All but two safeties on the Texans’ current roster played a game for the team last year. Andre Hal, Quintin Demps, Eddie Pleasant, and Lonnie Ballentine started the season on the roster. Kurtis Drummond and Corey Moore were signed during the season as injury replacements. The only two not on the roster at some point were 2016 5th round pick K.J. Dillon and Antonio Allen, a free agent signing from the New York Jets. With so any players having experience in this system, along with a bunch of plays on tape of them in a Texans jersey, we’re looking at a competitive preseason at the safety position.
After replacing Rahim Moore in the starting lineup halfway through last season, Andre Hal made a name for himself with an impressive display in his first year as a safety, whilst Quintin Demps performed decently after being signed late in camp. Last night against the Saints, they both looked good again. Even though he's only 5-10 and 188 pounds, Hal isn't afraid to tackle running backs at the line of scrimmage or receivers in the open field. He's our best player as a single high safety, and that's why he's a lock for the roster. Demps provides some much needed veteran influence in a young group; whilst he's not a star, Demps will be passable at strong safety with some good coverage and even better work in and around the box.
Eddie Pleasant may have been pretty horrible in his first few seasons in a Texans jersey, but last year I thought he played fairly well. Well enough to earn a new two year contract, in fact. Pleasant made his money as the third safety on a lot of plays last year, where he’d blitz or cover tight ends, even coming away with a couple of interceptions. He's not a game changer, but he's a solid rotational option. Pleasant should make the team barring injury, as he's the second best strong safety on the roster behind Demps.
Lonnie Ballentine needs to start making an impact now. Otherwise, he's at risk of never making this team. The former Mr. Irrelevant has only played two games over his two seasons in Houston, with all the rest of his time spent on injured reserve. He is the perfect physical specimen at safety, with 4.4 speed and a 38 inch vertical, all whilst being 6-3 and 215 lbs. With physical traits like that, he could play both safety positions and make an impact on special teams. Unfortunately, he just can't stay healthy and is once again on the PUP list. Time is running out for him. If he isn't healthy by the season’s start, he's probably going to be cut. With our lack of options at free safety, he would be a useful roster member, but there's not much he can contribute from the trainer’s room.
Kurtis Drummond contributed eight special team tackles and two special teams assists in his nine games last season, and he forced a fumble against the Tennessee Titans. He may not be the quickest man on the field, but he plays special teams well and was part of the turnaround on that unit last year. Drummond came out of college renowned for his ball skills, amassing eight interceptions over his last two seasons for Michigan State. He doesn't have the speed to be a single high safety, nor the tackling to play around the box, but as a rotational player in coverage, he can do a decent job. With Ballentine injured, Drummond may be our second best free safety. That is cause for concern, yet Drummond may make the roster based on that reason alone.
Corey Moore was not as good as Drummond on special teams last year, and hence was only signed for the playoff game when Charles James was unable to play. Moore got no snaps on defense in that game and had the solitary special teams tackle. Whilst he clearly impressed on special teams in training camp to earn the call-up, he is definitely behind Drummond in that respect. Moore also offers less on defense as an in the box safety, similar to Pleasant and Allen, and he was pretty bad in coverage coming out of college. He could easily be on the outside looking in when the roster is finalized.
K.J. Dillon should, barring injury, make the roster based on the fact we used a draft pick on him a few months ago. He is unlikely to clear waivers to make it to the practice squad. Last night, he was laying people out all over the field. He’s a hard-hitting guy and his coverage seemed okay; on first viewing, Dillon seemed to always be in and around his man in coverage, thought it's hard to judge from the TV broadcast. Dillon’s playing time during the regular season will be limited, as he will likely used mostly as a fifth safety and a special teamer as he learns Romeo Crennel’s defensive scheme. That's a problem, as Drummond and Moore are in the same boat. We need more safeties that can contribute on defense rather than just on special teams.
Signed to a one-year deal after the initial flurry of free agency, Antonio Allen is another box safety, but he may be the beneficiary of Ballentine being injured again. Allen is coming off a fairly serious Achilles injury of his own, but he had some productive years with the Jets. He struggled last night against the Saints and nearly gave up a wide open touchdown after he got his assignment wrong and left the receiver instead of covering him. With so many other strong safeties on the roster, it is hard to see him making the team. If we need another safety to take snaps on defense, Allen would probably get the nod over Corey Moore.
Competition at strong safety is stout with Eddie Pleasant, Corey Moore and Antonio Allen, all similar players behind Quintin Demps on the depth chart. Add rookie strong safety K.J. Dillon to the mix, and you have four guys competing for two spots. I’d give the advantage to Pleasant and Dillon at this point, but with two weeks of preseason left, nothing is set in stone. Competition typically breeds better performance; hopefully, that will be true here.
At free safety, we have an issue. Ballentine is our second-best free safety, but he can't stay healthy and we've yet to see him this preseason. That leaves second year undrafted free agent Kurtis Drummond as the only other free safety to back up Andre Hal. An injury to Hal would leave us in dire straits. Because of that, I expect a pickup of a free safety off waivers or via free agency soon, especially if it looks like Ballentine isn't going to return this year.
The only saving grace for this safety group is the fact they are so cheap. Demps is the most expensive safety this year at just $1.47 million; Pleasant is the only other safety with a cap hit of over $1 million, at $1.04 million. There won't be any "cap casualties" at the position. This battle is purely based on on-field contributions on defense and special teams. If nothing else, we can be thankful we aren't overpaying another safety like Ed Reed or Rahim Moore.
So who do you think makes the roster? Do you think we pick up a safety in the coming weeks or roll with the group we have?
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