HOUSTON -- From the moment he arrived in Houston, Bill O'Brien says he started hearing about Texans right tackle Derek Newton. He didn't say what he was hearing specifically, but it's safe to say he wasn't hearing glowing praise.
O'Brien, though, believed in Newton and that belief has paid off. Newton played his best season as a pro, showing tremendous growth -- aided by good health -- this season.
"When you look at the tape, Derek Newton put a lot of work into this season and he played well," O'Brien said. "He played consistent. Was it always perfect? No. But there is a guy that we just, that’s a guy that we would look forward to working with in the future."
Newton will be an unrestricted free agent when the league year ends in March unless the Texans re-sign him before that. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2011 and became the Texans' full-time starter at right tackle last season. That he was entering a contract year was on Newton's mind as he went into the 2014 season, but he had other priorities.
"I didn't want to worry about that," Newton said. "I just wanted to worry about playing. I left that to my agent. I told him I didn't want to know nothing about that. Just let me play."
Pro Football Focus ranked Newton 19th among the 84 offensive tackles rated and fourth against the run. His overall grade increased by an astounding 37 points over the 2013 season when Pro Football Focus had him ranked 72nd. Newton dealt with a knee injury last season that hampered his play.
Though many who feel Newton took more criticism than he deserved last season, there's no denying his growth in 2014. Healthy this year, and with improved technique, Newton solidified his position in Houston. Newton also said he did less thinking as he played this season, which allowed him to play more freely.
"I think the adversity, not adversity, but the media and the fans kind of last couple season were on him," center Chris Myers said. "He maybe used it for motivation in himself, but I always knew it. He’s a tremendous athlete. It was just a matter of time before he came into his own. It was especially big this season."
He's done what he can, and it was enough that the Texans believe in his future with an offensive line that became more cohesive at the end of the season.
"I still have that feeling that I'm going to be here," Newton said. "At the end of the day I understand it's a business and I have no control over what happens."