To spare you the reader a long bio, I am a major sports fan, with football being my favorite spectator sport. My pro football team: Houston Texans. My college football team: Penn State. Ordinarily, my pro and college football interest do not merge. Since the Texans entered the league in 2002, not a lot of Penn State players found themselves on the Texans roster. The last Penn State player I can recall being on the Texans was Bryant Johnson (WR circa 2011). That changed this past week, when former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien joined the Texans as the team’s third Head Coach.
Much has already been, and will continue to be, written about how and why BOB left Happy Valley to come to H-town. Certainly, O’Brien rated as the top candidate for the myriad of coaching positions that came open. The job he did at Penn State under some of the worst circumstances imaginable for a head coach speaks for itself. While, Penn State never cracked the AP Top 25 in his two years (thanks to the NCAA, they were ineligible for the Coaches/Harris/BCS poll), the school still managed to maintain a winning record. A 15-9 record over a 2 year period hardly qualifies as outstanding by itself, but this record came about playing in a BCS AQ conference (ok, the Big Ten is not the SEC, but still, it ain’t the MAC) with a depleted roster (61 scholarship players this past season)in the shadow of the worst sports scandal in recent memory. Before BOB came South, he was primed to bring in a top 25 recruiting class along with the talent from last year, setting the stage for a major run at the Big Ten title (once eligible). Then again, BOB may not have expected an owner like McNair, he of the deep pockets, good reputation, and overlord of a potentially quality product, to come calling.
Yet, this post is not to wax poetic on BOB’s time at PSU, but to try to assess what his hire will mean for the Texans on the field. For an offensive coach, he has quite a few weapons to work with (Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Arian Foster, Duane Brown). On defense, the man-beast JJ Watt and a healthy Brian Cushing will help whoever ends up the DC. Certainly better health from the key stars will only help. Also, having the top pick in each round gives Rick Smith the chance to line up (for his and our sake) a solid draft.
With all of that said, what can we, the Texan fan expect from BOB in 2014? Based on his time as a New England assistant/Penn State HC, this is what I see:
1) Quarterback Development: Okay, the last guy was noted for working with quarterbacks and until late last season/this season, Kubiack’s work with Schaub affirmed that faith. However, the biggest need for the Texans on the field is QB. No QB=no success. This draft will make or break BOB/Rick Smith. As far as who to draft, I am not sure, but we have a few months for paralysis by analysis. I am focusing on what BOB will do once Smith gives him the prospect. If you subtract BOB’s work with Brady-Bundchen (who made all his OCs look good), look to his work with his two starting QBs at Penn State. Matt McGloin (aka, the Raiders QB that sliced and diced the Texans earlier this season). Prior to his senior season, McGloin was equal parts liability and asset. In his one bowl game (2011 Outback Bowl), Penn State’s opponent, the Florida Gators, played three individuals at QB. Yet, their best QB was McGloin, who proceed to throw 5 INTs, including the game clinching pick-six with under two minutes to play (sound familiar?). Watching him drop back on third downs/passing plays, the prevailing thought was "please don’t screw this up". Enter 2012 and BOB. That season, he turned McGloin into a legitimate QB, with McGloin leading the Big Ten in passing (3271 yds, 24 TDs, 5 INTs). 3rd and 6 was no longer a time of dread, but a time of opportunity. This past season, BOB goes with the uber-talented Christian Hackenberg. His numbers: 2950 yds, 20 TDs, 10 INTs (as a true freshman). His final game against Wisconsin foretold of a very, very bright future for Penn State at QB. Now, take that, and apply it to QB X…even if the draft pick does not start immediately, I think BOB can only improve the caliber of QB play.
2) TE-polooza: In his primary season as OC in NE, BOB had two All-Pro caliber TEs at his disposal. Gronkowski (pre-injury) and Hernandez (pre-murder). Their numbers set all sorts of records and redefined the power of the TE position. At Penn State, he turned the TE (usually just a blocker who was eligible to catch a pass or two every now and then) into a legitimate passing targets. Kyle Carter, Jesse James, Adam Brennen became major offensive weapons (in the case of the latter two, they have the potential to be All-Conference for a long time). Now, the Texans may not have the 2011 Gronk/Hernandez, but they are not bereft of talent. Owen Daniels (if he is still around in 2014), Garrett Graham, etc, can be very effective (whenever Schaub wasn’t throwing pick sixes, most of his touchdown passes went their way). I would expect the TE to be a major player in the offense, and not just on play-action rollouts.
3) Aggressive Play Calling: A common refrain from this past season was the lack of aggressiveness by Kubiack. Actually, his conservativeness has been a complaint for the past couple of seasons. Enter BOB. In his two years at Penn State, they led the Big 10 in 4th down conversion attempts (58). Now, there are some mitigating circumstances that may or may not play out in Houston. At Penn State, BOB had a wildly inconsistent kicker (waaaitt a second…), and it did cost him at least 2 games at Penn State (has that happened in Houston…lately…this season?). Thus, if no faith in the kicker, may as well try to get the TDs. Also, BOB’s teams did not always have a great 3rd down conversion rate, so to make up for that, why not try again? Finally, at Penn State, he really didn’t have that much to lose. No bowl game/title chances to play for, so why not have some fun. He will have more at stake in Houston, but I imagine that he will carry some of that aggressiveness over into the play-calling in 2014.
4) In-Your-Face Accountability: What first brought BOB into the national spotlight was not the job at Penn State, but the infamous sideline dust-up with Brady-Bundchen in NE, whereby BOB (in the words of Friend-of-the-VA Paul Ryan) had his Irish wwwwwaaaaayyyyyyy up. Kubiack was never even close to that way. I know Kubiack ripped officials (what coach doesn’t), but never really sensed that he was that way with his players. Now, to be effective, it doesn’t need to be public, but at times, a little paint-peeling critiquing is required. I think BOB will bring some much needed fire. The Texans could get fired up in the wrong ways (penalties this past year) and some of that may still remain with BOB, but I also think some good "fire" could come from a strong personality like BOB. Perhaps even some much-needed tough-mindedness.
Now, I don’t expect that BOB will solve all that ails the Texans right away. Nor do I think these things alone will do the trick. McNair is patient, but not that patient, especially with the franchise as it is now. The staff, particularly the coordinator spots (overall defensive, offensive and offensive line) are of vital importance going forward. Yet, the Texans could benefit from new management. The team did have the appearance of being stale and too predictable. With BOB, I think we can safely say predictability will not be an issue this year.