Roy Lopez adapted to every blocking scheme, challenge and obstacle during his rookie season, emerging as a rookie starter for the Texans.
Now, Lopez is hoping to build on a successful first NFL season as he prepares this offseason to maintain his status and continue to grow as a starting defensive tackle.
The recent major changes surrounding the Texans, both the familiar element of Lovie Smith being promoted to head coach and maintaining his defensive play-calling duties and the unfamiliar, hiring a new defensive line coach in Jacques Cesaire to replace Bobby King, are being embraced by the former sixth-round draft pick from Arizona.
"When I got the news of coach's hiring, I was very excited," Lopez said. "It's nice to be able to come back and play for a defensive coordinator who is the same guy every day and that's to be the best Lovie Smith there is. It's something I grew up on: to be the best Roy Lopez I can be every day. The way you represent yourself is the mark you leave on people. We can play for Lovie. We all are looking forward to continuing growing. Last year was a stepping stone, and we can keep growing. We know exactly what he wants.
"To be able to grow under Lovie would be a great success. He'll sit down and talk to you. He will critique you. But at the same time, he will show you love and make you understand what he is saying. If you ever want to talk football, you can go up to his office or call him at any time of the day. That's the biggest thing: to have a coach you can rely upon."
As a rookie, Lopez established himself as a gritty, reliable force in the interior defensive line. He recorded 31 tackles, five for losses, two quarterback hits and one sack in 16 games for a 4-13 squad.
Hiring Cesaire as the replacement for King, the new inside linebackers coach for the rival Tennessee Titans, is another development Lopez is enthused about.
He recently met with Cesaire, 41, along with defensive end Jon Greenard and defensive tackle Ross Blacklock. Cesaire is a former starting defensive lineman for the Chargers who was part of the top-ranked defense in the NFL last season with the Buffalo Bills as their assistant defensive line coach.
“It was good because being able to bring in his mind and we were all in the same room, me, Ross, and J.G. with him and he just, at first we learned about each other and where we’re from,” Lopez said. “But once football got into the picture, it was a different story. He stands up and you can tell he just loves football. He lives it. Being able to play for someone like that is who you want to play with.
“It’s the same thing with Lovie. You can feel when someone loves football and lives football. So, you can tell he just wants the best out of us. He wants to make us the best player we can possibly be. So, we’re looking forward to playing for him and looking forward to being able to grow every day.”
After starting 15 games last season, Lopez has made an impression. And his reputation for toughness and strength precedes him.
"Absolutely, very stout at the point of attack; great quick first step, very strong, powerful hands; strong, powerful player.," Cesaire said. "And he’s young, too, so he’s almost going to be like an empty canvass that I can just mold him however I want right now. So, I’m excited to work with Roy as well.”
Aaron Wilson is an NFL reporter and analyst for Pro Football Network and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.