Tytus Howard has traveled a relatively short distance in his positional switch as he now lines up a three-point stance in the interior of the Texans’ offensive line.
For Howard, it’s a major change, though, as he continues to gain a comfort level as the Texans’ starting left offensive guard after previously lining up as their starting right tackle.
The former first-round draft pick from Alabama State has the requisite size, strength, athleticism and nasty temperament to play guard, but tackle is his natural spot.
Howard played guard for the first time since his rookie season in a preseason game Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys and didn’t look out of sync.
“It felt pretty good,” Howard said. “I haven’t played guard since my rookie year, my first game, but it felt pretty good to be out there this weekend and playing good, being out there with my boys. I felt like up front we did a pretty good job. There is always stuff you can work on, but I feel like we made progress from what we were last year and I think we are going to be pretty good.”
At 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, Howard plays the game with an aggressive personality and delivers punishing blocks. The in-fighting at the line of scrimmage, protecting his territory, is right up his alley.
“Tytus is a beast," veteran running back Mark Ingram said. "He’s a big man. He’s super athletic. He can run well. He’s physical. He’s only going to get better. I’m happy he’s my left guard.”
There are still scenarios where Howard could wind up back at right tackle. For now, though, Howard is the left guard lining up next to Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil once Tunsil is activated from the reserve-COVID-19 list after testing positive.
“I mean, it's not completely set in stone where I'm going to be at but as of right now I'm at left guard,” Howard said. “When I first came into training camp I was going right tackle, left tackle, left guard, all over the place. But it wasn't just to move me. It was to see how comfortable I could get at each position and see what's best for the offensive line.”
Playing next to Tunsil, one the top left tackles in the game, brings a smile to Howard’s face. They could be a formidable blocking tandem.
“That’s my boy right there,” Howard said. “It’s going to be a pretty good year for us. This group is going to do a good thing for this team, and I think we win some games because of what we do up front.”
Activated from the reserve-COVID-19 list last week after missing the Green Bay Packers game as a close contact of Tunsil, Howard played 19 snaps against the Cowboys during a 20-14 victory at AT&T Stadium.
Signed to a four-year, $12.225 million contract that includes a club fifth-year option, Howard is much healthier this season. A year ago, he endured a rough offseason that included recovering from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, a procedure to repair a broken finger, and dealing with no offseason practices due to the coronavirus pandemic. He wound up getting off to a slow start.
Now the Texans are seeing Howard regain the form that made him an all-rookie selection.
A lot of his physical and mental qualities make him well-suited to play guard.
“I think that I am smart so me learning plays and learning stuff at left guard versus being at right tackle, it wasn’t hard for me,” Howard said. “Physicality, I feel like I bring that to the table. My athleticism, I think I can use that on the inside and I think it’s going to help.”
Howard allowed just two sacks last season, but was penalized 11 times. A lot of times, Howard had to overcompensate to bail out right guard Zach Fulton, who recently retired from the New York Giants. It created a difficult situation on the right side as Fulton regularly allowed a lot of pressure, including 11 sacks.
One thing that’s eased Howard’s transition is the presence of former Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl alternate center Justin Britt, the replacement for Nick Martin.
“He’s been very helpful for me,” Howard said. “When I first got moved to left guard, he was just talking like hey man you need some advice just tell me, I can help you out I’ve been through this. So, you know I listen to a few things from him, learned a few things from him and he’s a great guy. I’m happy for him to be on this team and for him to be our starting center.”
Britt was once the Seahawks’ right tackle in the Super Bowl and expecting to be one of the top players at his position. Then, he was shifted to left guard and eventually to center.
“I've made that transition, I knew exactly what he was going to go through,” Britt said. “I mean, luckily and fortunately, he's played it before. So, it's not completely brand new. But I just tried to make it as stress free for him, over communicating in practice so he's comfortable and he's not thinking too much, he can just go out there and play.
“You've just got to understand it's a different world, different beast. Not only are you switching your feet, but you're going from where you might take three or four kick slides before you make contact to you'd better get your first step down and get ready to go at guard. It's a quicker beast. You're playing people like Aaron Donald and (Ndamukong) Suh, and it's just a different world. You've just got to get comfortable, find your balance, and go out there and trust yourself.”
A former quarterback who has gained 100 pounds since high school, Howard remains a work in progress.
Howard has only played left guard in a regular-season game once, playing 64 snaps in 2019 in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I'm a lot more comfortable now than when I was a rookie because when I was a rookie it was all new to me, so I was just put inside and I never played inside before, versus now I've played guard before,” Howard said. “I got a lot of reps on the left side, so I'm very comfortable being on both sides.”
Right tackle, though, is Howard’s natural position. It’s where he feels most at home.
He’s determined to make the best of the situation and embrace the new position.
“Just to hone in on it and don’t take it as, ‘Oh you’ve just been moved,’ take it as, ‘Oh, they put you in a position to better yourself and to help the team,’” Howard said. “And I accepted that.”
Should the Texans need Howard to move back to right tackle, then he’s ready to make that shift once again several feet over on the right side.
“Oh, yeah, I think I can just go back out and do it again,” he said. “ I practice it every day, so they prepare me for something like that.”
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.