The Texans’ offensive line was a driving force behind the most successful season in franchise history in 2011, so it is no wonder why the rebuilding of the right side of the unit will grab the lion’s share of the headlines this offseason. Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler are penciled in as replacements for Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston at right guard and right tackle, respectively, though we hear rookie OG Brandon Brooks and second-year OT Derek Newton could give them a run for their money.
Perhaps lost in the O-line shuffle is the revamping of Houston’s special-teams unit, which will have fresh faces at kicker, punter and in the return game to begin the season. Veteran PK Shayne Graham was signed to compete with fifth-rounder Randy Bullock, though there is no question the Texans expect Bullock, the 2011 Lou Groza Award winner, to clamp down on the opening. Our sources in Houston indicate the Texans were hot on Bullock’s trail more than two months before the draft.
A less clear-cut competition will take place at punter, where incumbent Brett Hartmann, who is recovering from a torn ACL and will be suspended for three games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, could see his job taken by veteran free-agent acquisition Donnie Jones.
We hear Hartmann, an undrafted rookie in 2011 who fared well as both the Texans’ punter and kickoff specialist before sustaining his injury, could wind up on the PUP list to begin the season. Tack on a three-game suspension and it could be Week Nine before he can help the Texans. But because his leg strength is far superior to Jones, who struggled mightily in St. Louis last season, Hartmann can’t be ruled out of the equation.
Head coach Gary Kubiak identified fifth-round rookie Keshawn Martin and Trindon Holliday as the candidates to help replace Jacoby Jones in the return game. However, the diminutive Holliday is a dark horse because he adds very little as a receiver. The Texans have a tremendous kickoff returner in Danieal Manning, but he is unlikely to see a major role because he is deemed as too valuable in the secondary. CB Sherrick McManis and S Quintin Demps both gained experience returning kickoffs last season.