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Article on Kubs
Texans' turnaround will take time, but Kubiak up to the task
By Mike Wilkening (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Oct. 1, 2006
Updated at 6:45 a.m. EDT, Oct. 2, 2006
It’s been five seasons since professional football returned to Houston, but the Texans aren’t going anywhere this season. Maybe not next season, either.
But there is hope for Bob McNair’s franchise. You have to look real hard to find it, but it’s there. Patience, however, is advised.
We expect a lot from expansion teams because of a handful of Cinderella tales. We tell the stories again and again because if NFL fans love anything more than gambling, it’s dreaming.
To memory lane we go: The Buccaneers lost 26 straight to start their NFL life but reached the NFC title game in only their fourth season. The Panthers, thanks to a strong, veteran defense, quickly improved throughout their inaugural season, winning seven of 11 to finish out 1995. The next season, they made the NFC title game. In the other conference, a younger group of cats also rolled to the title game: The Jaguars won five straight to eke into the playoffs, then rolled the Bills and Broncos.
Even the “new” Browns have their own little bit of playoff history. Remember? Four seasons ago, Cleveland grabbed the final wild-card spot in the AFC and then engaged the Steelers in a first-round game memorable for Browns backup QB Kelly Holcomb dropping 429 yards on a Pittsburgh secondary in the snow and mud … and the Browns blowing a 17-point lead and losing 36-33.
The fallout from that game? A little less than three months later, the Steelers traded up to get Troy Polamalu. As for the Browns … well, does anybody remember if they ever chose between Holcomb and Tim Couch?
The Browns are walking proof of how difficult it can be for expansion teams to find their footing. They are in the midst of their third rebuilding effort, stuck with the fearsome Steelers, the dangerous Bengals and the rejuvenated Ravens in the AFC North. They have about as much chance of winning the division as a mule has of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
But however minor, at least the Browns have some playoff experience. The Texans have none. They’ve never sniffed the playoffs. They’ve never even sniffed a .500 season. The closest they came was two seasons ago, when, ironically, a Browns team playing out the string stunned Houston in the season finale, limiting the Texans to seven wins. And that’s as good a place to start as any when discussing where Houston has been, and where they’re going.
In that game, the Texans entered as prohibitive favorites but exited bruised and battered. The offensive line allowed QB David Carr to be sacked six times. Texans fans, in an uncharacteristic showing, booed Carr and the offense. Other than relegation to the Canadian Football League, the season *couldn’t have ended worse for the Texans.
In recent memory, no team has been humbled so much by a seemingly meaningless season-ending loss.
Things only got worse in 2005. Carr was sacked 13 times in the team’s first two games, leading to the firing of offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Replacement Joe Pendry was brusque but unable to fix a broken offense. The defense was also beyond repair, unable to stop the run or get to the quarterback when it mattered.
Not surprisingly, head coach Dom Capers — who also saw things come apart in his final days in Carolina — was fired the day after the season finale. General manager Charley Casserly exited after the draft. New head coach Gary Kubiak inherited a roster built to somebody else’s specifications and used to living up to somebody else’s expectations.
In short, a one-year turnaround isn’t feasible, not with the Colts and Jaguars sharing divisional space with the Texans. One-year turnarounds can happen, but not on Peyton Manning’s watch.
Not surprisingly, the Colts got the best of the Texans in Week Two, as did Mark Brunell and the Redskins in Week Three. However, the Texans won their first game of the season in Week Four, upsetting the Dolphins 17-15 at home. There will be more long Sundays for this Houston team, one with so many questions on both sides of the ball.
Thankfully for them, they have a strong leader in Kubiak, who learned from Mike Shanahan in Denver about confidence and decisiveness. He also knows something about winning. And he knows the process takes time.
“My goal for this team is to have meetings like winners meet, prepare like winners prepare and practice like winners practice,” Kubiak said in July. “We will go out and turn this football team around and be able at some point to say we’re a winner and become a team that has a chance to win nine, 10, 11, 12 games a year; that’s where we’re headed. And if you can put yourself in that position, then you can start talking about playoffs and you can start talking about championships.
“But until you can look yourself in the eye and say this franchise is a winner, that’s the most important step for everything we do.”
Kubiak is learning about his new team on the fly. He has constantly tinkered with the RB position. Domanick Davis was supposed to be the starter, but lingering knee woes shelved him for the season. Rookie Wali Lundy took the starting job, but he played poorly in Week One. So did top backup Vernand Morency. Three days later, the Texans traded Morency to Green Bay for Samkon Gado, who looks likely to audition for the starting job if recently acquired Ron Dayne doesn't prove to be the answer.
The defense is also a work in progress. DE Mario Williams, the No. 1 overall pick, is saddled with great expectations for a 21-year-old defensive lineman, and he's yet to live up to them thus far. (He did, however, record 1˝ sacks and tip away a potentially game-tying two-point conversion attempt in the 17-15 win over Miami on Sunday.) The comparisons to Reggie Bush will never stop, and they have been especially unflattering with New Orleans off to a 3-1 start.
The criticism of Williams has mounted to the point that opponents, of all people, are preaching patience.
“I remember coming to Pittsburgh early as a young guy, and they were in the midst of a championship run, and everybody was excited, but Coach (Chuck) Noll took a lot of grief for taking a young guy by the name of Joe Greene with his first pick,” Colts head coach Tony Dungy told Houston reporters before their Week Two game. “It turned out pretty good.
“Obviously there is going to be pressure on Mario (Williams) because everybody is going to look at that (and say), we could have done this, we could have taken this guy, but guys like Lawrence Taylor and Bruce Smith, they become the cornerstones of great teams. And that’s what they’re expecting from him. To me it’s a good pick, unless you’re passing on a quarterback, you’re passing on a John Elway or Dan Marino, (then) maybe you could have some discussion. But they think this is a cornerstone guy, (and) I can absolutely see why they did it.”
In other words, why all the anguish this early in the game? Williams will be a fine pro. So, too, will rookie MLB DeMeco Ryans, who leads Houston in tackles after three games and looks like he’ll be a fixture in Houston for years to come.
Ryans said the Texans’ rookie starters aren’t thinking about being the core of future Texans teams; they’re too busy trying to take things “day-to-day,” as he said. But there is an effort afoot to make the Texans consistently competitive.
Asked about Kubiak’s influence, Ryans said, “He’s been important, because he came from a winning team. You have to change the attitude.”
From all accounts, that process is well under way. And other changes are coming, too, with Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith only beginning to make over the roster. There are a handful of building blocks — Williams, Ryans, WR Andre Johnson, CB Dunta Robinson — but plenty of work to do at other spots, perhaps even at quarterback if Carr struggles through another season.
In a couple of years, you won’t recognize the Texans. But you will see Kubiak’s handprints all over the operation. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, even with Bush to the east in New Orleans.
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Re: Article on Kubs
Very good read, balanced and objective. If only ESPN produced quality like this.
Good find, thanks. Props and rep up!
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