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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 Secondary.
The NFL today is a pass happy league; a good secondary is crucial to keep scoring down. Last year the Texans had the 2nd ranked pass defense in the league and it was the big reason they ranked 1st overall. Although they lost one of their best cornerbacks and a veteran safety to free agency, they still maintain solid starters that will replace them. Veterans Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph have been around for quite some time and should continue to be productive while they usher in younger talent behind them.
Kevin Johnson was a first round draft pick in 2015 who will be returning to the lineup after an injury halted his sophomore season. In addition, Treston Decoud was a fifth-round draft choice this year who will be hoping to step up for the team. More experience was added when Marcus Roberson was brought in after spending time in St. Louis and Buffalo. He doesn’t have a lot of starts but has played in 32 career games.
It’s pretty standard for teams to consider cornerbacks to be a group three to four players deep with the nickel and dime packages. I would expect the Texans to keep six or seven players out of this group on the roster. Those who don’t see a lot of time on defense will get plenty of time on special teams. The rest of the players vying for a spot in the defensive backfield are Robert Nelson Jr.; Denzel Rice; and undrafted rookies Bryce Jones and Dee Virgin. Any of these players could surprise in camp and make the roster for special teams and earn time on defense as depth on sub-packages.
Despite losing one of their veteran safeties in free agency there is optimism that his replacement is ready to step up. Most of the players on the roster at safety are returning from last year, which helps make this a strong group. The experience in the system will help them hit the ground running in training camp. The only player without experience in this defense is undrafted rookie Malik Smith.
The player with the most starting experience is free safety Andre Hal, who did so in eleven games last year. The strong safety group does not have a player with as much starting experience but 2016 fifth round pick K.J. Dillon will look to take the top spot in his second year. Behind him are Eddie Pleasant and Malik Smith, ready to push him to the limit.
The rest of the free safeties in camp will be Corey Moore, Kurtis Drummond, and Lonnie Ballentine. Moore is coming into camp this year looking to increase his starts from eight in 2016. Ballentine will be looking to play in more than 2 games this year while Drummond will attempt to get back on the final 53 after spending 2016 on injured reserve. That is a lot of experience in the defensive backfield and it will be useful while they bring some of the youth at cornerback up to speed.
Overall, this group looks like it can pick up where it left off last year. The players that will be asked to replace those lost in free agency should be equipped to do so and keep them as one of the best in the NFL. If some of those young cornerbacks can play well to keep the veterans fresh, then it would be a surprise is they were a big part of a defense that carries the team into the playoffs again. There are a lot of moving parts to sort out in camp, but it will be fun to watch it all come together.
Read the prior installments of Texans roster preview