Every Texans fan has the same Fathead on their wall. It’s Andre Johnson. It’s Arian Foster. It’s J.J. Watt. It was Duane Brown. Our favorite players are the same four greatest players in the history of the franchise. Instead of revering the same cornerstones, let’s shed some light on some of the lesser known players in franchise history, the types of players who can only be loved by someone who watches this team every week 16 times a year.
Who is your favorite Texan who was never named to a Pro Bowl (with Houston or somewhere else) during his career?
When you think of Rick Smith free agents, you think of Johnathan Joseph. Following the worst pass defense of all time in 2010, Smith went out and got a guy who ended up being the best cornerback on the market (sorry, Nnamdi Asomugha). With the addition of J.J. Watt, better health, and Wade Phillips, the Texans went from one of the most abhorrent defenses in football into a top ten unit. But J-Jo has made two Pro Bowls, so he can’t be my answer.
Another player who played a central role in that change and was also signed during the 2011 offseason was Danieal Manning. People forget about him during and the role he played on Houston’s defense. He could cover tight ends. He could mash in the run game. He was the physical addition in the secondary the Texans needed.
Manning also made one of my favorite plays in franchise history. In 2012, Houston started off the season 7-1 and visited 8-1 Chicago on Sunday night, in prime time. It was a brutal and sloppy game that was played almost entirely in the rain. It was the type of game Houston usually lost. It also came during the type of run where winning the Super Bowl was an actual real thought instead of some BRB basement dwelling fan fiction.
It was just the first quarter when Manning made his mark. Jay Cutler couldn’t find anyone open. He rolled right and found tight end Kellen Davis sneaking away after originally being in to pass block. Manning read it and absolutely destroyed Davis. Davis’ kidneys exploded. He became a carcass. It was one of the greatest, clean, vicious hits I’ve ever seen. It’s the exact kind of hit that exemplifies why I love football.
Tim Dobbins recovered the fumble Manning forced. Houston was set up in field goal range and Neil Rackers split the uprights to put the Texans up 3-0. Houston regained the lead 10-3 after two-yard swing pass turned into an Arian Foster touchdown that was grittier than a kitty litter sandwich. Houston wouldn’t lose the lead again.
At the time, I felt Manning’s hit set the mood for the game. This was a different Houston team. With Matt Schaub back and at 8-1, they could actually clinch the one seed in the AFC, get homefield advantage, and who knows what could happen after that. I remembered leaving my friend Sam’s house actually being excited for the rest of the season. Ahhhh, to be a naive young man again. Instead Schaub cratered as the season progressed. The Texans lost three out of four to New England, Minnesota, and Indianapolis to end the regular season. Houston ended up having to travel to New England for the divisional round where they of course lost.
Manning had an unforgettable what the hell kick return in that game.
Oh, and there was that time Manning turned an interception into a nut shot.
Danieal Manning was 29 years old when he left Chicago for Houston. He only played two and a half years here before injuries and age took him away. But damn, did he make some spectacular plays. Only Glover Quin is ahead of him on the very sad list of best Texans’ safeties of all-time.
Whitney Mercilus. The guy is a one-man wrecking crew on the field and a saint off of it. He diligently applies himself to film study, learning, and improving his mental and physical techniques every chance he gets. A prefect model of work ethic. Then, when he isn’t doing his best to become the best, he’s giving back to the world around him through withmerci.org, his charitable foundation whose mission is to “provide advocate services and support to families of children with disabilities and special needs.”
This is the kind of pro ball role model our kids need these days in a world overflowing with opportunities for kids to make the wrong choices.
Guys like Whitney make watching football fun while using their platform to leave the world better than they found it. If we had more Whitneys and less of the “I have a room in my house for the three thousand $10,000 suits I need to feel good about myself” types, we’d all be better off for it.
I’ve expressed a general amazement at how Derrick Ward managed to play football during the later stage of his career, especially considering how he played at such a...let’s say, controlled pace. He somehow managed to occupy the role of change-of-pace back in Houston which, strictly speaking, he did quite well. The normal running back for the Texans would be fast and often times shifty, whereas Ward would slow things down, take his time, find the perfect lane, and then leisurely jaunt through it. He was the perfect foil for Arian Foster.
Here’s a fun statistic. Remember that 2010 season where we all collectively discovered just how damm good Arian Foster was? Derrick Ward had a higher YPC average than Foster that year. Ward averaged 6.3 yards over 50 carries while Arian Foster had 4.9 YPC. That’s such a misleading statistic, but I don’t care, because watching Derrick Ward run was like watching someone spin plates. That was fun.
There are so many more deserving people who contributed a lot more that Ward to the success of the Texans, but none did so in such a unique style as Ward. Because of that, I’ll never forget “The Glacier.”
Bernard Pollard. He may have backed into a Pro Bowl or two, but he was certainly not a beloved Texan.
Yeah, he couldn’t cover for KITTEN, but he brought some fire and attitude that particular Kubiak-era defense was SORELY lacking. He had a great personality and wasn’t a tiresome bore of an interview. The time he actually played well in Houston was very short, and the rest was pretty much him coasting on the whole “he has a lot of fire” thing, but when he lined someone up for a big hit, that dude made it count.
During one of the open training camp sessions I attended, you could hear BP let out an insane primal scream each time he hit the padded sled. I barely heard a peep from any other player, but Pollard threw legitimate murderous RAGE into every one of his reps against that poor sled.
....... and then he went to the Titans.
So there are three ways to answer this question.
The cheating, easy, way is to say Deshaun Watson. He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl and doesn’t fit the terms of this question yet, but I don’t feel like this quite hits the intent of the question.
The snarky, easy way is to boost up one of the comically terrible players the Texans fielded in the Casserly years or early lean Kubiak years. Petey Faggins and his DPI/Holding/TD catch allowed trifecta. Jonathan Wells and his insane lack of production behind one of the worst offensive lines of all time. Tony Boselli for literally never showing up. This also doesn’t quite hit the intent of the question.
So my pick is going to be Andre Davis. He was fast as hell. He had the moves to evade tacklers in the open field. He was an excellent returner. I always thought he was comically underused in Houston, and I think if the same player came out today in a screens and deep ball-focused game plan, he’d have a chance to be at least a No. 2 receiver. Those early Kubiak Texans ran the ZBS, made the Vonta Leach screen pass a thing, and played a lot of two tight-end sets. Outside of play-action passes, they never really targeted deep verts/crossers much. I always thought Davis had the body and speed to make that a higher-percentage throw.
Steve Slaton. He was the first Texans running back to have a big year, he was exciting to watch, and he helped us forget that we ever started Ron Dayne.
Domanick Davis. I had zero expectations for him when he was drafted, and when he was healthy (huge qualifier there), he was fun to watch.
Was it because he was the first running back the Texans had that wasn’t poopypigpoop? Possibly so, but I enjoyed watching him make the best of a bad offensive line.
Mike Brisiel. Undrafted out of college, Brisiel was just one piece of Gary Kubiak’s incredibly productive pre-2006 off-season. Whether starting or off the bench, Brisiel gave us consistently above-average play. He was a true, blue collar mudder of a football player.
I remember there being a very brief time when Wali Lundy gave me reason to believe that Gary Kubiak could in fact manufacture a running game out of thin air, but it was too short to count. Instead, I’ll go with Jonathan Grimes as the answer to this question.
I have always thought Grimes could have been a legitimate RB2 in the right situation. Right or wrong (probably the latter), it seemed he routinely found more yards than you’d expect when he got opportunities in Houston. And that wasn’t just when he ran the ball; Grimes was a true receiving option out of the backfield.
Heck, with the uncertainty surrounding the depth chart at running back, I’d give him a call right now.