In just one short, painful week, the Houston Texans have gone from "mostly alright" to "oh, crap" in the linebacking corps. Brian Cushing is out for the season, Tim Dobbins has been released, Darryl Sharpton is one stubbed toe away from another trip to injured reserve, and Joe Mays is…well…Joe Mays. To compound the issues at inside linebacker, rookie pass rushers Willie Jefferson and Trevardo Williams are both gone as well, due to release and season-ending injury, respectively. As it stands, Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt, and Antonio Smith are the only competent sack artists left on the Houston Texans’ roster.
With the elevation of Mike Mohamed to the active roster and the movement of Justin Tuggle to Sam linebacker, I find myself wondering if the oft-predicted move of Brooks Reed from outside linebacker to inside linebacker might finally happen. Reed has never really been a top flight pass rusher since entering the league with J.J. Watt in 2011, but his superb edge-setting ability and competent man coverage skills against running backs when peeling to the flat has made him a critical component in Watt’s and the defense’s success as a whole. I noted nearly one year ago this week (ironically, also in the wake of another season-ending injury for Brian Cushing) that Brooks Reed has a knack for playing inside linebacker, and even Texans linebacker coach Reggie Herring has referred to Reed as the second-best inside linebacker on the team in the past. Perhaps with the 2013 season already looking like one to forget, the defensive coaching staff is considering making some moves and tinkering with what they have in Reed and Justin Tuggle to better gauge their needs for the offseason.
Tuggle, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Kansas State, flashed a similar run-stopping ability to Reed this past preseason and earned himself a roster spot alongside fellow preseason star Willie Jefferson. Considering Brooks Reed has only accumulated 3.5 sacks in his past 23 regular season games and has been relegated to essentially a containment role, it would make sense to pass off that job to Tuggle in favor of having Reed’s presence in the middle. At the very least, I believe Tuggle could continue to hold the edge and allow Watt to do his thing inside while Reed attempts to bring some stability back to the suddenly porous run defense between the tackles.
At 2-5 and with playoff hopes evaporating before their eyes, the Texans have nothing to lose by transitioning to something new over their bye week. If Reed makes the switch inside, and more importantly if that switch actually works, then it is very possible that Rick Smith will keep Reed inside permanently and target outside linebacker in the draft for the fourth year in a row.
Call me bitter, but I will remember Alex Okafor being available in the third round for years to come.