For years the Texans have been stereotyped as a team that couldn't protect the quarterback, and rightfully so. In 2002, the Texans offensive line surrendered a record 76 sacks. Despite the 2003 turnaround in which the Texans cut the sack total by more than half (36), 2004 and 2005 saw that number balloon once again. In 2004 they gave up 49 sacks and in 2005, the Texans were back to being the league’s worst, giving up 68 sacks.
The spring of 2006 found Gary Kubiak the newly appointed head coach of the Houston Texans. With 2005 being a season to forget, it was obvious he had some work to do. He began by addressing one of the areas that had plagued the Texans since their inaugural season - pass protection.
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Mike Sherman came over after being dismissed as the Packers head coach after a disappointing 2005 season. Prior to 2005, Sherman had led the Packers to five winning seasons and four straight playoff appearances.
John Benton joined the Texans after serving on the St. Louis Rams coaching staff the previous two years. He was credited with helping Rams' running back Steven Jackson rush for over a thousand yards for the first time in his career.
All three coaches were new to the Texans organization, but they all had a similar goal in mind: Reduce the number of sacks allowed. With Gary Kubiak handling the head coaching duties, Mike Sherman and John Benton were charged with improving the play of the offensive line.
Both former offensive linemen in college, they had the inside know-how needed to right the ship. By the end of the 2006 season, the offensive line had effectively trimmed the sack total by 25 from the previous year. Not willing to accept a 43-sack season, Kubiak acknowledged the improvements but set a goal of fewer than 30 sacks for the 2007 season.
In 2007, Kubiak shuffled his coaching staff to make better use of their talents. Mike Sherman was named assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, while John Benton was promoted to head offensive line coach. Former NFL lineman Frank Pollack was brought in to assist Benton with his coaching duties.
Despite losing several linemen to the injured reserve list, the offensive line of the 2007 Houston Texans turned in the best pass protection performance in franchise history. Their 22 sacks allowed boasted the fifth best total in the NFL. What is even more impressive is that the total came when they set a franchise high for pass attempts in a season (529).
Although the offensive line was lauded for the tremendous job they did in pass protection, there are improvements to be made. Gary Kubiak knows that he needs to see his offensive line make the same kind of improvements in the running game.
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So far, 2008 has seen the departure of Mike Sherman as he left to be the head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies. It has also trumpeted the arrival of zone blocking guru Alex Gibbs. With Gibbs aboard, there is no doubt that the offensive line’s focus is going to be on the ground game.
During the course of mini-camp and OTAs, Alex Gibbs began the installation of his patented brand of zone blocking. It’s an aggressive approach that requires sharp mind and keen reflexes... not to mention a nasty attitude.
Duane Brown is the super-athletic left tackle who was drafted by the Texans in the first round. By all accounts, he is shaping up to be a good fit in the zone blocking scheme.
Chris Myers is the dynamic linemen who was acquired in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Last year, he started all 16 games for the Broncos, who still use the zone blocking scheme that was installed when Alex Gibbs was their offensive line coach.
To compliment the redesigned line, the Texans are sporting a number of quality athletes at the running back position. With several of them having something to prove, you can bet the competition will be fierce.
Veterans RB Ahman Green and newly acquired RB Chris Brown have shown tremendous ability in their careers. They also have shown a knack for missing massive amounts of playing time due to injury. Both should be eager to show they still can be a force to be reckoned with.
RB Steve Slaton is the crafty back who was drafted in the third round. While slated to be a third down back, he is very familiar with the zone blocking scheme. Rick Trickett, the former line coach at West Virginia University, utilized a scheme that was fashioned after the Alex Gibbs version of the one-cut-and-go system. The Texans are hoping that Slaton can recapture the magic of his 2006 sophomore season in which he rushed for 1700 yards and 16 touchdowns.
While the position of running back is surrounded by question marks, one thing is certain: Whoever emerges as the featured back will have the luxury of running in an Alex Gibbs designed system - a system that was made famous for producing 1,000 yard rushers in Denver and Atlanta.
Hopes are high as the coaching staff integrates the players who were handpicked to make the most of the revamped blocking scheme. John Benton has shown he has what it takes to lead the line, and with Alex Gibbs overseeing the progress, the Texans have every reason to believe the offensive line is ready to take another step forward. If all goes according to plan, it's only a matter of time before the Texans' offensive line will be regarded as one of the league's best.