Fix the offensive line
David Carr has been sacked more than any other quarterback three of the past four years. The Texans realize that must change in '06 if the offense is to have any success. They have revamped the protection schemes, tried to fit players into roles that will make them more successful and brought in a proven offensive-minded coach -- former Packers coach Mike Sherman -- to focus mainly on making all of the changes work.
The Texans didn't hit the free agent market big in the offseason looking for guards and tackles. Instead, they added veteran center Mike Flanagan and two rookie tackles via the draft in Charles Spencer and Eric Winston. That means much of training camp will be focused on trying to get the returning players familiar and comfortable in the new system. The key will be to help the linemen adjust to the faster, quicker zone-blocking scheme that was so successfully used in Denver when coach Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator there. The players are slimming down in hopes of being more effective. They must be able to make their initial block and then get to the second level.
Improve the pass rush
The Texans have notoriously welcomed opposing quarterbacks onto the field in the past. They have been one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the league. Much of that should change in a completely overhauled defense that put its top priority on building from the front back.
Defensive coordinator Richard Smith is throwing out what the Texans are used to in their old wait-and-react 3-4 defense. Smith has switched them to a 4-3 and made it clear they will be aggressive throughout an entire game. More big plays will be given up, but the Texans will also benefit by making big plays.
It will all start with a defensive line that looks formidable on paper. No. 1 draft pick Mario Williams (pictured, right) will line up at left end and Anthony Weaver at left tackle. The other two positions will create some of the most heated competition in camp. Veteran starters Seth Payne and Robaire Smith will compete for the right tackle spot, while Antwan Peek and Jason Babin vie for the starting job at right end.The competition will only strengthen a line which should be the Texans' greatest strength on defense. It will be critical to have these players mesh during camp, and also have them understand the system completely.
One of Gary Kubiak's primary focuses during the early weeks of training camp is to find out which players will emerge into leaders. The Texans have a number of new veterans brought in and also some remaining from the old regime. With everyone having gone through the offseason workouts together, Kubiak is waiting for a few players to really take on the leadership role in the locker room and on the field.
Quarterback David Carr is one player the Texans would like to see take on a more active and vocal leadership role. He has spent the past four seasons being more of a quiet presence in the locker room and a leader by example on the field.
The Texans have made major strides in boosting their talent level, not just at the player level, but also at the coaching positions. New head coach Gary Kubiak will make a huge difference with his intelligent, focused approach to the game. He also has the type of personality that will bring out the best in his players.
One common theme in all of the Texans' major camp issues presents a bit of a paradox. For the Texans to improve, they needed a personnel overhaul -- and have they ever gotten one. But so many new players at a variety of positions, mixed in with a new head coach and his corresponding philosophies and schemes, creates a major short-term disruption. The talent will be there, but it will take a season or two of working in those new schemes, building the team chemistry, and learning each others' strengths and weaknesses to fully leverage that talent.
The Texans should show flashes of what should become a very good team in coming seasons, but it may be wishful thinking to expect that they will be able to overcome all of the challenges posed above over the course of one training camp. Expect to see intermittent improved play during games throughout the season, but there should also be plenty of miscues and breakdowns as players settle in to their new roles and learn the tendencies of their teammates in live game situations. The Colts will undoubtedly see a better Texans team in Week 16 at Houston than they will in Week 2 for Indianapolis' home opener as the Texans learn from their early-season growing pains.