March 22, 2018

Mike Vrabel Should Be the Long Term Plan for the Texans

A guest post from Jake_TSV 


After Bill O’Brien was hired in January 2014, he wasted little time selecting his defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel. The hire wasn’t official until after Crennel coached the East West Shrine Game, but his name was mentioned shortly after O’Brien was hired. The decision was pivotal given that O’Brien has an offensive background, and his selection of Crennel was met with mixed reactions.

Some Texans fans favored the coach for his extensive experience as a defensive coordinator in Cleveland (1997-1999), New England (2000) and Kansas City (2005-2008) as well as a head coach in Cleveland (2001-2004) and Kansas City (2010-2012). There isn’t much defensively that Crennel hasn’t seen since he began coaching professionally in 1970.

Others worried about his scheme adaptation. Crennel is known for running a very traditional two-gap 3-4 system, meaning that defensive linemen use their length to take on two blockers and maintain the line of scrimmage so the linebackers can stay clean to defend the run or rush the passer.

A strict adherence to this scheme would waste the talents of JJ Watt, one of the best penetrating one-gap defensive linemen in the league. Texans fans worried about this metaphorical square peg/round hole situation.

The Texans under Bill O’Brien have said all the right things since Crennel’s hire to calm these worries, emphasizing that the Texans will be scheme diverse in base and play in the nickel roughly two thirds of the time. While in nickel, their defensive front will resemble a 4-3 alignment in which the linemen will utilize one-gap principles.

The editor of this site will tell you I was one of the fans that worried about Crennel for the “two-gap” reason. He calmed me, as has O’Brien. O’Brien might be an offensive coach, but he started off as a collegiate linebacker so he isn’t ignorant to the issue. Additionally, by selecting Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick, the Texans would be wasting the talents of TWO star players by stubbornly playing a predominantly two-gap system.

The thought occurred to me today though, that Crennel might be so adaptive because the Texans defense is not his long term project. At nearly 67 years old, Crennel is no spring chicken. He has to know that he will not get another head coaching job after his lack of success in Kansas City and Cleveland, and his three year contract will mean he is staring 70 in the face at its conclusion.

So who is the possible coordinator in waiting? The first candidate I can think of to replace Crennel is linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. Vrabel was one of the first assistants hired, even before Crennel was officially, and O’Brien apparently took an active interest in insuring the former Patriots linebacker was lured away from Ohio State to coach in Houston.

Vrabel checks a lot of boxes as a potential star on the rise. Despite a third round selection, Vrabel played in the league for fourteen seasons. Players will respect his experience and his credibility as a three time Super Bowl winner. Despite only one selection as a Pro Bowler and All Pro in 2007, Vrabel was named to the New England 50th Anniversary team and the Sports Illustrated All Decade Team for 2000-2009.

While his playing resume alone is impressive, by all accounts he was very successful at Ohio State after his playing career where he coached defensive linemen and linebackers. The front seven performed well in 2013 as opposed to the defensive back group which resulted in the dismissal of defensive coordinator and secondary coach Everett Withers.

His performance is significant because he was not handed an NFL assistant job directly after retiring. He cut his teeth at a college program and succeeded before ascending the NFL. This natural progression will resonate with fellow coaches and scouts and give him credibility amongst his peers.

At the end of the day this is pure conjecture on my part. Having said that though, if O’Brien saw Vrabel as a potential long term partner who wasn’t ready to take the reins yet, it makes sense to hire Vrabel’s old coordinator to keep his seat warm while he learned. When Crennel is leaving, either due to the end of his contract, retirement or poor performance, keep Vrabel in mind as a likely successor.

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