Wild Card Contender For '08
RB Green To Return Monday, December 31, 2007

RB Green To Return

The Texans played the hand that was dealt them and defeated the Jaguars 42-28 to finish 8-8 for the first time.

I picked the Texans to be 8-8 before the season, so I'm happy the way they finished. I never thought they'd be a playoff contender. I wrote and broadcast early last season that I thought they'd be in the 7-9 or 8-8 range in 2007 and become a wild-card contender in 2008.

Based on everything I've seen covering the Texans the last three years, I haven't changed that opinion. I believe Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith know what they're doing. You may disagree, and that's fine, but that's what I feel from watching them up close and personal the last two seasons.

The Texans started strong by beating Kansas City and Carolina and finished strong by winning three of their last four over Tampa Bay, Denver and Jacksonville.

Yes, Jack Del Rio rested a lot of starters, but there was nothing the Texans could do about that. No matter who the Jaguars put on the field, the Texans had to do everything they could to win, and they did.

The same as Washington and Tennessee, both of whom needed to win against teams that had already secured their playoff positions and rested a lot of players. The difference, of course, is that the Redskins and Titans made the playoffs.

How you look at the Texans in Kubiak's second season probably depends on your philosophy of life. I'm a half-full guy, and I believe an 8-8 record and a six-game improvement from the 2-14 record of 2005 was quite an accomplishment.

When I think about all the injuries they suffered this season and how inept they appeared during that ugly stretch we all know about, the way they bounced back when Andre Johnson returned deserves some credit.

Think about it: On offense, the Texans had Sage Rosenfels at quarterback, Ron Dayne at running back, two starters missing from the offensive line and Johnson missing seven games after that 2-0 start. On defense, the only regular defensive back who started this season was C.C. Brown.

It's not how many players a team has on injured reserve; it's how many good players are on IR. And the Texans had a lot of them, as did many other teams.

On Monday, the players will clean out their lockers and head for vacation before they return for the offseason program. Kubiak has to find a new offensive coordinator to replace Mike Sherman, who can devote all of his attention to Texas A&M now.

Sherman got a lot of attention in the dressing room after the game. He was interviewed by the media. Players stopped by to shake his hand and wish him luck with the Aggies. He told the players how much he was going to miss them.

Let me tell you a story about Sherman. After he was fired by Green Bay after making the playoffs in four of his six seasons, he was devastated. He retreated to his lake house and had no intention of coaching in 2006. He didn't know what he was going to do, only that he wasn't going to coach.

Sherman had been fired from the job he considered the best in football. He was in no mood to return to coaching when Gary Kubiak called. Kubiak and Sherman had been assistants under R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M. They had become good friends. Kubiak, who was starting his first season with the Texans, didn't put any pressure on Sherman but told him he'd love to have him on his staff and to take his time.

The first time Kubiak called, Sherman was flattered but didn't plan on moving his family to Houston. Sherman's agent, Bob LaMonte, thought working with Kubiak would be good for his client. Then, Slocum called Sherman and recommended taking the job. Slocum told Sherman that the longer a coach stays out of coaching, the more he risks everyone forgetting about him.

Sherman agreed to come to Houston to check it out. He didn't need to interview. Kubiak had already offered him a job. He already had his staff in place, but he wanted Sherman to be part of his staff so bad he'd make him assistant head coach.

When Sherman came to Houston, Kubiak took him to Bob McNair's house to meet the owner. Once Sherman met McNair, he began to warm to the idea of working with Kubiak again. Finally, he agreed, and everything worked out well.

Now Kubiak has to find a replacement for Sherman. Quarterbacks coach Kyle Shanahan is a candidate. So is former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell, who spent three seasons as Denver's receivers coach when Kubiak was the offensive coordinator under Mike Shanahan.

FYI to those of you who've written or called ripping Kubiak for saying he's going to interview Dorrell: No offense, but considering the last two coaches Kubiak has hired as offensive coordinator - Troy Calhoun and Sherman - have been hired as major-college coaches, I put a lot more faith in his opinion than yours.

Kubiak and Smith will meet with the players Monday. Then, Kubiak will start working on finding a replacement for Sherman and any other coaches he might lose. Smith can devote fulltime to his staff and their evaluations for the draft and free agency.

Now, here's what I think the Texans need. Let's start with the offense.

Matt Schaub and Rosenfels have solidified quarterback. For those of you blasting Schaub, you must have forgotten he started 2-0 and lost Johnson for seven games. Schaub, who takes a deeper drop than Rosenfels, started getting hit a lot and beat up. He has to prove next season he can take a licking and keep on ticking.

Before Schaub was hurt, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the league at throwing down the field with accuracy. Despite not having Johnson, he put the vertical attack back in the Texans' passing game.

With a healthy Schaub, Rosenfels as a quality backup, Johnson back for a full season, the development of Kevin Walter and the continuing improvement of Owen Daniels, the passing game should be one of the league's most effective. If they re-sign Andre Davis, and Jacoby Jones makes the kind of improvement rookies can make between their first and second seasons, it'll bolster the passing game even more.

If Davis is re-signed, he should be one of the NFL's most dangerous kickoff returners again. Davis would allow them to cut ties with Jerome Mathis, who's an outstanding kickoff returner but can't stay healthy.

Quarterback, receiver and tight end are the strongest positions on offense.

Now, the Texans are bringing back Ahman Green. He was the biggest disappointment of the season, but he had a bad knee from the first game when he absorbed a hit. On the few times when Green could play, he ran well. He carried 70 times for 260 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 123 yards.

The problem with Green, of course, is that he was hurt most of the season. He'll be 31, but if he's healthy - and that's a big if - he can help them.

For the second year in a row, Dayne gave them everything he had. He rushed for 773 yards and six touchdowns. Darius Walker 58 carries and gained 264 yards. That s a 4.6-yard average. His 41-yard run against the Jaguars was the team's longest.

Chris Taylor, who blew out his knee on the first day of camp, will be 100 percent at some point in the offseason.

Now, I predict the Texans will draft a back but won't spend a lot of money on a free agent. I wouldn't be surprise to see Smith make a couple of trades on draft day to acquire additional picks, perhaps even a second-round selection.

Going into the offseason, the Texans' biggest need isn't on offense. Left tackle Ephraim Salaam played better than anyone expected. They still need a young left tackle. That could be Charles Spencer, who missed almost all the last two seasons. And they need a young back, perhaps someone taken in the third round.

The Texans have two primary needs on defense - a cornerback and, drum roll, please - another pass rusher. I can't imagine them using their first-round pick on another pass rusher, but I can see them going for a corner. Dunta Robinson is rehabbing as hard as he can, but, barring a miracle, he won't be back before November. And who knows if he can still play corner the way he's played it.

With Anthony Weaver and Travis Johnson failing to get a sack, something has to be done about getting a pass rusher, even if it's just someone who plays in passing situations.

When I think about how much Mario Williams improved this season, I can't wait to see how much better Amobi Okoye does in his second season.

Smith will have more cap space to work with than last season, but it's still not as much as they want. They've still got dead money and tenders. At this point, don't believe any cap figures you see because so much is taken up by dead money, tenders, the rookie pool, etc. And forget about big-name free agents. Most will be re-signed or franchised.

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