Baseball's no fun from now until September, and we can only watch old NFL highlights on YouTube for so long before we need to start prognosticating on the '06-'07 NFL season. Fall can't come soon enough. In the meantime, here's the 14th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming season, the Houston Texans.
TOM'S TAKE: The Texans season-by-season records: 4-12, 5-11, 7-9, 2-14. Before last season it seemed they were a team on the rise, and don't be mistaken, they are. Last season was a hiccup in the Texans' overall improvement. This year will be the one that gets them back on track. Success in the NFL starts up front on both sides of the ball, and the Texans have reconstructed their look on both lines.
They're biggest weakness in their four years in the NFL has been the offensive line, and to remedy that they brought in the man with an incredible pedigree in that regard, Gary Kubiak. They also made incredible strides fixing the personnel on the line, adding two starters via the draft and one in free agency. Eric Winston was an absolute steal in the third round -- the tackle has first round talent but dropped due to a knee injury. Charles Spencer is a player who will initially struggle adapting to the NFL, but will develop into a starter with time. Luckily, Seth Wand is a good stopgap until he's ready for full-time action. They, along with free agent center Mike Flanagan, will combine to give David Carr more protection. It takes a while for an offensive line to get on the same page, especially when you're uprooting 60% of last year's line for new players. But they took a giant step in the right direction, securing two bookend tackles that will block Carr for years. This will help Carr stay on his feet and find both Andre Johnson and new addition Eric Moulds, a true #1 receiver that will provide a much-needed distraction from Johnson, allowing the young budding superstar room to get open. Dom Davis will also benefit from better line play -- he's managed to pick up almost 3,200 career yards in 40 games, picking up 976 last year (337 receiving yards, as well) despite only playing in 11 games. Of course, 40 games in three seasons indicates that Davis has missed some time with injuries, but his haven't been serious. They're the type of nagging ailments that improved line play will help prevent.
The Texans added three nameworthy defensive ends -- Anthony Weaver, N.D. Kalu, and the infamous Mario Williams. Ignoring whether or not they should have taken Bush, Williams has the tools to be an elite defensive end. My only concern with him is all of the negativity coming from the local and national media. People are ready to jump all over him even though he's yet to take a snap in the NFL. If he can avoid the pressure to be a legend from Week 1, and take solace in steadily improving his game each week, he'll be fine. I don't know if he has the mental makeup to be this strong, but he's shown thus far, at least on the surface, that he hasn't been bothered by the city's displeasure with him.
At linebacker, the Texans added two new starters. Sam Cowart became expendable to the Jets not through his play but because his salary was too high for a backup. He was relegated to that duty by Jonathan Vilma, through no fault of his own. DeMeco Ryans will compete immediately for the starting WLB spot and should have no problem replacing Morlon Greenwood by the season's start. Ryans is a studier, the kind of guy who lacks size but has smarts. He reads and reacts incredibly well, which is good because his speed is a little lacking. The new NFL craze involves incredible speed at the weakside, so I wonder how long Ryans will last there before he's moved to the strongside, but his instincts will keep him from falling behind the play until that move happens. The Texans have a strong set of cornerbacks -- Dunta Robinson continues to ascend to stardom and Philip Buchanon is a speedy guy who needs proper coaching, something he hasn't gotten so far in his career with Houston and Oakland. Their safeties need to be improved.
The Texans have a history of upsetting their Week 1 opponent before falling behind the pack, and they can certainly catch the Eagles off-guard to start this season off. They still have some holes, and all of the new pieces will need time to mesh with each other and with the new coaching staff, but this is clearly a team on the rise. They're really not as bad they appeared last year. I think they'll finish third in their division at 6-10 or 7-9 and begin to respark the hype that they had going into last year's pitiful campaign.
KYLE'S TAKE: I was talking to Tom4 on the phone today. Although the call was actually about our upcoming stints at AOL (I will actually be blogging about Maryland football, not the Rams), our call turned to the upcoming preview about the Houston. After I made a comment about how they won't do well, Tom told me he thinks they'll do better next year. That raises question, can they get much worse?
No, they can't.
They sucked last year. Big time. There's no point in me writing about how bad they were last year. We all know. The question is: did they make the moves in the offseason to make it enough better?
They hired Gary Kubiak as head coach. Kubiak was offensive coordinator for the Broncos. This can be good and bad for the Texans. He's coordinated an offense that's been consistently producing awesome rush attacks, as we mentioned in our Denver preview. However, when he started coordinating in Denver, Elway was already developed. Hell, Kubiak backed up Elway when he was a player. So, we can't give him credit for Elway. However, Jake Plummer consistently struggled in Denver. Now, Kubiak has Carr as his quarterback. I like David Carr. He's been a victim of a horrible offensive line (he was sacked for a league leading 68 times -- that's 14 more than the second-most allowed) and poor players around him. Of course, there's much improvement that can be made, but I see no problem with Houston giving him until 2008 to improve under a new staff. Even with that abysmal offensive line, Carr had a 77.2 rating. Not bad for the quarterback of the biggest joke in the league last year. Plus, he's got Eric Moulds now, who was always impressive in Buffalo. Finally, he's got a decent receiver. I was never too impressed with Andre Johnson. However, now he doesn't have all the pressure on him and could fall into a groove alongside a good receiver.
The Texans also now have some Packers on their side. Mike Sherman is the new assistant coach, who will work along with the offense. It'll be good for Carr to have people who worked with Favre and Elway coaching you. They also have Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan to help improve the offensive line. Playing devil's advocate, the Texans promoted their offensive line coach to offensive coordinator. How can their offensive line coach get a raise and not the boot?
The other point regarding Kubiak is this is the first time since joining the Broncos staff -- he was on the 49ers staff briefly before that -- that he'll be on a bad team. The Broncos are consistently in the hunt, and I have to wonder if Kubiak will know how to handle a team that can fall and fall fast.
The next big move? Taking defensive end Mario Williams over Reggie Bush. I thought this was dumb. It was dumb more from a marketing stance than a player stance. You don't put fans in the seats after a humiliating season by taking a d-lineman. You do it by taking an electrifying Heisman-winning running back. The Texans haven't been around long enough to build a fan base that will stick around after horrible seasons. This isn't Green Bay. The whole season, Texans fans got to say "At least we get Reggie." Well, they didn't. Mario Williams will start and be an impact player for this defense, although they could use some help in the secondary.
So where does this leave us? It leaves us with a team that just started improvement. They will win more than two games this year, but they won't be over .500, especially in their tough division. Texans fans (whoever is left of them) will get to see glimmers of potential this year, but that's it.