As the franchise's first great pass rusher since its inception in 2002, endMario Williams will invigorate a woeful defense and prove the Texans made theright call in selecting him No. 1 in the draft instead of Reggie Bush or VinceYoung. Quarterback David Carr will make big strides thanks to the arrival offour-time Pro Bowl receiver Eric Moulds, the first quality No. 2 receiver theteam has had, and assistant head coach Mike Sherman, who will find ways to makea beleaguered offensive line more effective.
When longtime Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was named Houston coachlast January, he joked that he would continue to use the Broncos' playbook andsimply change the cover to a darker blue. But no one's laughing at his decisionto implement Denver's West Coast system and its trademark zone blocking, whichhelped turn several running backs who were middle-round draft picks into1,000-yard rushers.
The mainbeneficiary will be Domanick Davis, who since he was drafted No. 101 out of LSUin 2003 has rushed for 3,195 yards-more than every back selected ahead of him.The 5'9", 216-pound Davis, who missed three weeks of training camp becauseof a swollen left knee and may sit out the season opener, is a good fit forKubiak's system, which requires rushers to make one cut and hit the hole.
Because they hadfaith in Davis-and in Carr-the Texans figured they would help themselves mostby taking Williams first in the draft. He will have an immediate impact on adefense that allowed an NFL-worst average of 26.9 points per game and rankedlast in the conference with 4.6 yards per rush in 2005. The 6'7", 291-poundN.C. State All-America has 4.66 speed and will join fellow end Anthony Weaver,a free-agent signee who left the Ravens after four seasons, to anchor a new 4-3defense. Another promising addition is linebacker DeMeco Ryans, thesecond-round pick from Alabama.
In an attempt tofix its lousy pass protection, which gave up a league-high 68 sacks lastseason, Houston signed former Packers center Mike Flanagan and shuffled some ofthe returning linemen. Only right tackle Zach Wiegert will be at the sameposition as last season. There's stability at quarterback because the Texansexercised a three-year, $8 million option on Carr, who will be throwing out ofmore multiple-receiver sets in Kubiak's offense. The arrival of Moulds, whocaught 81 passes for Buffalo last season, will take some of the heat off No. 1wideout Andre Johnson. New tight end Jeb Putzier, a free-agent pickup from theBroncos, is another reliable target. Carr has to cut his fumbles-an NFL-high 17in '05-way back, but he has been urged to scramble more. He rushed for 308yards last year, more than any other quarterback not named Michael Vick. SaysCarr, with a smile, "The best-kept secret in the NFL."
Maybe so, butit's no secret that this team is still a long way from playoff contention.Owner Bob McNair, on the other hand, considers 2-14 an anomaly, citing theprogress the Texans made in their first three seasons-winning four, five andthen seven games-before last year's collapse. "I don't see anybody on theschedule that frightens me," McNair says. "We view this as a year thatwe're going to be competitive."
15 at Dallas
5 at N.Y.Giants
26 at N.Y.Jets
3 at Oakland
17 at NewEngland
NFL rank T8
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .523
Games against playoff teams 7
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE TEXANS
> David Carrdeserves more credit than he gets. He has a good arm, he's smart and he hasmobility. He just hasn't had an offensive line that could protect him.
> Hiring MikeSherman as an assistant head coach was smart. He understands offensive-lineplay and how to call a game.
> DomanickDavis is good for that system. He's a one-cut guy who just puts his foot on theground and goes. It says a lot about him that they didn't draft ReggieBush.
> They filledmany of their needs with quality players and will be a better team this year,but they don't have much depth.
> RookieCharles Spencer is a big, explosive lineman who can play tackle or guard. He'sgoing to knock people around.
Mario Williamswon't sell tickets, but he'll have an immediate impact on their defense.
He's only5'10" and 174 pounds, but Robinson packs a wallop when he closes in on theman with the ball. The No. 10 pick out of South Carolina in 2004, Robinson wasrunner-up for NFL defensive rookie of the year behind Jonathan Vilma of theJets, then became one of the leaders of the Houston defense the following yearwhen he made 93 tackles. Instinctive and quick, Robinson contains top wideoutsand plays the run equally well. He should get more picks because of the Texans'improved pass rush. Pro Bowls are in his future.
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COACH GARY KUBIAK(0-0 in NFL), first season with Houston
JAMEEL COOK (NewAcquisition)
ERIC MOULDS (NewAcquisition)
MIKE FLANAGAN(New Acquisition)
ANTHONY WEAVER(New Acquisition)
SACKS 1 1/2
MARIO WILLIAMS(R) (New Acquisition)
SACKS 14 1/2
DEMECO RYANS (R)(New Acquisition)
(R) Rookie(college statistics)
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 15/30/30 DEFENSE 32/24/31
DAVID E. KLUTHO
¬†READYTO ROLL The talented but injury-prone Davis should flourish in Kubiak'sone-cut, zone-blocking system.
AARON M. SPRECHER/ICON SMI
HELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BIRKWITZ