The Houston Texans' linebacker corps will undergo some rather significant changes in 2013. Gone is outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who took his pass-rushing skills to the Philadelphia Eagles on a six-year contract. Coming in are rookies Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams, both of who have been competing to fill Barwin's spot since the start of OTAs last Monday.
The Texans are apparently already banking on one of the rookies stepping up. Brooks Reed, an outside linebacker throughout most of his time in Houston, has been practicing at inside linebacker durign OTAs so far. The idea is to put him next to Brian Cushing, forming a formidable inside duo once the former is able to return from the ACL injury that took him out last season. With Montgomery/Williams on one side of the line and Whitney Mercilus on the other, the Texans could have one of the best young linebacker corps in the league.
Reed moving inside would also be a boon for depth. Past him and Cushing, there is a fast dropoff. Darryl Sharpton already has an impressive sheet of injuries just three years into his NFL career and Tim Dobbins has never had an outstanding season in seven years with three different teams. Beyond them is a mire of former undrafted free agents.
The rookies will need to be impressive for Reed to stay at inside linebacker, however. Head coach Gary Kubiak made sure to emphasize that Reed could move back outside at any time if need be. Montgomery, in particular, is a bit of a wild card. His talent level is more than deserving of the third-round pick that the Texans spent. The bigger question is whether he his truly suited to play linebacker. Montgomery was a 4-3 defensive end at LSU, and many believe he lacks the lateral mobility to play out of a two-point stance. There are also some questions about his desire.
If Montgomery doesn't catch on his rookie season, Williams is a more polished linebacker with plenty of untapped potential. The Texans also have faith in Bryan Braman, a hard-hitting special teams ace who is expecting to compete for a starting job regardless of whether anyone thinks he has a chance. Montgomery is the biggest physical specimen, however, and his development could transform the linebacker corps from "solid" to "otherworldly."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has built himself a sterling reputation through many seasons in the NFL, which is why many are cautiously optimistic about the Texans' linebackers. The team is rolling the dice that Reed can make a clean transition to inside linebacker and that a pair of unproven rookies can fill the void, but Houston has had so much success with young defenders that it'd be foolish to bet against them at this point. The 2013 season could ultimately prove to be the biggest testament to that trend.