Texans guard A.J. Cann looks forward to 'being as physical as you can in the run game'


(SportsRadio 610) - Moving Tytus Howard back to right tackle from left guard and drafting Kenyon Green are just two moves the Texans are making to address their underperforming offensive line.

The other is bringing in veteran A.J. Cann, who started 94 games over seven seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was sidelined by a MCL injury. For Cann, 30, it was his first to require surgery since he starting playing football at 6 years old.

Cann is healthy now, telling reporters Tuesday at OTAs he's "been out there with the boys doing everything, involved in everything."

"I feel really good right now and can’t wait to show what I can do." Cann said.

Cann signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract with the Texans in March. He rejoins new Texans offensive line coach George Warhop, who coached him the past three seasons in Jacksonville.

As Houston Chronicle Texans beat writer Brooks Kubena notes here, Cann was rated by Pro Football Focus as the league’s No. 17 guard in 2020, the last time he was healthy.

Texans head coach Lovie Smith touted Cann as a veteran presence who's played at a high level. Whenever NRG Stadium and the Methodist Training Center is open, Smith said Cann's been there.

It appears Cann is the handpicked, tailormade player to fill the Texans' void at right guard.

"Very physical," Cann said when asked to describe his playing style. "Trying to be exact mentally. Not a lot of screw up. Every offensive line I’ve played with would say this, being as physical as you can in the run game. It’s something I look forward to."

Looking back, it's not something Texans offensive lines have done well in recent years.

Last season was especially bad.

Here are some statistics pulled by The Athletic's Robert Mays and shared on his podcast last week.

On first downs, the Texans had a rushing success rate of 16.7 percent. No other team in the league was below 25 percent.

Forty-two of their 205 first down runs went for negative yardage, or no gain. More than half of those runs (108) gained two yards or less. Their first-down runs gained a first down only 4.4 percent of the time. Only one other team in the league was below 10 percent.

This is expected to change with the additions of Green at left guard, Howard back at his natural position right tackle, two-time Pro Bowl left tackle healthy after playing in just five games last season, and Cann at right guard.

Smith and general manager Nick Caserio would caution at assuming starting positions this early in the offseason program. Justin McCray and Max Scharping having both played a lot of football. Either or both players could end up doing the same again for the Texans this season, at either guard position.

But it's evident the mutual admiration between Cann and this coaching staff.

"The familiarity of having a guy that you know what you should expect on a day-to-day basis, on gameday specifically," offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton told reporters April 11 when asked about Cann. "A.J. is a guy that’s played a lot of good football. George (Warhop) is very familiar with A.J. We felt like he would have a chance to come in and compete and be a contributor upfront for us and we look forward to that group working together and being able to go out on gameday and play a good brand of football."

Likewise, Cann was complimentary of Hamilton, calling him "a very detailed coach" who shares a lot of information.

"But he makes sure we all know what we are doing, each and every day," Cann said. "It doesn’t matter what it is. Something small going in. Something big going in. He’s going to make sure we have a meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page and that’s what you need in an offensive coordinator."

Cann said when he decided to sign with Houston spoke with Smith on the phone, the coach reminded Cann of himself: really laid back, quiet, but with a little spark about him.

"I kind of like him to stay cool and quiet," Cann said with a smile. "You don’t want to piss him off."

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks likened Smith, 64, who's coached in the NFL since 1996, to a parent you don't want to disappoint.

So veterans like Cooks and Cann are part of the group of proven players on this team making sure the messaging aligns with the coaches'.

Teaming up with Warhop again was just part of what attracted Cann , a native of South Carolina, to Houston. It's also a new start with a team that could really use him.

"There are a lot of people here that I know decently. I felt like it was time to make a change and I felt like this would be a good change for me," Cann said. "I’ve been liking the vibe so far and I love what’s going on. I love the situation right now."

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