We are a full three weeks into the Houston Texans 2016 preseason and with, training camp set to end and the second preseason game on deck, there are always situations that still require further attention. Looking closely at the Texans, it is clear that the defensive line is a red flag waving in the wind.
Here is why.
J.J. Watt’s situation is fluid. We know he is recovering from back surgery that took place prior to training camp starting, that he is progressing, and that his health is the number one priority for the long term. We do not expect to see him until sometime during the regular season. For the time being, the Texans have to prepare like he is not going to be there for the season opener and err on the side of caution.
Vince Wilfork is the veteran of the group and is expected to start at nose tackle but age and workload over his long career should not be overlooked. In much better shape this season, Wilfork already had a strong start to the year with some solid work against the San Francisco 49ers. He will be a constant during the season but he is not enough by himself.
Christian Covington and D.J. Reader have shown some life early in camp. Both are inexperienced players but, right now, they are the most capable out of the options available. Covington is learning about the defensive end position but seems better suited to play the three technique in nickel and dime defenses. He is the closest defensive lineman who can both play the run and rush the passer, which is an added plus. Covington has a place on this team and he is in line for plenty of snaps. As for the rookie nose tackle Reader, he is further along in his technique than most expected. He understands the hand game but, like all rookies, there will be some concern on the expectations of the NFL, so reserving his use for certain situations could help. Reader could play nose and the three tech in sub-packages, so he has some flexibility.
- Related Links
Currently the Texans have Wilfork, Covington, and Reader as real options when the season arrives and Watt when he is ready. That leaves at least two defensive lineman positions to fill at some point during the preseason.
The feel good story is that Devon Still will be the default starter due to the lack of experience at the position. He has been underwhelming throughout camp and was not much of a factor against the 49ers. One would expect more from Still to rush the passer or at least be a positive against the run.
Brandon Dunn has flashes on the field but conditioning is a slight concern. He was close to making plays and had some bright spots in the opener but not much was awe inspiring. Dunn is probably ahead of Still in the pecking order but he too is going to have to kick it into gear.
Jeoffrey Pagan has not been able to stay healthy all camp which is not a good thing, it is hard to make a team sitting on the training table. Dan Pettinato was on the practice squad last season but he too has a long way to go to make a difference for the team. Rookies Joel Heath and Ufomba Kamalu have plenty to learn about the NFL and it is hard to envision either one ready to contribute year one. The Texans added Ra'Zahn Howard shortly after the supplemental draft but he is far behind on what it takes to make it in the NFL. His weight issues are keeping him, at the moment, from displaying his full potential.
Right now the Texans have three defensive lineman to feel good about: Wilfork, Covington, and Reader. Out of that group, one is closing in on the end of his career and the other two are early in their NFL careers. Watt will be back but, on the surface, the group needs help in a hurry.
Over the off-season, the Texans were smart in addressing team needs but they let starter Jared Crick leave for Denver. They couldn’t prepare for Watt’s injury but they have to be aware of their biggest red flag on their roster composition. How the team addresses the issue will play out, but it is clear that the defensive line will need some tinkering before the season kicks off in week one.