Have Texans Found New Answer At Safety?
Anthony R Wood
It can take time for any player to find their role in a new team, and it appears second-year cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. may have a future by staying with the Houston Texans - but by moving elsewhere from cornerback.
"I like Lonnie at safety," said head coach Bill O'Brien on Monday. "I think Lonnie has the size and the ability to play safety."
Drafted in the second round last season, Johnson looked set to take over from Kareem Jackson at cornerback. Jackson spent nine years in Houston starting at both cornerback and safety but was let go after the 2018 season in favor of bringing in younger playmakers on defense.
Jackson made his mark as an aggressive tackler; Johnson can do some of the same, stands tall at 6-2 and possesses the athleticism and strength to potentially be a good fit at strong safety opposite Justin Reid.
"He’s a good tackler. He’s an instinctive player," said O'Brien of the former Kentucky Wildcats standout. "I think he did some good things at safety (in Sunday's loss to Baltimore) and I think he’ll get better and better doing that. He can also obviously still play corner and help us in that area, too. He’s got versatility.''
With the emergence of rookie John Reid at cornerback, the imminent return of starter Gareon Conley from IR, and Bradley Roby's new three-year deal, safety may be the best fit for Johnson, 23, in this defense.
The Texans currently have Eric Murray starting at strong safety. But his performances so far have not been as impactful as the team may have hoped, with a disappointing 58.3 PFF grade for the season to date. While this may simply be an issue of growing-pain adjustments in a new system, the high-priced free agency acquisition has big shoes to fill if only due to expectations.
Houston has struggled to find a long-term answer to the position in recent years, with Jackson, Andre Hal, and All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu most-notably occupying his position in recent years.
Perhaps the partnership of Justin Reid and Lonnie Johnson is the answer the Texans have been looking for.