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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 Defensive Line.
I think this is where most of the readers will start to get excited. The strength of the Texans over the last several years has been their defense and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different. It all starts up front with the defensive line. These will be the big bodies charged with stopping the run game and getting after the passer. Of course, I have to start with defensive end J.J. Watt and his return from injury. The answer is…he is on track to be ready for the start of the season. He will get a chance to really know where he is when he goes through contact drills in camp.
Then there’s the other star defensive end; Jadeveon Clowney. His third season in the league was his most dynamic; putting the league on notice that he can be a disruptive presence when fully healthy. He finished the season with 40 solo tackles and 6 sacks but he appeared to be in the backfield more often than not. It’s that ability to create pressure that makes him so dangerous. It’s the kind of play that Texans’ fans have seen from J.J. Watt for the past few years. Everyone is eagerly anticipating what will happen when those two players are healthy and on the field at the same time.
The depth at defensive end will still be important. Watt and Clowney can’t be on the field every down so their back-ups will have to show they can still keep the defense productive. The men most charged with that task will be Christian Covington and Joel Heath. Both men proved adequate back-ups when called upon. Pushing them for playing time will be Brandon Dunn and fourth round draft pick Carlos Watkins. Dunn is an experienced player in the league, having played in 17 games in his career with two different teams. Watkins was drafted in the fourth round this year and will be entering his first camp looking to prove himself.
The other defensive ends on the roster are Ufomba Kamalu who played in four games last year and undrafted rookie T.J. Daniel. It is uncertain how much depth the Texans will want at defensive end so these two will probably have to work hard to make the final cut. The same will apply to the depth on the interior defensive line.
The nose tackle for the Texans defensive front is D.J. Reader and his rookie season was impressive. His main role is to eat up blocks in the middle of the line and allow the linebackers to run free. He did that a lot last year while rotating in with the probably retired Vince Wilfork. The players behind him in camp are all undrafted rookies. There is also the possibility that Carlos Watkins gets some reps inside.
Those undrafted rookies coming into camp are Eli Ankou, Rickey Hatley, and Daniel Ross. There is some promise in this group and it could be good for the Texans to find the right player behind Reader. Ross comes to the Texans from the Canadian Football League where his size and ability got him noticed. Eli Ankou had a productive college career at UCLA and probably could have been a late round pick. Either of these two would be a solid option. Rickey Hatley had a solid but not spectacular college career and it would be a surprise if he made the final roster.
There shouldn’t be any turnover or competition to the starters in this position group. Depth will be the biggest factor as to who makes the final roster here. There are a lot of young players who could be brought in to develop behind a solid group of that will anchor the defense in 2017.
Read the prior installments of Texans roster preview