Frank Okam (Getty Images)
The Houston Texans will work on shoring up their pass rush, zone-blocking, and getting their rookies ready. Find out the details here.
1. Improve the pass rush
The focus on defense is going to be harassing the quarterback this offseason. It's the focus of the defensive line and it's the focus of the linebackers. The Texans have basically laid out welcoming mats for quarterbacks in the past, and they realize that must change if they are going to ever contend for a postseason berth.
Last season, Mario Williams helped them start to turn their issues around by racking up 14 sacks. But this season, offenses are going to be watching Williams. His counterparts must be ready to step up. Amobi Okoye has big-time pass-rush ability from the middle. He proved it last season when he had four sacks in the first four games.
The biggest offseason acquisition will likely end up being Rosevelt Colvin, who is an outside linebacker the Texans signed to be a pass rushing end. He will replace Anthony Weaver on the left side in passing situations. Free agent linebacker Chaun Thompson will also play a similar role in passing situations.
2. Implement the zone-blocking scheme
The Texans brought in Alex Gibbs this offseason to help implement his zone-blocking scheme. The quicker the linemen pick it up, the more successful the offense will be this season. The good news for the Texans is that they have been running a version of it the past two seasons with a little of Green Bay's gap scheme mixed in.
Now, the team will run the zone-blocking scheme exclusively, and cutting down on sacks won't be the only priority. The offensive line must play well enough for the team to establish a running game this season. The Texans have been void of a running game much of the last two seasons. But with the new scheme and the return of Ahman Green and addition of Chris Brown, the Texans hope that changes.
While the Texans have fared fairly well on offense without much of a running game the past two seasons, they are well aware they won't reach their ultimate goals without a good running offense. Their hope is that they can finally do what coach Gary Kubiak has always wanted to do with the offense, which is run first and play the pass off the run. The offensive line will determine just how well that works out.
3. Speed up education of rookies
The Texans started this process in OTAs by trying to get their rookies as much playing time as possible. They believe it is paying off. Already, a number of the rookies are ahead of where their counterparts were a year ago.
That will surely only help in the coming weeks as Duane Brown continues trying to take over the starting job at left tackle. The coaches were impressed with what Brown was able to do and how much he improved as he went up against Mario Williams on a daily basis. Ideally, Brown will be ready to take over for Ephraim Salaam early this season. The Texans like his footwork and his athleticism and believe he is the ideal fit in the zone-blocking scheme.
Antwaun Molden could also see playing time early. Last season, the coaches eased cornerback Fred Bennett into the defense, but Molden is already ahead of where Bennett was at this time last year. Molden has very good technique and is a bigger cornerback, who will complement Bennett well on the field.
Defensive tackle Frank Okam played significantly in May and June because of the injury to Travis Johnson. It should bode well for Okam in September if he can continue to progress at such a quick pace. The Texans like him because at 320 pounds, he provides a big run-stopping body in the middle the Texans have lacked in the past. Many of their defensive linemen are more undersized.
Running back Steve Slaton also has a big task ahead of him. The Texans want him to be their third-down back. Slaton has a tremendous burst of speed the team's other running backs lack. But he also has questions about his hands. He had fumbling issues in college, and the Texans will not let him see any playing time if they are at all concerned about those issues. He carries the ball high near his shoulders, and the Texans don't plan to change that. But Slaton must show he can catch the ball and keep a grip on it as well. As a third-down back, he will often be looked at as a receiving option.
CAMP CALENDAR: Date camp opens July 25 and closes Aug. 17. The Texans will leave for New Orleans Aug. 12 and practice against the Saints Wednesday and Thursday leading up their Saturday night preseason matchup.