Street to starter? Could be for Tarpinian

Street to starter? Could be for Tarpinian
November 15, 2013, 8:30 am
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Injuries mounting for Texans

(USA Today Images)

Three weeks ago, Jeff Tarpinian wasn’t on an NFL roster. This week, he might end up making a spot start for the Houston Texans.

As the Texans enter their Sunday matchup against the Raiders, Joe Mays (knee, oblique) is a game-time decision. If he can’t play, Tarpinian is up.

“Who?” asked defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, echoing the thoughts of many Texans fans last Sunday afternoon.

“Oh, yeah, that’s our new linebacker,” Phillips continued. “Jeff’s done a good job. He’s a smart young player that was thrown into a tough situation. Had to go play in the game and did some good things and may have to play more. But he’s got the talent. He moves well, he can cover, he made some tackles in the game. I was pleased with what he did in the limited time he played.”

Against the Colts off the bye week, Tarpinian, 26, wasn’t even active. Instead, the other ILB who was signed after the bye, Tavares Gooden, was active. But Gooden left the team and Tarpinian dressed against the Cardinals.

In the second quarter of the game against the Cardinals, after Mays was forced to leave for a short time with an injury, Tarpinian snuck into the game. He wore the No. 52, which belonged to Gooden, after wearing No. 90 since joining the team.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to do my job and do what my coach tells me, and really just learn the playbook,” Tarpinian said on Thursday. “I’ve been trying to fill the role I can on defense. The coaches do a great job of getting me prepared.”

He played just nine defensive snaps but made two tackles, including one on his first play of the game and of the season. Heck, it was the first time he had played in a regular season game since Week 10 last year. His two tackles rank Sunday as his second-highest total ever, after his four-tackle start in 2011.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t in the league a month ago.

“That's a huge, huge challenge for anybody, to come off the street,” outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus said. “They sign you depending on the situation of the team and for him, he's basically just getting thrown into the fire and he's got to be able to adjust and make plays, make the right reads, get aligned in the right places and he's doing a pretty good job at it. He's been catching along on the defense pretty quick and I'm pretty impressed by it.”

Tarpinian said he’s been working extra hard to get caught up. The most important thing is mental reps. He’s watching as much film as possible, even taking his iPad home with him to study practice film.

He played his collegiate football at Iowa and spent portions of the last two seasons with the Patriots. He made his only NFL start in 2011.

If Tarpinian does need to start on Sunday, it would mark the second straight season that the Texans have picked up a free agent inside linebacker off the street and started him for a game. Last year, Barrett Ruud started in Week 13.

“Yeah, I think what happens, there’s opportunity,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “I don’t how many new faces we have out there, but there’s some tremendous opportunities for guys right now, players to really take advantage of some situations and can prove that they can play and that they can start. He’s a great example from that standpoint. We’ll see.”

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