Whether he is ready or not, Max Scharping is going to start Week 1 against the Saints. The 6’5”, 327 pound offensive lineman has been working primarily at right guard in training camp. Drafted in the second round a few months ago, Scharping was dominant playing for Northern Illinois in the MAC conference.
Along with fellow rookie Tytus Howard, the Texans’ coaching staff has taken their training slow and steady this preseason. Though Howard was given the label “a developmental project”, Scharping has been seen as a bit more a plug-and-play kind of guy. That expectation has certainly put more pressure and eyes on Scharping this preseason than expected.
With Zach Fulton’s turf toe injury last Saturday against the Cowboys, Scharping will go from training wheels to full tilt in a matter of two weeks.
The little girl on the right sums up the expression of every Texans fan watching Scharping right now: hesitation.
Through three games, the Texans’ offensive line has continued to look suspect despite the overhaul the unit underwent this offseason. New faces have not meant new outcomes as quarterbacks have been harassed by opposing defenses all preseason.
Football is complicated, but what the Cowboys did last Saturday was simple. They blitzed until the Texans were able to stop it. Dallas ultimately stopped blitzing, but that wasn’t until after the game was over. Ergo, the Texans never stopped the Cowboys’ pass rush, and Scharping didn't help one bit.
After gouging my eyes out while re-watching the film from Saturday’s game, I noticed that Scharping either looked smooth with his pass protection or thoroughly incompetent. The first quarter was not all that bad for the rookie lineman. He was confident in his slide, helpful in support, and held up pretty darn well in the run game. Scharping is No. 74, playing the right guard position.
On this play at the end of the first quarter, Scharping does a good job of supporting center Nick Martin with the defensive tackle by shuffling his feet and actively using his hands to be at the ready in case (and so very often) Martin needs help. Once Scharping notices the tackle from the other side ripping around towards him, he quickly resets to absorb the oncoming defender. What the coaches will like the most is how he keeps his pad level down and anchors against the defender. This allows him to slow down the pass rush and create a pocket for Joe Webb III.
The second quarter for Scharping...well, the second quarter for the Texans was somewhere between a scary movie and a clown party. By definition, the second quarter was the movie “IT”. Let’s just say no one looked good here.
Two clear-cut sacks could be attributed to Scharping in the second quarter. The first one is a blatant lack of balance. He was following the defender with his eyes, not his feet. Watch Scharping at right guard whiff and never recover on this pass block.
That is too easy. Scharping was nothing more than a blocking dummy to Cowboys DE Kerry Hyder. Hyder sits fourth on the Cowboys’ depth chart, so Scharping should not be this easily beaten by a guy trying to make the team. What happens here is Scharping is in charge of signaling to the center to snap the ball. This may be a new role for Scharping; it threw him off his game in the second quarter. It seems that he attempted to overcompensate for being a little overextended; he was never able to reorient himself in front of the defensive lineman.
On this sack, Scharping is playing right tackle and gets beat to the edge. This is a lack of experience and awareness. Lack of experience, as Scharping is making a major leap from Northern Illinois to a professional defensive lineman who can turn the edge on a tackle at warp speed. Lack of awareness because Scharping does not account for the three step drop Webb III takes in his drop back.
Scharping is beaten around the edge because he is not aware how deep his QB is in the pocket. His technique isn't bad. It’s his lack of understanding of the offense and where the QB is behind him that put him out of position. He’s been taught to wait to shoot his hands until the last minute against these defensive ends. That part of his technique looked better against the Cowboys, but what is missing here is control of the pocket and allowing himself to immediately get overwhelmed.
Scharping is a project. I’m one more preseason sack away from forever calling him “Panda” for his slow feet, long arms, and lack of coordination. That said, the Texans do have themselves an NFL-caliber offensive lineman. He has the tools and build to play either guard or tackle in the NFL. The question is whether Scharping can nix the poor plays and improve his technique in time for him to not get abused and lose his confidence as a rookie.