The Texans signed free agent kicker Shayne Graham on Tuesday.
Graham (6-0, 214), an 11-year veteran, has played in 12 games with four different teams over the past two seasons. He will provide competition for rookie kicker , a fifth-round draft pick from Texas AM.
Graham, 34, has made 85.9 percent (214-of-249) of his career field goals, which makes him the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history. He has made 92.5 percent (149-of-161) of field goals from inside 40 yards, 80 percent (56-of-70) from 40-49 yards and 50 percent (9-of-18) from 50-plus.
The Texans are Graham’s 11th NFL team and seventh since 2010. He had stints with the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in 2011. He was with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-09, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2005.
Since leaving the Bengals before the 2010 season, Graham has made 18-of-19 field goals (94.7 percent). He has not attempted a 50-yarder since 2009.
The Texans’ draft board is set. All that remains is seeing how the chips fall beginning on
Thursday with the first round, where the Texans have the 26th pick, and executing their plan.
At his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, general manager Rick Smith applauded the work done by the Texans’ scouting and coaching staffs during draft preparations.
“This is such a subjective process, what we try to do is do as much as we can do to put ourselves in positions to make good decisions,” Smith said. “Our processes are in place now and I feel so good about them, and I think longevity helps us because we’ve got people who have worked with us in the system long enough that I just really feel good about where we are and how we’ve stacked this board and just the process.
“So the culmination, obviously, of a lot of work over the last year, I think we can fully expect that it will be a very successful weekend for us. I’m thankful to the guys who have put in all the work and I think we’ve vetted this board about as thoroughly as we’ve vetted a board, and I feel very prepared as a group going in.
“We’ve met this morning to go over scenarios and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow, but really, the work’s done. The board is set. We’re excited about adding some players that will come in and hopefully impact our football team.”
Smith said the Texans “took a significant step” toward their goal of winning a Super Bowl last season. They went 10-6 and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Baltimore Ravens on the road in narrow fashion.
Every first-round pick in Texans history has started as a rookie, but that could change in 2012.
“We are coming into the draft where we feel like we have a good football team and there are no glaring needs,” Smith said. “Certainly, we feel like we’re in that position, but I still think you have to look for impact players. Maybe the early contribution won’t be as significant for some of them, but you still want to go out and find the best players available that fit your system and speak to some kind of need on your football team or can make some kind of contribution to your football team.”
So what are the Texans’ needs heading into the draft?
“If you look across our football team, the first thing I think you would think about [is] on the offensive line, losing a couple starters, via free agency in one case [right guard Mike Brisiel] and then a termination in another case [right tackle Eric Winston], but we’ve got to look at the offensive line group,” Smith said. “I’ve said at the Combine earlier that I think we can probably help ourselves at the wide receiver position with maybe adding some youth and adding some speed there, and then depth in the linebacker corps. You can always add pass rushers. You can always add corners; I’ve always said that.
“We’ll do what we always do. We’ll stay true to our board. We’ve assessed a value that we think these players have at their particular positions, and the way that it falls is the way that we’ll pick them.”
Smith declined to discuss specific draft prospects, as he does every year. He did say on Tuesday that there is depth in this draft at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker.
Smith also said the Texans are further along in their evaluation of 3-4 defensive prospects from last year, when they switched from evaluating 4-3 players in the middle of the scouting season after Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator.
“One thing about this defense is you need linebackers,” he said. “You need depth at linebacker. You need as many guys as you can find that can rush the passer that are athletic. It helps you on special teams. I do believe that our special teams units were improved last year, and part of that is a function of a 3-4 defense. We’ll continue to bolster those groups and continue to try to find players that fit that system and can come in and help us.”
Going back to the offensive line, Smith repeated another familiar refrain of his from this time of year: The Texans don’t stack their draft board based on need.
“We’ve got good players on our football team already that we think can step in there,” Smith said. “(Rashad) Butler is a guy that played at a very, very high level when he had his opportunity, and it’s been very limited, but he started four games for us and played at a pretty high level. (Antoine) Caldwell has starting experience. Last year, even our seventh-round pick had the opportunity to be a swing tackle in . That’s really good experience that he was able to get.
“We’re not at a point where we’re at a total deficit anywhere on our football team, but we do think that there are some players in this draft that can come in and provide depth and help us.”
The Texans’ 2011 season ended two games short of Super Bowl XLVI, with a seven-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens sending them home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Despite the lingering disappointment from that narrow loss and the what-ifs that came with it, optimism abounds for what’s ahead in 2012.
“We expect nothing less but a Super Bowl,” defensive end said last week after playing in the Pro Bowl. “That’s what we want to aim our eyes at. We’ve already made division champs. We’ve already made it to the playoffs. You could shoot nothing more than for a Super Bowl. If you’re shooting anything less than that, you’re cheating yourself.”
The Texans were one of the most balanced teams in the NFL this season before quarterback suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 10. They ranked fifth in scoring (27.3 points per game) and second in scoring defense (16.6 points per game) through 10 games. For much of the season, even for several weeks after Schaub’s injury, they were the only team in the NFL to rank in the top 10 in yards on offense and defense.
Even with a litany of injuries to key players, the Texans won the AFC South title and trounced the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 in the first round of the playoffs.
“It was just a building step,” Pro Bowl center said. “Obviously, we wanted to be able to make it as far as we could and went to the second round even with all the adversity that we had. It’s just a path that we want to take and keep growing. Now, the expectations aren’t just playoffs anymore. It’s bigger and better things – AFC Championship and Super Bowl.”
One of the reasons the Texans have such high hopes for next season is because of their defense, which will return every end-of-season starter in 2012 and should only get better with a first full offseason under coordinator Wade Phillips.
A majority of the Texans’ defensive players made a pact to stay in Houston and train together this offseason instead of going their separate ways.
“We want to gel a little bit in the offseason and get everyone there so we can work and push each other,” cornerback said. “And that’s the ultimate goal, pushing each other, and that’s what gets you over the top. Competition is always a good thing, and I think we have that on our team. I received a lot of texts from a lot of guys (during the Pro Bowl week); even texted me just cracking little jokes.
“Being around those guys on a day-to-day basis, it’s like a brotherhood. I can’t wait to get back with those guys because I came on a short time (in free agency last year), and at the end, I kind of was like, ‘This is family.’”
Smith, Myers and Joseph were the Texans’ only three Pro Bowlers this season. That number should significantly increase a year from now, but the Texans hope to be otherwise occupied.
As much as the Texans’ coaches appreciated their week in Hawaii, which they earned by being the highest-seeded team in the AFC to lose in the Divisional Round, they have their sights set on getting to a slightly more important game next February.
“I’ll take it one time; I don’t want to do it again, though,” special teams coordinator Joe Marciano said after the Pro Bowl. “Hopefully, we’ll be going a little further and we don’t have to come back here anymore.
“There’s so much promise we’re going to take the next step. We’re gonna take the next step. The guys know it. We know it. I know it. Fans know it. Coaches know it. Players know it. We’re gonna do it.”