Late last summer, we got the news that we'd all be traveling to Denver for a week of practice with the Denver Broncos. Thoughts just flooded my brain about what, and who, we'd see that week.
Welkah...well, if you're from Boston like the Texans head coach, Welker, if you're from any other part of the country.
Then, it hit me, oh man, that means…
DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
The Broncos signed Ware in the 2014 off-season and Miller was fully recuperated from his ACL injury in 2013. Many thought that Ware and Miller made up the best pass rush duo in the NFL.
Of course, as my brain was playing stream of consciousness games, the image of those two against Texans right tackle Derek Newton popped into my head.
The former Arkansas State product was coming off of a rough 2013 season, but during OTAs and early training camp he looked like a new man. And, a new tackle. He moved quickly, slid laterally well and showed some pop and power.
That week in Denver was the week I knew Derek Newton was ready to be the rock on the right side opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. It really only took one snap on the first day.
Within the first hour of the very first practice, the Broncos pass rushers and the Texans offensive linemen settled in for the best part of training camp - pass rush one-on-ones. Ware lined up over Brown for the first rep, so I knew that Miller was due to face Newton on the other side. We had seen an improved and more confident Newton to this point, but stopping, or slowing, the former Aggie seemed like a confidence killer waiting to happen.
That was until Newton stoned the Bronco Pro Bowler.
Miller burst off the ball and threw a quick, explosive inside spin move on Newton. The Texans anchored and as Miller spun back around he locked on Miller. Newton completely stoned him on the spot and ended the rep with Miller going nowhere.
My first reaction was to run on the field and congratulate him, you know the former coach in me wanting to come out of my skin. But, I figured it was best to just take a mental note of that moment and hope that Newton would build on it.
He did throughout the year and, in the process, established himself as a foundation piece in the Houston Texans offensive line for the foreseeable future. His re-signing indicates how much the Texans brass believed that to be true as well. He became one of the best run blocking tackles in the NFL, no matter the scheme. At Indianapolis, six of the first seven runs went right behind Newton and RG Brandon Brooks.
One of those runs was the Texans wham power play, one of my favorite in this run game arsenal. The week prior, the Texans hit Jacksonville with this play numerous times, so Indianapolis knew it would see much of the same. Newton had the key block as it was imperative that he not allow Shaun Phillips an inside lane to muck up the wham block by tight end Ryan Griffin.
On the snap, Newton anchored his inside foot to ensure that Phillips couldn't take an inside path to beat him.
Anticipating that Phillips would take a wide path, Newton planned to take his left arm and "club" Phillips well past the hole, using Phillips momentum against him.
But, Phillips recognized the play and started on a path to close the hole down. He engaged with Newton to cut down the inside space. Newton adjusted his feet quickly and squared up on the Colt OLB.
Phillips then used his stab move (one arm thrust like stabbing someone to create separation - hence the name stab move). But, Newton wasn't phased and answered back as Phillips attempted to move Newton back into the hole.
Newton extended his left arm with his own stab move on the lightning quick Phillips and drove him well out of the hole. Running back Alfred Blue scraped Newton's backside as he powered through for a six yard gain.
The following week against the Ravens, Newton was given an even bigger challenge. When RG Brooks went down with a sprained ankle, Newton bumped over to right guard.
His first play was a lead zone out of 12 personnel to the left side. Even though the play was designed to the left, it gave Newton a tough block against the Ravens odd front. As he was uncovered, Newton would either help on the nose with the center or move up to the second level and block a linebacker. If the nose 'disappeared', he had to get on his horse and run to cut off the backside linebacker's pursuit.
As expected, the nose tackle worked hard across Chris Myers' nose, which told Newton he needed to get up to the second level and block LB Daryl Smith. Newton got there in a hurry and locked on.
He had Smith on skates and, well…
...put Smith on his wallet six yards downfield.
It was a banner year for Newton on many different levels. He was healthy. He was confident. He showed his versatility, his power and his quickness in many different ways throughout the year. His pass protection still needs some work, but the progress he made in 2014 against some stout pass rushers showed that he's capable of being a quality pass protector in the future.
The good news is that we'll be able to see that future progress in a Texans' jersey for a while.
The Texans signed Derek Newton on Monday.