With the start of Houston Texans training camp a week away tomorrow, Texans 101 shifts focus to previewing the fullback and tight end positions. The idea behind grouping these two position groups together centers around the versatile FB/TE James Casey, a player head coach Gary Kubiak moves around to several positions on the offense. Much of what the Texans like to do on offense (zone-blocking run game, play action pass game) revolves around deception and unpredictability, typically involving tight ends and fullbacks. The team already has a great TE in Owen Daniels, but will be looking to replace the production of departed #2 TE Joel Dreessen, possibly in a myriad of ways that includes Casey.
A guy like Casey allows the Texans to keep one position group on the field, yet come out in very different formations. When NFL teams put certain personnel packages on the field (4 WRs or 2 TEs), there isn’t much guesswork required on the part of the defense to figure out what the offense is going to do, run or pass. With Casey’s ability to play both fullback and tight end, the Texans can move him all over the field to give both passing and running looks. Defenses will have to decide before they see the formation what personnel group they will put on the field, but will have to go with a generic one.
Now that we’ve identified Casey’s role in this offense, we can look at the two positions as a whole to determine what the Texans are likely to do. There is no question that Daniels is the team’s #1 TE and Casey is the #1 FB. Casey is also probably the team’s #2 TE based on all the formation and personnel possibilities with him in the game. However, the Texans are likely to keep one more TE and one more FB on the roster to back up Daniels and Casey, and occasionally play alongside those two in big packages.
The Texans currently have two additional fullbacks on the roster heading into training camp, Jason Ford and converted linebacker Derrell Smith. It’s likely that one of these two will be kept around, probably as strictly a blocking back. The second fullback position is somebody who will most likely be a special teams contributor and a lead blocker in 3 TE goal line packages. Based on the idea that the #2 FB will be more of a blocker, Smith probably has the edge as a guy who has already spent a season with the organization at linebacker and is probably the more physical of the two. Ford is bigger, but primarily played tailback at Illinios and did not spend much time blocking. Ford is probably the better runner and pass catcher, but he will need to demonstrate the ability to be a lead blocker to win the job over Smith.
At tight end, there are three players vying for the third and likely final TE roster spot. The #3 TE position will probably shape up to be a guy who plays in goal line situations and some in two TE sets while Casey is lined up at FB. Entering his third NFL season, Garrett Graham only has one professional career catch, but is poised to breakout this year. During offseason workouts and OTAs, coaches and teammates alike praised the progress Graham has made and are expecting big things from him this season. The team brought in undrafted rookie free agents Logan Brock and Phillip Supernaw to compete with Graham, but chances are unless one of those two really stands out, Graham will be the guy.
Tight end and fullback aren’t the most glamorous positions on the field, especially in the Texans offense. However, because of the system the Texans utilize, solid TE and FB play are extremely vital. The effectiveness of zone-runs and play-action passes are as much about the tight ends and fullbacks are they are any other offensive position on the field. The Texans survived the 2011 season without QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson because of the system they run and the players running that system, primarily increased play from the tight ends and fullbacks.
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