The Texans last pick of the 2016 NFL Draft was a guy that missed the first six games of his final season at Clemson. Because he missed the early part of his season, D.J. Reader sort of went under the radar. Way under, as a matter of fact. But, a solid finish to his senior campaign, including a strong performance in the loss to Alabama in the National Championship contest, helped Reader get an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
In Mobile (and Fairhope too), Reader stole the show, well, as much as a defensive lineman can do. He defeated blockers against the run and pushed the pocket throughout the week v. the pass as well. He left Mobile as one of the definite winners of the week and the Texans drafted him on day three. Consequently, he's been one of the best stories, in my opinion, in this rookie class. Learning daily from veteran Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork, Reader has seen more and more opportunities on the field. Whether it's been in Wilfork's stead as Vince dealt with an injury earlier in November or right next to him to form a run stopping duo, Reader has found a way to impact this defense as a rookie.
Two plays against the Green Bay Packers epitomized how valuable Reader's been, especially so in short yardage situations. The Texans defense rose up in a big way on two short yardage stops and Reader was featured in both of them.
After the Texans fumbled the ball on their first drive, Aaron Rodgers moved the Packers down to the Texans three yard line. The Packers are typically automatic down that close to the goal line. This time? Not so much.
The Packers came out in 23 personnel - two running backs and three tight ends - as Rodgers went under center.
Reader and Wilfork were on either side of Corey Linsley, the Packers center. He was worried about making the block on Wilfork so he got a quick jump off of his snap to Rodgers. The typically sure-handed quarterback dropped the ball and tried to get a handle on it again.
The Packers left guard Lane Taylor planned to dip inside Reader and root him out of the middle to keep him from flowing to the ball carrier. But, Reader read Taylor's helmet going inside and he immediately bench pressed him backwards.
In so doing, Reader walked Taylor right back into Rodgers who was attempting to secure the loose football. But, Reader's pressure against Taylor forced Taylor to kick the ball to the right and out of the waiting hands of Rodgers.
Reader and Wilfork essentially created chaos and a pile of linemen, and a quarterback, around the loose ball. So, after Taylor bumped it with his foot, it was still loose and Reader essentially had three Packers around him as he continued to drive Taylor backwards.
Eventually, Whitney Mercilus broke free from his blocker and fell on the loose ball to keep the Packers out of the end zone.
Later in the game, the Packers faced a fourth and two at around midfield with the game tied at seven midway through the third quarter.
This time the Packers spread the Texans out a bit with no tight ends and fullback Aaron Ripkowski in the game. This time, Rodgers went into the shotgun.
The Texans stemmed, or shifted late, up front to tighten down the formation. Rodgers decided to keep the play on - an inside zone blast to Ripkowski off the left side of the formation, away from Reader on the defensive left side.
On the snap…
...rookie Ufomba Kamalu set the edge beautifully. Wilfork tied up two blockers to keep them from getting to linebacker Brian Cushing. Reader was on the backside of the play. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga needed to dig Reader out of the hole or drive him on past the hole, allowing for a cutup hole for Ripkowski to exploit.
However, Reader held his ground as the Packers tackle couldn't get the movement on the rookie he needed. Reader held strong in the hole and Ripkowski ran right into him.
He needed two yards but only Reader tackled him after only one. Turnover on downs. Four and out. Texans ball.
There's so much quality technique work on short yardage on that stop by the Texans and Reader made the play because of it.
In fact, he helped make both of those key short yardage plays and his growth as a menace in the middle for the Texans is a tremendous sign of things to come for Reader and the Texans defense.
Check out some of the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for Sunday's game against the Colts.