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The Rundown: The Offseason Look at the Houston Texans Defensive Line

A closer look at the Houston Texans defensive line heading into the 2016 season.

Defensive Line

Under Contract

Name Notes
Dan Pettinato The rookie from Arizona did enough to impress the staff coming out of camp to spend the entire 2015 season the practice squad. Pettinato turned that into a reserves/futures contract for the upcoming season. He is what the Texans look for in a 3-4 defensive end and a year of development is always positive for rookies that need some time to get used to the NFL game. 
Jeoffrey Pagan Showed promised in his rookie season but was looked over in 2015 in favor of other defensive lineman. Pagan is a load that can play either defensive end or nose tackle in RAC's scheme. He was also used in short yardage situations when he was active. Where he stands in the pecking order is yet to be seen but he was used sparingly in his season season with the team. 
Brandon Dunn Grabbed by the Texans from the Chicago Bears practice sqaud to add depth on the defensive line. Dunn was active when he arrived from Chicago and was paired next to Christian Covington in nickel and dime defense. He held up well against the run and showed some promise on the interior. Dunn is going to have to work on his over physical condition over the offseason and show he can handle more than what he was given in 2015. 
Devon Still The Texans like veterans and that is where Still fits for the team heading into the offseason. They will give Still a chance to win a roster spot but he is going to have to really impress from day one. There is also a good chance Still is now in Houston because there is a good shot that Jared Crick could not return and there is now a veteran safety net for all of the off-season work needed. 
Christian Covington One of the better finds by the Texans late in the draft, Christian Covington is a solid addition to the defensive line as a rookie. His playing time was scarce but he made plays when his number was called. He can play both well versus the run and pass, and is more suited for the Texans four man fronts. Covington was placed as the back up nose tackle to Wilfork but it is hard to see him as the long term answer when Wilfork is no longer the starter at nose tackle. 
Vince Wilfork One of the prized free agents for the Texans in 2015, Wilfork was brought in for more than just his play. He was brought for his locker room presence and be a difference maker on the field. Wilfork took time to get to a solid level of play and there is some reason to be concerned about the weight he played at this past season. Wilfork has to get his weight under control for the upcoming season to be a difference maker from the start. 
J.J. Watt J.J. Watt notched his 3rd AP Defensive Player of the Year award and he did is on a injured groin and a broken hand. The defense runs off of Watt's plays and after a realtive slow start for Watt to open the season. He hit his stride mid-season proving that he can dominate games at will. 

Dan Pettinato was a rookie free agent out of Arizona who caught the coaches eyes enough to land a spot with the team after training camp ended. A prototypical defensive end for the 3-4, Pettinato spent the entire 2015 season on the practice squad. A year in the Texans system landed Pettinato a reserve/futures contract at the end of the season. He, like others will have to win over the staff once again during training camp. 

Jeoffrey Pagan was drafted by the Texans in 2014 and showed promise coming out of his rookie season. Pagan was essentially passed up for other options as the team chose to keep five defensive lineman active each game, and Pagan was not among them. One of the more head scratching situations on the team during the 2015 season, Pagan was a healthy scratch the final 11 games of the season including the wild card round. He is one to watch over the off-season on how the team feels about his future with the Texans. 

Brandon Dunn was brought in by his former Chicago Bears defensive line coach, Paul Pasqualoni, to add depth to a light defensive line position. With Pasqualoni no longer on the Texans coaching staff, Dunn will have to prove his worth this upcoming offseason. Only playing in limited spots during the season, Dunn showed he can make an impact as a sub-package run and pass combination at defensive tackle. He has to get his weight under control to produce better on the field. He has some talent and could be a solid depth player if he takes another step in development. 

A diamond in the rough, Christian Covington overcame a knee issue in college to open up the eyes of the Texans and they took a chance on him. Covington got down to around the 280 lb. mark during the draft process and had to hurry and pack on weight for the season. He got back up to around 302 lbs. and that extra weight did not take anything away from his skill set. Covington is a bulldog in the trenches and had two sacks his rookie season. He still needs to learn the in and outs of playing on an NFL line, but that will come with more work on his technique. For his size, Covington can create issues with his speed and quickness. His future with the Texans is bright. 

An interesting addition to the team at the end of the season, the Texans signed veteran Devon Still to a reserves/futures contract. Still was a former 2nd round pick in 2012 and spent three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. With 30 NFL games under his belt, Still offers some experience for the team to bring in during camp. The Texans like to experienced veterans around during work in the offseason and Still fits that bill. He will have a chance to win a roster spot with Jared Crick entering free agency. 

Vince Wilfork was a solid pick up in more ways than one. He is a strong locker room player and the only true run plugger at nose tackle. One thing that needs to be discussed is that fact he needs to get his weight under control before week one of the season. The Texans learned quickly that Wilfork is not a 50+ snap player anymore and he is more effective with a smaller work load. Wilfork got off to a slow start during the season but as the year progressed, he became a solid player in the base defense. He is the only nose tackle on the roster and the team depends on him to cover up the inside linebackers. Wilfork has some left in the tank but it starts with him getting in the best of shape for the season. 

J.J. Watt locked up his third AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, putting him in some elite company. Watt continues to dominate at all levels of the game defensively, even after a slow start to Watt’s 2015, where at times he was trying to do too much on the field. After the Miami game, Watt settled down and became his disciplined and dominating self once again. Then a groin issue and broken hand put him at a disadvantage late in the season. His groin injury was clearly an issue during the wild card game and he finally gave way to surgery after the season. Watt is going to do some great things like he has already accomplished but there is more on the horizon for the Texans top defensive player. 

Free Agents

Name Notes
Jared Crick Entering his free agent year, Crick waited for his time to be a starter. He was a solid starter for the Texans the past two seasons and he did what the team asked him to do. His game is not flashy but as a technician he was in the right spot majority of the time. He showed in 2014 that he could provide some pass rush but with all of the pass rushers on the roster in 2015 he went back to being a two-down lineman for the defense. 

Jared Crick has done everything that the Texans have wanted him to do: be a solid defensive end in the 3-4 and help on passing downs when needed. Crick was the definition of a hard hat worker for the Texans. He waited to get his chance when he was drafted from Nebraska and he took advantage the past two seasons, contributing as a solid player. There is not much flash in Crick’s game but the team has been able to depend on him to be in the right spot and do his job correctly. 

Offseason Overview

There is so much concentration on what the Texans offense needs to do, but the fact that the defensive line needs some attention is a top priority. Think about this: minus J.J. Watt, who is the dynamic player on the defensive line who can make an impact? 

Watt will be here, plus Vince Wilfork and Christian Covington, the rest is up in the air. Dan Pettinato, Brandon Dunn, and Jeoffrey Pagan will have to win a roster spot, and Devon Still is in the same boat. 

Early signs show that Jared Crick could be headed for another team in 2016. There is reason to believe that the Texans will be looking to upgrade their defensive line in a big way for the future. There is a real depth issue and it starts with dynamic players outside of Watt. 

The Texans will be scouring both free agency and the draft to find potential upgrades.  


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