Continuity across Houston Texans offensive line remains important
By Jair Lopez
The Houston Texans offense has a lot to look forward to for this upcoming season with their entire starting offensive line expecting to return.
Despite the ongoing pandemic throwing a curveball at the 32 NFL organizations by discouraging players from working out together in an organized fashion in the early portion of the summer; the Houston Texans talented offensive line is entering their first offseason together after the unit was constructed on the fly last season.
The Texans were entering last season with Nick Martin and Zach Fulton as the only sure starters on the offensive line. Senio Kelemete, Julien Davenport, Matt Kalil, Roderick Johnson, Martinas Rankin, and the incoming rookies in Tytus Howard, and Max Scharping were competing for a chance to start on the offensive line.
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Both offensive tackle spots were up for grabs, and so was the position at left guard with the Texans selecting two offensive linemen within the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
That quickly changed within the last week of the preseason as the Texans swung and connected in their pursuits of acquiring Laremy Tunsil from the Miami Dolphins for an exchange of players and valuable draft compensation in 2020 and 2021. Tunsil, however, proved to be worth the given assets as he locked down the left tackle spot after it being a position of weakness since the Texans traded away Duane Brown in Deshaun Watson’s 2017 rookie season.
Tunsil’s only flaw in his first season with the Texans was his 14 false start penalties, but those mistakes can be corrected as he gets the offseason to properly learn the playbook. Tunsil’s play was rather impressive given his short time to get to know his teammates on offense.
Texans were realistically going into the 2019 season with Davenport, Kalil, Johnson, and Howard competing to start at left tackle if Tunsil wasn’t acquired before the season began.
Howard was touted with the ability to play multiple positions across the offensive line coming out of Alabama State, but anchoring the left side would have presented a tall task for almost any rookie. Howard saw reps and playing time through the preseason at guard and tackle before making his NFL regular-season debut at left guard against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Kelemete earned the starting spot at left guard in the season opener, but his start was also attributed to a broken finger that Howard was nursing through the majority of the preseason. Howard played well in his start at left guard in Week two, but the biggest surprise was the next week as Howard was shifted to the outside to play right tackle while Scharping moved into the starting lineup to play at left guard.
Howard’s start at right tackle happened with Seantrel Henderson nursing a back injury that resulted in the premature ending of his season with the Texans. However, it was an eye-opening move by the Texans coaching staff to rely on Scharping to fill the need at left guard after most of his snaps were at right guard through the preseason.
Henderson and Kelemete’s season-ending injuries gave an early look at what the Texans had in Howard and Scharping, and they didn’t disappoint. Texans could have gone conservative and elected to start Greg Mancz at left guard and Roderick Johnson at right tackle, but they rolled the dice, and it paid off in their favor.
The best way to learn is through experience, and the Texans were able to place both their rookies in starting spots from year one. Learning the intricacies of multiple positions across the offensive line is challenging, as players are expected to pick up different assignments and footwork techniques in stride.
The Tunsil, Scharping, Martin, Fulton, and Howard only saw seven games together, but they went 5-2 in that stretch. Their only defeats came against a team the Texans should have won in the Carolina Panthers and one of the better teams of the AFC in the Baltimore Ravens. That lineup has a lot of potential moving forward as their entering their second season together.
The Texans have invested heavily in the offensive line in the past year, and it has paid dividends for the offense. The number of sacks that Watson sustained in his second season as a full starter decreased significantly from 62 to 44.
Watson saw one less game in 2019 as he sat out the last game against the Tennessee Titans with the Texans playoffs spot already secured, but the talent across offensive line looked significantly better than what they had in 2018.
The arrow is looking to be on the rise if the Texans are able to maintain their starting five on the field for the 2020 season.