To say the Houston Texans' special teams have been the team's Achilles' heel implies that the other units and position groups are A-OK (or at least darn near close to it), and that is most certainly not the case. However, if you had to vote for which Texans unit has consistently underperformed over the past five years or so, it would undoubtedly be special teams. Indeed, Knile Davis's 106-yard kickoff return to open the Texans' 30-0 loss to the Chiefs last week was a metaphor for so much.
So it was no great surprise when Texans head coach Bill O'Brien decided to part ways with special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky last Monday as soon as the season ended. O'Brien had seen enough.
And so the special teams rebuild begins, and over the weekend, O'Brien chose the man who would oversee it, naming former Giants special teams assistant Larry Izzo as the Texans' new special teams coordinator. Izzo would appear to be a great fit for a couple of reasons. First, he is a native Houstonian, having played safety and running back at McCullough High in The Woodlands, and then becoming a three-year starter at Rice University, where he attained first team all-conference honors as a senior.
Second, and more importantly, Izzo carved out a 14 year NFL career as a special teams ace, earning Pro Bowl honors as a special teamer three times and winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. He was named special teams captain of the teams he played for nine times. Izzo has been working for the Giants as a coach since 2011 and earned a Super Bowl ring his first season as an assistant coach.
In his first job as a coordinator, Izzo will have his work cut out for him as he tries to shore up special teams units that collectively finished last in the league in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. In plain English, the Texans' special teams are the worst in the NFL.
Also, over the weekend, the Texans found their replacement for Stan Hixon to coach the wide receivers. Sean Ryan, who spent the last nine seasons with Tom Coughlin's New York Giants staff in various capacities will coach the Texans pass catchers. Ryan joined the Giants in 2007 as an offensive quality control guy after stints at a handful of different colleges. Oddly enough, on the opposite sideline in a similar role for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was Ryan's new boss, Bill O'Brien.
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Ryan was promoted to wide receivers coach in 2010 and was crucial in the development of a handful of quality young wide receivers on the Giants roster, including Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and future Pro Bowler Victor Cruz. Ryan was moved to quarterbacks coach in 2012 before being reassigned to wide receivers coach again in 2014, where he oversaw the development of Pro Bowler Odell Beckham, Jr. in his first two seasons in the league.
Ryan inherits a position group that has a fantastic crown jewel in Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins, but several question marks beyond that. Rookie Jaelen Strong is the most promising prospect from a skill and tools standpoint, but he was used sparingly until the end of his rookie season. Cecil Shorts III made some plays throughout the season, but struggled staying healthy. Nate Washington was largely a drops machine and likely won't be back. Rookie Keith Humphrey was underwhelming.
So the retooling on Kirby has begun with the coaching staff. Soon, the roster will similarly be tweaked and, in some places, overhauled.
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