If you care about context, it’s very easy to become a disenchanted soul who is disappointed with Tytus Howard and Max Scharping, the Texans’ offensive line selections from the 2019 NFL Draft. Your fists can bang on about how Howard couldn’t play left tackle and Scharping couldn’t play right tackle, which played a role in Bill O’Brien’s furious decision to trade two first round picks, a second round pick, and Julien Davenport for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. There’s truth to this. Neither guy could play the positions they played in college, the ones they were envisioned to play when selected last April.
Remove this context. The flowers of expectation have withered. Take in the totality of Howard and Scharping’s 2019 performance and future potential.
Both Howard and Scharping were great selections, and each should start along the Texans’ offensive line for the next three seasons, barring the heat death of the universe, a neverending lockout, or parents coddling a weak generation that removes the labor force necessary for football to continue.
Of the two, Howard had the worse rookie season. Howard was a body at right tackle. He is arms and legs. He is his 6’5”, 322 pound frame. He feels the contours of himself and cherishes the vessel that carries him through time, a felling alien to those of us who feel trapped in the rags of finitude, hate the disgusting bellowing animal desires of the belly, and forever desire to be an infinite cloud of consciousness.
Against Kansas City, Howard (#71) is playing right tackle. He’s matched up against Frank Clark (#55). The end is a wide ‘5’ technique. Meeting the end at the point of attack is a difficult proposition against a player this quick.
Howard’s first step is long and high. He drags and stays square. His second kick step is when things get wild. The tackle should get vertical with his second step if he doesn’t think he can meet the defensive end square at the point of attack. Howard doesn’t do this. Instead, he gives into fear, turns, bails on his pass set, and faces Clark head on. Clark tries to long arm the inside shoulder and bullrush through Howard. This is when size comes into play. Howard is a wall. Mass defuses this rush and devours Clark’s movement.
This is a similar situation, except this time Howard is matched up against Yannick Ngakoue (#91). A similar pass set is used here. Howard gets two kick-slides out of his pass set this time before pirouetting and turning to Ngakoue. The Jaguars’ pass rusher tries to take on the outside shoulder of Howard to follow a concise path to Deshaun Watson. The leviathan catches him, leans on him, and gets his hands inside well enough to extinguish his rush. Against this body, Nagakoue can’t easily stretch the offensive tackle apart from him and sling-shot around the edge, like he typically does when he finds an offensive tackle in this situation.
Howard is strong, enormous, and wide. It’s difficult to get around him and after the quarterback because of these attributes alone. He reminds of me a young Duane Brown, the former Texan, and current Seattle Seahawk, who had the width of two grown men wrangled together with a duct tape belt. The turning, facing, and catching, works alright enough for Howard because of the body he was blessed with. Over the course of an entire football game it creates issues though.
This is another pass rep against Ngakoue. Howard pivots and turns once again. This time Ngkaoue tries to ghost the rip and dip around the edge. Howard correctly takes a vertical step to adjust and uses his hands to guide Ngakoue into foreign soil. Ngakoue is able to slide and crawl, limbless, and hit Deshaun Watson.
The turning and sliding opens the door for the edge rusher to rush inside or outside of the blocker. The body is no longer a barrier between the defender and the quarterback. This is why Ngakoue is able to create pressure when he shouldn’t be able to.
The pass set inconsistencies now opens up an inside path. It’s 1st and 20 and Howard is matched up against the wide ‘9’ Jabaal Sheard (#93). Howard’s pass set is correct, but he over sets. He has preconceived notions of Sheard’s rush because of the pre-snap width. There he stands waiting for an outside move. Sheard plants before contact is made, jumps inside of Howard’s punch, and almost derails a wonderful sideline completion to Will Fuller.
When Howard’s pass set is correct, and he takes on the inside move head on, he vanquishes it. Again, he’s a hefty and burly man. He has more in common with a Grizzly than with the common man. On 3rd and 10 Howard sets well against the same rush. Sheard tries to take the same inside path, bounces off like a terrible amusement, and Howard readjusts his hands to keep Sheard in front of him. This is beautiful. This is how it should look.
The hands in pass protection are also an issue. Too often there isn’t a real jolt. It’s placing. It’s catching. It’s too easy to knock Howard’s punch away, gain control of the block, and fight towards the ball against a player with Howard’s strength.
Watch Laremy Tunsil (#78). This is pure and perfect hand placement, striking, and latching. Watch Tytus Howard. This is $2 you call it light switch fondling.
Here Howard is passing a stunt off with Zach Fulton (#71) against Justin Jones (#93). Howard doesn’t clear Jones off him to control the block. Up and into him, Jones is able to rip Howard’s punch off him and bend around to Watson, who of course, evaporates, and congeals outside the pocket like mouth sloshed gelatin spit back into the refrigerator.
His punch doesn’t extend Sheard off his chest on this play. Sheard is able drive him, and create extension with one hand, but his rush doesn’t align with Watson’s slight pocket climb. A wrapped head take down ends this pass rush attempt.
Howard struggles in the run game even more than in pass protection. It’s a variety of problems baked together. Narrow base, high pads, wrong steps, incorrect angles, poor head placement, it’s all here.
The one saving grace is the Texans’ didn’t ask their tackles to do much in the run game last season. It was mostly one v. one blocks against the defensive end with some dart pulling, and strong play side double teams with the guard sprinkled in. Primarily a backside blocker, most of Howard’s sins were committed in a vacuum.
Most of their power run plays were run to the left side. Tunsil and Scharping’s strong play side double teams were one of the best aspects of the 2019 Houston Texans’ offense. Occasionally, when these plays were run the other direction, Howard and Fulton were tasked with the same task. These two never really figured out how to dance together. The joy and desire were missing.
Howard isn’t even with Fulton. His base is narrow. He’s too high. Taven Bryan (#90) is able to get on his inside shoulder to force Carlos Hyde to cutback inside.
The flashes are blinding though. Every once in a while a future vision teleports into the past and plops itself into the present.
Melvin Ingram III (#54) is the ‘9’ technique on the outside shoulder of Darren Fells (#87). Howard has a correct and beautiful pass set. Angular. Kick-slide. No bailing. Trusting his athleticism will take him head on against Ingram. When Ingram tries to jump the inside shoulder Howard is ready. He punches. Sticks Ingram’s chest and extends. It’s perfect. Five stars out of five. Rated higher than the taqueria on the moon.
Brutal strength leaves defensive ends splotched and furious. Tied up and gasping to escape. With two tight ends right, Howard takes a quick kick against the tight ‘5’ Josh Allen (#41). His hands strangle Allen. He has nowhere to go. Howard wins a match up he should see a minimum of eight more times in his football playing life.
Houston is running dart left against Kansas City. Laremy Tunsil is pulling to the play side linebacker Ben Nienmann (#56). Against an odd front, Nick Martin (#66) and Fulton have an ‘Ace’ to the backside linebacker. Scharping (#74) is blocking down so Tunsil can pull freely. This leaves Howard one v. one against Alex Okafor (#97). A slide step into the loop is an deadly situation for the defensive end. Howard gets under Okafor, explodes his hips, drives him vertically, and then tosses him into and over Fulton.
These spectacular blocks are the occasional. These are hallucinogenic images of what could be to come. There is Pro Bowl potential. The technique needs to catch up to the athleticism so the joyful desire of optimism can harden into concrete reality.
Although Howard has more vicious and dominating blocks than Scharping, the Texans’ rookie guard was a more consistent and better player than Howard was in 2019.
Prior to the 2019 NFL Draft I wrote about Scharping (along with Howard), and didn’t dig him as an offensive tackle. I didn’t see his pass set translating to the NFL. It was either slide stepping and immediate contact. Or turning and running to wall off the opposing defensive end. This worked blocking in a quick passing MACtion offense with an athletic quarterback. I didn’t think it would work in the NFL.
We never got the chance to see if he could play tackle on the field, but the move to guard indicated this. This move was the correct one. Scharping was an above average guard. Pad level. Base. And most surprisingly, hand placement and punch. It was all here at the guard position.
Aside from the pass set problems, the previous version of myself had concerns that Scharping’s hands would translate to the NFL. There was a lot of placing. Not a lot of punching. A few months at Mike Develin’s summer camp for special young adults cleared that up. Scharping repeatedly struck the chest and controlled blocks with his hands.
Against the Chiefs, in the Divisional Round, he carved out a 90.4 ProFartballFocus grade by extending and mirroring Kansas City’s interior defenders. Every pass set was the same. Setting on the inside half of the defender. Lateral steps. Never giving up ground. Low hands unleashed to get through the rusher’s limbs and into the chest. From there it was just extending and maintaining until the ball is out.
Scharping (#74) at left guard is matched up against Tanoh Kpassagnon (#92). It’s a flawless pass rep. He locks down rush lane maintenance man Kpassagnon for eleven seconds while Frank Clark whirls around the backfield until the boulder reaches the crest of the hill.
Another perfect pass rep from Scharping in the Divisional Round. This time he is sliding to the ‘A’ gap to block Khalen Saunders (#99). Scharping is at a disadvantage against an outside shade of the center. He still sets on the inside half. Saunders is almost able to wriggle inside when he jams to the ‘A’ gap, but Scharping is able to use his right arm to stifle this movement. He slides in front of Saunders, putting his body between him and the quarterback, and then buckles and drops anchor to end the bullrush. There’s nuance hand usage here too. He slides his left arm from the outside shoulder to Saunder’s arm, to better control the block, and make a holding penalty an impossibility.
This is a similar block against Calais Campbell (#93). The slight difference is Campbell tries to take an outside path before being vaporization. The hands and extension are great once again.
Scharping spent the majority of Houston’s Thursday Night Football win against Indianapolis mirroring Denico Autry into upside down lettering. Autry didn’t bullrush often. As an outside shade, with more space to work with, he tried to wiggle and win in more creative ways. He couldn’t get much going against Scharping. Autry is no slouch either even if the sack numbers from 2018 were outlandish. All that tackle slide stepping at Northern Illinois paid off as a guard in Houston.
He was rarely beat in pass protection. When he was, it was usually because of the blitz pick up issues that he, Tunsil, and the Texans’ entire offense had in 2019. In one v. one pass rush matchups he consistently suffocated rushes with punches, hand placement, lateral movement, and a great mirror.
Scharping worked well as the pink piggy in between Tunsil and Martin in the run game. He completed a wide variety of double teams successfully together with these two.
Houston is running outside zone right on second and ten to ESTABLISH THE RUN. Scharping is covered by a ‘2i’. He has a quick double team with Tunsil, who needs to get up to Anthony Walker (#50) at the second level. Scharping gets his head on the defensive tackle’s inside shoulder with one step.
Usually, Tunsil can’t have an impact on this block because of the pre-snap alignment, but because Scharping immediately gets inside of the tackle, Tunsil can help out at the first level before climbing up. Scharping runs the tackle inside. A one arm extension combined with a shove from Tunsil sends the defender flailing like flayed skin. Duke Johnson quickly cutbacks inside of this block and away from the unblocked Walker.
In their first matchup against Kansas City, Scharping finds himself in a similar situation. The linebacker walks down into the ‘B’ gap though, removing Tunsil from helping him out on his block. Scharping once again reaches the inside shoulder of the tackle. He isn’t able to fully turn and seal him from the running back once he’s vertical with the line of scrimmage again.
The current version of Scharping is better as an outside zone blocker than as a gap scheme blocker. His quickness is an advantage against the face stuffing interior mashes. His outside zone steps are correct and crisp. It’s easy for him to get his head and hands on the correct spot when making these blocks. I especially love when he uses one arm to stretch the defender from the ball in order to create space for the cutback.
Houston is running outside zone left. This is a tremendous reach block against an outside shade.
On inside zone runs, and gap scheme plays, Scharping has a solid understanding of how to work hip to hip to create vertical double teams that move the line of scrimmage.
Houston is running inside zone against Indianapolis’s 4-3 over front. Scharping and Martin are on the weak side of the formation. Against Margus Hunt (#92), a ‘2i’, Scharping takes a power step to take on half the defender. Martin snaps and uses a lateral read step to take on the inside half. So pretty.
Together, they drive Hunt to the second level. Martin peels off. Scharping sticks when Hunt crumples and gives up. This great ‘Ace’ block creates a wide open space for Carlos Hyde to run through (#23).
On this strong ‘Ace’ between the two, the Texans are running trap with Darren Fells (#87) pulling to block Clark (#55). Their double team needs to get to the middle linebacker. This time Scharping acts as the hammer that creates movement once Martin sets the tackle up. Scharping takes over the defender and digs a hole for Hyde. This play was correct head placement from Fells away from being a big gain.
Scharping was able to work in a similar fashion with the left tackle as well. Because of his lateral movement and hand placement, he was great at standing up the defender and setting up the block until the left tackle could strike. This time it’s Roderick Johnson (#63) detonating Campbell inside and then punching Myles Jack (#44).
The downside of Scharping’s rookie season was the most important aspect of offensive line play. Strength. On the interior he didn’t have the ability to drive defensive tackles off the line of scrimmage.
There were too many one v. one blocks, and double teams, when he had everything in place to move the line of scrimmage, but was unable to. His body failed him. In his rookie season he didn’t have the strength to push the hogs out of the mud.
It’s another ‘Ace’ block with Martin. They’re hip to hip. Ready to drive the defender off the line, but Martin has to bail since Damien Wilson (#54) crashes hard into the gap. Despite starting like this, Scharping ends up like this.
He doesn’t have the brute strength as a young bull to deal with the 300+ pounds of run stopping flesh a defense’s interior has at its disposal. His momentum stops. He’s extended. His feet stick to the carpet. It’s an end to the block.
He struggled in one v. one blocks too. The Texans are running dart right and pulling Tunsil to the play side. Scharping is tasked with blocking down on Ed Oliver (#92). He’s set up for at least a stalemate. His momentum stops once contact is made though. Poof. There’s nothing. Oliver is able to extend him, rip, and run across the line of scrimmage to make the tackle.
In pass protection strength usually isn’t an issue. He has the anchor and base to deal with bullrushes. The only time he runs into trouble is when he gives up ground and retreats against premier rushers. Fear takes over. Instead of sliding and making contact, Scharping taps in place, slightly reverses, and allows Campbell to drive and shed him, who almost makes a quick Next Gen Stats defying sack.
This shouldn’t be an issue for much longer. No more studying. We come here to play football, not play school. With a monomaniacal focus on pushing stuff, tearing muscle, and gourmet gorging, Scharping should be able to put the weight and strength on required to do the things he couldn’t do last year, things like drive Mike Pennel off the line of scrimmage. Once Scharping sheds his soft carapace, and crawls into one made of iron keratin, the one thing holding him back will do so no longer.
For years we’ve seen the waterbed that is the Texans’ offensive line slosh and jiggle each week. A slight turn when sleeping yields another insane offensive line combination. Continuity. An impossible ideal. Next season should be different. The Texans should finally be able to go into the season with the starting five they envision right now. No more junior varsity great weeks of practice rewarding. No more scrambling when Seantrel Henderson breaks his leg. No more questions about why Matt Kalil isn’t practicing. An offensive line of Tunsil-Scharping-Martin-Fulton-Howard would be better than the best one they had way back in 2015. The selections of Howard and Scharping are going to be a monumental reason why.
Ignore the context. Shield your eyes from the sun. Howard and Scharping are competent players at their current positions with the potential to be so much more, and, most importantly, they should be key contributors on the Texans for cost effective years to come.