||07-08-2004 05:50 PM
Training Camp Preview
From Scouts, Inc.
The Texans are counting on young David Carr taking his game to a new level, and they have surrounded him with a newer line and a better running game. The Texans would like to run the ball to set up play-action.
Carr has excellent arm strength and can make all necessary throws. He knows this offense, has good mobility around the pocket and is learning to manage games. All he needs to do is make better decisions. His TD-INT ratio isn't strong, and he must learn to get rid of the ball if the play is not there. There is concern that his history of nicks and minor injuries will hinder his play, and some think better pass protection and dumping the ball faster, rather than taking sacks, will help him.
The coaches are very comfortable with backup Tony Banks. He knows the offense, is outstanding on vertical routes, has a strong arm and is much better at avoiding mistakes. Young lefty Dave Ragone has worked on his mechanics and has good touch and accuracy. He is really learning to manage this offense and appears to lack only experience. Ragone might be the team's No. 2 by 2005. B.J. Symons played in a wide-open passing offense at Texas Tech, he is coming off a knee injury and is probably destined for the practice squad.
The Texans lucked out last season when 2003 fourth-rounder Domanick Davis came from nowhere to develop into a 1,000-yard rusher. Davis appeared at first like a third-down back/return specialist, but he surprised everybody with good power between the tackles, excellent elusiveness, very quick feet and darting skills as a runner.
He avoids contact, has good balance and displayed a knack for making yards after contact. He was surprisingly good at picking up the blitz. He also was a strong receiver (47 receptions). As long a he can stay healthy and fresh, he can be a very versatile back. But he might not be the type who can carry a team on his own because he isn't a big, physical guy.
Backup Tony Hollings has outstanding speed and is a good change-of-pace back. Hollings is coming off a knee injury. He has power as an inside runner, but must shake tackles and bounce off hits better. Hollings has improved as a receiver and a blocker.
Former starter Jonathan Wells is big and powerful. He is good at running between the tackles, but has no speed or explosiveness, and he isn't going to deliver big plays. Travis Stephens is around for more depth.
The Texans have two solid fullbacks, 2003 starter Moran Norris and Jarrod Baxter. Norris is a solid blocker, a blue-collar guy who gives good effort. Baxter missed 2003 because of a foot injury. Baxter is a good blocker, is physical and has surprising running skills, but he is not used a lot in this offense.
The top three receivers are strong, but there is horrifyingly little depth. Andre Johnson has everything. He has size and speed, is physical and is tremendous at turning upfield and making yards after the catch. He is a solid blocker for a young player, and is a tough matchup in man-coverage situations, especially the red zone. But he must improve his routes and concentration.
Veteran Corey Bradford probably has the inside track on the No. 2 spot because of his big-play ability, but he is almost strictly a vertical receiver. He averaged 19.2 yards a catch in 2003, and his last seven TD receptions have averaged over 46 yards. He is the ultimate hit-or-miss WR. He will disappear at times and is not an effective downfield blocker.
Jabar Gaffney is a superb route-runner and an outstanding technician. He will come over the middle and has excellent hands. He knows how to separate and has excellent short-area quickness, but he slumped late in the season. Gaffney could move inside and play the slot in nickel situations to take advantage of his quickness and ability to separate. This would allow Bradford to come off the bench as a perimeter receiver.
Derick Armstrong has some promise because of his excellent hands. Nut neither Armstrong nor Sloan Thomas is ready to move into the rotation. The Texans desperately need quality No. 4 and No. 5 receivers. Tight end Billy Miller is coming off a productive season. He can play the slot, go in motion and is a tough matchup for linebackers and safeties. He is an excellent target in the red zone, but is not a strong blocker and is weak at the point of attack.
Mark Bruener is big and powerful and will be used in two-tight end sets. He should be effective in goal-line and short-yardage situations, but he won't do much in the passing game. Bennie Joppru (knee) missed last season, he has excellent skills. If healthy, he could actually push Miller for playing time.
The coaching staff must continue to help mold the line. The unit has shown steady improvement, allowing 36 sacks last season after giving up 76 in 2002. In 2004, the line will use a lot more zone blocking schemes, and this should help the line become more efficient and create better holes and seams for the backs.
This unit has decent starters but marginal depth. Left tackle Chester Pitts has dramatically improved, especially in pass protection. But he is still lacking. He has long arms and will work to finish blocks, but he can't handle speed rushers, and doesn't have the range or feet of a solid left tackle. Left guard Milford Brown is a big, physical, power player. But he has a gimpy knee and lacks experience. He looks like a one-dimensional lock-on mauler.
Center Steve McKinney is a leader and a good athlete. He can pull and trap, get to the second level and is very active. He is outstanding when uncovered, but must do a better job on pass pro. Right guard Zach Wiegert is a powerful lock-on player. He has decent movement skills, and will move the pile in the run game. Wiegert will win most of his battles upfront, and will bring toughness to this line. Right tackle Todd Wade is another big, physical run blocker. He can dominate in the run game, but lacks athleticism and is susceptible to speed rushers and guys with double moves.
The offense will probably try to run to the right side of this line because of Wiegert and Wade. The line's weakness is at left guard. Seth Wand is big and wide-bodied. He has long arms, good range and a tremendous future, but lacks experience. In a perfect world, Wand handles the starting position, and the Texans are free to move Pitts to left guard, where he is a much more natural fit. Milford Brown would then back up, and Houston would have a decent offensive line with pretty good upside.
Also in the mix at left guard is Todd Washington. Washington will battle Brown for a starting spot if Wand falters. Washington is smart, efficient and played a lot in 2003. Other depth comes from Fred Weary, who can back up at center and guard and Garrick Jones. But the key will be Wand.
This unit generated only 19 sacks a year ago and was ravaged by injuries. Everything revolves around the return of nose tackle Seth Payne. He played only two games last season because of a knee injury. His durability is a big question mark. If he can play, Payne has excellent strength and is a perfect two-gap, read-and-react player. He can eat up blockers and take up space. Payne might not be ready until the beginning of the season.
At left end, Gary Walker played only four games a year ago because of injuries. He appears healthy and can deliver an inside push as a pass rusher, but is primarily a run blocker who is steady and solid. Right end Robaire Smith is a good run defender who lacks quickness as a pass rusher. Smith is strong at the point of attack and could move inside and play nose tackle in a pinch.
Payne, Walker and Smith are really Houston's size, strength and run-stuffing ability. Help will come from right end Jerry DeLoach, who can also fill in at NT, and left end Corey Sears, who started 12 games last year.
In a 3-4 defense, a team needs pass-rush pressure from its linebackers. Rookie outside linebacker Jason Babin will start on the left side. Babin is an every-down player who should be adequate in coverage situations, but he plays with size and leverage and was an end on the college level. He must improve his play in space. But at 260 pounds, he should have the size to play over tight ends, and step up and fill vs. the run. He should also give the Texans a strong pass rush off the edge.
OLB Kailee Wong will move to the right side to make room for Babin and to better use his skills. Wong is more of an open-field pass rusher, and will have more room to maneuver on the right side. Wong has speed, explosiveness and the ability to close down inside. He should be a good player in space and has good leaderships skills and character.
The Texans really like Antwan Peek as a pass rusher. He is probably the best athlete in this group with speed, range and a growing number of moves. He can make big plays and create tough matchups off the perimeter. If Peek were to have a strong training camp, it is conceivable that he could turn Wong into a backup inside linebacker.
ILB Jay Foreman starts on the left side. Foreman is a heady guy who makes all the calls and has good overall skills. Foreman has toughness and is very steady inside stepping up and filling vs. the run. Jamie Sharper will be the right ILB. He is a big-play guy with excellent instincts, range and good anticipation. He beats blockers to spots and is a sideline-to-sideline player. He can stay in the game in nickel situations because he is not a liability in coverage, and he is the key to this unit.
Backing up at ILB is DaShon Polk. Polk won't get a lot of snaps because of Houston's quality starters. This could be a much-improved unit in 2004.
This is a position of concern because Houston used four of its nine 2004 picks on DBs. At right corner, they will attempt to start rookie Dunta Robinson. Robinson could become a shutdown corner. He is small but plays much bigger than his size. He can turn and run, has great mirror skills and is a surprising tackler. He might have problems in the red zone vs. big receivers, but has a chance to handle the best receivers in the game. Still, he must develop quickly.
Marcus Coleman moves inside to free safety. Coleman's speed and range are a bit of a concern at corner, but he should fit very nicely at safety. He can cover a lot of ground, has good straight-line movement skills, good instincts and is a good open-field tackler.
Strong safety Eric Brown is a big hitter who plays with good instincts. He closes well vs. the run and likes playing in the box. He lacks cover skills and is a liability in man schemes, but allows Coleman to play center field without giving up a lot of space.
Left corner Aaron Glenn is 32, but is still solid and will be an excellent role model for Robinson. Glenn still continues to make a lot of plays because of great instincts and ball skills. Veteran Kenny Wright will likely be the nickel corner. He has solid cover skills and good experience, but is coming off a knee injury.
The dime corner will likely be DeMarcus Faggins. Faggins has excellent speed and cover skills, but is not physical. Still, the coaches like him and think he can be an effective cover corner. Backup help inside will come from Marlon McCree, who had 11 starts at free safety last season. He was benched because Coleman took his spot. The coaching staff also likes rookie Glenn Earle, who is coming off a knee injury and might be brought along slowly.
The return game is a little more dicey. Vontez Duff has quickness and the ability to create big plays, but he is a rookie. If he does not nail down the job it will likely go to backup receiver J.J. Moses, who did a pretty good job on kick returns a year ago but really struggled on punt returns.
Pretty fair summary.