By Nick Shook
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The NFL’s top defense has stars on each end of its defensive line. We don’t need to name them.
But a name you likely heaven’t heard much of is D.J. Reader. The defensive tackle started in seven games as a rookie last season for Houston, recording 22 tackles and one sack in the regular season. You might remember him as the unknown defensive tackle who made Oakland’s Menelik Watson look foolish before sacking Connor Cook in the Wild Card round. We’ve placed that video above for your enjoyment.
Lack of notoriety aside, defensive line coach Anthony Weaver anticipates a big jump in production from Reader in Year Two.
“We have very high expectations of D.J.,” said Weaver, via the Houston Chronicle. “I think you saw just a glimpse of what he’s capable of a year ago. He’s another guy that since he’s been back, you can tell he’s, and I think I speak for the whole defense, they all have a little bit of a chip [on their shoulders].
“Were we happy with what we did a year ago? Sure. But we all know what the ultimate goal is and I think everybody that walks into this building day-in and day-out, they come with the mindset of like, ‘How are we going to get over this hurdle? How are we going to get to where we want to be?’ And D.J., I think, he epitomizes that every time he walks in this building.”
Reader faces the unenviable task of attempting to replace Vince Wilfork, who retired following the 2016 campaign after 13 seasons in the NFL. However, there’s reason for optimism in Reader’s case, as Weaver alluded to.
The 6-foot-3, 335-pound tackle performed admirably in the opportunities presented, appearing in an assortment of alignments including as a traditional one-technique nose and stretching as wide as a five-technique, as seen in the aforementioned play above. He recorded a sack from each alignment. That demonstrated versatility made him an important depth piece for Houston last season, though that kind of alignment shuffling shouldn’t be as frequent in 2017.
The defensive line also includes former Hard Knocks focus Christian Covington, who has carved out a nice niche for himself in Houston, as well as Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. We know what we’ll get from the latter two, but the pair of Reader and Covington will be key to helping Houston remain in the top 12 against the run, and among the league’s best units overall.
If they’re playing with a chip like Weaver described, and with Reader’s experience playing under Wilfork, the transition could be smoother than most.