JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Texans are expected to shift left offensive tackle Tytus Howard back to left guard Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars with Geron Christian starting at left tackle, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
A former first-round draft pick from Alabama State, Howard is regarded as an ascending blocker and has graded out highly from analytics sites and the coaching staff since moving back to his natural tackle spot.
The Texans need Howard to step in at left guard against the Jaguars due to both starting left guard Lane Taylor and starting right guard Justin McCray both out after testing positive for COVID-19. The Texans started Christian for five games at left tackle when Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil was placed on injured reserve. Tunsil is not currently expected to return this season after undergoing thumb surgery earlier this season, according to sources, given the Texans' 2-11 record and the risk of potentially having an injury setback to a torn thumb ligament.
Howard, as long as the Texans' health situation allows, is expected to go back to left tackle as soon as next week against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Howard didn't draw strong reviews at left guard.
At 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, Howard has the requisite size, athleticism, arm length and footwork to be an effective tackle.
“Definitely, I probably feel more comfortable at left tackle because I’ve been playing tackle my whole career,” Howard said. “So, it’s easy for me to accommodate myself back to playing tackle versus starting to play guard. I would say the tackle.”
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. Howard has come a long way since his rookie season.
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.
Because it’s unclear if Tunsil will return this season and 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.
At 2-11 overall, the Texans are searching for answers at several positions. Finding out where Howard fits best is an important situation that bears watching.
“Tytus has done a good job with everything we’ve asked him to do,” Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. “He’s bumped around, he’s played different spots, he’s played next to different people, which is always a challenge at that position because they all work together. Tytus has done a good job going out there at left tackle and he’s performed well."