HOUSTON -- Nick Caserio made two trades up in his first NFL Draft as the Houston Texans' general manager. One was for Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins.
The other? TCU linebacker Garret Wallow. When giving away that type of draft capital, the expectations to contribute early will be warranted from both the staff and fan base.
Likely less familiar than Collins to Texans fans, it'll be interesting to see how the former Horned Frog performs at training camp with hopes of playing his way into a productive role in defensive coordinator Lovie Smith's new 4-3 scheme.
“What stood out the most for (Wallow) was just his intelligence,” Texans' linebacker coach Miles Smith last month via Zoom. “Playing linebacker in our system, yeah, you’ve got to be a great athlete. I think everybody kind of knows that, but the second trait that we look for is just raw intelligence. Can somebody think on the fly? Can somebody, when they get a little rattled, are they still able to stay composed? He was able to do that.”
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A fifth-round pick, the Texans liked what they saw from the leader of Gary Patterson's TCU defense. In his final season, Wallow tallied a team-high 90 total tackles on the way to strong finish in conference play.
The 90 stops were also second-most in the Big 12, behind only former West Virginia and current Cleveland Browns' safety Tony Fields II.
How will Wallow reach the field? That's a question for both the short and long-term outlook at the linebacker role. Lovie Smith has not said yet if he'll run a majority of two or three linebacker sets.
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Houston still has veteran Zach Cunningham and also signed former Browns and Packers linebacker Christian Kirksey. Naturally, Miles Smith said that Wallow will learn every position to better his chances of making an impact early.
“Our linebackers are essentially interchangeable," Miles Smith said. "Because of that, they need to be able to learn all three of the linebacking positions and you’ve got to be able to think to do that. I think he has grown exponentially since he’s been here so far because he has been able to rely on that great attribute that he has, his intelligence; very excited about his future.”
Cunningham, who led the NFL with 164 tackles last season, began his career at Vanderbilt in a 4-3 set. Since arriving in Houston, he has played the "WILL" backer to Benardrick McKinney's "MIKE" in the former 3-4 look.
In Houston's new "Tampa 2" scheme, it emphasizes the playmaking ability of Cunningham when in open space. Kirksey, who also is coming for a 3-4 set, is currently penciled in as the team's "MIKE" starter.
Depending on the formation, Wallow could be best used at the "SAM" or strong-side linebacker thanks to his tackling. If there's one thing scouts agreed on, it's that the kid can make open-field stops.
Time will tell if Wallow was a risky selection, but Miles Smith is going to give his rookie a chance to adapt and develop into a quality starter for the new look down at NRG Stadium.
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