With a relatively young team, the Houston Texans will be using the veteran group to help the younger players with examples on and off the field. A Texans secondary that struggled in 2013 with injuries and inconsistent play week to week are looking for a fresh start under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
The secondary is young in terms of NFL experience and behind 9-year veteran Johnathan Joseph the next seasoned veteran the Texans will lean on is 7-year pro Elbert Mack. Mack arrived in Houston in the middle of the 2013 season to provide some much needed help on special teams, and he did just that. In just eight games, Mack was third on the team in special teams tackles with seven and had half of the games played of Justin Tuggle (14) and Bryan Braman (8) who finished ahead of him.
Mack was brought back by the Texans after becoming a free agent and was one of only two unrestricted free agents the team felt they needed to bring back. He has had success prior to landing in Houston with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints where he also contributed on defense. Appearing in 65 games between 2008-2012, Mack totaled 103 total tackles, 6 interceptions with 2 returned for touchdowns and 17 pass deflections.
The talent is there for Mack to be a key depth piece for the secondary and key contributor on special teams. This year he has a clean slate to be on the roster when week one approaches and find his niche with the new coaching staff. Despite Mack being in Houston from day one, he knows what his potential role is with the team but doesn't sell himself short on what he is aiming for.
"My role hasn't changed. I am going to still be a big contributor on special teams. I mean that is my role for the rest of my career in the NFL." Mack continued,"You know I am always fighting to be a starter. A starter on nickel or impact on dime when need be."
Mack takes the mentality of being a starter with him everyday he puts his uniform on and he takes zero for granted.
"I am trying to be a starter. Everyday, everyday I come in here I try to be a starter. Everyone in this profession should feel the same way."
With being one of the seasoned vets on the team, there are only 13 Texans with 6 or more seasons in the NFL, Mack is leaned on by the younger players for advice on life in the NFL.
"I get questions all the time. I am always eyes and ears. I'm trying to help everyone get better. We are only as good as our last man." Mack said. "That is the code I try to live by around here. Everyone collectively has to be on one accord and I will try to do anything I can to help."
The new system has not slowed Mack and his learning but he doesn't make too much of what the secondary will be asked to do. There has been talk of the defense being more of a zone coverage team, but Mack understands that man to man coverage will be needed to be played for the defense to be successful.
Mack explained, "Whatever is asked for us to do, we are going to do it. On third down collectively around the league everyone is playing man. On some of the longer downs, people are probably going to play zone. You have to be able to do both and be versatile with everything they are calling."
The talent Mack has seen over his seasons in the NFL started in Tampa Bay playing and learning behind future Hall Of Famer Ronde Barber. Mack talked about Barber and the influence he had on him as a professional, "Ronde Barber is a guy who I sat for a few years behind in Tampa. He taught me to come to work everyday and put my best foot forward."
He sees some solid talent in front of him in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson and was even impressed with what he saw of Jackson working in the slot during OTAs. The Texans elected to hold Joseph out from OTAs and Mini-Camps because he was coming back from offseason foot surgery but Mack knows what Joseph brings to the team.
"It is no secret around here that JJo is a Pro Bowler." Mack is also certain that players like him, Brandon Harris , A.J. Bouye and Josh Victorian have to do their part to continue to push the two starters to get better everyday with their play.
"As long as we keep pushing them (Jackson and Joseph) to keep getting better, they are getting better."
His role will be a key special teams contributor and depth wherever the teams can use him at cornerback. Mack, like many of other players on the team, has bought into the new coaching staff and their methods. The feeling that the staff is doing everything possible to make every player on the team feel important to the team's success has impressed Mack. He takes special notice on how special teams are now run during practice.
"Here they are a little bit more hands on as far as special teams goes." Mack said. "It shows you how important it is around here for some of the core special teams guys, how important they are."