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What went wrong? Outside linebackers

1/16/2014

In a recent radio interview on "Mike and Mike in the Morning," new Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien talked about the importance of needing to know his current roster and understand his own team before assessing what it needs.

As the houston staff goes through that process, we're going through a similar one here.

Last week we began taking a position by position look at the 2013 Houston Texans, starting with safeties and running backs, then moving on to inside linebackers and receivers.

Today we look at outside linebackers.

Key players: Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed, Bryan Braman, Sam Montgomery, Willie Jefferson

What went wrong: Before the 2012 season, the Texans offered Connor Barwin a contract as he went into the final year of his rookie deal. It was a good offer, but Barwin chose to wait and play out the season. His 2012 season wasn't as good as his 2011 season, and the Texans then let him go in free agency. There were some on the personnel side who were relieved Barwin didn't take the deal offered in the summer of 2012. Perhaps they shouldn't have been.

Without Barwin this season, the Texans turned to Mercilus and Reed. When I checked in with Matt Williamson, a former scout who joined ESPN.com in 2005, about the Texans' pass rush, he noted how rare it is for a 3-4 team's interior rush (with J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith) to be so much better than its edge rush, even though Mercilus had seven sacks and Reed three.

"More or less, I don't think Reed is explosive/athletic enough, and Mercilus doesn't have much of an expansive pass-rushing package yet," Williamson said. "Barwin was missed more than expected, and he played very well this year for the Eagles."

Reason for hope?: In Mercilus's case, that could be a coaching issue. He's only entering his third year in the league, and he'll have a new position coach in Mike Vrabel this season. The edge rush is something the Texans could look to repair in the draft. They tried last year, and if Montgomery had succeeded, he would have been a steal as a third-round pick. But from start to finish he never seemed interested in meeting his potential.