The Houston Texans finished their 2021 campaign with a much-improved defense under Lovie Smith and optimism for the future of players like Jonathan Greenard and Ross Blacklock.
The second-year defensive linemen made their rookie jump and showed plenty of promise despite a change in coaches, defensive scheme following a rookie offseason suddenly affected by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After making the transition from 3-4 linebacker to 4-3 defensive end, Greenard finished with a team-high eight sacks in 12 games and also led the team with 12 quarterback hits in 2021.
"When he is healthy, he can rush. He can play our six technique which he does for us most of the time," Smith said. "He'll start over tight end most plays, but he can rush the passer from the outside. He's a good run support player. There is a lot of positives in his game."
Greenard, drafted in the third round (90th overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft, recorded one sack for every 25.1 pass-rushing snaps he played this year. He finished his second season ranked fourth in the NFL among pass rushers with a minimum of 150 pass-rushing snaps. Pro Football Focus graded Greenard third-highest among second-year defensive players with an 82.9, which ranked seventh among all NFL defensive ends last season.
"I played solid," Greenard said. "I think I can do a ton better, obviously going back and watching the film and the technique and things of that sort over the course of the game. Obviously, just staying healthy and being available. I missed too many games this year. Trying to make it through a full season, so I don't have to have that tag on, things of that sort. There is always room to grow, and that is credit to the guys and coaches that have been around me. We've just been feeding off each other. Just telling each other what we've seen in the game."
Ross Blacklock, the Texans second-round draft pick (40th overall) in 2020, also got after quarterbacks in Year 2. Blacklock recorded a quarterback pressure on 10.2 percent of his snaps, tied for 11th best in the NFL. He recorded career highs in tackles (22 total, 14 solo), tackles for loss (two), sacks (2.0), quarterback hits (six), passes defensed (two) and also had his first career forced fumble during Week 3 against Carolina.
"I feel like I made a tremendous jump as far as confidence in play and seeking and discovering more abilities and stuff that I have," Blacklock said. "But like I said, there's always plays that I could have made, there's always things I could get better at. Next year, I'm just focusing on all the things I could have done better last year in terms of stuff that."
Check out the best photos from the Texans Week 18 matchup with the Titans.