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Red Zone Play: Hold The Line!

NFL: Houston Texans-OTA Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Those of you that read this column each and every week know how I beat the offensive line drum. The old adage “Games are won and lost in the trenches” became a wise saying decades ago for a reason and it still holds true today.

While Houston obviously has the defensive side of the trench shored up and ready for battle, the other side has been a question mark for some time. If this team is really taking the next snap in the proverbial red zone, pursuing the Lombardi to finally bring one home to H-Town, then the O-Line HAS to produce at a high level this year.

We may have to wait a little longer to see the progress the line has made in the off-season, but one of the best football analysts in Texas (if not the nation), John Harris, has been posting training camp updates since last week.

Of topical note to this column, he’s been spending a fair bit of time focused on second-year center Nick Martin, among others.

Center Nick Martin is a tank. I interviewed him after the practice and I was struck by his build. I’ve talked with Nick plenty but this time it felt like he towered over me. He was one of the last guys off the field and had a solid day, it appeared. His first pass rush rep was against D.J. Reader who can bull rush the best of them. Martin anchored against the bull then got his hands in position to keep Reader from throwing an arm under to get free. I’ve said for a while that Martin is a technician at his craft and it’s great to see him healthy again.

If Martin can develop as well as his brother Zack Martin has, Houston will have an anchor on the center of the line for a long, long time. With that, comes a huge leap in offensive production, which is just what the doctor ordered to compliment the All-World Defense.

But, it will take more than one center to turn the fortunes of this line. Obviously, Rick Smith needs to pay Duane Brown and get him back. Brown’s holdout feels almost like a typical veteran “I don’t want/need to be at training camp” maneuver as much as it is a quest for more guaranteed money. Either way, I can’t imagine any scenario, barring injury, that doesn’t have Brown on the field week one.

Then Xavier Sua-Filo needs to continue his growth and step up his game once more. While he made a solid step forward last year, it wasn’t enough to put him in the same conversation as Brown when it comes to productivity.

After those three, the line has a lot of question marks.

Will Greg Mancz slide over to right guard? Will Jeff Allen hold him off? Where will David Quessenberry factor in?

Jeff Allen looks like the Jeff Allen of old. I like seeing him mixing it up and getting feisty. He takes guff from no one, including his former Illinois teammate and pal Whitney Mercilus. Those two got tangled up in a stunt pass rush drill and there was some disagreement, shall we say, at the conclusion of the play. If Allen continues to progress, this offense will benefit greatly.

David Quessenberry did a solid job slowing Carlos Watkins during a one-on-one rep. David’s strength is definitely there and the timing and the rest will hopefully come back soon. I can’t even imagine what today must have felt like for him.

Rookie Julien Davenport, Kendall Lamm, Chris Clark and a few others will be competing for the starting right tackle spot. While I have no illusions that anyone on this roster will adequately replace Derek Newton (or Eric Winston), if the other four spots are solid, the right tackle can get some help when needed from tight ends, tailbacks and slot receivers to perform the job adequately.

Yesterday, Mercilus threw a spin move on him and left Davenport flailing. Today, Davenport faced Jadeveon Clowney and kept him at bay. Clowney wasn’t completely sure how to attack the long-armed rookie and Davenport sort of enveloped him and held his ground. As I mentioned, he’s doing it on both sides of the line as well.

One thing is for sure, practicing against a front seven that includes J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing can only make them better.

I like the way that Kendall Lamm protected the passer in one-on-ones against the edge rushers. I’ve thought, for a while, that Lamm could progress into a starting role and he still has a ton of work to do, but he certainly looks the part at right tackle right now.

If they can get dialed in, have some continuity and perform at a high level, the quarterback, tailbacks and by default, the defense, will be able to do more than enough to make this a season Houston Texans fans never want to forget.

Read John’s full notes here.

What do you think? Who’s going to make the starting five? Have a prediction for the right tackle spot? Want Houston to pursue someone not on the roster right now? Let us know in the comments below.