Four Things to Watch for as the Texans Take on the 49ers
How will the Texans fare against the 49ers?
The first string will only play a few series, and J.J. Watt will not be suited up at all, but on Sunday night, there will be men in Houston Texans uniforms running around playing football against men in San Francisco 49ers uniforms, and for now, after six long months with no football, we will take it!
The 2016 preseason begins on Sunday night — actually, it began last night for a bunch of teams, and was supposed to begin six days ago, but I digress — and the Houston Texans will be in San Francisco (Santa Clara, to be exact) to take on the San Francisco 49ers.
Nationally, the biggest storyline for the game will probably be the 49er debut of Chip Kelly as head coach, and their quarterback depth chart, which has miraculously seen Blaine Gabbert overtake Colin Kaepernick as the team's starting quarterback, a development that in 2012 would've been the equivalent of Rebecca Black beating out Taylor Swift for a Grammy.
It's the first preseason game, though, so there's really no game planning going on, just tons of evaluation. If you're settling in Sunday night looking for things to watch in this game (assuming you're not gambling on preseason football, degenerate), here are a few suggestions:
1. Brock's new world
It will be interesting to see how many series Brock Osweiler plays on Sunday. On the one hand, the modus operandi for already-determined starting QBs is usually one or two series — one if they score on the first drive, two if they don't. However, there's no denying Osweiler could use as much time getting acclimated to Bill O'Brien's complex system as possible. The question becomes how long do you throw him out there behind two second string tackles and possibly a second string center. I mean, Tom Savage has looked decent in camp, but we don't want to dust off the revolving door at quarterback. However much time Osweiler plays, the hope is that we see him throw a couple deep balls down the field, as one criticism of his performance in Denver last year was spotty accuracy on his deep ball.
2. Rookies for real?
If you look back at the last handful of Texans rookie classes, it has not been pretty when it comes to early impact and early acclimation to life as a pro. The 2012 class was slow to contribute, and even its first round pick, Whitney Mercilus, is just now "getting it" as a high level player. Don't get me started on 2013. And we will get to 2014 in just a second. Last season, Kevin Johnson got in the groove right away, but the rest of the class started slow. This year's drafted rookies, especially the four on offense, all look like pros right off the bat. Will Fuller is getting open deep every practice, Nick Martin looks like the real deal at center, Braxton Miller is very smooth, and Tyler Ervin looks ready to contribute on offense and in the return game. Sunday we get a chance to see if our eyes are deceiving us in training camp or not. If the game Sunday looks like "just another practice" for them, this will be a good thing.
3. Class of 2014
As good as the rookie class this season is making us feel, all it takes is a quick look back to 2014 to get you reaching for the nearest fifth of whiskey. The top four picks in that draft, let's revisit them:
1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY, OLB: Hasn't practiced in since last week, can't go three weeks without getting injured, has had microfracture surgery, and when you put "Jadeveon Clowney highlights" in YouTube's search box, you still get his big hit against Michigan in some college bowl game leading off the list.
2. XAVIER SU'A-FILO, G: Didn't become a regular starter until midway through last season, and was still somewhat inconsistent even after that. At the moment, "X" is the only Texans o-line starter from last season running with the first string, which is frightening (and a huge reason why Brock Osweiler might only play a series or two).
3. C.J. FIEDOROWICZ, TE: 21 receptions in two seasons, or as Patriots fans call it, "a decent month for Gronk."
4. LOUIS NIX III, DT: Cut. Probably making funny YouTube videos or playing Pokémon Go right this very minute.
The top three on this list, all still Texans, need to begin showing us something, starting yesterday.
4. Special teams progress
The Texans ranked 32nd in special teams according to the Football Outsiders website, which would be fine if they were playing in college football's 128-team FBS division, but it's really bad when you're playing in a 32-team professional league. Former special teams standout Larry Izzo is the new special teams coach, and he has his work cut out for him. I'm not sure how many of the guys we see on "teams" on Sunday will be making this particular team, but it'd be nice to see guys know their assignments, and maybe see a return guy break one for a long gain.
And if you REALLY miss J.J. Watt, here is a Gatorade-sponsored video of him learning how to be a fireman...
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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