Houston Texans: Offensive Line, part 1

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Generally speaking, the offensive line is an intriguing and often misunderstood component to the offensive side of the ball. Consisting of offensive guards, tackles, and center, they are the first line of defense to protect the quarterback  on passing plays and create holes in the defense to allow rushing plays. Most often graded as a group, as opposed to individual strength, and done so for a reason, as the weakest link on the team determines the strength of the group.

That being said, the Houston Texans offensive line has been an enigma for a few years now, and merits some strong consideration for upgrades in the free agency and/or draft. However, I will go somewhat against the grain and grade the 2015 0-line as being a relatively consistent force to be reckoned with, despite a myriad of injury and position shuffling, and an outrageous season record number of sacks in the Texans 1st post-season game since 2012. Credit should be given where credit is due, and the fact of the matter is the Texans had a QB in 2015 that consistently took too much time in passing reads.

The Texans o-line has 2 distinctive weak spots; rush blocking and left tackle. Left tackle is the pinnacle position of the o-line, protecting the outside corner blindspot of the QB, and this position has been held by the heart and soul of the team: Duane Brown. Brown, although still a solid player in the LT position, has lost a step or two in 2015, but his season-ending quad tear in his right leg, which led to surgery and a lengthy recovery and a pretty large amount of uncertainty for the 2016 season. With Brown’s future somewhat questionable, LT should be aggressively shopped in the FA.

Rush blocking cannot be pinpointed to a single player, mainly due to the shuffling the Texans have seen on the o-line early on in the season, and throughout the year. When a relative consistency was reached on the o-line (starting players), the rush blocking did improve. However, star quality is still somewhat lacking with contract players, and a few of those contracts should be scrutinized before heading into the free agency. In essence, while it’s great to have formidable back-ups in every position, the o-line shouldn’t be saturated with them.

Duane Brown’s injury leaves a heavy hole in the o-line, and someone is likely needed to plug in at LT to at least start the 2016 season. Currently, our roster options are Derek Newton, Andrew McDonald, David Quessenberry, and Kendall Lamm. Do we have an answer at LT in the current line-up? Let’s take a look.

Derek Newton honestly lines up better as guard, but has shown a formidable stance at right tackle alongside current G free agent Brandon Brooks. Newton has a limited future, and while he has experience with both guard and tackle, he’s too inconsistent to be a viable plug-in at LT.

Andrew McDonald hasn’t touched the field with the Texans, and was signed as a post-season back-up due to Duane Brown’s season-ending injury. He brings some veteran knowledge to the team, and could be an assett if Duane Brown isn’t ready for the start of the season. If he’s kept, he’ll be filler.

David Quessenberry’s story can be found here, and I would expect him to finish out his final year on his contract in Houston. Before his cancer diagnosis and long term non-football injury designation, Quessenberry showed some spark and promise at tackle. He could make a case for himself as a formidable back-up at LT.

Kendall Lamm was an undrafted rookie who stepped in at RT with current free agent Jeff Adam’s season-ending injury. He’s a dual player, used both as RT and blocking tight-end, with an impressive rookie season for an undrafted player. He’s not a future LT, but his spot on the roster is in his to lose coming into 2016.

I guess we’ve got our answer there – we’ll need some help at tackle in the FA, and possibly in the draft as well.

Now, let’s take a look at our guards under contract. Currently under contract are: Oday Aboushi, Xavier Su’A Filo, Chad Slade, and Karim Barton. I’d also designate Derek Newton here, as well, moving forward, and his stock has already been discussed, so let’s look at the other guys.

Oday Aboushi was claimed off waivers at the beginning of the 2015 season, due to other team injuries, and played well at LG for the first half of the season. He shined in his first few starts, but was mainly relegated to back-up and plugged in as necessary, due to other player injuries. While a solid performer at LG, you have to consider that LG is the weakest player in the o-line. He may be back, but I predict he won’t be.

Xavier Su’A-Filo is the 2014 2nd round pick that was expected to hit the ground running, but didn’t. He couldn’t get any consistency going in 2014, and was constantly beat out by veterans where youth should have been on his side. There have been questions to his physical strength, and he started off the 2015 offseason behind the curve, being relegated to drills because he wasn’t in shape.

Injury sidelined him in the first few games of the season, but he did start to make headway and eventually became a consistent starter, in place of Aboushi, as LG toward the end of the season. With his contract, no doubt he’ll be back, and if he continues his improved streak. he’ll finally be a good payoff for the Texans in 2016 and beyond. If he shows up to training camp in peak condition, it’ll be a good start.

Chad Slade was an undrafted rookie signed on in 2015, and showed a lot of promise in the preseason. An injury and back surgery sidelined him for the 2015 season, so much is still left to be learned about his potential. He’ll get his chance in the offseason to show what he can do, and if he keeps his momentum going from the 2015 preseason, it would be great to have a young talent back-up on the o-line in 2016.

Karim Barton was an undrafted free agent signing in 2014, with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was eventually signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad for that season. After failing to make the final roster in Cleveland in 2015, he was signed to the Texans practice squad. This year is the year to prove he’s got the talent for a roster spot, but he fails to have the developmental backround in the pros to equate success. I see him being cut before the season starts.

After this, we’ve got the Centers, Ben Jones and Greg Mancz. Jones is the top free agent center, and a player we’ll need to re-sign in the FA. He had a pretty decent first year as the Center, taking over for Chris Myers, who was questionably and uncerimoniously released in 2015, and then announced his retirement after being approached again by the Texans. This is how you don’t restructure a contract. Lesson learned? Jones has been the most consistent guy on o-line, and he’s a pretty solid bet for the next few years.

Mancz has been a quick study, and has a lot of knowledge of the o-line play coming in as an undrafted rookie signing in 2015. He’s a formidable back-up for Jones, and has shown some decent capabilities when plugged in as guard. He’s a pretty safe pick for the roster as a reliable back-up for C and a plug in at G.

So, after taking a look at the roster, the Texans have some work ine the free agency and draft, primarily at tackle.  We’ll take a look at where the Texans can get some help here coming up.

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