Texans that are on the Fringe
With training camp closing in, the Houston Texans will be faced with some tough decisions with their roster heading into week 1. I know this may be premature talk but the reality has to set in, NFL teams are always looking for the younger and cheaper options for their teams. Last season, the Texans were able to have rookies, both drafted and undrafted, make an impact on the season and fill in when necessary. Throw in some key in-season signings, the Texans were able to weather the storm when it came to injuries.
This season the Texans have already lost 19 players from their 2011 team, either via free agency or just not resigning the player. Of those 19, only 2 of them did not suit up for the team in 2011 (Kasey Studdard and Jeff Garcia). There will be even more active players from their playoff roster who will be in danger of not making the 53 man roster heading out of camp. Taking this early look, we will examine the group of players that could possibly not be with the Texans heading into the 2012 season.
Nading was cut after the 2011 training camp but brought back to the practice squad. After Mario Williams was lost for the season, Nading was promoted to the active squad soon after. Nading is a smart player and played 11 games for the Texans in 2012, mostly on special teams. His biggest competition is the player who beat him out for the 4th outside linebacker position coming out of camp, Bryan Braman. Originally a defensive end, Nading made the transition to outside linebacker last season but his lack of speed was exposed during the preseason. Nading is a smart player but the end of the line looks like it might be coming soon.
A good-looking wide receiver from Oregon, Maehl was forced into action with the failed experiment of Derrick Mason and the injuries to Andre Johnson. Only appearing in 3 games for the Texans, the Texans have the chance to place him on the practice squad heading into the 2012 season if he doesn’t make the 53 man roster. Maehl has shown he will go down on special teams and might be hard-working enough to keep a home in Houston for at least another season. With the drafting of two new wide receivers, Maehl has an uphill climb trying to get on the active squad.
The Texans will be forced to make a tough decision on Keo coming into camp and he is not eligible for the practice squad after appearing in 10 games in 2011. Keo was the only Texans draft pick not to make the 53 man roster coming out of camp and he was the highest draft pick from the 2011 draft class not to make the active roster. By default, he was called into action from the practice squad after safeties Dominique Barber (season) and Danieal Manning (4 games) went down with injuries. Clearly over matched playing in the secondary, Keo improved over the long haul on special teams but his coverage abilities are the biggest question mark on the second year safety. Keo will be in a battle with Troy Nolan and Quintin Demps for the backup safety position and word out of OTAs and mini camp is Keo shed some weight and looks more focused in his second season.
Special team coach Joe Marciano has raved about the leg that Hartmann has but after a torn ACL and a three game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Hartmann has some issues to overcome before even thinking about punting for the Texans and getting healthy is priority number one. The Texans have brought in veteran punter Donnie Jones for the start of the season and, barring anything crazy happening, he should be the punter come opening day against the Dolphins. Hartmann will be on the suspended list to start the season and could possibly be put on the injured reserve if he doesn’t get on track health wise by week 4 of the season. Young and also a kickoff specialist, Hartmann was improving week to week and ended up being a pleasant surprise late in the season.
Another undrafted rookie, Alexander was put into action after Darryl Sharpton was lost for the season with a quadricep injury. Alexander appeared in 8 games and both playoff games on special teams and actually looked decent when in the game. He was on all special teams units last season and, despite being sidelined all of training camp, he still made the practice squad. Alexander has potential but with Sharpton back and the signing of Bradie James, the spots for the inside linebacker position are thin. Alexander could possibly be a victim of the numbers game which is unfortunate for the Texans.
Sidelined with an ankle injury that put him on the shelf for a short amount of time, McManis still appeared in 9 regular season games for the Texans and was also in both Texans’ playoff games. McManis was a key part of the special teams and also proved he could return kicks when needed. He played more in 2010, but with Roc Carmichael and Brandon Harris ready to contribute, the numbers game might also get McManis. Never really given a fair shake to start in the secondary, he will have to have a standout camp to stay in Houston.
Low Possibility (Hear Us Out)
Braman burst onto the Houston football landscape with his monster performance during the New York Jets in preseason and made an unforgettable tackle against the Tennessee Titans and Marc Mariani with no helmet on a kickoff. His athleticism is second to none but even Wade Phillips pointed out his lack of strength is a concern heading into the 2012 season. Braman may be a special teams warrior but his lack of pass rush skills when it counted really put the Texans in a bind when it was just Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed rushing the passer from the outside. Both Barwin and Reed were running on fumes by the end of the game and Nading was the first off the bench to give Barwin and Reed a break. Braman saw limited defensive snaps and being just a special teams ace will only get you so far in the NFL. Now with the drafting of Whitney Mercilus, Braman is going to have to prove that he can play the fourth linebacker position, if needed. Depth is important and having just a special teams player who can’t contribute in a pinch should be concerning to Texans’ fans.
Adding 25+ pounds this offseason, Mitchell is trying to prevent what caused some issues for him as a nose tackle, being moved from the point of attack at will. Playing nose tackle at 289 lbs. last season, Mitchell struggled holding the line of scrimmage and exposed the Texans defense up the middle when he was in the game. Drafted to play a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense, Mitchell is almost a player without a position and playing him at nose was the only option for him last season. Thinking Mitchell could contribute at the 5 technique, the Texans drafted Jared Crick to replace Tim Bulman, who was not resigned after the season. It looks like Mitchell will be back at nose tackle during camp time. He will also have some competition from rookie nose tackle Loni Fangupo to back up starter Shaun Cody, but Mitchell holds the upper hand going into camp. Mitchell has some improvement to do in this scheme but right now he looks like a questionable fit for the 3-4 scheme.
This is a start of players who could possibly be on the fringe but there is plenty of practices and games to decide the pecking order. What do you think? Did we leave off anyone, in your opinion?