June 12, 2003
(Re)Drawing the Line
by Keith Weiland
After setting a dubious sack record in their maiden voyage, a record in which the only thing that outnumbered the sacks quarterback David Carr absorbed was the plethora of times it garnered mention by the national media, the Texans have quietly addressed some loquacious concerns on their offensive line.
So what if the offseason has lacked a big name acquisition as a visible bandage to stop Carr’s bleeding? The Texans don’t really need an Orlando Pace or a Walter Jones if their services also carry with them the burden of an established Pro Bowler’s salary.
I’m only able to type that with some confidence because the possible recovery of Tony Boselli is the biggest (albeit not the only) reason why. After missing all of 2002 rehabbing from shoulder injury, Boselli re-entered the playing field during May mini-camps, and like a summertime Santa Claus, he carried with him (using his relatively good shoulder, of course) a bag full of optimism.
Even if Boselli is not the same physically dominating player he was before injuries robbed the previous two seasons, he is still savvy enough to know how to handle Carr’s blindside. Boselli’s ability to someday regain his upper body strength will be an important part of his road to full recovery, but it’s his technique and lower body quickness that will pre-qualify him as a better-than-average starter in the league.
Ah, but Boselli’s betterment isn’t the only reason why I see progress in the revamped line. After having learned that injuries can ravage a team’s depth chart, the coaching staff and front office returned to the ol’ drawing board to find a way to keep that from happening again.
They may have done it, too. The 2003 squad seems littered with linemen that possess the flexibility to play multiple positions on the offensive line.
Take for instance Chester Pitts, who will be entering his only second year of pro football this fall. Will he ever play his pre-destined position at left guard? After seeing some reps at right tackle this week during practice, that scenario doesn’t seem as likely as it did when he was drafted. There is ample depth now at guard, so should Boselli fail to return, Pitts stays at left tackle.
Departed Ryan Young’s salary cap replacement, Zach Wiegert, provides coach Dom Capers with a player that has experience starting at both the tackle and guard positions. Best suited on the inside, Wiegert might also see time at right tackle this fall if the need precipitates it.
The return of a healthy Ryan Schau gives the team someone who may actually be capable of playing all five positions on the line (with varying levels of success, of course). Ultimately, Schau should figure into the mix at guard, but he will be in a dogfight for the chance to start.
The development of Milford Brown, a sixth round supplemental pick last fall, offers further depth and flexibility for the Texans. Like Schau, Brown also seems best suited at guard, but he may be able to play at any spot on the interior.
And though he may not offer the same flexibility as those linemen listed above, Greg Randall, the team’s pre-draft acquisition for a fifth round pick, has already begun to shake off the milkshakes in his offseason conditioning. For someone who has yet to consistently live up to his expectations, 2003 could be the season he has his shot to reclaim a starting spot.
So, if Boselli really is healthy enough to play, the dominoes begin to fall into place. Four of the five starters on the line would be locked up heading into camp: Boselli, Pitts, Wiegert, and center Steve McKinney.
Then the question becomes who’s taking the fifth? Thankfully, no one needs to keep quiet, since given the flexibility of Pitts, Wiegert, and the players who back them up, this doesn’t have to be a positional answer anymore.
Among Randall, Weary, Brown, and Schau, there are four guys versatile enough to compete for whichever spot on the line needs the help. All Capers will need to do is look down his bench and point to the best of the bunch, regardless of position.
Hmmm selecting the best player available. What a novel idea. Now where have I heard that one before?
The Texans’ line will not be a team strength in 2003, so let’s not get carried away, but the sky isn’t exactly tickling the ground in the absence of Ryan Young, either. These Texans appear better suited, and better overall, to protect Carr from even nearing his unfortunate sack record.
Keith Weiland, super genius. I like the way that rolls out. Keith Weiland, super genius!