[EDITOR’S NOTE: WE ARE ASKING EACH OF OUR JOCKS TO DECIDE IF A BUBBLE PLAYER FOR THE HOUSTON TEXANS IS GOING TO MAKE THE CUT AND BE ON TEAM’S 53-MAN ROSTER OR MISS THE CUT AND BE CUT BY THE TEAM. THE SEVENTH OF THE SERIES IS BY SETH PAYNE – MAD RADIO 6A-10A – ON NOSETACKLE CHRISTIAN COVINGTON]
When the Texans drafted Christian Covington last year, my first thought was that he didn’t quite fit the mold of a 3-4 defensive lineman. At the time, he was 6’2”, 289 lbs. That’s a sturdy human being, but it’s not quite heavy enough to be a 3-4 nose tackle, and not quite tall enough to be a 3-4 defensive end. He looked a whole lot like a 4-3 defensive tackle. The upside would be if he could rush the passer. On passing downs in the NFL (3rd and long, for instance), a 3-4 defense typically sends the nose tackle to the sidelines, and the remaining defensive ends line up in the same spots that defensive tackles do in a 4-3 defense. The Texans change this up a little due to J.J. Watt’s versatility, but there is still a need for guys who can rush the passer from the inside. That’s where Covington would likely make his mark. He flashed ability as pass rusher in training camp last season, and he saw action in several regular season games.
Then he bulked up this off-season. I don’t know how that will affect his pass rush. My concern has been that the added weight might rob him of some speed and agility. But it also might help him play some at nose tackle on run downs, as well as offset his height disadvantage when he’s playing defensive end.
There is a further wrinkle in this scenario, and it has to do with a trend in the NFL. Offenses are rolling out more 3 receiver sets than ever, whether it’s a passing down or not. When they line up in these 3 receiver sets, they’re often just as likely to run as they are to pass. When they do this, the defense responds by sending out their nickel and dime packages. In a 3-4 defense, that means more snaps where 3-4 defensive ends play like 4-3 defensive tackles. We saw this scenario play out versus the 49ers in the pre-season game Sunday night. The 49ers came out in 11 personnel (3 wide receivers), and the Texans matched them by lining up in nickel.
As a group, the Texans struggled to stop the run, but Covington had a steady performance. He was able to force a fumble on a run play by staying in his gap and flowing to the ball on a zone run. In the next series, he notched a tackle for a four yard loss. I’m concerned that he looked a little stiff legged, but you could say the same for the entire defense–they struggled to keep up with San Francisco’s offensive pace. I think the sluggish legs were more likely a result of not yet being in football shape than an overall lack of speed. This may have especially been the case with Covington, since he had to miss a block of practices while recovering from a concussion. As a pass rusher, he wasn’t spectacular, but he saw quite a few double teams and was able to push the pocket.
I predict that Christian Covington will make this team, and that won’t be a surprise. The surprise will be that he will make the team because of his ability to stop the run. In today’s NFL, the designation of 3-4 or 4-3 defense means less than it ever has, and Covington’s “4-3 body” isn’t going to be an issue for the Texans.