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Houston Sports and Stuff is beginning its coverage of the Houston Texans’ 2017 season by breaking down all the position groups in an 8-part series leading up to the start of training camp.
Next up, we preview the Offensive Line.
Beside quarterback, this is the area in greatest need of improvement. The line finished the year near the middle of the league statistically, but that is not a true test. Anyone watching those games last year could see that the offensive line under performed in key situations. It’s not always the fault of the big men up front, but getting that group solidified is one of the keys to offensive improvement. That will start with improving the right tackle position. Having stalwart Duane Brown anchoring the left side can hide some of the other deficiencies, but every team wants a pair of book ends to slow down the pass rush.
Last year, after starter Derek Newton went down with injury Chris Clark took his place. His play left something to be desired. He gave up seven sacks and 16 negative rushing plays. In their only serious offseason move to get help, the Texans brought in free agent Breno Giacomini. He was allowed to walk from the New York Jets because of average play on the field and a five game 2016 season marred by injury. These two would seem to be the front runners at the position, but there are other tackles coming into camp that may show something more.
The most likely candidate to compete with Clark is 2017 fourth round selection Julien Davenport. A small school prospect, Davenport is no small man. He will have his challenges entering training camp but his ability to adapt will determine where he finishes on the depth chart. Another name that might be in play at right tackle is Laurence Gibson, a practice squad player. He might be a long shot because offensive line is not always stacked deep on the 53-man roster.
Two other players are listed on the roster as offensive tackles. They are Kendall Lamm and David Quessenberry, who is regaining his feet in the NFL after overcoming cancer. Lamm is listed as the backup left tackle and will probably be taking reps during camp just to get something on film. Quessenberry looks like he will compete on the interior of the line at guard, another weak area for the Texans.
The starters at guard last year were Jeff Allen and Xavier Su’a-Filo. Together they gave up 10 sacks for 82 yards lost. That’s a lot of pressure getting through the middle of the line and right into the quarterback’s face. In the running game, getting a good push up the middle is crucial too. The interior of the line gave up 11 negative rushing plays last year. That can also be attributed to the way all three interior linemen play together.
Besides Quessenberry who could compete at guard the Texans have practice squad players Chad Slade and Josh Walker. Slade has no game experience and Walker has played in only 15 games with no starts. It’s likely that Allen a Su’a-Filo retain their positions when the dust settles. The other three will have to compete as depth on the roster, with maybe only one making the final roster.
The center last year was Greg Mancz who stepped in during training camp to replace promising rookie second round pick Nick Martin who missed his entire rookie season due to injury. Mancz played well, not allowing any sacks and getting flagged only three times making the competition for this position in camp more interesting. In addition to these two players the Texans have seventh round selection Kyle Fuller and undrafted rookie Erik Austell who can play the position. This isn’t a spot that should see a lot of rotation during camp, but if there is a chance to improve I’m sure the Texans will do it.
Offensive line can be tricky when it comes to the final 53-man roster. There will be the starting five but how many from the other ten stick around will be determined by how well they play in camp and how the coaches feel about the health of the group. The only positions that stay on the field every play are the quarterback the five offensive linemen. The continuity between those six players is the most important aspect that makes the offense work. It’s not uncommon for teams to keep only eight total linemen on the active roster. This would leave seven of these players on the outside looking in.
The only thing the Texans are concerned with about this group going into camp is getting improvement up front. They will be running the ball a lot and protecting a young quarterback is imperative. Whoever lines up under center will want as much assurance as they can have that the five guys in front of him will keep him upright.
Read the prior installments of Texans roster preview