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Texans
NFL

Texans Training Camp Battle: Jerry Hughes vs Jonathan Greenard

  • Justin Melo
  • July 27, 2023
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The Houston Texans are searching for a starting pass rusher to emerge opposite rookie No. 3 overall selection Will Anderson Jr. Fourth-year defensive end Jonathan Greenard will contend for snaps alongside veteran defender Jerry Hughes.

The 90th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Greenard is entering a fate-deciding contract season with the Texans. The former Louisville and Florida standout is attempting to earn a long-term extension from general manager Nick Caserio. He’ll have to recapture his previous form if he’s to convince the Texans to make a multi-year investment in his services.

Greenard enjoyed a breakout campaign as a sophomore in 2021. He recorded career highs in tackles (33), sacks (8.0, team-high), pressures (27), and quarterback hits (12) en route to earning an elite pass-rushing grade of 89.2 from Pro Football Focus. Greenard was extremely efficient despite playing just 13 games and 215 total pass-rushing snaps.

Expectations were heightened for Greenard in 2022. He looked capable of enjoying his first double-digit sack campaign. It ultimately wasn’t to be, as injuries forced Greenard to experience a down year. A calf injury limited Greenard to eight regular-season appearances in 2022. Missing five contests derailed what should have been a breakout showing. Greenard’s numbers declined to 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Even when he was in the lineup, Greenard was clearly playing through an injury that capped his upside.

The arrival of first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans provides hope for a healthy Greenard to return to his 2021 form. Ryans is a brilliant defensive-minded leader that is capable of helping Greenard develop into a defensive difference-maker. Ryans spent minicamp and OTAs introducing the Texans to his defensive scheme, which is significantly different from the Tampa 2 previous coach Lovie Smith was running. The implementation of Ryans’ system should lead to a more aggressive, attacking defense, particularly in the front seven.

With rookie starlet Anderson Jr. carrying Defensive Rookie of the Year potential on the other side, Greenard should take advantage of one-versus-one matchups. The Texans project as an ascending defense under Ryans’ tutelage, with a healthy mixture of experienced players and young talents. The building blocks are in place.

Hughes is a veteran defensive end that won’t concede anything to Greenard throughout training camp and the preseason. Greenard will have to reclaim a starting gig by outperforming Hughes—easier said than done.

The 34-year-old Hughes was exceptionally effective for the Texans throughout the 2022 campaign. Hughes recorded a team-leading 9.0 sacks. He consistently impacted opposing pockets, adding 58 pressures and 49 hurries to his defensive totals. Not much went right for the Texans’ defense last season, but Hughes was a bright spot.

The Texans routinely utilized Hughes from the 7-tech position last season. Hughes’ combination of speed and bend around the edge paired with sheer power allowed him to consistently threaten the outside shoulder of would-be blockers. The former Stephen F. Austin defender is also entering the final year of his contract in 2023 and will be eager to prove he’s still a keynote contributor despite his advancing age.

Greenard was once quietly among the NFL’s most underrated defenders. An injury in 2022 temporarily threw him off course, but he’s prepared to thrive again. Hughes isn’t to be forgotten as the Texans prepare to usher in Ryans’ exciting new era of defensive-minded football.

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Justin Melo