Texans training camp is here, and I have had the good privilege of being able to watch my first team practice with my own eyes, which is not an easy thing to do considering you have to travel a couple of thousand miles via airplane and automobile to do so.
This preseason the Texans are holding training camp at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, a beautiful resort with incredible facilities, views and temperatures below 80 degrees all day! They will be here for the next three weeks before finishing out in Houston in late August.
The Texans have a number of questions that fans want answers to, including people like me (and you)! Here are the most burning ones...
10. When is DeAndre Hopkins getting his contract extension?
Wide receiver Odell Beckham of the New York Giants is making noise about wanting to be the highest-paid player in the entire league, which would probably be just fine with Hopkins, who was essentially promised a new deal this offseason after he held out for one day during last season's training camp. Those in the know have said that a Hopkins contract extension is a virtual certainty. Thus far, six practices in, it appears that his statistical dip in 2016 was more of a Brock effect than a true fall-off by Hopkins.
9. When will Duane Brown be there?
Since 2008, Duane Brown has evolved into one of the best left tackles in football and one of the true leaders on this Houston Texans team. In 2012, the team rewarded Brown with a six-year contract extension worth $58 million, $22 million of which was guaranteed. It probably all looked fine five years ago. Now, though, in 2017, his non-guaranteed salary of just under $10 million feels a little light given the going rate for left tackles. So Brown is holding out. The best guess is that he returns just before the start of the season, and the team waives the hundreds of thousands in fines he's racked up.
8. Are there going to be special teams changes?
Well, we hope there are changes to the rankings of the special teams — 28th, 32nd and 32nd in DVOA over Bill O'Brien's three seasons as head coach. The Texans need Tyler Ervin to become the return threat they drafted him to be, and they need the upgrades in back-of-roster athleticism to pay off in better coverage units. Otherwise, special teams coach Larry Izzo might be added to the growing line of former Texans special teams coaches.
7. Will David Quessenberry be a key piece?
He was running with the 1's early in camp when Xavier Su'a-Filo was recovering from knee surgery, so at the very least, he is in line for a backup guard spot. After being away from the game for three seasons conquering cancer, just making the roster would be an incredible accomplishment for Quessenberry.
6. Which 2016 rookie makes the biggest leap in Year Two?
The obvious answer here is center Nick Martin, who missed all of last season with a leg injury and walked right back into the starting center job he earned as a rookie in minicamp last season. The Texans NEED rapid improvement from former first- and third-round WR picks Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, both of whom will be relied on heavily on offense. Also, we mentioned Ervin on special teams, and K.J. Dillon should vie for time at safety.
5. What exactly is Romeo Crennel's role?
From observing practice, it appears that Crennel is not just a resource for the defense anymore. As assistant head coach, he bounces around among position groups, is there for both players and coaches to consult with, and is available to either side of the ball. He is basically going to be a consigliere to everyone, and the success of his new role can likely best be measured by how improved O'Brien is in some of the tactical, game-management aspects of the game.
4. Who will replace John Simon?
Let's just do this Vegas style:
BRENNAN SCARLETT (2nd year) … -500
The heavy, heavy favorite after an undrafted rookie year that saw him get on the field and contribute some. Best-case scenario is that he gives you something in the realm of what Simon gave you.
ERIC LEE (2nd year, PS 2016) … +450
Flashed a little in training camp last season, enough to make the practice squad. Has made some plays again early on in this year’s camp.
TONY WASHINGTON (2nd season) … +600
Practice squad guy in 2015, and injured reserve in 2016. So at least he’s accumulated a nice nest egg for the future Washingtons in his family.
DAYON PRATT (Rookie) …. +2500
Didn’t take long to get to undrafted rookies, did it?
GIMEL PRESIDENT (rookie) …. +4000
I want him to make the team just for the nickname possibilities and Trump drops that we can play on the show.
FIELD … +250
There’s a puncher's chance that the Texans’ starting OLB is on another roster right now.
3. Who will replace Quintin Demps?
Again, Vegas style:
COREY MOORE (2nd season) … -175
Moore went from the “dude who got lectured on Hard Knocks by Charles James” to the guy who outlived Charles James as a Houston Texan. Moore was shaky at times, but has shown enough improvement to warrant starting eight games last season.
EDDIE PLEASANT (5th season) … +300
Eddie Pleasant is in line to be the next inductee into the Tim Jamison Hall of Fame, which is reserved for Houston Texans about whom you look up one day and say, “Holy crap, he’s been with the team for HOW many years?!?” Pleasant is more of a specialty, dime package guy (they love blitzing him in the dime, it’s a neat toy), but who knows with this motley depth chart?
K.J. DILLON (2nd season) … +300
Lost to a knee injury part way through his rookie season, Dillon gets a chance to possibly be the D.J. Reader of the secondary — a former fifth-round pick who benefits greatly from the avalanche of talent around him.
KAREEM JACKSON (8th season) … +350
Jackson has said publicly (on OUR show!) that he would be open to playing safety if it would help the team, and it might help the team. The question becomes “How badly does a Jackson move to safety hurt the CB depth chart?” If Robert Nelson is ready for nickel corner duties, then this might be a sensible move.
MARCUS GILCHRIST (7th season) … +750
They just signed him on Monday, he’s a vet and a former second-round pick, so this feels about like the right odds.
KURTIS DRUMMOND (3rd season) … +800
Drummond was a super-productive college player at Michigan State who spent last season on injured reserve. He showed some signs in 2015 of being capable. We’ll see.
LONNIE BALLENTINE (4th season) ... +1,000
Ballentine’s player bio reads like a medical school thesis. The team must see something in him if they’re keeping a guy around who’s made more trips to the injured reserve list than he’s made tackles in his time as a Texan.
FIELD .. +150
Demps himself was a street veteran brought in two years ago, so you never know if they might pick someone up.
2. So, this Deshaun Watson guy...is he the real deal?
So far, it appears so. In the one practice that I've had a chance to watch, he moved his offensive unit up and down the field, spreading the ball around to multiple receivers, and showing a knack for sliding around and outside the pocket that we haven't really ever seen in a Texans quarterback. Above and beyond that, Watson has a calmness about him that makes it very evident why he took his team to the national championship last season at Clemson.
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1. Is J.J. Watt still a cyborg?
He is playing somewhat sparingly at training camp, not because he can't handle the load but because the Texans are managing him carefully. O'Brien made it clear yesterday that they are "working toward Sunday, September 10" with Watt, so seeing him this preseason doing anything looking like real football seems like a long shot right now. You'll probably need to be patient.
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.