I remember prior to last season, Houston fans were ready, and hopeful, for defensive tackle Shaun Cody to be one of the cuts that new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips would implement. I’m not absolved from this, as I thought it was the right move along with letting draft bust Amobi Okoye go. But, as many already knew, Phillips kind of knows what he is doing out there.
Still, many took his statements that he liked Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell at the nose tackle in his taking the Texans to a 3-4 scheme as nothing more than “coachspeak.” But a year goes by and Phillips turns the Texans defense from nearly worst to first in the league. The play of rookie sensation J.J. Watt and Connor Barwin garner all of the immediate attention, but Cody was kind of an unsung hero.
Houston was dominant against the run all season and a huge part of that was Shaun Cody plugging up the middle. He isn’t your prototypical fat nose tackle that’s going to take two or three offensive lineman to contain and he isn’t going to move the pile in any clear fashion. But what he’s going to do is prevent the big run up the middle and never miss his assignment.
Even though he demonstrated his ability all year last season, I still hear Texans fans saying “no big deal” to a disc injury that’s going to cause Cody to miss some time that might be significant if surgery is required to fix the problem. Look, the “next man up” thing was really cool last year and fun while it lasted. But I don’t think anyone ever thought key injuries were “no big deal.” And, in my opinion, there is no great depth at the nose tackle position like there was at outside linebacker when Mario Williams went out.
Sure, undrafted rookie Hebron Fangupo, who is a fan favorite of a few of us, could step up and seize the opportunity to show what he’s made of much the way Brooks Reed did with his opportunity last year. Earl Mitchell, who many of us protest is a defensive end and not a nose tackle, moves into the starting spot in front of Cody and will start this Saturday in the team’s second preseason appearance.
Many fans still say “Cody couldn’t even start on a Lions team that went winless a few years ago.” But that team obviously wasn’t the best at making good decisions now, were they? I’m not going to sit here and tell you Cody is some secret superstar nose tackle or anything like that, I’m simply stating that he fit the scheme very well and losing him for a possible prolonged amount of time is a very big deal.
As far as how much time he could potentially miss, head coach Gary Kubiak was very cryptic to local media stating only that it was “a disc issue” and little more would be known for a few days after consults with team doctors and medical staff.
The Texans defense did still look mighty impressive in their preseason debut against Carolina, even with Brian Cushing, Shaun Cody and J.J. Watt in the game. A couple of plays, I noticed Mitchell was playing at the defensive end position with the newly signed Mitch King playing in the middle. So there are plenty of options for Wade Phillips to play with if Cody is indeed out for a while. And, I won’t lie, I’m excited to see more of Fangupo.
I’m not worried about the lack of a “big boy” on the roster to play at the nose. I would still like to see the team pick up one some day, but that’s a debate for another time. But in Wade’s scheme, the nose tackle is a one-gap guy whose assignment is to get up the middle and simply be disruptive. In this version of the 3-4, nose tackles are usually lighter than the traditional two-gapper who is usually depended upon to tie up two blockers.
The next man up mantra was really cool last year and it was fun while it lasted, but I’d rather not go through that again. Losing a guy like Shaun Cody would be a huge loss.