2012 Path to the Draft: Offensive Tackle

*This article is part of our 2012 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply

A position-by-position look at the 2012 NFL Draft (April 26-28), featuring exclusive analysis on potential Texans draft picks from and of the

Path to the Draft: |

State of the Position ()
The Texans have one of the best young left tackles in football in . The 2008 first-round draft pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but it would be a surprise if the Texans don’t lock him up long-term. A second-team All-Pro in 2011, Brown likely has plenty of Pro Bowls in his future.

The Texans released starting right tackle Eric Winston before the start of free agency. Winston had been in the starting lineup since 2006, so the continuity of the line will obviously take a hit in his absence. But the Texans are confident in , who was the backup swing tackle behind Winston and Brown for the last three seasons. A third-round pick in 2006, Butler has been with the Texans since 2007 and started four games at left tackle in 2010 when Brown was suspended.

Entering his second season, could compete with Butler for the starting right tackle job. Newton was a seventh-round pick from Arkansas State in 2011. The athletic big man was the Texans’ third tackle for most of the season after Butler suffered a season-ending triceps injury in September.

“Butler has started some games in his career,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said in March. “We think a lot of our young kid, Newton, but I’ll be honest with you, this thing’s gonna be wide open. We’ve got some good football players. We’re not giving any job to anybody, and they’re gonna have to go earn it. It’ll be very competitive.”

Several draft sites have right tackle pegged as a top priority for the Texans in the draft, but that assertion is ill-founded.

National Football Post Analysis (, for HoustonTexans.com)

DAY 1 OFFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 1.26

1. Jonathan Martin, Stanford (6-6, 304): A first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2011, Martin’s got the NFL size, length and overall athletic skill set, but he’s not a natural anchor player and doesn’t strike us as a guy who is ever going to be real physical at the next level. Martin can mirror in space, but struggles to stick through contact and isn’t real heavy-handed. Looks like a finesse tackle who will get over-drafted because of athletic talent, but is going to have a hard time keeping the edge clean at the next level.

2. Mike Adams, Ohio State (6-8, 320): Adams is a talented football player with a big frame, long arms and natural movement skills. He bends well and if he can put it all together and continue to improve his footwork, Adams could certainly mature into a starting caliber left tackle in the NFL. He parlayed a solid senior campaign into second-team All-Big-Ten selection honors at the offensive tackle position last season.

DAY 2 OFFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 2.26 AND 3.13

1. Mitchell Schwartz, California (6-6, 318): Schwartz displays solid athletic ability, but looks better suited to play on the right side in the NFL vs. less speed. A nice mid-round-type draft pick who could eventually fight for playing time, Schwartz is at his best in the run game where he does a nice job sitting into his three-point stance, keeping his base down and generating a good snap through the hips into contact. Doesn’t waste much motion getting upright off the ball, stays down, possesses a strong lower half, runs his legs through contact and gains solid leverage with his hands.

2. Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (6-6, 307): A natural athlete who displays good bend, Sanders struggles at times with power and makes too many linemen look like good pass rushers off the edge because of it. He needs to get stronger to have a chance at the next level, but he is a well-built, athletic-looking tackle prospect with a long set of arms and a naturally thick lower half. Sanders showcases natural range out of his stance in the run game and fires off the ball low, but does waste some motion into contact winding his arms and can be slow to gain leverage.

DAY 3 OFFENSIVE TACKLE OPTONS AT 4.4, 4.26, 5.26, 6.26 AND 7.26

1. James Carmon, Mississippi State (6-7, 320): A former interior defensive lineman with a massive frame and impressive coordination for his size, Carmon is a JUCO transfer who started 10 games last year at left tackle. Displays intriguing body control/athleticism for a player his size. However, Carmon’s pad level is the key as he struggles to keep his base down and doesn’t play with consistent leverage into and through contact.

2. Nate Potter, Boise State (6-6, 300): Potter—in our assessment—is a poor man’s version of former Boston College LT Anthony Castonzo. He exhibits the ability to get around and seal on reach blocks and looks comfortable through contact on the move as well. Potter may currently lack the type of power to really drive NFL-caliber defenders off the ball, but he’s sticky through contact, understands angles and does a nice job staying engaged through the play.

Notes: Brisiel’s recovery, Tate’s big season

Notes from the Texans’ practice and locker room on Thursday at Reliant Stadium:

No change in backups
T.J. Yates has started the previous four games at quarterback, and is now backed up by and . He’ll start again Sunday against the Titans, and according to head coach Gary Kubiak, Delhomme is still second on the depth chart.

“I think Jake’s a little bit ahead just because he had about a week head start, so one’s four weeks, one’s three weeks with us,” Kubiak said of the difference between the two behind Yates. “That’s not a lot of time, but they’re both working very hard at it and if something happened to T.J., they could go in and operate. Obviously we couldn’t operate at full throttle with what we do offensively, but they’ve made a lot of progress.”

Brisiel getting well
Right guard continues his rehab of an ankle/lower leg injury he suffered against the Bengals. It’s an injury that’s been described as very similar to safety ’s and according to Kubiak, Brisiel is doing “exceptional” in his recuperation.

“He’s a little over two weeks out of the surgery,” Kubiak said. “He is doing field work, so everything is geared up towards him possibly playing next week. I would be wrong to make a statement on that right now, but he is making progress.”

Manning left the Titans’ game in Week 7, and returned to start against Jacksonville in Week 12.

Tate’s big season
With more than 800 yards rushing as a backup, running back ’s enjoyed a fine 2011. His rookie year was lost due to a leg injury he suffered in the 2010 preseason opener at Arizona, but since Week 1, Tate has contributed this season.

“I thank God,” Tate said. “It’s a blessing and I thank him every day for it. I come back, had I think a pretty good year. So, if I get a thousand yards or not, to me, I think it’ll be a very, very successful year for me.”

Tate was asked about cracking the 1,000 yard mark, and he said it would be tough to pick up the 155 yards he needs, with in front of him.

Quotable
“Division matchups are always finicky.”—Right tackle on playing the Titans for the second time this season.

“We emphasize it every week and the amazing thing about it, as bad as it was, we still had our chance, in my opinion, to win the last two games. So, we got to stay positive here.”—Head coach Gary Kubiak on if he’s re-emphasized the importance of converting on third down.

Jones, Butler among free agency question marks

Whenever the lockout ends and free agency begins, the Texans have several key players who could become unrestricted and free to sign with any team.

Some, like All-Pro fullback , will be unrestricted no matter what. But there are others, like wide receiver and tackle , whose status is up in the air.

Jones has played four seasons, Butler five. Both would be restricted under last year’s free agency rules, which required six seasons for a player to become totally free. They’d be unrestricted if the threshold returns to four seasons, which recent speculation suggests might happen.

Regardless, Texans coach Gary Kubiak said that re-signing players like Jones and Butler will be a priority.

“It’s real important, because they’re a big part of our team,” Kubiak said last week at Reliant Stadium. “And everybody is going into this free agency period (the same way) – whenever it does happen, if you lose players this go-round, you’re not only losing them but you haven’t had any offseason to replace them. So you’ve got a double-edged problem right there. So maintaining the nucleus of the football team is a big, big priority.”

Jones or no Jones, many Texans fans want to know if the team will sign a top-flight number two receiver to pair with .

Well, Coach?

“I would tell the people that ask that question that if you put Jacoby and ’s numbers together last year, they add up to about 102 catches and 1,200 yards, and that would be the best number two receiver in football,” Kubiak said. “I like our two players. I think they’re both damned good players.”

Jones had his best season last year with 51 catches, 562 yards and three touchdowns, although he also had several critical drops. He stepped up in the final three weeks with 17 catches for 235 yards, including his first-career 100-yard game against the Denver Broncos.

Butler plays a vital role as the Texans’ backup at both offensive tackle positions. He started four games at left tackle last season when was suspended, during which time the Texans went 2-2 and Butler drew rave reviews from the Texans’ coaching staff.

Two other Texans in free agent-limbo are defensive end and quarterback . Both have played five seasons. The Texans placed tender offers on them, Jones and Butler in case they end up being restricted.

Leinart, the Texans’ third-string quarterback in 2010, has said that he’s hoping for a chance to start somewhere. Anderson, who had four sacks in 11 games last season, could join a talented outside linebacker group that includes , and .

Those players might be tougher to re-sign if they’re unrestricted, but a four-year unrestricted rule also would result in a bigger pool of free agents from other teams. The Texans have studied the potential free agents time and again in meetings this offseason, evaluating and ranking veteran players much like they do with draft prospects.

“Obviously, we’re guessing from a standpoint of exactly who’s going to be free, but we think we have a pretty good idea,” Kubiak said. “We’ve got our priority list and we’re ready to go, because it’s going to be a small window when they do get the deal done. There’ll be a small grace period and we’ll be at it.”