Tytus Howard explosively fanned his left leg out at an angle while raising his hands and setting up in a compact blocking stance, looking natural and comfortable during his NFL regular-season debut Sunday at the pivotal left tackle position.
The former Texans first-round draft pick shifted over just a few steps from the left guard interior position that has been a source of struggles for the former Alabama State standout during the first 10 games of the season.
A former starting right tackle, Howard now steps into a position of need with All-Pro left tackle Laremy Tunsil still sidelined on injured reserve after undergoing thumb surgery earlier this year to repair a torn ligament.
Although Howard did get bull-rushed by Jets defensive lineman Ronald Blair, shoving him into the backfield, for one sack of quarterback Tyrod Taylor as the Texans lost 21-14 as the team collectively allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hits with seven tackles for losses, the former Alabama State standout got high marks from an analytics standpoint and from the coaching staff.
Howard was the highest graded Texans player with an overall 79.4 Pro Football Focus grade Although Howard was one of the lowest-rated guards in the NFL this season with a 43.7 overall grade, including a 41.5 run blocking mark and 57.3 pass blocking grade, he graded out much higher at left tackle, a position he played as a rookie in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers as he struggled to match the speed of Rashan Gary and in college.
At left tackle, though, against the Jets, Howard had an 86.4 pass blocking grade as the sack allowed to Blair was the only glaringly bad play.
“It felt pretty good,” Howard said. “It’s good to get a chance to get back out there on the edge and play. I felt like it was a pretty good first game for me, and a lot to learn from. The only job is to get better and move forward.
“It was just pretty much getting used to playing back in space. I think I did a pretty good job. There’s always stuff I feel like myself, that I can learn on and I can learn from. There’s a couple plays I wish I could’ve been better for my team., but my job is to be better this coming week, and that’s my goal for this week.”
Adapting on the fly, Howard practiced at left tackle for the entire week and then the Texans unveiled a new-look offensive line comprised of him at his new position flanked by veteran left guard Lane Taylor as his replacement inside after the 32-year-old Green Bay Packers starter was promoted from the practice squad.
“I thought they both played well together, they did a nice job,” Texans coach David Culley said. “I was very happy for Lane to finally get some extensive action. They both played well.”
Because it’s unclear if Tunsil will return this season and Geron Christian Sr. hadn’t excelled as his replacement, having Howard play left tackle is a new wrinkle for the NFL’s lowest-scoring and last-ranked total offense. Should Howard emerge as a viable left tackle, it creates flexibility for the Texans since he can always play guard or right tackle again and gives the rebuilding AFC South franchise some options going forward depending on if they ever entertained a trade of Tunsil should another team offer something attractive.
Where does Howard feel most comfortable?
“It’s not really like which one I feel better at, because I think I can be a great guard, but I also think I can be a great tackle,” Howard said. “For me, it’s just putting the time in and each one on, seeing which one fits me best through this season, and I think that’s my goal.”
At 2-9 overall, the Texans are searching for answers at several positions. Finding out where Howard fits best is an important situation that bears watching. The Texans face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in a matchup with an AFC South team that includes DeForest Buckner’s disruptive presence.
“Well right now with the situation we are in, we are going to put him where we feel like he gives us the best chance depending on the matchup we have,” Culley said. “We know he can do both. We know he is very effective doing both and we’ll just kind of take it week to week to see where best fits until Laremy gets back to see what needs best fit him.”
At 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, Howard has the requisite size, strength, athleticism and nasty temperament to play tackle.
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.
So far, Howard has gotten good reviews from veteran offensive line coach James Campen.
“He told me I played pretty good, pretty well,” Howard said. “That was my first game back, I played pretty good. I want to play even better. So, my goal is always be the best I can be at every situation I do, every game, to get better. Hopefully next week I can correct some of the things I need to correct so I can be even better for my team.
“For me and Lane, I think actually we did pretty good with double teams. It was good to have him beside me. He’s a vet, he’s been playing this game for a long time. I feel like we got our camaraderie pretty good early on in the game, so I think working with him was a huge success for the offense, and I think it’s only going to get better with time.”
Playing left tackle could be a boon to Howard and the Texans’ future.
Howard didn’t indicate that moving around could negatively impact his development. If anything, he feels like this makes him more versatile.
“For me, I really don’t think it affects me at all, to be honest, because we’re all in the NFL,” Howard said. “Everybody’s good, so I feel like I go against great guys inside and out. I practiced both throughout the season, throughout camp, throughout the offseason, so when it comes to my development, it’s all about what work I’m putting in. And then my coaches, they’re putting in work with me and stuff like that.
“As far as development, I feel like no matter if I was at guard or tackle this whole season, each week I feel like I’ve gotten better. So, that’s my goal, to continue to get better so by the end of the season, I feel like I’ve made a jump. I think I can do it on the move any time, to be honest. It’s just a flip of the switch.”
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.