Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 11/15/14

Switching over to the defensive side of the football, today’s preview of potential training camp battles looks at the Houston Texans’ defensive line. A strength of the team in 2011, the big boys up front will attempt to follow up their performance with another stellar season. Similar to many other positions on the Texans, the competition along the defensive line is more about roster spots than it is to determine starters or who will be taking the majority of the snaps on game day. 

In the Texans 3-4 defensive scheme, J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith are among the league’s elite when it comes to defensive ends playing in this style of defense. Watt finished 2011 with 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks while Smith compiled 25 tackles to go along with 6.5 sacks. While these aren’t standout stats, outside linebackers are the focal point in a 3-4 defense and are usually the ones with the impressive statistics. Watt and Smith excel at taking up space and controlling their gap, which in turn frees the linebackers to make plays. Few in the NFL do this better. 

Backing up Watt and Smith are Tim Bulman and Tim Jameson. Neither sees a tremendous amount of playing time, but enough to make a solid impact and provide Watt and Smith some in-game rest. The Texans also used a fourth round selection in this year’s NFL Draft on DE Jared Crick out of Nebraska to add to the depth and rotation at defensive end. 

Also competing for a spot on the roster are undrafted rookie free agents Rennie Moore, Tracy Robertson, and David Hunter. Given his size, Hunter may also be competing to play nose tackle. 

The Texans will probably carry five defensive ends, which will undoubtedly include Watt and Smith at the top of the depth chart. Baring a complete disaster of a training camp, expect Crick to work himself into the #3 spot and some solid playing time in a rotation. From there it’s a bit of a toss up. Bulman and Jameson have the leg up because they are veterans having already played one season in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme, but don’t be surprised if one of the undrafted guys has an outstanding training camp and wins one of the roster spots. Easy money would guess Hunter would make the roster because of his size and versatility, but I’m going to pick Robertson as the guy to emerge from the group. 

Moving inside to nose tackle, the Texans return Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell from last season’s squad. Both rotated at NT and did a solid job clogging the middle of the line of scrimmage. Like a 3-4 DE, the NT rarely puts up big stats but instead takes up space to allow the inside linebackers to roam free and make plays. If there is one criticism of Cody and Mitchell it’s that they are a bit undersized for an ideal 3-4 NT. But at 301 lbs. (Cody) and 289 lbs. (Mitchell) respectively, they get the job done. 

However, the Texans did bring undrafted rookie free agent Loni Fangupo from BYU. At 324 lbs., Fangupo is more your prototypical 3-4 NT. The Texans will certainly give him a look to see if he is perhaps the big-bodied NT they’ve been looking for.

Expect the Texans to keep all three NTs, rotating them to stay fresh and utilizing all three in short yardage situations. Even if Fangupo isn’t dynamite out of the gate, the Texans will likely keep him as a developmental player given his enormous size. 

Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.

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