That is exactly what the Houston Texans are doing for the 2014 season, and it gives new Head Coach Bill O’Brien an experienced coach to help his transition to the NFL.
With Crennel coming to Houston there has been plenty of discussion on what type of defense he will use and if he will use his normal 2 gap 3-4 defense. We do know that the Texans will base out of the 3-4 defense and have shades of the successful unit he put together during his New England days that led to three Super Bowl rings.
He is bringing one of his former players in Mike Vrabel to coach linebackers and the overall consensus is that the former NFL player will be a vital piece to the adjustments for the Texans. To take this a step further we sat down with former New England Patriots inside linebacker Ted Johnson who played next to Vrabel and under Crennel.
Johnson played in New England for 10 seasons and when we started talking about Crennel it was easy to tell the respect Johnson had for Crennel.
Johnson was with Crennel for the 1996 and 2001-2004 seasons with the Patriots and was a key piece for the New England defenses that produced at a high level. We asked Johnson what Crennel meant to him as a player in New England.
“He (Crennel) was a stabilizing force. I have known RAC for a very long time. 1995-1996 when I got into the league in my first year under (Bill) Parcells, he was my defensive line coach. He is very acceptable and you could go and talk to him. He is definitely a players coach but what I like about him when you mess up he will let you know it. Very much a calm, cool and collective guy. Very smart guy and for me personally he made himself accessible. I could approach him and talk to him about him anything. What I liked about him the most, and it took me awhile to learn this, but he trusts your input on plays. It is not like we could go say we want this or want that. We could go to him and tell him about wrinkles we used in previous weeks and he would listen to us. I liked his passion regarding us as players and with RAC there I always felt there was an emotional investment with his players.”
There has been much mention from O’Brien on the versatility the Texans will show and this a staple for Crennel’s defenses. Crennel’s defenses have evolved over the seasons and his ability to game plan week to week with different fronts make him a different defensive coordinator than what has been seen before in Houston.
Johnson expanded on this,
“What I like from Bill O’Brien from his press conference is when he said he is going to game plan week to week. It will be interesting to see what RACs input will be and he has seen a lot in his 30 years coaching, he will change from week to week. Now what RAC will do is change off his bread and butter, his bread and butter? A 34 front and cover 2. 34 front cover 2 in the back, nothing hard nothing complicated. Cover 2 is a great defense, what cover 2 basically is it’s there to stop a passing game. Two safeties deep that allows the corners to play very aggressive because they know they have help over the top. Corners play very physical against receivers but they better have what the Texans didn’t have last year a top run defense. RAC, he will want to have a top 10 run defense because if you are going to play cover 2 you better be able to it with 7 guys in the box. He will love Brooks Reed, he loves edge setters. Let’s face it when he (Reed) sets the edge offenses couldn’t get around the edge. Whitney (Mercilus) is trying to learn it and still isn’t strong at the point of attack. Crennel will have outside linebackers that will set the edge and make sure he has big nose guard that can eat up guys that won’t be pushed back into the inside linebackers laps. He will want a top 10 defense and predominately play a cover 2, however (when we played) if things got hairy and blitzes or man to man were not working he would always go back to our bread and butter to calm us down. Everything else will be an old school front and what throws offenses off is the versatility he throws in. They (RAC) love to have guys that can do more than one position, see I was a one trick pony . I was a 1st and 2nd down guy and if I had to play nickel we would be fine, but he liked guys like Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest. Where those guys could play defensive line, outside or inside linebacker they could do it all. Where a quarterback would struggle to call out the protections because we would shift one play Bruschi to the mike (middle linebacker), the next play it’s Vrable and the next McGinest. That is what RAC wants, versatile players.”
There has been some high praise with new Texans linebacker coach Mike Vrabel from former teammates and Tedy Bruschi recently echoed those praises in an interview with HoustonTexans.com. Johnson talked about Vrabel and his impact for the Texans from the former Patriots linebacker.
“I will tell you this he is the smartest guy I have ever played with. His football I.Q. is off the charts and I wish I had half of his football knowledge. Just his understanding of the game is amazing and he will be a Head Coach sooner than later. He is a tough player and is a funny guy. Don’t ever get into a verbal jousting match with him, he will slice and dice you with his knowledge. He will be a great fit, the guys will respect him. Let’s face it Vrabel is an accomplished linebacker and he played for 14 years and has the rings. I think he will be great, I am a fan and friend with Mike.”
It is a homecoming of sorts for Johnson and two of the people he has spent plenty of time in the NFL now in Houston. Johnson made it clear the transition to Crennel is a good sight.
“RAC coming to Houston is great. It brings back great memories and Vrabel is one of my closest friends. It feels a little bit of home now in Houston. Having RAC and Vrabel here in Houston is great for the Texans.”
There is no mistake to the overall excitement that Crennel will bring to the Texans and Johnson is a RAC guy. Johnson said the Texans still need to find more linebackers, another cornerback and a nose tackle to make Crennel’s scheme work. Despite his liking of Brooks Reed at the outside linebacker position, Johnson does feel that Reed would benefit to take the role he had in the defense on the inside.
The Texans are in a new era of football and a one that appears to be a team that will adjust week to week and not scared to step outside of the box. Crennel’s defense will be fun to watch and if he can produce a portion of what his Patriots defenses did it will lead to some early success for the O’Brien Era.