HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – So far the Houston Texans are looking like a team without any glaring flaws after the first three games.
But there are some areas of concern. The right side of the offensive line is the greatest concern and so much so the coaching staff is trying to fix it on the fly.
Guard Antoine Caldwell and tackle Derek Newton – both first-year starters – still have their jobs but it has become clear the past two weeks they are being pushed. Recently acquired veteran Ryan Harris has been working in more and more with Newton and rookie Ben Jones is wedging his way into sharing snaps with Caldwell.
So now instead of having five solid starters, the Texans have a seven-man rotation up front with veterans Duane Brown and Wade Smith holding down the left side of the offensive line.
“I wouldn’t say I’m concerned,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “I think I knew what our challenge was when the season started.”
He basically has two inexperienced offensive linemen who are struggling with inconsistency in their first season as fulltime starters. None has been more glaring than at right tackle where Newton, a seven-round draft pick out of Arkansas State last year, came out of nowhere during fall camp to earn the starting spot.
Clearly Newton has been outclassed at times against some of the better defensive linemen in the league through his first three games as an NFL player. Last week against Denver, Newton bad technique allowed defensive end Elvis Dumervil to get by for safety on Matt Schaub to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead on the opening offensive series of the game.
It didn’t get much easier most the day with the Broncos sending pressure his way with linebacker Von Miller and Dumervil. As the game came to a close it was Harris, a sixth-year veteran, on the field helping the Texans move the ball against the Broncos.
Harris, who is coming off an injury, has the pedigree as a Notre Dame graduate and the experience in similar offenses with Denver and Washington that seems to make him a natural to eventually earn the starting the. But for now all the Texans seem committed to is splitting time between him and Newton.
How much time exactly? Nobody is saying.
The primary concern is keeping Schaub clean and from taking the punishment like he took on back-to-back roughing the passer hits Sunday.
“We’re going to play seven guys,” Kubiak said when asked about playing Harris more on Sunday when AFC South foe Tennessee comes to Reliant Stadium. “(Offensive line coach John Benton) has a plan in place where he will come in every few series but it probably depends on how things are going, how fresh we think Newton is and how well Ryan is playing.
“We’re going to play seven guys and keep an eye on them and see how that comes out. We hope to take 20 to 25 snaps off of Newton and see how that works.”
This is likely a big week for Newton, who has to redeem himself from a week ago. The Titans should be a little less of a challenge with the 31st worst overall defense in the league. But Newton has to show signs that he is worth the huge game the Texans took when they chose him over Rashad Butler during camp.
“Last week, got a little bit frustrated but at the same time I couldn’t let that affect me. I felt like I did,” Newton said. “So this week I’m pretty much just trying to get over that hump and just keep getting better.”
Having a seasoned offensive lineman like Harris on his heels should certainly help in that regard. Harris is a veteran who isn’t likely to ever be overwhelmed by the moment which is huge for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations this season.
“The system is relatively familiar to him, some of the calls, and some of the things we do are a little bit different, the adjustments that we have,” said Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who coached Harris when he was with the Broncos. “He played well for me when I was in Denver. I just know him as a smart kid that plays hard and works hard at it. I think if we keep rotating him in right now. I think that helps them. They get to see on the sidelines. They get to work together. He’s done a good job for the short time he’s been here.”
Newton says he doesn’t mind rotating with Harris. He even sees a benefit to it.
“Me and Ryan, we’re cool,” Newton said. “We talk to each other every day. We’re just going to roll with the punches.”