HOUSTON — Thirty minutes after another roller-coaster win for the Texans, Jared Crick sits at his locker in Reliant Stadium, his 2Ĺ-inch whiskers still sweaty.
To Crick's left, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, changes into postgame jeans and T-shirt. To Crick's right, veteran Antonio Smith puts on his cowboy hat.
Crick, in no hurry to hit the showers, is telling a story about the NFL Scouting Combine 19 months ago. That's where college football standouts showcase their speed and strength. That's where they meet NFL coaches and general managers.
When Crick showed up in Indianapolis in February 2012, he was a household name: a second-team All-American in 2010, a guy who made the cover of Sports Illustrated in August 2011, a prospect slated for the first round until a pectoral injury ended his college career.
The former Nebraska star received compliments and smiles that week from everybody he met. Except the Houston Texans' defensive line coach, Bill Kollar.
“He pulled me over to the side and told me I was one of the laziest players he's ever seen,” Crick said. “If I were on his squad, that would have to change. No one had ever told me that before.”
Crick left the Combine with no clue who'd pick him. But he was pretty sure he could cross Houston off his list.
Then draft day came and Crick started sliding. Out of the first round, then the second, then the third. Everybody told him he was a first- or second-round pick. Had he done something wrong? Did he forget to file some paperwork?
On that Saturday, after two restless nights, Crick finally got a phone call ... from Houston. Houston?!?
First he spoke to the GM. Then coach Gary Kubiak. Then defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. And finally, a voice Crick recognized immediately.
Kollar didn't apologize. He just said none of that stuff at Nebraska mattered anymore. It's time to get to work.
Crick has. In his second NFL season, he's playing like a man drafted too low. He's the top reserve on one of the league's best defensive lines. It's a “perfect situation,” he said.
The Texans, who take their 2-0 record to Baltimore on Sunday, are Super Bowl contenders. And Crick feels at home in the Houston area, where he just bought a house, where he has more relatives than he can count, where he goes out for dinner once a week with Watt, Smith and the front seven — it's not as much fun when it's his turn to pick up the check.
Crick even owns a cowboy hat and boots. Does he wear them? “Special occasions,” he says.
Smith says Crick has “a sneaky sense of humor.” But for the most part, Crick keeps a low profile in a star-studded Houston locker room. There's Ed Reed and Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing and, of course, the superhuman Wisconsin Badger.
Did Crick and Watt watch the Big Ten championship game together?
“We don't talk about that around here,” Watt said.
“I didn't rub it in his face the first time (a Husker victory in 2012),” Crick said. “And he didn't rub it in mine the second.”
Crick wasn't sure what his teammates would think of the beard. After the playoff loss to New England in January, he got lazy and decided to let it grow. A few months later, he showed up for OTAs expecting a veteran to tell him it looked terrible. Instead, everybody liked it — except his mom.
But a good beard only takes you so far in the NFL. The Texans like him for his ability. He's a perfect fit for their 3-4 scheme.
At Nebraska, Crick played in a four-man front. He was responsible for two gaps and his job was to keep linemen away from Lavonte David. In Houston, he's in charge of one gap.
“We're getting after that gap,” he said. “We're not sitting and reading. We're attacking.”
Crick, like most defensive linemen, needs to polish his pass-rushing skills. But he's hard to push off the ball.
“He's strong as an ox,” Smith said. “You can't run the ball on him.”
Crick played 20 percent of defensive snaps as a rookie. This year, he'll be closer to 50 percent — he got his first career start in week one after Smith was suspended for swinging his helmet at Richie Incognito.
Crick's special-teams contributions range from field-goal block to kickoff returns, where he is the up-back and lead blocker — he almost fielded a squib kick last year.
He's done enough to make a believer of his D-line coach. Kollar said Crick fell in the draft not only because of his pec injury, but because he was a “tweener.” Some teams said he wasn't fast enough to be a defensive end, not big enough to be a defensive tackle. For Kollar, the primary concern was work ethic.
“I didn't like his effort his senior year at all,” Kollar said.
Crick thought he played his heart out at Nebraska. He wonders if Kollar, an old-school guy with high standards, called him lazy to light a fire — Coach is hard on everybody, including Watt. Regardless, Crick came to Houston and made a great first impression.
Said Kollar: “He realized, 'Hey, this sucker's gonna keep chewing on me no matter what. I better get going.' So he gives as good an effort really as anybody we've got.”
After the Texans' overtime win over Tennessee, a World-Herald reporter shares that quote with Crick as his teammates file out of the locker room.
“That's what he said?” Crick replies.
And in the middle of that beard, Crick wears the slightest look of satisfaction.