As I alluded to a few days ago, one of the things that drastically changed in the Houston Texans offense between 2011 and 2012 is the play of Brett Kollmann's favorite offensive lineman, right tackle Derek Newton. Houston surprisingly, at the time, decided to release Eric Winston to save money and installed Newton as the starter last season.
We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that there may not have been a correct solution between the two. Winston played decently in Kansas City, but despite solid statistics and decent grades, he's become a bit of a journeyman. I don't want to say Derek Newton was an unmitigated disaster last season, but I do think that his play gave the line a bit of a cascade effect. Without getting solid play from right tackle, all of a sudden Wade Smith's decreased range mattered more. I think it's fair to say that -- hilarity of Pro Bowl status aside -- only Duane Brown and Chris Myers were truly positives at the end of last season. Lance Zierlein broke down its effect on the Texans' run game. There were many Kollmann film columns of utter disdain about Newton's existence.
The funny part is that, just by the numbers, Newton didn't appear to have that poor of a season. For instance, you may be surprised to know that in Football Outsiders' charting statistics, he allowed 4.5 fewer blown blocks on pass attempts than Duane Brown. However, that's a bit of a sample size adjustment that can be explained by the numerals 353: the number of extra snaps Brown played as compared to Newton. Combine Newton's problems with the problems caused by having to play Ryan Harris, because Newton was THAT bad, and you get a vortex of suck: The two combined to allow five sacks, commit eight penalties, and blow 17 pass blocks and 9.5 run blocks. The only tackle within two blown run blocks of "Newtis" would be Seattle's Breno Giacomini, who had eight. (Winston, as an aside, did not finish with much better numbers -- 2.5 sacks, 17 blown pass blocks, 6.5 blown run blocks, and 10 penalties.)
The reason you draft a tackle in the third round is because you are underwhelmed with part of your current set. I don't see anyone worried about Duane Brown, so I think we all know who Brennan Williams is supposed to replace.
The problem is that Williams has spent the vast majority of both OTAs and training camp in the trainer's room. He eventually had arthroscopic surgery earlier this month. He's yet to play in the preseason, and he's a pretty good candidate to hit the PUP list when the Texans make their final cuts. The tackle behind Newton on the depth chart is ... Ryan Harris. Hey, I've seen this script before.
Make no mistake, this is Newton's Glengarry Glen Ross season (video very NSFW).
The good news is that Derek Newton was fired. The bad news is that he's got a chance to regain his job. Starting with Week 1.
So here we are. The question has shifted. Nobody believes that Newton is the Texans' right tackle of the future. Honestly, based on last season's numbers, he shouldn't be the tackle of the present. But he's got a little more of a future in this league than Harris, and the Texans have more invested in him, so he'll get another shot at a job that he hasn't shown he deserves yet.
It'd be easy to say it's impossible for a player as bad as Newton was last season to become an NFL starter, but the fact of the matter is that the Texans have two players on their roster who did just that: Brown and cornerback Kareem Jackson. Granted, they had more of a pedigree than Newton. That doesn't mean the situation is completely hopeless. It does mean that if he doesn't take a leap this year, he's going to spend the rest of his career as a swing tackle.
I will level with you: this offensive line does not fill me with promise. Smith has already had one surgery, Ben Jones had problems in pass protection last season, and we've been over the tour de force that was Newton's debut season. There's a lot that needs to be sorted out here.
That said, I'm not quite as concerned about this as I am about Schaub. For one thing, Newton is a right tackle. There are a lot of teams with bad right tackles in the NFL that can compete for a Super Bowl. Hell, you can argue that the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers had zero good tackles last year. Then there's the chance that Newton improves -- Cameron Wake disagrees with this premise wholeheartedly after last Saturday but I guess we shouldn't rule it out. There's the chance that @GREATBLACKOTAKU is available to take over before the year is out, which is plausible, if optimistic, based on how little he's practiced. Finally, there's the chance that an exhausted Kubiak just surrenders and benches Newton for Harris to shore up the run game. Of course, doing that would involve not showing loyalty to a good battlefighter, and as Joe Marciano knows, that's unacceptable.
So there are a lot of different ways that the Texans can improve a little bit at right tackle by the time the postseason comes around. I would not bet on it happening, but there are feasible avenues.
Go and do likewise, Derek. Starting positions on playoff teams are for closers. The next end you successfully close off on a speed rush will be the first. Prove me wrong.
Concern level: Somewhat concerned.