The news came down shortly after the 2016 season ended: after a trip to interview with the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Texans promoted Mike Vrabel to the defensive coordinator position with the goal of keeping him Houston for the foreseeable future. The work of Vrabel has not gone unnoticed by anyone. He has helped shape the careers of Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and Benardrick McKinney, each of whom has been a playmaker on the defense. Under Vrabel as the linebacker coach, the entire group elevated their play and showcased the time and effort that he put into those players.
Vrabel called a few preseason games as a defensive coordinator but knows that does not equate to what it takes to call games during the regular season. Now moving to defensive coordinator, Vrabel has a new task controlling one of the most talented groups in the NFL. However, working to Vrabel's advantage is the fact that long-time mentor Romeo Crennel has been elevated to assistant head coach in this process. The two put their heads together with the rest of the defensive staff and know where they have to start to improve one of the best defenses in the NFL from 2016.
“We have to do better on scoring defense I think we were outside the top 10,” Vrabel said of the Texans defense. “We have to continue to play well on 3rd down and continue stop the run like we did late in the season.”
“We talk about trying to enhance the things we do well and continue and try to fix the things we did not do well,” Vrabel explained. “We did not do a very good job of getting turnovers last year so we are trying to make it a point to fix it and improve on it during the off-season.”
With Vrabel, the defensive unit works before practice on ball drills to force turnovers and during practice, defenders work hard to get their hands on passes and punch out footballs, while the staff charts all of those stats from film to give them a closer look into the body of work the players are putting together.
Vrabel will be tasked on his plans to make the big three work for the Texans and, as he explains it, telling players their role in the defense and giving them the “Why” they are doing it leads to players performing their jobs better on the field. That goes for the trio of Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and J.J. Watt.
“I think that everything we do from week to week is done to try to give us the best chance to win the game,” Vrabel said of making the defense work. “We take our players, who we think are good players, and we put them in the best position to win. If that is J.D. (Jadeveon Clowney) playing inside that week, that is where he is going to be. If that is is J.D. on the edge, if that is Whitney (Mercilus) on the nose, that is where he is going to be. If J.J. (Watt) wants to play outside linebacker...”
“We aren’t afraid to put guys in different positions,” Vrabel explained. “We ask every player to know what to do and play fast and aggressive.”
With a changing of the guard, Vrabel depends on the teachings of Crennel to trust his defensive staff to get the job done. With Crennel now in position to oversee the entire team as assistant coach, he will give input and ask questions but ultimately let Vrabel have the final call on what needs to be done defensively.
Vrabel knows he is ready for this moment and wants to lead the defense to bigger things in 2017.
“I am ready to lead on a higher level. We have a great staff, I trust these guys to go coach the guys and make sure they are ready for practice. When I say, 'Hey we are going to put this in today or let’s change this,'“ Vrabel continued, “I have full confidence that when they go to their meetings rooms, that is the message.”