INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Houston Texans traded DeMeco Ryans after the 2011 season, and as they look to recover from a 2012 filled with injuries at inside linebacker, I’ve maintained that a one-dimensional position doesn’t require big attention. It can be easily filled.
Tom Gower of Football Outsiders and Reading and Thinking Football sees it as a bigger need. He argues, basically, that if the Texans had a better inside linebacker to go with Brian Cushing, they wouldn’t be so quick to get out of their base defense.
That versatility would be helpful and would give defensive coordinator Wade Phillips more options for how to, say, cover a tight end like Rob Gronkowski.
It’d be good if Phillips had extra alternatives, sure. The Patriots' quick-snapping offense gave the Texans all kind of troubles last season, twice. Perhaps if Houston could simply have stayed in base, we'd have seen less panic and more preparedness to match up with what New England does so well.
So what’s general manager Rick Smith think about an inside linebacker spot where injury-prone Darryl Sharpton is the primary option at this point?
“Obviously, you want the best players you can find, a guy that can stay on the field,” Smith said at the scouting combine. “You make a mistake if you try to limit yourself just to trying to fit a particular player in a particular role. I think what you try to do is you get the best football players and you let it sort itself out.”
If the team adds an inside backer who could be a three-down player, how much might Phillips change how he deploys his personnel?
“What I think is it gives him some options,” Smith said. “If we have two inside backers who can stay on the field in passing situations and match up better against [tight ends], I think that’s a positive. If he wants to employ a three-safety system in other situations, whether it’s longer distances or a blitz package or whatever it is, if he wants to employ those, he can. I think the more you have players who can stay on the field and impact the game, I think that’s the option, that’s the ultimate for him because it gives him the flexibility that he likes.”
There is one other possibility at play here.
Coach Gary Kubiak indicated they could look at Reed inside.
"He's very capable of being a stack player, playing inside in our 3-4,” Kubiak said. “Yes, that could happen. But we've liked him as a Sam, he's a heck of a Sam player. But you always have to have some flexibility with one player or two players in various situations when you come across like what we did last year.
“Depending on what happens with our football team moving forward right now, with Connor [Barwin] and some other things, we're always looking for some flexibility."
We’ll have to stay tuned.
But with or without Barwin, I expect the Texans will be adding a linebacker in free agency or the draft. The questions remain, with how much of an investment or with how high a pick?