2014 was a transformational year for Derek Newton.
The right tackle made a enormous leap in the past 365 days, so much so that Texans head coach Bill O'Brien singled out his performance during his Monday press conference.
"First day I got here, all I heard about was Derek Newton and the way that Derek Newton played and all this," head coach Bill O'Brien said on Monday.
And O'Brien hadn't heard great things. This time a year ago, the chatter among fans and media speculating that David Quessenberry would unseat Newton as the starter. The latter had started at the position since the beginning of 2012. The former was a 2013 draftee, who suffered a leg injury in the preseason. Quessenberry was on the rise, and some wanted to see what the new guy could do.
But O'Brien and the new coaching staff preached the value of competition. They were also keen on the idea of a 'clean slate'. Everyone on the roster, in their eyes, was back at square one and on equal footing for playing time.
"When you look at the tape, Derek Newton put a lot of work into this season and he played well," O'Brien said. "He played consistent."
While O'Brien acknowledged Newton wasn't "always perfect", the head coach was pleased with the way the fourth-year pro performed. And the former Arkansas State lineman said the formula for success was a fairly simple, and timeless one.
"It is all about working hard," Newton said. "I was able to play this year and not worry a lot. I had a lot of help from my teammates, helping me play and kept reminding me to take it one play at a time. With that it turned out to be a good year for me."
Center Chris Myers termed Newton's growth in 2014 as "unbelievable", and was proud of the way he matured.
"The media and the fans kind of last couple seasons were on him," Myers said. "He maybe used it for motivation in himself, but I always knew it. He's a tremendous athlete. It was just a matter of time before he came into his own."
But Newton came into his own and is now an unrestricted free agent.
"That's a guy that we would look forward to working with in the future," O'Brien said.
Newton himself said he'd like to remain with the Texans, too.
"I want to stay here, of course," Newton said. "At the end of the day I understand that it is a business. Things might not go how I planned but hopefully I will stay here in Houston."
Newton is one of a dozen-plus free agents the Texans will have to make decisions on this offseason.