On Sunday morning at the Texans' second day of practice of the young preseason, I was hanging out with my co-host John Granato watching the wide receivers go one-on-one against the cornerbacks in pass catching drills when Evan Koch of the Texans media relations team walked by and asked us who we thought the one surprise would be to make the team and who we thought the surprise cut would be.
Granato and I paused and struggled briefly to come up with a name for either answer. Seriously, for a second, we both gave Evan the same look my grandmother would give if you asked her to name anybody on the Texans, let alone the 53rd man on the roster. That's because right now, most of the roster spots were actually sewn up before the first practice even started.
It was at this point that it kind of hit me that "Wow, the Texans really are a real contender-type football team!" Low turnover on the roster is a good sign. For the first time since maybe ever, the only real roster drama (other than right tackle and placekicker) centers around backup positions.
Which makes this "predicting the roster" business I'm about to perform that much easier!
I did this same post last year (a few days later, mind you, on August 3), and it was considerably more difficult for a couple reasons:
1. You had a defense with a new coordinator installing a new scheme with a bunch of new players, and all of the old players still here were coming off a season where they finished 30th or worse in almost every relevant category. Who knew how the shake-up on that side of the ball would play out?
2. WIth the lockout, there were no mini camps or workouts to
wildly overreact to begin to formulate opinions and glean coaches' opinions on some of the newer players, especially the rookies.
To my "sharing a blank stare with Granato" point earlier, predicting the roster this preseason should be much easier. You know how on the SAT you start with an automatic 400 (at least back in my day you did, back when a perfect score was 1,600)? Well, with as many spots already won before camp started this year, it's like starting the SAT with a 1,200 for just putting your name on the paper.
So without further ado, let's do this in the usual format in which I unveil it. We start with...
THE VETERAN LOCKS (34 total): Let's get the easy ones out of the way. These are the veteran players who are clear-cut contributors and/or had contracts extended or redone this off-season, and as a result have zero chance of being cut.
QB - Matt Schaub QB - T.J. Yates RB - Arian Foster RB - Ben Tate RB - Justin Forsett TE - Owen Daniels TE - Garrett Graham TE/FB - James Casey WR - Andre Johnson WR - Kevin Walter WR - LeStar Jean T - Duane Brown T - Rashad Butler T - Derek Newton G - Wade Smith G - Antoine Caldwell C - Chris Myers DT - Shaun Cody DT - Earl Mitchell DE - J.J. Watt DE - Antonio Smith OLB - Connor Barwin OLB - Brooks Reed ILB - Brian Cushing ILB - Bradie James ILB - Darryl Sharpton S - Danieal Manning S - Glover Quin S - Troy Nolan CB - Johnathan Joseph CB - Kareem Jackson CB - Brice McCain P - Donnie Jones LS - Jon Weeks
Comments: The only ones I had to think briefly on as "LOCKS" were Forsett, Jean and Sharpton -- Forsett because he's just so new to the Texans, but he's looked really good early and is more of a classic third-down back than Derrick Ward was in this spot last year. If the Texans want to ease up Arian Foster's three-down workload at all, Forsett has a definite role on this team. Jean has yet to play a snap in a regular season game, but the thin ranks at wideout combined with the obvious leg up the coaching staff has given him in running with the ones while Andre is out, seem to point to a spot on the 53-man roster as a lock for LeStar. Sharpton is obviously in the mix, possibly to start, but this hip/quad injury seems worrisome.
But my job on this isn't to be a doctor, it's to be a moderately informed talk show host, so for now I'll assume he will be well come September. One final add, Jones holds the punting job coming out of camp, but will give it back to Brett Hartmann (we think) once Hartmann's three-game suspension for non-permitted use of Ritalin is over.
THE DRAFTEES (4 total): History tells us that every single one of these guys will at least make the practice squad, and most of them will make the 53-man roster. If you don't believe me, just check out the Texans draft history from the last few years. Here are the ones that I think make the cut for sure:
OLB - Whitney Mercilus (1st round) G - Brandon Brooks (3rd round) WR - Keshawn Martin (4th round) DE - Jared Crick (4th round)
Comments: Conspicuous by his absence from this group is third round selection DeVier Posey, especially considering fourth rounder Keshawn Martin made my cut, but Martin is the odds-on favorite to return punts, and early on at least has looked more comfortable catching the ball than Posey. Posey could still make my 53, I just don't feel strongly enough to put him in just yet. (If you're a Posey fan or a family member, you'll just have to read on!)
So we have 15 spots left. By my count, it looks like we have to have at least one true fullback (like last year when Casey and Vickers shared duties), another wide receiver, possibly another interior offensive lineman, another defensive lineman, another couple linebackers, another safety and a couple more corners. Also, at some point, we need to pick a kicker.
So let's knock a few of these out:
FB - Moran Norris WR - Posey (Wow, that was suspenseful, huh?) G - Thomas Austin DE - Tim Jamison ILB - Tim Dobbins OLB - Bryan Braman S - Quintin Demps CB - Sherrick McManis CB - Brandon Harris K - Randy Bullock
Comment: In the end, I think Posey makes the rotation because you can't put him on the practice squad (too much risk, decent likelihood he'd get picked up) and Bryant Johnson just isn't good enough to make you think, "Well, we have to keep him instead of Posey." Brandon Harris has to flash the ability that made him a second round pick at some point, right?...RIGHT? I took Demps over Shiloh Keo on playmaking ability. Braman is a special teams beast and Reliant Stadium favorite. Having spent a fifth rounder on him, the Texans would have to consider it a major fail if Bullock didn't make the team.
So that gets us to 48, meaning there are five spots left. Here's our position breakdown heading into the last five spots:
QB: 2 RB: 3 FB: 2 TE: 2 WR: 5 OL: 8 Specialists: 3 DL: 6 LB: 8 DB: 9
Okay, let's do these last five spots, keeping depth needs and the ability to play special teams at the forefront of our criteria:
49. Jesse Nading, OLB. Veteran guy who has hung around for a few years now, can rush the passer a little and play special teams. Besides, with Joel Dreessen and Mike Brisiel both gone, Kubiak can't totally quit Colorado State, can he?
50. Alan Ball, CB. Another "Wade Phillips knows him" guy. Also, Roc Carmichael still has practice-squad eligibility, so this allows you to keep both guys.
51. Bryant Johnson, WR. I can't imagine the Texans go into the season with just two wide receivers (and that's assuming Andre Johnson is healthy) who have caught a pass in an NFL game. Barring another signing, I'll put Johnson in here and earmark DeVier Posey for a slew of "Inactive" designations early in the season.
52. Ben Jones, C. Backup center, promising rookie, why not.
53. Shiloh Keo, S. Down to him or Mister Alexander, and I think Keo's ability to return punts in a pinch, play coverage teams and the fact that they invested a draft pick in him last year (albeit a fifth rounder) give him the edge.
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NOTE: You Coogs, I do think Case Keenum makes the practice squad, for what it's worth.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.