As the end of July nears, training camp is just about upon us. Coming off the first playoff appearance in franchise history, The Texans are hoping to pick up where they left off. So how do things look over at Reliant Stadium? Well, time can only tell, but here’s a look at what the Texans have, have lost, and some things to expect when the training camp whistles start blowing.
QUARTERBACK: Roll Out
By the time training camp opens, quarterback Matt Schaub should be 100% and ready to resume his role as starting QB for the Texans.
Schaub missed the last eight games of the season after suffering a season ending Linsfranc Injury Week 10 at Tampa Bay.
T.J. Yates did the best anyone could expect filling in as a rookie who started the season as the 3rd option, but Texans fans don’t want to find themselves chanting his name again at Reliant Stadium this season. Hopefully Schaub is rolling out in bootlegs and waggles, and not on a motorized scooter.
RUNNINGBACK: One-Two Punch
Arian Foster got his big pay day, and the Texans possibly resisted the temptation of trading #2 RB Ben Tate for draft picks to keep the best runningback tandem in the league intact for the 2012 season. The Texans also added former Seattle RB Justin Forsett after not resigning RB Charlie Ward (retired). This is for sure one of the Texans most solid positions going into 2012.
FULLBACK: Full of Possibilities
After fullback Lawrence Vickers signed with Dallas in March, the Texans found themselves down to only one fullback in James Casey. The problem is that James Casey is also a prospect at tight-end, a position with a hole to fill. The Texans signed former 49ers FB Moran Norris to help fill the void. Hopefully Norris picks up where he left off in San Francisco, allowing for more versatility with James Casey if that’s the direction the Texans wish to take.
WIDE RECEIVER: Replacing Jacoby Jones –
Okay, it really shouldn’t take much to replace Jacoby Jones at wide receiver, who was released by the Texans and has since signed with Baltimore. The real issue facing the Texans at WR is the health of Andre Johnson. One of the best in the game, Johnson has had trouble staying on the field the past couple of seasons with multiple leg injuries. Coming off a knee-scope this offseason, it will be interesting to see how he looks come training camp. Texans fans should look forward to seeing LeStar Jean and rookie DeVier Posey (Ohio State, The) compete with Kevin Walter at the #2 spot, a position most believe to be completely up for grabs. Rookie Keyshawn Martin (Michigan State) could also add a much needed spark out of the slot.
TIGHT-END: Who’s Number Two? –
Owen Daniels has been the best tight-end the Texans have ever had, as well as 2nd in team history for all-time receiving yards and receptions (I know, I know, the team only has a 10 year history). But in 2011, 2nd TE Joel Dreesen was a good piece at the TE position, averaging 22 yards per game with 6 touchdowns on the year. Dreesen signed with Denver during the offseason, leaving a hole at the #2 spot. This is where some expect James Casey can make a big impact. Of course, Casey will have to compete with 3rd year TE Garrett Graham, and interesting option who was never able to crack past Dreesen’s hold on the #2 spot
OFFENSIVE LINE: Changing of the Right-Guard….and Tackle –
A pretty big area of concern or the Texans is the offensive line. The Texans released right-tackle Eric Winston in the offseason, and right-guard Mike Brisiel signed with the Raiders to eliminate the right side of the o-line. Rashad Butler is expected to fill the right- tackle spot, and Antoine Caldwell the right-guard opening. Butler started four games for the Texans at left tackle in 2010, as starter Duane Brown sat out the first of the year serving a suspension. Butler did well those four games, which eases some of the concern. Caldwell will compete with rookie Brandon Brooks (Miami OH) at right-guard, though most expect Caldwell to come into camp as the starter. (Shameless Homer Plug: I want C/G Cody Wallace to make the team. He spent his time on the Texans practice squad all last year. I played high school ball with the guy…scratch that… I watched from the sidelines as Wallace started at center as a sophomore. I really hope he makes it. Get ‘em, Cody!)
SPECIAL TEAMS: Thunderfoot –
Well, I really didn’t know what to title this, so in honor of Texans punter Donnie “Thunderfoot” Jones, well…yah. The Texans signed Jones off the scrap heap this offseason as P Brett Hartmann recovers from a knee-injury and serves a three game suspension to start the season. At kicker, the Texans drafted Randy Bullock (Texas A&M) in the 5th round of this year’s draft to hopefully replace K Neil Rackers, who signed with Washington during the offseason. The Texans also brought in K Shayne Graham as competition for Bullock. Punt returner also has a vacancy with the release of Jacoby Jones. 4th round draft pick Keyshawn Martin is a popular option right now, but also competing for the gig is 3rd year guy Trendon Holliday, who has come up short (Pun intended! Dude is 5’7”) of snagging the job the past two seasons. At kick-returner, starting free-safety Danieal Manning has the most experience, but the Texans may want to keep him away from the risk of injury. It will be interesting to see if Keyshawn Martin can secure this spot, along with the punt return job.
DEFENSIVE BACK: Will Kareem Improve? –
The secondary had a much improved season in 2011 due in large part to the free agency acquisitions of cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free-safety Danieal Manning. Glover Quin is going into his second year of playing strong-safety after moving over from corner. At corner, Jason Allen moved on to Cincinnati in the offseason, which could pose a problem as he and starter Kareem Jackson platooned at the position last season. The Texans acquired CB Alan Ball and hope that young corners Roc Carmichael and Brandon Harris along with Brice McCain can step in to help, but the biggest question mark is Jackson’s improvement from year one in Phillips’ defense to year two.
DEFENSIVE-TACKLE: The Nose –
Texans fans tend to make a big deal out of the Texans nose position, wanting a round and fat guy stuffing the middle. The Texans lacked that last year, but 6’4 301lbs Shaun Cody along with sub 300lb-er Earl Mitchell got the job done. But it seems the Texans have thrown their fans a bone, signing rookie free-agent Hebron Fangupo (BYU) after the draft. Fangupo comes in at 6’ 324lbs. Is that fat and round enough for ya?
DEFENSIVE-END: Ebony and Ivory –
The Ninja Assassin and The Milk Man, Antonio Smith and JJ Watt were an exciting defensive-end duo for the Texans in 2011. Though one would expect the same type of production from the two starters in 2012, the Texans drafted a DE for fans to be excited about in Jared Crick (Nebraska). Also returning is Tim Jamison, who provided good depth at the position last season.
LINEBACKER: Oh.My.Goodness –
Like a child would, outside linebacker Mario Williams chose Buffalo over Houston during the offseason all because some Buffalo eateries spelled his name and number out on pizza-pies using pepperonis (No, seriously! Google it!). But though Super Mario will be missed, the Texans defense didn’t seem to do any missing last season when they finished as the #2 ranked defense without him playing the last 13 games. Brooks Reed “next man upped” his way into Williams’ spot and to a very good rookie season, as Connor Barwin took his position change from defensive-end to outside linebacker very well, looking like a natural at the position. 1st round draft pick Whitney Mercilus (Illinois.. I say it plural) should add quality depth after the departure of Williams. Coaches are also excited about Bryan Braman, who enters his second year after a rookie season and gutty play on special teams.
At inside linebacker there will be important shoes to fill in the leadership department as DeMeco Ryans was traded to the Eagles during the offseason. Ryans was out of place in defensive-coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, and was only on the field about 60% of the snaps. Enter Bradie James. James found himself in the same position as Ryans, being out of place in a different defense in Dallas last season. A proven leader and player who had success in Phillips’ 3-4 in Dallas, James adds great value at the inside linebacker position opposite Brian Cushing. Darryl Sharpton returns from injury, and the Texans resigned Tim Dobbins to help shore up the position. Also returning is Mister Alexander. That’s Mister Alexander to you!
Derick Zimmerman (can be followed on twitter @paymerick)