The Houston Texans’ defense is loaded with talented veterans which helps new defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel in his creativity.
The Houston Texans finished the 2016 season with the number one overall defense, despite the loss of defensive lineman J.J. Watt and the lack of explosive plays that go with him.
The Texans were at the bottom of the pack in terms of turnovers with only 17 forced last season.
The Texans’ defense doesn’t have a lot of traits that could be considered overlooked.
However, their experience in a complicated 3-4 defense has been underappreciated. Former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel ran a complex scheme that left many rookies spinning.
Now, all but two starting positions on the defense lack a full 16 games of starting experience. Both are on the defensive line. Nose tackle D.J. Reader and whoever wins the starting defensive end job across from Watt are the two spots that lack experience.
Everyone else? Experienced.
Communication must be music to the ears of the Texans’ defensive coaches.
With Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney, Whitney Mercilus, and Kevin Johnson all hitting their prime and comprehension of the system, it opens up a world of possibilities.
Possibilities that have most likely left Vrabel drooling.
A rising star as a coordinator, Vrabel has all the creativity and leadership to take what was the number one defense and turn it into a defense we talk about for years to come.
This is not a knock on Crennel either, but a revelation and peek into the future– and boy is it a bright future.
The Texans have a full defense of starters who are comfortable enough in their system to add more wrinkles to it.
Wrinkles like Kareem Jackson playing safety, or corner, or slot corner– as was reported during mini camp.
Wrinkles such as Clowney lining up everywhere, as the former number one overall pick shared with reporters this week. He had this to say about the defense:
"They are putting all the defense together. They are moving us around. Nobody is standing still. Knowing the defense makes it a lot better, we can really move on our own."
Clearly, there has been a change.
The versatile pieces in place, to go along with the experience, allow Vrabel to move around guys like Jackson and Clowney.
With defenses playing in their nickel packages for more than 70 percent of the time, the NFL has shifted into a league dependent on versatility and creativity to slow down the offensive firepower at hand.
The Texans have a cohesive group of defensive backs.
They have at least two budding stars in their linebacker corp.
They have a potential breakout player in Reader.
Oh and they have Watt, but the previously mentioned actually make the three-time defensive player of the year less of a deciding factor. Now, Watt is part of the equation and not just the solution.
Possibilities are endless for Vrabel.
The Texans front-seven may be the best in football.
Vrabel can utilize each one of them in a way offenses have yet to see.
Ways such as lining Clowney up over the center with Mckinney by his side along with Watt, Reader, and Mercilus on the line.
Vrabel could do that. Or prior to the snap rotate Clowney with Mercilus or Watt. Maybe he uses that look for a few plays.
Then Vrabel could switch and add a piece such as linebacker Brian Cushing or this year’s second round pick in linebacker Zach Cunningham in the middle of the defense as a wild card player.
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Wait isn’t the only wild-card for offenses to prep for on that front seven.
Offenses will have to prep their protection schemes to be centered around Watt and Clowney. A feat hard enough, but adding some creativity and moving the two around will only add to the destruction they will leave in their wake.
How beautiful for Texans’ fans.
Vrabel is a well-respected and growing coach in the NFL who could have a coming out party in 2017 if he opens up the playbook and capitalizes on his creativity and the pieces surrounding him.