Texans' Culley downplays depth chart: 'Omenihu will be playing a bunch'

An NFL depth chart isn't written in stone, and it isn't necessarily an accurate reflection of how a team will line up in an actual football game.

That definitely appears to be the case with Texans defensive end Charles Omenihu, who's listed as third on the depth chart at right defensive end behind Whitney Mercilus and Jacob Martin.

The former Big 12 Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year started at left defensive end during the preseason, recording a team-high three sacks with one fumble recovery and appears poised for a breakout year heading into his third NFL season.

The most likely configuration of the Texans' defensive line Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, if health cooperates for Maliek Collins and Mercilus would be Omenihu at left end next to Collins with Vincent Taylor starting at ther other defensive tackle spot and Mercilus at right end.

Texans coach David Culley downplayed the importance of the depth chart, emphasizing that Omenihu, a former fifth-round draft pick from Texas, is going to play a significant role for defensive coordinator Lovie Smith's overhauled 4-3 defense.

“The depth chart came out of our media thing," Culley said. "That depth chart is not what I would call an update. I know this, Charles Omenihu will be playing in this ball game and will be playing a bunch. I don’t think that’s a big deal.

“It’s been excellent. I’m very happy with were Charles has been. Plus, that whole defensive line. There’s eight or nine guys right there who will play in this ball game.”

Omenihu is the Texans' tallest and heaviest edge rusher at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds and is also capable of lining up inside on third downs. Omenihu creates serious mismatches against smaller tight ends with his superior strength and also has the explosiveness and technique to defeat bigger offensive tackles at the line of scrimmage. 

Omenihu and Collins are building a fast chemistry and timing on line stunts that allow them to create penetration.

"You know what, Charles is getting better, he really is," Texans defensive line coach Bobby King said. "We expect him to win versus tight ends and we expect him to run games really well. I’m talking about his two nice plays on sacks, but he’s doing a nice job in other areas, too. I’m proud of Chuck. He’s going to continue to get better. I look forward to seeing that.”

Omenihu recorded four sacks last season while playing just 49 percent of the overall defensive snaps last season and had a career-high 16 quarterback hits. The former Texas Longhorns standout has been working hard to polish his craft and improve the finer nuances of his game.

Collins' push led to one of Omenihu's two sacks against the Dallas Cowboys, and Omenihu credited Collins for allowing him to break free.

"He’s tough, man," Collins said. "He’s a good player and I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and continue to develop. He’s strong, he can bend. Yeah, man, he’s a great player. You’ve seen it on Saturday whenever we played, a glimpse of what he can be. He’s going to continue to work and develop to be that.”

Omenihu has seven career sacks during his first two NFL seasons. He had a career-high 16 quarterback hits, one fewer than former Texans defensive end J.J. Watt last season before the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was cut at his request this offseason. Only five players have more sacks in franchise history during their first two NFL seasons than Omenihu.

"The more and more you're out there and feeling out the guy you're going against, it's like, 'Okay, I'm giving him this, he can expect this,'" Omenihu said. "This is like my fastball and my secondary pitch is probably just as fast as the first one. You just don't know it. It's a mental game out there for me. Just being out there, pass rushing more from the outside, inside, from all over, I get an idea of what I'm good at and what I can attack other guys with."

After being shut out in the season opener last season against the Kansas City Chiefs, Omenihu recorded at least one quarterback hit in 14 of the final 15 games. He had a season-high three quarterback hits along with four tackles and one for a loss against the Tennessee Titans in the last game of the season.

Over the final three games of the season, Omenihu played 71 percent, 80 percent and 82 percent of the snaps and combined for two sacks, eight tackles, two for losses, and five quarterback hits.

Playing for Smith, the defense looks much more aggressive than it did a year ago under defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver as the Texans finished 30th in total defense.

"Yeah, absolutely, we got guys who have bought into what Lovie's preaching," Omenihu said. "We've got guys who are flying around and guys who have bought into the technique they want us to play, how they want us to play and as coaches that's all they can ask for is having guys bought in and 11 guys who are going to buy into the system and run to the ball. If you get a chance to get to the quarterback, you punch the ball out whatever the case might be."

And the Texans' shift to a 4-3 defense from a 3-4 alignment seems to be working in Omenihu's favor.

"I think I'm versatile enough to play in any front, but being in a four-man front on first and second down going against tight ends and tackles that's a lot easier than going against tackles and guards," Omenihu said. "I mean Lovie puts us in those positions to go against tight ends. Any D-lineman in the NFL will tell you if a tight end blocks you, that's a problem. So, that's the mentality. You can't let them block you."

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.

Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens

Photo: Getty Images

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