‘We’re getting a tenacious player,’ Texans believe new linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is a tone-setter

Linebacker reunited with DeMeco Ryans on three-year, $34 million deal

Tennessee Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (2) breaks up a pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Evan Engram (17) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV) (George Walker Iv, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

HOUSTON – The arrival of linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is expected to inject a hard-hitting tone-setter into the Texans’ defense.

Signed to a three-year, $34 million contract during free agency after leading the Tennessee Titans in tackles, Al-Shaair has an extensive background with Texans coach DeMeco Ryan having played for him for the San Francisco 49ers.

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The former undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic plays the game with a feisty, aggressive style and is expected to be a key figure as a defensive signal caller for Ryans and defensive coordinator Matt Burke.

“By adding Azeez to our team, as you guys will see, we’re getting a tenacious player, a guy who plays with relentless passion, energy, physical,” Ryans said. “The thing with Azeez that stood out for me last year was his first time getting an opportunity to play full time as a starter. He had been in a backup role when we were there in San Francisco for a while, and he showed that he was capable of running the show, and showed that he was able to stay healthy throughout the entire year.

“So, he was durable, he was a playmaker, he was physical, he was a leader of that defense. So, excited to add not only Azeez as a player, but Azeez as a leader. I think he’s grown as a leader, and I’m excited to work with him again.”

One year after the Texans explored signing Shaair, he joined the AFC South champions during the first day of the free agent legal tampering period.

The Texans immediately targeted Al-Shaair as a key addition for their revamped front seven, reuniting him with Ryans.

This time, the Texans landed Al-Shaair after watching him ply his trade for the Titans last season as he finished fifth in the NFL with 163 tackles.

Al-Shaair provides a relentless sideline-to-sideline presence and fills a gap created by former Texans starting linebacker and leading tackler Blake Cashman signing with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Azeez is going to bring a physical style of play to our defense,” Ryans said during the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz Carlton. “He’s going to bring leadership. He had a really good season last year for the Titans. So, seeing him two times a year you can see the growth that he has made as a player.”

Al-Shaair had two sacks, nine tackles for losses and four pass breakups last season.

Al-Shaair, 26, signed a one-year, $5 million deal last season to join the Titans, boosting his value significantly with one season. Now, he remains in the AFC South division.

A former All-Conference USA selection who went undrafted after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in college, Al-Shaair signed with the 49ers and made the 53-man roster.

The 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker has recorded 362 career tackles, two interceptions, 20 tackles for losses and four sacks.

“He played a lot of snaps for them last year,” Ryans said. “He was healthy. We look for him to bring the same thing, bring that intensity, bring that leadership to our team and just be himself and help us to be better”

Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.

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