Reporting Paul Gallant
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Monday, September 9th, 2013. That’s the night when the Texans will kick off their 2013 campaign.
Monday, May 20th, 2013. That’s the day the Texans’ secondary opened up theirs.
Hyperbole? Maybe. But with Ed Reed recovering from hip surgery in a secondary without experienced depth, it’s absolutely must that Houston’s defensive backs make the most of this off-season.
Think about it. If there was one unit to point fingers at down the stretch, it was the last line of defense. They allowed 32 passing plays of 20+ yards in their last 9 games, while recording just 2 interceptions in the last 6. Injuries to cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Brice McCain certainly didn’t help. But the evidence shows this group was far from a strength in the most crucial moments of the year.
The big plays down the stretch and takeaway drought was one of the reasons (along with his success against the Patriots and leadership) that the Texans brought Ed Reed aboard. Unfortunately, Reed’s hip has been the only one showing off that veteran experience this off-season. His best days as a game-changing ball hawk appear to be behind him. Just ask Pete Prisco. Plus, while the guy has fought through injuries his entire career, at age 34 who knows how well he’ll bounce back from hip surgery. And if he can’t go, some young Texan will have to step his game up in a big way.
“There’s gonna be a lot of competition coming into this OTA and this season too,” said safety Danieal Manning. “What Ed [Reed] has done is great, but things happen, and you always gotta have guys who can step in when you have your ones go down.”
I know the Texans have been saying Reed should be back to work at some point in the middle of training camp. Still, Dr. Kenneth First’s comments In The Loop a week ago have made me less than optimistic. If the Doc is correct, one of these guys will be starting at safety come kickoff 2013:
Keo – with the most experience of the three – has been working with the first team secondary while Reed recovers. And to his credit he’s trying to make the most of it.
“As of right now I’m a starter,” said Keo. “If we were to play today or tomorrow I’m the guy right now. I have a lot of accountability that the guys are putting on me so I have to go out there and take care of business.”
Let’s hope he does. Because the last few times we saw him on the field, we remembered him for the wrong reasons. Specifically, a holding call on third and long in the playoffs against the Bengals. That said, the other first-team defensive backs have faith in him should Ed Reed take longer than expected to get back to health.
“He’s played in the games,” said Johnathan Joseph. “He’s one of those guys that’s kind of proven himself to work his way in and step right in with the ones. We haven’t a missed a beat with him being out there.”
“Shiloh is consistent,” said Danieal Manning. “He plays hard, and gives us exactly what we need.”
I’ll be honest. I don’t think he does – though I’d love to see him prove me wrong. I’ve got my money on Eddie Pleasant being the go-to backup safety. And from the sound of it, his colleagues do too.
“Eddie Pleasant has shown tremendous strides from last year,” said Joseph. “He looks like he belongs in this league.”
“I sit around and I watch Eddo, and he’s proved so much from making the team, being a practice squad guy, then getting reps later on in the season.” said Manning. “Now hes calling shots back there. And it’s impressive. I’m excited to see him play. I joke with him all the time, you’re gonna make the old men work a little harder with the way you’re competing out here.”
Still, while Eddie Pleasant had some WOW moments against the Vikings in last year’s pre-season, he only has a couple of games under his belt. Are you feeling confident about his ability to step in seamlessly if Reed isn’t able to go week one? Or if Manning gets hurt during the season?
Once again, I’m not.
And that’s why these next few weeks will be so important for the Texans’ young defensive backs. They might not be playing games. But Keo, Pleasant, and Swearinger (not to mention Brandon Harris and Roc Carmichael) better approach each practice rep they get as like it’s the Super Bowl. Because if Doc First is right, and Reed’s hip proves as useful as my grandmother’s, this unit could be in a whole lot of trouble.