AFC South: Rick Smith
In the wake of inside linebacker Brian Cushing's signing, the Houston Chronicle created a slideshow of the highest-paid Texans sorted by guaranteed money. In order: receiver Andre Johnson, quarterback Matt Schaub, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, left tackle Duane Brown, Cushing, running back Arian Foster, center Chris Myers, defensive end Antonio Smith, defensive end J.J. Watt (on his fully guaranteed rookie deal), tight end Owen Daniels and safety Danieal Manning.
Dale Robertson of the Chronicle begins this day-after story on Cushing's extension with a fun anecdote about Cushing head-butting Justin Tuggle before the Texans' preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. It is quite possible the most Brian Cushing of all anecdotes. Robertson also uses some of Cushing's thoughts from his press conference yesterday.
During the press conference, Cushing and general manager Rick Smith talked about how closely they kept in touch during Cushing's rehab. Smith paid serious attention on his own, and Cushing made sure he knew every time Cushing hit a new milestone. He sent photos and videos regularly to show his general manager how well he was healing. Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press starts there.
A view from the other side: Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune scouts the Texans. He calls Watt, Foster, Cushing and Johnson players in the top five at their position (forgetting Brown, who I'd certainly say is in the top five at left tackle), but calls Schaub "more caretaker than playmaker."
So when I sat down across from Texans' general manager Rick Smith three months ago, I looked around to see what noteworthy details would find their way into my story. I didn't notice the most interesting thing: an empty glass box.
That empty glass box matched two others that aren't empty. They contain footballs that commemorate the two Super Bowl wins he was part of with the Denver Broncos.
The empty box awaits his first Texans' Super Bowl ball.
My final piece for the Houston Chronicle profiled Smith and ran on Sunday in the Chronicle's special section.
In it, Smith gives insight into why he has been so successful at such a young age. He talked about the lessons he learned from a semester he had to spend at a junior college, away from Purdue, when he became academically ineligible.
We also talked about balance, meditation and his spiritual beliefs.
My favorite little anecdote in the story was one about how Smith's first NFL job came to be. Very shortly after he took a job with TCU, the Broncos called to offer him a job.
To the shock of his new coworkers, he turned it down.
"I felt like I was led to TCU," he said.
He spent the spring with TCU, then returned to Indiana to finish moving out of his apartment. He had already requested for his phone service to be turned off and went back one last time to an apartment that was completely empty except the phone in the kitchen.
Then the phone began to ring. A Broncos employee on the other line said Mike Shanahan wanted to know why he turned them down. They did what it took that time to hire Smith.
Antonio Smith resurfaces again to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and to Mark Berman of Fox 26. He tells them he forgives Richie Incognito. And himself.
Unlike Tim Tebow, three Texans cuts did not make it through the waiver-wire system. Tyler Clutts got claimed by Miami, Dennis Johnson by Cleveland and Chris Jones by Tampa Bay, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com sat down with Texans GM Rick Smith on Wednesday for an interview that included an update on safety Ed Reed.
Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle takes a detailed look at the Texans' third-and-long running plays last season.
CBSSports.com columnist Pete Prisco ranks the NFL head coaches, and Houston's Gary Kubiak is the highest-rated AFC South coach, coming in at No. 16.
The team's website, doing a series featuring interviews with Texans position coaches to get their thoughts on the projected starters, continues with tight ends coach Brian Pariani discussing starter Owen Daniels.
Kevin Bowen continues the team website's series profiling the burning questions at each position with a look at running back and receiver.
It has been four months since the Jaguars released him and eight months since he suffered the last of four concussions in 2012, but free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson says he is symptom free and ready to give the NFL one more shot, writes Tom Pelissero of USA Today sports.
As training camp nears, the Florida Times-Union’s Ryan O’Halloran breaks down the Jaguars’ depth at every position. Up next is linebacker, where depth could be an issue.
John Glennon of The Tennessean analyzes the Titans' running backs entering training camp.
Titans running back Chris Johnson will appear as a guest judge on next week’s episode of Spike TV’s reality-competition series “Ink Master,” writes Glennon. The episode premieres Tuesday. Johnson, who got his first tattoo in seventh grade, will join series host Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction) and renowned tattoo artists Chris Nunez (“Miami Ink”) and Oliver Peck (Elm Street Tattoo) as a judge for the episode entitled “Thrills For Grills.”
The two are key pieces to Wade Phillips’ defense, and need to be around long-term.
New deals would also help the Texans gain some cap cushion. Cushing’s 2013 cap number is $4.643 million; Smith’s is $9.5 million.
As far as Cushing knows, no conversations have started up, per Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle. He allowed for the possibility that his agent has talked to the Texans and said he wouldn’t necessarily know. He’s concentrating on knee rehab.
While I understand the singular focus players like Cushing like to have, even in May, I also think an agent is bound to mention to a client that some level of contract talks have kicked off. Cushing is represented by Drew Rosenhaus.
Cushing’s ACL tear suffered early in the 2013 season certainly didn’t help accelerate things. All reports say he’s recovered well however, and will be ready to go for training camp. So any concerns about the knee that might have prompted the Texans to wait before initiating contract talks should be past.
“I know it wasn’t the best thing to really help with getting it done,” he told Ganguli. “I think they know the kind of player I am, they know I’ll come back to be the same player if not better, so I’ve got that going for me. I’m on the right track right now and very confident that I’ll be back and won’t miss a step.”
There is no real ticking clock here. General manager Rick Smith doesn’t talk contract during the season. The Texans got deals done with Duane Brown and Matt Schaub last year, with Schaub’s deal revealed after the team’s opening day game.
If the Texans fail to extend Cushing and/or Smith, it won’t be because they didn’t have sufficient time or because they didn’t give it a solid shot.
During his time at the NFL scouting combine, Sam Montgomery addressed concerns about the consistency of his effort as a college player.
The problem is that he admitted there were concerns about his effort as a college player.
He’s now a member of the Houston Texans, who Friday used their second third-round pick, 95th overall, on Montgomery, the LSU defensive end.
If there is an effort issue, it will fall on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and linebackers coach Reggie Herring to get week-to-week and snap-to-snap effort from Montgomery. He seems to be a more complex character than they discussed.
At the combine, Montgomery said he didn’t play all-out because weak opponents allowed for some respite.
“You know, some weeks when we didn't have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed,” Montgomery said in Indianapolis. “But when we had the big boys coming in, the Bamas or the South Carolinas, I grabbed close to those guys and went all-out.
“Of course, this is a new league, the NFL, and there are no small teams, small divisions. It is all Alabamas and LSUs every week. It's definitely something I have to get adjusted to, but I'm sure with the right coaching I will be fine.”
In a conference call with Houston media, Montgomery said his best quality is his relentlessness -- contradicting the idea that he didn’t give his all against teams like North Texas, Idaho and Towson.
Herring suggested that Montgomery got caught up in entertaining the media, given that he likes to talk, and that his film didn’t show a lack of effort -- something general manager Rick Smith has said he cannot accept from a player.
“If anything, the young man is guilty of being a bit na´ve," Herring said.
A scout I asked about Montgomery didn’t reply with an effort question.
“He plays very hard,” he said. “Good pick.”
The Texans plan to start Montgomery out as a strongside linebacker, so their first four picks have addressed three areas of concern.
DeAndre Hopkins should be the No. 2 receiver, D.J. Swearinger could play a lot as a nickel or dime safety, tackle Brennan Williams could win the right-side job from the recovering Derek Newton and Montgomery should be part of a rotation.
Houston hopes he’ll be part of a three-man gang, along with Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus, that splits up the work at outside linebacker.
Last season, when the Texans drafted Mercilus in the first round, they said the same thing about using him with Connor Barwin and Reed.
But Reed’s playing time only really dipped when he missed four games hurt. Barwin, who’s since gone to Philadelphia as a free agent, played 93.8 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Even with four starts, Mercilus was on the field only 46.6 percent of the time.
The Texans will have to learn how well Montgomery can drop and cover, something he wasn’t doing as a college defensive end in a 4-3 scheme under LSU coordinator John Chavis.
“He’s big, strong, powerful, explosive individual,” Herring said. “The one thing that he will have to learn is that he will have to learn to drop a little bit and things that he hasn’t done as a defensive end at LSU -- understanding that they don’t cultivate OLBs in college, so we have to pull from the defensive end position.
“Basically, you have to give and take with their ability to drop out in space, something they haven’t done. That remains to be seen. That’s something we’ll have to work on. As far as playing the run and having pass rush skills and having the play strength that’s above average in college, he has a foundation to be a good outside backer for us.”
One thing that might have hastened the draft drop by Montgomery, once rated as a first-round prospect, was his inclusion on a list of 10 players by LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt.
Moffitt posted the names for scouts and said they were athletes who “miss workouts and always have an excuse.”
“They lack the self discipline and motivation to take care of their responsibilities,” the sign on an office door in the Tigers' facility said. “I will not answer questions regarding their performance numbers or character, as they care only about themselves.”
ESPN.com scout Matt Williamson said he likes the idea of Montgomery as a strongside linebacker in Phillips’ system.
“They really play a 5-2, so strongside 5-2 defensive end/outside linebacker,” Williamson said. “Supposedly had some awful interviews at combine, though.”
Williamson is the second person in one night who mentioned that to me.
Clearly, Montgomery’s interview with Houston was fine, but a guy who bombed in multiple other opportunities seems concerning.
Perhaps what Montgomery said about playing with Antonio Smith hints that he can qualify as wacky to some, wacko to others.
Montgomery said he knows Smith, the Texans defensive end who calls himself the "ninja assassin."
"I'm willing to take the ninja's teaching," Montgomery said, “and make ninjasonic out of it."
Some final mock drafts from smart and informed people: Mike Mayock of NFL Network, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe, Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle blog and Ben Standig of Fantasy Football Toolbox, who had a great hit rate last year.
The Jaguars, Titans and Texans will be among the 15 teams that have draft room cameras as part of NFL Network’s coverage.
Rick Smith has a good track record late in the first round and the 27th pick has provided some good players in recent drafts, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Because they can play Brooks Reed inside or out, the Texans have flexibility with what kind of linebacker they add in the draft, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.
Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins is John McClain’s final mock draft pick for the Texans.
Five of the Texans' last seven first-rounders started 16 games, says Ganguli.
Arian Foster landed a role in the Kevin Costner movie “Draft Day,” according to KTRK in Houston. (Hat tip to the Chron.)
Three guys the Colts could draft at No. 24 from Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star: receiver Hopkins, defensive end Damontre Moore and defensive end Datone Jones.
What are the Colts looking for? Anything but a quarterback, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
Wilson has some questions about things Bill Polian has said recently at ESPN that clash with what he did as head of the Colts.
No. 24 is historically a good spot, says Brian Resutek of The Wall Street Journal. (Hat tip to Colts Authority.)
A seven-round Colts mock draft from Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue includes a trade of the first-round pick.
A franchise in dire need of cornerstone players is in prime position to draft one second overall, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.
The second round looks to be trickier than the first for first-year general manager David Caldwell, says Gene Frenette of the Times-Union.
There is more information compiled on prospects than ever before, but it doesn’t mean that teams are drafting better, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.
To which I say: Stellino tends to theorize that the draft is mostly about luck, and I heartily disagree. Luck is involved, but the best drafters aren’t simply consistently luckier than their colleagues.
Pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah is the mock pick (subscription required) to the Jaguars at No. 2 for O’Halloran while John Oehser of Jaguars.com goes with offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network says the Jaguars will take quarterback Ryan Nassib with the 33rd pick if he’s there.
Titans general manager Ruston Webster and a lot of writers who try to forecast the draft say this one is particularly difficult to predict, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Capsules on the guys the Titans could be considering with the 10th overall pick, from John Glennon of The Tennessean.
A run through of Titans picks in multiple mock drafts, from Wyatt.
Grades for the Titans' last five drafts from Wyatt.
Tom Gower of Total Titans set some limits for himself in a seven-round Titans mock draft, using a full mock draft from Rotoworld to establish who’s unavailable to be selected.
Fans chose the team’s 15th anniversary logo.
General manager Rick Smith is ready to make the big decisions that are central to the Texans’ team-building, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
The John Elway-Dan Marino "30 for 30" special prompted McClain to retell the story of how the Houston Oilers missed out on drafting Elway only because of one blown call.
To which I say: I once did the story for The Tennessean, and it featured a big picture of Elway in an Oilers blue uniform.
Like most teams at this stage, the Texans say they are willing to trade out of their first-round pick, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.
A surprise first-round pick projection from Battle Red Blog.
Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay wrestled a bit over their grading of Andrew Luck a year ago, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
Tight end Dwayne Allen remembers the draft bitterly, as his fall into the third round made him miserable, says Mike Chappell.
To which I say: I like that Allen settled down after a night's sleep and called back position coach Alfredo Roberts to apologize for his tone in their initial conversation.
Breaking down some first-round cornerback possibilities with Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.
A case for the Colts trading out of the 24th pick from Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.
Owner Shad Khan knows the Jaguars' plan with the No. 2 pick and approves of it, says Vito Stellino.
Khan sees something magical about Nike and loves the new uniform the company designed including a two-toned helmet, says Ryan O’Halloran.
To which I say: The two-toned helmet is already creating a lot of conversation, and conversation is healthy for the Jaguars.
Some second-round possibilities for he Jaguars at 33 or with a trade down, from O’Halloran.
The Titans are looking to add a press, man-to-man cornerback in the draft, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Could the Titans draft an offensive tackle? Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean considers the idea.
To which I say: I expect bounce-back seasons from Michael Roos and David Stewart, and don't think the position should be much of a priority right now.
How guys who have visited the Titans could fit the slate of picks, from Tom Gower of Total Titans.
How many receivers will be drafted in the first round? Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle found an over-under of three.
More on the Texans’ overdependence on receiver Andre Johnson, from Ganguli.
The Texans' official Twitter account recently started following some prospects, Battle Red Blog points out.
To which I say: That may mean actually nothing and a team wouldn't want to tip its hand by starting to follow guys it hopes to draft. Rick Smith is not running the Twitter account.
The Colts' draft results will be the result of thousands of miles and dozens of doughnuts, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
The Colts' best draft pick of their time in Indianapolis will play at Lucas Oil Stadium, as a visitor this season. Phillip B. Wilson with the reveal of an easy choice.
Anthony Castonzo helped make sure the Colts landed Gosder Cherilus, an old friend from Boston College, says Kevin Bowen of the team’s website.
David Caldwell won’t wait long for a call about a trade once the Jaguars are on the clock at No. 2, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.
The Jaguars will be looking for the best available player who fits a need, says O’Halloran.
Don’t focus on quarterbacks in this draft, particularly in the first two rounds, advises John Oehser of Jaguars.com.
Jake Locker wants to be the Titans’ leader, but he isn't ready to call them his team yet, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “I don’t think it is something you ask for,” Locker said. “It is something that you earn.”
Receiver Kenny Britt impressed some teammates on the first day of the Titans' official offseason, says Wyatt.
Center Fernando Velasco signed his tender and was with the team as offseason work started, says Wyatt.
A defensive preview and an offensive preview of the Titans' draft from Tom Gower of Total Titans.
Some critics say safety Ed Reed should have retired instead of joining the Texans, including San Antonio Express-News columnist Buck Harvey, who writes: "Make no mistake. One of the game's best has dropped off. Reed has nerve impingement in his neck, a chronic injury that has diminished his tackling. He also has only nine interceptions in his last 40 games, playoffs included."
While Reed may have his critics, his new Texans teammates share their excitement with HoustonTexans.com's Nick Scurfield. Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing doesn't hold back, "(Ed Reed)’s probably the best safety that’s ever played the game. Anytime you get an opportunity to play with a guy like that, it’s gonna be awesome.”
Coach Gary Kubiak tells the Houston Chronicle that the Texans have signed "one of, if not the, greatest punters in this league’s history" in Shane Lechler.
Texans general manager Rick Smith, who is a member of the NFL's Competition Committee, says his son suffered a concussion when an opposing player used the crown of his helmet on the hit. “What we do and the rule changes and the things we are focused on are not only important for our league, they’re important for the game of football,” Smith said in a roundtable conversation that will air during a "Health of the Game special" at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NFL Network.
Craig Kelley of Colts.com moves on to this week's positional series on tight ends. Wes Saunders, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen must adapt to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's version of the West Coast offense.
Former Colts are visiting and signing with new teams. The Bears have agreed to a one-year contract with safety Tom Zbikowski. And the Broncos are in pursuit of defensive end Dwight Freeney.
The Colts signed nose tackle Martin Tevaseu, the Indianapolis Star reports.
Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew has returned to college in pursuit of a history degree, and Florida Times-Union Ryan O'Halloran profiles the running back's rocky holdout with Jaguars management, his season-ending injury and his time at UCLA. "It’s funny talking to kids 18 and 20 years old and they don’t know too much about the real world... Enjoy college because there is nothing like taxes and kids and dealing with things," says MJD.
For six years, Paul Posluszny has been part of losing teams going through all sorts of transition, and now the middle linebacker tells Gene Frenette that, "as players, it's time for us to buy in because if we don't, they're very willing to get someone else who will."
Should the Jaguars draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in April's draft? Is coach Gus Bradley anything like former Jags coach Tom Coughlin? Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser answers these questions and more in his reader mailbag.
Is there room in the Titans' backfield for both Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene? The Tennessean's John Glennon outlines pros and cons for this partnership made on paper, but not yet on the field.
Former Titan Javon Ringer is surprised the team didn't give more chances to current running backs before signing Greene to a three-year deal.
The Titans are suddenly acknowledging that what they were doing wasn’t working, and they're becoming bigger players on the free-agency market this offseason, writes David Climer of The Tennessean.
Coach Mike Munchak suggests running could become a bigger part of quarterback Jake Locker's arsenal.
Cap status: Pretty tight, with just over $9 million in cushion. But the Texans can gain room with a cut (receiver Kevin Walter is the prime candidate) and have lots of room for restructures with receiver Andre Johnson and/or cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
Strategy: Lay back. They are most concerned with their own guys, and safety Glover Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin head that list. Lose them and they could be shoppers for replacements, but we're talking midlevel to low-level guys, not the high-priced, top-tier guys getting all of the hype as free agency opens. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has an affinity for guys who've played in his system before, so keep an eye on safety Gerald Sensabaugh and, if he's released, defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. They could patch in some guys later, but anything big early would amount to a big surprise.
Cap status: The Colts have just under $40 million of room. They pledge not to behave like it's burning a hole in their pocket.
Strategy: They will look to strike the right deals with some key new people who can fill holes and add production and leadership. It's easy to draw lines that connect Pagano to guys he's coached in Baltimore such as outside linebacker Paul Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams. They are still looking to fill out the roster with people who can play in Pagano's 3-4 front. The scheme requires at least one more cornerback who can play a lot of man-to-man coverage. Maximizing Andrew Luck's chances for success is a priority, and a couple of linemen are necessary to stay on that mission. Another receiver could be a target, too. But Grigson won't force free-agent moves and hopes to have another impact draft that will have a big bearing on how this team fares, too.
Cap status: They've got more than $26 million in cap room, but they also have a couple of empty spots on the depth chart, such as strong safety, right tackle and left guard.
Strategy: All indications are the Jaguars will slow-play free agency. They are unlikely to jump out and sign a guy or two to big contracts, as some bloated free-agent contracts are one of the issues Caldwell inherits. But Tier 2 guys who the team thinks can be pillars of a new program and lead the way for young players will be the core of the franchise moving forward. They have two guys heading into the market in linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Derek Cox. They won't overpay, but losing them will create more holes. And this team is super thin at cornerback already.
Cap status: Over $16 million of room with easily makeable cuts that will save more as the team needs the room and finds guys to add to the roster.
Strategy: More aggressive than usual, in both willingness to spend and number of people they will bring in. This team needs an infusion of talent and leadership. Their top free agents -- tight end Jared Cook and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks -- are expected to leave. Look for one big signing, perhaps Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, and several more with a lower price tag. Positions that could be addressed include guard, defensive tackle, tight end, cornerback and safety. They may be waiting on their pass-rusher until the draft. This is a huge time for Webster and Munchak, who will really be putting their stamp on the roster with guys they need to lift the team to a better level of play if they want to hold on to their jobs.
Texans TV's Drew Dougherty interviewed general manager Rick Smith, discussing the combine, free agency and more. Here is the transcript.
Defensive end J.J. Watt has received an overwhelming amount of personal requests from fans, writes USA Today's Chris Chase.
A tweet by Vontae Davis about former Miami Dolphins teammate Sean Smith is causing a stir, writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
The Jaguars have several important decisions to make as free agency nears, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert deserves a shot to alter the negative perception surrounding him, writes Gene Frenette of the Times-Union (subscription required).
Titans tight end Brandon Barden was charged with traffic violations that include DUI on refusal after a single-car accident in Georgia over the weekend, writes Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.
Connor Barwin is a core player: Sure he is, as long as he’s affordable. Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 and there was an offer on the table as the 2012 season kicked off. He passed, and was far less productive after his gamble. General manager Rick Smith can call him core, but to me a core guy is one you can’t survive without, and they certainly should be able to replace him if he finds a free-agent deal that compels him to leave.
They seem content with what they have on the right side of the offensive line: They platooned at both right tackle and right guard in 2012, and it sounds like they’ll be content to allow Brandon Brooks or Ben Jones to slug it out at right guard (or perhaps split time again) and see Derek Newton as the right tackle going forward.
They will keep the option of a franchise tag for Glover Quin as a possibility for as long as possible: The safety tag is about $7 million. It’s a palatable number, but the Texans have only $5.768 million in cap room. If they can’t reach a long-term deal that will produce a lower salary-cap number for 2013, tagging Quin will force the team to restructure a deal or two or cut someone that helps create room.
Brooks Reed could play inside: But that doesn’t mean the Texans are planning to move him. Gary Kubiak made it sound like they want more of a contingency plan if they have the sort of issues inside like they did last season. Move Reed inside and you create a hole outside, especially if Barwin leaves.
They’re still a young team, experiencing what they need to in order to make a jump: Yada, yada. This was quite a bit of spin, but what else can Smith say at this point when evaluating where the team stands? “We’re going to continue to add players, which is what this weekend is all about,” he said. “But I see a group of men that have gotten the experience that’s necessary to go make a real run at it and I think that’s where we are right now.”
A young quarterback is always a possibility: Said Kubiak, "In this business, you better be looking for young quarterbacks you think have a chance to be a 10-, 12-year guy. This year will be no different." T.J. Yates isn’t a sure thing. But the Texans only carried two quarterbacks in 2013, so the team would have to find someone it prefers to Yates in order to draft a QB. I don’t think they spend a premium pick on the position.
Tom Gower of Football Outsiders and Reading and Thinking Football sees it as a bigger need. He argues, basically, that if the Texans had a better inside linebacker to go with Brian Cushing, they wouldn’t be so quick to get out of their base defense.
That versatility would be helpful and would give defensive coordinator Wade Phillips more options for how to, say, cover a tight end like Rob Gronkowski.
It’d be good if Phillips had extra alternatives, sure. The Patriots' quick-snapping offense gave the Texans all kind of troubles last season, twice. Perhaps if Houston could simply have stayed in base, we'd have seen less panic and more preparedness to match up with what New England does so well.
So what’s general manager Rick Smith think about an inside linebacker spot where injury-prone Darryl Sharpton is the primary option at this point?
“Obviously, you want the best players you can find, a guy that can stay on the field,” Smith said at the scouting combine. “You make a mistake if you try to limit yourself just to trying to fit a particular player in a particular role. I think what you try to do is you get the best football players and you let it sort itself out.”
If the team adds an inside backer who could be a three-down player, how much might Phillips change how he deploys his personnel?
“What I think is it gives him some options,” Smith said. “If we have two inside backers who can stay on the field in passing situations and match up better against [tight ends], I think that’s a positive. If he wants to employ a three-safety system in other situations, whether it’s longer distances or a blitz package or whatever it is, if he wants to employ those, he can. I think the more you have players who can stay on the field and impact the game, I think that’s the option, that’s the ultimate for him because it gives him the flexibility that he likes.”
There is one other possibility at play here.
If the Texans re-sign Connor Barwin, as they say they want to, then they’ll have Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus as outside linebackers.
Coach Gary Kubiak indicated they could look at Reed inside.
"He's very capable of being a stack player, playing inside in our 3-4,” Kubiak said. “Yes, that could happen. But we've liked him as a Sam, he's a heck of a Sam player. But you always have to have some flexibility with one player or two players in various situations when you come across like what we did last year.
“Depending on what happens with our football team moving forward right now, with Connor [Barwin] and some other things, we're always looking for some flexibility."
We’ll have to stay tuned.
But with or without Barwin, I expect the Texans will be adding a linebacker in free agency or the draft. The questions remain, with how much of an investment or with how high a pick?
It wasn’t flagged, but it was illegal.
It’s too tidy to say, the Texans (legally) cut block in creating space for Arian Foster and there is irony in Cushing falling victim to a low block being a central image in this.
It’s not. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Still, any significant restriction of low blocks could hurt the Texans as much as any team in the league.
Texans general manager Rick Smith, who’s on the competition committee, and coach Gary Kubiak both discussed the potential for change regarding low blocks at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday.
“Obviously it’s a big part of what we do, I mean we cut offensively,” Kubiak said. “It’s part of the game, but I understand what the league is doing. There are some peel back situations where players are coming back toward their own goal line and cutting people, which I think we need to find a way to get cleaned up. I think the league took some steps to doing that outside the box if I am right and now they’re working on doing that inside the box. Anything they can do to make the game safer and protect players, I understand that.”
Said Smith: “That block [on Cushing] is already illegal. Where we’ve had conversation with effect to that is, in the box, it’s legal. The question that we’ve got to answer is, should it be? And I don’t think anybody thinks so, so that’s something that we’ve got to talk about and think about.”
That’s a relatively minor rule alteration and safety improvement that seems easy enough.
Let’s work together to slow the snowball that seems to be rolling regarding much more drastic measures.
Kubiak was asked for his reaction to the idea of something radical like a total ban on low blocks.
“Me? I think you know that answer,” Kubiak said. “It’s part of what we do. I think it’s part of football. We teach it the right way. Hopefully that part stays with us.”