The Texans already had the best defense in the league, but as they wrap up the first full week of training camp in West Virginia, Kareem Jackson knows it can be even better.
Houston had the top defense in the league last season, allowing the fewest yards per game. It was anchored with the No. 2 pass defense that gave up just over 200 yards per game with 11 interceptions.
“One of the things we talked about when we got back from OTAs was creating turnovers,” Jackson said. “We feel like as a defensive unit, that’s our job. We can improve on that as well as getting better at some other defensive categories. We want to be the best unit in football.”
Jackson was the only defensive back to score a touchdown last year, returning an interception 42 yards in Houston’s 24-21 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10.
The eight-year pro out of Alabama will play an even more crucial role in the defensive backfield this year after Quintin Demps, who led the team with six interceptions, and A.J. Bouye, the leading tackler from the defensive backs, both left in free agency.
However, the defensive backs have the benefit of going against one of the most talented offenses in the league, including Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, and Jaelen Strong.
“Going against a player like Hop every day will make you better,” Jackson said. “He’s one of the best in the league. One of the things he does better than anyone I’ve seen in a long time is making the tough catches.”
The rest of the Texans defense is a star studded cast with Jadeveon Clowney, sack leader Whitney Mercilus, Johnathan Joseph, and former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt hogging the headlines most of the time.
But Benardrick McKinney has been getting better every year, totaling 63 tackles and one sack in 11 games during his rookie year in 2015 before leading the team with 129 games last year with five sacks and one forced fumble.
“He’s a pro,” O’Brien said. “He’s one of our leaders now. He’s on the inside there with (Brian Cushing) and that’s a good duo on the inside. He’s come a long way since his rookie year, and he’s one of our better players, there’s no doubt about it.”
Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue occupy the top two spots on the depth chart at running back. And second-round pick D’Onta Foreman — despite recent marijuana and weapons charges — has turned heads in practice.
But O’Brien singled out Tyler Ervin as someone who has been impressive on special teams. The running back had a rough rookie season, totaling just one carry for three yards and three receptions for yards and fumbled three times.
“When we drafted him out of San Jose, he was a versatile guy there,” O’Brien said. “He was a guy that played in the backfield, he played as a receiver. He has good hands. So, there’s a lot of different things, and we’re still figuring out what we’re going to do with him. He’s going to help our team.”
The team took the day off on Monday and got back to work on Tuesday. They’ll have a full week of practice leading up to the first preseason game at the Carolina Panthers next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Houston then returns home to face off against the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots Aug. 19 at 7 p.m.
O’Brien said training camp, especially in the first week, is about improving technique and getting better as coaches and players. He was very positive about the outlook for the team this season and, barring injury, believes the Texas can make some noise in the AFC South.
“The mark of a good team is when everybody competes,” O’Brien said. “The offense wins some battles and the defense wins some battles and there’s not one side that's dominating. That’s what you’re seeing out there. I like everything about this team and I’m having fun.”