One of the biggest needs for the Houston Texans going into the 2017 season was picking up an offensive tackle that could start for them.
At the end of 2016, the need for a tackle became great after Chris Clark did a subpar job filling in for Derek Newton after he went down in week seven. Newton again will be sidelined for the upcoming season as he’s still trying to make his way back from tearing tendons in both of his knees and there is a possibility that he might never make it back to the player he was on track to becoming.
On the left side of the line, Duane Brown is getting older and while he’s been a model of consistency since joining the Texans as a rookie back in 2008, he’ll eventually have to move over to the right side at some point.
With all of that knowledge going into the year, finding a tackle might not have been as important as finding an upgrade over Brock Osweiler, but it was certainly a need.
As free agency started, the Texans stood pat, which was fine, maybe the answer for them was in the draft like Brown so many years ago. But when the draft did start the team didn’t use a day one pick or a day two pick on the line and instead waited all the way until the fourth round picking up Julién Davenport out of Bucknell.
While Davenport has the look of a good linemen with great size and the long arms that coaches covet, he was considered a few years off when drafted. The Bucknell standout had the tools, but going from the FCS to the pros is like going from elementary school to MIT. It seemed like his path was to be deep depth for the Texans for a few years until he was ready, or at least so it seemed.
Over a reported contract dispute Brown has yet to show up for OTA’s and that means much more reps for the project tackle out of Bucknell.
On Wednesday the media was allowed into OTA’s and when asked about the young tackle head coach Bill O’Brien seemed very happy with the progress of Davenport.
“He’s smart, he works hard, he’s got a good skill set for that position,” O’Brien shared. “So far, so good.”
With rookie minicamp and now a handful of OTA’s under his belt, it’s hard to see exactly just what the Texans think of him, but it should be noted aside from a ton of undrafted rookie free agents, the only other tackle added was veteran Breno Giacomini.
“I like Julién (Davenport),” O’Brien said. “He’s a rookie, so they’re all learning, it’s tough in no pads, I think the true test for a lineman is when the full pads are on in camp.”
The test may come when the guys are hitting actually hitting each other, but everything he is learning now will do nothing but speed up development.
Quarterback Bradon Weeden once joked that the offensive was like learning Chinese backwards, and while it might not be that hard for the lineman, it’s still a tough offense to pick up.
Few Rookies on offense have been able to contribute since O’Brien has taken over.
Wide receiver Will Fuller had a few good weeks but overall his impact was limited.
Slot receiver Braxton Miller never was able to get going at all in 2016.
Left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo was unimpressive his first few years, and at quarterback Osweiler might not have been a “rookie” he was in O’Brien’s offense and we all know how that went last year.
As a rookie, you’ll take any advantage that you can get and without Brown, for now, and Newton reps are Davenport’s for the taking.
The Texans might not have outright said that they wanted to improve on Clark or draft an heir apparent to Brown, but if Davenport can learn the offense and then apply what he’s learned when the pads get added on, they just might have done both.
Davenport, when drafted, may have seemed like a project a couple of years away from producing, but if he can continue to trend upwards, his role will continue to grow.
Starting game one might be a little bit of a stretch, but contributing to the Texans this year as a sixth or seventh lineman is not out of the question.