Following the example of the New Orleans Saints, the Texans decided to add a veteran quarterback and start over, hopeful of getting a losing franchise into the playoffs overnight.
Matt Schaub doesn't have nearly the experience of Drew Brees, but after five years of struggling with former No. 1 draft choice David Carr, the Texans feel rejuvenated about heading in another direction.
Whether it was Carr's fault, progress had stalled. Coach Gary Kubiak, a quarterback specialist, tabbed Michael Vick's backup and promoted former Packers' head coach Mike Sherman to offensive coordinator. The Texans also signed former Packers' running back Ahman Green to join Ron Dayne, who was a pleasant surprise as a spot starter.
Since Sherman and Green had success in Green Bay with another ex-Falcon quarterback, Brett Favre, the Texans are hoping history can repeat itself with Schaub.
Sherman coached the offensive line last season and if it doesn't continue to improve, Schaub and Green will find rough sailing the way Carr did. The prospects aren't great because second-year tackle Charles Spencer is still recovering from a broken leg. The left tackle slot is a battle between castoffs Ephraim Salaam and Jordan Black. Salaam started 14 games there for the Texans last year, but didn't play well enough to keep the Texans from adding Black, who started 15 games at left tackle for Kansas City. The Texans are hoping center Mike Flanagan can come off injured reserve to battle Steve McKinney. Second-year man Eric Winston is the right tackle, with Chester Pitts and Fred Weary the guards. It's not yet what could be described as a formidable unit.
The wide receiver position also is unsettled. Kubiak has tabbed untested Kevin Walter as the No. 2 man behind Andre Johnson. The Texans tried to install Eric Moulds there last season and are still looking for a complement to Johnson. Walter caught 17 passes last year and 19 for Cincinnati the year before, but Kubiak likes his work ethic and potential. Third-round draft choice Jacoby Jones from little Lane College will get a shot as well and the Texans expect second-year tight end Owen Daniels to stay healthier than he was during a productive rookie season.
The Texans have four No. 1 draft choices on their defensive line, plus other contributors that make their switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 last year look like a good idea. The advantage going into this year's training camp is the players have a much better idea of what coordinator Richard Smith expects.
Top draft choice Amobi Okoye was the youngest player ever drafted at age 19, but he looks like an experienced inside pass rusher who should benefit last year's No. 1 overall pick, Mario Williams. After being drafted ahead of Reggie Bush, Williams played through a painful plantar fascitis injury and contributed only 4.5 sacks.
Okoye will join former No. 1 picks Travis Johnson and Jason Babin on the line, although Anthony Maddox, Anthony Weaver and Thomas Johnson, all sometime starters last season, will compete. Practice squad player Earl Cochran also could make a push to play. The Texans hope Okoye has the kind of rookie season enjoyed last year by second-round middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was outstanding with 156 total tackles and is the leader of the unit.
The Texans put Mario Williams on a permanent hotseat by drafting him ahead of Reggie Bush and Houston's hometown hero Vince Young. Williams might have to average about 15 sacks a year for 10 years for fans to consider him worthy. He has to have Reggie White-impact and it's never easy for a defensive player to match individual statistics with a quarterback like Young or a running back/receiver like Bush. It's a tough spot, and Williams will have to start by playing better and healthier than he did last season.
The strongside linebacker position will be decided in a training camp competition between best friends Shantee Orr and Charlie Anderson. Veterans Shawn Barber and Danny Clark were signed as backups at linebacker. The Texans want more big plays from their safeties, so C.C. Brown will get competition from cornerbacks Dexter McCleon and Von Hutchins. The Texans made only 11 interceptions last season. Special teams were bad and kick returner Jerome Mathis hasn't shown much progress in rehabbing a leg and knee injury.
After beating Jacksonville twice and Indianapolis for the first time, the Texans have reason to believe they are ready to compete. By week four, when Schaub takes his new team to Atlanta to play against his old one, the Texans may have an idea of whether their bold gamble on an unproven quarterback can pay off. Kubiak isn't afraid to talk playoffs, but that still seems remote.
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