In this second part of our series looking at the Texans Rookie minicamp, I’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball. Let me preface all the comments with this quick story.
When I was a freshman in college, we had a massive, hulking veteran running back on the roster. Suffice it to say on first glance, I was a bit intimidated. Let’s be honest, I hit anything that moved and thinking about hitting him shook me just a bit. When I made a comment to one of the seniors on the team, without missing a beat, he said “looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane”. I thought it was sort of a mean assessment.
Until the pads went on three days later.
It was at that particular point that I understood the true value of a player wearing pads or without. He ran upright, slow and scared. He wasn’t the hammer I thought originally he was. Instead, he wore a bullseye as a target.
It's difficult to gauge the full value of the defensive rookies until we see them put the pads on against the veterans. The most telling aspect of a defensive player is how violent he is, gory though that may be to say. But that doesn’t mean that certain rookies didn’t make their presences known over the weekend.
Here’s a look at a few standouts on the defensive side of the ball.
Just as on offense, the Texans signed a defensive player after his tryout over the weekend, Julius Warmsley of Tulane. Whether by design or not, Warmsley came to a great situation in Houston with only a handful of bodies on the defensive line. It certainly helped his case that Louis Nix III traveled back to Notre Dame for his graduation and Alabama DE Jeoffrey Pagan missed practice with an injury. As such, Warmsley got a lion's share of the instruction from DL coach Bill Kollar. He impressed enough to sign a deal and compete further.
Other than Jadeveon Clowney, the linebacker that made the most significant impression on everyone in and around the Texans’ facility last weekend was former Michigan State ILB Max Bullough. Each and every year, there’s a handful of players that don’t get drafted and it makes no sense why they weren’t selected. In 2014, it was two guys, both inside linebackers. One was former Stanford All-American Shayne Skov who signed with San Francisco and the other was Bullough. I can’t argue with any of the ten selections the Texans made in this draft but they were unable to address the inside linebacker position over those three days. But by signing Bullough they got an eleventh draft pick, to be honest.
That said, I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse and tell you he’s an All-Pro in the making, a la Arian Foster.
But Bullough can play.
He has a designated skill set as a B-gap to B-gap run-plugging linebacker on first and second down, at worst. Maybe he’s only a first down player, but throw in special teams and Bullough has a great shot of making an impact on this team from day one. He was a co-captain at Michigan State and was the unquestioned leader on the best defense in the country. He doesn’t run like the wind and that’s probably what kept him from being drafted. But he’s a coach’s son, he’s tough as nails and he chose Houston because of the opportunity on the inside. He did the right thing.
The other linebacker’s name that I heard, literally, more often than not, during the weekend was former Nebraska star defensive end Jason Ankrah. I can’t tell you how many times I heard linebackers coach Mike Vrabel say “good job, Jason” over the two days of practice. He’s a former defensive end transitioning to outside linebacker and that move won’t be easy. But he’s a stout 262 pounds and will be solid against the run. Again, there’s opportunity to make this team at outside linebacker and of course, contribute on special teams.
As a former member of the secondary and a member of the fraternity, if you will…c’mon, I DID play in the secondary. Either way, I was most excited about a trio of players in the back end. Safety Lonnie Ballentine of Memphis and cornerback Andre Hal of Vanderbilt were drafted in the seventh round and we’ve discussed them plenty at this point.
But the third player I was stoked to see in Houston was former North Dakota State star Marcus Williams. The Bison were clearly the best team in FCS for the past three years and would probably have made a bowl game if they played in the Big 12. As such, Williams was a big factor in that success. Teams learned through his first three years as a starter to not throw at him or pay the price. Unfortunately, Kansas State tested him early in his senior year and he picked off Kansas State’s Jake Waters in the team’s opening night upset in Manhattan.
I spoke with him a bit before Friday’s practice and got the sense that he was motivated by the draft slight, yet honored that Houston made the call. As with Bullough and Ankrah, his decision to sign in Houston was made due to the opportunity. Williams won’t unseat Kareem Jackson or Jonathan Joseph and he’ll have to fight to make the roster, but there isn’t much proven depth behind the starting duo. The addition of Hal and Williams to the cornerback corps will make for interesting camp watching in a few weeks and months.