Even though it's right under our noses, no question mark position has received as little attention this offseason as nose tackle. Right tackle, strong-side outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and safety have all received the majority of headlines. For a position that saw its incumbent starter, Shaun Cody, not be re-signed, it's received little-to-no worries.
Perhaps fans have realized that the Texans don't put a premium on the man in the middle of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Perhaps people assume there is no position battle for returning veteran Earl Mitchell. However, it has never really been the modus operandi of head coach Gary Kubiak to simply hand someone a starting position. Even a drafted rookie kicker had to compete for his job last season. Why should anyone assume Mitchell is going to be handed the gig? What's he shown thus far in his career?
For starters, Mitchell, the man who Houston took ahead of the destructive Geno Atkins in the 2010 NFL Draft, could never beat out Shaun Cody for a starting gig. Furthermore, even though Mitchell played more snaps than the injured Cody in 2012, they play a different style of game. Whereas Cody was seen as a body occupier, Mitchell's the gap-shooter. While that should fit Phillips' defense better, Mitchell's only produced one sack in two seasons under the Wizard of Defense. While Mitchell has always had potential, a la Amobi Okoye, he's never really put that together consistently on the field.
To his credit, Mitchell has worked hard this offseason, embraced his new role, and turned a head or two during organized team activities. Still, why is he given a 'free' pass? Are Texans fans used to a non-factor in the middle? Are we really to assume that Chris Jones won't even sniff a starter's gig because he's a rookie (Yes, I'll just assume the drafted Jones has a leg up at the second spot ahead of Ra'Shon Harris, Terrell McClain, and David Hunter)? Are we sure the Texans won't take a swing at a veteran nose tackle on a cheap deal? Does J.J. Watt's greatness, and Antonio Smith's goodness, mask the deficiencies of nose tackle last season?
While other position battles will crop up over the next month, let's not forget about the hole in the middle and watch if Mitchell can step up and reap the benefits of playing between a strong duo of defensive ends or if Jones (or someone else) can surprise and take the gig away.