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What To Do At LT?

(Deep Breath)...Well, here we are.  The "What To Do..." analysis of the offense has been building to this moment.  Granted, we've already had a glimpse of the dilemma at left tackle via the look at what's possible at right tackle.  To put it mildly, it ain't pretty.  And the real wild card in any dissection of left tackle, and for that matter the entire offensive line, is Alex Gibbs.  We know Gibbs came down the mountain with two tablets detailing proper zone blocking technique, and we can anticipate that a complete embrace of that scheme may necessarily mean that slower, heavier linemen give way to smaller, more nimble types.  At the same time, Gibbs isn't going to be able to completely overhaul the roster in the name of a change in scheme.  At least not in one offseason, anyway.

So we have to keep all of those things in mind as we take a look at what your Houston Texans can and/or will do when it comes to staffing the single most important position on the offensive line (assuming a right-handed quarterback, of course, which both The Schaub and Rosenfels are...though I'm fairly sure The Schaub could throw seventy yards downfield left-handed if he really wanted to; I also believe he could definitively figure out the origin of Stonehenge if quarterbacking the Texans to a championship wasn't infinitely more important).  In a perfect world, the optimal depth chart for Houston at LT next season reads like this:

  1.  Charles Spencer
  2.  Ephraim Salaam
  3.  Rookie With Sizable Upside Selected After Round One of the 2008 NFL Draft
Unfortunately, I think the chances of this happening are approximately the same as David Carr remaining on the Carolina roster.  As we've noted here before, the reports on Charles Spencer do not lead a rational observer to believe that the Texans can count on him to contribute, much less start, next season, if ever.  That sucks, but it's the truth.  If Spencer comes back, it's a huge bonus, but the team has to proceed as if he won't suit up again.  Ephraim Salaam is a fine back-up and has (for the most part) exceeded expectations as a starter, but I cannot imagine that Smithiak has him penciled in to start again in 2008.  The bottom line is that LT is a position that is assuredly targeted for an upgrade this spring.  Thus, we turn our attention to the two methods of upgrading--the draft and free agency.

The good news is that this year's crop of draft-eligible left tackles is the deepest I can ever remember.  The bad news is that the cream of the crop of that group should be long gone by the time the Texans go on the clock at No. 18.  With the caveat that there is no such thing as a sure thing in the draft, the guys I would categorize as the closest to sure things at left tackle in this draft--Jake Long, Ryan Clady, and Chris Williams--will simply not be available when the Texans pick, and I cannot fathom a scenario where Smithiak would part with draft picks to move up to snag one of those guys.  Consequently, we're left with the question of whether the Texans would reach at No. 18 to take a left tackle.  I don't think they will.  There are simply too many other areas of need (secondary?) at which the team will be able to get a better prospect with the eighteenth pick, and the plethora of intriguing later round options at LT make it a prime candidate for attention on Day Two of the draft.  In that vein, I'll throw out some names of left tackles that would cause me to raise an eyebrow if they were sitting there in Round Three or later:  Tony Hills, Anthony Collins, and Pedro Sosa.

As you'd suspect, there aren't and/or won't be (e.g., Jordan Gross) a lot of quality left tackles hitting the free agent market.  But one name in particular intrigues the hell out of me, assuming Carolina lets him walk--Travelle Wharton.  Wharton is by no means a franchise left tackle, but he's young and more importantly, unproven enough that he shouldn't demand a yearly salary in the vicinity of the GNP of a third world country.  If I was Rick Smith, I'd be calling him the second free agency officially opens (11 p.m. CST on 02/28/08, by the way).

Update [2008-2-14 19:21:22 by Tim]:: Alas, my interest in Travelle Wharton is no more; Carolina inked him to a six (6) year deal. Thanks to Lee for pointing this out to me via the Comments below.

In the final analysis, the large number of draft possibilities and the tiny number of free agent targets at left tackle lead me to believe that we'll see a newly-minted Texan named on April 27, 2008 to protect The Schaub's blind side, with the hope that said rookie can eventually unseat Ephraim Salaam from the starting role.  Pure speculation, I know.  But there's little doubt that something has to be done to shore up a position that's been cursed since the second Tony Boselli was brought to town.