3 Houston TEXANS

Having ably played the role of expansion-team celebrity, it's time for David Carr to fulfill his promise on the field by getting into the playoffs
September 04, 2005

THREE YEARS after arriving in Houston, David Carr has become the David Beckham of the Texas heartland. His passer rating, his family, his hair, his tendency to get sacked (a league-high 49 times last season)--it is all fodder for discussion. Last October, a month before he was named one of PEOPLE's Sexiest Men Alive, two Houston TV stations went live as his long, dark locks were chopped off. This summer, when he had his hair cut midway through training camp, it made the front page of the next day's Houston Chronicle sports section, leading to this insight from guard Zach Wiegert: "There's no denying David Carr's a good-looking man." Carr dutifully answered questions about his new 'do while coach Dom Capers just as dutifully deflected them. "His hair doesn't concern me much," Capers said, frowning. "I'm more concerned about how he throws the ball and manages the team."

As Capers should be. This is the season in which Carr, 26, must come of age as a quarterback--something more than a personality--or his Houston honeymoon may be over. Up until now he's been cut a certain amount of slack. As the first player drafted by the expansion franchise in 2002, Carr has had to deal with constant public attention in a football-starved city ("There are worse problems to have," he says) and a subpar team around him. He has responded admirably, saying all the right things and missing only four games in three years despite being sacked 140 times (including a league-record 76 in the team's first season).

But with Pro Bowl--caliber talent in running back Domanick Davis and wide receiver Andre Johnson in the huddle, and coming off a promising if ultimately disappointing 7--9 season, it's playoffs or bust. "I expect David to have his best year," says Capers. "He's got a much better feel in terms of game situations and managing the team because of the experience he's gained. The challenge is to maintain his consistency."

That's the word repeated over and over in the Texans' camp. They swept division rivals Jacksonville and Tennessee last season but couldn't figure out Indianapolis (though they weren't alone). More to the point, they lost to the Lions and, more embarrassingly, at home to the Browns in the last game with their first .500 season on the line. The potential is there: Carr, Davis and Johnson have drawn comparisons with another Texas trio, from the early '90s--the Cowboys' Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Johnson, at 6'3", 219 pounds, finished second in the Fastest Man competition on Pro Bowl weekend yet plays a physical game. Opponents often rolled coverage to his side of the field to try to stop him, but he still had 79 catches for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns. Davis was a workhorse, accounting for 34.6% of the team's total offense (1,188 rushing yards and 588 receiving), but at 5'9" there are questions about his durability.

The challenge this year is to not rely exclusively on this two-pronged attack. To that end Houston drafted wide receiver Jerome Mathis, a burner out of Hampton, and tailback Vernand Morency, an explosive one-cut runner out of Oklahoma State. To further mix things up, in camp offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was lining up Johnson in different spots and trying new ways to get him the ball, such as on end arounds.

The offensive line is still shaky after a proposed off-season trade with the Rams for Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace fell through, but Capers believes that with two starters in just their second seasons with the team, the unit is improving. The defense has been renovated but isn't substantially better than last season's, which ranked 23rd in total defense and was near the bottom of the league in touchdown passes allowed. So it's up to Carr, Davis and Johnson to carry Houston into wild-card contention. "We have enough talent to beat the teams we're supposed to beat," says Carr. He pauses to wave to a group of young fans on the sideline, then nods. "The fans should be upset if we don't perform well. We certainly will be." --C.B.

PLAYMAKER

Last season cornerback Dunta Robinson led the Texans with six interceptions, added three sacks and made 88 tackles, finishing second in voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year (behind the Jets' Jonathan Vilma). He is fast enough to stick to a receiver in man coverage and has good recovery speed. Though he weighs only 174 pounds, he's a brutal hitter; coach Dom Capers has said he holds his breath whenever he sees Robinson taking on a fullback.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW

ENEMY LINES

David Carr might end up as another Jim Plunkett: We won't know what kind of quarterback he really is until he's 30. He has the same problem Plunkett had--no protection. I don't know how management can look that kid in the eye. Ever since they drafted him, they've failed to put a decent line in front of him.... The basic problem with the line is no speed. Steve McKinney was O.K. as a guard in Indy, but he's too slow to play center. And who do they bring in at left tackle? Victor Riley, another big, slow guy.... There's only one big-time receiver, Andre Johnson. I think they're going to have a hard time scoring points.... Defensively, I like their front three, plus first-round draft pick Travis Johnson. They're big, strong 3-4 linemen, and I think they'll cover the loss of their inside linebackers by moving Kailee Wong and Morlon Greenwood inside.... Their big problem on defense will be in the secondary. Dunta Robinson is terrific, but he's only 174 pounds. They'd better hope he doesn't get hurt, because I don't see enough speed and coverage ability. They made a big trade for the Raiders' Phillip Buchanon, but do you really think Al Davis would let a former No. 1 draft choice go if he thought he could play?

"Do you really think Al Davis would let Phillip Buchanon go if he thought he could play?"

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

 

OFFENSE

DOMANICK DAVIS

POS. RB

PVR 28

ATT. 302

YARDS 1,188

AVG. 3.9

REC. 68

YARDS 588

AVG. 8.6

TDs 14

 

DAVID CARR

POS. QB

PVR 81

ATT. 466

COMP. 285

% 61.2

YARDS 3,531

TDs 16

INT. 14

RATING 83.5

 

MORAN NORRIS

POS. FB

PVR 398

ATT. 1

YARDS 0

AVG. 0.0

REC. 4

YARDS 13

AVG. 3.3

TDs 0

 

KRIS BROWN

POS. K

PVR 265

XPs MADE 34

XPs ATT. 34

FG MADE 17

FG ATT. 24

PTS. 85

 

ANDRE JOHNSON

POS. WR

PVR 62

REC. 79

YARDS 1,142

TDs 6

 

MARK BRUENER

POS. TE

PVR 333

REC. 4

YARDS 52

TDs 0

 

VICTOR RILEY (NEW ACQUISITION )

POS. LT

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 340

GMS. 16

STARTS 15

 

CHESTER PITTS

POS. LG

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 320

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

STEVE MCKINNEY

POS. C

HEIGHT 6'4"

WEIGHT 302

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

ZACH WIEGERT

POS. RG

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 309

GMS. 13

STARTS 13

 

TODD WADE

POS. RT

HEIGHT 6'8"

WEIGHT 315

GMS. 14

STARTS 13

 

JABAR GAFFNEY

POS. WR

PVR 187

REC. 41

YARDS 632

TDs 2

 

DEFENSE

 

ANTWAN PEEK

POS. ROLB

TACKLES 13

SACKS 2

INT. 1

 

MORLON GREENWOOD (NEW ACQUISITION )

POS. RILB

TACKLES 101

SACKS 0

INT. 0

 

ROBAIRE SMITH

POS. RE

TACKLES 52

SACKS 2

 

SETH PAYNE

POS. NT

TACKLES 51

SACKS 2

 

GARY WALKER

POS. LE

TACKLES 30

SACKS 1/2

 

KAILEE WONG

POS. LILB

TACKLES 71

SACKS 51/2

INT. 3

 

JASON BABIN

POS. LOLB

TACKLES 63

SACKS 4

INT. 0

 

DUNTA ROBINSON

POS. TACKLES INT.

CB 88 6

 

GLENN EARL

POS. SS

TACKLES 44

SACKS 0

INT. 0

 

MARCUS COLEMAN

POS. FS

TACKLES 56

SACKS 0

INT. 2

 

PHILLIP BUCHANON (NEW ACQUISITION )

POS. CB

TACKLES 59

INT. 3

 

CHAD STANLEY

POS. P

PUNTS 73

AVG. 41.2

 

2004 RECORD: 7-9

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): OFFENSE 12/18/19 DEFENSE 13/24/23

COACH: Dom Capers; fourth season with Houston (46-66 in NFL)

 

SCHEDULE

 

SEPTEMBER

11 at Buffalo 1

8 PITTSBURGH

25 Open date

 

OCTOBER

2 at Cincinnati

9 TENNESSEE

16 at Seattle

23 INDIANAPOLIS

30 CLEVELAND

 

NOVEMBER

6 at Jacksonville

13 at Indianapolis

20 KANSAS CITY

27 ST. LOUIS

 

DECEMBER

4 at Baltimore

11 at Tennessee

18 ARIZONA

24 JACKSONVILLE (S)

 

JANUARY

1 at San Francisco

 

(S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T13 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .504 Games against playoff teams: 5

PHOTODAVID J. PHILLIP/APTOUGH TEXAN A more talented lineup means Carr doesn't have to try to do it all himself. PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM PHOTODAVID EINSEL/US PRESSWIRE ROBINSON

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)