The Texans were so close to a good run. They had climbed steadily, going from bad to OK to good.
But they were never able to get past playoff tease, and when the bottom fell out last season, it was time for wholesale changes.
Gone were coach Gary Kubiak and quarterback Matt Schaub, who was offered up midway through a dismal year and was sentenced to Oakland this offseason.
In comes Bill O’Brien, and armed with the first pick in the NFL Draft, he had a chance to take the kind of quarterback he could mold and build around.
Instead, he made the strength of his new team stronger, and surprised many people by not taking a quarterback until Tom Savage in the fourth round. (It was such a shocker that longtime Houston Chronicle NFL writer John McClain had to eat a copy of the sports page to pay off a bet that they’d take a passer first).
Whether O’Brien made the right call will be determined down the road. But for now, he has a a flawed half of a roster and no clear way to improve it until next year’s draft.
At that point, McClain is probably safe to make the same bet.
By using the first choice on South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans added to a defense that already had plenty of star power.
Clowney will have to learn to stand up and play outside linebacker after having his hand in the dirt for three years in college. But once he’s returned from his sports hernia surgery, the transition shouldn’t be that difficult for him.
What he did in a 4-3 he can do in a 3-4 — rush the passer.
With his kind of talent paired with defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans have an opportunity to have an incredible defense.
And all Watt is is perhaps the best all-around player in the NFL.
That gives new coordinator Romeo Crennel lots of quality pieces to work with, and he’ll need to do some of his best work to keep this team competitive.
How are they going to score any points?
Being the best option in Texans camp right now is faint praise, but that’s what they’ve laid on Ryan Fitzpatrick by naming him the starter going into camp.
It’s not even recently clear that Fitzpatrick is a good backup in the NFL, but he’s the best they’ve got for the moment.
But it’s hard to know who he’s going to throw it to right now.
Star wide receiver Andre Johnson is disgruntled, and openly questioned the direction of the team this offseason. He has a point, and at 32 years old, he’s burning one of the last years of his prime with a guy who can’t take full advantage of his talents.
Now, it’s unclear if he’ll continue to stay away and pile up fines during training camp since he wants a trade, but then if he comes back, you have the issue of a guy who hasn’t bought fully into the program playing a central role.
Second-year wideout DeAndre Hopkins is the future here, and if Johnson comes back and plays along, they’d have a good pair of targets.
Assuming, of course, they had a viable quarterback.
Which they don’t.
Other than a new coach and a new quarterback, there was plenty of other turnover.
They shuffled off some older players, and lost a lot of key depth.
Perhaps no player will be missed like running back Ben Tate, who took the opportunity and the cash in Cleveland.
Arian Foster is back and healthy, but Tate always got plenty of work, and played well when called upon.
The defensive line got a fresh look, with veterans Mitchell and Antonio Smith making way for younger guys, which will be a theme there for some time.
The Texans have a premier left tackle in Duane Brown, but the other side of their offensive line is in flux.
Second-round guard Xavier Su’a-Filo will eventually take over a job on one side, and will make them more physical in the process.
The Texans will also be looking for more depth at wide receiver among a group of young players, as they can’t know how long they can’t count on Johnson.
The Texans will be good enough on defense to compete with most teams in the NFL.
But they might need to win a lot of 6-3 games, and that’s a lot to ask from any group.
Barring Ryan Fitzpatrick pulling a Kurt Warner-like transformation, it’s going to be hard for them to do much with the ball but run, and that will get tougher with time.
If they can shut teams out and create turnovers, they’re going to have chances, but their margin for error is non-existent.
O’Brien comes to the job well-respected after his work at Penn State.
And though the track record of former New England assistants isn’t great, his work with Tom Brady bought him a chance at this kind of job.
The easy choice for him would have found a quarterback and built around it.
Now, he has to accept that answer’s a year or more away. It won’t reflect well on his record, but he lives in a division in which he can compete, and perhaps build enough of a base that next year’s additions can make more of a difference.