Thursday, October 19, 2017

Credit assistant Mike Devlin for his work with Texans' offensive line

By Aaron Wilson, Houston Chronicle
October 18, 2017

Quarterbacks kept crashing to the ground during the first game of the season.

Heavy-handed bull-rushes were delivered to the chest and midsections of the Texans' blockers as they were rudely shoved into the backfield.

General chaos ensued as the Texans' offensive line was dominated during a 29-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Since allowing a franchise-record 10 sacks in that defeat, the situation has stabilized and pass protection improved. The Texans have benefited by the upgraded mobility that went along with installing rookie Deshaun Watson as the starting quarterback.

Over the past five games, the Texans have allowed 11 sacks. While they rank 28th in the NFL in that category, the offensive line has improved after opening the season as a major liability when Tom Savage was sacked six times in one half.

"I'm proud of these guys because of the way things started out," Texans offensive line coach Mike Devlin said. "We talk about it every week. This is where we started and where do we want to be at the end of this? That's really all you can do as a unit and try to keep progressing every week.

"Every week is a tough matchup. Every week (defenses) have great players. These guys know where they are at. I love coaching them because every week they come out to prepare to try to get better."

Toward that goal, the Texans have relied heavily on Devlin. In his third season with the team, Devlin has drawn praise for his ability to develop linemen and devise strategies to get the most out of his players.

As a former NFL offensive lineman, Devlin relates well to the challenges the line faces each week and has remained patient with the Texans' blockers during games they've struggled in.

"I don't even know where to begin with Mike Devlin," coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think he's one of the best line coaches I've ever been around. I've been around some great line coaches. I've been around Dante Scarnecchia, I've been around Doug Marrone, I've been around Ralph Friedgen, Pat Watson, Mac McWhorter.

"The list of offensive line coaches that I've been around and Mike Devlin's right there at the top. He's a great teacher. He's got a great demeanor. He really creates unity in his room. That's a real brotherhood within that room. They believe in him. I believe in him. I just think he's a very, very vital part of the staff."

No Brown in sight

The Texans have progressed significantly as an offense without their top offensive lineman.

Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown remains absent due to a contract holdout that has lasted six games and cost him $3.31 million in game checks. Brown already had his $9.65 million base salary reduced to $9.4 million for triggering a de-escalator clause for skipping the offseason. He racked up over $1.5 million in fines for not reporting to training camp.

Just prior to the start of the season, Brown said: "I definitely plan on playing football this year."

However, no compromise is in sight between the Texans and Brown. The former first-round draft pick remains on the reserve-did not report list.

Chris Clark has started at left tackle since the Texans benched Kendall Lamm.

"I coach who's there," Devlin said when asked about Brown. "He's doing what he feels is the best for him. For the team's sake, for my family's sake, for the guys in that room grinding it out, that's what I'm coaching."
The Texans have been adapting to how Watson operates, learning they have to hold their blocks and stay aware he could change directions and take off running at any moment.

"Obviously, he's a special player," center Nick Martin said. "You've got to block to the echo of the whistle."

The Texans believe Martin has the makings of being a special player.

A second-round draft pick from Notre Dame last year, Martin was sidelined for his rookie season when he underwent ankle surgery.

Martin has started every game this season and displayed an aggressive mentality and strong technique and footwork.

"I'm real happy with how he approached, actually started last year when he couldn't play," Devlin said. "Learning the system, his communication and then really being his rookie year, his week-to-week preparation. Really his communication with Deshaun, I think they're really bonding that way, and that's helped."

Allen coming around

A year ago, Texans right offensive guard Jeff Allen had a rough season after signing a four-year, $28 million contract as the replacement for Brandon Brooks. He dealt with an ankle injury that required offseason surgery, dealt with a concussion and had issues adjusting to a new position.

Since returning from a high-ankle sprain and getting shoved around during the Jaguars game, Allen has played much better.

"I feel like he's being more consistent this year, more physical, better on his pulls," Devlin said. "I feel like both him and Clark relative to last year have taken the coaching and the criticism, if you will, and tried to improve on those areas."

Another new starter for the Texans is right tackle Breno Giacomini. Giacomini started for Devlin when he was coaching the New York Jets' offensive line. Giacomini plays with a nasty streak.

"He's old-school," Devlin said. "He's going to defend his own. He's going to fight. He's a brawler type."

That fits right in with Devlin's feisty style.

"Coach Devlin is awesome," Martin said. "He played the game. He really gets it from our point of view."

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