Jonathan Reyes -
Going back to 2008, this offensive line was maybe considered the greatest in franchise history. Perhaps there were a few reasons for that. One of those key reasons was health. The group started all 16 games aside each other. They also allowed then rookie running back Steve Slaton to set a franchise record in rushing yards with 1,282 yards. Not only did he set a franchise record, he led all rookie running backs in rushing yards. In the passing game, this offensive line allowed Matt Schaub to throw for a then career-high 3,043 yards and 15 touchdowns. Pretty impressive stuff!
Fast forward to 2009, it appears that was all thrown out the window. Was it injuries or just an off year? Who knows, but any way you look at, last year, the offensive line took a step backwards and it hurt the Texans in the running game. Even though Matt Schaub had a career year and lead the league in passing with 4,770 yards along with 29 TDs, there was no running game to speak of. The Texans ranked 30th in rushing with only the Chargers and Colts being worse. That’s not good. For a team that likes to use play action and bootlegs, there needs to be balance of a good rushing attack and good passing attack. That all starts up front with the offensive line.
Looking at this year’s offensive line, We’ll start with Duane Brown. For Texans fans, it appears it’s a love-hate relationship with Brown. Either you love him or you hate him. Depending on who you ask, the opinions will vary. One person might tell you he will be a Pro Bowl Tackle in due time, others are already looking to replace him. Stats say it all, no? Maybe not, however, the numbers weren’t pretty. He allowed 7 sacks, 11 QB hits, and 35 QB pressures. Is he a bust? No, I won’t go there and I don’t think his coaches will either, but going into year 3, it’s just about put-up or shut up time for Brown. The Texans were and are still counting on him as their bookend left tackle opposite Eric Winston on the right side. However, I have to think if the poor play continues, the Texans may be forced to look in a different direction at Left Tackle sooner than they would like.
Brown’s fellow teammate on the left side is Kasey Studdard. Studdard, who took over for an injured Chester Pitts, didn’t fair much better than Brown himself. Studdard allowed 4 sacks, 7 QB hits, and 20 QB pressures. Not exactly setting the world on fire. However, I can cut some slack as this was Studdard’s first time seeing major playing time, in which he played 15 games. With that said, I think most Texans fans can agree that there needs to be some kind of improvement there from Studdard himself or he could find himself being replaced by the likes of Wade Smith, Shelley Smith, or Mike Brisiel.
Holding down the middle at center, or at least attempting to, is Chris Myers. He’s the man most Texans fans love to hate. This is where fans point the finger for the struggles of the offensive line. This is the man they want gone. All they remember is Jets nose tackle tossing him like a rag doll. As Lee Corso says, not so fast my friend. The stats say otherwise. Myers last year only allowed 1 QB sack, 4 QB hits and 13 QB pressures. Seems solid, right? Let’s hope he can keep it up. All in all, I’d say Myers is good enough to get the job done. You could do better, and you could do worse. Myers may get competition from FA-signee Wade Smith. However, expect Myers to keep the starting job, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances.
Next we have Antoine Caldwell. Caldwell steps in as the full-time starter after taking over for Mike Briesel and playing in 11 games last season. In those 11 games, he only allowed 1 sack,2 QB hits, and 6 QB pressures. Not too bad for the then rookie. Along with the coaches, many fans hope and believe he can become a solid right guard and be a mainstay on the right side with tackle Eric Winston. He’ll be one of the guys on the offensive line to watch this season. Can he hold up for a 16 game season and can he hold off the likes of Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel to keep his starting job? If so, watch out as he is an up and comer.
And last but least for the starters, we have Eric Winston. He is arguably The best offensive linemen the Texans have and have ever had. Now it’s time for him to start living up to that and his abilities of being a Pro Bowl tackle. Last year, the numbers weren’t particularly pretty for Winston. He allowed, 5 QB sacks, 7 QB hits, and 19 QB pressures. While his job is not in danger, he, like the rest of the starters on the offensive line, are going to have to improve for this team to take the next step forward and help the team get the balance they need offensively.
You then have the rest of the best. Arguably the deepest offensive line the Texans have ever had in franchise history. Mike Brisiel is coming off a lisfranc fracture. When healthy, he can be a decent backup, and can start if needed. Tackle Rashad Butler remains the swing tackle. Don’t expect to see much of him, barring injury. Chris White remains the backup center and guard. Should Myers suffer an injury or should Caldwell struggle, expect to see White, though he does have competition from Wade Smith now. Undrafted rookie tackle out of Colorado State Cole Pemberton remains on the roster bubble. Should the Texans carry 4 tackles, he is a likely candidate for that 4th spot. Otherwise, expect to see him on the practice squad. Guard/center Wade Smith comes over from Kansas City, where he spent the past 2 seasons. Smith will battle at both the center and guard positions, looking to push and possibly overtake incumbent starters Chris Myers and Antoine Caldwell. If not, he comes a solid backup at both center and guard. 6th round pick Shelley Smith will battle with the likes of Chris White, Wade Smith, and Mike Brisiel for backup duties and a roster spot. If he doesn’t make the roster, he too, will be a prime candidate for the practice squad.
Overall, this line is going to have to step up for this team to go where it wants to go, and do what it wants to do. They’re not going to out-power anyone, but instead use their speed and athleticism to get quickly off the ball. While they appear average on paper, let’s hope they’re better than average and can get back to where they were in 2008, even with different and new faces.