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2021 HOUSTON TEXANS
A New Era
If ever there were a need for a 'get to know your team' article, this would be the year you'd need it. Hell, I need to write this article so I can learn the team. Massive changes throughout the organization this off-season, starting with the hiring of GM Nick Caserio.
I won't even go into the soap opera leading to the hiring, where chairman and CEO of the Texans, Cal McNair, paid $600,000 to a search firm to help them find candidates for both their open GM and HC positions, then simply ignored their recommendations. Caserio, formerly with the Patriots, is someone the Texans have been after for 3 years. 3 years ago the Texans wanted to interview Caserio and the Patriots wouldn't allow it, which was their right because they were still in the playoffs. The Texans couldn't wait another couple of weeks, for whatever reason, and hired Brian Gaine for 5 years. A year later, then team chaplain, who is now VP of Football Operations, Jack Easterby, was involved in trying to lure Caserio to Houston when the Patriots threatened the Texans with tampering charges. That was after the Texans fired Brian Gaine, 18 months into that 5 year deal. So I guess the 3rd time's a charm as they are finally able to land Caserio this off-season. Hmm....I guess I did get into the soap opera a little bit.
Tons of other changes throughout the building from the President of Business Operations, Jamey Rootes, who had held the position since the Texans inception, stepping down, to PR Directors being let go for no apparent reason, on down to security and equipment personnel being shipped out.
Big changes on the football side of things as well, starting with the coaching staff, and even that doesn't come without controversy. The Texans fired Bill O'Brien 4 games into last season, so they were the 1st team that had an open HC job. By the end of the season, 6 other teams had HC vacancies, and all were filled before the Texans had hired their guy. The Texans still had some high quality candidates that included the Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, who many thought was the favorite. Bills OC Brian Daboll and Ravens OC Greg Roman were hot targets. But the Texans choose to go the unconventional route, really really unconventional, and hire a guy that NOBODY had EVER had on their radar. A guy who's been coaching in the NFL for 27 years and has never held a position higher than a position coach. That guy....65 year old David Culley, now the oldest 1st time HC hire in NFL history, and the 4th full time HC in Texans history.
Culley spent his 26th and 27th seasons in the NFL as the WR coach and passing game coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, a team that had the worst passing offense in the NFL last season. He comes to a team that had the 4th best passing game last year, but it's an offense that has drastically changed, as we'll get into in a moment.
One of the few people surviving the purge on the staff, was OC Tim Kelly, who will retain that title. Former DC and last year's interim HC, Romeo Crennel, stays on as some sort of advisor. Former Bears and Buccaneers HC, Lovie Smith, will take over as the Texans new DC. Lovie has been HC of the University of Illinois the last 5 years. A ton of other names on the staff you've never heard of, but one in particular is James Campen, who takes over as OL coach, replacing Mike Devlin, who many now believe is one of the worst OL coaches in the business after his work with the Texans the last 6 seasons.
If that isn't enough of a shake up for you, wait 'til you get a load of the roster. Here's how things break down for training camp 2021.
Goodness gracious, where do we start here? It may be easier to tell you to wait for the Lifetime movie or Netflix documentary about it to come out. Right before the season started last year, the Texans extended the contract of Deshaun Watson, in a deal that added him for 4 years for $160,000,000. That's 160 MILLION! At the time it made him the 2nd highest paid player in NFL history. $111,000,000 of it is guaranteed, including a $27,000,000 bonus just for signing it. By the time the season was over, a mere 4 months later, a disastrous 4-12 season at that, Watson decided he was going to demand the Texans trade him. WHAT?? He JUST signed a gimongous contract, he's already banked the $27,000,000, and now he wants out??
At first we were all led to believe Watson was promised by Cal McNair, to be a part of the process of them hiring a GM and HC, and that Cal reneged on that, and Watson felt his input didn't matter and wanted out. It seemed silly anyway because employees don't dictate the hires of upper management. Little did we know that an atomic bomb was about to be dropped on us. The Texans appeared to be digging in to not give in to his demands, even if it meant Watson would sit out the season. Watson had a no trade clause in his brand new contract that was going to make it difficult to trade him anyway. After a couple of months of wondering how this little fiasco was going to play out, about the middle of March is when a report comes out that a civil lawsuit had been filed against Watson for sexual misconduct with a "massage therapist". A couple of days later, 2 more suits were filed, then they started pouring in.
For the sake of making this humongous article even longer, as it's supposed to be about the team, Watson is still adamant about NOT playing for the Texans, and he was expected to be put on the Commissioner's Exempt List once training camp started. That did not happen. So to avoid being fined, Watson has reported to camp. He's not doing very much though. He's doing some throwing, but he's yet to participate in any team drills. He even missed the 1st full pads practice with an apparent foot issue. In fact, it looks exactly like he's just there to avoid fines. Deshaun Watson is not going to play another down for the Houston Texans.
At the time, when we just believed that the Texans weren't going to budge to Watson's trade demands, it became more obvious when the they signed 10 year journeyman QB, Tyrod Taylor. With things turning out like they have, Taylor looks to be your starting QB for 2021. Taylor has been a backup for most of his career, except for a 3 year stretch from 2015-2017 where he started for Buffalo, leading them to their 1st playoff berth in 18 years in his final season there (2017). Taylor made the Pro Bowl, as an alternate, in 2015 with over 3,000 yards passing, with 20 TD and just 6 INT, and had over 500 yards rushing with 4 more TD. Taylor had a nearly 4/1 TD/INT ratio over his 3 years as the Bills starter. He started 1 game for the Chargers last season when a doctor gave him and injection for a rib issue and accidently punctured his lung, ending his season after week 2. Taylor is certainly not at the talent level of Watson, but is comparable in style of play.
The Texans use their 1st draft pick this year (3rd round) on a QB, as they select Davis Mills out of Stanford. Mills only had 11 starts in his collegiate career, so not a lot to go on there. The Texans used a 6th round draft pick to trade for former Bengals 3rd string QB Ryan Finley, then he was cut in May. Nice waste of a pick. The Texans then added Jeff Driskel, who has 9 NFL starts under his belt with 13 TD, 8 INT. If Driskel makes the team it will be his 4th team in his 4th season.
RUNNING BACK (RB, FB)
The Texans run game was one of the worst in the NFL last season, after picking up David Johnson in the Hopkins trade last year, one of the worst trades in NFL history. Well, the Texans, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to retain Johnson for another season for a cool $5M. Johnson is now 5 years removed from his All Pro season of 2016, where he hasn't cracked 1,000 yards in a season since. Last year he graced us with 691 yards. He will be joined by former Ravens RB Mark Ingram. Ingram has a much more solid career under his belt than Johnson, but he's entering his 11th NFL season. RBs have a very short shelf life in the NFL, so an 11th year vet is somewhat of a rarity. Ingram had a career low 299 yards last season as he was being phased out in Baltimore.
The Texans also signed free agent Phillip Lindsay, formerly with the Broncos. Lindsay was a UDFA pickup by Denver in 2018, where his 1,000 yard, 9 TD season landed him in the Pro Bowl. He followed that with another 1,000 yard season, with 7 TD. Last year injuries held him back as he had just 502 yards and 1 TD. If healthy, Lindsay could be a pretty good pickup for the Texans, provided they don't waste a lot of time trying to give the bulk of the work load to Johnson.
One other notable RB is Rex Burkhead, formerly with the Patriots. Burkhead has just 1,401 rushing yards in his 8 year career, along with 1,144 receiving yards.
Other RBs in camp that could be looking at just 1 spot to fill if the Texans only carry 5 RBs, are Buddy Howell, who’s been a Texan for 3 seasons, mainly special teams, Scottie Phillips, practice squad RB last year who ended up getting promoted for the last 8 games, and 4th year, former Browns RB Dontrell Hilliard, with just 199 yards in his career.
WIDE RECEIVER (WR)
If nothing else, the Texans can say that for 17 of their 19 years of existence, they had a top tier, multiple All Pro WR on their team. Andre Johnson from 2003-2014, and DeAndre Hopkins from 2013 to 2019. Can't say that about them anymore. Will Fuller, taken 21st overall in the 2016 draft, left in free agency. That makes 8 year veteran Brandin Cooks, in his 2nd season with the Texans, WR1. Despite having five 1,000 yard seasons, including 1,150 yards and 6 TD for the Texans last season, Cooks has never made the Pro Bowl. The only Pro Bowl WR the Texans had on the roster was Randall Cobb, but just 9 days ago the Packers Aaron Rodgers was adamant about reuniting with Cobb, where he played for 8 seasons, so the Texans traded Cobb to the Packers for a 6th round pick. That doesn't sound all that great but O'Brien had given Cobb a ridiculous contract, and for the Texans to be able get out from under that bad deal makes it worth it.
The Texans are hopeful that 3rd round rookie Nico Collins can step in and be a factor right away. Collins, however, opted out of his senior season last year because of COVID, so he hasn't played a game since he was a junior (2019). Last year's 5th round pick Isaiah Coulter has a chance to make some noise now that O'Brien is not around to lock him in the doghouse. O'Brien hated playing rookies.
Speaking of doghouses, Keke Coutee, entering his 4th season, was a regular resident in O’Brien’s doghouse. Injuries to Texans receivers last season played a role, but once O’Brien was fired, Coutee saw much more playing time, and put up career highs in receptions (33), yards (400), and TDs (3).
Cooks, Coutee, Collins, Coulter, if that isn’t enough C’s for you, here’s one more. Chris Conley, entering his 7th season, hit career highs in both receptions (47) and yards (775) 2 years ago. With Chris Moore, 47 career catches in 5 years, and Jordan Veasy, a UDFA rookie, already longshots to make the team, just 13 days ago the Texans make a trade with the Bears, giving away yet another draft pick (late rounder next year), to pick up Anthony Miller, former 2nd round pick in 2018. Miller had 7 TD in his rookie season, but has had just 4 since. And Miller is certainly not a guarantee to make the team, so this could be yet another wasted draft pick for GM Nick Caserio. Though with Cobb out of the picture, Miller's chances are a lot better.
TIGHT END (TE)
In 2018 the Texans drafted Jordan Akins in the 3rd round. Akins career high in catches was 37 (last year), his high in yards was 418 in 2019. He had 403 yards last season. Akins has just 3 TD in his 3 year career. In 2019 the Texans drafted Kahale Warring in the 3rd round. Warring spent his entire rookie season and 9 games last year, on IR. In 2021 the Texans draft yet another TE, Brevin Jordan, this time in the 5th round. The biggest issue before with drafting all of these TEs, is that they were usually an afterthought in the Texans offensive scheme. Maybe that changes now and they can implement these guys into the offense.
Injuries aside, I don’t know if the Texans will carry more than 3 TE’s. If that's all they go with it will likely be those 3. They could carry 4, and if they do that would leave 4 more TEs in camp fighting for 1 spot. The Texans traded a 7th round pick in 2022 to the Patriots for Ryan Izzo. Izzo has 19 catches in his 2 year career. Pharaoh Brown, who would be entering his 5th season, saw limited action last year with the Texans. His 14 catches for 163 yards with 3 TD last season were all career highs. Austin Auclair, 10 career catches in 4 seasons, and 29 year old rookie Paul Quessenberry, are both extreme longshots.
OFFENSIVE LINE (LT, LG, C, RG, RT)
Big changes on the offensive line with the main change just being coaching alone. Gone is former OL coach Mike Devlin, who made these linemen look like chickens with their heads cut off on simple screens. In is James Campen.
The only sure thing we know on the o-line is Laremy Tunsil at LT. An almost sure thing should be 7 year veteran and former 2nd round pick Justin Britt, who the Texans picked up in free agency, taking over at center.
The last time the Texans had a 1st round pick (2019), it was Tytus Howard, who was plugged in at RT. Howard has had season ending injuries in both of his first 2 seasons. The Texans traded for 9 year veteran RT Marcus Cannon, who opted out of last year’s Covid season. The thinking here is that Cannon could take over at RT with Howard moving inside to guard. Problem with that right now is that Cannon has been placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and is not only not practicing, but may miss most of camp. 2nd rounder Max Scharping, in his 3rd season, is penciled in to take the other guard spot.
Roderick Johnson and Charlie Heck, along with Tunsil, Howard and Scharping, are the only holdovers from last season. Both Johnson and Heck will be in a battle to remain on the roster. A few of the names they’ll be battling will be former 3rd round pick Geron Christian, entering his 4th season, 5th year veteran Justin McCray, who will be on his 4th team in those 5 years if he makes the cut, and 9 year veteran Lane Taylor, who is on the PUP list. A couple of other names to keep an eye on, Hjalte Froholdt, 8 career games in 2 seasons, and UDFA rookie Jordan Steckler.
DEFENSIVE LINE (DE, DT, NT)
The d-line will be minus one Mr. J. J. Watt, as he was released after the season ended and has signed with the Cardinals. With Watt missing 32 games the last 5 years, it shouldn't be much of a shock for the Texans to be without him, but even with his diminished play the last few years, he was still one who had to be game planned for when he did play.
With the Texans expected to switch to a 4-3 base in Lovie Smith’s defense, the Texans will be looking to replace some of Watt’s production with hybrid DE/LB Shaq Lawson, brought over in a trade with the Dolphins. Lawson was a 1st round pick by the Bills in 2016, but in 5 seasons has just 20˝ sacks, and the most he’s had in a single season is 6˝. Far from JJ in his prime, but not so far off recently. In the 4-3, 10th year veteran LB Whitney Mercilus is expected to play that hybrid role. Mercilus did have a 12 sack season 6 years ago, but has looked slow and lost in the Texans scheme the last 2-3 seasons. 3rd year DE Charles Omenihu is expected to step up to help this Texans pass rush. Omenihu had 16 QB hits last season, 2nd on the team to JJ’s 17.
The Texans are hoping to see big steps taken by last year’s 2nd round draft pick Ross Blacklock, and 3rd rounder Jonathan Greenard, both of whom contributed very little in their rookie seasons. The Texans have added 2nd round pick in the 2017 draft, DeMarcus Walker, 10˝ career sacks, and 3rd rounder in the same draft, Maliek Collins, who had zero sacks last season because it’s believed he was misused by the Raiders. 8th year veteran Brandon Dunn (1 career sack) and this year’s 6th round rookie Roy Lopez, pretty much rounds out the Texans up front on D.
LINEBACKERS (LB, OLB, ILB)
Going to a base 4-3 means 5th year LB Zach Cunningham will be the lone inside LB. In his first 4 seasons in a base 3-4, Cunningham has been a tackling machine. In fact, Cunningham led the NFL in tackles last season.
With only 1 inside LB in a 4-3, the Texans will, of course, need to have fewer on the roster. Behind Cunningham is 8th year veteran Christian Kirksey, who has missed 28 games in the last 3 years. The former 3rd rounder had 77 tackles in 11 games for the Packers last season. 7th year veteran Neville Hewitt gets signed by the Texans. Hewitt was 4th in the NFL in solo tackles last season for the Jets. The Texans have brought in 5th year veteran Hardy Nickerson, and 7th year LB Joe Thomas, both having spent most of their NFL careers on special teams.
On the outside it gets a little crowded. You've got hybrid OLBs like Mercilus and Lawson who can and likely will play at DE this season, but can still play outside at LB. Jacob Martin, in his 4th year, has been hyped as the next big pass rusher for the Texans, but has just 6˝ sacks in his 2 year Texans stint. The Texans have added 8th year veteran Kevin Pierre-Louis to the mix. KPL started 4 games in his 1st 6 seasons, then started 11 for Washington last year. Former Jets LB Jordan Jenkins has also been added. After an 8 sack season in 2019, Jenkins had just 2 last year. 6th year LB Kamu Grugier-Hill is another new player. KGH has just 17 career starts in his 5 year career. And then there's this year's 5th round rookie Garret Wallow, who the Texans moved up twice in the draft to select.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (DB, CB, SS, FS)
The worst group on the field for the Texans last season was most likely the secondary. Ironically, with the thousand changes that have already been made by the new regime, the Texans secondary has the most players returning from last season. The best of the bunch is 8th year veteran CB Bradley Roby, who was suspended for 6 games last season for a PED violation. Roby served 5 games of that suspension last season, the 6th will rollover into week 1 this year. In total, Roby missed 6 games last year and still tied for the team lead in passes defended.
After Roby, it falls off pretty hard for the Texans at CB. The Texans 2nd round pick in the 2019 draft, Lonnie Johnson, drafted as a corner, is expected to move to safety, though he could play some nickel corner. The Texans signed free agent Terrance Mitchell this off-season. Last year Mitchell allowed a staggering 105.8 passer rating and 14.2 yards per reception against him. Those numbers are about as bad as those of Vernon Hargreaves, the 4th year CB who was atrocious for the Texans last season, and who is back this season. The Texans are hoping last year's 4th rounder John Reid can make the jump in his sophomore season. Rounding out the corners are Eric Murray, and Keion Crossen, both better special teamers than DBs.
At safety, the Texans 3rd rounder in the 2018 draft, Justin Reid, had a down year last season. His 110.2 passer rating against, 11.6 yards per catch allowed, and 14 missed tackles, were all career highs. The Texans really need him to bounce back.
If the Texans are thinking of moving Lonnie Johnson to safety, then things are going to get crowed back there, but I don't know if it'll necessarily be better. The Texans signed 2 free agent safeties this off-season, Desmond King, entering his 5th season, and in 9 games for the Titans last year had a 117.5 passer rating allowed, and Terrance Brooks, a 118.7 passer rating against and 16 yards per catch allowed last season, and in his 7 year career has started just 3 games. I would be shocked if A.J. Moore made the cut with the astronomically bad numbers he had last season, but there's astronomically bad numbers all around......still.Then there's Jonathan Owens, entering his 3rd season, basically a practice squad guy during his 1st 2 years who has 11 career defensive snaps, and who's claim to fame is that he's the boyfriend of Olympic legend Simone Biles.
SPECIAL TEAMS (KR, PR, K, P)
A couple of guys should be battling it out for return duties. The Texans have signed All Pro kick and punt returner Andre Roberts, entering his 12th season. The Texans will be the 7th team Roberts has played for, should he make the cut, that is. Roberts led the NFL in average yards per kickoff return last season, and has 3 career punt return TD and 2 career kickoff return TD. 6th year veteran returner Alex Erickson will be bringing the competition at the return position. Erickson averaged over 10 yards per punt return last season. Erickson is still looking for his 1st career return TD.
It should be noted that both Roberts and Erickson are listed as WRs as well, so they could potentially play into that mix, but I think for either to make the team it will be because of their return abilities.
Hawaii native John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn, better known as Ka'imi Fairbairn, entering his 5th season, will again handle the kicking duties for the Texans. Fairbairn led the NFL in scoring and FG made in 2018. He missed just 4 FG last season, with 2 of those from beyond 50 yards where he's just 64% for his career. Inside of 50 he's 90-101 (89%).
A new punter for the Texans this season as they sign Australian born and former Eagle Cameron Johnston, entering his 4th season. Johnston was 3rd in the NFL in average per punt in his rookie season (2018), dropped to 8th in 2019, and was 12th last season. His career average is 47 yards per punt. Johnston will likely be the holder for Fairbairn on FG and PAT as well.
LONG SNAPPER (LS)
On March 10, 2021, the Texans informed long time long snapper Jon Weeks, that they would not be re-signing him, thus making Weeks a free agent after 11 seasons. Sunday, January 3, 2010 is the last time the Texans played a game that Jon Weeks wasn't the long snapper in. He made the Pro Bowl as LS in 2015. Including playoffs, Weeks has played in a Texans record 186 consecutive games, which is also the most games anyone has ever played in a Texans uniform. In fact, Weeks has never missed a single snap where he was required to make one. That 186 game streak looked like it would be ending on September 12, 2021, but 2 weeks (no pun intended) after letting him walk, they re-signed him. So your long snapper for a 12th consecutive season will be........
#46 JON WEEKS
That's 74 players mentioned here, of the 90 in camp. Although the Texans would never admit it, they are in rebuild mode. What else would you call 52 new players, most who have only had special teams experience in their NFL careers, others have simply been backups or rotational players, and most are on 1 year contracts, and quite a few will not even make the team. 52 new players. NFL roster is only 53.
There will be 3 cut dates this year, and the deadline to make those cuts is the Tuesday after each preseason game. The 1st will see the roster cut from 90 to 85. The 2nd will go from 85 to 80. And the final cut on August 31 will have the rosters cut to 53. So that's how Training Camp 2021 shapes up. We'll see the progress the new regime and new players make over the next month, in preparation for season #20.
|Kitties||9 - 8 - 0|
|Inbreds||7 - 10 - 0|
|Horsies||4 - 12 - 1|
|TEXANS||3 - 13 - 1|