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McClain: Texans eager to see their nine draft choices on the field for phase two of offseason program

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John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

Now that the Texans' draft is completed, Executive Vice President and General Manager Nick Caserio and Head Coach DeMeco Ryans can turn their attention to phase two of the offseason program that begins Monday. Caserio and Ryans will welcome their newest additions, including draft choices and undrafted free agents.

Nine players were drafted over the weekend – five on defense and four on offense – beginning with Georgia cornerback Kamari Lassiter and ending with Michigan guard LaDarius Henderson. Caserio didn't deviate from his historical approach of engineering trades, selecting players from Power Five conferences and bringing in players who were team captains in college.

"We've talked about the type of people we bring into this building," he said Saturday night. "We're always going to put a premium on [leadership. Leadership comes in different shapes and sizes. When you wear that 'C' on your chest, it's important. We don't say we have to draft captains. It's a part of the evaluation. If you're elected captain, it says something about what your teammates think of you. They're respected by their peers."

The Texans acquired a lot of players who were respected by their peers in college. Now they're ready to start earning respect from their new teammates and coaches.

Going into his fourth draft with the Texans, Caserio wasn't desperate to add starters for a team that went from worst to first in the AFC South with a 10-7 record in Ryans' first season. After a busy offseason that included trades for receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Joe Mixon and stockpiling free agents on defense, this draft was about adding talent, depth and competition.

"We're very excited about the guys we brought in," Ryans said. "Feel like all these guys are quality players that add to the depth, add to the competition of our team. We want to work with these guys. We're fired up about it.

"I'm excited to take my scouting cap off now, finally start coaching a little bit. Now we can get on the field. That's what I'm excited about, getting outside, getting some sun, coaching on the grass. I'm definitely looking forward to that moment."

Barring injuries, of course, the draft choices are expected to compete for playing time and contribute on special teams. The Texans take great pride in their special teams under coordinator Frank Ross because they've been rated as the best in the NFL in each of the last two seasons.

The Texans drafted Lassiter (second round), Notre Dame offensive tackle Blake Fisher (second), USC safety Calen Bullock (third), Ohio State tight end Cade Stover (fourth), Oregon linebacker Jamal Hill (sixth), Louisville running back Jawhar Jordan (sixth), USC defensive end Solomon Byrd (seventh), Auburn defensive tackle Marcus Harris (seventh) and Henderson (seventh).

Based on need, talent and where he was drafted, Lassiter appears to be the most likely draft choice who could start on opening day. Lassiter, 6-0, 187, played on two national championship teams for the Bulldogs.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke has a starting job available opposite Derek Stingley Jr. The competition could be fierce from veterans Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson, each of whom was signed to a one-year contract after being drafted third (Okudah) overall and ninth (Henderson) in their drafts. Both are on their third team.

Lassiter, a two-time captain for the Bulldogs, fits the mold of what Ryans and Burke want on their defense.

"Kamari provides toughness," Ryans said. "You talk about energy and the way he plays the game. He loves football. It jumps off the tape. He's a versatile player. He can play inside (or) outside. (He's) a leader, a guy who works hard. He's everything our team is about. You talk about being relentless and attacking. That's what Kamari brings."

The Texans didn't have a first-round draft choice. They traded the 23rd overall pick to Minnesota in a deal that netted them an extra second-round pick in 2025. They went into the draft wanting to improve the secondary, and they did it on Friday by selecting Lassiter and Bullock, who's 6-2, 188.

"You see his ball skills, his range in the deep half of the field," Ryans said about Bullock. "It just stood out. He's an exceptional playmaker, attacks the ball. That's what we're about on defense. That's what we're looking for him to do."

Ryans and Burke don't want to experience next season what they did in 2023 when they had to play with three of their top-four safeties – Jimmie Ward, Eric Murray and M.J. Stewart – on injured reserve for much of the season. Jalen Pitre was the only safety who was able to avoid injured reserve. Bullock should help alleviate that potential problem as a rookie.

Nobody projected the Texans to draft an offensive tackle in the second round, but they evaluated Fisher as too good to pass up. As a redshirt sophomore, Fisher, 6-6, 310, is expected to compete for playing time off the bench with veteran Charlie Heck. Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard are entrenched as starters on the left and right side.

Something evident after the draft was Caserio's enthusiasm for Stover, who played with quarterback C.J. Stroud at Ohio State. Stover, 6-4, 247, played five seasons with the Buckeyes. He went from defensive end to tight end to linebacker and back to tight end.

Growing up on a farm, Stover got a lot of attention on Saturday because of a video the NFL Network played numerous times. The video showed Stover on his family massaging a bull to help strength his hands. He's a perfect fit for the Texans in that he'll get the bull and the horns when he suits up. He'll compete behind starter Dalton Schultz.

When Caserio was asked about Stover, he showed immediate excited.

"This is probably one of our favorite players in the draft, regardless of position, because of his mentality (and) his mindset," Caserio said. "And he's still developing. Two years ago, he was playing defensive end in the Rose Bowl against Utah. Blue-collar as they come. Makeup, traits, toughness, mentality – this is an elite guy, a tough, hard-nosed player.

"Cade only played tight end for two years. He's certainly not a finished product. He has the mindset and work ethic to improve. (He's) everything you want in a football player and more. He probably played hurt last year. I think he had an MCL, an issue that would have limited some other players, but he just braced it up and kept playing."

When Caserio knew he was probably going to target Stover if the tight end was available, he checked with Stroud to see what he thought, as he did with guard Jarrett Patterson when it came to his former teammate, Fisher, with the Fighting Irish.

"They have insight, probably better insight than maybe we have," Caserio said about talking with his players about prospects. "They understand football, and they're very perceptive, so they can provide valuable insight. We'd be remiss if we didn't utilize that information. It's not the driving force, but it's helpful in the overall evaluation.

"If we have a question, maybe it's something that we go to Patterson with and say, 'Hey, we're not sure about this. What are your thoughts on this?' Ultimately, it's about the players. They're going to be sitting next to each other in this room just like they were at their alma mater. We'll utilize the information wherever it's provided and try to make good decisions with that assessment."

It's interesting to note Caserio's philosophy on his picks from the fourth through seven rounds. Lassiter, Fisher and Bullock played three years in college. Stover, Hill, Jordan, Harris and Henderson played five seasons each. Byrd played six. Having so much experience could help them in their transition into the NFL.

"They're all developmental players, but some have a lot of experience and have played more football, so maybe they're further along," Caserio said. "This is their job. Some have experience in college that says NIL to a certain extent has forced different people to have a different type of mindset.

"Maybe they've encountered some of the things they're going to encounter on a day-to-day basis when they walk into our building. You have players that are at varying levels of development. Our job is to get them to perform to their optimum level."

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