Texans Still a Work in Progress

Mario Williams
Texans defensive end Mario Williams has yet to have a major impact after being chosen No. 1 overall in the draft, above more popular players such as Reggie Bush and Vince Young. (Ronald Martinez - Getty Images)

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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Charley Casserly spends his Tuesdays at NFL Films watching game tapes to stay abreast of what's happening in the league, and his weekends are devoted to his new job on the CBS studio show. Real life intrudes once in awhile, as when he had to spend yesterday trying to get his car through inspection. In between, he says, there's been little time to ponder whether it feels odd not sitting in a general manager's chair this season or what his emotions will be when he watches his two former teams, the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, play Sunday.

"I don't know if it feels strange," Casserly said yesterday. "You're too busy working to worry about it."

The Redskins won't be the only team on the field at Reliant Stadium in desperate need of having something go right. The Texans also are 0-2 and they have a rookie coach and a new general manager trying to win back a fan base that went from disenchanted to outraged when the club passed over Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush and hometown hero Vince Young in April to use the top overall selection in the draft on comparatively unheralded defensive end Mario Williams.

It's not exactly what Casserly had in mind when, months after reaching a financial settlement with owner Daniel Snyder in the summer of 1999 and resigning as the Redskins' general manager, Texans owner Bob McNair hired him in January 2000 to be the architect of his expansion team scheduled to begin play in the fall of 2002. The Texans were going to be the model expansion franchise that did everything the right way, with the owner whom the NFL adored and the general manager who was the ultimate league insider and first-class facilities and a plan to build the roster slowly but surely.

Everything was going as scripted when the Texans became the first expansion team in four decades to win their opening game, then improved from four victories in 2002 to five in 2003 to seven in 2004. But it all crumbled last season, when the club went 2-14. McNair fired Dom Capers as his coach and used former NFL coach Dan Reeves as well as Casserly to help him hire Capers's replacement, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Casserly resigned in May in what he and McNair called a mutual decision, and was replaced by Broncos assistant GM Rick Smith.

So far, this season's Texans under Kubiak look a lot like last season's Texans under Capers. Quarterback David Carr has been sacked nine times in two games while the Texans have lost to the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts by a combined margin of 67-34. The outlook for Carr's offensive line isn't getting any better. Rookie left tackle Charles Spencer suffered a broken left leg during Sunday's 43-24 defeat at Indianapolis, ending his season and forcing veteran journeyman Ephraim Salaam into the lineup, and center Mike Flanagan hurt his left foot.

Carr was sacked on the game's first offensive play Sunday and fumbled the snap on the second as the Colts raced to a 14-0 lead before the Texans managed a first down. "You can't have things happen to you like we let happen early," Kubiak said during his postgame news conference.

Tight end Mark Bruener said after the game, according to the Houston Chronicle: "Look, we're 0-2, but we've got the next two at home. Losing is the worst taste you can have. Losing tastes like vinegar. After awhile, it starts to taste like castor oil. We're sick of it."

Casserly said he still thinks the Texans are on their way to building a winner.

"I didn't get frustrated," he said. "We had one bad year out of four. Last year didn't go the way we thought. To me, we were about a six- or seven-win team a year ago, and then this year you would hope to improve on that. . . . Basically, it's still a young team with a lot of good players. The general trend is still up. But they open up with a brutal schedule this year. Their first six games are really tough. They're banged up, a lot more banged up than the Redskins are. What I think is going to happen is that at some point this year, with the new coaches and the young players, they're going to start to win some games and the momentum is going to build going into next year."

Kubiak was regarded as an offensive mastermind in Denver and the Texans have some talented players on offense in Carr, the top overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft, and wide receiver Andre Johnson, the third overall selection in 2003. The team traded for veteran wideout Eric Moulds in the offseason. But Carr, who's been sacked 217 times in 62 NFL games, usually has little time to worry about anything other than self-preservation, and Kubiak has yet to develop the sort of reliable running game that he and Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan managed to produce even with an ever-changing cast of tailbacks in Denver.

Wali Lundy, the rookie who became the Texans' starting tailback when Domanick Davis was placed on the injured reserve list before the season because of an ailing knee, has 57 rushing yards in two games. The Texans signed Ron Dayne before the season and traded for Samkon Gado. They wouldn't be searching for a reliable runner, of course, if they'd done what nearly everyone in the league expected in April and drafted Bush.

McNair said at the time he knew the team's followers were mad but Kubiak wanted a pass-rushing defensive end rather than a tailback, even one as dynamic as Bush. McNair said that neither the reports that Bush had accepted improper gifts from marketing representatives while he was in college nor the fact that Williams agreed to a contract before the draft that Bush rejected were major factors in the Texans' decision. Casserly continues to defend the choice, even with Williams off to a less-than-dominant start in the NFL with two sack-less games.

"It is going to be debated," Casserly said. "But you don't make decisions about a young man's career after two games. . . . It came down to the fact that you need an outstanding defensive end to build a great football team. We knew Reggie Bush would be a good player. We didn't have any question about that. But Mario Williams is going to be a terrific player. He has all the talent and desire to do it. There's no reason he won't do it."

Casserly has moved back to the Washington area. He pursued a job in the NFL office but the league hired former Atlanta Falcons executive Ray Anderson instead as its senior vice president of football operations. He's back to being out of the league as he was briefly in 1999 after his exit from the Redskins, a time he spent working for ESPN before McNair came calling. Then, it was only a matter of months before Casserly returned to football. Now, he's not speculating on anything more than his immediate future. The man who broke into the league as an unpaid intern for late Redskins coach George Allen said he'll spend Sunday pulling for his more recent former franchise.

"I have strong feelings for both teams," Casserly said. "But I'll be rooting for the Texans on Sunday because of all the players and all the recent associations I have there with all the coaches and other people."


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