HOUSTON -- The key for any team looking to build an offense comes down to the trenches. The Houston Texans will be looking for its unit to be the backbone of the 2021 season.
Since 2017, Houston's offensive line has allowed at least 49 sacks per year. One of the reasons for the regression was not just because of defensive play, but also the lack of protection for Deshaun Watson.
Watson's time in Houston might be up, adding more concerns to an already mixed reviewed offensive unit. New center Justin Britt though is up for the challenge to prove the Texans can contend.
"There’s a reason they brought me here. I’m going to bring an attitude, an aggressiveness," Britt told reporters Thursday. "I’m going to play smart at the same time. I just want to play football and I know how, and I can make sure we’re on the same page. I understand my job at center."
Houston spent the offseason rebuilding nearly every position while adding competition to each role. On the offensive line, Houston added Britt, along with former Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon and Packers offensive lineman Lane Taylor.
Houston also moved off offensive line coach Mike Devlin in favor of the highly-regarded James Campen, who recently spent the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers and Cleveland Browns. Add all that together and it's a complete 180 change at perhaps the most influential unit in the sport.
“We understand it starts up front, that we’re the heartbeat of the offense,” new center Britt said. “Whenever I was going to sign, 'Camp' and I talked, and we were on the same mission. We wanted to set the tone with the run game and build off that with the pass game.”
Britt will be asked to be the veteran of the group despite the Cannon leadership and Pro Bowl tackle Laremy Tunsil's production. Outside of left tackle, a center's role is to set up plays and make sure they pick up on blitzes and formations before the snap.
Coming out Missouri, Britt thrived with the Seattle Seahawks during his six seasons. Twice he graded out on Pro Football Focus a grade over 77.0. He started in 86 games out of 87 appearances, growing from guard to a role inside at center.
Houston's passing attack will take a hit with the loss of Will Fuller and potentially Watson. That only adds more pressure on the run game to carry the load moving in 2021.
Britt says that while most teams love to pass, it's the ones who can pound the ball that make deeper runs towards the postseason.
“You can pass all you want, but a really good pass game comes with the run game,” Britt said. “I think the guys we have up front are all kind of tough, mean guys, and they want to run the ball and be aggressive as big guys do."
Britt likely will start at center. Cannon is expected to play right guard. Both Tunsil and third-year pro Tytus Howard are set at tackle. The last battle will come down to the left guard position.
Max Scharping and Taylor should be in line for the starting nod. The third-year second-round pick struggled in eight starts last season at the role. Taylor is coming off a season-ending knee injury from Week 1 with the Green Bay Packers.
Britt believes it all comes down to chemistry. The one who "gels" best will be given the first chance to help Houston improve from 4-12 a season ago.
“I think we’re already jelling up front,” Britt said. “I think there’s great leadership in the room. Everyone in the room is sharp. It’s going to be a fun room, a competitive room, one that can and will do what it can to lead this team to victory."
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