Houston (CBS Houston) – It’s not totally shocking that we’re not talking nor hearing much about the Texans taking a defensive player with the first pick as much which is all the reason why we as media and fans should be a bit more cautious in our anticipation of the Texans’ draft decisions.
Johnny Manziel, believe it or not, might have created a bit of a diversion last Thursday especially for the Texans with his pro day performance. General Manager Rick Smith and Head Coach Bill O’Brien probably needed to get out of the office and away from a white board that has several names of possible top draft picks being debated about daily as their No. 1 pick. Of the many names on that board, could Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack be one of them?
Buffalo Bulls Head Coach Jeff Quinn coached Mack while he was setting records at Buffalo. In addition, he also has familiarity with a current Texan who set records and is possibly on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
“J.J Watt was somebody that I signed out of high school to Central Michigan University when I was coaching there.” Quinn is from Chicago and recruited the Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin areas, from where Watt hails. J.J. was a junior preparing for his senior year of high school.
“There were probably about a half dozen guys that I was interested in looking at for that spring recruiting period,” said Quinn. “I just fell in love with J.J. I saw a lot of upside potential. We signed him at Central.”
However, Quinn was a member of Brian Kelly’s coaching staff when Kelly was offered the head coaching position at Cincinnati during Watt’s freshman season. So, when Quinn departed Central Michigan with Kelly to Cincinnati, Central Michigan lost a jewel.
“His dream was to go to Wisconsin,” says Quinn. “So, he actually transferred out of Central Michigan University and went to Wisconsin. But, we were awfully proud to know that we got our hooks into him first. You’re excited to see how well they develop. But, I always knew J.J. (Watt) had huge upside. I see that in the same thing with Khalil.”
Khalil Mack, from Fort Pierce, Florida, is a six-foot-three, 251 pound dominant linebacker who set records while at MAC member Buffalo. Just last season, he broke the record of 14 career forced fumbles with 16 that was set by Arizona States’ Terrell Suggs, Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue, Cordarro Law of Southern Miss, Antwan Peek from Cincinnati, and Kenechi Udeze of USC. Suggs, Udeze, and Kerrigan were first round picks.
Mack also finished his college career as a second-team All-American after 48 career games. He finished with 75 tackles for loss which ties the record held by former Western Michigan defensive end and 2004 Houston Texans first-round pick, Jason Babin, also from the MAC.
Mack’s performance last season against Ohio State, even in a 40-20 loss, should be what NFL General Managers watch closely. Mack, who ran a 4.65 40 at the NFL Combine, had nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception return for touchdown. But, according to Quinn, Mack didn’t become disruptive overnight.
“When I came in here as the head coach, he was on scout team, he was red-shirted, and he had only been here for four months,” says Quinn. “We took over and really put him in a successful position; very disruptive football player. You could tell early on, his passion, was what really stood out more than anything for the game.”
But, Mack also grew and added the mass needed to the existing skill set which allowed him to compete and become the physically unstoppable player that Quinn has envisioned.
“He got bigger. He was only about 215 pounds when he came in here. He was six-foot-three, 215, 220 at the most. We were able to build him up. That’s part of the normal growth process that human beings have. When you’re in the weight room, compared to high school weight rooms, you’re in college, you’re doing it year-round, you’re training your kids how to eat right, eventually they’re going to gain some lean mass if they’re doing it the right way and certainly his frame could probably hold a little bit more.”
There’s no doubt in Quinn’s mind, that given time, Mack is a player who can and will be outstanding in the NFL.
“He’s a complete player. He can rush the quarterback and obviously make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He also can drop back in coverage. He had three interceptions this year and one for a touchdown. Many coaches, many scouts have all made comments that they’ve watched a lot of football players across the country and, by far, he’s one of the best, if not the best.”
KHALIL BETTER AT HIS POSITION THAN CLOWNEY AT HIS?
It’s been well-documented that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is one of the top-five football players awaiting the upcoming draft. It’s has also been speculated that the Texans are seeking a top-flight defensive lineman, or defender to tag-team with J.J. Watt along the line of scrimmage, a disruptive force.
“He’s rock-solid and he’s got a way of never being blocked, says Quinn about Mack. “That’s the one thing about that kid. Nobody can block him. He’s the most dynamic player I’ve ever coached.”
As dynamic as Khalil was at Buffalo, that will change slightly early on in the NFL. But, Quinn says Khalil’s success lies within the intangibles.
“He has that mindset, his work ethic, his passion, his determination – those are the underlying things that I look for, more than anything, and he has the skill set. So, when he gets at the next level, if he progresses like he has at the collegiate ranks, he’s going to be an outstanding football player. He comes clean with no issues, just a top-flight kid, health wise, very humble.”
There’s also the question of whether or not Mack is, or can be, better at his position than Clowney at his.
“You can never have enough good players and they’re both great players, but they can only pick one,” says Quinn. “Whoever Houston picks, it’s going to be well thought-out. They know their locker room better than I do, but, (they could draft) either one of them.
I’m a little biased with my guy but, only because he’s a little different from Clowney. (Khalil) is a standup, he’s an outside (LB), he drops back where Clowney has his hand in the dirt. But, they’re both great players.”
That’s a tough question for any coach to answer especially when comparing players who play two different positions. But the one thing he is sure about is the readiness of his now former player.
“I can speak to Khalil. He’ll show up every day and he’ll do exactly what you’re asking him to do and he’ll do it better than anybody else on that football field and that’s what I love about him.”
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