After signing his contract, Derek Newton smiled brightly at the media gathered in the lobby of NRG Stadium. He wasn't used to all this attention, being one of the quieter players on the team, but it was day that the starting right tackle would always remember.
"It feels great," Newton said. "I'm just happy to remain in Houston and it's great for me and my family. It's a great feeling."
Newton (6-6, 313), who braved through heat and criticism during his first three years as a Texan, finished his rookie contract with a solid season under head coach Bill O'Brien and became one of Houston's offseason priorities to re-sign. What was the reason for crossing that final hurdle in 2014? A better fit in a new system? Another year of experience? Health?
General manager and executive vice president Rick Smith believes it's a combination of factors, but the biggest key to success for Newton was his work ethic.
"He's a guy that works extremely hard," Smith said to Texans Radio last month. "He's put in the work to improve, had a little bit of an injury issue that he dealt with last year that affected him a little bit. And so, he was healthy this year. I think it's a combination of things that when you look at a guy, look at his whole body of work, you say the guy's improved and you're proud of him and you want to keep him. And hopefully, you continue to do that."
Head coach Bill O'Brien echoed the same sentiments when he was asked about Newton at the end of the season. Despite the criticism surrounding Newton in 2013, O'Brien formed his own opinion and was pleased with what he saw on film.
"I will tell you on offense, when I got here, first day I got here, all I heard about was Derek Newton and the way that Derek Newton played and all this," O'Brien said on December 29. "When you look at the tape, Derek Newton put a lot of work into this season and he played well. 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 admits there were days when he thought he may not get the new contract, especially when he struggled in his early years. He remained optimistic, especially with the help of his mother.
"I was talking to her every day and she would never let me get down," Newton said. "She would always keep me motivated. Going into my last year, I just had to put in the work. I did that and Rick (Smith) and Bob (McNair) rewarded me for it. Congrats to those guys and I'm ready to get back to work."
Now under contract, Newton will get a chance to build on his success. Still, he was modest when it came to talking about how hard he'd worked and the hardships he faced early in his career.
"It's great," Newtons said of his new contract. "I still have a lot of room for improvement and a lot of things to learn. I'm just ready to get it on the road."
The terms of Newton's contract were not disclosed by the Texans. Newton has appeared in 60 games with the Texans after being selected in the 7th round (214th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Arkansas State including starting the last 46 games he's appeared in at right tackle. In his four NFL seasons, the Utica, Miss. native has blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers in his career.