove to be worthy of first-day draft status.

Many teams have productive first day drafts but the Texans’ second day is also strong. The second day has Gary Kubiak’s fingerprints all over it. First he got Owen Daniels, the H-back/tight end who has already caught three touchdown passes from David Carr. The fifth-rounder was traded for wide receiver Eric Moulds, and the veteran has been a key to the re-emergence of Andre Johnson this year, both with his veteran leadership and his ability to provide a credible second receiving threat.

Wali Lundy may yet emerge as the feature back in this offense, but even if he doesn’t, he is still paying greater dividends than most sixth-rounders. And David Anderson is still in the mix as a wide receiver despite being the seventh-round pick.

Almost midway through the season, every draft pick appears to be contributing or has the potential to still serve us well. That’s a far cry from some of the Capers-Casserly drafts – particularly when judging the second and third rounds.

Notice that the draft was entirely offense after the first two rounds. With the possible exception of the offensive line and running back, the Texans have no need to draft for offense anymore. Defense is where Kubiak should focus next year. The back seven should get a great deal of attention next spring.

Young teams grow unevenly. A good game like Sunday’s can often be followed by a bad one simply because the team has yet to develop consistency. They need to experience how to handle winning as much as how to handle losing. Be prepared for some bumps ahead even if the future looks promising. Rarely does improvement come on a steady slope.

On an unrelated note, will the Texans ever get a clue and drop the Steel Blue jersies for the more successful Battle Red ones? As the Texans try to shed the image of the NFL’s dumpster divers, perhaps a wardrobe makeover should help that effort. Disregarding the 2005 disaster, the Texans play much better in red so why not make it the official jersey next year? The Patriots got better when they switched from red to blue. Maybe our luck will change doing the opposite. It would be one way to separate the new regime from the old one in the eyes of the consumers. The best way to appear like the "new" Texans is to look less like the "old" ones.

Bob Hulsey reminds everyone that the Texans currently hold the same W-L record as the defending Super Bowl champions and are just two games behind in the chase for a wild card berth.

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