When the Houston Texans signed Michael Thomas in free agency, the veteran safety knew he would be also contributing on special teams. After two weeks of padded practices in training camp and one scrimmage, Thomas has been impressed with what he's seen so far.
"This is by far the most talented special teams unit I've ever been a part of," Thomas said Sunday. "I've been a part of some units that have done great things in the NFL, been number one in a couple units, but not as great in some other ones. When I look at this unit I just think about the guys I'm going to be lining up next to and what they've already accomplished, and most of them are super young."
After playing in 88 games with both the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants, Thomas is now playing alongside returning special teams players like A.J. Moore, Keion Crossen and Buddy Howell who were key contributors on special teams last year too. Moore led the Texans and finished sixth in the NFL with 12 special teams tackles during 2019. Last season, the Texans special teams coverage unit allowed just 3.4 yards per punt return, the lowest in the NFL and averaged just 18.6 yards per kickoff return, second-best in the NFL.
"If you have eight to 10 core special teams players and with a great kicker and a great punter, you can really play good field position football and that's part of this game," head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien said. "You've got to win the field position battle I believe."
Tracy Smith is taking over as special teams coordinator following Brad Seely's offseason retirement after three years at the position. Smith has been part of the Texans coaching staff since his arrival with Seely in 2018 and brings 12 years of NFL experience. In recent years, the Texans have invested in key players to their special teams unit and have steadily improved their field position in games. Wide receiver DeAndre Carter finished third in the NFL in punt return average, gaining 9.7 yards per returns, while punter Bryan Anger finished second in the NFL in net punting average of 44.5 yards in 2019.
"I don't want to make predictions like Bill O'Brien said, but I definitely have high expectations for this unit," Thomas said. "I want us to perform at a very high level and I know we've got a lot of guys that take pride in trying to be the best. Not just going out there playing at a high level, but trying to be the best. The best in our division. The best in the league. The best unit every single time we take the field against any other team. The best unit for that night. So, I mean, that's the expectation. That's who we are, and I love it. I'm finally at a point again in my career where I feel like I have to go earn my stripes again and go prove myself because these dudes perform at such a high level."