NFL football is back...finally. For football fans, the wait for game 1 can be difficult, but when you live in Houston and your summer is filled with another year of bitter disappointment courtesy the Astros, it's positively excruciating. As if to torture us just a little longer, the NFL scheduled the first Texans game as the last of the weekend as part of their annual Monday night double header. With the Redskins-Eagles game on the east coast and the Texas opening up in San Diego against the Chargers, the 9:15-ish p.m. start time (local time) is going to create some on-time issues Tuesday morning for quite a few Houstonians.
But even with the late start and even if Monday Night Football is not the prime-time network spectacle it used to be, it's still football under the lights on national TV. It puts the Texans squarely where the want to be this season: in the spotlight. They are arguably a better team than last with few losses and several key additions and the first game should provide a few clues as to how that has impacted the team on the whole. Tonight, there will be a handful of guys to keep your eyes on in particular...besides J.J. Watt.
After a promising rookie season, Reed took a step back last year, partly due to injury. His numbers were down and more importantly so was his impact on the field. With linebacking depth thin in the offseason, the Texans toyed with the idea of moving Reed inside, but they need what he brings on the outside. Un-drafted rookie Willie Jefferson surprised quite a few people with his speed and he could push Reed for time on the field if Reed doesn't turn it around. There hasn't been much discussion of Reed during camp. Let's hope that means he's back to his old self and gives the Texans an additional pass rushing threat from one of the weakest positions on the team.
Ed Reed may or may not play tonight and even if he does, it will be on a limited basis. Swearinger has looked a little lost at times, but the rookie safety has skills and should see his minutes increase as the season wears on. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is unlikely to leave Swearinger on the field in situations where he could get burned badly unless there is an injury, but his development will be central to the Texans rebuilding efforts on into next year. Better to get that started as soon as possible.
Posey's recovery from a torn Achilles tendon on a touchdown catch in the playoffs last season has been remarkable. Towards the end of last year, particularly in the playoffs, Posey was starting to look like the legitimate number 2 receiver they drafted before last season. The injury not only put an end to his playoff game and season, it put this season in doubt. Having the injury so late in the year it was expected he would remain on the inactive roster at least through the first six games. He probably won't see a ton of snaps tonight, but whatever he brings is a bonus. If he can regain his speed and improve on last year by the end of this season, the Texans could have one of the better wide receiver cores in the league come playoff time.
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With Arian Foster limited due to injury in the preseason, a concern for many with his heavy workload last year, Ben Tate spent some time trying to prove he was the player we saw in 2011, not last year. The Texans need both players if they want to have one of the top running attacks in the NFL and it will only benefit Foster if Tate gets 30, 40 even 50 percent of the carries, at least early in the season. The Chargers were not a bad defensive team last season, so it will be interesting to see if the Texans run game can wear them out and open up the play action passing game, a hallmark of Gary Kubiak's offensive scheme.
Antonio Smith will spend the first game suspended thanks to a ridiculous helmet-swinging incident in the preseason. That opens up some time for Crick, who the Texans are hoping will take a leap in his second season. Much like Swearinger, Crick will not be depended on to make big plays, but his development will be key as the season goes along. The Chargers have had some issues on their offensive line, so this might be the perfect opener for Crick to make an impact.