The Texans have named Derek Newton their starting right tackle, ending a five-month long competition between Newton and Rashad Butler.
Newton, a seventh-round draft pick out of Arkansas State in 2011, won the job over the more experienced Butler, who has been with the Texans since 2007. Coach Gary Kubiak said there will not be a time-share between the two players, meaning the job is Newton's and Newton's alone.
"Looking at the body of work, I think it was very, very close, as I told y'all all along," Kubiak said on Monday afternoon. "I think the thing that has moved this toward Newton is watching his progress, watching where he was the end of last year going to the offseason, going through camp, watching him get better and better and better. (He's a) young player that we think's ascending."
Newton started at New Orleans on Saturday in the Texans' third preseason game, the most important game for starters before the regular season. He also started a week earlier against San Francisco. Butler started the preseason opener at Carolina. The two players have split reps equally in every game and practice this offseason.
Texans coaches love Newton's athleticism. They say he has a quick first step and an almost rare ability to bend, be flexible and win leverage. Newton (6-5, 318) ran a 5.01 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine with a 1.71-second split in the first 10 yards.
"I hope that we have no idea what (his) ceiling is," Kubiak said. "We watch him play each week and we just see things that give him a chance to be a great player, not just a good player. We've got to get it consistent and those type of things, but if that was the case, he'd have already been there. It just comes to a point where you say, 'Hey, we're going to work him through this stuff and he's the best guy for us, and I really like his commitment to what we're doing.' I think he's ready to go do it, but he's got to hold his end of the bargain."
Newton, 24, was all smiles when he met with the media on Monday at Reliant Stadium.
"Coming from Arkansas State to starting my second year in the league, it's a big thing," he said. "When Kubs told me about it, I was excited. I could've jumped up for joy, but I just kept my composure and was happy that he told me. I'm just ready to help the team out."
When the Texans drafted Newton, they described him as somewhat of a project – raw but with tremendous upside. Newton played only two years of football in high school in Utica, Miss. (population 820). He went to Hinds Community College in Jackson, Miss., before enrolling at Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference.
Newton became the Texans' swing tackle as a rookie after Butler suffered a season-ending triceps injury last September. Now, he replaces Newton Eric Winston, who started 87 consecutive games at right tackle before he Texans released him this offseason.
"This is a big opportunity for me coming from a small school, two years in high school," Newton said. "Coming from a small town, not many people make it, but it's a grind. It was tough. Had a lot of friends, a lot of family support back home, and they helped me get through it."
Butler, 29, will be an invaluable backup for the Texans at left and right tackle. He started four games at left tackle for Duane Brown in 2010 and has been the team's backup swing tackle since 2009.
Newton said Butler was "very helpful" to him this offseason despite their ongoing competition.
"I've got a lot of respect for Rashad; he's played some good football for us, and it was a good battle," Kubiak said. "I had a good talk with him;I actually talked with him before I talked to Newton this morning. He's a team player. He'll do whatever he has to do and, like I told him, he better be ready to go because you never know what's going to happen. We've got a lot of confidence that if for some reason we think Newton needs to be spelled or something, we don't have any problem because Butler's played a lot of football for us. Tough conversation with him, but he handled it like a pro and moved forward."