If a coach was building a prototypical safety he would build Lonnie Ballentine. However, that prototypical look may not be enough to maintain his spot on the roster:
Ballentine came to the Texans big, long, and fast at 6’3″, 215 pounds; and with a hand-timed 4.39 40- yard dash at his pro day he looked the part of an NFL safety. He was raw, but surely those measurables could be developed. Ballentine was the last player taken in the 2014 draft, aka Mr. Irrelevant, but the Texans believed he would be anything but irrelevant.
It is true his high school and college careers were relatively undistinguished by NFL prospect standards. He graduated from high school early as a junior, starting only one year. During his senior year at Memphis Ballentine was just a preseason 4th team C-USA selection.
Even though he started all 12 games and recorded 58 tackles and 5 pass breakups, he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine.
Is Ballentine one of those guys that looks great in a uniform, but underwhelms on the field, a track guy in shoulder pads? Or, is he a raw talent that only needs time and coaching to develop his physical gifts into an outstanding NFL career? The problem is that after completing the 2016 OTAs and minicamp the Texans still don’t have an answer for that question.
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The Texans are assembling a solid defensive backfield. In an earlier Bubble Watch the Texans safety position was analyzed in detail. Lonnie Ballentine, now a third year veteran, still appears in that picture, but for how long?
Coming out of Memphis, Ballentine’s attributes were his size and straight-line speed. Weaknesses included being high in his back pedal, slow to transition before closing on the ball, with mediocre ball skills when he got there. Like many young players he needed to be a special teams contributor until his skill set was refined…but he had that body.
When healthy Ballentine has worked hard to overcome his weaknesses. He has flashed enough for the Texans to stay hopeful. Ballentine still has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but he must get healthy and stay that way.
In 2 years with the Texans Ballentine suffered a severe hamstring injury which placed him on IR for the entire 2014 season, a knee scope that delayed the start of his 2015 season, and a devastating knee dislocation which ended it. In 2 years Ballentine appeared in only 2 games, and he rehabbed through 2016 OTAs and minicamp. He hopes to be ready to start training camp.
He must be if he is to be a serious contender for the 2016 opening day roster. He has to prove that he has retained his speed after the knee surgery to repair a torn MCL and PCL. He has to prove that his coverage and ball skills are improved to NFL standards. He has to prove he can be a valuable special teams contributor.
If he passes all those tests there is an ultimate test that defines Ballentine’s future with the Texans. Once he gets healthy he must stay healthy. Too much time in the training room, too much time working on a side field, another trip to IR, and the Texans will have to make a decision. Because of Ballentine’s measureables the Texans have definitely been patient…but they won’t be patient indefinitely.