Making The Grade: Offensive line
Texans' offensive line report card
Now that the Super Bowl is over and the NFL is into the offseason, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Texans. We’ve already looked at the secondary and tight ends. Today we’ll take a look at the O-line.
Stud: Duane Brown
Brown has been really good for a while but he finally started to get the credit he deserves in 2012. Brown was named to his first Pro Bowl and was an All-Pro first-teamer for the first time in his five-year career.
There aren’t many statistics with which to gauge offensive tackles, so we’ll use the grading system from ProFootballFocus. Brown ranked as the second best tackle in the NFL in 2012 behind San Francisco’s Joe Staley. Brown’s rating was a 35.5, while Staley’s was a 40.2
Brown is widely considered one of the best left tackles in all of football and has been for a few seasons. He was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Texans. He was called for holding against the Vikings in the second-to-last game of the regular season. It was the second such call against him in his career and first since his rookie season.
Dud: Ben Jones
Jones, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2012, started as the backup right guard but won the starting job from Antoine Caldwell. Jones’ first start was against the Ravens on Oct. 21.
The transition to the NFL was tough at times on Jones, who played center all four years at Georgia. He had to transition from college to the NFL, while also learning a new position. After he won the job from Caldwell, the former starter still split reps. And after Caldwell was no longer splitting reps, fellow rookie Brandon Brooks began to split reps with Jones.
Jones was a negative-5.8 on PFF’s grading scale and was especially bad in pass blocking. Brooks didn’t start to play until Week 12 but came on pretty strong. He’s the stronger of the two guards and looked it at times. Brooks didn’t play nearly as much but finished with a much more favorable negative-0.05 grade.
PFF listed right tackle Derek Newton as the team’s weak link this season. He finished with a negative-8.8 grade but dealt with a knee injury which seemed to really affect him throughout the season. And, the dropoff from Newton to his backup, Ryan Harris, was much greater than the dropoff from Jones to Brooks.
Free agents: Harris, Andrew Gardner (RFA), Antoine Caldwell
Look ahead: The Texans have to feel pretty good about the state of their offensive line. They’ll bring back three Pro Bowlers in Brown, left guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers.
The right side is still the worry but Newton has shown flashes of being a solid player. As long as he’s able to stay healthy, the right side should be much better. And with a year of experience under the belts of both Jones and Brooks, they should be improved too.
PFF ranked the Texans’ offensive line as the 10th best in the league in 2012 and there’s no reason to think it won’t get better in 2013 as long as the unit stay healthy.
As far as the three free agents, if they stay, they won’t get paid a lot. Caldwell didn’t get to play even when he did become healthy; the Texans viewed Jones and Brooks as better options. Harris is the one guy who finished the season still getting reps. He didn’t play particularly well in 2012 but does have plenty of NFL experience, which might factor into the team’s willingness to bring him back.