Texans' building begins in trenches

Team forms nucleus with big linemen in NFL expansion draft

February 19, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Houston Texans performed their salary cap relief work as expected yesterday, bailing out fiscally troubled NFL teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Ravens.

But by the time the Texans closed down a $40 million-plus expansion shopping spree, they proved to be much more than goodwill ambassadors.

That was no rummage sale, and this is no pushover expansion team.

The Texans poured an impressive foundation with yesterday's expansion draft. General manager Charley Casserly had identified four positions as the toughest to fill for a new team - cornerback, offensive line, defensive line and quarterback - and then proceeded to do a masterful job filling at least three of them.

The Texans came away with bookend, 320-pound offensive tackles in five-time Pro Bowl selection Tony Boselli with Houston's first pick and promising 25-year-old Ryan Young with the second. They annexed the Jets' two starting cornerbacks, Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman, and took a pair of 300-pound defensive tackles from Jacksonville in Gary Walker and Seth Payne.

There was more. The Texans selected two guards good enough to start in Matt Campbell of the Washington Redskins and Jeremy McKinney of the Cleveland Browns. They got one of the NFL's best long snappers in Tampa Bay's Sean McDermott. And they plucked two key members off the Ravens' Super Bowl team of two seasons ago, getting linebacker Jamie Sharper and kick returner/wide receiver Jermaine Lewis.

As expansion drafts go, the Texans easily outdistanced the Browns of 1999, and the Carolina Panthers and Jaguars of 1995. That was due in large part to the fact that several teams were trying to escape salary cap purgatory and unload big contracts.

The Jaguars, for instance, slashed almost $15 million of cap debt by losing Boselli, Walker and Payne. The Jets slipped a comfortable $5 million under the cap limit of $71.8 million by losing Young, Glenn and Coleman. And the Ravens chopped $7 million out of their bottom line.

All told, the Texans took 19 players, incurring a salary cap obligation of nearly $41 million. As many as 11 of those picks could wind up starting for Houston.

"We're going to be a very young team," coach Dom Capers said. "We have to get leadership out of these players."

The average age of yesterday's selections was 26.3. The average NFL experience was 4.3 years. The spanking new offensive line weighed in, on average, at 6 feet 5 and 308 pounds. Four players have been to 10 Pro Bowls, led by Boselli, who was the first draft pick ever for the Jaguars in 1995.

The Texans weren't scared off by the two shoulder surgeries that limited Boselli, 29, to three games last season, or his $6.89 million cap figure. If healthy - and he passed a Houston physical - Boselli gives the Texans one of the league's top left tackles. For only $563,000, Young may have been the steal of the draft.

"I think you win with the big guys up front - offensive, defensive line," Boselli said. "Ryan Young is a younger guy, but he's a very good right tackle, a very powerful player. ... It's going to be up to the veterans, guys like myself, guys like Ryan Young, to instill that work ethic, to instill that level of excellence and high standard and try to be the best offensive line in the NFL."

It's believed the Texans will take Fresno State quarterback David Carr with the first pick in next month's college draft, although Casserly said the team was open to trade offers for the spot. Although Casserly wouldn't commit to Carr or Oregon's Joey Harrington, he acknowledged the Texans have already invested a lot of time in both.

Casserly pointed out that offensive coordinator Chris Palmer spent last season tracking down Carr and Harrington at games, practices and even in meetings.

"I think we have a unique perspective on both," Casserly said.

The Texans took five-year veteran quarterback Danny Wuerffel of the Chicago Bears with their 17th pick yesterday, and figure to add another veteran to the mix.

Capers, who coached Carolina through its expansion steps in 1995, put building blocks in place on defense, too. Walker, Payne and defensive end Jabari Issa of the Arizona Cardinals are a good start on Houston's 3-4 defensive front.

Sharper, who will move to inside linebacker in Houston, gives the Texans a quality playmaker in the middle. And Glenn and Coleman were serviceable enough to help the Jets reach the playoffs this past season.

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