SPOT ON

How Texans found secondary solutions despite draft challenges

Texans Nick Caserio, DeMeco Ryans
The Texans added to the secondary with two of their first three picks. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Texans addressed some needs in the NFL draft despite not having a first-round pick this year.

A year after selecting quarterback C.J. Stroud second overall and trading up to get defensive end Will Anderson Jr. with the following pick, the Texans didn’t have a pick in this draft until No. 42 in the second round.

After beefing up their offense significantly by trading for star receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Joe Mixon this offseason, the Texans used their early draft picks to improve their secondary.

They did that by taking Georgia cornerback Kamari Lassiter with the 42nd pick and adding USC safety Calen Bullock in the third round at No. 78. Both could move into the starting lineup immediately with Houston looking to upgrade the cornerback spot opposite Derek Stingley Jr., the third overall pick in 2022, and the free safety position to play with strong safety Jalen Pitre, a second-round pick in 2022.

The additions should bolster a defense which ranked 23rd in the NFL last season by allowing 234.1 yards passing a game.

General manager Nick Caserio raved about Lassiter, who won two national championships with the Bulldogs.

“Lassiter has position flexed — he’s played in the perimeter, played inside the formation,” Caserio said. “I’d say he plays with a linebacker-type mentality. He’s a corner, but he tackles. He’s tough, he’s physical.”

Lassiter started 29 games combined in his last two seasons at Georgia where he broke up eight passes and had 3½ tackles for losses last season. His draft stock might have fallen because of concerns about his speed after he ran an unofficial 4.60 40-yard dash at Georgia’s pro day.

“I’m sure there will be a question about his speed, and how fast he ran,” Caserio said. “But he’s not slow. The speed really wasn’t a concern of ours. The time is the time. We’re drafting football players; we’re not drafting track teams… when you watch him play in the SEC, you don’t walk away and have that concern.”

Coach DeMeco Ryans constantly preaches the importance of a relentless mindset to his team — and particularly his defense. He said Lassiter is the perfect example of that.

“Kamari provides toughness,” Ryans said Saturday. “You talk about energy and the way he plays the game — he loves football … he’s everything that our team is about.”

Bullock was a three-year starter for the Trojans where he had nine interceptions — two that were returned for touchdowns — and 151 tackles.

“He’s rangy,” Caserio said. “He covers ground, he plays the ball well. He has good movement skills for a safety. He started his career as a corner. Not saying he’s a corner, but he moves well for his size.”

PROTECTING C.J.

The Texans chose Notre Dame offensive tackle Blake Fisher with their other pick in the second round at No. 59. Fisher is a versatile lineman after playing both left and right tackle in his college career.

“I think we’ve always been a big believer (that) you can’t have enough tackles on your football team,” Caserio said.

REUNION

Houston reunited Stroud with his former college teammate when it drafted Ohio State tight end Cade Stover in the fourth round. The 6-foot-4, 251-pound Stover, who spent his first year as a linebacker, had 982 yards receiving with 10 touchdowns combined in his last two seasons with the Buckeyes.

Stroud posted a picture on social media of the two of them celebrating in the end zone while at Ohio State soon after he was drafted Saturday.

“This guy is everything you want in a football player,” Caserio said. “This is probably one of our favorite football players in the entire draft.”

STAYING IN SCHOOL

The Texans added to their defense in the sixth round with Oregon safety turned linebacker Jamal Hill. He had 147 tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles in five seasons with the Ducks.

Later in the sixth round, the Texans nabbed another player who spent five seasons in college in running back Jawhar Jordan. He spent two seasons at Syracuse before spending his last three seasons at Louisville where he ran for a career-best 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.

Houston wrapped up the draft by taking USC defensive end Solomon Byrd and Auburn defensive tackle Marcus Harris and Michigan offensive tackle LaDarius Henderson in the seventh round.

Byrd was in college for a whopping six seasons after spending four seasons at Wyoming and two seasons with the Trojans. Harris played at Kansas for two seasons before spending the last three years at Auburn. Henderson spent four seasons at Arizona State before finishing with one season at Michigan.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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