As we get closer to the start of grind that is training camp, there are some key position battles to watch that will have a significant impact on the 2017 season for the Houston Texans. Although some will disagree, I will not focus on the "position battle" at quarterback. In my opinion, it only exists in the mind of fans at this point as the bitter taste of bad quarterback casserole remains from the futility that has been recently produced from that position. Until we have firm evidence to the contrary, I believe Tom Savage is and will remain the Texans’ QB1.
This post will be the first of five position battles that I will analyze before and during training camp. We will start with what I perceive to be the most important position battle for the 2017 Houston Texans, and that is the battle to start at right tackle. I don't think that there is a clear solution to the problem at this position. It would behoove Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien to leave no stone unturned, even if it means pursuing a trade.
Derek Newton is already done for the year with patellar tears in both knees. Jeff "Turnstile In Cleats" Adams is gone after being released back in November. This leaves the Texans with a stable of Chris Clark, the recently acquired Breno Giacomini, Laurence Gibson, and Kendall Lamm. Also in the mix at right tackle are (perhaps) David Quessenberry and fourth round rookie Julie'n Davenport.
I’d put Giacomini in the lead for the starting job going into camp purely because of his experience. O'Brien's scheme, which is largely a timing-based offense, asks a lot of its offensive line in regards to pass protection. This year, you can expect to see additional emphasis on running the football, even for a team that already runs the ball a ton. That is where the skill at the right tackle position will truly have to manifest itself. Thoughts on the other candidates for the job:
- Chris Clark is a horrendously bad run blocker, especially on the right side of the line. We've already seen the best that he has to offer. He's probably better suited to spend the rest of his days as a Texan playing on the left side of the line, spotting Duane Brown on occasion when Brown needs a break. Considering that O'Brien values versatility in his linemen, as crazy as it sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if Clark doesn't make the 53-man roster this year.
- Giacomini has been dealing with injury issues that have limited his playing time and performance. The Texans are taking a moderate gamble on him being healthy enough to produce and hold down the right tackle spot so that they can look further into addressing the position long-term, perhaps in next year’s draft or in free agency. Giacomini's production has declined over the years. In his first season with the Jets, Giacomini finished with a PFF rating of 74.9. In 2015, he had a grade of 41, and in 2016 it decreased to 44.3. According to Football Outsiders, the New York Jets ran to the right side of their offensive line about 20% of the time with Giacomini there, which doesn't speak very highly of Todd Boles' confidence in him.
- Kendall Lamm could be a "diamond in the rough" who shocks everyone and steals the job. He's only 24 years old and already has started seven games during his first two NFL seasons. Lamm is improving. According to Pro Football Focus, his grade in 2015 was 46.7; in 2016 it increased to 57.9. It would not be a stretch for Lamm to eventually become the starter for multiple games this year even if he doesn't win the battle in camp. He's shown enough potential and improvement to get some additional evaluation as a possible solution.
- Laurence Gibson is a long-shot to make the roster, but he has enough raw talent and athleticism to make things interesting. Gibson ran a jaw-dropping 5.04 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine and has a 33” vertical. Those are insane stats for a man of that size. Gibson has bounced around through several practice squads in his short career, but he's a freakish athlete who is learning how to play the tackle position in the NFL. He probably won't make an impact this year but will most likely remain on the practice squad to be groomed as a future swing tackle.
- David Quessenberry is the fan favorite who recently beat cancer and is back in football after a three-year absence. His presence in the locker room and on the field is a symbol of strength and persistence, but he should not be viewed at as only a strong-willed guy who is looking for another chance. DQ can play football. He's a multi-talented offensive lineman who can play both sides of the line at the guard and tackle position.
- Julie'n Davenport is a project player that the Texans are going to teach how to play football at the NFL level. He doesn't have the technique to play football on Sundays yet; although the practice squad might be the best place for him, it’s unlikely the team leaves him unprotected and subject to another team poaching him.
As you observe training camp this season, pay special attention to this group. If the Texans improve on the offensive side of the ball, the right tackle position will play a significant role.