The Texans are taking a day off of practicing today, but our coverage of training camp doesn't rest. I mentioned yesterday that I would have a special write-up about the battle to be the Texans' starting nose tackle. And I'm not about to let anybody call me a liar! The battle for nose tackle has been something I've particularly tried to keep an eye on, since so much of the defensive scheme depends on the nose attacking and, more importantly, penetrating the line. Without a stout defensive line, the onus for the Texans defense will fall on the secondary. While that doesn't scare me nearly as much now as it would have a couple of weeks ago, I would still prefer to see the opposing quarterback each week either in a large, quarterback-shaped crater in the field, or having a Philip Rivers-esque meltdown mid-game.
So far, the two players who have the best chance of starting at NT are second year player Earl Mitchell and journeyman defensive tackle Shaun Cody. Who has looked good so far? Who will Wade choose as the tip of his defensive spear (it made sense when I thought of it)?
You'll only find out if you hit the jump. But do it gently, I'm running out of duct tape.
Here's where we stand so far: Shaun Cody is taking snaps with the first team defense and Earl Mitchell is in the second team. As I wrote in a post from a couple of weeks ago, I would be entirely surprised if Earl Mitchell was not the starting nose tackle at the end of the preseason; and Shaun Cody seems to be intent on making that prophecy come true.
Yesterday, I had a chance to watch the defensive line coach run some drills. These drills had the players hustling in a line and chasing after the "quarterback's" arm, and the other had players racing around a rubber hoop on the ground with the goal of hitting the QB's arm while it's supposed to be in mid-throw. These drills emphasize speed and agility, something that's highly sought for a nose tackle in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. In each of these drills Mitchell was simply blindingly fast; at least as blindingly fast 300 lb. guys can be, anyway. He was screaming through those drills, the only other player who eclipsed him, in my opinion, was defensive end J.J. Watt. Shaun Cody just looked lethargic by comparison; and a less forgiving person would say he looked like he wasn't really trying out there, like he was another camp body.
This has always been the problem with Shaun Cody, in my estimation. I've always gotten the impression from Shaun Cody, and from what I have read about him: he's a constant underperformer.
Now I know what you're thinking: "Hey, UT, you suave devil, you, those are just drills. What about when he's playing in 11-on-11 drills?"
I'm glad you asked. Mitchell has been a force to be reckoned with at NT. Even with the second team defense, he has been getting penetration, pushing back the pocket, using his hands to and holding the line of attack the way a proper NT should. With Cody on the first team, most of the pressure seems to come from Watt and Mario Williams. He looked like a non-entity at the line; little pressure, and generally a disappointment to me at nose tackle.
In my humble opinion, my prediction still stands. Earl Mitchell will be this team's starting nose tackle, and considering the options, thank goodness for it.