Ross Blacklock knocked on the door while holding a pair of autographed No. 90 jerseys, a surprise gift for Texans super fan Sharon Thompson.
When the Manvel resident opened the door before Mother’s Day and saw the Texans’ defensive tackle, she couldn’t contain her excitement. She screamed in joy, repeatedly hugging the Elkins graduate and former second-round draft pick from TCU.
“Oh my, thank you!” Thompson said. “Thank you so much!”
One year after the Texans made Blacklock their top draft pick, he’s determined to create a lot more smiles following an underwhelming rookie season.
Much leaner now at 295 pounds, a loss of 10 pounds, Blacklock is energized about the Texans’ shift to a 4-3 attacking scheme being installed by new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.
“Man, I’m just excited,” said Blacklock, whose father, Jimmy Blacklock, played and coached for the Harlem Globetrotters. “It’s almost like starting all over again for another rookie year. I’m excited for what’s to come: new defense, new coaches, new players. Everybody seems really hungry. It’s a competitive roster, which is going to make it better for everybody. I think it’s going to be a good change for us and I’m just excited to see what’s going to happen this year.”
Signed to a four-year contract worth $7.95 million and includes over $4.92 million guaranteed, Blacklock played in 15 games last season for a 4-12 team.
There weren’t a lot of highlights as a rookie for the former All-Big 12 Conference selection. In 15 games with one start, Blacklock finished with 14 tackles, one for a loss and two quarterback hits. His playing time was relatively limited. Operating in a rotation, Blacklock played 255 plays for just 23 percent of the overall defensive snaps.
Blacklock was ejected in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Baltimore Ravens for throwing a punch, drawing criticism from former teammate J.J. Watt, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason after being released at his request.
“I had my tough moments and frustrations and my good moments,” Blacklock said. “It’s just all about learning. I know I’m not going to have all the answers my first year. I think when it all develops, I’ll be a pretty good player. One thing I learned is you’ve got to keep working.
“When you’re around the best of the best, there’s always room for improvement. I’ve always prided myself on trying to be the best I can be and just never get down on myself. I know that it’s always an improvement year and an improvement league. As long as you’re seeing improvement, don’t beat yourself up.”
During his final season at TCU before declaring early for the draft, Blacklock recorded 40 tackles, nine for losses and 3 ½ sacks. A former freshman All-American and Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Blacklock overcame a torn Achilles as a sophomore and finished his career with 67 tackles, 15 ½ for losses and 5 ½ sacks.
Blacklock finished his TCU career with 67 tackles, 15 ½ for losses and 5 ½ sacks in two full seasons. A former freshman All-American and Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Blacklock had 27 tackles, 6 1/2 for losses and two sacks in 14 starts in his first season for the Horned Frogs.
“Ross has got an unbelievable ceiling,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said when the Texans drafted Blacklock.
After Romeo Crennel was named interim coach and Bill O’Brien was fired following an 0-4 start, Crennel said that the adjustment to the Texans’ 3-4 defensive system emphasizing gap integrity was one reason why Blacklock wasn’t more productive in his first NFL season.
“I think that he’s still learning the system and every system is not the same," Crennel said during the season.
And playing for Smith in an aggressive scheme feels like familiar territory for Blacklock.
“My senior year, we got the opportunity to attack more than read,” he said. “I know in this defense that we get to attack more and that’s kind of like my strong suit. Changing from reading to going to attacking, I think that will be a good thing for me.”
Blacklock expects to primarily line up as a three-technique in Smith’s defense. He’ll be competing for snaps with Maliek Collins, Brandon Dunn, Vince Taylor and Jaleel Johnson.
“I’m versatile, I can play wherever they need me,” he said. “The opportunity is always there. I’m just excited for the opportunity. I know there are a lot of guys we’ve got in the rotation. I want to be one of those guys. I’m just excited to see where everybody ends up and how this team does. I’m definitely ready to compete.”
Blacklock is encouraged by his conversations with new Texans coach David Culley and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I’ve talked to coach David a couple of times, good dude, very humble, very kind, very caring about his job,” Blacklock said. “It sounds like he loves what he does. It’s exciting to bring that energy into the building. I feel like that’s what we needed.
“Unfortunately last year, we had to and I had to experience a lot of things and saw some things. It opened up my eyes to a lot of things to keep learning. It’s all good.”
Blacklock is spending the offseason training at NRG Stadium and getting into optimal condition.
“I definitely haven’t had this body type in a while,” said Blacklock, who played at roughly 305 pounds as a rookie. "I feel great."
Intent on proving himself this season on the field, Blacklock has already made a huge impression on Thompson. She said she’ll cherish that meeting, and so will Blacklock.
“It was a cool experience, putting a smile on people's faces and being able to enjoy the moment,” Blacklock said. “It's not all about football. That made my day as much as it made hers. I'm blessed to be in a position to make people smile."
“We love our fans. That keeps us going each game. Through the bad and the good, the support is there and we love y'all and we appreciate y’all. It’s always good to show love to the fans that support you”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.