Going out to Texans practice during the preseason is one of the more enjoyable parts of my job.
Typically, it's well attended by fellow media members, so it serves in part as a decent social outing each late July and early/mid August morning. In fact, the first day of Texans training camp is the closest thing to a first day of school that I've experienced in my adult life.
Also, you get to be like 15 feet away from NFL players hitting each other, so that's pretty cool.
That said, I'm not all that bummed out about the Texans' traveling to Denver this week to practice with the Broncos, even if it did deprive us of a week of practice to cover here in Houston. Why, you may ask? Well, look at the storylines that were either born or advanced since the Texans arrived in Denver:
1. J.J. Watt's contract extension went from "nagging radio go-to topic for a segment where we have nothing to discuss" to a legit front burner issue for the Texans, mostly because Watt himself decided to openly discuss it this week, using daunting words like "appreciate" and "earned." My hunch is both sides would like this done before the season starts, if only because a) the Texans (supposedly) don't do deals in-season, and b) if the 2014 season starts to go sideways like 2013, Watt's extension will be a thorny talking point all year long.
2. Speaking of Watt, it seems as though the Broncos really wanted to fight him this week, perhaps angry about the way he broke one of their blocking sleds on Tuesday. You remember the scene in Rocky III right before Rocky fought Thunderlips, where he said "Seems like lately everybody wants to beat me up..." Well, that seemed to be Watt:
"Yeah, I'll take it any chance I can get because normally, you don't normally fight when you win the rep. I have no interest in fighting someone when I beat you. So when I go out there, that's why I don't really get into in to fights. That's why when somebody hits me, I don't feel the need to hit back because you can turn on the film, see what happened."
3. Another Arian Foster media session! I swear I've never seen something so insignificant become so polarizing. My co-host Rich Lord re-expressed his discontent (bordering on anger) over Foster's interview act, and the text line to our show then had everyone either calling Rich a "scorned bitch" (or some equivalent) or saying that they were naming their first born after Rich. There was no in between.
4. The Texans defense made Peyton Manning get angry! Check it out, after the first day:
"I thought our offense stunk today. I thought their defense kicked our butt," Manning said. "We will learn from the film, and hopefully we come out tomorrow and do a better job from a players standpoint and execute."
See, this was way more interesting than a bunch of innocuous Texan workouts amongst themselves back here in Houston.
Now, all roads lead to Sports Authority Field (or whatever it's called, since it was Invesco Field back when I lived in Denver in 2003) on Saturday night. It's getting to be nut cutting time for a lot of guys on this 90-man roster, especially considering the Texans have the first waiver priority for any guys who are cut around the league.
Here are five "roster issues" I will be watching closely on Saturday night:
5. Brandon Harris vs. every defensive back not named Joseph, Jackson, Bouye, Hal, Mack, Swearinger, Lewis, or Clemons Time may be running out for Brandon Harris...or he might be the third corner on this team come September 7. I have no earthly clue at this point. There's nothing in his body of work on the field that suggests the light has gone on for the former second round pick, yet his stature on the depth chart and the substitution progressions in preseason games suggest his spot is safe on this team. I don't buy it. At the corner position, there are at least five guys who've been more productive than Harris so far, so in essence, he may be competing with not only the corners, but the safeties as well for the final defensive back spot on the roster (i.e. the final decision for Harris may be in the answer "Do they take a sixth corner or a fifth safety?")
4. Whitney Mercilus vs. whoever is lived up across from him I don't think Mercilus is in any danger of getting cut, although he is another Kubiak Era high draft choice that has continued his disappointing performance under the new regime. Mercilus has been routinely running with the second team in preseason games, and at this point, Mercilus' battle is more with his slot on the depth chart as opposed to his existence on the depth chart. In the likely absence of Jadeveon Clowney on Saturday, Mercilus' stepping up with a big game would be nice.
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3. Uzoma Nwachukwu vs. Travis Labhart Aggie on Aggie violence! This is what it felt like when the Hardy Brothers split up and fought each other at Wrestlemania 25 here in Houston! EXACT. SAME. THING. So what are the stakes? Well, if the Texans opt to take a sixth wide receiver into the regular season, it'll likely be one of these two -- Nwachukwu, who's played consistently throughout the preseason and gives the Texans a downfield threat, and Labhart, who just seems to get open all the damn time and embodies every cliche of a white slot receiver that you can invoke (i.e. sure hands, high football IQ, runs precise routes, high motor, etc.).
2. Quentin Groves vs. Jason Ankrah Veteran street free agent pickup versus undrafted free agent pickup. With Clowney, Reed, and Mercilus as the only locks at outside linebacker, one of these two should make the 53-man roster. This is officially the least sexy position battle in any team's training camp. (To make another Wrestlemania analogy, this is the divas match in between the Undertaker's annual epic battle and the main event of the evening.)
1. Case Keenum vs. third string QB's around the league Ok, Ryan Fitzpatrick is locked in as the starter. Tom Savage is locked in with a roster spot. Keenum, at this point, is not in a battle to catch Fitzpatrick (not even close) nor beat out Savage for second string. Keenum's competition for his spot on the team will likely come from the top four or five quarterbacks to get cut loose by other teams after the fourth preseason game. So a solid performance on Saturday and then, assuming he's still here, against San Francisco in the final preseason game are imperative for Keenum to make the team.