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Texans have talent on offense

9/3/2004 - Houston Texans

Editor's note: These previews were last updated Sept. 2 and don't reflect any moves made by the team after that.

The biggest excitement in the offseason was the selection of two promising
defensive standouts -- CB Dunta Robinson of South Carolina and OLB Jason
Babin of Western Michigan -- in the first round of the draft, picks made with
the intention of shoring up an ailing defense. Both were anointed as
starters on draft day.

The biggest free-agent signings were ORT Todd Wade, TE Mark Bruener and DL
Robaire Smith. All three should make big impacts in their areas.
But perhaps the most significant, if quiet, change on the team came when Joe
Pendry was brought in as OL coach.

Head coach Dom Capers' former offensive coordinator at Carolina, Pendry has
switched the line to a zone-blocking scheme, and the Texans privately are
having difficulty containing their enthusiasm over the prospects of this
revamped and redirected unit.

Quarterbacks: David Carr's road to improvement last season hit some bumps
when he missed five starts with injuries. Still, his completion percentage
was up slightly from 52.5 as a rookie to 56.6 last year; his QB rating
improved marginally (62.8-69.5). The Texans, however, have seen marked
progress in preseason and believe he will make big strides this year. Carr
is becoming a better leader and starting to spread the ball around amongst
receivers. While he was hurt, Tony Banks showed how strong the Texans'
backup spot is by leading the team to wins over Atlanta and NFC champion
Carolina and pushing Super Bowl champion New England to overtime before
losing. Banks had career bests for QB rating (84.3) and completion
percentage (59.8) before breaking his hand in the 12th game. The third
quarterback, Dave Ragone, started two games after that and struggled. He has
not looked any better in training camp this season. Grade: B-plus.

Running backs: Health is the biggest concern at this position. NFL Rookie of
the Year Domanick Davis, who was so surprising in rushing for 1,031 yards
while starting the last 10 games, is the clear-cut starter. But Davis, a
fourth-round draft pick who was No. 4 on the depth chart entering last
season, has missed much of training camp with a sprained ankle. His backup,
Tony Hollings, looked good before bruising his ribs in the second preseason
game. Hollings also has a fumbling problem, which has coaches very
concerned. Jonathan Wells has had his best training camp but also has been
slowed by a sore knee. Davis returned the last week of training camp, and if
he's healthy, the running game is in good shape. FBs Moran Norris and Jarrod
Baxter are punishing blockers who accept their roles of rarely touching the
ball. Grade: B-plus.

Receivers: The Texans believe WR Andre Johnson is poised to become one of
the league's elite receivers. He led all AFC rookies in catches (66) and
yards (976) and was a finalist for Offensive Rookie of the Year. On the
other side, Corey Bradford has big-play ability - his 19.2 yards-per-catch
average was tops in the AFC among players with 20 or more receptions.
Entering training camp, backup Jabar Gaffney complained that Carr didn't
spread the passes around better, but he seemed happier after seeing more
passes in camp. Derick Armstrong had a solid training camp and will see
increased playing time, but the depth is questionable. Billy Miller has been
the tight end when the Texans were in passing situations and Jabari Holloway
the run blocker. But free-agent addition Bruener might consolidate the
position. The 10-year veteran has seemed to have new life and had an
impressive training camp. Whoever plays, the TE position is in very good
shape. Grade: B-minus.

Offensive linemen: This might be the area of the team that improves most. It
made leaps and bounds from Year One to Year Two, when it cut down from an
NFL-record 76 sacks allowed to only 36 last year. This season, with Pendry
coaching them to zone-block and two significant personnel changes, the line
could be greatly improved. The best personnel move was bringing in Wade from
Miami and installing him at right tackle. Then last spring the Texans moved
Seth Wand, the third-round draft pick in 2003 from tiny Northwest Missouri
State, into the starting OLT spot, and he has been better than they could
have hoped. That allowed the team to move two-year starter Chester Pitts,
who was probably always out of position, to the OLG spot. With veterans
Steve McKinney at center and Zach Wiegert at right guard, the team has its
best front five ever and some respectable depth in Milford Brown, Todd
Washington and Fred Weary. The Texans are quietly hoping for great things
from this line. Grade: B.

Defensive linemen: Health is the biggest concern here. Pro Bowl DE Gary
Walker missed all but four games last season because of toe and shoulder
injuries, and veteran NT Seth Payne missed 14 games after having knee
surgery. Both are back and insist they are healthy, although Walker had a
groin injury late in camp and Payne, who had two follow-up "procedures" on
his knee during the offseason, has been brought along very slowly, as the
team only hopes to have him completely ready for the opener. But Smith came
in from Tennessee and has looked solid in his move to end. Jerry DeLoach,
who has started all 32 of the Texans' games and had more than 100 total
tackles in each of the team's two seasons, has been forced to the second
team. Thus, the Texans feel good about their depth here, including DE Junior
Ioane and Corey Sears, both of whom played extensively last season. Grade:
C-plus
.

Linebackers: The Texans feel ILB Jamie Sharper was the most underrated
defender in the league last year after he led the NFL in tackles and had no
post-season honors to show for it. He's back to bolster the inside along
with Jay Foreman, who had 180 tackles. But the OLB duo could see the biggest
improvement on the defense as veteran Kailee Wong has moved from the LOLB
spot to right outside linebacker, and Babin has taken over on the left.
Babin is quick and intense, and while he still has a lot to learn, the
Texans believe he is future Pro Bowl material. Capers says Babin reminds him
of former Pro Bowler Kevin Greene, whom Capers coached in Pittsburgh. And
Antwan Peek, who missed five games with injury as a rookie, has looked good
enough on the other side that Wong has been seeing some time at the inside
spot opposite Sharper. Grade: B.

Defensive backs: One of the league's best cornerbacks, Aaron Glenn, made his
third Pro Bowl in Houston's first season in 2002, but a nagging groin injury
limited him to only 11 games last year. He's healthy and has looked superb
in training camp. Marcus Coleman had been picked on, playing the other
corner much of the last two seasons. But the Texans took Robinson with their
first pick in April and immediately pronounced Robinson the starter opposite
Glenn. They moved Coleman, who had a career-high seven interceptions last
year, to free safety, where his size (6-2, 206) and athleticism might be
more suited. That could solve two problems for the Texans, who have always
had concerns at free safety, as Coleman has taken to the position well.
Robinson is still learning and will make many mistakes, but his great
catch-up speed will probably keep him in the starting lineup while he
completes the education. SS Eric Brown still is one of the league's most
feared hitters. Backup CBs Kenny Wright, Jason Bells and Demarcus Faggins,
who has come a long way from last season, and S Marlon McCree provide
quality depth. Grade: C-plus.

Special teams: PK Kris Brown and P Chad Stanley are top-quality kickers.
Both are solid and steady. Brown hit 18-of-22 (.818) of his field goals and
all 27 PATs. Stanley averaged 41.5 yards a punt and downed 36 inside the 20,
best in the league. But the return game is still not where the Texans would
like it, and they were still unsettled at those positions as they left
training camp. Incumbent J.J. Moses and rookie Vontez Duff had not been
spectacular, and the Texans were still looking for a big-play maker. Grade:
C
.

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