When Texans fans engage in discussing our favorite hated topic, the bottom feeding secondary, we tend to focus slightly more attention on the corners than the safeties, and for good reason. While Kareem Jackson and co. were stumbling and falling in the proximity of opposing receivers making splendid catches, our safeties were usually left to engage in a futile off-camera sprint after the long-gone receiver before slowing to a stately jog, fulfilling a role just as ineffectual but considerably less embarrassing than that of the young cornerbacks. However, it seems Kubiak and the Texans staff were basing their limited offseason personnel choices on something other than the hilarity of TV replays, for the 2010 cornerback corps will be entering training camp more or less intact whereas the starting safeties, Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard, were among the first players to get the axe.
There's not much more to be said of the two loveable goobers pictured above, but I'll give it a shot anyway.
It may be hard to believe now, but the man who helped lead the Texans defense into the dirt was once the starting free safety for the superbowl-winning New England Patriots. To be fair, Eugene Wilson was for awhile an athletic and contributing defender for the Texans who would occasionally make timely interceptions; however, the predictable effects of age and injury caught up with him quickly, and last year's performance was certainly more than enough to earn him the boot. Chances are that he can sign on as a backup somewhere else, but probably never again as a starter.
Unlike Wilson, Bernard Pollard will be truly missed by Houston fans. He was a bona fide hero of the winning 2009 season, a player who brought toughness and hitting ability rarely seen before from the Texans. Unfortunately, he was just as bad if not worse in coverage than the rest of the secondary, barely ever coming over to help the corners and routinely getting beat while covering hefty tight ends. He got exposed bad in 2010, and the Texans have made it clear that Pollard's not getting re-signed in free agency.
To the coaching staff's credit, the reasoning for not bringing back Pollard makes good sense: in the 3-4 there is a greater deal of coverage responsibility placed on the safeties' shoulders, something that run-support Pollard is probably not capable of handling. But there are also other issues that kept Pollard from returning, most notably the disagreement with Kubiak over the painkilling shot before the final game of 2010. There aren't many details, but it seems that Pollard was injured and refused to take a painkiller in order to play against the Jags, a fact that Gary Kubiak didn't take kindly to. My judgment tends to be that Pollard's refusal was reasonable; after all, he didn't want to aggravate his injury in a game that meant the difference between 5-11 and 6-10. But Kubes obviously thought otherwise, and the ability of Troy Nolan to help defeat the Jaguars seemed to confirm for him that Pollard is no longer needed. As for what the future holds, I'm quite sure Pollard can find a home somewhere else, probably with a severely run-challenged defense in need of an enforcer. But if he signs with the Colts and starts handing out concussions to his former team, I'll be at a loss for words.
The failings of Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard unfortunately extended beyond on-field performance. Typically teams like to have at least one of their safeties take on the role of an inspirational or tactical leader for the defense, but neither of the Texans safeties, who were also the most veteran secondary players, successfully stepped into that role. Wilson never had to develop leadership skills while playing alongside Rodney Harrison in New England, so when he came to Houston he brought only his short-lived playing ability. Pollard on the other hand was sometimes loud and inspiring, but he seemed to clam up and grow moody when the going got tough and the losses piled up. When looking at the difference between 2009 and 2010, it becomes clear that Dunta Robinson's steadying presence (in addition to his superior play compared to K-Jax's) was hugely important for the defense. And remember that guy Nick Ferguson? He rarely played other than on special teams in 2009, but his leadership and veteran presence in practice and from the sidelines may have been one of the understated reasons behind the 2009 secondary's relative success.
Hit hardest by the lack of secondary leadership were the young corners, as evidenced by the fact that they seemed rather relieved when the Texans finally signed mid-season a veteran corner, even if it was a guy with the nickname of Burnt Toast:
To be fair, while playing under Frank Bush it was probably near-impossible for any player to exhibit leadership, or do anything other than act confused and hesitant. But with Wade Phillips in place there should be no more such excuses, and now it’s time to look forward to
I know this is a thoroughly re-hashed subject, but I'll keep it brief.
Glover Quin- as we all know, he is the one safety who is likely a lock to start next year, although it’s not clear at which of the two positions. For some reason I always thought Quin would be our FS, probably because I got used to thinking that we were set at SS, although Lance Zierlein over at the Comical thinks otherwise, noting that Quin’s above-average tackling ability and coverage skill sufficient to handle TEs would make him a great fit at SS. I tend to also think that it would take Gentleman’s Quarterly more time to acquire the greater vision and thinking required by the FS position. But ultimately the deciding factor of what position GQ will play is who the Texans will sign in free agency to pair with him.
When we review the list of free agent safeties, we have to keep in mind that in the unlikely event that the Texans have landed Nnamdi Asomugha, very few, if any, free agency options will still be open. Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to secure a decent free agent safety is to settle for an infinitely more affordable corner first. We also must keep in mind that the FAs we need the most are going to be hotly pursued by other teams as well, and judging from his/its past record, Smithiak doesn't do well in bidding wars. So even though none of these free agents may actually get signed by the Texans, let's talk about them anyway.
Eric Weddle- probably the best possible fit for the new defense, Eric Weddle would bring previously unheard-of competency and leadership to the secondary. His range and vision would vastly improve our nonexistent coverage, especially if he is paired with a competent corner like Johnathan Joseph. The only concern with Weddle is that he and Glover Quin comprise a somewhat smallish backfield, so charging running backs breaking into the open might become a bit of a problem, although any problem caused by Weddle’s presence is a problem worth accepting, or ignoring. At first I thought that bidding teams would have little chance of signing Weddle, but have you seen the size of the Chargers FA list? It encompasses about a third of the team, including several key players, and seeing how difficult it was for the team to satisfy Vincent Jackson last year, it seems that the Chargers will have no choice but to let some of their prize players walk away.
Dawan Landry- as BRBloggers are probably aware, Zierlein of the comical floated Landry’s name as the "perfect free agent target for the Texans" a few weeks ago. If you’re like me, you’ve rarely heard anything about this guy, probably because he’s been overshadowed his entire career by a more famous Ravens safety. But Landry has been a huge part of the solid Ravens D, and his leadership and toughness would indeed be perfect for the Texans. He’s a good all-around safety, although if he comes to Houston he might get exposed a little in the coverage department with no Ed Reed by his side. The main problem with Landry is that with all his previous success in Baltimore, there is a good chance he’s going to want to stay settled there.
Gerald Sensabaugh- the definitive "meh" free agent to Texans fans, Gerald actually had a good statistical season in 2010; unfortunately this has lead him to declare that he doesn’t want money "in the same zip code" of $1.82 million. Despite that, he’s a decent player that would undoubtedly be a starter were he to arrive in Houston. Another thing to consider about Sensabaugh is that he is intimately familiar with Wade Phillips and his defense, and with free agents this year possibly arriving at training camps days or weeks late, quick adaptation may be more valuable than ever. In all likelihood, this is the safety the Texans front office will try hardest to get, and although he is not nearly as talented as Eric Weddle, Gerald Sensabaugh is affordable and will be a great help in bringing the Texans secondary up to mediocrity.
Other options- there are several uninspiring free agent safeties on the market that the Texans could pursue, such as Melvin Bullitt, that would either be too expensive for what they’re worth or not impressive enough to make much of an impact. Rick Smith could also try to trade for another team’s safety, although judging from his past aggressiveness I’d put the chances of this happening at around .002%. If there is no free agent signing, then the only other choice is to fill the safety spot next to GQ with someone already on the roster, which is hardly an option at all. Though Troy Nolan and Dominique Barber have shown flashes of competency when starting in the past, there is very little that the Texans have at safety that they can rely on as a starter moving forward.
Did anyone notice that JJ Watt got to steal Tim Jamison’s #99 jersey as soon as he was picked? I mean, I know Timmy isn’t a first-round pick, but man that’s cold.