Charlie Heck, the Texans’ towering offensive tackle, arrived at training camp with a new body and a different mentality.
At 6-foot-8, 308 pounds, Heck has restructured his body and added a lot of lean muscle through long hours in the weight room with Texans strength and conditioning coach Mike Eubanks. Heck supplemented that with extra workouts with Billy Voltaire of Volt PT, doing Olympic lifts at Kinitro Fitness alongside veteran center Justin Britt and offensive tackle-guard Tytus Howard.
After struggling with the speed of the game as a rookie, Heck has improved dramatically and is playing with better movement, technique and confidence. Heck is a strong candidate to be the Texans’ starting right tackle when the season opens against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and coach David Culley called him the most improved player on the roster.
“When I came here and this staff came here, and we went in to our OTAs and went into our offseason program, I don’t know if there is a player on the team who improved as much as Charlie did from the start to this point right now,” Culley said. “And that’s not surprising because he has a great work ethic. He’s going into that year now where you want to see that progress made, and we’re starting to see that. And that’s what happens when you do what he did to be in the position that he’s in right now.”
Heck winning the starting job depends partially on a scenario where Howard could stay at his natural right tackle spot if Lane Taylor recovers in time from a torn ACL to play right guard and have Max Scharping play left guard with Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil slated to return later this month from the reserve-COVID-19 list after testing positive. Or the Texans could go with Tunsil and Howard on the left side, Britt at center, Scharping at right guard and Heck at right tackle, especially since right tackle Marcus Cannon is still on the active-physically unable to perform list after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason and injuring his calf.
The current configuration is Geron Christian at left tackle again against the Dallas Cowboyson Saturday nightat AT&T Stadium with Scharping at right guard, Justin McCray at left guard and Heck again at right tackle after starting against the Green Bay Packers.
“This O-line can be great,” Heck said. “ I mean it just feels like we are getting better every day and it takes time on the O-line to build that chemistry and I think we are able to do that right now and we are slowly getting better throughout camp.”
Heck started one game and played in three as a rookie last season after being drafted in the fourth round out of North Carolina. This year, Heck looks like an entirely different player following a full offseason of training unlike last year during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It feels great,” Heck said. “As a rookie, you know I didn’t really get that offseason so this year I really wanted to take full advantage of this one. So, I really was here every day, living in the weight room, meeting everybody and learning the new offense. So that was big for me.”
“I think a big thing is confidence. I was able to get in at the end of the year in some of the games and I definitely had my struggles but I kind of proved to myself that I can play in this league and I carried that on going into the offseason.”
A year ago, Heck struggled mightily during training camp.
Heck encountered a steep learning curve while adjusting to the superior speed of experienced pass rushers.
Heck made progress eventually afterhe allowed one sack and forced fumble, two quarterback hits and one hurry for four pressures overall against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The son of Kansas City Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck has made significant upgrades to his game and strength. Other than allowing two sacks to defensive end Jacob Martin during an intrasquad scrimmage, Heck has had a strong training camp. The preseason games are pivotal for Heck’s development.
“It’s huge,” Heck said. “It’s live reps going against a different team and that’s how you get better is getting experience and getting those live reps.”
Heck has put on some serious muscle and is able to hold is own now at the point of attack.
In college, Heck previously started at right tackle as a sophomore and a junior. Heck bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times at the NFL scouting combine and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.16 seconds.
“Strength is a big thing,” Heck said. “You know, confidence is big, knowing your job inside and out, trusting your technique, that huge for an O-lineman.”
The son of Kansas City Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck, a former NFL offensive lineman and first-round draft pick from Notre Dame, Heck gets a lot of valuable advice from his father.
“My dad has been a great resource for me,” Heck said. “One thing he always says is its camp and it’s getting better every single day, finding something to work on and just improving on that every day.
“Football has always been a part of my life. What’s special to me is that my dad has always been my dad first. He wasn’t really that kind of coaching figure. I mean obviously as I got older, he was a resource for me but he was always a dad first.”
Playing for new Texans offensive line coach James Campen, a former Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Chargers and Cleveland Browns assistant, has provided a boost to his game.
“He’s been an awesome coach for us so far,” Heck said. “You know he’s played in this league, he understands it, he’s great at kind of picking out individual things for each player and working on that each day. So, it’s been awesome to have him.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.