August 8, 2014
New Season Begins for Texans
by Bob Hulsey
Andre Johnson has been here before - starting over with an overall number one draft pick and a new head coach. He went through it with Dom Capers. He went through it with Gary Kubiak. You can understand why he was hesitant to relive this all over again with Bill O'Brien at the helm. He's hoping the third time is the charm.
The differences this time are two-fold. The Texans have solid talent on both sides of the ball: All-Pros like Johnson, Arian Foster, Duane Brown, J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing. Plus, they have a head coach with a history of taking ugly situations - like Penn State's program after it had been devastated by scandal - then causing a quick turnaround with a depleted squad.
O'Brien likes to combine a power running attack with a short passing game, grinding out yards and minutes. It should serve them well if they hold a lead. Getting a lead will be the main obstacle. Johnson and Foster are coming back from injuries. Free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is simply a placeholder and mentor for fourth-rounder Tom Savage and everyone understands this.
Johnson expected to be catching balls from Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater this summer with the number one pick. Instead, O'Brien and GM Rick Smith gambled that Savage would be around later in the draft, and he was. Savage bounced around at Rutgers and Arizona before finishing his college career at Pitt so he's already a mature 24 although a rookie. The strong-armed pocket passer is definitely a project who is not ready to start right away.
Meanwhile, it's the bearded Fitzpatrick who lacks arm strength that will be starting. However, Fitzpatrick has Harvard smarts and also knows what it is like to bounce from team to team in search of his next snap. He should be a quality mentor for Savage.
The Texans instead used the top overall pick on DE-LB Jadeveon Clowney who has unhuman quickness and (hopefully) a chip on his shoulder about all those who questioned his desire to play football. After sports hernia surgery, Clowney expects to unleash his fury once the regular season begins.
Clowney's presence, the coaches expect, will take some blockers off Watt who saw double and triple teams last season after a Defensive Player of the Year performance in 2012. Getting Cushing back from knee surgery will also be key to the defense's success under coordinator Romeo Crennel who, like O'Brien, learned at the knee of Patriots master Bill Belichick.
The Texans said good bye to some talented players because of the salary cap (Antonio Smith, Wade Smith, Owen Daniels, Matt Schaub) but also added some pieces through free agency and the draft they hope will be better suited to the new coaching strategies.
Improvement on 2-14 is expected. 6-10 would be good. 8-8 would be tremendous. 10 wins would be just short of miraculous. But don't sell this squad short. There are playmakers everywhere. The real questions are how quickly they adapt to the new system, how healthy key players stay and how soon Savage takes over the reins. Before thinking playoffs again, the Texans will need to be settled on their signal-caller.
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