The Houston Texans are going into the offseason with possibly enough offensive lineman to compete as preparations for the 2016 season begin in a few short months. Karim Barton and Dalton Freeman will get their chance to prove they belong when camp rolls around after spending time on the practice squad.
Andrew McDonald was a veteran brought in during the final week of the season for the injured Duane Brown, and he will be in place as a veteran presence for the season. McDonald has some NFL experience which is an added plus for the upcoming off-season.
Oday Aboushi arrived at the right time for the Texans. The offensive line was in flux, looking for some stability, and Aboushi provided just that. Reunited with Mike Devlin, by whom he was coached when Aboushi was with the New York Jets, Aboushi was able to settle in with the Texans quickly. After the offensive line became healthy, he became a back up and was inactive for the latter part of the season.
The Texans have an intriguing group of youthful players on the offensive line in Greg Mancz, Chad Slade and Kendall Lamm. Each plays different positions and has made a difference within the team. Mancz is a reliable center who can help at either center or guard, Slade played for four seasons in the SEC with Auburn and was a key piece with their explosive running game. Lamm made the Texans coming out of camp and received a crash course on the field. Playing eligible tight end at times, Lamm had to come in an fill at left and right tackle. He held his own and it gives the team hope that Lamm can be more of a factor this coming season. The youth is in place, but Mancz, Slade, and Lamm have to make strong jumps over the offseason.
David Quessenberry will be an interesting player to watch as he intends to make his full comeback this coming season. Two seasons removed from his lymphoma diagnosis, Quessnberry has been focusing on getting his weight back up to NFL standards. If he can make his comeback, he is going to have to shake off the rust of not playing the game for two years. Getting healthy is priority number one and getting him back on the field could become a reality in 2016.
Slowed by a high ankle issue the week before the first preseason game, Xavier Su'a-Filo over came those nagging injuries to be a key piece of the second half resurgence for the Texans. Su’a-Filo was able to create creases for the running game and hold his own in pass pro. Working next to Duane Brown and Ben Jones, the trio ended up being where the Texans ran behind for those tough yards in the running game. There is still plenty of work to do for Su’a-Filo, but with an extended look on the field, there were promising signs.
The Texans made sure they brought back Derek Newton to be their starting right tackle for the coming seasons. It was an up and down season for Newton who had a hurt elbow during the season. At times he regressed to the younger version of himself, being beat around the edge, and then at other times, he showed why he was given a nice contract to stay with the Texans. Newton is a key piece of the offense and getting him to even out his play once again will be a key point of interest for the upcoming season.
The elder statesman on the team, Duane Brown is the longest tenured player drafted by the Texans. He was rock solid all year and had one of the better seasons of his career in 2015. He helped protect quarterbacks' blind sides and is still considered one to the top left tackles in the game. Brown is a huge piece for the Texans offense. There is concern with his torn quad on his time table to return to the field, so the Texans will need to have a back up plan in place until Brown is a full go for the upcoming season.
It was an unfortunate year for Jeff Adams (ERFA) in 2015, starting with the team not playing him in his natural position, putting him into a learning process. Adams was finally moved back to right tackle and more than held his own. He went down with a knee injury early, ending his season, but Adams is much more suited for right tackle than any other position. Getting him healthy is a concern but he has been rehabbing the injury and was walking around the facility late in the season.
People forget Ben Jones was a starter for the Texans since his rookie season and he might have had his best season with the team when he moved back his normal position of center. He was probably the most consistent offensive lineman of the group and he missed only one offensive snap all season. He helped the rotation of quarterbacks with setting up protection and pointing out adjustments on the fly. There is not enough said about how well Jones played this past season and how it is a necessity to get him back in Houston.
One of the top guards the franchise has had in recent years, Brandon Brooks has been a three year starter. He and Derek Newton have been a solid group on the right side. Brooks has dealt with some minor health setbacks over the past few seasons, slowing him some to start this past season. He plays hot and cold but gets the job done. There needs to be more consistency from Brooks part on the field, but he is a solid piece nonetheless.
The veteran Chris Clark was traded for prior to the season to help an offensive line struggling with health. He ended up getting way more playing time than anyone envisioned. Starting four games, plus the playoff game due to various injuries to starters, Clark is a solid veteran tackle on whom the team can rely, but entering free agency, they have to make a decision on what direction they want to go for the long term.
There is some concern as a group for the entire offensive line. If the Texans can bring back both Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks, the situation will not be as peril. With Duane Brown coming back from his torn quad, Jeff Adams coming back from his knee injury, and Chris Clark a potential free agent, that only leaves Derek Newton and Kendall Lamm as offensive tackles under contract.
There is hope in the young trio of Chad Slade, Greg Mancz, and Lamm to help fill out the depth and maybe become more with the Texans in the near future.
The reality is that the Texans have some work to do, starting with Jones and Brooks and making the best financial decisions for the long haul. Add in some help at offensive tackle and veterans Brown and Newton as the incumbent starters, they have to have experience to fill in if needed, which might be an avenue to bring back Chris Clark for a reasonable cost for the near future.
There needs to be some youth brought in and one thing is for sure: the Texans value offensive tackles and there will be some additions for training camp. There are plenty of players on the depth chart and it will take an emergence from players like Andrew McDonald, David Quessenberry, or maybe someone else to ease a position group that could be a strength or weakness with one or two simple moves.