HOUSTON – Texans veteran starting safety Jimmie Ward remains sidelined with a hip injury and has been officially ruled out for the opening game of the season Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
A team captain, former San Francisco 49ers standout and former first-round draft pick, Ward got hurt last week and hasn’t practiced all week. Veteran linebacker Blake Cashman and wide receiver John Metchie III are both out for the game due to strained hamstrings. And Texans reserve running back Dare Ogunbowale is questionable with a hamstring injury.
Ward’s injury isn’t regarded as long-term at this time, per a source. Ward signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract during the offseason to join the Texans as a free agent.
His primary replacement is safety Eric Murray.
Not having him against the Ravens is not ideal, especially with the presence of star quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Texans have a deep secondary, though, including starting corners Derek Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson, safety Jalen Pitre and experienced backups in Murray and M.J. Stewart.
Texans coach DeMeco Ryans indicated earlier in the week that Ward is pushing every day to get back on the practice field.
“We’ll see where Jimmie ends up,” Ryans said. “Our safeties have been a very deep group for us throughout training camp, four guys back there who can all play, all played a lot of ball in this league. I’m encouraged by the depth at our safety position, I feel like it’s one of our strongest units on our team.”
Murray was retained this offseason under a restructured deal and can make up to $4 million this year. His salary-cap figure was lowered from $5.37 million to $3.887 million and received a $600,000 signing bonus, $1.476 million total guaranteed, a $1.6 million base salary, down from $3.75 million, up to $250,000 in per game active roster bonuses at a rate of $14,705 per game active and another $1.5 million in playtime incentives.
Murray had nine tackles during the preseason. He played in every game last season and had 27 tackles. A former Kansas City Chiefs third-round draft pick from Minnesota who has also played for the Cleveland Browns, Murray has played in 101 career games with 40 starts. He has 298 career tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
“That’s what the NFL is,” Murray said. “Everybody has defined roles, but when the spotlight shines on you just got to come in and do your job. That’s all you can do. Every year is a new year, but you can definitely lean on the experience. I played for the Browns, I played in the division. Knowing what brand of football they’re going to bring to the table I think it’s going to help me in the end.”
Now, Murray and the entire defense are accounting for Jackson and his explosive game.
“Obviously, his mobility is a big factor in defending him,” Murray said. “Making sure you got a sure edge on the defense and you’re keeping him bottled in. Once he starts scrambling, and stuff like that, it gets a little bit more difficult to cover people downfield.”
Ward has 451 career tackles, seven interceptions, three sacks and seven forced fumbles in 106 games, primarily lining up at safety
Ward has built a reputation as a rangy, instinctive, hard-hitting safety adept in coverage or as a run-stopper. Ward doesn’t shy away from contact, throwing around his 5-foot-11, 195-pound body.
The Texans have depth at the position behind standout safety Jalen Pitre.
“I would say, in general, the safety room has been one of our more consistent rooms all year,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “All those guys. M.J., E-Murray, Jimmie, Jalen, all those guys have been very consistent pretty much day in and day out, how we want them to play. Communication, all those things, so we’re working all those guys to get ready. I would have confidence in all those guys to step on the field and play football for us this week.”
Metchie missed his entire rookie season with a treatable form of leukemia and has made an inspirational return. However, he has had a recurring hamstring issue this offseason.
Metchie caught two passes during the preseason for 10 yards, including one first down.
The Texans are taking a patient, big-picture approach with Metchie, a former second-round draft pick from Alabama.
“He’s worked really hard,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “I’d say he also looks like a player who hasn’t played football in 18 months, so when you miss that amount of time it just sometimes takes maybe a little bit longer. Attitude has been good. He’s been going out there and has made some plays and there’s other plays where he can certainly improve. But what he’s gone through to get to this point, it’s a great story like no question about it, but, ‘OK, now there has to be some kind of tangible football production behind it.
“I would say a player like that, there is probably a chance that he’s going to be a little bit better six to eight weeks down the road than maybe he is now. Just a credit to his physical and mental toughness. His work ethic and just his ability to fight through something that probably not a lot of people could fight through with a great attitude. Credit to him, credit to the medical staff, credit to the coaching staff but at some point you kind of have to turn the page into it’s a great story to you’ve got to play football. Love John and love having him here and excited for the opportunity in front of him and now it’s going to be about production and what everyone does with those opportunities.”
Cashman was the first-team Sam linebacker, but has now been replaced on the depth chart by second-year linebacker Jake Hansen.
Weakside linebacker Christian Harris was upgraded to full participation after being limited earlier in the week with a shoulder injury. He is set to start against the Ravens.
As a rookie, Hansen played in 11 games with two starts. He recorded 25 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery with two tackles for losses. He played 205 defensive snaps, 27 percent of the total defensive snaps, and 148 snaps for 50 percent of the special-teams snaps.
“It means a lot,” Hansen said. “It shows the coaches got faith in me. I continue to try to earn their trust and earn a bigger role.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.