With Wade Phillips joining the Texans and charged with turning around a historically-awful defense in one year, you have to believe there is going to be a fair amount of personnel turnover between now and… whenever the 2011 season begins.
NT the only question on defensive line
Mario Williams and Antonio Smith seem to be locks to be the defensive ends in the 3-4 next year. Nose tackle is a mystery. Wade Phillips has, at separate times, said he thinks each of Shaun Cody, Earl Mitchell, and Amobi Okoye could play the nose in his system. Maybe one of them could, but as a starter? No way. Unless one of them makes some kind of huge leap, I’d be very disappointed if one of them is the starting NT in 2011. If the Texans are going to continue to hope the players they currently have are magically going to get much better, we’re going to be in for another long season. We don’t yet know Mitchell’s potential in the NFL, but I think it’s fair to say we know what we’re going to get with Cody and Okoye.
One OLB or ILB starter needs to be addressed
If – and this is a big if – DeMeco Ryans can return to full-strength (or close to it), the Texans will have one of their starting ILBs locked in. Speaking of assumptions about injury recovery, Connor Barwin would figure to be a lock at the rush OLB position. After that, things get a little more curious. Brian Cushing will obviously be a starter, but it’s not yet clear if he would be a better fit inside or outside. Personally, I think he’s better suited inside, but I think maybe I’ll let Wade, the 3-4 guru make that decision and just roll with it. Darryl Sharpton is looking like he may turn in to a heck of a player, but I have no idea where he fits in. I’m sure he will adjust and make fine depth somewhere in the rotation, but I can’t see him as a starter in 2011 with so much uncertainty and the need for immediate success. Zac Diles may be on his way out of town, but if he’s not – there’s no way he starts next year. If he does, we have serious issues.
At least one CB position
The Texans would be absolute lunatics to go into 2011 with the same starting cornerbacks as 2010. It is my hope that the organization will relax some of their stubbornness when it comes to sticking with their draft picks until… well, I don’t know when.
Glover Quin regressed in 2010, but there were at least games when you can see his potential to be an average starter. I expect he’ll be starting in 2011, or, at least if I had to pick ONE of the current starters to carry over to next year, it would be him. Kareem Jackson had a brutal rookie year, no matter what John McClain tries to convince you of. He may yet end up being a solid starter in this league, but I never saw anything – not one thing – in 2010 that makes me feel that way. Halfway through this season, I figured like many others that he would eventually become what he was advertised to be, but as the year went on, I didn’t see ANYTHING to support that assertion that’s been made by so many. Of course, the problem is that Jackson was a first-round pick, and the Texans invested a lot of money in him. I would hope though, that the team can get over that kind of thinking and just put someone in there who can help them win immediately. They just have to.
My biggest hope would be the Texans bringing in two new starters at CB and giving Quin a real shot at playing free safety. The idea of moving Quin to FS is as old as the day he was drafted, but I’m going forward with this entry assuming the Texans have no such plans.
Of course, the Texans could surprise us and aggressively try to rebuild this position by bringing in two new starters, moving Quin to the nickel, and making Kareem Jackson actually EARN PLAYING TIME (novel concept) by fighting his way up the depth chart. A man can dream.
Strong safety a real possibility to have a new starter
As myself and others have already discussed, Bernard Pollard is far from a lock to return to the Texans next year. In fact, I think he’s a good bet to be gone. We’ve been over that already, so let’s not dwell on it. Troy Nolan could be a candidate to start here, but while he seems to have a decent nose for the ball, his coverage skills aren’t much of an improvement over what saw at the position in 2010… at least so far. My fear with Nolan is that he could have the same trajectory in 2011 as Quin did in 2010. By that I mean, a guy who the coaches see potential in, and assume he’s just going to keep getting better… which results in the inevitable regression. Here’s hoping that’s not the case.
Free safety position BETTER be a LOCK to have a new starter
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Eugene Wilson was hot, wet garbage in 2010. He needs to be gone. Not depth – gone. Much like the NT position, the FS position is one that we fans are constantly begging for the Texans to use a high draft pick on. Let’s hope Wade Phillips believes that, and can convince the front office that, FS is a position worthy of a high draft pick, or at least worthy of a quality free agent signing.
So, by my calculations (uh oh, math!!), there is a minimum of four positions on defense that the Texans don’t yet have their starters for in 2011 (NT, one of OLB or ILB, FS, and one CB). If you want to get really nuts, if the Texans don’t see any of their 2010 backups making the jump to the starting roster, we COULD be looking at SIX new starters next year (NT, one of OLB or ILB, FS, SS, and both CBs)… and that guess assumes that Ryans and Barwin will be in shape and effective enough to start.
I’ll throw it out to you for discussion. What positions would you prefer the Texans address with the draft, and which ones would you prefer they attack in free agency (assuming a labor deal is reached, of course)? Clearly (at least in my head) the cornerback position(s) need to be addressed in free agency, and I’d love for our starting NT or FS to be a first round pick.