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Carucci: Texans on the rise

3799.jpg's Vic Carucci says "it's really close" in naming the best receiver in the NFL between Andre Johnson and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.'s Nick Scurfield interviewed senior columnist Vic Carucci during Carucci's recent visit to Texans training camp.

Carucci is an award-winning writer who has covered the NFL for nearly 30 years. A past president of the Professional Football Writers of America and a member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, he has written numerous books about football and regularly serves as a host and analyst on SIRIUS NFL Radio.

In his interview with, Carucci gives an assessment of the Texans from his perspective as a national NFL writer. Excerpts of the interview are below. Click here to listen to the interview in podcast form.

Nick Scurfield: What stood out to you about the team during your two days at Texans training camp?

Vic Carucci: I think the first thing that jumps out at you is what this team looked to upgrade, and that was the speed of its defense. You can see how the additions of guys like Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith and others have really made this a faster, more aggressive defense. You can see that the whole idea behind the changes that were made was to obviously bring better athletes in here. Talking to Rick Smith about this, that was made clear, to be attacking, to take chances, to make big plays.

Nick Scurfield: The Texans' defense has had its fair share of struggles in the past. But when you look on the field and see all of the number one picks and other up-and-coming players, there's a lot of talent on this defense, isn't there?

Vic Carucci: I think there's a lot of talent. Overall, that would be my general impression: I look at this Texan team and, you know, they were once a club that nobody wanted to play for. You got other teams' castoffs. Now, I think they're a team that has players that other teams covet. I think that's a big, big change as to what this team is all about. So there is more talent. There definitely is a buying in to the idea that they playoff draught that has been as long as this franchise has been around, since 2002, has got to end.

Nick Scurfield: There's a lot of optimism about the playoffs in the city of Houston. What's the national pulse – are the Texans in that conversation?

Vic Carucci: Oh, they're definitely in that conversation. Gil Brandt and I did a show from here (last) Sunday for SIRIUS NFL Radio, and Gil has made no bones that the Texans are his pick to win the AFC South. I'm not quite there. I don't quite see that as a hands-down thing. However, I certainly see that division as competitive and I certainly believe the Texans will have something to say about who wins that division. I think they're good enough to be in the conversation.

Nick Scurfield: What do you think about the comparisons being made between the Texans and the Cardinals, an 8-8 team in 2007 that went to the Super Bowl in 2008?

{QUOTE}Vic Carucci: Well, those comparisons are OK. The Cardinals did an extraordinary thing by going from 8-8 to the Super Bowl. They had the advantage of playing in the NFC West; let's not kid ourselves about that. The NFC West allowed (9-7) to be good enough… but I don't think you count on that. I think you count on, as I've heard several players tell me since I've been in Houston, winning your division. Be good enough to do that. So is that 10 victories? Is it 11 wins? It's going to take probably more than eight to do that.

Nick Scurfield:I asked Gil Brandt these next two questions while he was here. First, Mario Williams – Gary Kubiak has said numerous times that Williams is capable of competing for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Do you see Mario as that kind of player?

Vic Carucci: Oh, without a doubt. He's a very special, dynamic player and he's already there as one of the top at his position in the league, and I think he can only get better. Having a Connor Barwin present now and the speed that he brings off that other edge is twofold. It's going to bring out the competitor in Williams and make (think), 'Hey, look, this guy's fast, this guy's dynamic off the edge, I don't want to be outdone by him,' so that's going to challenge him. Two, if it all works out the way they want it to between Barwin, between Smith, they start drawing attention their way, and that's the way it's supposed to work. Yes, one dominant end can still be dominant without help, but I think a dominant end is much more dominant when he has help somewhere else.

Nick Scurfield: Second, Andre Johnson had a great year last year, but then Larry Fitzgerald had that incredible playoff run. Who do you think is the best receiver in the NFL?
Vic Carucci: On pure numbers, you're looking at Andre Johnson and you've got to put him right there. I think it's very close. I like Andre a lot. I'd want him on my team, and I could flat-out say that he's the best and I don't know who's going to argue with me, but Larry Fitzgerald is extraordinary as well. I'm probably giving the edge to Fitzgerald only because I've seen him do certain things in certain situations where he just becomes uncoverable at the key moments (in the playoffs, Super Bowl and Pro Bowl). I've talked to guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, who many would argue that is the best corner in the league, and Asomugha, he doesn't gush too much about people, he gushed about Larry Fitzgerald and how difficult it is to cover him and to deal with his many skills and his intelligence and his feel for the game. But Andre Johnson, he's right there. How 'bout lining those two guys up and, you know, just forget about it, the other team might as well not even take the field.

Nick Scurfield: Last question. I'm putting you on the spot. If you had to make a prediction for the Texans' record or where they finish this year, what would it be?
Vic Carucci: I think they're capable of winning 10 games. I would say that's a realistic number for a team that's done this 8-8 thing year after year. So I think that in a very competitive division, 10 is realistic. I don't know that it will be good enough to win the division. I think, I would hope for their sake, it gives them a chance to win a wildcard berth, but even that's no guarantee – 11-5 did not get into the wildcard spot last year for the New England Patriots. So I'm looking at 10, and it'll put them, I think, right on the fringe of getting in. I do see a football team that's going to compete and have something to say about winning this division. Now, I want to be proven right. I want to see it actually unfold. I want to see how they handle the pressure of that opening game against the New York Jets. I want to see how they handle their divisional opponents. It's great to talk about it here in early August, but we've got to see the results.

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