NFL Nation: Darnell Jenkins
|Bob Levey/Getty Images|
|Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans defense have a new attitude.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- React or act?
Give a group of guys who've spent a lot of time doing the former to do the latter and you'll be greeted with glee.
That's the Houston Texans' defense's feelings for first-year coordinator Frank Bush, promoted by Gary Kubiak to replace Richard Smith.
"I think we had guys thinking too much, we had so many checks and this and that. It was too much, you're thinking so much to where you can't just line up and go tee off on someone. Now we can just line up and get it, there isn't so much too it. It's simplified to where we don't have all the checks."
The primary word being used for the team's new approach is "aggressive," and that's not a term that characterized them too often with Smith at the controls. The mild mannered Bush has the defense excited and determined not to let the Texans be known exclusively as an offensive team.
While Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels will go a long way towards determining if the Texans can build on consecutive 8-8 seasons and make the playoffs, Mario Williams, Ryans and linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick, bring a good dose of star power to the defense.
To graduate to being a playoff team, the Texans have to reverse some trends. They'll need to play better early so they aren't left to fight so hard to get back to .500. They need to fare better within the division, finding ways to finish off their primary rivals when they have the chance.
They expect the Titans and Colts to be strong again. The Texans will likely have to chase one or both of those teams down.
Anything less than double digit wins and a playoff berth won't be considered a success.
1. Can the offense fix turnover and red-zone issues?
The Texans ranked third in total offense last year, but it didn't mean as much as it should have because they were 17th in points per game. The two big themes heading into the 2009 season are cutting turnovers and getting better production once they get inside the 20.
They were minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways last year, third worst in the NFL. They scored touchdowns on just 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions.
"I think if we can make those two adjustments, we can win at least two more games," Shanahan said. "If we can do that I think we will be a playoff team. We were a good offense last year statistically. But that was the first thing I talked about on the first day of OTAs this year, that doesn't mean anything. The top three offenses in the league last year were New Orleans, Denver and us. None of us made the playoffs. Moving the ball does not matter unless you move it across that goal line."
2. Do they have enough in the secondary?
Their top cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has not been with the team because he's upset about getting slapped with a franchise tag, but he will ultimately sign it and play for a guarantee of nearly $10 million.
Jacques Reeves will miss the start of the season with a fractured fibula, which means Fred Bennett will get some time as the second starter. Rookie Glover Quin is currently the nickel and they like his physical play.
But the safeties and the defensive backfield depth are question marks, even if the defensive front gets more of a pa
ss rush and forces the ball out quicker. Can they get steady enough play from Eugene Wilson and second-year man Dominique Barber, the presumptive starters at safety on opening day against the Jets?
|Defensive end Mario Williams|
|Defensive end Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans' 25 sacks last season.|
The Texans had just 25 sacks in 2008, fewest in the division. And Williams accounted for 12 of them. Houston made moves intended to get pressure from elsewhere -- first by signing free agent defensive lineman Antonio Smith, then by drafting Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin with their first two picks. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar is a fiery type who preaches pocket penetration and may just be the team's biggest addition.
An effective rush from the front can help take a lot of pressure off the secondary, which ranks as the team's weak link.
Ideally, Jacoby Jones would be in line to replace Kevin Walter as the No. 2 receiver in a year if the team doesn't or can't re-sign Walter. But Jones lacks maturity and consistency and his job security could be in jeopardy. The team is looking at kickoff return man Andre Davis, a better receiver, as a punt return possibility. If Davis succeeds there, Jones could be expendable.
Jones can be very good, but he can also put the ball on the ground too much as a punt returner. And Kubiak is not a fan of specialists. He wants football players who can fill multiple roles. That describes Davis, who can cover kicks as well as return them in addition to catching passes. It may not cover Jones much longer.
Newcomer to watch
"He's a kid that can move from outside to inside, he's a big man that's a real good athlete," said Bush, who also worked with him in Arizona. "He's a 285-pound guy with good knee bend. He's extremely tough, has no problem playing over a center, guard or tackle. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and he came up through the ranks the hard way, he honed his craft and made himself what he is.
"That whole sense of a guy that came from virtually nothing to what he is right now kind of helps our team. Other guys can see it and aspire to be that way."
Antwaun Molden got hurt in his rookie season when the team wanted to bring him along slowly. He's a physical cornerback who could provide some great insurance or become a real alternative now if he's needed. ... Dan Orlovsky hasn't looked very good, but the team knows it will take him a while to be comfortable in the system and are convinced with coaching he can be a quality No. 2 quarterback for them. Even before a hamstring injury Rex Grossman wasn't going to challenge him for the backup quarterback job. ... Ryan Moats is like Slaton style-wise and Arian Foster is Chris Brown-like. But the undrafted rookie back may have missed his chance with a preseason injury and a too-slow return. Brown's ability to stay healthy will be a big question for the offense. ... While he's a popular fall guy with media and fans, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who's missed camp so far recovering from hernia surgery, generally does what the team asks, taking up blockers. That it's a contract year won't hurt his motivation either. ... Undrafted free agent John Busing hits and plays good special teams, which may give him a shot at a roster spot that has belonged to Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison. ... The team also likes undrafted defensive end Tim Jamison, but will there be room for him? ... Frank Okam is big, quick and smart and he's been a pet project for coaches. When Kubiak complimented his offseason, Okam knew it meant something, "because it's difficult for an Aggie to give a Longhorn a compliment." ... Rookie tight end James Casey can play fullback, line up wide or throw. That's versatility that makes him Houston's Wildcat candidate. ... Want an undrafted possibility on offense? If Jones is out, there could be room for receiver Darnell Jenkins.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Off to Jacksonville this morning. Look forward to talking with you from there...
- DelJuan Robinson's overcome heart surgery and the death of his brother, writes Jerome Solomon.
- The Texans defense is locking down on third down, says Megan Manfull.
- Houston added cornerback David Pittman and wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, according to Manfull.
- Richard Justice says the Texans are growing up fast.
- Alex Marvez makes a Pro Bowl case for Steve Slaton.
- Tony Dungy can become the first coach to go to the playoffs 10 consecutive years with a win tonight, says Mike Chappell.
- Running backs coach Gene Huey will work his 271st game as the Colts running backs coach tonight, the longest stint as an assistant in franchise history, writes Phil Richards.
- A look at some guys Huey has had ready to step in, from Richards.
- Safety Bob Sanders, tight end Dallas Clark, center Jeff Saturday and punter Hunter Smith were named alternates to the AFC Pro Bowl team.
- Maurice Jones-Drew brings the Jaguars major versatility, says Phillip B. Wilson.
- A look at Mike Pollak's high school career, from Chappell.
- A win tonight means Dungy will rest people against Tennessee next week, says Richards.
- Tonight in prime time the Jaguars can sweep a division rival, snap the Colts' seven-game winning streak and prevent them from clinching a playoff spot, writes Vito Stellino.
- A breakdown of the matchup.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Players weren't even in helmets at Thursday morning's practice, so it was tough to get a real gauge on anyone.
But I spent some time after the session with Larry Kirksey, the veteran wide receivers coach. He's in Year 2 with the Texans, but his 12th year in the league and he's coached Jerry Rice, Jimmy Smith and Terrell Owens.
We went player-by-player and I forced him to offer each guy's downside or weakness at the end -- I've broken those off into a "something less than positive" category.
We went in pecking order, which matches the team's depth chart.
On Kevin Walter: "Kevin had his best year as a pro last year and he's come back a little bit stronger, a little bit faster than he was a year ago. The thing about Kevin is he's a dependable receiver. He's a tough guy, he'll do all the dirty work for you. He wants to take every snap, he wants it bad. To me he's the epitome of a guy who wants to win. I've been very pleased with Kevin. I just think he's a football player." (Walter starts outside, moves into the slot in three-wide with Andre Davis coming on as the third WR).
Something less than positive: "He has good speed, he has size, he has playing strength. Probably it's separation from man-to-man. Because of his body type, he can use his body to separate. I'd say that, but at the same time he hasn't lost many battles out here."
On Andre Davis: "He had a great year last year for us, considering he's bounced around a little bit. He's still playing with speed. I think he has a little more finesse now, a little more knowledge of the offense and knows what is expected of him. His route-running skills have improved. I would say that's been the key for him so far. He's really improved his overall game, route-running, pass receiving, and he's always had speed."
Something less than positive: "I just hope he can stay healthy and continue to play the way he did a year ago. If so, he'll have another great year for us."
On Jacoby Jones: "He has a lot of talent. He needs to play smarter. I think he understands the game, and sometimes because of his speed and quickness, he thinks that can get him by. Well that's not the case. I think when he learns how to use his speed and quickness with the mental aspect of the game he can really get it going on."
Something less than positive: "It's just learning the game for him overall. He's still a young receiver. He got injured last year and didn't play a lot. He's back now so we'll see what happens."
On David Anderson: "He has really improved as far as the slot play is concerned. I just think he's so nifty in there and he has a great feel for the game. He's been the solid guy in the slot, he and Kevin, but they all need to be able to work inside."
Something less than positive: "He's not a very big guy or tall guy, but at the same time he has a knack for making plays."
On Tim Carter: "He's in the mix. The thing he brings to the table is speed, of course. He plays fast. We just got him here late in the OTAs. He's shown signs, shown flashes that he can make some plays. We've still got to get him into the preseason and see how it goes."
Something less than positive: "His familiarity with the system, probably."
The Texans finished last season with five receivers on their roster, and Kirksey said that while it's not up to him he expects it will probably be five again.
He also talked with me briefly about the other receivers at camp.
Harry Williams: "A big, physical receiver who's been a special teams player around here for us. That's his playing strength."
Darnell Jenkins: "A young kid from Miami who's got playing speed. He's just got to catch up with the system."
LeRon McCoy: "I think LeRon's probably got the strongest hands out there and he's a big body type. He's made some plays and picked up the offense fairly well."
Mark Simmons: "A nifty player, but at the same time he's got to get involved in the system and be able to understand it."
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