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Houston Texans Team Report

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Starter - David Carr
Backups - Tony Banks Dave Ragone, B.J. Symons (r)

Starting Quarterback: Number one overall selection David Carr suffered through an injury plagued, and generally rough 2003 campaign. 2000 yards, 9 TDs versus 13 INTs, and sitting for a quarter of the season does not exactly raise the "sleeper" label for Carr. Especially considering Carr had only two games where he threw for more than 1 TD, and he had quite a few games where he threw for less than 225 yards. In other words, in 12 games, Carr had very few impressive outings. Carr received generally good protection, too, as his offensive line gave up only 36 sacks on the year - not tops in the league, but better than average. Moreover, Carr has a better than average receiving corps in last year's rookie Andre Johnson, occasional game breaker Corey Bradford, developing youngster Jabar Gaffney, and nice receiving tight ends Billy Miller and second year player Bennie Joppru. With all these tools, it seems Carr should be able to produce, but something continues to hold him back. Still, Carr did some good in that he helped produce a nearly 1,000-yard receiver in Johnson, and dump off passes to RB Domanick Davis produced good receiving numbers for the starting halfback. If he can make some strides in reading defenses this year, he might develop into a decent option as a fantasy backup and spot starter. But Carr, and the Houston offense, is pretty far away from producing a powerhouse passing game. That is the factor holding Carr back the most - Dom Capers is as defensive minded a coach as you can imagine. Ball control and run, run, run in the red zone is his style. Overall, looking to Carr as your fantasy QB will probably not translate into a lot of fantasy victories. If another fantasy coach envisions Carr as a sleeper candidate this year, the advice here is to let them think that while you look elsewhere.

Backup Quarterback(s): Journeyman Tony Banks filled in for Carr when Carr was injured in 2003 and actually played fairly well until he was put on injured reserve. Banks threw 5 TDs versus 3 INTs, though there were not a lot of passing yards accumulated in the Dom Capers offense. Behind Banks was last year's rookie Dave Ragone, who was unimpressive in his limited outings. Neither is likely to threaten Carr's position. And, if Carr misses time, neither are likely to be worthwhile fantasy options.

Running Backs
Starter - Domanick Davis
Backups - Tony Hollings, Jonathan Wells, Travis Stephens, Jason Anderson
Fullback - Moran Norris, Jarrod Baxter, Ed Stansbury

Starting Running Back: The "sexy" part of the Houston Texans' 2003 season was the performance of rookie of the year Domanick Davis (who relegated 2003 FA signee Stacey Mack to the bench by mid-season). At 5'9" and 216 pounds, Davis is shifty enough to avoid tackles and great in the open field when he catches the ball, yet he is still solid enough to take the weekly pounding that this ball control offense demands. However, that is the lingering question about Davis - whether he will hold up over the course of an entire season. Davis took over as the full time starting back in week 7 versus the Jets and was astounding - rushing for 129 yards on 27 carries and catching 9 balls for 70 more yards. He then put together 6 more weeks of solid play, going over 100 yards rushing three times, and scoring 5 TDs before suffering an injury to his thigh and splitting time with backup RB Tony Hollings for a couple of weeks. Davis had a great season finale against the Colts, gaining over 130 yards of total offense and scoring 2 TDs. With that impressive rookie campaign, many fantasy pundits have high hopes for Domanick Davis heading into the 2004 season. He will be listed in the top-12 of running backs on quite a few people's lists, but this writer urges a modicum of caution. Davis has proven a bit injury prone, and he will receive a challenge in camp from last year's supplemental draft pick Hollings. That said, Capers is expected to give both backs plenty of opportunities to carry the ball. Plus, the team signed an excellent run blocking tight end in Mark Bruener, who should help spring Davis to the outside. Keep in mind when drafting that the thing that elevates Davis to a starting fantasy RB role is his receiving skills. Even if Davis ultimately receives only 12-15 carries in a given game, he will still be the primary dump off option and is used heavily in the passing game. Davis has shown he can do a lot of fantasy damage in that role. Never underestimate a back that gets you over 100 yards from scrimmage even when he is not the sole ball carrier. That type of back, including a propensity to find the end zone, should remind you of a young fantasy version of Charlie Garner. Davis is best suited to be added to your team as a RB2, early in the second round, and he should be perfectly capable of starting for you in that role. As a complement to a Fred Taylor or Edgerrin James, Davis will round out your starting running back crew nicely. He should be considered in the top-20 overall fantasy players.

Backup Running Back(s): Tony Hollings received limited work in 2003 while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in September of 2002. It is well documented that at least 12 months, and better yet 18 months, is necessary to fully return from an ACL tear. So, this training camp, the Texans will truly see what they spent a supplemental draft pick on when they selected Hollings. Hollings had one start late in the year in relief of Domanick Davis and did not play well enough to create a controversy. He may mount a challenge this year, as he is essentially a Davis clone at 5'10" and 210 pounds and was a good college back. Still, the return to health of Hollings, and the emergence of Davis, rendered veteran RBs Stacey Mack and James Allen expendable. The team also has Jonathan Wells, who was so unimpressive in 2002 that the team drafted Davis and spent a supplemental pick on Hollings. The team will very likely be counting on either, or both, of Hollings and Davis absent a fantastic training camp from a dark horse back.

Fullback(s): The team will get Jarrod Baxter back from IR this year, and Moran Norris is an excellent blocker. The fullback has not had a major fantasy role in Houston, and that is expected to continue into 2004. The fullback is obligated to protect Carr, and open holes for Davis. Both fullbacks should be good at opening holes for either Davis or Hollings. Ed Stansbury had an unremarkable year as far as statistics, but Davis likely owes some of his success, especially near the goal line, to his lead blocker. Charles Stackhouse was signed from Minnesota for some depth at the position, and he is a load at 6'2" and 250 pounds. Capers loves power running so the fullback as lead blocker will play a vital role in the Houston offense, but he will not likely serve your fantasy squad in any noticeable way.

Wide Receivers
Starters - Andre Johnson, Corey Bradford
Backups - Jabar Gaffney, Derick Armstrong, JJ Moses, Albert Johnson, Terry Chares, Chris Taylor, Jermaine Lewis, Ron Dugans, Sloan Thomas (r)

Starting Receivers: The Houston Texans hit it right with draft pick Andre Johnson. While he was not AP offensive rookie of the year Anquan Boldin good, he had an excellent rookie receiver campaign. He nearly hit 1,000 yards, and showed the propensity to get off the line, and down the seam, quickly enough to be wide open often. There is no reason to expect a sophomore slump from Johnson, and he should be considered a viable sleeper WR2 candidate. Carr may not throw for a lot of yards, but Johnson gets a large majority of the yards he does throw for. Across from Johnson, deep threat Corey Bradford is the classic feast or famine receiver. If he doesn't catch a bomb for a touchdown during the course of the game, he is not worth a fantasy start - and predicting the games he catches those bombs is extraordinarily tricky. Bradford caught TDs twice against the Titans and once against the Dolphins, but was invisible against the soft pass defenses of the Chiefs, Jets, Jaguars, and Colts. That kind of inconsistency and unpredictability means Bradford's fantasy value is limited except in very large leagues or, better yet, survivor leagues in which weekly starters are not selected. That said, a 19.2 per catch average is very impressive - one of the tops in the league, in fact.

Backup Receiver(s): The primary backup receiver is really a third receiver in three-wide sets. Jabar Gaffney was adequate for the Texans, and seems to have good skills, but any third receiver in Dom Capers' offense with David Carr throwing the ball will have limited fantasy value. If Gaffney ends up passing Bradford into a starting role, he could have better fantasy value, but it is unlikely he will break into your starting lineup in 2004 unless you are in a very large league, or your WR pool has been decimated by injury. Stashing one of the rookies from this upcoming draft class is generally more advised than adding Gaffney as a WR 4/5. Just a side note - Gaffney is the team's fourth QB, so you might get a pass or two from him over the course of the year. Jermaine Lewis is on the squad, but he is a designated special teams player. Derrick Armstrong was used in a very limited role last year, though he did catch a touchdown against the Titans. No other backup receivers on the Texans are expected to make a splash this year.

Tight Ends
Starter - Billy Miller
Backup(s) - Mark Bruener, Bennie Joppru

Starting Tight End: Many were touting Billy Miller as a sleeper TE for 2003 after a decent 2002 campaign. Miller was the fourth ranked receiver on the Texans in 2003, so he played well for the team, but he did not amass tremendous fantasy numbers. Unless a radical overhaul of the Texans' passing philosophy occurs during training camp, expecting a few yards and the slight possibility of a TD from Miller on any given week is about the most to hope for. Last year's rookie TE pick, Bennie Joppru, spent the season on IR and is expected to compete with Miller for catches from the TE position.

Backup Tight End: Bruener was added for his blocking, not his pass catching, so his fantasy worth is limited to giving RB Davis a bump. Bennie Joppru was touted as a great pass catching TE coming out of college, and he will get a chance to show that in 2004 as he spent 2003 on IR. It is expected that Joppru will challenge Miller as a receiver, which should actually work to simply erode both players' fantasy value. Joppru also is a very large man, so he may have a positive impact on the team as a blocker.

Place Kicker
Kris Brown: Brown has very limited fantasy worth unless the Texans gain an offense. Brown was decent in very limited opportunities, but will likely be counted on more this year. The team is getting a lot of its defense back from injury and Capers is expected to go mostly defense in this draft. Kicking field goals, and staying in tight contests, may see Brown kicking the ball a lot more often. The problem is he does not have a very accurate long leg, having gone only 5 of 9 in 2003 from beyond 40 yards. He was perfect in extra points and under 40 yard field goals, so that is a positive, but if you are in a league that heavily rewards longer FGs, and penalizes misses, this is probably not your kicker.

Offensive Line
Seth Wand (LT); Chester Pitts (LG); Steve McKinney (C); Zach Wiegert (RG); Todd Wade (RT)
The big offseason move for this unit was bringing in 6'8", 300 lb. Todd Wade at RT from the Miami Dolphins. With 300 lb. Wiegart at RG and 300 lb. McKinney at C, the right side is big enough, but is also mobile enough. Expect RB Davis to be running over the right side quite a bit as that is clearly the strength of the offensive line. On the left side, last year's starting LT Pitts was moved to the interior LG spot. The starting LT job was given to Seth Wand, who has never started at the spot before. The team has several decent veteran offensive linemen on board in case of injuries or ineffectiveness of starters, including recently signed offensive tackle Marcus Spears from Kansas City. This unit is talented, experienced, and deep - and, it will be employing a new zone-blocking scheme, which should help protect Carr a little better and should allow more movement in front of the runners. The Houston running game should be in decent shape all year long, even if it loses a piece or two from the starting unit. As for pass protection, as mentioned above, the squad gave up only 36 sacks - not great, but not bad. Of note is that the team will devote three coaches to the offensive line: Joe Pendry is the coach for the Centers and Guards, Steve Marshal coaches the Tackles, and Tony Marciano coaches the tight ends. It is obvious Capers wants the line to be tight and well coached. This unit will need to continue to protect Carr well and continue to open holes for Davis for the Texan's young offense to take a step forward.

Defensive Line
Starters - RDE Robaire Smith, NT Seth Payne, LDE Gary Walker
Backups - DE Jerry DeLoach, DE Corey Sears

Starting Defensive Linemen: This unit was decimated by injuries last season, and building depth was a priority for the Texans this offseason. First thing the Texans did was sign Robaire Smith from the Titans to a $26 million contract on the first day of free agency. He played DT in Tennessee but will be moved out to DE in the Texans 3-4 scheme, where his run stuffing ability will be a huge asset while he develops his pass rush skills. At NT, Seth Payne missed all but 2 games of the 2003 season with a knee injury that is expected to keep him out of training camp, and possibly the preseason. He's great at stopping the run and the fact that the Texans passed on adding a defensive lineman in the draft indicates they are counting on him to be healthy. Gary Walker is a 2-time Pro-Bowler, but he missed 12 games last year due to toe and shoulder injuries. The Texans were able to restructure his contract this offseason to keep him around, and at 31 years old he should have a few more dominant years left. This could be a very formidable line when all 3 players are healthy.

Backup Defensive Linemen: Steve Martin played a big role last year, but left to sign with the Vikings. Jerry DeLoach is a big run stuffer who provides little in the way of a pass rush. He started 32 games over the past 2 years at RDE and will likely be the top reserve at both DE and NT. Corey Sears was re-signed after starting 12 games at LDE last year, but he's better suited to a backup role.

Starters - LOLB Kailee Wong, LILB Jay Foreman, RILB Jamie Sharper, ROLB Jason Babin (R)
Backups - OLB Antwan Peek, ILB DaShon Polk

Starting Linebackers: Kailee Wong was a 2nd round pick of the Vikings that never really lived up to expectations there, but has fit in well in Houston with 8.5 sacks over the past 2 seasons. He's a solid player who should see a lot more pass rush opportunities this year with the switch from the strongside of the formation over to the weakside. Jay Foreman is a steady contributor who does a lot of things well, and has thrived in the Texans system with back-to-back seasons of 100+ solo tackles. Foreman has played in all 32 games since joining the Texans, but playing through some injuries last season likely hurt his production. Jamie Sharper is one of the elite LBs in the league and is coming off his best season ever after leading the league in tackles, while also leading the Texans in sacks (4) and forced fumbles (3). At only 29 years old, he should have many more great seasons ahead of him. The Texans ranked next to last in the league last year in sacks, so adding some speed on the edges was a legitimate need. To help fill that need, they paid a pretty steep price to trade up to the 1st round in order to select Jason Babin. He put up 15 sacks in each of the past 2 seasons while playing DE at Western Michigan and was considered one of the best pass rushers in this draft. He has great speed (4.62 40) and is relentless in pursuit, but could struggle in coverage as he adjusts to the new position.

Backup Linebackers: Charlie Clemons was signed to a 4 year / $6.7 million contract as a free agent last year from the Saints where he had flashed great pass rush skills in 2001, but he was released in May after just 1 injury plagued season that only saw him record 1 sack in 9 games. Antwan Peek is a converted DE that was drafted in the 3rd round last year and has great speed off the edge and overall athleticism. He started 4 games as a rookie for an injured Charlie Clemons and will likely be the top backup at both OLB spots this year. The Texans signed DaShon Polk as a free agent from Buffalo to backup Sharper and Foreman inside, but his value is mainly as a special teams contributor.

Defensive Backs
Starters - CB Dunta Robinson (R) FS Marcus Coleman, SS Eric Brown, CB Aaron Glenn
Backups - CB Kenny Wright, CB Vontez Duff (R), FS Marlon McCree, SS Glenn Earl (R), SS Ramon Walker

Starting Defensive Backs: After going offense with their #1 pick the past 2 years, the Texans decided to shore up the defense this year and took a CB at #10 overall. Dunta Robinson has elite speed (4.34 40 at the combine) and was the best run support CB in the draft so he should be a nice complement to Aaron Glenn. Robinson will start immediately at the RCB spot and will also allow the team to move Marcus Coleman over to FS, where they think he can be a significant upgrade over the players they used last year. Coleman has the size of a safety (6'2", 210 lbs) matched with the range and coverage skills of a CB, and he set a career-high last season with 7 INTs. At SS, Eric Brown is a big hitter and great at defending the run, but he can be somewhat of a liability in coverage and isn't a great playmaker. Aaron Glenn has been one of the best cover corners in the league for some time, but he's often overlooked because he's only 5'9". He went to the Pro Bowl with the Texans in 2002, but had several injury problems in 2003 that hindered his performance. He remains a quality starter and should be a great mentor for Robinson, but at 32 years old it is likely that he is on the downside of his career.

Backup Defensive Backs: Kenny Wright is a tall CB at 6'1" who was originally a 4th round pick of the Vikings in 1999. He is coming off a solid season, where he started 5 games and picked off 3 passes. He'll likely contribute as the nickel back this year. Vontez Duff was a smallish but physical 3-year starter at Notre Dame who will likely compete for the #4 CB spot and contribute on special teams. Former starting FS Matt Stevens was a liability and was cut loose earlier this offseason. He was replaced in the lineup last year by Marlon McCree - who had 6 INTs in 2002 for the Jaguars but was released after only 2 games in 2003 - and ended up starting 11 games for the Texans. He'll provide solid insurance in case Coleman struggles with the position switch. Glenn Earl is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered midway through his senior season at Notre Dame, but the Texans think he has enough talent to eventually overtake the starting SS job from Brown. Ramon Walker is known as a run stuffer, but his primary contribution to the team has come on the special teams units.

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