HOUSTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 11: Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
For the first time in seemingly forever, the Texans are on the right track. At least that’s the way it feels. They’ve got the right people in charge. They’ve got talent emerging here, there and everywhere.
This reconstruction of the franchise will take at least one more aggressive off-season, but there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic that pro football in Houston is about to become really fun.
And that’s the attitude I’m taking into every Texans game this season. I’m watching. I’m enjoying the heck out of it. To sum up:
1. Look for the positives, of which there’s likely to be plenty.
2. Trust the process.
3. Be patient.
I know, I know. You’ve been patient. We’ve all waited so long and gotten to the point where even a flicker of hope is portrayed as a bonfire. I get that.
The Texans are a betting favorite to have the NFL’s worst record. There’s not enough talent. There are too many questions.
Four playoff victories in 20 seasons isn’t how any of us thought things would play out, and if you think I’m going to point out the Dallas Cowboys have won that many in the last 26 seasons, you’re out of luck. We’re not that kind of petty in this part of Texas.
This is what I know: Texans CEO Cal McNair is a good man with his heart in the right place. He has been too loyal to some people he shouldn’t have been loyal to, but if that’s the worst thing that’s said about him, he can live with that.
With the hiring of Nick Caserio as general manager, he handed the keys to someone unquestionably competent and someone that has been around enough winning teams to know how to build one.
Caserio has worked breathtakingly fast to change both the talent and the culture of the Texans. If you’re inclined to criticize him, remember the mess he inherited 21 months ago.
Of the 53 players on the Texans active roster, Caserio acquired 41 of them since he arrived in January 2021. That’s a 77-percent turnover. Twenty-four of those 41 are new to the Texans in 2022—nine rookies and 15 who arrived via trade or signing.
Of the 22 players penciled into starting jobs—a moving target—18 of them are Caserio acquisitions. Only five players remain from 2019: Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, Jonathan Owens, Kaimi Fairbairn and Jon Weeks.
Offensively, this season will be about gauging the progress of second-year quarterback Davis Mills and seeing if any of the new guys emerge as offensive weapons around him.
On this opening Sunday, it’s rookie running back Dameon Pierce we’re going to be watching. He was electrifying during training camp, and as we saw during JJ Watt and Andre Johnson’s best seasons, one resplendent talent can make a team both compelling and successful.
Defensively, it’s going to be about seeing how much havoc the two rookies in the secondary—cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safety Jason Pitre—cause.
Caserio has improved the defensive line, too, but for a team that was dead last in offensive yards in 2021 and next-to-last in defensive yards, there are miles to go.
But with nine rookies on the active roster and five 23-or-under starters on offense, there’s room for growth.
Finally, there’s the head coach. Lovie Smith is competent and has a very solid track record. His record with the Bears and Bucs was 89-87 in 12 seasons, and his crowning achievement was leading the 2006 Bears to the Super Bowl.
Chicago went 5-11 in his first season, then made the playoffs three times in six seasons between 2005 and 2010. He grew up 200 miles from Houston in Big Sandy and is a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. His reputation is that of a defensive guru and one of the most decent, consistent and capable men in his field.
Lovie probably wondered if he would ever get another head coaching gig. He turned 64 this season and was seven years removed from his final season with the Bucs.
Those two seasons (8-24) didn’t go well, and because teams are always on the look out for the next new thing, it’s remarkable that Caserio grasped that Lovie Smith’s positives far outweigh whatever his negatives are.
The Texans are lucky to have him, and they’re really lucky to have Nick Caserio in charge. Hopefully, by the end of this season we’ll be saying that about Dameon Pierce, Davis Mills and a long list of others. Let’s all have fun with it. See you Sunday.