The Houston Texans hit their stride on special teams in the second half last season. With returning special teams players and more added through free agency and the draft, Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross can't help his optimism heading into Year 2.
"Here's a new entity, year one of players, rookies coming onto the roster, free agents that have just joined us that we're going to get to work with for the first time," Ross said. "How that puzzle is going to fit together, it's my job to get that together earlier in the season than as we did a year ago. But I'm excited for where the new launch point is. A vast majority of the guys know my terminology and what we're going to call things, so I'm excited for that."
The Texans kicking unit of Ka'imi Fairbairn, Cameron Johnston and 13-year veteran LS Jon Weeks, are all returning for a second season under Ross. Fairbairn converted a 61-yard field goal for a new career long, franchise record and NRG Stadium record on Dec. 12 against Seattle and Johnston pinned four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line in the regular season finale against Tennessee. In his first season with the Texans, Johnson pinned a franchise-record and career-high 37 punts inside the 20-yard line, finishing with the second-most punts inside the 20 in the NFL in 2021.
Tremon Smith and Desmond took over return duties last year and will both be with the team again in 2022. Smith earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his two kick returns for 121 yards (60.5 avg.) and a 98-yard touchdown at Jacksonville on Dec. 19. Smith totaled 21 kick returns on the season for 533 yards (25.4 avg.), including the first Texans kickoff return touchdown since Week 4 of the 2009 season. King, in addition to starting 12 games at defensive back, also returned seven punts for 154 yards and one kickoff for 27 yards. The Texans extended Smith last December and re-signed King in March.
"What I appreciate so much about those guys is the amount of work they're willing to put in," Ross said. "Having some sustained success is the goal. Having guys with experience in our system, hopefully we're able to, as a team, take step two in this season."
The Texans began their offseason workouts on Monday at NRG Stadium. Right now, Ross says the goal is to work on injury prevention, proper training, fundamentals and technique with game-planning still months away.
"That's kind of the day one priority progression from the special teams phase perspective of how we're going to grow our athletes and our team to be able to play in space and physically handle that workload as we get into OTAs and then training camp, ready to go at that point," Ross said. "So really, that's our focus, developing the progression from all the fundamentals standpoint."