Conspiracy Theory: The Offensive Line
Patrick D. Starr
In this series we look at the moves the Houston Texans have made since the free agency period and during the draft and let you know what is “really” going on at Reliant and with the team in 2012.
One of the more interesting positions to keep an eye on heading into training camp is what is occurring at the offensive line position. Considered one of the best offensive line units in the NFL during the 2011 season with Duane Brown, Wade Smith, Chris Myers, Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston clearing the way on the ground for the running game and providing some adequate pass protection, the group is no longer with some changes on the right side of the line.
Fast forward to the offseason, the Texans lost Mike Brisiel to the Oakland Raiders in free agency and made a shocking cost cutting move by releasing stalwart Winston. Throw in the thought of the team almost losing center Chris Myers via free agency after a couple of visits to other NFL teams, but he was resigned after Mario Williams jumped ship to Buffalo. Now with Brown, Smith and Myers back for at least one more season together, the Texans will be operating with a new right side of the offensive line. It will be new to a point, but signs are pointing to Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler as the default starters for the 2012 season. But both are coming off injury plagued seasons, where Butler was lost for the season with a torn tricep he suffered during practice early in the season that landed him on the injured reserve. Also, news came out after the season was complete that Caldwell played with high ankle sprains the whole season which he suffered during a preseason game and hampered him the entire season. Both are declared healthy for the start of the 2012 season and have starter experience for the Texans. To make matters more interesting, both Caldwell and Butler are on their last years of their respective contracts.
The real test will come from two youngsters who are currently on the Texans roster right now, Derek Newton and rookie Brandon Brooks (Brooks remains unsigned). Both are getting high praise during OTAs for being athletic and quick for their size, Newton is 6'5" 307 lbs. where Brooks is 6'5" 343 lbs. Did we mention both are under the age of 25 (Newton is 24, Brooks is 22)? The sky seems to be the limit for these two and, despite being a 7th round pick, it feels like the Texans have found a hidden gem in Newton who appeared in 14 games for the Texans in 2011. Newton appeared in short yardage and goal line situations and appeared in both playoff games too. The team has been keeping quite about Newton but he seems to be the threat to Butler for the starting right tackle position.
With this camp battle a couple of months away from being decided, we have our own insight on these intriguing battles on the offensive line.
1. Newton has made some strides this offseason and Gary Kubiak was raving about his footwork and how good he looked in the first two days of OTAs. Many fans automatically write off late round draft picks but they better get used to seeing #75 for the Texans for years to come. Expect at some point for Newton to be the next cornerstone at right tackle for the Texans.
2. As for Brooks, the second round talent fell to the Texans in the 3rd round and people were surprised with the pick. Surprised with the fact that his build doesn't fit the mold of what the Texans like as an offensive lineman. He will have an opportunity during camp to impress and with shirts and shorts it is hard to evaluate this early in OTAs, but in time he will also be the cornerstone next to Newton for the next 3 seasons at least.
3. Don't sleep on rookie center from Georgia, Ben Jones, who could possibly fit into the plans at some point as the backup guard or center. Jones could possibly look to fill the left guard position after the 2013 season when Wade Smith becomes an unrestricted free agent. Jones' versatility is something the Texans really need on their offensive line. Jones is the next in line and with the rough nature on the NFL season, Jones could see some time early, but lets hope not.
4.With the Texans money issues with the cap, if the Texans have an opportunity to make cost cutting moves without dropping off in the production department don't be surprised if the Texans make the move. With one year contracts left and young players in the wings, the time may be now for the move if, a big if, the youngsters can catch up with the learning curve.
With that said.....