Replacing an icon is an unenviable task, but one that the Houston Texans' defensive line faces this year.
Texans legend J.J. Watt is now in a (even) warmer climate with the Arizona Cardinals. An already struggling front line has lost its most consistently productive defensive player.
While Watt hadn't been at his mind-blowing best since his comeback in 2018, his impact on Houston's defense was as important as ever in 2020.
Last season Watt led Houston in sacks (5.0), quarterback hits (17), defensive fumbles returned (Tied with 1), forced fumbles (Tied with 2), defended passes (Tied with 7), interceptions (Tied with 1), and defensive touchdowns (1).
And that could be classed as an 'off year' for Watt...
Now that Watt has departed, Houston needs to find a replacement for that production. But who is the right guy to fill the void?
New defender Shaq Lawson arrived via trade this offseason and looks the most likely to take Watt's spot in the lineup. He himself recorded four sacks, 18 QB hits, a forced fumble, a defended pass, and a touchdown in 2020.
Lawson alone cannot be expected to replace Watt, it'll need to be a group effort.
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Third-year defensive end Charles Omenihu had a acceptable production in Year 2 and a rotational player, and saw his snaps increase week by week. The ability is there, but is the consistency?
Jacob Martin and Jonathan Greenard bot suited up for Houston at outside linebackers during Bill O'Brien's 3-4 set. They now move to a three-point stance with Lovie Smith playing a Tampa 2 4-3 base.
Martin and Greenard have shown potential as out and out pass rushers, and this change of scheme and position could be just what they need to thrive.
Whitney Mercilus will also need to find a new role with this scheme change. His pass-rushing abilities have never been in doubt and could be set to become an increased part of his game this year.
Amongst the wave of new arrivals were defensive end DeMarcus Walker who had 4.5 sacks last year, and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins who had a drop in production last year but eight sacks in 2019 with the Jets.
Maliek Collins, who if he can return to his former best, would be a huge boost to this defensive line.
Ultimately, this training camp will be a huge opportunity for all the aforementioned players. Houston needs a big-time playmaker and has a huge hole in the starting lineup.
This is the kind of chance players dream of reaching. Replacing a talent like Watt is challenging, but someone has too, right?
If Smith is lucky, he'll have plenty of competition for the job and more than enough productivity from multiple guys to replace perhaps the greatest player to don a Texans uniform.
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