McClain: Injuries force unprecedented changes in Texans’ offensive line


(SportsRadio 610) - I’ve never seen an offensive line experience so many injuries so early in the season, but that’s the predicament the Texans are in entering their second game against Indianapolis – their home opener at NRG Stadium.

Against the Colts, the Texans could be starting a third right tackle and a third left guard. They’re already starting a third center. The only positions stabilized are left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right guard Shaq Mason.

What a difference from the last time the Texans played the Colts. It was the final game of 2022, a 32-31 victory at Indianapolis that cost them the first overall pick in the draft and led to a changing of the guard from the fired Lovie Smith to the hired DeMeco Ryans.

In that game at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Texans started Tunsil at left tackle, Kenyon Green at left guard, Scott Quessenberry at center, A.J. Cann at right guard and Tytus Howard at right tackle. Charlie Heck was the swing tackle. Austin Deculus, Justin McCray and Jimmy Morrissey were reserves at tackle, guard and center.

If everything had gone according to Ryans’ plan under new offensive line coaches Chris Strausser and Cole Popovich, there would have been two new starters this season – Mason, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, and center Juice Scruggs, a second-round draft choice.

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

Tunsil, who’s the Texans’ best player, is the only offensive lineman the Colts will recognize. Green, Howard and Quessenberry are on injured reserve. So is Scruggs. Heck is on the physically unable to perform list. Green and Quessenberry are gone for the season. Howard, Scruggs and Heck could be activated after missing a minimum of four games.

Because of injuries, the Texans have a revolving door to their offensive line. In Sunday’s 25-9 loss at Baltimore, the starters were – left to right – Tunsil, Josh Jones, Jarrett Patterson, Mason and George Fant. Now, two more changes to the starting lineup could be made for the Indianapolis game.

Fant left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury. If he can’t play against the Colts, Jones will move from left guard, where he’d never played, to right tackle, his best position. Michael Deiter, who was a starter at Miami in 2021 but played special teams last season, will play left guard.

Kendrick Green, a center/guard acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, and Nick Broeker, a guard claimed on waivers from Buffalo, provide depth. If Fant can’t play, somebody will have to be elevated from the practice squad as an extra tackle, possibly Deculus.

“With our offensive line, we’ve had multiple injuries, and we’ve had to shuffle guys,” Ryans said. “We had a tough opponent. The Ravens (brought) a lot of pressure. Had some tough looks from that defense (and) credit to those guys who did a really good job.

“Up front, we can be better (but) there were a lot of snaps where we did have great protection, and I think it gets overlooked at times because of the miscues. We did some good things up front and (did) a lot of things we can build off of.”

Being forced to make so many changes up front affects the offense. New coordinator and play-caller Bobby Slowik has to take into consideration what’s happening with his line when he makes calls to rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Stroud, who showed a lot of poise under a lot of pressure, completed 28-of-44 (63.8 percent) for 242 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was hit 10 times, including five sacks. He withstood a lot of punishment. He has to learn to throw away the ball rather than take sacks that averaged 9.2 yards in losses.

“We don’t want our quarterback hit as much,” Ryans said. “We have to be better. As a group in protection, just how are we helping? I thought we had some good snaps (in) protection at times, but it’s (about) being more consistent in our protection (and) in our pickups.”

Something else the Texans have to do better against the Colts is run the ball. They ran only 23 times for 72 yards, a 3.1 average per carry. Dameon Pierce was limited to 11 carries and 38 yards (3.5). His longest run was 7 yards. Devin Singletary totaled 15 yards on seven carries (2.1). His longest run was 4 yards. When the quarterback has the team’s longest run of 11 yards, coaches know they have problems that have to be solved.

“We’ll continue to improve our running game,” Ryans said. “We’ll get as many touches as we can in the run game. I think we can run it more. We’ll try to run it more. I think we can be more effective at it. We can block it better, and you’ll see that.”

Looking at the line, Patterson, a sixth-round pick, played well in his first start. There were no problems in his snaps or exchanges with Stroud. Tunsil and Jones were called for two penalties each. Mason struggled in pass protection. When Deiter was inserted at right tackle after Fant departed, he gave up an immediate strip sack before being moved to left guard, where he has experience. Jones moved from left guard to right tackle.

If so much switching around up front seems confusing, imagine what the players are going through. At some point, hopefully four games into the season if you’re a Texans fan, Howard and Scruggs will be back in the starting lineup, and Heck will be the swing tackle again. And the coaches and linemen can look back and feel good about how they survived injuries unprecedented in Texans history.

John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Monday, Thursday and Sunday on Texans Radio, also on SportsRadio 610. He writes five columns a week and does three Houtopia Football Podcasts for

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA Today Sports Images