April 28, 2005
Bring on Phase Two
by Keith Weiland
In the beginning, there was expansion. For the Texans front office, it was a period of grab-n-dash when it came to getting all the NFL talent they could wrap their baby arms around. And it was by most accounts a success.
For their efforts in the expansion draft, the Texans came away with two Pro Bowlers and a handful of starters. Before the first pigskin had been snapped, the team added a few other quality free agents to form their foundation. These first-year Texans were good players and quality veterans, the kind that model the right values and work ethic for those that followed them.
Three seasons later, that era is officially over. Go down the list of all those key veteran players on the Texans’ inaugural squad, and most are either gone, nearly gone, or in a reduced or modified role with the team.
Jamie Sharper. Jay Foreman. Eric Brown. And now, Aaron Glenn. All have been released by the Texans within the past five weeks. Marcus Coleman has taken a pay cut and a position change. Corey Bradford is back only to expect even less time than the year before. After the 2005 season, the futures of Gary Walker, Kailee Wong, and Steve McKinney are in question. Even Seth Payne, thanks in part to an unfortunate injury, re-signed with the Texans at a reduced rate last month.
The Texans’ aggressive cap management comes off as cold-blooded, but much like a snake, the Texans need to shed their old skin in order to grow. This is the dawn of a glorious new day at Reliant Park. I call it Phase Two.
While the preliminary steps to enter Phase Two started with the first pick of the 2002 Draft, this is really the point where the Texans are developing and promoting their own players and finding specific, young talent from other teams to fill in any gaps. Having just completed their fourth draft and offseason free agency blitz, the Texans wrapped up the weekend having felt they addressed all of their biggest offseason priorities.
Highlighted by the promotion of Antwan Peek and the additions of Morlon Greenwood and Phillip Buchanon, the most noticeable net change of all those transactions will be a younger, faster defense, one that can pressure the quarterback and make plays all over the field. The speed on defense won’t be the only improvement we’ll see in Phase Two though. On offense, the Texans made investments in the draft with Vernand Morency and Jerome Mathis, further enhancing the kind of gameplan the Texans want to execute every week.
First, Morency fits the prototype of a zone blocking running back. Maybe he lacks breakaway speed, but he runs downhill and has the vision to read holes quickly.
More importantly, Morency takes some pressure off of Domanick Davis. Sure, he gives the incumbent some competition, but running backs in this kind of blocking scheme are gaining a reputation around the league as being higher risks to injury than their peers in more traditional man blocking systems. Consider as evidence the cycling of backs in Denver and even the injuries suffered by Jamal Lewis in Baltimore. This is a punishing job for a running back, especially one like Davis that has yet to stay healthy through an entire season.
Then there is Mathis with his Olympic speed. As a rookie wide receiver, particularly one that has mostly played against I-AA competition, expecting too much from him in 2005 would set the bar too high. Though if and when he develops into an NFL receiver, Mathis will spread apart a cover-2 defense and broaden the seams for everyone else on offense.
One welcomed side effect to the Phase Two additions of Mathis and Buchanon will come on special teams. The former scored touchdowns for Hampton on every one in five kickoff returns last year. The latter returned two punts for scores in 2003. Together, they may form the most explosive return duo in the league.
A sad time for Texans fans this is not. While we will miss the efforts of those expansion warriors, their passing is a sign that the Texans’ plans for postseason greatness is right on schedule.
So there should be no crying at the Phase One funeral. The wake should be a celebration of the past and of things yet to come. Cremate your Glenn and Sharper jerseys (please tell me you’ve already euthanized that Tony Boselli one) and do a victory dance around the fire to thank them for their contributions. They’ve given Phase Two a lot to build upon.
One for Keith Weiland, and one for his homies.
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