Upon Further Review | HoustonProFootball.com
January 16, 2008
Good and Bad in the Garden of Even
by Bob Hulsey
It took six years to get to a .500 season for the Houston Texans. After backsliding in 2005, Gary Kubiak has molded the Texans into non-losers in just two years. Disregard that Kubiak’s troops beat a disinterested Jacksonville squad to reach the break-even point, the trend is upward although Houston may not be playoff-bound for awhile longer.
Assessing strengths and weaknesses, the Texans are an average NFL team, full of plusses and minuses. Perhaps the biggest plus is the receiving corps. Andre Johnson is the most productive player in team history. Kevin Walter has earned a niche as possession receiver and Jacoby Jones appears to have a bright future. If Rick Smith can talk Andre Davis into coming back one more year, we’ll have a full and deep unit, enough that we can let Jerome Mathis walk in free agency, hopefully for the price of a fourth-rounder. Tight end Owen Daniels is a good weapon too, although he needs better ball control skills. Davis and Jones would give us plenty of depth in the kick return department next season.
The next most solid unit is the defensive line, as it should be since we sink our top draft choice into it every year and may do so again this April. Mario Williams has blossomed into a double-digit sacker but I’d like to see still more from him, including a knack for making the clutch stop that many of the greats like Bruce Smith and Reggie White had. Sacks are nice but when you get the sack matters as much as how many you get.
Amobi Okoye was inconsistent, as many rookies are. I expect him to improve next year. Travis Johnson improved but he’s not really a good fit as either the run-plugger or the off tackle (which is where Okoye should be). He might be moved if the deal is good, as could Anthony Weaver. The rest of the d-line is a collection of parts although N.D. Kalu is valuable as a part-timer and mentor to Okoye while Earl Cochran and Alfred Malone both seem capable of stepping up as starters. A true rush end would be nice although I don’t see it as an immediate need.
The quarterback position is solid if unspectacular. Until we hear otherwise, it is Matt Schaub’s team but Schaub has durability questions and a habit for one or two costly mistakes a game. The real issue is whether we have seen his upside or if he can get better. Time will tell. Backup Sage Rosenfels is a good game manager with a less-than-stellar arm. When he has time to throw, he usually gets the short and intermediate throws on target. He lacks the arm for the deep ball which is a shame with the burners we have on the wings. We should be a more vertical passing team than we are.
That’s partly a byproduct of the shaky offensive line whom, while cutting their sack totals down dramatically from the past, still do not offer much confidence that they can protect a seven-step drop. New assistant coach Alex Gibbs will get the most out of this unit next year but I would not be surprised to see some personnel changes in the offseason, moving to a lighter and more mobile unit. I don’t see much reason to bring Fred Weary back in 2008 as his replacements seemed to perform just as well and would cost less.
Middle linebacker Demeco Ryans is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and kicker Kris Brown had a good season. There’s no need to upgrade either spot. The punting position is, to pardon the pun, up in the air although I wouldn’t be disappointed with another year of Matt Turk so long as he improves his technique on over-the-head snaps.
Where are the weaknesses? The most critical is the defensive secondary. The ones who aren’t coming off of rehab are either unproven or underproductive. Fred Bennett has the most upside but I’m not ready to hand him the starter’s job just yet. Will Demps was a midseason find but will his lack of range offset his talent for laying the wood on ballcarriers? In my opinion, this teams needs to bring in another top cornerback in case Dunta Robinson isn’t able to come back to his old self. Getting one would be my top offseason priority.
Running back is another position of weakness although I think what we have is adequate for a number of reasons. First, we’ll have to pay for another year of Ahman Green so that eliminates the possibility of a big free agent signing. Ron Dayne and Darius Walker are serviceable although they lack explosiveness. Chris Taylor could come off Injured Reserve and be the guy we need. This is a deep draft for runners and I’d like to slot a running back with our fourth-rounder and plug him into the mix. If we don’t find our answer, it will be easier to get a franchise back in 2009 and more timely too since they can often star even as rookies. I expect the running backs will also benefit from Gibbs’ work with the offensive line.
Outside linebacking is a mixed bag, illustrated best by acknowledging that Morlon Greenwood is the best one we have. Danny Clark plays well when one of his former teams is the opponent, otherwise he is nothing special. Seventh-rounder Zac Diles ought to get a shot here even though he’s a better fit in the middle and Charlie Anderson should get a longer look.
Add it all up and you have a team that’s not playoff ready but one that could be there in a couple of years. With the brutal schedule the Texans face in 2008, I would not be surprised to see them under .500 again but I have hope that 2009 will be the breakout year that Texan fans have pined for since the Opening Day triumph over the Cowboys during their inaugural season.
Be patient, Texan fans. Your team is moving in the right direction even if they step back a bit next year. What they need to avoid is dealing away draft picks like Charley Casserly did when he believed the Texans were just a player or two away. The Texans aren’t a player or two away. They are about eight players away and I think they need two more offseasons to find them.
This is Bob Hulsey’s final column of "Upon Further Review". He will soon need to commit more time to other projects. He thanks everyone who took the time to read his work and he promises to stay around Post Patterns as long as Post Patterns remains.
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