HOUSTON — Laremy Tunsil has a unique ability to stonewall pass rushers as one of the most athletic and technically sound offensive tackles in the NFL.
The two-time Pro Bowl left tackle is the second highest paid player on the Houston Texans roster in terms of compensation this year, $17.7 million behind wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ $18.5 million total compensation.
That’s how valuable Tunsil is as one of the top blockers in the NFL. The Texans have restructured Tunsil’s contract this offseason and plan to go forward with him as their top offensive lineman, converting his $17.85 million salary into a $16.815 million bonus with $1.035 million as his new salary. His 2023 salary of $18.5 million is unchanged.
Laremy Tunsil is highly valued by Houston Texans
That clarity of Tunsil’s status followed unprompted, exploratory calls from teams wanting to trade for the former Miami Dolphins first-round draft pick leading up to free agency.
Ultimately, the Texans wanted to keep Tunsil in the fold as one of the most talented players on a rebuilding football team after trading for him from the Dolphins under former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien and originally signing him to a three-year, $66 million deal.
“I mean, we could talk a while about what separates Laremy,” said Texans coach Lovie Smith, who added that tackle might be the best position on the team between Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard. “There’s a reason we pay him more than anybody else on our football team. He’s not a good player, he’s a special player, a special man, his presence.”
What Tunsil wasn’t last season was healthy and available due to undergoing surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb suffered against the New England Patriots.
The injury ended his season, remaining on injured reserve for the duration of the season. Tunsil not returning as soon as former head coach David Culley originally projected, a four-week recovery estimate, raised some questions about his future with the Texans. Smiling and joking with reporters, Tunsil was pleased to hear about Smith’s feedback.
“That sounds good to me,” Tunsil said. “I’m going to get another bag, right? I’m just joking. I mean, it’s great, just getting praise like that from a head coach like Lovie Smith who led a team to the Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, so it feels great.”
Tunsil was limited to five games last season after injuring his thumb. Without Tunsil, the Texans struggled to protect quarterbacks Davis Mills and Tyrod Taylor, allowing 44 sacks overall. They also ranked last in the NFL at running the football.
Having a healthy Tunsil should provide a boost to the offense.
“My hand is doing great,” Tunsil said.
“I think when he’s playing at his best, he’s a top one, if not top-three tackle in the league,” Mills said of Tunsil. “So, it’s definitely exciting dropping back knowing your backside is covered.”
Now, Tunsil is upbeat about the Texans’ prospects of upgrading the offense under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Hamilton, who has worked previously with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, is injecting new ideas and game plans into the offense.
“We went and got Pep Hamilton,” Tunsil said. “We’re finna get this rolling. I like the creativity. You know, put LT at quarterback. I can get a little pass down the field. We can switch it up, but I do like the creativity.”
Tunsil had succinct praise for several teammates, including rookie left guard Kenyon Green, a first-round draft pick from Texas A&M.
“Dog,” Tunsil said.
It was his same one-word description for Mills, rookie running back Dameon Pierce, and himself.
Tunsil is feeling a better vibe this year under Smith in the wake of a 4-13 season. The Texans have gone 8-25 over the past two seasons. There was roughly 95 percent attendance during the offseason workout program.
“So, that speaks for itself right there,” Tunsil said. “You know, Lovie preaches that all the time, follow his direction as he leads. We’re going to follow him. 90-plus (percentage) for offseason attendance is pretty special. I was there too.”
Derek Stingley increases activity, works overtime with Brandin Cooks
Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is a student of the game. His dedication was on display after practice when he got in extra work with veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
The first-round draft pick from LSU and third overall pick allowed some catches to Cooks and Nico Collins as the Texans have increased his workload in full-team drills. He also knocked away a Davis Mills pass intended for Johnny Johnson III.
“Well, I think that’s really good after practice,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “I like it even more in practice. Derek right now is getting — like the rest of the group, he’s getting I think just about every period except the last one we held him out. He’s getting all of the work. He’ll continue to get better. Every day, every rep he goes against Brandin Cooks will make him a better player. Simple as that.”
First day in full pads
The Texans were in full gear for the first time in training camp, but it wasn’t designed as an ultra-physical practice session.
“We’re not going to all of a sudden Thursday have a scrimmage or anything like that, but it’s a different game when you get the pads on,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “You try not to make too many big impressions where you are until you put together a few days like this. Good to get the first day in, pads. We’ll practice in pads the next two days really, so we should be able to see some more things from our team.”
Rasheem Green: ‘A tip of the iceberg’
A classic rip move created the pathway Rasheem Green wanted. His charge into the backfield sent Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford crashing to the ground for a sack.
A powerful bull rush from Green toppled Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for another sack.
In the snow, a relentless chase and a hard hit from Green brought down Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles.
It was a breakthrough season for the former USC standout defensive end and third-round draft pick, his final one with the Seattle Seahawks before signing a one-year contract with the Texans worth $3.25 million with $1 million guaranteed.
In the wake of his career-high 6 1/2 sacks, six tackles for losses, 48 tackles, and 15 quarterback hits, Green expressed confidence and hope that he’s primed for bigger things going forward since joining the Texans.
“My style of play: fast, smart and physical,” Green said. “I feel like I left a lot of plays out there. I think that was just the tip of the iceberg. I think there’s a lot more out there I can achieve with what we have going on here. I can do a little more.”
Green, 24, is regarded as an ascending player and a strong fit for the Texans’ traditional 4-3 defensive scheme under coach Lovie Smith.
After visiting the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens in free agency, Green chose the Texans in May after the Texans didn’t draft a pass rusher.
“It’s nice being here,” Green said. “The guys have welcomed me. The culture, the city is great. The team is awesome. I like what we’ve got going on here and I’m just glad to be a part of the team. With the scheme we run here, I feel it suits me well, too.”
Green has the requisite size, speed, strength, and moves working in his favor.
He has recorded 94 career tackles, 13 1/2 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 27 quarterback hits.
After visiting the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens in free agency, Green chose the Texans and joined a defensive end group that includes Jonathan Greenard, who led the Texans with eight sacks last season, Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Ogbo Okoronkwo, and Jordan Jenkins.
It’s a competitive situation and a proving ground for Green and several pass rushers.
“How does it make us better individually, I feel like it pushes us to be the best we can be each day,” Green said. “We all have personal goals, but, at the end of the day, we have team goals and we’re pushing towards that same goal. I feel like the guys we have in the room, we’re pushing ourselves on and off the field to be the best that we can be.”
The Texans, coming off a 4-13 season, promoted Smith to head coach as the replacement for David Culley. They’re hoping that additions of hungry, talented players like Green can help them engineer a turnaround under Smith and general manager Nick Caserio’s leadership.
“I feel like it’s nice to be a part of the change,” Green said. “It’s always nice to be a part of the reason why the franchise turned around. We’re just out here trying to get wins.”
‘We are different with Justin Britt out there’
Hunkered over the football at the line of scrimmage, Texans veteran center Justin Britt delivered a shotgun snap and powerfully engaged defensive linemen. It was a routine training camp play for Britt, but being healthy and playing football aren’t things that Britt takes for granted.
Britt, who dealt with a knee injury last season and was given a veteran’s day off Friday by coach Lovie Smith, is one of the toughest players in the NFL and embraces the physical aspect of the game.
He signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason to remain with the Texans.
Britt rebooted his NFL career last season with the Texans, providing a gritty presence and leadership for an overhauled roster. Signed to a one-year, $5 million contract last year, Britt overcame a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in 2019 that prevented him from playing in 2020. He gave a technically sound and tough skill set for the Texans and was voted the winner of the annual Ed Block Courage award by his teammates.
“I’m grateful to be able to be out here,” Britt said. “I’m grateful that my body is holding up and it’s being strong, and I’m really appreciative of the vet day and the chance for my knee to recoup and kind of adapt back into football. I’m confident, and I’m ready to go.
“Biggest thing for me is it just needed reps, and whenever the thing happened in Week 3, that’s just not what I could give it. Offseason has been real beneficial. Our athletic training staff, strength staff here, they gave me all the tools and they gave me the chance to come out here and be able to do this for however long I want to.”
Britt routinely arrives for work at NRG Stadium at 4:30 a.m. as the first player to get there. Britt said that he tries to get there before Texans coach Lovie Smith, but joked he might be a 3 a.m show-up-to-work guy.
There are no questions about his work ethic. The Texans just want Britt to remain healthy.
“We are different with Justin Britt out there,” Smith said. “It all starts with our center. He does an awful lot for our team. He’s a good player, but again our offense will perform a lot better with Justin out there.”
Texans coach Lovie Smith had absolutely zero interest in discussing Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension for violations of the NFL personal-conduct policy.
“What happened again? Another player for somebody else’s team?” Smith said. “I ain’t paid a whole (lot of attention) — as you can see. 91 guys here kind of occupying all of our time. I know the rest of the league is kind of moving on and whatever is happening they’re good for.”
Texans’ injury updates
Tight end Antony Auclair, a rugged blocker and Canada native, has remained out of practice since he was carted off the practice field last Friday with a bag of ice on his right knee. Texans coach Lovie Smith indicated that Auclair will miss an unspecified amount of time.
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett had not practiced since the start of training camp due to a leg injury but took part in individual drills.
Defensive end Jordan Jenkins (ankle) and defensive back Tristin McCollum (shoulder) still remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Quick hits from Texans training camp
- Wide receiver Nico Collins had some explosive moments downfield. He’s clearly a more polished route runner entering his second NFL season.
- Tight end Brevin Jordan is noticeably bigger and stronger than he was a year ago when the Texans drafted him out of the University of Miami. Jordan hasn’t lost any speed.
- Backup quarterback Kyle Allen found Johnnie Johnson III, an undrafted rookie wide receiver, for a touchdown pass in a two-minute drill.
- Wide receiver Jalen Camp is a big target at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and he used his size to his advantage Monday. Camp had several outstanding leaping catches, including an acrobatic toe-tapper on the sideline. Camp also caught a deep ball from Kyle Allen.
- Steven Nelson is proving his point, winning his one-on-one battles. He is projected as the Texans’ starting cornerback opposite Derek Stingley Jr.