Jeff Zgonina as Rescue Hero and Other Texans Defensive Line Observations
So, I go to Texans training camp the other day, and watched a lot of the Texans defensive line, particularly when they were going through 1 on 1 drills. Free agent veteran Jeff Zgonina (pronounced ska-KNEE-na) stood out mostly because of his distinctive physical features. He looks impossibly squared off and surreal, like a how a football player would look as envisioned by Japanese anime artist. His legs, even standing next to other large peoples, look impossibly thick.
This, of course, doesn't tell you squat about how the defensive line is going to play, I just thought it was a mildly amusing observation. I have to say though, most breathless dissection of training camp performance by fans and journalists really doesn't tell you squat. Especially this early in camp.
As I alluded to in a previous entry, a number of national news media sorts make the assumption that Travis Johnson will be the starting defensive tackle for the Texans. I guess they make that assumption because he was drafted in the first round, and if you are going to spend first round money for Mario Williams, Amobi Okoye, and Travis Johnson, you will be starting all of them and hoping you get first round results.
Well, if you check out this article from the HoustonTexans.com website, the coaching staff is planning on starting Anthony Maddox at defensive tackle, not Travis Johnson. Maddox was released from the Jaguars last season, put on the practice squad by the Texans, and eventually got significant playing time when the starting defensive tackles went down due to injury. If you care about such things, Maddox looked surprisingly explosive compared to others at least the day I was out at camp.
One of the interesting things about the HT article is who mentored Maddox: Jaguar Pro Bowlers Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
Who mentored Travis Johnson? Gary Walker and Robaire Smith, two guys whose current significant contribution is helping make the Texans the #1 dead cap team in the league. (Seth Payne is also a big dead cap figure, but at least he had a reputation for being a hard worker and playing to his potential before injuries caught up to him).
Gary Kubiak is trying to make the Texans a team that is hard to make and practices with effort. That it doesn't matter what round you were drafted or where you came from. Travis Johnson was a highly thought of recruit coming into college and was drafted in the first round by the Texans. Anthony Maddox was recruited to play for Florida State, didn't qualify academically, spent three years in the middle of his schooling delivering furniture, and then was drafted by the Jaguars after he had a great season with Delta State. Travis Johnson was a bit in the doghouse last preseason due to his conditioning and effort, and Anthony Maddox played like a guy who remembers what it is like worrying about paying your bills each month. So, at least for now, Maddox is penciled in as a starting defensive tackle.
In various media reports, I keep hearing how much defensive line will be a strength of the team. Though I am optimistic for the future, what I see are some talented young inexperienced players, some players perhaps more suitable for the 3-4 and an oldish guy who looks like a Rescue Hero action figure. (Very early reports say that the first team defensive line is looking good, or meaning, the first team offensive line looking bad).
I'm not trying to be overly negative about this group, rather I'm just trying to temper expectations a bit. I'd call it "being realistic" but usually that is code for, I'm right and you're wrong so that's not what I want to say. I really have no idea how the line is going to play with the addition of Okoye and new defensive line coaching, but usually I don't have high expectations for very young defensive lines no matter how much they are being paid. What are your thoughts and expectations for the defensive line?
Photo credits: Andy Martin, TexansBullPen.com (training camp pictures), Getty Images (Zgonina headshot), FanHouse (Rescue Heroes).