The Texans linebacker group returns four players that accounted for nearly 93% of the defensive snaps in 2021. But, that didn't stop Nick Caserio and Lovie Smith from bolstering that unit in the offseason. They re-signed Tae Davis, traded for Blake Cashman and signed one of my Harris 100 Crushes from years gone by - Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Then, on draft weekend, Caserio moved around the Draft board to ensure the opportunity to draft a rookie LB from Alabama, via Baton Rouge, LA. So, a mix of vets from here and there and a trio of young dudes added to the mix should make for interesting competition throughout training camp and preseason games in 2022. Here's my Position Breakdown for the Texans linebackers heading into phase three of the offseason.
Returning players from 2021 squad, in order of snaps played in 2021.
Christian Kirksey - 789 snaps at LB (68.7% of total snaps)
There was no more calming influence and more effective leader on the 2021 defense than Kirksey. I told him that I wished he had been in Houston, for those reasons, a lot earlier in his career. But, thankfully, he was there in 2021 and signed to return in 2022. Similarly to how Wu-Tang's artists believed that RZA was the Abbot for their group, the Texans defenders seemed to look at Kirksey in the same way. He was the Abbot for the Texans defense last year and could be the same as he returns to Houston for 2022. Last year, he posted 93 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one interception and six TFL.
Kamu Grugier-Hill - 777 snaps at LB (67.7% of total snaps)
Early in the 2021 training camp, it became truly obvious that KG-H should be on the field in some way, shape and/or form. I'm not sure that since I've been in the building I've seen a player have a better training camp than Kamu had in 2021 and that didn't stop once the season began. He started 14 games and posted career highs in nearly every single statistical category. Heading into the 2021 season, he had 126 career tackles, which he then nearly equaled, posting 108 in the 14 games he played last year. He doubled his career TFL number after racking up 13 during the season. He had a game changing INT against the Tennessee Titans in a massive win on the road. He was all over the place during the 2021 season and it was clear that he fit this Lovie Smith defense hand in glove. As such, it was great news when he re-signed this offseason to return for 2022.
Neville Hewitt - 324 snaps at LB (28.2% of total snaps)
The Tackling Machine with the Neck Roll returns to the Texans in 2022 and that'll give the run defense a significant boost. Hewitt started five games for the Texans last year and racked up 60 tackles in the process. He plays with impressively explosive speed and violence and when he arrives at the football, he's usually in a bad mood…which is good. Very good. Over the past three seasons, Hewitt has averaged nearly 90 tackles per season and certainly delivers messages to those in different colored jerseys.
Garret Wallow - 180 snaps at LB (15.7% of total snaps)
Wallow spent the first 10 games of the 2021 season piling up snaps and tackles on special teams. He averaged nearly 17 snaps on special teams per game, but with the logjam of veterans in front of him at linebacker, it took a while for Wallow to get any time at the LB position. But, injuries and COVID stretched the depth at every single position, including linebacker. Consequently, that, and his work on special teams, was what helped open some doors for Wallow to get time on the field on defense. He started against Jacksonville in the team's road win and was highly impressive, registering 11 tackles and one sack in the 14 point win over the Jaguars. I can't wait to see Wallow make that year one to year two jump and see what opportunities open up for him in the near future.
Kevin Pierre-Louis - 29 snaps at LB (2.5% of total snaps)
In the two seasons prior to coming to the Texans, KPL was a tackling savant for the artist formerly known as the Washington Football Team. As such, it was a frustrating season for KPL in 2021 as he struggled with injuries throughout the campaign. He was only able to play in nine games last season, but he's back to show what he can do in 2022.
Tae Davis - Injured reserve in 2021
Injuries were the story for a couple of Texans linebackers. I noted KPL above who was only able to play in a nine Texans games last year. Davis, unfortunately, was placed on injured reserve late in the preseason and that cost him the entire season. He's back and, hopefully, healthy for 2022.
2022 Veterans Additions
Jalen Reeves-Maybin - formerly of the Detroit Lions
Coming out of Tennessee for the 2017 Draft, Reeves-Maybin was one of my favorite linebacker prospects in that draft class. But, it wasn't until the 2021 season that he became a consistent starter for the Lions. He started 11 games, racking up 82 total tackles and two forced fumbles for the Lions defense. When he became available this offseason, GM Nick Caserio snapped Reeves-Maybin up to help strengthen this linebacking corps.
Blake Cashman - formerly of the New York Jets
Cashman came into the league in 2019 and, nearly immediately, showed that he could be a more than capable NFL starting LB. But, then injuries struck and slowed any progress that Cashman made early in his rookie season. Since 2019, he's only played 14 games, starting seven of those games as he struggled with those maladies. If he's healthy, Cashman can absolutely fly and that's a big part of his game. I just want to see him healthy for this team to show that what he flashed early in his career hasn't left him.
2022 Rookie Addition
Christian Harris, Alabama - 3rd Round, #75 overall
Here's my Harris 100 Scouting Report on Harris - final Harris 100 Ranking: 48
"(University Lab in Baton Rouge, LA) Before truly diving into Harris' film, I thought he was a good player but not in the class with Nakobe Dean or Devin Lloyd. Then, on National Championship night, he was arguably one of the top three defensive players in the game. I've heard that some scouts really liked Harris, but I wasn't there yet but that performance certainly made me excited to study him closer. When I did, whoa, this dude can absolutely ball and I wished I hadn't said that other part out loud. On the first play of the National Championship game against Georgia, he read bootleg immediately and took off like a shot to sack Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV for a significant loss to start the game. His anticipation and football IQ led him there, his speed got him there. That play may not have come off as being patient, but he was; he just recognized and deciphered that play that quickly. He is patient, though, in his diagnosis and doesn't just start moving one way or the other until he knows for sure. When he does, he GOES. When he doesn't, he can't get caught creeping into the LOS. He'll get pinned inside and can't provide over the top pursuit at all. He takes on blocks better than most off the ball linebackers in this, and many other, draft classes. He does get lazy/fatigued and plays standing straight up and doesn't always react to RB/TE on pass routes well, in particular. Against Florida in 2021, the Gators ran QB power RPO out of empty. Harris was the overhang player to the trips formation into the boundary. When the pulling guard popped across the formation, all 330 lb. of him, he ran right into Harris. The Crimson Tide defender wrong-armed him to spill the run to the alley-filling safety and backside run-thru LB. Now, when I say wrong-armed, I mean, Harris jacked him up, stoning him and knocking the hulking guard completely off balance. That dude just hammers people and I love it. Then, a few plays later, down on the goal line, he lined up as an edge defender, a wide 9 stand up OLB. The Gators RT stepped right to him and Harris violently snatched/yanked the big tackle right off of him. Then when the Gators RB bounced the run to the outside, Harris ran him down for a four yard loss. That was impressive as all get out."
Jake Hansen, Illinois - UDFA
Hansen was a prized player for one Lovie Smith (heard of him?) at Illinois for the first five years of Hansen's career. So, I can't say I was TOTALLY surprised to see Hansen get the call to come to Houston following his final season at Illinois in 2021. That said, I'm glad he did get the call to come start his career at Houston. The Floridian seemed to run everything down in his career, flying sideline to sideline, leading the Illini defense in numerous ways and statistical categories. Stop me (not really) if you've heard this about a Lovie Smith coached defender; Hansen led the NATION in takeaways over the final two seasons of Smith's tenure (2019-2020) in Champaign. Hansen had a combined 14 in those two years and finished second all-time at Illinois with 12 career forced fumbles, sitting only one behind the great Simeon Rice. Football excellence runs in the Hansen family too as his dad remains the all-time leading tackler in the history of BYU football.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.