The Houston Texans mini-camp will run from June 12-14 and over the next few days I will be going over positions to keep an eye on. First up – the offensive line.
Over the last few seasons one of the most cohesive and productive units in the league was the Texans’ offensive line. However, Mike Briesiel is now with the Oakland Raiders and Eric Winston is playing for Kansas City Chiefs. The right side will see some new bodies, but the left side of the line remains intact anchored by Pro Bowl Center Chris Myers. Duane Brown is on the verge of becoming arguably one of the best left tackles in the NFL, after being named second-team All-Pro in 2011. Myers and LG Wade Smith have started every game the last two seasons, and Brown missed four games in 2010 due to a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. Despite injuries at various positions on both sides of the ball, the offensive line remained solid, durable, and one of the best in the NFL. In 2011, the Texans ranked second in the NFL in team rushing and allowed 33 sacks between quarterbacks Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, and TJ Yates.
Houston didn’t sign any OL free agents, but used three of their eight draft picks on offensive linemen – Brandon Brooks (G, Miami OH – 3rd round), Ben Jones (C, Georgia – 4th round), and Nick Mondek (T, Purdue – 6th round) and signed two undrafted rookies – Cody White (G, Illinois State) and Nathan Menkin (T, Mary Hardin-Baylor).
As it stands, all signs point to Antoine Caldwell replacing Briesiel at RG and Rashad Butler stepping in for Winston at RT, but with the talented Brooks and versatile Jones on their heels, the competition could really heat up. At 6’5” 346 Lbs. Brooks doesn’t fit the prototypical zone blocking lineman, and unlike fellow big-man T/G Cordy Glenn (Georgia) Brooks wasn’t able to show his agility and athleticism at the combine – he wasn’t invited. But at his pro-day in March, Brooks ran a 4.98 40 (a better measurement of OLinemen is the 10 yard split which he was clocked at 1.71 seconds), he benched 225 Lbs. 36 times, had a 32” vertical leap, 8’9” broad jump, and 4.52 short shuttle. If Brooks had been and invited and put those numbers up in Indy among offensive linemen he would rank first in the 20-yard shuttle, second in the 40-yard dash and bench press, third in the vert, and tied for 14th in the broad jump. He had an excellent week in the East-West Shrine Game, and has the tape to back him up. Brooks was an experienced lineman, starting all four years at Miami and played both tackle and guard. Offensive line coach John Benton will ask him to drop down to at least 330, and if he can gain even minimal quickness but keep his strength, Brooks could see himself as Pro-Bowler in the next few years.
If Brooks has the anti- ZBS O-Line make-up, Ben Jones couldn’t be more the epitome. At 6’2” 303 Lbs, Jones uses his intelligence, experience, and technique productively. Like Brooks, Jones was also an experienced four year starter in college, who can play multiple positions on the line. With Myers, the first Houston offensive linemen to make the starting Pro Bowl roster, signing a long term contract in March, it’s safe to say Jones will be utilized as Myers back up, unless Benton and Gary Kubiak try moving Jones to Guard.
Brooks wasn’t the only Texans OL rookie who wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine; sixth round pick Nick Mondek and undrafted signees Cody White and Nate Menkin also were not present at Lucas Oil Stadium in February.
Mondek stands at 6’5” 304 Lbs. and showed exceptional speed at Purdue’s Pro Day, running the 40-yard dash in 4.84 and recording a 10-yard split time of 1.59 seconds. He had a 28 1/2-inch vertical jump, 9’2” broad jump, 4.55-second short shuttle, 7.30 three-cone drill, and performed bench pressed 225 Lbs 30 times. True to Kubiak’s pattern of versatile linemen, Mondek began playing at Purdue on the defensive line, switched to RT his sophomore year, then converted to RG in 2010 where he remained for two seasons. He has good feet and excellent pulling ability, but needs to improve his strength. Modek fits the mold of a zone blocking lineman, and is currently listed on the depth chart as the third LT.
Having lived 10 minutes from Illinois State for three years, Cody White was a name I heard often in reference to the Redbirds. White was synonymous with toughness, hard work, high motor and versatility – all quintessential traits for Kubiak’s squad. At 6’3” 303 Lbs, he began his collegiate career as a tight end before moving to the line before his junior campaign. In 2010 he played on various positions in all 11 games, and earned the LT starting job in 2011. White can transition easily between tackle, guard, center, and tight end due to his high football IQ and athleticism. At Illinois State’s Pro Day, White ran a 4.98 40-yard dash, bench pressed 31 reps at 225 Lbs., had a broad jump of 9’1”, a vert of 31”, posted a 4.59 in the 20-second shuttle, and a 7.69 second 3-cone. With White at left tackle in 2011 ISU’s rushing attack gained an average of 183.4 yards per game, up from 131 yards the previous season, and the O-Line allowed just six sacks all season, ranking third in the FCS rankings.
6’4” 296 pound Nate Menkin rounds out the rookie offensive linemen currently on the Texans’ roster and is listed behind Butler and Derek Newton at RT. The tackle from Mary Hardin-Baylor was named to the American Football Coaches Association’s Division III All-American Team following the 2011 season, and as the smallest (weight-wise) among Houston OL rookies, he also posted the slowest times but most reps at 225. At Baylor’s Pro Day, Menkin ran a 5.0 40, put up 225 Lbs. 39 times, had a 8’7” broad jump, and a 7.74 second 3-cone.
The Texans may not immediately repeat the success the offensive line has had in recent years but with the five rookies, tackle Andrew Gardner, guards Austin Thomas and Shelley Smith, and center Cody Wallace all looking to cement themselves on the active roster – they have a good foundation to build on.