HOUSTON – Laremy Tunsil tapped his left cleat in anticipation before firing out of his stance to block Dallas Cowboys star pass rusher Micah Parsons.
Tunsil jammed his hands into Parsons’ chest with one eventually sliding up into the outside linebacker’s neck and chin to create enough time for Texans quarterback Jeff Driskel to get rid of the football. Tunsil wasn’t flagged, but his serious intentions were made clear. He meant business.
The Texans’ two-time Pro Bowl left tackle pitched another shutout, holding Parsons, one of the most dynamic defensive players in the game, to no sacks, pressures or hurries during a 27-23 loss last Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Parsons never hit the quarterback, and that’s been a recurring experience for some of the NFL’s best defenders when matched up against Tunsil.
Frustrated by losing nearly every week on a 1-11-1 squad, Tunsil has set his ambitions on maintaining an exceptionally high blocking standard and building for the future. He is the highest graded pass blocker in the NFL with a 91.6 mark, according to the analytics site Pro Football Focus.
And Tunsil has set his ambitions on earning an elusive piece of recognition.
“I want that first-team All-Pro,” Tunsil said. “That would mean a lot to me. Hopefully, I get it.”
What’s his case? Tunsil has stonewalled elite pass rushers all season. He hasn’t allowed a sack since the first game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts.
“Watch the tape, man,” Tunsil said. “The eye in the sky don’t lie. I feel like I’ve done some good things.”
Pep Hamilton on #Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil, a Pro Bowl candidate, performance 'He's the leader of our football team' @KPRC2 pic.twitter.com/RT74uirTNd— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) December 15, 2022
A former Miami Dolphins first-round draft pick from Mississippi acquired in a blockbuster trade by former Texans coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, Tunsil has earned his highest career pass blocking grade.
He has allowed the one sack, two quarterback hits and seven hurries for 10 total pressures.
Parsons had five tackles, but didn’t pressure the quarterback against the Texans.
“He didn’t,” Tunsil said.
Tunsil has drawn praise from analysts, including retired NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger. He called Tunsil the best offensive lineman in the league.
On a 1-11-1 team heading into Sunday’s road game against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium, Tunsil is one of the few bright spots through his play and his attitude. That’s one reason why Tunsil was named a permanent offensive team captain and has the C captain’s badge now stenciled into his No. 78 jersey.
“We didn’t expect anything less from Laremy,” Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s smart. He’s tough, and he is, I would say, the leader of our football team.”
Tunsil hasn’t missed a game after undergoing thumb surgery last season and being placed on injured reserve. He missed one practice this week with an illness, but has been back the past two days and is set to play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I’ve been very consistent,” Tunsil said. “That’s one of the things I was trying to hone in on at the beginning of the season.”
That’s how valuable Tunsil is as one of the top blockers in the NFL. The Texans restructured Tunsil’s contract this offseason, moving 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 after previously signing a three-year, $66 million contract after joining the Texans, a blockbuster deal he helped negotiate along with his advisors.
This year, Tunsil hasn’t missed a snap and has emerged as a team leader who loves playing for a team that needs more contributors like him.
Tunsil has proven to the organization that he’s all-in. He made it a point before the trade deadline to communicate to friends and other key people that he had no desire to be traded. He wants to be in Houston on a long-term basis and hopes to negotiate with the Texans this offseason to add more years to his current deal, which carries a $35.21 million salary cap figure in 2023.
In 2019, the Dolphins traded Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-round pick to the Texans in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, cornerback Johnson Bademosi and offensive lineman Julién Davenport.
Although it was a hefty price to pay in terms of giving up valuable draft capital, Tunsil has performed at a high level and stabilized a critical position that had lacked an established presence since trading former Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown to the Seattle Seahawks.
“Hopefully, we talk about that this offseason and they extend me a couple more years here,” Tunsil said. “I love Houston.”
New Auburn coach Hugh Freeze, Tunsil’s college head coach, hired Liberty strength and conditioning coach Dominic Studzinski for the same position at his new school. Tunsil trains with Studzinski every offseason and credited him for helping him improve along with private offensive line coach Mike Wahle, a former NFL offensive lineman.
“Those guys have helped me out a lot,” Tunsil said. “Dominic is one of my closest friends. Mike was a big part of me improving my technique and getting my footwork down.”
As positive as Tunsil has remained despite the Texans’ inability to finish close games, losing takes a toll on everyone as competitive professional athletes. Tunsil’s plan: stay the course, make the best out of each situation and, hopefully, win games and earn the elusive All-Pro recognition he wants.
“The situation we’re in is not ideal,” Tunsil said. “It hurts, man. No one wants to lose or be on a team that isn’t winning games. It’s tough.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and Click2Houston.com