HOUSTON – Frank Ross’ special teams units played winning football all season as the Texans’ kicking game and kick coverage delivered consistently strong performances.
Now that the Texans’ special teams coordinator is back after being retained by new coach DeMeco Ryans under his existing contract, Ross is eager to build on last season.
The Texans ranked first in the annual Rick Gosselin special teams rankings. While the Texans have gone 7-26-1 since Ross joined the AFC South franchise under coaches David Culley and Lovie Smith, he’s optimistic about what the team can accomplish with a fresh start under Ryans’ leadership.
“I’m excited for the new adventures ahead,” Ross said. “Got a great relationship with the current and new Texans that are coming on board. There’s a good runway here. It’s been a tough couple of seasons, and I want to be part of when that runway really starts to reap the benefits of the work that’s been put in and the foundation that’s been laid. Good things may have happened from the past in the special teams world, but we have to start new every year and start our climb. I’m here to do that, and happy to be here.
“It’s been young and fresh and great. I did keep my same office. Extremely exited to work for coach Ryans. I know and feel what I think Houston is feeling. My next-door neighbors are asking questions. I know and feel about him what Houston is feeling like. We got one of our own type of guys that can lead us forward. Excited as well just as everybody else is.”
The Texans ranked first in the well-respected annual Gosselin special teams rankings this season, ranking well ahead of the Seattle Seahawks in the statistical rankings, finishing first in kickoff coverage, opponent starting point and takeaways. The Texans, who finished 3-13-1 under Smith last season, had four fumble recoveries on special teams, including Dare Ogunbowale, Blake Cashman, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and M.J. Stewart.
Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn connected on 29 of 31 field goals, a 93.5 percentage, and hit all 24 extra points. He made all six kicks from 50 yards or more. Texans punter Cameron Johnson had 37 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, 42 percent overall, and averaged 48.1 yards per punt. Tremon Smith averaged 13.3 yards per punt return, 21.9 yards per kickoff return, and Desmond King, the primary punt underreturner, averaged 9.4 yards per return.
Opposing teams averaged under 20 yards per kickoff return.
“I’m proud of that,” Ross said. “I think that’s a moving scale through, in my opinion. All I know is we didn’t return balls for touchdowns, have some takeaways. We didn’t block a punt. We didn’t block a field goal. There’s really good and really proud badge of honor for some of those things. Rearview mirror in a way. The first thing on my to do list is what can we do that we haven’t been able to get done yet.
“There are some great building and foundation laid in guys that are returning and schemes that have been put in. That’s awesome reward for those guys. They put the work in. So proud of the guys. Doesn’t matter what role you’ve played, those guys earned that status. It’s 2023 now. That page has turned, and we have to find a way to get better and sweep our corners of weaknesses.”
Ross was previously the assistant special teams coach for the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Texans as part of coach David Culley’s staff and then was kept on by Lovie Smith and now Ryans.
A former New England Patriots pro scout who earned a Super Bowl ring with the AFC East franchise, Ross coached at his alma mater, John Carroll University, the same school where Texans general manager Nick Caserio was a record-setting quarterback, as a special teams coordinator and running backs coach after initially coaching quarterbacks.
One of the key moves for the Texans special teams was holding onto veteran long snapper Jon Weeks, a former Pro Bowl selection, with a new one-year, $1.317 million contract that includes $1.092 million guaranteed with a $152,500 signing bonus.
“That guy has been outstanding, the pillar of consistency,” Ross said. “I think you all know that. That’s more an honor on my side of the table than it is on his. I’m just so proud to work with him. I try to run the room that you guys don’t play for me, you don’t work for me, we work with each other.
“That’s the new-age mentality, is we are all on a collaborative scale, and that’s how the special teams work. Input and having guys like Jon that can on a daily basis use their veteran status and still adjust to whatever we’re asking him to do, show up day in and day out and work. That’s a blessing for any coach.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com