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Texans, Seahawks have legitimate optimism for 2013 season


Last updated 7/16/2013 at Noon

Each edition of the USA Today Sports Weekly this summer contains the profiles of three NFL teams with their rosters, depth charts and position-by-position evaluations of strengths and weaknesses to expect during the upcoming 16-game of the 2013 regular season.

It must be just a coincidence that this week’s edition has two teams that are of particular interest to many of the NFL fans in the Orange area—the Houston Texans and the Earl Thomas III’s Seattle Seahawks.

Texans fans are eager to see if their heroes will continue to improve like they have for the past couple of seasons, becoming bona fide playoff contenders and hopefully can take that next giant step and play well enough to at least compete for their respective conference championships.

Seattle has the misfortune of being in the same division as the San Francisco 49ers, which made it all the way to the Super Bowl last season. But the Seahawks continue to get better each season with their youthful team that is just brimming over with confidence as the countdown to their training camp approaches.

Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll and his staff are openly embracing the Super Bowl expectations and challenging the young team to do the same.

Carroll is building the offense around quarterback Russell Wilson, who beat out free agent Matt Flynn in his rookie season and spearheaded an attack that averaged 37 points over the final six games of last season.

The passing game added wide receiver Percy Harvin, who the Seahawks obtained from the Minnesota Vikings in a winter trade.

And if an opponent focuses on stopping the passing game, Wilson merely hands the ball of to running back Marshawn Lynch, who finished third in the NFL last year with 1,590 rushing yards ands 11 touchdowns. Seattle was third in the league in rushing last year. Lynch will be backed up by rookie Christine Michael, a Beaumont native who starred at Texas A&M.

The Seahawks’ defense ranked fourth in the league last season and allowed the fewest points in the NFL at 15.3 a game and only 25 touchdowns under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was hired as the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Leading that defense is the secondary which nicknamed itself the “Legion of Boom” and features Pro Bowl safeties Earl Thomas of Orange and Kam Chancellor and cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.

USA Today Sports Weekly said “they talk big, but they have consistently been able to back it up.” The Seahawks allowed 15 passing TDs last season, with only the Atlanta Falcons allowing fewer (14).

The Houston Texans also made a key acquisition over the winter when nine-time Pro Bowl free-agent safety Ed Reed signed a three-year contract for $15 million to replace free-agent departure Glover Quin.

Reed, who missed the off-season mini-camps recuperating from surgery to repair a slight tear in his hip labrum, should bring some leadership and stability to the defense along with defensive captain Brian Cushing, who returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

The Texans finished 12-4 and won the AFC South for the second consecutive season, but were bounced from the playoffs in the second round for the second straight year. They were seventh last season in total offense and seventh in total defense.

Despite going 20-8 starting at quarterback the last two seasons, Matt Schaub struggled in the red zone the last four games of the regular season and failed to lock down the AFC home field advantage with three losses. He needs to be better in the red zone to make the jump from good to great as an NFL quarterback.

Running back position is fine as long as Arian Foster remains healthy. His back-up, Ben Tate, struggled the last couple of seasons with injuries. Foster had a great season in 2012, rushing for 1,424 yards and leading the NFL with 17 touchdowns (15 rushing and two receiving).

Wide receiver Andre Johnson could have his best year ever in 2013 if former Clemson wideout and No. 1 draft pick DeAndre Hopkins blossoms opposite Johnson.

And when one thinks of the Texans’ defense, the name J.J. Watt immediately comes to mind first. The 2012 defensive player of the year registered a league-best 20½ sacks, batted down 16 passes and made 95 plays for 0 or negative yardage.

In fact most teams who will face Houston once or twice in 2013 drafted somebody who can hopefully block and neutralize Watt for the next 10 years.

Linebacker will be stronger this year with the return of Cushing, while a healthy Ed Reed should help Pro Bowler Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson’s job easier at the cornerback position.

The kicking game was aided with the addition of all-time punting average leader Shane Lechler and place kicker Randy Bullock, who replaced journeyman Shayne Graham.

The success Head Coach Gary Kubiak has in 2013 should depend largely on how much Schaub improves in his red zone offense and the effect Ed Reed will have on the defensive secondary.

KWICKIES…Dallas native Jordan Spieth became the youngest golfer to win a PGA Tour event since Ralph Guldahl won the Santa Monica Open in 1931. Spieth began Sunday’s final round six strokes off the lead and rallied to shoot a six-under-par 65 and force a three-way tie with defending champion Zach Johnson and David Hearn. The 19-year-old Spieth made par on the fifth playoff hole to win the John Deere Classic and the $828,000 winning check. Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were all 20 when they picked up their first tour victories.

Hakeem Olajuwon will rejoin the Houston Rockets in an official capacity early this week, working with the interior players as he has done with big men around the NBA each off-season. “We’re going to bring him in as full-time as soon as possible,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Sunday.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who looks much different since cutting his long hair, hurled a no-hitter Saturday night, blanking the last-place San Diego Padres 9-0. Lincecum threw an unbelievable 148 pitches to accomplish his first career gem. The 29-year-old, two-time National League Cy Young Award winner struck out 13, walked four and hit a batter. His pitching coach, Dave Righetti, who threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees July 4, 1983, said the only way Lincecum was staying in the game after throwing that many pitches was if he didn’t give up a hit.

And speaking of teams that don’t hit very well, our Houston Astros entered the All-Star break on a low note, finishing an eight-game road trip with a 2-6 record and a challenging 17-game stretch with a disappointing 4-13 record. But a couple of bright spots were the signing of second baseman Jose Altuve to a four-year contract through 2017 and the brilliant debut of Astros starter Jarred Cosart, who won his first major league outing 2-1 over Tampa Bay and holding the Rays without a hit for seven innings.

JUST BETWEEN US…Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel left the Manning Passing Academy football camp early last weekend at the suggestion of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and his two quarterback sons Peyton and Eli after missing some assignments as a counselor and a coach.

Manziel was absent from a Saturday evening exhibition by college and pro quarterbacks and wide receivers at the Nicholls State camp, according to Sunday’s edition of the Thibodaux Daily Comet.

Over the weekend Internet pictures surfaced of Manziel partying heartily in Thibodaux and then missing some assignments the next day.

Manziel is scheduled to appear at the SEC media day today (Wed.) in Hoover, Ala.


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