Suffice it to say, Derek Newton had a rough year last season for the Houston Texans.

Newton graded out 72nd among 76 NFL tackles in 2013, according to advanced stats site Pro Football Focus, and was flagged for 13 penalties — most among all offensive linemen.

Now, with the Texans trying to pick up the pieces of a 2-14 season that Newton, statistically, did little to avoid, Newton seems to be a primary target of fan ire.

GM Rick Smith gets that, and on Texans Radio on Wednesday on Sports Radio 610 acknowledged as much while adding a vote of confidence for Newton.

“Every year, we have a whipping boy, we have somebody that folks go after,” Smith said. “Derek seems to be that guy. But when guys face that kind of adversity, you see what they’re made out of. They’re either going to rise to the occasion or they’re not, and what I see so far, he’s got the makings of a guy who seems to be ready to answer that challenge.”

If he’s not, Smith already has his contingency plan in place, veteran tackle Tyson Clabo, who last week signed a two-year contract with the Texans.

Clabo, 32, has made all but one start since the 2008 season and has a 2010 Pro Bowl bid to his resume. He also finished 2013 on a tear, grading out as one of the game’s best tackles per Pro Football Focus, once the chaos in the Miami Dolphins offensive line room cooled off.

Still, from what he said on Wednesday, Smith likes the chances of his 7th round pick from 2011 impressing this season.

“He does have to improve,” Smith said. “There’s no question about it. He understands that and we all understand that. But what I have seen so far I like.

“You watch that guy, and you fall in love with him because he plays so hard, so aggressive, and you need that temperament on the offensive line as well.”

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