AFC South: Hebron Fangupo

Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Houston Texans' roster moves.

Most significant move: Backup free safety Troy Nolan was a surprising cut, and won’t be on the market for very long. Shiloh Keo stuck. While he’s a willing special-teamer and can hit, he strikes me as too slow and I certainly wouldn’t want him on the field on defense. The Texans traded cornerback Sherrick McManis to the Chicago Bears for fullback Tyler Clutts, who’s expected to back up James Casey. The Texans are a tricky team at fullback, as the lead blocker is important in the zone-run scheme, but they use Casey, who’s more of an H-back with excellent hands. Clutts looks to be an upgrade from Moran Norris, who was cut. Clutts has pro experience, playing in the UFL, AFL and CFL.

Onward and upward: Nose tackle Hebron Fangupo was released, but he is surely a guy the Texans would like to sign to the practice squad, where they could nurture and develop him. Houston doesn't have great depth at the spot, which is generally shared by Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. Antonio Smith shifts inside in the nickel package, when the outside linebackers creep forward and it’s basically a four- or five-man line. Undrafted out of BYU, Hebron is listed as 6-feet and 324 pounds -- more than 20 pounds more than the Texans’ heaviest lineman. While Wade Phillips is fine with smaller nose tackles, having a big one who can develop is a welcome change.

What’s next: John Beck is on the roster as a third quarterback a year after the Texans got a real feel for the importance of depth when they lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart inside two games. They like undrafted rookie Case Keenum, who was cut, as well; he could head for the practice squad. But how many snaps can the Texans get him during the week if he’s fourth in line? Generally, the backup and/or a veteran runs the scout team, so that work will be done by T.J. Yates or Beck. Whatever snaps Schaub doesn’t take in a practice week will go to Yates. Perhaps they feel OK about Andrew Gardner as their swing tackle now that Rashad Butler is lost for the season with a torn triceps, but they could be looking for a guy to provide tackle depth.

Three things: Texans at Saints

August, 25, 2012
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Three things to look for tonight as the Texans go against the Saints in their third preseason game of the summer tonight (8 ET) in New Orleans.

The three young receivers: Heading into the biggest preseason game, it seems Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean and DeVier Posey rank in that order, but there is still a chance for some jockeying for roles and snaps. When they are on the field, any success they can have with quarterback Matt Schaub will help their cause. A good outing for Martin would likely solidify his standing, but Jean may be more explosive. Gary Kubiak can find roles for both at the start of the year if he feels they are worthy.

Rotating tackles: When Duane Brown became the Texans left tackle, the Texans eased him in his first few games by rotating him with veteran Ephraim Salaam. They are now at least considering doing the same with the two guys competing for the right tackle job now, veteran Rashad Butler and youngster Derek Newton. I wonder about the chemistry and rhythm such a platoon can get in the way of. But if one of them doesn’t distinguish himself, then they could both be in line for time in the season opener Sept. 9 against Miami.

Nose tackle: Shaun Cody (back) and Sunny Harris (done for the year with a torn triceps) won’t play, so Earl Mitchell and undrafted rookie Hebron Fangupo are the lone nose tackles available for the Texans. Ends Jared Crick and Tim Jamison are also rated by coaches as being able to play the nose in the Texans’ defense as well. The position isn’t generally part of the nickel package and barring an injury, it should be a problem. Also out on defense, inside linebacker Brian Cushing (ribs) isn’t with the team.
HOUSTON -- Even the regulars who stay late had disappeared from the Texans’ practice fields after Tuesday morning’s practice.

But at the far end were Jared Crick, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, David Hunter and Hebron Fangupo, four defensive linemen who collectively account for one regular-season NFL game appearance.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Smith
Brett Davis/US PresswireAntonio Smith, a nine-year veteran, is not shy when it comes to teaching inexperienced players some of his rushing techniques.
They stayed after practice to work with veteran lineman Antonio Smith, who patiently talked with them and showed off tips against a tackling dummy. There were pointers about technique, hand placement, swipes, lean, leverage, balance, reading blockers and more. And everybody took a turn working against the dummy after each little lesson.

Smith said he just re-started the sessions, which he’s done before but had faded during the daily grind of camp.

“Now that practices are starting to lighten up, we’ve got time to work on technique,” Smith said. “A guy named Chike Okeafor used to work with me in Arizona, before and after practice.

"When someone who’s been in the game awhile and has some knowledge could see what I was doing, was paying attention to what I was doing and could tell me how to do it better, I think it helped me a lot.”

Now as he looks to pay it forward, Smith said he keeps no secrets.

“If there is something I can do that they want to know about, I’m an open book," he said.

It’s one of the subtly striking things about being teammates in football. While a guy will fight like hell to keep his job, he’s also expected to assist a guy who plays his position and may ultimately take his spot. Veterans who don't offer such help or respond well to questions are typically not regarded as team guys.

Smith’s hardly at risk now, and among today’s pupil’s Crick may be the only one to stick. The rookie end was a fourth-round draft pick.

“If you can see a guy like Antonio who’s been in the league coming on a decade, putting in all the little work, you realize why he’s been in the league that long, why he’s been that successful,” Crick said. “You’ve just got to follow that lead. Hopefully down the road I can be as good as him some day and do that for somebody else.”

Smith’s versatility is a key piece of the Texans’ successful front. He’s an end in the base defense, but moves inside and plays tackle in nickel.

The post-practice period was not the only impressive work I saw by Smith.

Tuesday during a pass rush period of practice, with Connor Barwin outside him, the two rushers worked in tandem, often against starting left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Wade Smith. I thought the defenders looked just about unstoppable in that setting.

“Me and Connor have got to the point where we basically know how each other is going to rush, whether it’s a designated game or we both are doing our own rush,” Smith said. “We know how we’ll end up and can work off each other.”

Smith said he likes both end and tackle, but has always liked rushing the three-technique the best.

“I think it’s more banging, grimy on the inside,” he said. “And it’s the quickest pathway to the quarterback. It’s the hardest to rush, but the quickest path.”
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

What’s hidden on the Houston Texans? Not very much.

They’ve got blue chippers at running back, receiver, center, left guard and tight end if Owen Daniels is healthy. A healthy Matt Schaub is a proven quarterback in the system. On the defensive side, they’ve got a loaded, swarming front and quality defensive backs.

I don’t want to turn to special teams, as it’s an area where I don’t feel great about them, with unknowns in the return game and, probably, a rookie kicker in Randy Bullock.

Help.

One group I don’t expect great things from is the defensive tackles. So they win by default. Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell were sufficient last year, thanks largely to all the playmakers around them. In their second year playing as less-than-mammoth nose tackles in Wade Phillips’ system, they can be better. Undrafted rookie Hebron Fangupo from Brigham Young is intriguingly thick. At 324 pounds, he’s listed at 23 pounds heavier than Cody, who’s bigger than Mitchell.

AFC South links: MJD wants extension

May, 16, 2012
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Houston Texans

The Texans don't plan to hand the starting kicker's spot to rookie Randy Bullock, drafted out of Texas A&M in the fifth round. Rather, special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano told SportsRadio 610, Bullock will have to beat out veteran Shayne Graham. "He has to compete to make the team first," Marciano said, per the team's official site. "If he can beat Shayne out, then I think he’s going to be very good for us."

Defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo, a free-agent signee from BYU, hopes to impress coaches during upcoming rookie camps. “I’m excited to compete with a top-notch offense and defense,” Fangupo said. “I’m ready to learn all I can from coaches and players, and I believe being able to compete with such great players can help my game tremendously.”

Indianapolis Colts

Owner Jim Irsay, on Twitter, said he sees the franchise "taking shape" and that the Colts' defensive front seven "could impress" in the new 3-4 defensive scheme.

Indianapolis grabbed tight end Andre Smith off waivers from the Bears; he's expected to be part of new coordinator Bruce Arians' five-tight end offense, Brad Wells notes for Stampede Blue. The Colts also waived cornerback Mike Holmes.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, absent from the Jaguars' voluntary workouts, wants a contract extension, coach Mike Mularkey said. "I wish he was here. He knows we wish he was here," Mularkey said. "His teammates have talked to him about it. It's a personal decision. There's nothing I can do about it."

Tuesday's first day of organized team activities saw Jacksonville's first-round draft pick, receiver Justin Blackmon, going full speed with quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the first team, according to the Jags' official site. A sore foot that bothered Blackmon during rookie minicamps seems to have been helped by new cleats.

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton apologized Tuesday for the club incident last month in which he suffered an eye injury that has kept him out of offseason workouts. Knighton said the vision in his injured eye has improved substantially. “It’s progressing a lot faster than they thought it would,” Knighton said. “I plan on being ready by training camp."

Tennessee Titans

A number of players, including quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, have signed on for coach Mike Munchak's "Strikes to Stop Diabetes" charity bowling event, set for June 14. The tournament will pair a Titans player or coach with a four-person team, with proceeds going to the American Diabetes Association, the team's site reports.

Center William Vlachos, a free-agent signee from Alabama, has been impressed with the Titans' O-line after doing some film study. “I've been watching film for a couple days and my jaw's on the floor,” Vlachos said. “They're just so physical, the effort they bring every play is outstanding.”

Notable undrafted additions

May, 2, 2012
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Undrafted rookie free agency is a crapshoot.

But odds are good that at least a couple of players out of each AFC South class will have staying power.

Pat Kirwin of NFL.com thinks Jaguars center Mike Brewster and Titans center William Vlachos will be two of those guys.

Rob Rang of The Sports Xchange and CBSSports.com likes a bunch of defensive linemen: nose guard Chigbo Anunoby of the Colts, nose guard of Hebron Fangupo of the Texans, defensive tackle DaJohn Harris of the Titans as well as outside linebacker Delano Johnson of the Titans.

Meanwhile Todd McShay of ESPN lists 10 undrafted signees he likes in this Insider file, but doesn’t include anyone who landed in the AFC South.

I've not scouted any of these guys, I confess. But when I see teams on the field we'll check back in on who looks good and who's creating any buzz.

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