Continuing with Texans 101’s breakdown of the Houston Texans’ roster heading into training camp, we arrive at the offensive line. Arguably the top unit across the NFL in 2011, the group has seen some overturn on the right side at guard and tackle. The Texans will return LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, and re-signed unrestricted free agent C Chris Myers, three highly capable and productive linemen in head coach Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. But uncertainly at right guard and right tackle following the departures of Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston will be a concern heading into training camp. Because we already know Brown, Smith, and Myers will unquestionably bring it in 2012, the focus of this article will be on the battles at RG and RT.
In the immediate aftermath of losing both Brisiel and Winston in free agency, the Texans were quick to name RG Antoine Caldwell and RT Rashad Butler the replacement starters. Their collective playing time has been sparing at best, but each has shown signs of potential. Caldwell is a former All-American at Alabama and third round pick of the Texans. He played some when Brisiel battled injuries, but Caldwell has suffered several himself, limiting his ability to compete for playing time. Butler has also played sparingly, but mostly because he spent time behind Winston. The big knock on Butler is his run blocking ability, or semi-lack of. He is excellent in pass protection, as many have pointed out he is a natural tackle in that regard. But the Texans don’t always utilize the traditional drop back pass and frequently move the pocket with play-action passing. Butler will need to continue to improve in this department.
Challenging Caldwell and Butler will be rookie RG Brandon Brooks and RT Derek Newton. Brooks was selected in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft and has already opened some eyes despite his apparent overweight issues. Brooks has tremendous size and strength while quietly sporting solid footwork. Newton is entering his second professional season after seeing minimal playing time in 2011. Newton is another big body that primarily specializes in run blocking. Newton is regarded as a tough lineman with a good motor, but has some limitations pass blocking. Newton was regarded as a project player coming out of college and may still be in the developmental stage.
When the season officially starts, expect Caldwell and Butler to be the starters. However, if one of them is unseated from their starting positions it will be Brooks taking Caldwell’s job. Brooks has the potential to be a very good starting NFL OL, and should Caldwell’s sporadic play or injury bug come calling, it would be just the opening Brooks would need to get the upper hand. Newton could also challenge Butler, but chances are he simply isn’t ready as Butler’s experience (while limited as a starter) should win out.
As for the rest of the roster, it’s likely the Texans will keep ten offensive linemen (the typical amount for an NFL team). For those of you that aren’t math wizards, that probably leaves three remaining roster spots, one at each position along the O-line. The players competing will be tackles Nathan Menkin and Nick Mondek, guards Thomas Austin, Andrew Gardner, Shelly Smith, and Cody White, and centers Ben Jones and Cody Wallace. For the three official roster spots, it’s very likely that 2012 draft picks T Nick Mondek and C Ben Jones will take the spots at those positions. The real serious competition is between the four guards for potentially one roster spot. It’s a completely wide-open battle where nobody has any current lead and anybody could win. The Texans will probably also keep one or two O-linemen on their practice squad, giving a few more guys the opportunity to remain with the team after training camp concludes.
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