4 Houston Texans A veteran defense will be expected to carry the load in what figures to be a long season

September 01, 2002

It's a homecoming for them both, though depending upon which one
you listen to, the leaders of the expansion Texans see the home
of the NFL's 32nd franchise as either a place of exile or a
refuge. Defensive tackle Gary Walker and cornerback Aaron Glenn
do agree on one thing, however: If the Texans are to finish
closer to the 1995 Panthers (7-9) than the '76 Buccaneers (0-14)
in the expansion-era pantheon, they and their defensive mates
will have to generously exceed expectations. With question marks
at every offensive skill position--and Houston's best player, left
tackle Tony Boselli, sidelined indefinitely by two off-season
shoulder operations--the Texans will win (on occasion) only if
rookie quarterback and franchise cornerstone David Carr isn't
expected to do everything.

"Bottom line: If our defense can't keep us within 10 points come
the fourth quarter, it'll be a long year," says Texans coach Dom
Capers, the resident expert on almost-winning expansion football.
(Those '95 Panthers were his team.) "If we're not forcing
turnovers and stopping big plays, we'll have to throw all the
time, and our quarterback will be spending a lot of time on his
back."

Given Carr's stake in the defense's performance, it's no wonder
that one of his first stops in Houston was the hospital where
Walker was recovering following late-May surgery on his right
groin. While Walker was moved by his teammate's gesture, his
homecoming (Walker played for the Oilers in 1995 and '96) is
still a bittersweet one. Perceived as a problem in Jacksonville
following a reported locker room brawl with teammates last
season, Walker thought he'd be released by the Jaguars and thus
able to test the free-agent waters. Instead they left him
unprotected, and Houston used its fourth pick to select him in
the expansion draft. "I was bitter when they didn't just let me
go, but to end up here means everything worked out," he says. "I
feel like I've always had something to prove, and this year's no
different."

The success of Houston's 3-4 scheme will hinge on Walker's
ability to take on multiple blockers, collapse the pocket and get
to the quarterback, all of which he proved he could do in
Jacksonville. He had 10 sacks in '99 and, following an
injury-plagued 2000, had 7 1/2 sacks last season and made his
first Pro Bowl.

"Gary's enthusiasm lifts everyone up," says outside linebacker
Kailee Wong. "He reminds me of John Randle [the seven-time
All-Pro tackle who played with Wong for three seasons in
Minnesota] in that way. You always hear him, and no one outworks
him. He's invaluable for us."

For Glenn, the former Texas A&M star who played eight years for
the Jets, the return home is far sweeter; the Pro Bowl corner was
elated when Houston took him, a pick ahead of Walker. "I liked
New York, but Houston fits me better," he says. "My wife's from
here, my family's here, so for me it's the best situation."
Though Glenn is as soft-spoken as Walker is voluble, his
leadership of an otherwise shaky secondary and his superior
ball-hawking skills make him equally valuable (in a division with
the Jaguars' Jimmy Smith and the Colts' Marvin Harrison).

The Texans are deepest at linebacker, where a trio of proven
veterans--Wong, outside rush specialist Keith Mitchell, formerly
of the Saints, and inside linebacker Jamie Sharper, the potential
breakout star of the bunch after toiling for five years with the
Ravens in Ray Lewis's considerable shadow--will keep things close,
if only for a while.

The almost certain shortage of victories isn't likely to dampen
many spirits in Houston, which gets its favorite sport back six
years after Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Nashville. Fans will be
watching the Texans in the NFL's new crown jewel of fields,
Reliant Stadium--a two-million-square-foot mammoth that dwarfs
even its next-door neighbor, the Astrodome--and the team that
opens at home against the long-hated Cowboys will be nothing if
not young (the Texans selected no players older than 30 in the
expansion draft) and hungry. To Walker, that is all that should
be expected. "We know we're here to build something for the
future," he says. "We intend to come together for the folks here.
We've got no other choice." --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Wong should turn heads as he moves back outside as a speed pass rusher. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS YOUNG

NEW TWIST

--One of the Texans' biggest free-agent signings was linebacker
Kailee Wong, who spent his first four seasons with the Vikings.
Wong played on the outside in Minnesota's 4-3 during his first
three seasons, then switched to the middle in 2001. Now he's
moving back outside as a pass-rushing linebacker in Houston's
3-4 scheme.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Texans

"They start out stronger than any other recent expansion team
because so many quality players were left unprotected for the
expansion draft strictly because of high cap numbers. But there
are too many holes to expect them to be competitive.... They're
smart to play David Carr. He'll get a yearlong honeymoon. Coming
out, he reminds me a lot of Peyton Manning: polished, humble,
with all the intangibles.... But that O-line is in shambles. If
Tony Boselli and Ryan Young don't get back until midseason, Carr
will be running for his life.... I really like Jabar Gaffney. He
doesn't have any one outstanding quality, but of all the rookie
receivers he could be the most productive this year. The
complicated system he played in at Florida means he won't be
overwhelmed in an NFL offense.... Corey Bradford never panned out
in Green Bay, and if you're that fast and can't get it done with
Brett Favre throwing to you, it doesn't bode well for doing
anything in Houston.... Jonathan Wells was a steal in the fourth
round. He could've gone mid-second round.... Their defense is way
too thin, but with no injuries it'll be O.K. Gary Walker and Seth
Payne are legit players, and their linebackers--Kailee Wong, Keith
Mitchell, and especially Jamie Sharper--will be good.... Aaron
Glenn is a top five cornerback, but Marcus Coleman is too big and
will be a liability in coverage.... They could win five games,
but the toughest thing for this team will be learning to close
out tight games."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 DALLAS
15 at San Diego
22 INDIANAPOLIS
29 at Philadelphia

Oct. 6 Open date
13 BUFFALO
20 at Cleveland
27 at Jacksonville

Nov. 3 CINCINNATI
10 at Tennessee
17 JACKSONVILLE
24 N.Y. GIANTS

Dec. 1 at Indianapolis
8 at Pittsburgh
15 BALTIMORE
22 at Washington
29 TENNESSEE

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 32
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .441
Games against playoff teams: 3

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Dom Capers; first season with Houston (30-34 in NFL)
INAUGURAL SEASON

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB David Carr (R) 114
533 att. 344 comp. 64.5% 4,839 yds. 46 TDs 9 int. 165.9 rtg.

RB James Allen 84
135 att. 469 yds. 3.5 avg. 30 rec. 203 yds. 6.8 avg. 2 TDs

RB Jonathan Wells (R) 240
251 att. 1,331 yds. 5.3 avg. 11 rec. 117 yds. 10.6 avg. 16 TDs

FB Jarrod Baxter (R) 181
203 att. 907 yds. 4.5 avg. 7 rec. 49 yds. 7.0 avg. 11 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Corey Bradford 143 31 rec. 526 yds. 2 TDs
WR Jermaine Lewis 81 4 rec. 32 yds. 1 TD
WR Jabar Gaffney (R) 152 67 rec. 1,191 yds. 13 TDs
TE Rod Rutledge 272 5 rec. 35 yds. 0 TDs
K Kris Brown 325 34/37 XPs 30/44 FGs 124 pts.
PR Jermaine Lewis 81 42 ret. 12.4 avg. 0 TDs
KR Jermaine Lewis 81 42 ret. 24.7 avg. 0 TDs

LT Tony Boselli 6'7" 322 lbs. 3 games 3 starts
LG DeMingo Graham 6'3" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Steve McKinney 6'4" 295 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RG Fred Weary (R) 6'4" 308 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RT Ryan Young 6'5" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

DEFENSE

LE Gary Walker 35 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
NT Jerry DeLoach 9 tackles 1 sack
RE Seth Payne 40 tackles 5 sacks
OLB Kailee Wong 83 tackles 3 sacks
ILB Jay Foreman 72 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
ILB Jamie Sharper 77 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Keith Mitchell 61 tackles 2 sacks
CB Aaron Glenn 27 tackles 5 int.
SS Eric Brown 77 tackles 2 int.
FS Matt Stevens 30 tackles 1 int.
CB Marcus Coleman 59 tackles 2 int.
P Chad Stanley 19 punts 39.5 avg.

(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"David Carr reminds me a lot of Peyton Manning: polished,
humble, with all the intangibles."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)