*EDITOR'S NOTE: Texans fan Alan J. Burge will continue to write a "Voice of the Fan" column throughout the 2005 season. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.
**One Big Question – and a lot of little ones
Since we have beaten to death the questions of whether the Texans offensive line can protect David Carr this season and whether the tweaks to the passing game and protections will prove fruitful, let's take a less trodden path and probe what's likely even a bigger question on the other side of the line.
A good start to the season is paramount for the Texans. Repeating last season's 0-2 start isn't going to cut it. So I ask you: will the defense be able to gel quickly enough to start strong despite having different starters at four positions?
Linebacker play will be the key to a fast start by the Texans this season. There will be no time to "spin up" while other units on the team carry their load. The linebacker corps needs to figure everything out in preseason and hit the ground running against the Bills in Week 1. If they don't, their reward is an even tougher assignment in Week 2 against the Steelers and a bye week in Week 3 to think about it all before heading out on the road to Cincinnati to face a much improved Bengals team.
Antwan Peek will replace Kailee Wong at the right outside linebacker spot. Peek has to prove that he's a three-down player and that he can be disciplined enough to avoid mistakes and prevent teams from victimizing him due to his aggressiveness. Peek has been a playmaker, no doubt, but there's a difference in playing all three downs and being a third-down specialist. Pacing himself will be important and Antwan may have a hard time doing that since he has one speed – wide open. Peek has put on some extra weight this off-season and he says it hasn't hurt his quickness so let's hope he's in top condition and ready for the long season. Conditioning is only half the battle since improving his game on first and second down will also be a major goal for Peek this preseason.
Can Kailee Wong make the transition back to the middle? Wong has played only sparingly inside since coming over from Minnesota but he should prove to be an upgrade over Jay Foreman as the defensive signal caller and Buc linebacker. Wong had a good year at right outside spot in 2004 but flat out speed is not his forte. That makes his move to the middle just what the doctor ordered at this point in his career. Wong is a smart and experienced player who will be expected to emerge as a leader on the defense this season. The question again is what level of readiness and chemistry will be there on Week 1 and Week 2? Four preseason games will give Wong some time to get comfortable in his new role but those games won't be representative of the speed and game planning that defenses will see once the regular season starts.
Morlon Greenwood, aka "Ultimate," emerged as a legitimate NFL starter in 2004 logging impressive tackle numbers for the Dolphins. Greenwood may be the x-factor in all of this speculation since he's the unknown commodity and has the most to prove, at least to Texans fans. Greenwood is unheralded but Texans coaches have seen him up close in preseason and regular season games and apparently they like what they see. The coaches like his speed which is something that Jamie Sharper was lacking, and they don't seem concerned about his small stature which is better suited for his role of playing chase rather than plugging holes.
Finally, can Phillip Buchanon hit the ground running and make Texans fans forget about Aaron Glenn? We'll probably never forget about Aaron but I think PB can step in and perform at a high level even though we may be in for an interesting ride. Buchanon fell out of favor with his coaches and management at Oakland when he openly criticized the organization and asked to be traded. There's definitely contrasting styles between "Showtime" and his friend and fellow 'Cane Andre Johnson. One of many things to watch at training camp will be the interaction between Texans defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, and our new No. 31. The Texans traded for Buchanon at the perfect time. He has two years remaining on his rookie contract and he is determined to play well in order to command the really big bucks when or before his contract expires. Inconsistent play has been his trademark at Oakland where it seemed that every good play he made was offset by two or three really bad ones. Buchanon's former teammate Tim Brown may have summed it up the best when he said "Phillip giveth and Phillip taketh away."
The success of the Texans defense will depend largely on these four and how soon they are able to get comfortable in their new roles.
You can email Alan Burge at: firstname.lastname@example.org