Houston Texans: Darryl Sharpton

During the past week seven former Houston Texans -- six on defense -- became unrestricted free agents and signed with other teams. Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell signed with the Dolphins, defensive end Antonio Smith signed with the Raiders, inside linebackers Darryl Sharpton signed with Washington and Joe Mays signed with the Chiefs, outside linebacker Bryan Braman with the Eagles, and backup nose tackle Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys. There was also Ben Tate's defection to the Cleveland Browns, a move rumored for several months.

But the Texans haven't been losing players so much as they've been letting them go.

Smith
Tate
Tate
The clearest example of this came with Smith, a starter for all five seasons he spent with Houston.

"The feel I got from the Texans was a feel of a third-down rusher coming off the bench," Smith told Mark Berman of Fox 26. Smith received an affordable two-year deal worth $9 million.

Tate wasn't a guy the Texans wanted to bring back, preferring to go with Arian Foster, a draft pick and a young player from the gaggle of them they have now. He only received $6.2 million over three years from the Browns to be their starter, according to reports of the NFLPA's records. By comparison, the Texans are paying their starting running back $6.25 million this year, including his roster bonus, on a contract that averages $8.7 million per year.

The high number of defensive departures might have a lot to do with a changing system, but it makes clear that there will be a degree of rebuilding for the Texans next season.

The Texans' plan is yet unfolding, and a lot of it will involve toughening up the current roster. But you can't let go of four starters (we'll count both Mays and Sharpton as starters since they did for most of the season) without admitting you're rebuilding the roster. Add to it the Texans' likelihood to have a new starter at quarterback in September, and possibly a new right tackle and left guard, and you have quite a bit of change.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC South

March, 10, 2014
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With the 2014 free-agency period starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, here is a look at top free agents in the AFC South as compiled by reporters Tania Ganguli, Paul Kuharsky, Michael DiRocco and Mike Wells. The top seven free agents are on defense, led by cornerback Vontae Davis of the Colts. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a fixture in Jacksonville for the past eight years, is looking for a new team. Is this the end of Antoine Bethea's run in Indianapolis?

1. Vontae Davis, Colts CB: Indianapolis needs a top cornerback to help a defense that finished 20th in the league last season. Davis has shown he has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He just needs to work on his consistency.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans CB: A smart, aware corner with a knack for getting to the ball, he just lacks top speed and size.

3. Antoine Bethea, Colts S: A reliable player, having started every game he played during his eight years with the Colts. Finished with at least 100 tackles in five of those seasons.

4. Earl Mitchell, Texans NT: Solid player at the point of attack and has shown the ability to get consistent penetration. He had 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.

5. Bernard Pollard, Titans S: Played well as an in-the-box safety and provided the sort of standard-setting leadership the Titans lacked previously. Update: Signed one-year, $2 million deal to remain with Titans.

6. Darryl Sharpton, Texans LB: Led the Texans with 87 tackles but is not as good in coverage as he is against the run.

Smith
7. Antonio Smith, Texans DE: He is more of a run-stuffing defensive end than a pass-rusher, although he did record five sacks in 2013.

8. Ben Tate, Texans RB: He led the Texans with 771 yards rushing. He has been somewhat injury-prone but has produced when needed as Arian Foster's backup.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB: Jones-Drew started 15 games and led the Jaguars with 803 yards and five touchdowns rushing. He also caught 43 passes (third on the team) for 314 yards. He got off to a slow start then battled through ankle, hamstring and knee issues and averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.

Brown
10. Donald Brown, Colts RB:
Brown was the Colts’ third running back twice in 2013 only to end the season as the starter. He has the speed but was too inconsistent during his five seasons in Indianapolis.

11. Garrett Graham, Texans TE: He’s not Owen Daniels, but he can line up tight or as a flex tight end. He came into his own as a receiver last season with 49 catches for 545 yards and five TDs.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts RB: A neck injury limited Bradshaw to only three games last season. It took just those three games for him to show he was the Colts' most effective running back.

13. Ropati Pitoitua, Titans DE: A giant, run-stuffing end who would be a solid, flexible piece in the hybrid front. Update: Signed 3-year, deal for $9.6 million to remain with Titans.

14. Adam Vinatieri, Colts K: The 41-year-old Vinatieri was 35-of-40 on field goals and a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points in 2013.

15. Samson Satele, Colts C: Was released by the team on March 6 after a disappointing 2013 season. He has started 98 of 102 games during his seven-year career.

What Texans players play for now

December, 17, 2013
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The Houston Texans can't make the 2013 NFL playoffs and they can't save their head coach's job. And after last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it's less likely they can help their defensive coordinator move from interim head coach to regular head coach, despite his winning record as a head coach.

I asked several players Sunday evening: What do you play for now?

WR Andre Johnson, 11th season: "I'm just trying to win. Trying to end this streak. That's pretty much it. I only play the game for one reason and that's to win and hopefully one day win the Super Bowl. So other than that, I don't really set any personal goals or anything like that."

RB Ben Tate, 4th season: "I'm playing to get a W. I play because I love the game, I love doing this."

TE Ryan Griffin, 1st season: "Anytime you play, it's on film. So at this point we're playing for pride right now. You've got to put the right stuff on film. Everybody sees that, everybody in the NFL. It doesn't matter what your record is it is each play. So that's what we're playing for."

CB Johnathan Joseph, 8th season: "My pride. That's what I play for each and every week. My pride overrides everything else because I just want to go out there and play good, winning football from the beginning of the whistle to the end of the whistle. So I think it's about pride. Going out there and putting winning football on tape."

LG Wade Smith, 11th season: "I play for the fact that I love playing football. I want to win. I know if I play well, it's contributing to helping us get a win. If the offensive line plays well, then it's contributing to us getting a win. And we just go from there."

RT Derek Newton, 3rd season: "For my team. Myself. We're trying to get Ws each week."

OLB Brooks Reed, 3rd season: "Play for? Pride. Self respect."

ILB Darryl Sharpton, 4th season: "I play for my teammates. I play for my coaches. I play for Bryan Braman, Joe Mays, all the guys in the linebacker room. Reggie Herring, all my coaches. I mean, that's what you play for. It's your job. It's an unbelievable opportunity that people would kill for no matter what situation. I don't take it for granted. I've been through a lot of ups and downs and having this opportunity to play professional football in a great city like Houston, I'm going to take full advantage of my opportunity and give it my all."
HOUSTON -- When Darryl Sharpton is healthy, he's a very solid inside linebacker.

That's the issue, though. When Sharpton is healthy.

Sharpton
He's been through a slew of injuries in his NFL career which have led to limited action in his previous three seasons. He played in seven games, starting six last year, but began the 2012 season on the physically unable to perform list and ended it on injured reserve. He played in eight games and started none in 2011; he played 12 games and started six in 2010.

Last season Sharpton started next to Bradie James when Brian Cushing went out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. This season, he'll start alongside Joe Mays as Cushing recovers from a torn LCL and broken fibula. Cushing will have surgery this week.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak indicated a decision hadn't been reached yet when asked if it would be Sharpton or Mays who took over as the three-down inside linebacker.

Coming into this season, Sharpton felt confident that his body would cooperate. He also worried about jinxing himself. The tough luck struck again and he was inactive at the start of the season in San Diego.

Since then, Sharpton's been active each week, but he hasn't been injury free.

"The thing about Sharpton is Sharpton hasn’t practiced in two weeks," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He’s played in both games, but he has not practiced. He’s been bothered by a foot, so we have to continue to work to get him healthy."

There will be a dropoff without Cushing. He's one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL and one of the best players period in run defense. His emotional impact on the Texans' defense is immeasurable.

But if Sharpton can get healthy during this bye week and then stay healthy, it would help dull the sting just a little bit.
HOUSTON -- What Texans coach Gary Kubiak says about injuries is usually a bit different than what appears on the injury report when the Texans have a light practice. That's because according to league policy, if a team does a walk-through, or what Kubiak called a jog-through, it must estimate how much that player would have participated in a full practice.

On Wednesday afternoon, he said Duane Brown (toe) and Brian Cushing (concussion) participated in practice, while Greg Jones, Johnathan Joseph, Owen Daniels and Andre Johnson were rested. Tim Dobbins (hip) and Brandon Brooks (toe) did not practice due to injury.

The official injury report released this evening listed J.J. Watt and Cushing among those who did not practice -- Watt for that Frankenstein gash on his nose that required six stitches during the game, and also because of a groin injury. Darryl Sharpton (foot/hip) and Wade Smith (knee) were also held out.

Kubiak couched his injury announcements during his press conference by saying Wednesday's practice was not very rigorous.

"We might have had 10 or 11 guys who wouldn't have participated had we done something different, so we needed the reps," Kubiak said. "We slowed it down a little bit to make sure we got the teaching. We're back to work."

 

Shiloh Keo ready to start

September, 7, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Safety Ed Reed continued the process toward returning for the Texans.

But he will not start Monday, giving way to Shiloh Keo, who Texans coaches have talked up all preseason and through camp.

"He's just a much improved player through opportunities and repetition," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's just has much more confidence in what we're doing and had a real good preseason. Just seeing the natural progression of a young player that all of a sudden gets pushed into a starter role and he responds to it. So he's done that."

Keo's had plenty of opportunity this summer with last year's starter Glover Quin gone and Reed recovering from his April hip surgery. It's hard to tell just how far a player's come in the preseason, though. Monday will be a real test of Keo's progress.

Some other notes from Kubiak today:
  • Kubiak was impressed with Wade Smith's recover from knee surgery. Smith promised Kubiak he would be able to handle everything, and Kubiak says he will.
  • Arian Foster and Ben Tate will rotate carries on Monday night. "First off, I think Arian's condition is excellent. His practice this week has been just excellent. He's a worker. That's why he's play well. I've been impressed with how he's held up, but obviously it's early in the season. I don't know how warm it's going to be up there, but I think we're smart in playing them both. Obviously, we'll see how Arian holds up from that standpoint."
  • Kubiak said he asked the team if they wanted to hold practice later to prepare for a 9:20 p.m. CT start, but they decided to keep their regular schedule.
  • Inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton won't travel to San Diego. He's recovering from a concussion. Unfortunate for a guy who is a really good player when healthy, but has had several battles with injuries.
HOUSTON -- Houston Texans guard Wade Smith has been making a push to be ready for the season opener on Monday night. He said last week that he had a good chance of doing it.

"It worked out perfectly for me and for our group," Smith said. "We’ve got some guys that have been nicked up and guys that needed a little extra time, and so we get a full extra day and it’s a late game."

Smith had knee surgery during the preseason. He was listed as limited on today's injury report, though Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he took the "full load" of practice. Smith and safety Ed Reed were both listed as limited participants.

Offensive tackle David Quessenberry is still on the active roster as the Texans work through whether or not to place him on injured reserve/designated to return. Darryl Sharpton missed practice as he recovers from a concussion with which he was diagnosed before the Texans' third preseason game. We had initially been told Sharpton was sick.

Eleven players were listed as full participants in practice, including running back Arian Foster, who said he feels like he's ready to handle a full workload on Monday against the San Diego Chargers. Of course, it's not up to him.

"I feel like I’m game-ready to carry the load, but obviously I can understand his timidness and the little bit of withdrawal that he’ll have," Foster said of his head coach. "It’s early in the season. It’s game one. I’ll get my feet wet this game."

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