The Texans’ defense will undergo its biggest restructure since Wade Phillips arrived and installed a 3-4 scheme in 2011. This process has already begun with the Texans adding an exorbitant amount of linebackers via free agency. Houston’s defense will now be reimagined around new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s vision. That means the Texans will need to select several key prospects in this upcoming draft to form the foundation of the defense for years to come. Though they lack the draft capital to make it happen, the Texans could and should look to one linebacker as the key to their new defense.
Brandon Browning is a be-everywhere, do-everything linebacker out of THE Ohio State University who played in a 4-3 defense as a WILL linebacker. This position is primarily reserved for the best coverage linebacker on the field, someone who can both play the run and support in coverage. This skill set is highly valuable in the Tampa 2 Defense the Texans will be running under Lovie Smith. Smith is an acolyte of the Tampa 2 Defense and is as OG as it gets. To keep it short, the Tampa 2 Defense has two high safeties, cornerbacks pressed up against opposing wide receivers, and a middle linebacker who drops deep to help provide protection over the middle of the field. Simple enough?
To illustrate, here’s the difference between the standard Cover 2 and the Tampa 2, brought to you by Lovie Smith’s old team site for all things Chicago Bears, Windy City Gridiron.
Cover 2 Defense
Tampa 2 Defense
There are less distinct ‘holes’ in the Tampa 2 scheme; consequently, the defense demands an all-world athlete in the middle to make it function. Enter Browning, a versatile outside linebacker the Texans should look to convert over the next two years into the perfect system fit for Lovie Smith.
Browning has the athletic frame to run with tight ends and the speed to keep up with wide receivers. He has a nose for the ball and the experience as a four-year contributor at Ohio State necessary to make the leap to the NFL. He has dealt with injuries and a bout with COVID-19 during his collegiate career, but the resume and stats are there.
The reason Browning is a third or fourth round prospect is due to his ability to read and diagnose the game. This will be a critical part of his development, as a unique defense will either let him thrive or be too complex for him to comprehend. The Texans have added a boatload of linebackers who are familiar with Lovie Smith’s defense. These veterans can train a young linebacker and allow him to learn in his first year as a pro.
Browning would be an ideal companion to Zach Cunningham in Houston’s defense. Cunningham will be the between-the-boxes inside linebacker who will command the run game. Browning would be his partner who can drop deep into coverage or command the outside edge against tight ends and slot receivers.
If the QB is the most important position on the offense, the middle linebacker is the most important position in the Tampa 2 scheme. Browning could be a future asset for the Texans and a player to watch on Day Two of the 2021 NFL Draft.