By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on June 16, 2014
Will the Houston Texans rebound from an embarrassing two-win campaign last season to resurface as a playoff contender in 2014? Here are five starters whose struggles could prevent that from happening.
Jared Crick has only started one game in two seasons with the Texans, but he's expected to open the 2014 campaign opposite J.J. Watt. The Nebraska product struggled in relief duty last year, particularly against the run, and projects as the weak link of Houston's defensive line heading into training camp.
Entering a contract year, cornerback Kareem Jackson is set to embark on a make-or-break season. After conceding six touchdowns in coverage in 2013, the Texans are actually throwing more on Jackson's plate, asking him to cover the slot in addition to the boundary in 2014. The end result might not be pretty.
Despite seven sacks last season, Whitney Mercilus graded as Pro Football Focus' worst 3-4 outside linebacker among those at the position who played at least 25 percent of their team's defensive snaps. Mercilus was fortunate to get to the passer as often as he did, but likely won't sniff seven sacks again in 2014 without significant refinement of his rushing skills.
It looks like the Texans are going to roll with Derek Newton at right tackle again. In 2013, Newton gave up six sacks, seven quarterback hits and 37 pressures, slotting as Pro Football Focus' No. 72 most effective offensive tackle out of 76 qualifiers. Maybe Newton will improve this season, but banking on it, like the Texans are doing, is a huge risk.
No surprise here. The Texans' perceived biggest weakness is quarterback, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is the club's signal caller -- at least he projects to be. Fitzpatrick may have the experience the Texans are coveting at the spot, but he's seemingly too inconsistent to ever emerge as a reliable NFL starter.
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