The Texans revamped their secondary this offseason with new players, a new scheme and a new mindset.
"That's what we try to instill in our players is that we're not going to make anything difficult for you," safeties coach Greg Jackson said. "We're going to try to make it as simple as possible and we're going to allow you play football."
Under defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, the Texans will switch to a base 4-3 system, after playing in a 3-4 system since 2011. A number of new defensive backs will compete for a roster spot in training camp, but experience will be a plus.
"This is a new scheme for everyone, so the new players that are here, it isn't much of a greater challenge than it would be for anyone," cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso said. "It's a new scheme and a learning curve for everyone involved. As we talk about the experience of Bradley Roby, a guy that has played a lot of football in his career, experience is something you can't teach, obviously. Then Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves (III) are guys that have played over 1,000 snaps last season. Excited about the experience at the top and then we have a bunch of young players that are athletic and have played some football in their careers as well."
Returning starters Justin Reid and Lonnie Johnson will also benefit from a new system this season. Johnson, who switched to safety in 2020, saw action in all 16 games and started five of the final six games of the season. Reid started 13 games before a season-ending injury landed him on the Reserve/Injured list. Jackson believes a simpler scheme will allow the back end to play fast and instinctively.
"The coaching staff, I'm excited about the schemes," Reid said. "Coach Greg Jackson, he actually coached my brother (Eric Reid) back in San Francisco so I have a little bit of a prior relationship with him and I like him a lot. I'm just excited. It's an opportunity for us to turn the chapter and move forward."
The Texans backfield also has returning players in A.J. Moore, Keion Crossen, John Reid, Eric Murray, Cornell Armstrong and Jonathan Owens.
Moore battled injuries last season, but returned off the Reserve/Injured in Week 10 after missing five games. Signed by the Texans in 2018, Moore worked his way from special teams to starting role on defense. In 2020, he set career highs in total tackles (31), sacks (1.0), quarterback hits (two), passes defensed (one) and forced fumbles (one) in 11 games (five starts).
Six players were added as free agents, including Mitchell and Terrence Brooks, who both are entering their eighth NFL season. Desmond King played three seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers (2017-2019) before being traded to the Tennessee Titans midway through the 2020 season. King earned AP First-Team All Pro honors as a defensive back for his 2018 campaign when he recorded 61 total tackles (46 solo), three interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, 10 passes defensed, four tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 16 games with eight starts.
"Desmond has played inside," Vasso said. "He's going to play a little bit inside for us as well, then he's played on the back end as well. Versatile player that we're going to use appropriately. Terrance Mitchell in the same regard. He's played a lot of football in his career. He's played inside, he's played outside. He's tough, he's instinctive. Again, someone that we're going to use appropriately."
The Texans look to improve their passing defense, but more work lies ahead with training camp around the corner.
"The challenge isn't turning this thing around in one day," Vasso said. "It's about improving every day incrementally and winning the day. That's the short-term mindset that we've had going into this offseason."