Texans GM Rick Smith, 2011 NFL Combine:
(on how much could quality play from the safeties could help the cornerbacks) "I think it's significant. You're looking at a former safety, so I value the position significantly. It's important."
(on if he thinks there is a true nose tackle on the team right now) "Well yeah, I do. I think if you listen to him (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) and the way that he describes what he's done in the past with his defenses, there isn't a template of a guy, one certain size, height/weight ratio. He's done it with guys who are the big, massive guys. He's done it with guys and had success with guys who are a little bit undersized or smaller. And I think Earl Mitchell is a guy who can play the nose for us. I think his development last year was good. Very pleased with what he did and expecting him to take a jump that you expect guys to make from year one to year two. And so I think we do."
Here we are a little more than two months into the Wade Phillips regime, and other than the switch to the 3-4 defense, the only thing that is noticeable about the Texans' personnel moves is that they still haven't given up on two losing ideas. They still don't think they need a real 3-4 nose tackle, and they still don't think they need to go outside of the organization for free safety help.
I know, I know, free agency hasn't begun yet. I hear you, section of the fanbase that is sick of the whining. But read the leaves and search within yourself: You can clearly see the intent of the moves. The Texans will do everything in their power to move Glover Quin to free safety and let Earl Mitchell be the first choice at nose tackle.
I'm not a huge John McClain fan, as you might have gathered. However, while the Texans have him sealed in that room where they feed him his new talking points, he does invariably come up with the ideas that the Texans themselves are thinking about. For that reason, I find what he has to say on this subject valuable.
So the Texans missed out on O.J. Atogwe and Shaun Rogers when they were cut before free agency actually started. Big deal, you say. There's still plenty of free agency coming. How about Eric Weddle? In fact, some may even prefer him to Atogwe. The Chargers don't seem completely committed to keeping him. Yeah, except...
[Comment From Jarred]
Do the texans have any interest in eric weddle, and do you know if we are going to bring back Benard?
John McClain: I'm sure when FA begins, they'll check him out. But they prefer to get a CB and move Quin to FS.
Well okay, maybe they're saving their dollars for Aubrayo Franklin? I mean, he's a pretty good nose tackle and the team still needs on--
[Comment From TexansMikeLCTX]
do you think we might make a run for A. Franklin from SF?
John McClain: Don't see it. Phillips like Mitchell and Cody.
Taken separately from each other, the moves to not chase Atogwe or Rogers and the Texans' subsequent PR campaign around Cody, Mitchell, and the idea of moving Quin to free safety might be innocent enough to be classified as misinformation. Together, they start to form a pattern. A pattern that is very consistent with what we've seen and what we've heard in the past.
I don't necessarily want to write off the moves before they happen. Maybe Mitchell can be a solid penetrating nose tackle, and maybe Quin will be much better at free safety than he was at cornerback. Wade Phillips has been a great defensive coordinator in the past, and it'd be hard not to improve on the job Frank Bush has done. I'm sure the Texans will have a better defense next season. The question is, how much better?
And on that front, the lack of urgency continues to kill me. Andre Johnson is going to be 30 next season, which will be his ninth in the NFL. He has never played in a playoff game. In fact, outside of Arian Foster, Duane Brown and a cadre of young tight ends that will never see the field thanks to Owen Daniels' new contract, it's hard to find anyone on the offense who isn't in his prime right now. Next season, the youngest projected starter after Foster and Brown is Eric Winston, who will turn 28 in the middle of the season.
You know what would be helpful for that group that has been saddled with terrible defenses for their whole Texans careers? Good free agent defenders at positions of need. Cornerback is a need, yes, but for once it would be nice to actually acknowledge that this defense is multiple solid players away from being good next year, and react accordingly. I'm not saying every position needs to be filled with a player like Nnamdi Asomugha, but would it kill the Texans to start wining and dining players of that caliber? Would it be too much of a leap of faith to wait out the free agent market for bargains instead of waiting out the market for players willing to sign for the minimum? To admit that maybe after nine years of trying to develop a good defense, we just can't perform the job without any outside help?
We've already seen the Texans piss much of Johnson's prime away while they started young defenders that had shown little sign of being ready for the job. Again, I'm not saying that Wade Phillips can't turn Mitchell and Shaun Cody into a passable nose tackle combination. I'm not saying that he can't make things easy for the impending rite of passage for Quin to free safety and *gulp* Troy Nolan, starting strong safety. I won't even put it completely past him that he could teach Kareem Jackson how to do something other than watch cockfights and defenders beating him deep.
I'm saying that on a team designed to win, rather than develop, he wouldn't have to. That's the problem.