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What To Do At LB?

Time to take a break from all of the speculation about the future of Sage Rosenfels in H-Town; let us turn our attention back toward the somewhat interesting exercise that is BRB's "What To Do..." series.  I'm cruising toward what will surely leave me cursing the heavens--the secondary--but first things first...analysis of the linebacking corps of your Houston Texans.

More so than any other position, free agency has affected the analysis.  And unlike my flawed attempt to parse the guards and tackles on the offensive line, I'm going to treat the linebackers as a single group (despite the very different responsibilities amongst the three (3) LBs in a 4-3 defense).  If anyone's interested in a quick primer on those differences in linebacking duties, the best explanation I could readily find online was here (though the article is primarily about the 3-4, the first few paragraphs provide a nice, bare-bones summary of 4-3 LB play).

But back to the Texans...here's what you've got on the roster today:

  1.  DeMeco Ryans
  2.  Morlon Greenwood
  3.  Kevin Bentley
  4.  Zac Diles
  5.  Chaun Thompson
  6.  Kevis Coley
DeMeco anchors the middle in a fashion that makes my heart sing, and Greenwood (who I, in my typically totally unbiased way, think is one of the most underrated players in the entire freaking league) will hold down a starting spot, likely on the weak side (if for no other reason than the fact that Kubes loves nothing more a dash of Jamaican flava with his rap...credit MDC with bringing that baby to light).  That leaves one starting spot up for grabs.  Believe it or not, I think it's Zac Diles' to lose.  McClain has noted that the coaches love the kid, and common sense would dictate that his familiarity with the scheme would give him a leg up over newcomers Bentley and Thompson, the latter of whom is coming from a 3-4 in Cleveland.  

Thompson nevertheless should get on the field in other situations, most notably on special teams and possibly even as a situational rusher off the edge.  I'm curious to see how Bentley fits into the rotation; he's sure to make noise on special teams, and he does have experience at every LB position in the 4-3.  That sort of flexibility is a real asset, and I could see it translating into him getting snaps at any LB spot as a reserve.  Whether that flexibility is enough to merit a starting nod and/or significant time at one of the outside spots, I don't know.  All that's certain is that Bentley will leave his mark on the citizenry of this great town off the field.

Kevis Coley seems to have spent his short career on various practice squads around the NFL, so his best case scenario is likely that of special teamer extraordinaire in 2008.  Call me cynical, but I think it's more likely he's on the practice squad than the active roster.  Hey, I hope the guy re-defines the position and becomes a modern day DeMeco.  Odds are, however, that it won't happen.

Given the moves thus far, I think it's safe to say that the Texans are probably done adding talent at LB via free agency.  Indeed, I don't believe it's a stretch to say that LB is one of the deepest positions on the team, though there's still definitely room for improvement.  So here's an interesting quandary...pretend you're Smithiak, and Keith Rivers is there for you at No. 18.  What do you do?  Is the fact that Rivers is projected by some as more of a weakside backer enough of a reason to pass on him?  Do you say damn the torpedoes and draft him if he's the best player left on your board?  Or are there too many other needs to prevent you from taking a LB in the first round?

Although it'd be awfully tough to pass on a player with the potential of Rivers, I'd guess you'd have to address a position other than LB.  It's one of the few areas where an argument can be made to the effect that it doesn't merit early round attention; there aren't many other places on the roster that such a luxury exists.  Now, once you get to Round Four or later, I would say that any position, including LB, is fair game.  But before the middle of the draft?  My gut says no, but I never would have thought the Texans would get a crack at Amobi Okoye at No. 10 last year either.