HOUSTON Perhaps the most tangible indication of exactly how far the Texans have come as a franchise and precisely where they are heading as a team in 2012 manifested on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
While there was little doubt that the Texans garnered value in acquiring two picks (Nos. 68 and 126 overall) from the Buccaneers in exchange for sliding back 10 slots from No. 58, what they did with those selections spoke volumes of their welcome competency and burgeoning potential.
In the span of 59 picks the Texans bolstered depth at wide receiver and on the offensive line, and then completed a dynamic fourth round with what was widely lauded as an exceptional value pick. For years the Texans' draft strategy ran the gamut from questionable to confounding. Now, on the heels of their first AFC South title and initial postseason victory, the Texans appear to get it. This weekend confirmed as much.
"We just felt like sitting there in the second round that if we backed up a little bit, we had a number of players that we felt good about," Texans general manager Rick Smith said. "We felt if we were to back up and pick up some extra picks, maybe we could do what we ended up doing.
"If you look at this group of football players it's a continuation of sorts from last year. What we targeted last year were guys that played hard, that were passionate about the game of football, that it's important to them, that were good guys. These guys play hard. It's important to them."
Exposed as vulnerable without No. 1 receiver Andre Johnson, who missed nine games last season due to injuries, the Texans drafted Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey with the pick they acquired from Tampa Bay (No. 68), and Michigan State receiverreturn specialist Keshawn Martin with their second of three fourth-round selections (No. 121).
Desirous of linemen following the offseason losses of right tackle Eric Winston (Chiefs) and right guard Mike Brisiel (Raiders), the Texans selected Miami (OH) guardtackle Brandon Brooks in the third round (No. 76), and Georgia centerguard Ben Jones in the fourth (No. 99).
And, with Illinois outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (No. 26 overall) already in the fold, the Texans further reinforced their prolific front seven by grabbing Nebraska endtackle Jared Crick with their third pick of the fourth round (No. 126). Crick, a standout as a sophomore and junior before a torn pectoral cut short his senior season, has been dogged by durability concerns. His productivity is without question.
Honored as a second-team All-America as a sophomore in 2009, Crick thrived alongside Heisman Trophy finalist Ndamukong Suh, recording 73 tackles (15 tackles for loss) and 9.5 sacks. Pressed to prove his singular worth after Suh was taken second overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, Crick amassed 70 tackles (17 for loss) and 9.5 sacks as a junior.
Crick participated in only five games as a senior, but was cleared by doctors in advance of the NFL Combine. He will provide depth at end behind Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt in the base 3-4 alignment, and will slide inside when the nickel package is utilized in passing situations.
"He really does a good job with his hands," Texans defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "He's an instinctive player, which you really like. You know how you see some guys who sort of look like robots when they're out there playing? He's not like that at all. He's an instinctive player, he uses his hands real well, comes off blocks, and I think that's why he had a productive career at Nebraska."
Versatility was the key with Brooks and Jones. While Brooks will open his career challenging for reps at guard, he has the experience and capability to play tackle. Jones was regarded as the second-best center prospect in the draft behind Peter Konz (Wisconsin), but Texans coach Gary Kubiak intimated Jones (6-foot-2, 303 pounds) could handle both guard spots while serving as the backup to Pro Bowl center Chris Myers.
"I'm just really excited about this young man," Kubiak said of Jones. "He's got 49 starts in the SEC (Southeastern Conference). Heck of a football player; plays (with) great effort. He's going to give us a lot of versatility going into game day when we're suiting seven guys.
"I think he's got a bright future, and I really like his football IQ, so I'm very excited about him. I think you're going to see great things from him for a long time."
The addition of Posey and Martin immediately created speculation that fifth-year receiver Jacoby Jones has played his last game with the Texans. With Johnson sidelined and Jones presented a golden opportunity to showcase his worth, Jones finished with only 31 receptions for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games (10 starts).
His prowess as a return specialist was called into question after Jones muffed a punt against the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs. Baltimore cashed in that turnover for the decisive touchdown of its 20-13 victory. Posey, whose off-field issues with the Buckeyes were summarily dismissed by Smith, offers the promise as a compliment to Johnson. Martin has an extensive history as an explosive threat in the return game. Both, on the surface, appear to render Jones expendable.
"Jacoby is still on our football team. We did not trade Jacoby," Smith said, addressing rumors that Jones is on the trading block. "You're always entertaining any kind of phone calls that you have over the course of a draft. We do our due diligence that way, but he's still on our team. It (drafting Posey and Martin) does not signal the end of anything at this point. What we were trying to do is add quality football players."
With their final two picks of the draft, the Texans selected Texas A&M kicker Randy Bullock in the fifth round (161st overall), and Purdue offensive tackle Nick Mondek, a converted defensive lineman, in the sixth (No. 195). Bullock, a Klein High School product, claimed the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker and was a consensus All-America after setting school records with 142 points, 19 field goals and 55 PATs.
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