Unit-by-Unit Analysis: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans are looking to take the next step to the playoffs and challenge the Indianapolis Colts for the top spot in the AFC South. Inside, get a position-by-position breakdown of the team from the Sports XChange!

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Matt Schaub. Backups — Dan Orlovsky, John David Booty.

Schaub is coming off an outstanding season. He started 16 games for the first time and ranked among the top five in attempts (first), completions (first), yards (first), completion percentage (fourth), yards per attempt (fifth) and touchdown passes (fifth). He was seventh in passer rating. In his fourth season as the starter, Schaub is in command of the offense and has emerged as a strong team leader. He works the bootleg to perfection. He's learned to slide to avoid the rush. He gets rid of the ball quicker. He's more confident throwing down the field. The offense must improve in the red zone. The key for Schaub is he must avoid a major injury for a second consecutive season. Orlovsky has a firm hold on the backup job after slipping to third last season. The coaches have more confidence in him because he's more confident in the system.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Arian Foster. Backups — Steve Slaton, Ben Tate, Chris Henry, Jeremiah Johnson, FB Vonta Leach, FB Justin Griffith.

When Steve Slaton is 100 percent, he's expected to be the starter. Although he's been cleared for contact by team doctors, Foster finished the offseason program as the starter. When they start a fullback, Vonta Leach moves into the lineup. Justin Griffith backs him up. Foster weighs 228 and averaged 4.8 yards a carry in limited action as a rookie. He's got power and speed. He's also a good receiver. He should be their short-yardage and goal-line back because of his size and style. Slaton underwent surgery on his neck after the season. He's 100 percent entering camp. He expects to play at 205 rather than 215 like last season. He had a fumbling problem before he was injured. If he continues to fumble, he'll be on the bench. As a receiver, he has outstanding hands, but his problems come as a runner. He says he's beyond the fumble problem, but he'll have to prove it. If Slaton plays like he did as a rookie, he'll be the starter, but he's got a long way to go. Tate was drafted because he's a 220-pound back with good speed and instincts. The coaches think his style is ideal for their one-cut, zone system. He's got to work his way up from third after falling behind in the offseason program because of a hamstring injury.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Joel Dreessen. Backups — James Casey, Garrett Graham, Derek Fine, Owen Daniels, Anthony Hill.

Daniels is the starter and one of the best in the league, but the coaches are taking it easy on him because he's coming off knee surgery. He's smart, quick off the ball and runs routes exceptionally well. He's got good hands and runs well after making the catch. He has an outstanding rapport with QB Matt Schaub. The objective is to get Daniels ready for the regular-season opener against Indianapolis. Hill, the best blocker in the group, also is recovering from surgery to repair an ACL and might not be ready the until regular season. Dreessen replaced Daniels in the lineup last season. He's dependable but lacks Daniels' big-play ability. Dreessen has good hands and he blocks well, but he's not going to make catches all over the field like Daniels. Casey, entering his second season, and Graham, a fourth-round pick, should get a lot of playing time in preseason. Casey has good speed and outstanding hands.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter. Backups — Jacoby Jones, David Anderson, Andre Davis, Glenn Martinez, Trindon Holliday, Dorin Dickerson, Bobby Williams, Trey Stross.

Johnson is the best receiver in the league, and he's coming off back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons. He's got great size and good speed. He's fearless all over the field and catches in traffic. He breaks tackles and runs well after the catch. He seldom gets rattled even though he's usually doubled and sometimes tripled. Walter re-signed after testing the free agent waters. He's got great size, a tremendous work ethic and terrific hands. He blocks great, too. He runs any route. Jones had six touchdowns on 27 catches. He's a big-play veteran with size and speed. He needs more consistency. He gets away from coverage and is explosive after the catch. Anderson is coming off a career-best 38 receptions. He's got quickness, smarts and good hands. He's a reliable route runner. QB Matt Schaub knows Anderson will always be in the right spot because he adjusts routes well against the coverage being played.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Duane Brown, LG Kasey Studdard, C Chris Myers, RG Antoine Caldwell, RT Eric Winston. Backups — T Rashad Butler, T Adam Stenavich, T Cole Pemberton, T Steve Maneri, G Mike Brisiel, G Chris White, G Shelley Smith, C Wade Smith.

Brown and Winston are secure as starters. Studdard and Myers are being pushed by Wade Smith, who signed as a free agent and has adapted well to their zone system. Myers has started every game in his two seasons with the Texans, and he played with a high ankle sprain last season. At 295, he's undersized, but he makes correct calls and adjustments but has problems with the large nose tackles. Brown needs to improve in his third season and become more consistent. His run blocking wasn't what it should be, and his protection must continue to improve to protect QB Matt Schaub's blind side. Studdard started for the first time last season in place of the injured Chester Pitts. The coaches like Studdard because he'll kick, trip, bite and slug anybody to get the job done. Caldwell, a third-round pick last year, has impressed the coaches since they moved him into the lineup. He's strong and physical and learns fast. Brisiel started at right guard two years ago when the running game was outstanding with rookie RB Steve Slaton, but he suffered a season-ending foot injury last season and hasn't been able to gain his previous form. Butler has been the swing tackle, but because Brown and Winston stay healthy, he's gotten his playing time on special teams. The coaches are hoping he stays restricted to special teams.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LDE Mario Williams, LDT Shaun Cody, RDT Amobi Okoye, RDE Antonio Smith. Backups — E Connor Barwin, E Jesse Nading, E Pannel Egboh, T Frank Okam, T Malcolm Sheppard, T Earl Mitchell, T DelJuan Robinson, E Tim Bulman, E Tim Jamison, E Mitch Unrein.

The priority is to get a better inside pass rush. Okoye and Cody combined for 2.5 sacks. They played the run well, but neither got the quarterback. Okoye has dropped from 295 to 283 to improve his quickness off the ball. When Smith moves inside, he's paired with Okoye. Mitchell, who ran a 4.85 at the combine, has the up-field speed the coaches want. He'll compete for playing time with Okoye in passing situations. Williams, Smith and Barwin combined for 18 sacks. Williams, who was bothered by a shoulder injury most of the season, recorded nine sacks and made the Pro Bowl. If he stays healthy, the coaches expect him to have his best season. His intensity must become more consistent for him to be a 15-sack player. He usually is double-teamed in passing situations. Barwin came off the bench for 4.5 sacks. It was his second season playing defense. The coaches expect him to be the most improved player on the team. He'll continue to come off the bench to keep him fresh. He's developed some moves to go with his quickness off the ball. He's relentless and has a nice closing burst to the quarterback.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — LOLB Zac Diles, MLB DeMeco Ryans, ROLB Brian Cushing. Backups — OLB Darryl Sharpton, OLB Darnell Bing, OLB Isaiah Greenhouse, OLB Xavier Adibi, OLB Danny Clark. MLB Kevin Bentley.

Ryans is a Pro Bowl player who's the defensive leader. He's coming off his best season. He never comes off the field. He's solid against the run, chases down plays, doesn't get caught out of position and knows how to use his shoulders to shed. Cushing was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he made the Pro Bowl. He'll miss the first four games because he violated the NFL's policy against performance enhancing drugs. Cushing was exceptional as a rookie, and the most likely candidate to replace him is Adibi, who has moved from the weak side entering his third season, is the leading candidate to replace Cushing during his suspension. Aidibi is quick and covers well, but he lacks Cushing's hitting ability and intensity. Clark, who started for the Giants the last two seasons, is a veteran who signed during the OTAs. He could overtake Adibi by the start of the season because he's physical, smart and experienced. Diles moved to the weak side last season and played well. He covers a lot of ground, is physical and attacks the run. He comes out on passing downs.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Glover Quinn, RCB Kareem Jackson, SS Bernard Pollard, FS Eugene Wilson. Backups — CB Jacques Reeves, CB Fred Bennett, CB Sherrick McManis, CB Pierre Singfield, CB Brice McCain, CB Mark Parson, CB Antwaun Molden, SS Dominique Barber, SS Nicholas Polk, FS Torri Williams, FS Aaron Webster.

The Texans have an inexperienced group of cornerbacks, but they're not lacking for talent. Quin started the last 13 games of his rookie season and helped the defense rank fourth in the league during that period. He's a fierce hitter with good coverage skills. Jackson, the first-round pick, is a mirror image of Quin. He's fast enough, has good coverage skills and is extremely tough. McCain, the fastest player on defense, played the nickel as a rookie and assumes the same role this season. He can turn and run with any receiver, but his size (5-9, 185) works against him when it comes to stopping the run. Bennett is a former starter entering his fourth season. He's got size, speed and talent, but he hasn't put them together. The coaches love Molden, but he's been hurt too much during his first two seasons. The best defensive back on the team is Pollard. Like Quin, he was placed in the starting lineup for the last 13 games, and the defensive back was terrific, including against the run. Pollard is a physical player who tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Pollard excels around the line of scrimmage. He's becoming a leader on defense. Wilson is the only true free safety on the team, but he started only eight games because of injuries. He's a former corner who doesn't make a lot of mental mistakes. There's nothing special about him.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Kris Brown, K Neil Rackers, P Matt Turk, LS Joel Dreessen, LS Jon Weeks, KR Andre Davis, PR Jacoby Jones, PR/KR Trindon Holliday.

Brown and Rackers are competing for the kicking job. Brown missed 11 field goals last season. Three were blocked. Rackers missed one for Arizona. Brown still kicks for distance on kickoffs and field goals, but his consistency last season was horrible. Turk, 41, is a 14-year veteran with a 42.8-yard gross and a 39.4 net. He gets good hang time and does an excellent job on directional kicks, which allowed the Texans to rank second in punt coverage (4.3 yards). TE Joel Dreessen should be the snapper. Davis and Jones returned kickoffs and punts. Holliday, 5-5, 160, is going to get a chance to return a lot of kicks and punts in preseason to see if he can become a big-play weapon.


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