Texans That Need to Take the Next Step

In order for any NFL team to take a step up the following year, they need in house players to take the next step and improve their play on the field. Despite the rookie class that has come in to Houston, it will be up to a select group to help improve on a 2-14 2013 season.

The Clock is Ticking

It is coming to the point where players like Brooks Reed and Derek Newton have to be much better players than they have been the past few seasons. A position change looks to be in order to get Reed in a better position to succeed, but the reality is that he has not been a difference maker for the defense. The defense needs more playmakers and with the amount of snaps Reed has gotten the past three seasons, they have come with little impact.

As for Newton, he has been thrust into a right tackle position for the past two seasons where he has struggled week to week. Last season, he had a major knee procedure in the offseason that slowed him in 2013 where he played hurt and overweight. This is his 4th season in the NFL and is going to be his third as a starter at right tackle. He looks more focused this season with the weight he has lost and received a vote of confidence from Bill O’Brien by naming him the starter before OTAs ended.

Third Year Is Big

It is tough to believe that Whitney Mercilus has put together 6 plus sacks the past two seasons, but they have been lost in the shuffle. He has put up the sack numbers wanted from the outside linebacker position, but they have had little impact on changing games. Mercilus’ biggest step up has to be how he can set the edge against the run constantly, which he has struggled with. This is a big season and with more pass rushers in the mix for the Texans, Mercilus has an opportunity to cash in big with more talent in the front seven.

When a kicker is drafted, there should be instant results but that was not the case for Randy Bullock. He struggled to open the season and was all over the place missing kicks. After looking for help outside the organization, Bullock put together a string of made field goals starting against the Arizona Cardinals where he hit 13 straight. That streak was overlooked last season with some crucial misses in big games early in the season. Bullock was a weapon on kickoffs and he now has to build on his late season success heading into 2014.

With Antonio Smith in Oakland, Jared Crick now takes the reigns as the possible week one starter. More of a conventional 3-4 defensive end, Crick could be a good fit in Romeo Crennel’s new system. He will have to prove he can hold up against the run and play the two gap scheme freeing up linebackers to make plays. He has been used sparingly the past two seasons with Smith in front of him, but now the time is here for Crick to become an every day starter. He will be a key piece for the Texans base 3-4 defense and providing quality snaps for the new look defensive line will be something to watch.

Second Year Group Needs to Grow Up Fast

The 2013 draft class was a mixed bag of misses and potential stars for the near future for the Texans. Even if Andre Johnson was coming to training camp, the need for DeAndre Hopkins to be a bigger player in the offense is key. The more weapons on the field, the better for the offense, but this is about Hopkins taking the torch as the go to wide receiver of the future for the T exans.

Despite being a 6th round pick in 2013, Ryan Griffin could easily be the late gem of the draft class. He was able to display what he could do late last season with Garrett Graham being placed on the injured reserve. He is in a prime spot to be a viable option in the passing game that uses mismatches all over the field. At 6-6 and 254 lbs., he has the ability to do that consistently against smaller safeties and linebackers.

No one on defense needs to take the biggest step than safety D.J. Swearinger, who arrived to Houston and was pushed into the defense due to injuries. With no real leadership to guide him in the secondary, Swearinger was a rookie learning on the run in 2013. Plagued with undisciplined play his rookie season, Swearinger has already looked like a different player this season. He looks much more focused and has put the work in to make himself better on the field.

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