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4 Houston Texans David Carr and the NFL's worst offense won't get better until the play improves along the line

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

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Sept. 1, 2003

NFL Preview 2003

4 Houston Texans David Carr and the NFL's worst offense won't get better until the play improves along the line

By Jeffri Chadiha Projected lineups and PVRs compiled by David Sabino

While the Texans' offensive linemen munched on grilled burgers
and steaks in David Carr's backyard in early July, the team's
second-year left tackle, Chester Pitts, asked for a moment alone
with the quarterback. Pitts wanted Carr to know that this season
would be different from last, that Pitts was more confident that
he could protect Carr's backside. Carr nodded. He knows that
Pitts's eyes never lie. They droop when he's down. They come
alive when he's happy. And when they gazed at Carr that
afternoon, they told the quarterback that Pitts meant what he
said.

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

In the expansion team's first season last year, Pitts was rushed
into the lineup for injured All-Pro Tony Boselli and wound up
starting all 16 games as a rookie. The plan had been to use
Pitts, a second-round draft pick, as Boselli's backup, but Pitts
survived in what was a horrid year for the line: Carr was sacked
an NFL-record 76 times. Pitts was charged with only 12 of those
sacks, but that didn't give him much solace.

Pitts had plenty to learn about his position and, when Boselli
was unable to return to full health and retired in July, he would
have to learn quickly. In the first weeks of training camp Pitts
was impressive. In addition to adding 10 pounds of muscle to his
6'4" frame, bulking up to 330, he has improved his technique,
reacting better to countermoves and, to avoid holding penalties,
keeping his hands tight to the body while pass-blocking. "Chester
has really matured," says Texans offensive line coach Tony
Marciano. "He's asking good questions, and when he makes a
mistake, he realizes it immediately. When something went wrong
last year, he'd get a look on his face that said, What am I
supposed to be doing?"

"The game has slowed down some for me," says Pitts. "When I watch
film now, I can pick things up faster, and when I'm playing, I
have a better sense of what a player is trying to do to me. All
that helps, but in the end I still have to go out and block
people like [the Dolphins'] Jason Taylor and [the Jaguars'] Hugh
Douglas."

Pitts's development is stunning in light of his background. His
high school in Los Angeles didn't have a football team, and he
walked on at San Diego State in 1998 (on the advice of Aztecs
tackle Kyle Turley, now with the Rams). Last season Pitts played
in as many games (21, including five exhibitions) as he did in
his college career. "They threw me into a pot of boiling water,
but I took it as a compliment," he says. "They knew I'd fight and
I wouldn't quit."

Pitts, Carr and center Steve McKinney were the only three players
on the Texans' offense to appear in every game. Pitts, 24, and
McKinney, 27, are the foundation for a line that must
dramatically improve for Carr and Houston to succeed. In going
4-12 last year, Houston had the league's worst offense (223.3
yards a game). Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer says he expects
the line to give up a third fewer sacks than it did last season,
but that might be unrealistic for this group.

Left guard Milford Brown hasn't played a down since the team
selected him in the sixth round of last year's supplemental
draft. Right tackle Greg Randall started 17 games for the
Patriots during their Super Bowl run in 2001, but played in only
seven games for New England last season. Right guard Zach
Wiegert, a free-agent pickup with eight years' experience, brings
veteran leadership. "I think we'll be better," says coach Dom
Capers. "Our plan last year was to have Boselli and Ryan Young [a
tackle who left for Dallas in free agency] set the tone, but when
they got hurt, we had to find other options. Now we have a group
that has a chance to build cohesiveness."

Pitts takes the same optimistic approach, but that doesn't mean
he's overconfident. He's seen the schedule. Speed rushers such as
Taylor, the Titans' Jevon Kearse, the Colts' Dwight Freeney and
the Bucs' Simeon Rice await him. "Let's just say I'm better
acclimated to what I have to do," Pitts says. "I understand our
offense and my role better. But when I think about the people I
have to go against, I'll never call this job easy." --J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: PAUL JASIENSKI UPRIGHT Carr was sacked an NFL-record 76 times last year, but Pitts (center) and crew believe they'll do better this season.COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS WALKERCOLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

CHARLIE CLEMONS takes over at outside linebacker for Jeff
Posey, Houston's top pass rusher last season who signed with the
Bills as a free agent. Clemons logged 13 1/2 sacks for the
Saints in 2001 but had only one-half sack last year. The
Texans' defense is built around the linebackers, but Clemons
has never played in a 3-4 scheme.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"Andre Johnson will help David Carr, because he's got great size
and speed. Once he develops, Johnson will be a receiver who
demands extra attention. Jabar Gaffney is better suited as a No.
2 receiver, because he drops too many balls.... They need some
help in the running game. I don't know if Stacey Mack is the
answer. He's a good short-yardage back, but I question whether he
can do much else.... Carr has the tools to be a great
quarterback, but they have to get that line straightened out....
Defensively, they should be solid. They were the best expansion
team ever because of the talent on that side of the ball.... Gary
Walker is as intense as they come. He'll stuff the run, and he's
quick enough to pressure quarterbacks.... Seth Payne is an ideal
3-4 nosetackle. He plays with great leverage, and he's smart....
I thought Jamie Sharper was a good linebacker in Baltimore, and
he showed why last season.... I wasn't surprised that Aaron Glenn
made the Pro Bowl. He's always been one of the league's top
cornerbacks. He'll bait quarterbacks into making bad decisions,
and he's super aggressive."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Miami
14 at New Orleans
21 KANSAS CITY
28 JACKSONVILLE

Oct. 5 OPEN DATE
12 at Tennessee
19 N.Y. JETS
26 at Indianapolis

Nov. 2 CAROLINA
9 at Cincinnati
16 at Buffalo
23 NEW ENGLAND
30 ATLANTA

Dec. 7 at Jacksonville
14 at Tampa Bay
21 TENNESSEE
28 INDIANAPOLIS

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 7
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .533
Games against playoff teams: 7

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 4-12
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 31/32/32
DEFENSE 28/10/16

COACH: Dom Capers; second season with Houston (34-46 in NFL)

STACEY MACK [1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 85 98 436 4.4

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
11 79 7.2 9

DAVID CARR

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 110 444 233 52.5

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,592 9 15 62.8

MORAN NORRIS

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 425 0 0 --

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
0 0 -- 0

ANDRE JOHNSON (R) [1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 108 52 1,092 9

BILLY MILLER

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 181 51 613 3

CHESTER PITTS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'4" 330 lbs. 16 16

MILFORD BROWN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'4" 316 lbs. 0 0

STEVE MCKINNEY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 16

ZACH WIEGERT [1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 309 lbs. 7 7

GREG RANDALL [1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'5" 322 lbs. 7 2

COREY BRADFORD

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 142 45 697 6

DEFENSE

RE JERRY DELOACH 32 tackles 1 sack
NT SETH PAYNE 65 tackles 1 sack
LE GARY WALKER 52 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB CHARLIE CLEMONS [1] 84 tackles 1/2 sack
ILB JAY FOREMAN 137 tackles 0 sacks
ILB JAMIE SHARPER 137 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
OLB KAILEE WONG 44 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
CB MARCUS COLEMAN 72 tackles 1 int.
SS ERIC BROWN 67 tackles 2 int.
FS MATT STEVENS 83 tackles 1 int.
CB AARON GLENN 67 tackles 5 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K KRIS BROWN 259 20/20 XPS 17/24 FGS 71 PTS.
PR AVION BLACK 322 14 RET. 13.4 AVG. 1 TDS
KR AVION BLACK 322 24 RET. 22.0 AVG. 0 TDS
P CHAD STANLEY 114 PUNTS 41.4 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"They were the best expansion team ever because of their talent
on defense."