For four members of the Houston Texans, Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium will be like "old times." Neil Rackers, Kevin Walter, Johnathan Joseph and Conner Barwin all return to the city that played a large role in the emergence of their football careers.
Neil Rackers was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Illinois. Rackers had a rough beginning to his career in the Queen City. For starters, he replaced the hugely popular Doug Pelfrey and then played on some Bengals teams that found getting in the end zone, or even field goal range, immensely difficult. Add to that the team's move into the new Paul Brown Stadium and the turf issues there before the team went to field turf, and life was tough for a kicker in Cincinnati.
Rackers made less than 60 per cent of his field goals his first two seasons as a Bengal before having an outstanding season in 2003 when he connected on 83 percent of his kicks with a long of 54 yards. Still, the Bengals opted to let Rackers leave the next season and signed another rookie, Shayne Graham.
Rackers went on to seven successful seasons in Arizona, including a 2005 Pro Bowl season and a Super Bowl appearance after the 2008 season. He left for the Houston Texans in 2010 and has continued his success there, booting a career long 57 yarder last season.
Kevin Walter was a seventh round pick of the New York Giants, but signed on with Cincinnati in 2003 after being cut in training camp. Walter proved to be a valuable possession receiver and special teams player during his time in Cincinnati, an unsung hero surrounded by Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Walter only found the end zone once as a Bengal, but in the playoff season of 2005, he caught 19 passes, 14 of which went for first downs.
Walter left for Houston the following year and has emerged as a "go-to" receiver for the Texans opposite the explosive Andre Johnson. Starting in 2007, Walter has caught over 50 balls every season. This season, with Schaub and Johnson both injured, he's often been the team's number one receiver in a run heavy offense. He's struggled a bit in that role with only 28 catches, but with Andre Johnson likely out for Sunday, he'll be called upon to help out rookie QB Tyler Yates against his old team.
Johnathan Joseph returns to his home for his first five season in the NFL. Drafted in the first round out of South Carolina by the Bengals, Joseph quickly became the team's number one cover corner. Joseph intercepted 15 passes and scored four defensive touchdowns as a Bengal. Injuries plagued him, however, as he only played two full seasons in the five he spent in Cincinnati. This past off season, with the Bengals undergoing an offensive transition and the Texans offering more money, he opted to leave for Houston. There Joseph has emerged as a leader on the number one defense in the NFL. He and Danieal Manning have solidified the Texans' secondary and been a big reason for the resurgence of their defense. Joseph has four picks and 35 tackles in 12 games thus far.
Barwin began his career as a backup tight end for the Bearcats and even played basketball for two seasons at UC when their roster had been decimated during Bob Huggins' departure. Known for his toughness, Barwin came off the bench to provide UC with quality minutes as a backup forward.
Despite racking up almost 400 yards receiving as a tight end his junior season, Barwin was moved to defensive end for his senior year. All he did was lead the Big East in sacks with 12 and finish as an honorable mention All-American. So instead of being a non-descript backup tight end, Barwin was now a highly touted pass rusher with NFL aspirations.
Houston drafted Barwin in the second round in 2009. Ironically, he recorded his first career sack against Cincinnati, bringing down Carson Palmer. He went down with an ankle injury in last season's opener against the Colts and missed the entire season. He's bounced back nicely however. He comes into the game a starter at outside linebacker and has recorded 35 tackles and nine sacks, placing him the elite company of names like LaMarr Woodley and Terrell Suggs.
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