Update: Contrary to initial reports that Jalen Jefferson had come to terms with the Texans, we have received information (in agreement with an article by Connor Letourneau and SFGate) that Jefferson did not sign with the Texans. I apologize for the confusion.
Original: The Houston Texans are clearly one of the smartest teams in the NFL as they decided to upgrade with two California Golden Bears, TE Stephen Anderson and LB Jalen Jefferson. The two were already part of the mission to twice turn Texas into Bear Territory this year, so here's their shot to do that once again for a third time by conquering practice and landing spots on the Texans' roster.
We connected with Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog to discuss the two undrafted free agents and how they're doing in Houston.
1. How does the depth chart look at tight end and linebacker? Is there a dire need to upgrade at those positions or is your team pretty stacked?
Brett Kollmann (BK): Tight end is certainly an easier roster spot to get than linebacker at the moment. Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney are the unquestioned starters in Houston's base defense, while Akeem Dent, Reshard Cliett, and Brian Peters all fill different roles in specific sub packages. If Jalen Jefferson is going to make this team, it will have to be as a special teams player; but beating out Brian Peters—a terrific special teamer himself—for that spot is an steep uphill battle.
As for Stephen Anderson, he has been earning rave reviews so far during rookie minicamps. He caught everything thrown his way last weekend while roasting linebackers and safeties alike at every opportunity. The sample size is small and he has not faced any actual NFL veterans yet (May 23rd is the first day of full team OTAs), but this team has a big hole at the "move TE" spot and he has the skillset to fill it. I'm eager to see how he does when the big kids come out to play later this month.
2. What kind of skill sets do your coaches look for at tight end and linebacker?
BK: Versatility, versatility, and more versatility. Linebackers need to be able to blitz, stack and shed against the run, and survive in zone coverage. Tight ends need to be able to run routes from every spot on the field and be reliable enough to play in any personnel grouping. The more you can do, the more snaps you get. Specials teams ability is also highly valued for every player who is not a starter.
3. Have the fans had much of a response to signing Jefferson and Anderson or are they not even on most fans' radars?
BK: Anderson has had a bunch of buzz since he was signed following the draft. Tight end was among the bigger needs on the roster—specifically a tight end who can contribute to the passing game—so snagging a third-down weapon like Anderson was a welcome move. He's basically a glorified wide receiver, sure, but luckily for him (and us) the Texans already have a coaching staff that knows exactly how to use that kind of player.
4. What are your evaluations of Jefferson and Anderson?
BK: Anderson is a pure move tight end. He will be motioned around as an H-back, most likely. I could see him doing most of his work out of 12 personnel sets (one back, two tight ends) as a slot receiver who is relied upon to move the chains. He's too bulky for a lot of defensive backs to handle one-on-one, but too quick for a lot of linebackers to keep up with. Anderson has been murdering our rookie defenders during minicamps so far, from what I've read. Shaky run blocking and a lack of traditional tight end size are his biggest flaws by far, but Bill O'Brien's offense is literally a perfect fit for him. This is the same coach that made Aaron Hernandez a star in New England, so as long as Stephen can refrain from becoming a serial killer, he will be just fine.
As for Jefferson, his athletic limitations might relegate him to strictly a special teams player. He's a bit stiff in the hips and I'm not quite sure he can survive in coverage against NFL-caliber running backs and tight ends. He does have a knack for hitting ball carriers between the tackles, but quickness in space really gives him trouble and I'm not sure he really has the straight-line explosiveness to make up for that. With how much the league has moved towards speed being prioritized over power, that's bad news for Jefferson, unfortunately.
5. Is there any early indication or do you have a guess if these guys have a chance at making the Texans' roster?
BK: Anderson definitely has a good chance to make the team if he continues to impress as a move tight end/H-back candidate, but Jefferson in all likelihood will have to find a team with a bigger need at inside linebacker before he sticks in the league. There is just simply too much talent at that position right now for him to have a great shot at making the club barring some catastrophic injuries to the starters and/or spectacular special teams play for him during training camp.
Our thanks to Brett and Battle Red Blog (@battleredblog) for answering our questions. Hopefully Battle Red Blog will have more good news on Jalen and Stephen in the near future!