HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Perhaps not many paid attention when Texans general manager Rick Smith elected to use the 214th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft on Arkansas State offensive lineman Derek Newton. Sixteen months later, Newton is the starting right tackle for one of the assumed best teams in the league.
At the time he was drafted, the scouting report on Newton read like many late round offensive line picks: very good size, natural movements, but raw. Surprisingly, Newton was active for almost all of last season, and frequently used in goal-line/3rd TE situations. For a seventh rounder, his development seemed to be moving along well. The learning curve was ramped up quickly when the Texans shockingly released Eric Winston this past February.
Newton entered training camp in a battle with veteran Rashad Butler for the right tackle job. Butler was the presumed winner by most pundits, but Newton edged him out by the final week of August. Some speculate management wanted to start the younger and cheaper Newton (Butler will be a UFA after this season). As a result, Butler played right tackle in last Thursday’s preseason finale, and his season is over with a torn triceps muscle.
Even with the signing of former Broncos tackle Ryan Harris over the weekend, Houston is thin along the offensive line. Newton showed many flashes during preseason, but also threw in enough bad plays (holds, sacks allowed) to create some concern. Winston was not an All-Pro, but he was the kind of stalwart player nobody worried about going into most games.
Newton’s trial-by-fire begins against the Dolphins on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. He will be lined up against Miami star pass-rusher Cameron Wake at times, and charged with keeping QB Matt Schaub clean. Gary Kubiak has used the word “ascending” when describing Newton’s developmental track as a player. There’s no doubt within the organization that Newton can be a very good right tackle, but can he do it early in his career, and limit some of his consistencies? The former seventh round draft pick will start to answer those questions in Week 1.