The Texans offensive line will look different in 2021 than it did in 2020. Interior offensive linemen Nick Martin and Zach Fulton accounted for 32 starts last year while Senio Kelemete accounted for five starts; those three are gone from the 2021 roster. Consequently, there are nine new players that GM Nick Caserio added to the roster alongside the Texans two starting tackles in 2020 - Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard. There's plenty of talent on this offensive line, if fully healthy of course, so it's time to put the puzzle pieces together to come up with the best group of five for the 2021 season.
Let's take a look at the Texans offensive line crew, how it was built and tasks needed to succeed in 2021.
Drafted/Undrafted college free agents
Tytus Howard (1st round, 2019 - Started 14 games (played 14 games) in 2020
Max Scharping (2nd round, 2019) - Started eight games of the 15 games he played in 2020
Charlie Heck (4th round, 2020) - Played three games and started one in 2020 as a rookie
Carson Green (UDFA, 2021) - Started at right tackle for Texas A&M in 2020
Ryan McCollum (UDFA, 2021) - Started at center for Texas A&M in 2020
Acquired in a trade
Laremy Tunsil (2019) - Started 14 games in his second Pro Bowl season in Houston
Marcus Cannon (2021) - Opted out due to COVID in 2020, started 15 games in 2019
Claimed on waivers
Roderick Johnson (2018) - Started three games in 2020, played in 12
Hjalte Froholdt (2020) - Played eight games in New England before being claimed in Houston
Acquired as a street free agent or unrestricted free agent
Justin Britt (2021) - Missed 2020 rehabbing an injury suffered in 2019 (Seahawks)
Justin McCray (2021) - Played in ten games, starting two, in Atlanta (Falcons)
Cole Toner (2021) - Played in ten games, starting three in Los Angeles (Chargers)
Lane Taylor (2021) - Nine year veteran, started one game in 2020 (Packers)
Jordan Steckler (2021) - Spent 2020 on practice squad (Patriots)
Geron Christian (2021) - Started six games for Washington in 2020 (WFT)
Things that need to improve in 2021
1. Run game movement - Going back and re-watching games from the 2020 season, the offensive front struggled moving enough dudes off the line of scrimmage or plain winning their individual matchups. The various offensive line combinations weren't able to get much movement up front for running backs until the final two or three weeks of the season. Against Cincinnati, the Texans piled up 166 yards on the ground, but that was far from the norm as the Texans hit the 100 yard mark just five times as a team. Compare last year's game average output to the previous four years of rushing production.
2020 - 91.6 ypg
2019 - 125.6 ypg
2018 - 126.3 ypg
2017 - 115.2 ypg
2016 - 116.2 ypg
Keep in mind, in 2020, Texans' opponents AVERAGED 68.7 ypg more than the Texans run game. Alas, there are two things at work in that comparison and we discussed the defense's unfortunate contribution to that statistical disaster last week. Now, am I expecting, or hoping, the Texans to lead the league in rushing? No. Am I saying that they should buck "the NFL is a passing league" trend by becoming a dominant running team? No. However, what I am advocating for is a relatively successful run game that can take pressure off nearly every other phase of the game, which is certainly needed for TEAM success.
2. Communication and execution - Having gone back to watch multiple games from last year, combined with seeing every game up close, there were TOO many situations when a defense rushed four (or less) and got pressure on Deshaun Watson. That just can't happen, regardless of whether the defense brilliantly schemed up a way to get to the quarterback or not. This goes back to communication and execution and that does include tight ends and running backs as well. Too often, I saw a handful of Texans pass protectors trying to do too much, covering for other guys that didn't need it, leaving some without it.
3. Figure out the fit - With NINE new offensive linemen heading into training camp and two full-time starters no longer here from 2020, it's going to take a bit of time to settle on the front five. Finding that FIT is hugely important going forward but I will say I really like the pieces and the depth. It's just a matter of finding out the right fit for that quintet and how quickly that can happen.
4. Tytus Howard taking THAT step - Let me be clear, I think Tytus has been successful in his two seasons for the Texans. He's had tremendous games against some really strong pass rushers and there's potential for days. But, even he would tell you, if he can stay healthy for a full season, there's no question that he can be a guy the Texans rely on for years in this league. I second that thought and I'm looking forward to seeing a healthy Tytus go to a new level in year three. Oh by the way, the one player that I was so reminded of when I first saw Tytus truly came into his own in his third year. Some guy named Duane Brown.
5. Offensive line coach James Campen - I just have a hunch that Campen will be the right piece as the leader of this offensive line group. It's important to project his expected positive influence in 2021 on this group.
The offensive line resides in a bit of an odd space. The starting five is far from settled, but I really like the depth on this offensive line for the first time in while. It's probably the one area I'll watch most in training camp as we move ever so close to the September 12th opener against Jacksonville.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.