Making The Grade: Special Teams
Texans' special teams 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. On Monday we looked at the secondary. On Tuesday, it was tight ends. Wednesday was O-line. And today, we look at special teams.
Stud: Bryan Braman
It seems like just about every team in the NFL has their one special teams guy. The guy who all the team’s fans think should make the Pro Bowl as a special teamer. Braman is that guy for the Texans.
In his second season in the NFL, Braman played in the final 14 regular season games and registered 20 tackles on his way to finishing second to New England’s Matthew Slater in the fan voting for the AFC special teams slot.
Braman became a fan favorite in his rookie season when he lost his helmet and still made a punishing hit Titans’ punt returner Marc Mariani last season on New Year’s Day.
This year, Braman made another huge play. Against the Colts on Dec. 16, Braman blocked a punt, scooped it up and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. Braman’s two blocked punts in 2012 was a new franchise record.
Dud: Keshawn Martin
At times, Martin showed flashes of being an OK kick/punt returner but that wasn’t enough.
His kick return average of 23.9 was 17th in the NFL. There were 25 players in the NFL who had a kick return longer than Martin’s longest of 54 yards. His punt return average of 12.1 was better and ranked him fifth in the NFL.
It would be easy to argue that the reason Martin struggled was a lack of blocking. After all, the Texans’ special teams unit was a weak spot all year but Danieal Manning’s success in the playoffs against the Patriots dispels that.
What made the struggles of Martin harder for fans to swallow was the success Trindon Holliday had with the Broncos and the success Jacoby Jones had with the Ravens.
Jones led the NFL in kick return average with 30.7 yards per attempt in the regular season with two touchdowns. He also had a huge 108-yard touchdown return in the Super Bowl. Jones’ average of 9.2 yards per punt return was lower than Martin’s but he also returned one for a touchdown.
Holliday had an average of 26.3 yards per kick return with a 105-yard touchdown return in the regular season. His punt return average was a shade over 10 per attempt but he had a punt return touchdown in the regular season. Like Jones, Holliday also had a huge impact in the playoffs. He had a kick and punt return touchdown in the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Ravens.
Free agents: Donnie Jones, Shayne Graham, Jesse Nading, Alan Ball, Tim Dobbins
Look ahead: The two guys who stand out on the list of free agents are punter Donnie Jones and kicker Shayne Graham.
Jones was one of the more reliable Texans in 2012. His punt average of 47.2 tied him for the 10th-best mark in the NFL. His net average of 40.5 was 13th in the NFL. Jones was 20th in the league in terms of salary (average per year) among punters. His base salary was $825,000 in 2012. It would make sense for the Texans to bring him back.
The day after the Texans’ lost to the Patriots in the playoffs, Graham said he wanted to return to Houston but the question is whether or not the Texans want him. Graham had plenty of struggles this season and won the job because of an injury before the year started. Graham made 81.6 percent of his field goals this season. He was perfect inside 40 yards but he was 11-for-18 from 40 or farther. Graham was a perfect 6-for-6 in the playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Graham during the season was the ability – or lack thereof – to get the ball into the end zone on kickoffs for touchbacks. He got better at it as the season went on but it’s a cause for concern.
Coming into training camp, Graham was in a competition with rookie fifth-round Randy Bullock before Bullock tore a muscle near his groin in the preseason and was placed on the Injured Reserve. It’s likely his return will be determined by the health of Bullock.