Texans Positional Outlook: Linebackers Need a Slight Change Heading into 2020
Patrick D. Starr
The Houston Texans linebackers were a mixed group in 2019 from having a strong inside presence versus and edge group that underachieved getting the quarterback.
The Texans appear to be in a solid spot with their inside personnel. There might need to be some tweaking for the edge heading into 2020.
Starters- OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Brennan Scarlett, ILB Benardrick McKinney, ILB Zach Cunningham
Backups- OLB Jacob Martin, OLB Barkevious Mingo (UFA), ILB Tyrell Adams (UFA), ILB Peter Kalambayi, ILB Dylan Cole, OLB *Duke Ejiofor, OLB *Chris Landrum
The Texans' pass rush off the edge was not what it was expected to be in 2019. Whitney Mercilus got off to a hot start but was a non-factor with injuries around him. Mercilus was able to finish with 7.5 sacks on the season. The emergence of Jacob Martin was a plus. He finished with 4.5 sacks in the final five games of the season. Benardrick McKinney continues to be a tackling machine as the leader of the defense, but Zach Cunningham had the best season of anyone on the unit. Cunningham led the AFC in total tackles and showed he could be a force from the inside of the defense. For the third time in as many years, Dylan Cole's season was cut short due to injury.
Outlook for the Linebackers Heading into 2020
The duo Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham are in a position to handle the middle of the defense for the fourth straight season together. McKinney remains the brains of the Texans defense while Cunningham is an emerging player. The two complement each other well, and they are in good hands with the duo remaining together.
Dylan Cole has to show he can stay healthy, for the third straight season he has ended up on the injured reserve. Cole is thought of highly inside the building, but his health has not let him hit his full potential. Tyrell Adams and Peter Kalamabyi remain special teams' core players. Adams showed he could play inside linebacker when needed and Kalambayi is one of the team's top special teams players.
The edge group is an interesting one, to say the least, moving into 2020.
Whitney Mercilus remains the most well-rounded edge player of the group able to hold up in the run and to rush the passer. Mercilus has more success when others around him can leave him matched up one-on-one, but that will take a shift in better personnel to help him succeed next season.
Brennan Scarlett was their starter at outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive sets and substituted when they brought in their nickel and dime personnel for better pass rushers. Scarlett had some ups and downs this past season, but he built more like a rotational player than significant snaps as a starter.
The Texans might have found a rising pass-rusher in Jacob Martin, who showed in the last half of the season when given the opportunity, that he can get to the quarterback. Martin's role is expected to grow heading into next season.
The hope is that Duke Ejiofor bounces back from an achillies injury he suffered before the start of the 2019 season. Ejiofor showed his rookie season that he could help out the pass rush, but that season was cut down with a shoulder injury. Dating back to college for Ejiofor, injuries have been the biggest issue for the young edge player.
Find help off the edge will be essential for the Texans in 2020, a player to possibly take Scarlett's role at outside linebacker or a young pass rusher to develop and work into the rotation. The team has options on the route they want to take, but availability could lead them to their answer. Either way, there will be at least a new face helping the defense get to the quarterback next season.
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