July 16, 2007
by Ric Sweeney
The Texans had a busy offseason. Mine was busier.
I planned a wedding; moved; partook in the aforementioned wedding (I was the groom); honeymooned for eight glorious days in the Bahamas (still the groom); took time out of our honeymoon to confirm that I was NOT the father of Anna Nicole’s baby; traveled to Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Cancun over a 47-day period to attend three other weddings in which I was NOT the groom (or, as it turns out, the father of anyone else’s illegitimate child); and, regretfully, bid a sad farewell to a member of my new family: our precious 12-year old dog, Sadie, who died a month ago.
As such, I’ve been decidedly absent in weighing in on perhaps the third most important offseason in Texan history. That ends today, however, as I intend to spend the next several weeks getting caught up with my favorite team. And I’m bringing you along for the ride: We start with the NFL Draft.
I really like the Amobi Okoye pick. A lot. There; I’m on record… two months later. Even if the 20-year old defensive tackle goes all Lindsey Lohan on us, I’ll still be standing in line to champion the pick…
Likely right behind Mario Williams.
This just in from NoShitville: the Texans haven’t done a whole of anything right in their first five years, including providing an environment for their first overall picks to succeed; or so says David Carr during breaks from trying to reassemble the shattered remains of his career.
Turns out the jersey the team handed Carr after making him the first pick of the 2002 NFL Draft was the last thing they ever provided the poor guy. They signed cast-offs and drafted unknowns to protect him; used exactly one first round pick among five on an offensive teammate (the Colts, meanwhile, have used five first round picks on offensive players since taking Mr. Rocket Arm first overall in 1998); and, of course, the team wrote bi-weekly checks to Chris Palmer for three-plus seasons.
Shockingly, it didn’t initially appear that the team had learned any lessons when they made Williams the first overall pick four years later. Their obvious indecision and public relations bungling leading up to the draft allowed Reggie Bush and Vince Young to cast their Kim Kardashian-dating, Madden ’08-covering shadows across Williams’ every move as a rookie. And when the dust had finally settled on his rookie season, the final tally read 4.5 sacks and 1,452,157 articles that mentioned Williams in the same sentence as Sam Bowie.
But all that may have changed on April 28, 2007. Mario, meet Amobi. Amobi? Mario.
Sometimes, we forget that football is (brace yourselves; ridiculously insightful insight on deck) a team game. Quarterbacks don’t throw to themselves; running backs don’t create their own holes; left tackles don’t chop block an entire defensive line; and, yes, defensive ends rarely dip into the realm of destructive without the soothing aide of a good defensive tackle.
And while most of us recognize and understand this, it’s always a good idea to reacquaint ourselves with the idea, especially on the heels of ESPN bombarding us with 72 hours of draft coverage which, at its core, espouses the exact opposite idea.
The NFL Draft is all about celebrating, and thus, encouraging the notion that a single player can singularly impact a team in a known, specific way. And that, in turn, forges unrealistic expectations and an inherent flaw in how we judge someone’s contribution moving forward from draft day.
Which brings us back to Williams. I’ve been wanting to get this down on paper, or, er… computer screen, I suppose, for some time now but I think Mario Williams is going to be a big, bad, fire-breathing beast. Watching games on television does him no justice. You have to see the guy in person. He is mammoth, taller and bigger than anyone else on the field. When we attended last year’s Texan-Cowboy tussle in Dallas, as soon as Williams emerged from the tunnel with his teammates, my (soon-to-be) wife immediately (and, much to my chagrin, breathlessly) exclaimed, “Who’s that?!” That, I said, is Mario Williams.
Williams is more than just the biggest, most-physically gifted guy on the field, though – he’s quite a productive mofo; probably more so than you realize. In both games I saw live last year (we also attended the Colt game at Reliant), he was constantly around the ball no matter where it was on the field. And while STATS, Inc. has yet to create a measure for, “Seriously, he was sooooo close that last time,” it was encouraging to see him consistently apply pressure to the quarterback even if he didn’t register a sack.
That he was a step slow or pushed away from the pocket often was a combination of his inexperience, year-long battle with plantar fasciitis and playing next to a guy plucked from a church league team days earlier.
No offense to Anthony Maddox and the other defensive tackles the Texans burned through last year but the difference in what Okoye brings to the table could very well be what jump starts Mario Williams.
Every great defensive end – all of them – played with at least good defensive tackles. Jeff Smerlas and later Ted Washington made things easier for Bruce Smith; Reggie White enjoyed the fruits of Jerome and Gilbert Brown’s labors; Ryan Sims was taken six slots after Julius Peppers, who’s been tag-teaming offensive lines ever since with Brenston Buckner. Even Williams, his bad self, wasn’t the only member of the Wolfpack defensive line selected in the first round of the 2006 draft.
So for all the many moves the Texans made this spring, none could be bigger than pairing Okoye with Williams. If Okoye can command space; if he can push the line of scrimmage forward; if he can crash internal support and command attention from guards, then Williams is going to be all alone on the edge wreaking a new kind of havoc on a single blocker. All. Year. Long.
Exactly 365 days after selecting Williams and seemingly leaving his Dickie Thon in the wind, the Texans at last seem poised to invest in his success based on the selection of Amobi Okoye. And few other moves this offseason could prove to be bigger.
With the exception of one but I’ll talk about that next week…
Ric Sweeney wanted you to meet Sadie.
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