The Houston Texans — the youngest team in the NFL — is a team with playoff ambition. They made the postseason the last two years under their seasoned, clever and effulgent coach, Gary Kubiak, and not only expect a three-peat, they seek to move closer to the ultimate achievement, the Super Bowl.
Last season, the Texans defeated the Bengals in the wild-card round but lost to New England in the divisional round. They have a quarterback, Matt Schaub, the former Falcon, who they believe can compete with the best on offense. In 2012, Schaub threw for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Where the Texans saw the most improvement, however, was on defense when Wade Phillips, former Cowboys head coach, took over the defense prior to the 2011 season. Houston, under Phillips, gave up the fourth-fewest points in the league compared to giving up the fourth-most points the year prior.
“We have made improvements in our goals to be a playoff contender which can win a championship,” Kubiak said from his office at Reliant Stadium last week. “What we want is more consistency. We like our personnel and the players we have to work with.”
One of those players is former Georgia center Ben Jones, whom Kubiak summoned to his office to visit a friend from Athens. When Jones returned to the Texans’ weight room, Kubiak waxed generously about the former Bulldog.
“He is one of our hardest workers,” Kubiak said. “He is playing guard now but can also play center, his college position. We think that, with his work habits and his attitude, he is the type player who can make it in our league for 10 years or longer.
“What I like about him is his leadership. You don’t often find a young player who becomes influential immediately like Ben. I watch him interact with his teammates and know that he is a positive influence on our team.”
When the Texans chose Ben in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the Centreville, Ala., native was caught off guard.
“I had no idea they were interested in me,” he said after a workout. “At the combine, I had a two- or three-minute conversation with the offensive coordinator. I knew they had an established center in Chris Meyers [eight years experience] and didn’t think there would be an opportunity for me.”
Seven games into the 2012 season, Jones became the starting right guard. He is also a swing man, backing up Meyers.
Jones left campus with a commitment to give the NFL his best effort but also organized a plan to complete his degree requirements. When the off season came around, he enrolled at Georgia and earned 12 credit hours in the spring semester. He has one class remaining, which he can complete online. The only thing left will be practice teaching.
“I’d do that out here in Houston at a local school and look forward to that,” Jones said.
He is engaged to Alex Hilton, a Georgia student who worked in the sports information office. He finds life truly exciting and rewarding.
His NFL experience is heady, but he won’t let his ego trip him up. Nonetheless, it is a fact that he stayed up late on Sunday and Monday nights to watch players such as the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Broncons’ Peyton Manning play. Now he is on the same field with those NFL icons. It gives him a rush when he can introduce himself on network television, “Ben Jones, Georgia.” Not so much for the emotional lift, but appreciation for what his Bulldog experience meant to him.
Ben always wanted to be a Bulldog, owing to the influence of his late father, even in a state where most people identify with either crimson or orange. Now that his time in Athens is in the past, he believes that his Bulldog experience has been beneficial in his pursuit of his NFL dreams.
“The Houston offense, with its wide zone schemes with a lot of play action, is basically what we ran at Georgia. Coach [Mike] Bobo’s pro-style offense helped prepare me for the league. Whatever success I enjoy, I feel I owe it to my Georgia experience. Coach Bobo and Coach Mark Richt enabled me to prepare for what I am doing now. I’ll always be grateful.”
NFL teams look for character in these multi-million-dollar-player-salary times. The Texans believe they have made a wise investment in Ben Jones.