Garret Wallow’s progress reflects team’s rebuilding goals


There’s still not much inside Garret Wallow’s Houston townhouse. Just a few beds, really. The only distinctive setting is the Bible verse written on Wallow’s mirror: a reminder of strength, courage, fearlessness and a higher power that always has its back.

Wallow says his girlfriend tells him these things are important to remember. When you’re a former fifth-round pick, a Texas linebacker who worked from special teams duty to back-to-back relief begins in a promising rookie season in 2021, the belief that overcomes the doubts, insecurities and challenges of such a path must come from within.

There’s more than Wallow wants. He wrote other goals. He regularly notes that he needs to play in the Pro Bowl, be the best player he can be. If he writes down a goal enough times, maybe a manifestation of the spirit will meld into the body and make it come true. His longing turns to smiles and laughter, a combination of angst and hope that makes him the epitome of a franchise entering the second year of a massive rebuild.

“I want this year to just be a huge growth year for me,” Wallow said after Friday’s training camp practice. “I want to grow so much that you don’t even recognize me from the player I was last year to now.”

Many on the team say Wallow’s transformation is already underway. General manager Nick Caserio said in early June that no player had made more progress on the pitch or physically than Wallow. Lovie Smith, Wallow’s 2021 defensive coordinator and now his head coach, said he’s “excited” about the development of his young linebacker, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound defenseman who knows all three linebacker pitches. in Smith’s diagram.

Special teams coordinator Frank Ross held up Wallow as the role model for incoming rookies. They spent more time together on the court every day after training last season, a steady push that has strengthened Wallow’s build, honed his technique and improved his ability to find the right collisions.

Rewatch the Cardinals’ Week 7 game, and Wallow gets flattened as the kickoff shooter after taking a hit under the chin from Arizona linebacker Tanner Vallejo. Fast forward to Houston’s Week 15 victory over the Jaguars, and Wallow led a coronavirus-riddled defense with 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. He did it again the following week in a stunning upset against the Chargers.

“It took a couple whooping,” said Wallow, who finished 2021 with 23 total tackles and two tackles for loss. “I got booed a lot of times, but I also grew from that and just became a better player.”

Wallow’s utility provides depth for his positional group, a rare occurrence on Houston’s roster. He was a tenacious tackler at TCU, a two-time Big 12 first-team member whose continued adjustment to the high-speed flow of professional football may temporarily supplement a rotation of starters whose short-term contracts might not last for years. . Wallow’s full potential.

Christian Kirksey, 29, returns as Houston’s starting center linebacker on a two-year contract. A competition is underway for the two outside spots that includes Wallow, veterans Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis, as well as two other linebackers, Jalen Reeves-Maybin (free agent) and Blake Cashman (trade), which Caserio acquired during the offseason. The Texans also traded to spend a No. 75 pick on Christian Harris, whose rare speed and strength project him as a future starter at one of the program’s slots.

None other than Wallow and Harris are under contract beyond the 2023 season, a schedule that matches when the Texans can reasonably expect to be competitive again. How might Wallow factor in that future? Those moments ahead are what will shape those possibilities, and there’s a patience required that all those scribbled goals and glances at the wallow townhouse mirror help instill.

But Wallow says he noticed he was accepting a slower pace of life anyway. He’s originally from New Orleans, and there’s still a playfulness in his aura that makes him a favorite among his teammates. Kirksey says he calls Wallow “Gary” because of a joke he wouldn’t divulge. Grugier-Hill snapped instantly when asked about Wallow and called him “one of a kind.” They’re constantly teasing each other, and Grugier-Hill, a native of Hawaii, is always waiting for Wallow to introduce him to the crawfish.

Still, when it comes to Wallow’s approach to the demands of the game, his teammates agree his best days are ahead of him. Grugier-Hill said “he’s mentally ahead of a lot of people” in terms of game recognition and schematic understanding.

“He just has the engine high where he’s going to make a play and he can do it all day,” Kirksey said. “So you could see the jump from first to second year in his confidence level. Also, you can see what he does in the weight room and on the court and how his body has evolved. He has worked a lot in the offseason, so I’m excited to see him this year.

So what are the purposes of Wallow’s doodles? What does he want to recognize when looking in the mirror after the 2022 season?

“I just want to be a factor on the field,” Wallow said. “It’s huge. It can be broken down into so many areas. But overall, you just have to be a factor in helping this team win. It’s huge for me. I love winning. I love to see people succeed, especially myself. Just be a factor and help these guys and help transform this program.


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