Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel is an up an coming star in the NFL coaching ranks. In January, he turned down an offer to be the defensive coordinator for Chip Kelly and the 49ers. Vrabel will instead be entering his third season as Houston’s LB coach. He was hired by Bill O’Brien in 2014. Vrabel previously coached the linebackers and defensive line at his alma mater, Ohio State.
As a player, Vrabel was an All-American linebacker for the Buckeyes. He then went on to play 14 seasons in the NFL, most notably starring for the Patriots as they won 3 Super Bowls in the early 2000’s. One of his fellow linebackers during that time was Ted Johnson. Johnson is now a radio host for 610 in Houston. He has adamantly stated that Vrabel is the most intelligent football player he has ever been around.
Coach Vrabel is in an excellent situation with the Texans. It’s no wonder he chose to stay, rather than bolt to San Francisco. There’s no doubt that his coaching prowess will eventually lead him to other teams, but for now he is busy molding a very promising group of linebackers right here in Houston. The Texans linebacking corps consists mainly of Brian Cushing, Benardrick McKinney, Whitney Mercilus, John Simon, and Jadeveon Clowney.
Cushing stayed healthy all of last season after having suffered a couple of brutal knee injuries in previous seasons. He has recently stated that he now feels better than ever, and expects to have a great 2016. Cush led the team in tackles with 103, and Texans fans were treated to the “hair on fire” type of player that they saw in his early years.
Benardrick McKinney was a second round pick out of Mississippi St. in 2014. He started 11 games as a rookie and finished with 63 tackles and 1 sack. McKinney is a prototype inside linebacker with the size and speed to constantly be around the ball. He and Cushing are a very formidable duo in the middle, and B-Mac has already drawn rave reviews for his offseason growth.
Mercilus had a career year in 2015. He was a key component in Houston’s late season resurgence. Mercilus notched 52 combined tackles, 12 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, and 2 passes defensed. Under Vrabel’s tutelage, he finally displayed the type of impactful play that the Texans expected after taking him in the first round four years ago.
John Simon is the oft overlooked player of the group. Houston signed Simon in 2014 after he was waived by the Ravens. He saw a lot of time on the field in 2015, due in large part to Clowney’s injury issues. Simon, a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year out of Ohio State, had a quietly good season. He recorded 53 tackles, 5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery. Simon has clearly found his niche on this team, and Vrabel has done an excellent job of coaching him up.
Jadeveon Clowney’s story has been highly publicized. After being the number one rated player as a high schooler in South Carolina, he went on to be equally as dominant while starring for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks. Clowney skipped his senior year and was taken by Houston with the number one overall pick of the 2014 draft.
After missing basically all of his rookie year with a knee injury, Clowney came back to play in 13 games a year ago. And, although he missed a few games, Clowney’s potential definitely flashed. He finished the year with 40 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Coach Vrabel likes what he sees with JD this offseason. Houston has very high expectations for Clowney, and this is the year where we could see him become a truly dominant force.
One has to think that Coach Vrabel is licking his chops at the potential of this group. These guys are oozing with talent, and they are becoming increasingly comfortable with Coach Romeo Crennel’s defensive schemes. The Texans defense finished third overall a year ago. They will once again be very dominant, and these linebackers, and their coach, will be at the heart of it.
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Header image based on “Whitney Mercilus” by Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA 3.0)