For a moment Sunday, Texans coach Gary Kubiak struggled to deal with yet another injury setback as he discussed the loss of backup linebacker and valuable special teams contributor Darryl Sharpton for the remainder of the season.
Five straight weeks. Five injuries that have forced the Texans to reshuffle the deck and often scroll the waiver wire.
We’re not talking about depth guys here. We’re talking front-line, essential to the Texans success players like receiver Andre Johnson, outside linebacker Mario Williams, fullback James Casey, free safety Daniel Manning and now Sharpton.
Amazingly the Texans haven’t fallen apart. In fact, somehow, they’ve managed to fight through and remain atop the AFC South with a 5-3 overall and 3-0 division record.
It seems a testament to the depth that general manager Rick Smith and Kubiak have built over the years.
You take away a Mario Williams for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle and rookie linebacker Brooks Reed steps in. The Texans have been without Andre Johnson for four straight games and counting but his place Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter have filled the void admirably. Such examples of depth seem to be making the difference for the Texans.
“Throughout the course of an NFL season because it is such a difficult season you are going to get tested. Some years are better than others,” Kubiak said Monday. “Some years you stay clean and other years you get really tested so that is why you are always trying to build depth and competition on your roster.
“We’ve got our issues right now, that’s five guys in five weeks that we are having to replace and having guys step in and do a good job.”
It has been even more impressive when you see there has been very little drop off from an All-Pro player like Williams to a virtual unknown in Reeds. In the three games Reed has filled in for Williams, he has recorded one sack in each of those games.
Troy Nolan also came in in place of Manning this past week and performed extremely well against Jacksonville, recording five tackles during the Texans 24-14 win.
“I think the confidence of your football team can lift those guys up when they get put in position to go play like Troy Nolan yesterday or Kevin and Jacoby having to take over for Andre,” Kubiak said. “When there is confidence from your team and people believing in those guys, that helps them respond to the challenges that they have.
“Just the confidence of the group overall in the three phases we feel like if we lose a guy we’ve got guys working that will step in and do the job so let’s help them out. You don’t replace a player with a player, you just kind of get better as a group around the football team and I think that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
That may definitely hold true in the case of Sharpton who quietly held down many roles for the Texans this season. It’s unlikely Kubiak and Smith will find any one player to fill his void, but they need to find a body from somewhere while Sharpton’s torn quad tendon heals the rest of this season.
The Texans will again have to sift through the waiver wire for a linebacker preferably familiar with Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense who is also able to plug the holes Sharpton filled on Joe Marciano’s special teams units.
For the short-term veteran Tim Dobbins will backup both Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans at both inside linebacker spots, but that’s just a temporary solution. Sharpton wasn’t your typical backup. You could almost say he and Ryans had become 1A and 1B at the one inside linebacker position.
Ryans played the obvious running downs, while Sharpton came in for the nickel packages and with the multiple wide sets that have taken over in the NFL, Sharpton was often on the field more than the starter.
“That’s a tough loss for us,” said Ryans, who now certainly be the field more. “Darryl is a great player. He can definitely be a starter in this league. He’s a tremendous athlete and a great player. It’s going to be tough.”
But you have to believe the way the Texans have stepped up in the season loss of Williams, the temporary loss of Johnson and even the loss of Manning that they won’t miss much of a beat without Sharpton, either.
More than the acquisitions made, Kubiak attributes his team’s resilience in adversity to the strength of his players.
“I think it’s just the mentality. They don’t stop things,” said Kubiak, who is hopeful Johnson will return from the hamstring injury this week against the Cleveland Browns. “You’ve got to go play the next week. You’ve got to stay upbeat.
“We’ve had to deal with losing Andre before, a couple of times. That’s a really difficult process for us but we’ve been able to continue to push. I think it’s just the team’s mentality and not giving themselves reasons not to succeed but saying `We are going to succeed’ instead.”