Crennel was the former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, and he gained most of his notoriety for being the coordinator of New England’s Super Bowl winning defenses.
In New England, Crennel ran a traditional 2-gap 3-4 defense in which he had a big space eating nose tackle in Ted Washington (6’5, 365 lbs.), big defensive ends in Richard Seymour (6’6, 310 lbs.), Ty Warren (6’5, 300 lbs.), and even his outside linebackers had size, length, and athleticism in Willie McGinest (6’5, 270 lbs.), and Mike Vrabel (6’4, 261). With the mention of these players we can’t forget the linebackers he had playing on the inside in Ted Johnson (6’4, 253), and Tedy Bruschi (6’1, 247). Basically, Crennel likes to have players of size to take on double teams, create walls, and clog up lanes. With this being said if he brings this style of defense to the Texans who will fit? Also, who will be miscast?
Let’s look at the Texans defensive players and see who might make the transition.
Antonio Smith (6’4, 290 lbs.)
He is a guy who is on the smallish side for a 3-4 defensive end and is likely going to be replaced due to his high cap figure and him not being the prototypical 3-4 defensive end in a 2-gap system. Antonio is a good pass rusher and would have a hard time fitting this scheme because his strength versus the run and holding up against double teams is not the best. His position will have to be replaced by a current player on the depth chart or in free agency.
Earl Mitchell (6’3, 300 lbs.)
Mitchell is a wild card to me, it’s possible he could bulk up and be a decent nose tackle until the right one gets in place, but I think he would do better in a 4-3 scheme where he can use his pass rush ability more effectively. Although Mitchell did well in some situations by holding up double teams, there were times when he was blown completely off the ball, because his size was not big enough to hold the point of attack. They could try him at defensive end, but Mitchell appears not to have the length to be effective there.Jared Crick (6’4, 285 lbs.) Crick could be a decent defensive end in Crennel’s defense as he has the strength to hold the point of attack and shows some ability to disengage and make plays in the gaps. He will need to bulk up some and make the adjustment to holding up gaps instead of shooting them too early, so he doesn’t lose containment. Crennel could pencil him in as the current starter, but with free agency pending and the draft, things could change.
J.J. Watt (6’5, 290 lbs.)
Watt would make the transition perfectly as a 2-gap defensive end, he can read and react, stack and shed not to mention he has superior pass rush ability. The issue is why would you limit him to just holding up blocks and occupying gaps when he would be far more effective rushing the passer? This is why a potential move of Watt to outside linebacker and have him rush the passer 95% of the time could be looked at. This sounds out of the box, but with Watt it would not be worth paying him $100 million contract just to hold up blocks. Plus, Watt has enough athletic ability to make the transition much like Mario Williams did for Wade Phillips. The other plus to this is that you would put Watt on an island against tight ends and even tackles where double teams are not always possible. If guards try to help double Watt on the outside it could set up huge lanes for the inside linebackers to play downhill through.
Whitney Mercilus (6’4, 258 lbs.)
Mercilus has the prototypical size for Crennel’s defense as an outside linebacker, but he will need to dramatically improve his pass rush repertoire in order to stick as a starter. His development has not been enough to cement himself as the starter, and with the new regime coming in he will be held different standards than the previous regime.
Brooks Reed (6’3, 254 lbs.)
Simply put Reed needs to move inside as a linebacker, and his size and range could be a nice fit for an inside linebacker in the new defense. He would be able to take on offensive linemen and not get banged up like Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays did this past season. Reed’s time as an outside linebacker has run its course, because he was no longer effective at rushing the passer and he would get stalemated too often. The plus for Reed is that now he can partner with Brian Cushing and they could potentially be a great duo inside especially against the run.
There is talent on the roster, but the Texans must bolster their defense again due to the defensive loses the last couple of seasons. Finding players besides Watt that can get to the quarterback is paramount for the 2014 season. In the draft the Texans will likely target another nose tackle like Louis Nix III from Notre Dame, or Daniel McCullers from Tennessee. Players like Anthony Barr of UCLA, Kyle Van Noy of BYU, or Trent Murphy from Stanford could fill the void at outside linebacker in the event that Watt is used as a defensive end.
Most of these players won’t be available unless the Texans trade back, but they are likely candidates if they are still on the board once the Texans start making moves. In the mean time we will just have to wait and see what the new defensive coordinator decides to do.