CAMP COUNTDOWN

Texans training camp preview: Secondary

Kareem Jackson, Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin will be counted on in the secondary. Photo by Edward Clarke

At the end of last season, the Texans secondary was a nightmare. They were in the top 10 in passing yards allowed and tied for second in passing touchdowns allowed. They were the product of bad draft picks, lost free agents, and aging veterans. But each year is a chance to start over, remake the roster and fix what went wrong. Some teams throw a lot of money at the situation in free agency and those with the ability to do so use high draft picks. Brian Gaine chose to spend a reasonable amount on free agents and then use his highest draft pick to get more help.

NFL teams always need to keep quite a few defensive backs on the roster to match up with the high number of pass catchers they might face. Over the last several years the cornerbacks on the outside for Houston have been Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Now a little long in the tooth, both players are going to see their roles change. Jackson has already been moved to safety and Joseph is probably going to be on a shorter leash than usual.

But the position is still light on pro bowl talent. The 2015 first round pick Kevin Johnson had his fifth-year option picked up, but injuries and poor performance have made this season make or break for him. He will get a real chance to earn a starting spot, but he won’t be alone. Aaron Colvin was a good free agency pick-up from the Jaguars where he was mostly a slot defender. Coming to this team will give him a real shot at playing time as a boundary cornerback.

The only other player in camp with game experience at the position is Johnson Bademosi, another free agent acquisition. He’s coming over from the Patriots where his biggest contributions in six years are on special teams. He can vie for playing time because there is a need for depth, and hopefully he is up to the challenge.

The remaining four cornerbacks on the team are without NFL playing time. The two rookies are Jermaine Kelly, Jr. who was taken in the seventh round and Andre Chachere, who was an undrafted free agent from San Jose State. The other two are Dee Virgin and Josh Thornton, players who have spent the early part of their careers on NFL practice squads.

It’s a thin group at the position and they may struggle over the course of the season, but they might be alright if the safeties playing behind them are equal to their expectations. The biggest star of that group was a surprise signing this offseason. Tyrann Mathieu was cut by the Cardinals in April and signed with the Texans on a one-year deal just a few days later.

Mathieu has a history of injuries but brings a lot of talent to the position. If he plays like he has at his best, the safety position will be in great shape. He will have help along the way in the form of Houston’s first draft pick, third round selection Justin Reid from Stanford University. He was a solid player in college and many were shocked that he fell far enough for Gaine to grab him. I’m not sure how camp will go but I have a feeling he will be the starter on opening day. If he isn’t then it won’t be too long before that changes.

Like I mentioned earlier, Kareem Jackson is making the move to safety after years at cornerback. It will take time to adjust but his veteran experience should help shorten the time it will take for him to be ready.

Returning to the group in camp are Treston Decoud, Kurtis Drummond, and Corey Moore. All three of them saw playing time last season and make for a crowded group. Additionally, Ibraheim Campbell will be there to make a run at a roster spot after playing in one game with the Texans in 2017.

The entire secondary will be a work in progress. The cornerbacks will have some obvious deficiencies when things get underway but veteran players and the talented safeties should help mask some of that early. As the season progresses the moving parts should come together and make for a decent position group. Hopefully things gel and the defense can get back into the top ten of the league rankings.

Sadly, Andre Hal will not be joining the team this season. He received a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma recently and will be taking time off to receive treatment. I hope he recovers and returns to a healthy and happy life with his friends and family.



 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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